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2.12.10

College funding plan needs more economy, boldness

Given parameters by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s higher education management boards have come up with partly-workable plan to address a potential looming funding crisis. It’s a start that will have to go through revision in order to be politically acceptable and to constitute best policy.

Part of the more than $220 million that would be raised by these changes, to offset predicted but undetermined revenue declines that could be higher in next year’s budget, would be taking advantage of permissible tuition increases of around $60 million. Another portion would come from extra fees totaling about $86.5 million. The remainder of around $75 million would come from abolishing the 12-hour tuition cap, which means that students who take more than 12 hours only pay for 12 hours per semester.

The last is a very needed change. Many students will select up to 18 hours (usually more than that needs administrative approval), then drop their two lowest-performing 3-hour classes with the generous drop dates (usually into the tenth week of the regular 15-week semester), wasting university resources. But in isolation this would cause, in essence, a tuition hike that would not be paid for by the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students for its recipients since it is capped at 12 hours. Since recent mandates have made most programs require 120 hours of credit – 15 hours per regular semester – TOPS awards should be raised to 15 hours, cutting away some of that roughly $75 million, to be fair in giving students a chance to graduate in four years (without summer school, not paid for by TOPS).

1.12.10

Cartoon bothers legislators as it may ridicule their views

A computer blunder by a staff member of the Louisiana Senate shows the degree of intolerance expressed by some members of that body when it comes to critically appraising the sophistication and veracity of their political worldviews.

A woman in the employ of the Senate sent via e-mail message a cartoon showing Democrat Pres. Barack Obama, whose racial ancestry is half white, half black but who identifies himself as black, with light skin, blue eyes and a different hairstyle and is captioned, “Do you like him any better now? No? Me neither ..... Then you're not a racist.” It apparently went to addresses of every state Capitol worker by mistake.

Of course it is a waste of taxpayer resources to send such material so unconnected to the actual business of government work using a state account, and some punishment should be meted out for that. But some legislators imply they want more than a routine reprimand, which was assured when the staffer was suspended without pay.

Yet most interesting was the reaction of some black Democrats in the Legislature when discovering the cartoon. “This is not funny at all and I think it should not have been sent over a public e-mail system,” wrote state Sen. Ed Murray. “This is NO where near funny!!! This is very offensive,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow. “Those of us who responded were not very pleased and were very disappointed that it was sent at all. It's not taken lightly, I can tell you that,” observed state Rep. Pat Smith, now head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

Murray was correct on one matter, that it shouldn’t have been sent using state resources, but whether he felt that way because it was a waste of state resources he didn’t say. And, in a way, it’s understandable why he nor Barrow didn’t think it was funny, and Smith said responders weren’t pleased at it.

But to comprehend that, we have to get at why Barrow thought it was “offensive,” because in analyzing its message it had the potential to offend only a select, small group of individuals. The basis of humor is to illuminate a tension between what is generally asserted and an event that contradicts that perception of reality. A response such as laughter is the resolution of that tension by the ability of the receiver of the information to perceive the consistency that on the surface seems contradictory.

In this instance, the contradiction comes in that we know Obama is darker-skinned, brown-eyed, and has black hair, but is presented differently. We resolve the contradiction by understanding that the racial features of Obama, despite their unalterable nature in the physical world, are altered here as a larger metaphor for those narrow-minded people in the world that insist upon seeing racial motives, because they view everything through the lens of race, behind actions that none of extant evidence, logic, nor propriety would suggest have anything to do with prejudicial feelings about different ethnic groups.

In other words, the cartoon makes fun not of people of any particular race, but satirizes those who inappropriately use race as an excuse to form bigoted attitudes about the motivations of other people, in this case illuminating the feelings of those who claim that opposition to Obama and his policies is due to some kind of resentment about his race. The claim that a non-trivial proportion of Americans, presumably whites, mainly or solely oppose Obama because of his race, along with the fiction that he has trouble communicating ideas to the public, have emerged as persistent narratives among many liberals and Democrats with prodigious assistance from their media allies. In fact, as extensive exit polling from the midterm 2010 elections which are regarded as a rebuke to Obama and his agenda indicates, widespread opposition of him comes from the majority belief that his agenda is contrary to enhancing the life prospects of all Americans and is detrimental to the country as a whole.

Thus, probably the real nature of the offense Barrow and her ilk see is that the cartoon makes fun of them if they believe that narrative because they believe it. It points out the hypocrisy of such a view: it is not race that matters to almost all opponents of Obama, yet it certainly does to those of his supporters who seek to define their opponents attitudinally with that very insistence of seeing everything, no matter how far that deviates from the real world, through the prism of race, and they seem to do so oblivious to their own prejudices.

Naturally, when you’re the butt of the joke, not only is it hard to see the humor in it, but also it probably does make you mad. And if that’s why at least some black Louisiana legislators see the cartoon as unfunny and offensive, neither of those are appropriate psychological responses to it as instead they should reflect upon their own attitudes that cause them to react that way.

30.11.10

Compromises make LA Medicaid plan even better

The compromise struck by Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein in reworking facets of Medicaid reforms in the state does the job in promoting efficiency in delivery of health care to indigent families with children as well as giving providers greater choice in how they want to participate in the system.

At the beginning of the month, Greenstein would have eliminated by the end of the month the CommunityCare program. It paid $3 per patient per month for doctors to coordinate care for Medicaid recipient children but wasn’t showing much in the way of positive outcomes, and thus was a logical candidate to discontinue in search of budgetary savings.

But after complaints about its removal from organizations of providers, Greenstein decided to mend rather than end. His new proposal is to cut the rate in half but then add incentive payments if outcome benchmarks were achieved that would raise the rate to a maximum of $4.50 a month. This solved the problem of providers pocketing the fees with little to show for them.

Greenstein also provided another option in managing the system. Originally, the system was geared towards insurance companies providing coordinated care, but some providers thought they might take too much revenue for themselves and not leave enough for quality care. Thus, Greenstein enlarged the eligible managerial entities, permitting providers to form their own care networks and administer their plans themselves. Regardless of who managed, performance standards for outcomes would have to be met or as much as half the state’s reimbursement could be withdrawn.

However, some providers have complained about these changes as well, preferring a fee-for-service system that does not control for overutilization nor promotes efficiency but does transfer maximum dollars into providers’ pockets. Savings are supposed to come from better care meaning reduced accessing of health care services by the indigent, and there is some evidence to suggest this, but the problem is the economies of scale required to make it work, requiring huge expansions of the population eligible, cause enormous total expenditure increases. This was witnessed in North Carolina, a wealthier state than Louisiana, which is having to institute major cost controls in the program in these times of budgetary stress for most states. Such an approach would wreak even more havoc to the budget of a poorer state such as Louisiana.

Correctly, Greenstein is trying to meld specific aspects of this philosophy into the one the state is pursuing to bring about more efficient Medicaid service provision, the use of market forces rather than state control to lower costs and improve quality. Some providers are upset because they will have to show that what they do actually works rather than have taxpayers hand them blank checks. If it comes to that, taxpayers’ preferences must take precedence.

29.11.10

Richmond faces long tenure in minority with little power

To understand the aphorism “whistling past the graveyard,” one need only review comments made by the youngest member of the smallest freshman Democrat House of Representatives class in a century.

Not that these incoming nine, including Louisiana Second Congressional District’s state Rep. Cedric Richmond, should feel insecure. Including Richmond, five were elected from majority-black minority districts, one is an ethnic Asian from Hawai’i, and three others are whites from heavily Democrat districts. None of these districts since the last reapportionment has cast a majority of its votes for a Republican presidential candidate and only one had any long-term Republican House election success for decades (Delaware at-large, whose outgoing representative was perhaps the most liberal Republican in the House). By historical standards, none are considered “competitive” districts (where the winner receives less than 55 percent of the vote over an extended period of time).

What is humorous is the comments about what their elections mean for their party’s future. Richmond seems to think they have bright futures because in the party with so few of them and so many ahead of them wiped out in 2010, their less-contested seniority will allow them to move up rapidly. He also seems to predict this will happen soon with Democrats doing well in 2010.

This only goes to show that he is as clueless as some other, more professional cheerleaders of Democrats go such as David Bositis, long-time analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies which is the oldest black-oriented political think tank. Bositis seems to think Democrats have a good chance at regaining the House in 2012, as, he notes, “there are only 10 Democratic seats in districts that McCain won, but 55 Republicans in districts that [Democrat Pres. Barack] Obama won, and the composition of the electorate (in 2012) is going to be totally different.”

What Bositis doesn’t say or recognize, however, is that 2008 was a very deviant election in that regard, with a large number of those 55 in districts that historically had favored Republican presidential candidates, certainly in recent years. Further, as Obama continues to drop like a stone in popularity, he has no chance to win most, perhaps all of those districts and if anything will negatively impact Democrats’ chances in them. Also, in this comment Bositis contradicts his own preliminary study of the 2010 midterm electorate, in which he observed black turnout was slightly higher than in the last 2006 midterm which produced radically different results, pointing to the real dynamic at play – in 2006 and 2008, prior to the unprecedented liberal onslaught of legislation that woke up the less-informed, more apathetic non-black registered voters, Obama and Democrats were seen much less malevolently as they are now.

Even if the share of the 2012 electorate that is black matches the 2008 level of 13 percent (compared to 10 percent this year), it’s not going to be enough to offset more losses, much less bring in gains. And, as any political scientist who studies election behavior can tell you, typically the midterm election composition does not vary much compared to a general election, and conveys little or no advantage to Democrats in terms of additional voters for the latter.

Finally, this sentiment does not take into account the major redistricting advantage the GOP will have before the next congressional election cycle. It won’t be much, maybe as few as a half dozen seats, but it still impedes any Democrat takeover possibility where look like they’ll have a 243-192 disadvantage come January.

About the only thing correct in Richmond’s comments is he’s likely to be there for awhile. That has been the history of the various permutations of the Second District where a Democrat candidate for reelection has not lost since 1930, and then after serving three terms. But he’s likely to be a member of the minority party, with little power, for the foreseeable future.

28.11.10

LA politicians lead against EPA dystopian power grab

It’s good to see that in defending against the war the Environmental Protection Agency has declared on private enterprise that several Louisiana federal officeholders are providing leadership crucial to turning back the assault on rationality.

Reps. Steve Scalise, John Fleming, Bill Cassidy, and Charles Boustany, all Republicans and all but Scalise physicians, joined other House members in adding their voices to those of several senators three months ago, including fellow Louisianans David Vitter and Mary Landrieu, in protesting new EPA ozone attainment standards. The letter transmitted complained about how the move to change standards subverts the Clean Air Act which by law is to be reviewed no sooner than every five years. That was last done in 2008 and new standards proposed.

But not all of the review was implemented because activists who wanted an even lower standard, which was supposed to have gone from 84 to 75 parts per billion, wanting a level according to studies done commissioned by the EPA which asked for a standard of 70 or lower even though questionable science was involved in coming up with that number and the assumptions from it have strayed even further from reality since. As such, they claim they can introduce new standards now because of non-implementation, even though the law does not consider non-implementation as a failure to follow the revision timetable.

Thus, if any final rules are issued, they would be illegal and immediately challenged in court. This explains in part why the EPA has missed two dates announced as to the issuance of the final rules, because as a politicized agency it pays close attention to the political environment which is becoming increasingly unfavorable for this plan as the 2010 midterm elections demonstrated.

EPA’s increased politicization has led to its recent unprecedented amount of regulatory activity as the Pres. Barack Obama Administration tries to do by fiat what it could not do through representative democratic processes. Unneeded regulation fits the strategy of bringing more under the control of government and allowing those who desire to exercise power and to obtain privilege through it, such as those in the environmental movement who rely upon the questionable data to assert the newest standards are needed for health reason, to achieve them.

Louisiana has been a leader in fighting against these attempts utilizing the EPA, about a year ago joining other states in trying to block related, unconstitutional measures. As well it should – at almost a million jobs, the unnecessary new standards would make Louisiana the third-largest loser of them of all the states and the largest per capita.

Both state and federal policy-makers in Louisiana have shown great responsibility in opposing this road to serfdom, and are to be commended as such. Let’s hope the efforts of theirs and others pay off with the EPA backing down or being forced by Congress to move away from its dystopian vision.