Thursday, June 30, 2005

CAFTA, sugar & Louisiana

The Central American Free Trade Agreement overcame a significant hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The full Senate could vote on it today. The U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means would then get it. On the subject of CAFTA and sugar politics, in its June 18th edition, The Economist (subscription required) published a piece titled “The sugar conundrum,” noting, in part: “In economic terms it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. Although CAFTA is important for Central Americans, whose main hope is for increased American investment, it will have only a small effect on America's economy. The combined output of the CAFTA countries is around $85 billion, about the size of the economy of Nevada. America already allows into its market almost 80% of these countries' exports tariff-free. And CAFTA's additional opening of America's most protected industries, such as sugar, is tiny. “In truth, CAFTA's significance is not its substance but what it symbolises for both supporters and opponents. The sugar lobby regards any increase in access for Central American sugar as a first step towards dismantling the defences that sustain this molly-coddled industry. Hence the huge pressure on congressmen from sugar areas, many of whom are usually free-trade Republicans, to vote against the agreement.” Some recent history on the issue here and here. Did you know? The American Sugar Cane League is headquartered in Louisiana. Here is the U.S. Government fact sheet on benefits accruing to Louisiana farmers with final approval of CAFTA. Finally, see my post from June 25 about Tom Friedman’s new book -- a book that implicitly presents a solid argument against the American tendency toward protectionism...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More on indigent defense & LA

My column today focuses again on indigent defense, this time on a Supreme Court decision handed down last week and Louisiana’s position in support of what was ultimately the losing side. Here and here are press releases following the Court decision. See my earlier blog post from June 15 for background on the issue.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Who's left behind?

Last week the Education Trust released a report entitled “Getting Honest About Grad Rates.” Press release here. Link to report here. The Washington Post reported on it Friday. The New York Times had an editorial about it yesterday. As of Monday evening, no Louisiana media has reported on it at all. And here’s analysis from the Weekly Connect for Kids update (available here) which had a blurb about the report suggesting that states are manipulating the graduation rates mandated by No Child Left Behind. Connect for Kids writes, “A new analysis finds that some rates reported for the 2002-03 school year were likely too high—possible evidence that states are taking advantage of lax enforcement in this area. Three states—Alabama, Louisiana, and Massachusetts—did not report the data at all, another seven states failed to break down the data to show separate graduation rates for certain groups of students, such as those with disabilities, from low-income families, and from various racial and ethnic minorities. Although some states are making strides in correcting graduation reporting, others are ‘playing the numbers,’ according to the Education Trust, which compiled this report.” (Emphasis added by me.) See earlier posts on this blog for past evidence of Louisiana’s educational performance, despite high marks on accountability. When Louisiana doesn't report the numbers, it's hard to know who's being left behind.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Louisiana & education

“Nothing influences a state’s properity more than the education of its people.” -- SREB publication Southern Regional Education Board is meeting in New Orleans. I've found nothing in the Louisiana papers yet this morning. Other resources: Governor’s Office press release in advance of the meetings. SREB's release about the conference. SREB's Louisiana report (click on Louisiana for access to SREB’s pdf file focusing on Louisiana) Details from the Louisiana report: -Louisiana’s population expected to grow 3% between 2004 and 2014 -The SREB member state average population growth anticipated to be 12% (Note: Louisiana is just one quarter of that). -In the United States, 15% of the population aged 25 to 44 has no high school diploma or GED credentials. The SREB member state average is 17%. Louisiana’s is 20%. Other stats concerning Louisiana and education: Louisiana 46th in Morgan Quitno’s 2004 “Smartest State” award Kids Count stats for Louisiana compared to national average As today and yesterday's post demonstrate, accountability is great but it will take more than that to improve Louisiana's national performance in education statistics.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Teacher pay still at issue

An Associated Press article in Friday’s Advocate raised the issue of Louisiana’s declining teacher salaries (relative to national trends) and the possible need for a special legislative session to address the issue. Meanwhile, Louisiana's Public Affairs Research Council discussed the legislative session, devoting some attention to the teacher salary issue. According to PAR, the $530 “pay raise” for teachers “should be considered a one-time bonus.” A “bonus” is not a “pay raise,” no matter how you look at it. A new report issued by the National Education Association indicates Louisiana has one of the nation’s lowest average teacher salaries -- U.S. average is $46,752; LA average is $37,918 -- despite a 14.3% increase in Louisiana teacher salaries since the 1993-1994 school year. In response to the NEA report and the disappointments of the legislative session, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers is calling for a special session. Finally, see this list of news both good and bad about Louisiana’s schools. The good news is encouraging. The bad news just demonstrates that no matter how rigorous the accountability regime, there’s always a downside to playing politics with education.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The flattening world

NYT columnist Tom Friedman’s new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century should be required reading for anyone who considers himself an engaged, web-savvy, news-consuming, technology-loving citizen of the world. I know this sounds overblown, but I’m serious. You can hear Friedman himself discuss the book’s themes during a recent presentation at MIT. With apologies to Mr. Friedman for any misrepresentation of his thesis, here’s a quick and dirty summary of the book’s major arguments: Friedman’s three phases of globalization 1. "Globalization 1.0": 1492 to early 1800s – countries globalize 2. "Globalization 2.0": early 1800s to 2000 – companies globalize 3. "Globalization 3.0": 2000 to present – individuals globalize Friedman’s ten forces that “flattened the world” 1. Fall of the Berlin Wall (allowed world to be viewed on single plane; opened way for collaboration) 2. Netscape browser went public making internet more accessible to more people 3. Workflow advances from new software (interoperability and collaboration) 4. Outsourcing (i.e. call centers from U.S. to overseas) 5. Off-shoring (i.e. factory from Canton, OH to Canton, China) 6. Open-sourcing (i.e. Linux software; renders Microsoft model obsolete b/c “it’s hard to beat free.”) 7. Supply-chaining (i.e. take something from shelf of Wal-Mart another one made in China; Note: Wal-Mart makes nothing, just supplies stuff) 8. In-sourcing (i.e. UPS does internal delivery of pizza dough for Papa John’s Pizza franchises) 9. Informing (i.e. Google lets you do your own research thus facilitating collaboration) 10. Turbo-charging (the things that make collaboration totally mobile and non-location-specific like wireless technology, voice-over-internet and file sharing) Those for whom the world is not yet flat 1. Too poor/too sick (i.e. Sub-Saharan Africa with AIDS and political corruption) 2. Too isolated (i.e. rural India or China) 3. Too frustrated (i.e. Middle East) 4. Too many Toyotas (need alternative fuel sources or the world’s flatness won’t matter one way or another) Solution/Response The take-away message is education, education, education. Friedman discusses the importance of tertiary education (education beyond high school). For Louisiana, with the nation’s highest high school drop out rate, the implications of failing to get education right just get more and more serious with the passage of time. Indeed, that means Louisiana is already behind. Why is education the answer? Friedman argues that with the entrance of India, China and the former Soviet states into the global economy, that puts 3 billion new people on the playing field. Even if just 10% of those people are skilled and can compete at the global level, that’s still more people than the total size of the current American workforce. That’s a lot of competition for jobs that, thanks to technological innovations, can go anywhere in the world. People, Americans, Louisianans need to be able to compete for knowledge jobs – not manual labor jobs. Why? Because those trained for one kind of knowledge job can be re-trained if their line of work goes elsewhere. Non-knowledge workers and the economies dependant on them (and protectionist trade policies to keep them afloat) just fall further behind. The trends Friedman outlines in this book, as he notes in his MIT lecture, render debate about NAFTA, CAFTA and social security reform irrelevant. As the result of an ever-flattening world, borders are less and less important and personal education becomes more and more critical. But don’t take my word for it. Read Friedman’s book for yourself. The world is changing. Just because we’re not paying attention doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Let the spin begin

Louisiana’s 2005 legislative session is over. Now come the post-mortem assessments of progress made and opportunities missed. Governor Blanco made remarks after the legislature’s adjournment. The Associated Press has a wrap-up here. The Times Picayune evaluation is here. The Advocate has an article about the session -- complete with a slightly disturbing photo of house members laughing it up moments before adjournment. In the end, perhaps Representative John Alario said it best, “I don’t think we left any money lying around.” (Quoted in the Gannett report on the session.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

SCOTUS decision & Louisiana?

There’s a new U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain. Early reports on the decision here and here. Are there implications for Louisiana and its reservoir development project? Here and here are recent articles about Louisiana’s reservoir development issue. Discussion of the Court’s decision and links to the opinion itself available here. (Read entry titled, “Court upholds property seizure in New London.")

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Legislative sunset approaching

My column this week laments the news that wasn’t during this almost-finished legislative session in Baton Rouge. Don't miss John Maginnis either. He's got a classic collection of quotes from the Louisiana House and Senate floor. It will make you laugh out loud. The last hours of discussion and voting can be heard/viewed in real time via the Louisiana legislature’s very user-friendly web site. The House convenes today at 10:00 a.m. and the Senate at 10:30.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More money for juvenile justice

Following a significant announcement yesterday, Louisiana now has more help in reforming its juvenile justice system. The MacArthur Foundation will provide Louisiana $1.5 million annually for up to five years for juvenile justice reform. Today’s Times Picayune has a write up. Louisiana has been working on reform since Chief Justice Calogero called for it in 2001. Legislation passed in 2003 and reform continues (Act 1225 of 2003). But California is also reforming its juvenile justice system and seems to be getting more national press. Despite the MacArthur Foundation announcement yesterday and the statement that Louisiana is (or will be) a "model for change," it’s hard to avoid the fact that no one else seems to think so -- yet.

Monday, June 20, 2005

LA's budget

The gigantic $18.7 billion state budget passed the state senate last night. $18.7 billion is a lot of money. It’s also $1.2 billion more than last year’s budget. And yet, remarkably, there wasn’t money to be found for teacher pay raises. That says everything anyone needs to know about Louisiana’s budget priorities.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sunday edits

It’s not a good day for Governor Blanco on the state’s editorial pages. The Shreveport Times observes the governor got a late start promoting her legislative agenda. The Advocate blames the Revenue Estimating Committee’s discovery of millions of dollars for the governor’s difficulties. John Hill suggests opposition to the governor in this legislative session might, on some issues, be about more than party politics. Despite all the analysis, one question remains unasked: Whose fault is it the governor set expectations so high? Promises of reform, a “new day” in Louisiana, and summits to address the state’s most difficult issues paved the way for these expectations. Now Louisiana’s citizens are just looking for results. To assert in a backhanded way, as does John Hill in his column today, that the governor’s difficulties are the result of Republicans who just want to see the Democratic governor fail is ridiculous. It’s as ridiculous as the national Republican party’s assertions that the Democrats want to see the United States fail in Iraq. The fact is that if the governor were succeeding in meeting the expectations she set in the campaign to win office she would be getting well-deserved kudos for a job well done. That she has failed to rein in state spending, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, isn’t any political party’s fault. It’s certainly not something any sane resident of Louisiana wants to see. The old adage is true: A rising tide does lift all boats and it’s in everyone’s best interest for the governor to succeed in her efforts to raise that tide. Unfortunately, as today’s editorials suggest, she’s not meeting the expectations she herself set.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A presidential setback for LA

The president’s recent announcement that Louisiana (and other states) should not be allowed a greater percentage of revenue from oil production in the state or offshore was a blow to Louisiana’s efforts to raise awareness about coastal erosion and attempts to raise funding to address it. Today’s Shreveport Times weighs in on the issue. Times Picayune commented on it yesterday. Earlier in the week, Louisiana congressman Bobby Jindal had urged state residents to push members of the senate to support the effort to direct more revenue to Louisiana. All in all, the president’s statement is a blow to Louisiana. And no doubt, as suggested by the SHV Times editorial, a big disappointment to residents of a state that supported the president so fully in the last election.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ruminations on I-49

There's progress on funding for I-49 without raising taxes. More here and here. That's good news. But is Louisiana – particularly NWLA -- doing all it can to promote the project? Consider this: Fort Smith, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce has a website dedicated to completion of north-south I-49 in Arkansas. But look what happens to I-49 at the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas state line. I-49 into Louisiana is not (yet) a sure thing. This raises the question: Is there a Louisiana chamber of commerce with a comprehensive, online I-49 promotion campaign? None that I could find. Shreveport-Bossier is the largest metro area close to the Arkansas border on the proposed I-49 route. It's thus a little surprising the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce has no information about I-49 posted on the public access portion of its website. Shreveport-Bossier is likely to see “enormous growth” if I-49 is completed. This map illustrates the potential. (And that doesn't even begin to consider the benefits when I-69 is figured in). But where’s the ongoing, online show of city-funded, business community public support for completion of Interstate 49? Anyone anywhere across the country seeking evidence of Louisiana’s commitment to the completion I-49 will be hard-pressed to find it online. Completing I-49 will take more than repeating the mantra "it’s a priority" combined with annual requests for federal and state money. A signficant online commitment to the project would be great first step. In fact, the Shreveport chamber recently advertised a forum on blogging. I-49 would be a great topic for a new blog...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More willful obstructionists surface

On June 15, the Associated Press covered Governor Blanco’s press conference announcing the administration’s abandonment of the cigarette tax. According to that report, the governor said, "I know that thousands of educators and parents across our state are bitterly disappointed that a willful, obstructionist group sided with cigarette vendors and against our teachers and against our children.” Today the administration can add the Times Picayune to the group of “willful obstructionists” siding against the state’s children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Justice delayed

My column in today’s Shreveport Times addresses the indigent defense reform process in Louisiana. Lots of history on this issue. For more info see: John Hill reported the governor is on the side of the district attorneys in indigent defense. Louisiana Justice Coalition is working to promote reform of indigent defense. The indigent defense reform bill (SB 323) will soon come up for a vote in the House. Check legislature's website for updates and to see/hear the final floor debate on this legislation. National Legal Aid & Defender Association American Bar Association report, “Gideon’s Broken Promise” History of the Right to Counsel Louisiana Supreme Court decision on Adrian v. Citizen saying if indigent clients couldn't get adequate representation then they couldn't be tried at all. See press release from April 1, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Southern workforce index

Yesterday the Southern Growth Policies Board released its 2005 Southern Workforce Index. I’ve found no coverage in today’s papers. The Southern Workforce Index examines fifteen indicators that “taken together, provide a rich, broadly based portrait of the region’s workforce.” Taken individually, these indicators show how well states are doing as they develop their current and future workforce. The report focuses on three fronts: 1) developing “institutional seamlessness” (organization of educational institutions to provide the kind of job training necessary for the kinds of jobs available); 2) avoiding “wasted human capital” (ensuring that no individuals or populations fall through the cracks regardless of “race, ethnicity, age, gender and disability”); 3) promoting a “self-directed workforce” (encouraging development of a workforce that takes responsibility for its own continued professional development and stays up to date with necessary skills training). Factors considered range from percentage of ninth to sixteenth grade completion rates to four-year high school graduation rates to incarceration rates and disparity in unemployment between white and black males. A few examples of Louisiana’s performance relative to the South and the United States as whole are listed below: 9th-16th GRADE COMPLETION [measures “the percent of 9th graders that a) graduate from high school in four years; b) immediately enroll in college; c) earn an associate’s degree in four years or less or earn a bachelor’s degree in six years or less.”] Louisiana: 13% South: 16% United States: 18% HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATE Louisiana: 59% South: 62% United States: 66% INCARCERATION PER 100,000 RESIDENTS Louisiana: 794 South: 515 United States: 476 UNEMPLOYMENT DISPARITY BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE MALES [the study notes, “real black male unemployment rates are masked by rising incarceration rates. Men who otherwise would be counted as unemployed are actually incarcerated.”] Louisiana: 349% South: 176% United States: 202% **Interpreting these numbers: More than 3 times as many black males in Louisiana are unemployed as white. The actual number is almost certainly higher given the state’s very high incarceration rates. What the statistics highlighted here – and considered fully in the aforementioned report – indicate is that although Louisiana is addressing issues of educational and workforce development, the state still has a long, long way to go before it stops wasting the most valuable resource of all: human capital.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Missing children & LA

Today’s Times-Picayune ran an article about a recent Scripps Howard News Service study examining how well states handle missing children cases. Today’s article notes the study found “at least 4,498 runaway, lost and abducted children were not reported to the FBI, a failure rate of 12 percent.” But Louisiana’s failure rate is nearly twice the national average at 23 percent – with only Hawaii performing more poorly. In fact, Shreveport had a failure rate of 56 percent with the Shreveport Police Department spokesperson saying “There’s no need to report a national missing child when we know where he is at. We pretty much find all of our children.” The Scripps Howard study suggested that failure to report “runaway, lost and abducted children” is an “apparent violation” of the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 (more info here). If that’s the case, then Louisiana’s poor performance might end up affecting more than just the kids who aren’t reported missing. Representative Mark Foley, co-chairman of the U.S. Congress’s House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children remarked, “We track library books better than we track our missing children. How can we allow this to happen?” Indeed, the results of the study reported in today’s paper raise issues that Louisiana might be wise to start thinking about compliance with the National Child Search Assistance Act sooner rather than later. For more info about missing children, check the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Misinformation v. Enlightenment

Here’s a piece from Sunday’s Advocate discussing Louisiana talk radio and alternative internet sites. The article describes users of alternative media as those with “distaste for liberals”, “disgust over taxes” and “disdain for politicians.” Noting that alternative media such as talk radio and internet have the benefit of promoting discussion of public policy issues, “the downside,” the article argues, “is that a lot of the discussion misinforms instead of enlightens the public.” There's no institution in Louisiana dedicated to tracking media, fact-checking it and ensuring that “just the facts” are distributed to the general population. And I'm disinclined to jump into to breach. But as a student of mass communication and a regular consumer of both mainstream and alternative media, I offer a few observations in response to the Advocate article: First, “misinformation” is a loaded term, implying the perpetuation of information known to be false. On a related note, given recent developments in American media, the claim that mainstream media only “enlightens” is on increasingly shaky ground (See Newsweek-Koran debacle; Jayson Blair at NYT; and Jack Kelley at USA Today). Second, just because they aren’t promoted by large media institutions, opinions expressed in fora outside the established “mainstream” of Louisiana (or national) media are no less valid than those expressed by the major papers and other media outlets. I have no statistics to prove it, but I suspect that errors creep into mainstream media as often as they do alternative media. In fact, a few examples of errors found in Louisiana’s more traditional media in recent weeks include: a) coverage of SB 321 suggested the bill was defeated in a hearing. In fact, it was withdrawn by its author before a vote. b) the announcement of Steelscape’s establishment of operations at the Port of Shreveport-Bossier. One publication reporting the announcement (scroll down to center) named the company as Steelcase – a company based in Western Michigan that makes office furniture. c) Coverage of PAR’s statement about the governor’s proposed cigarette tax suggested the institution didn’t support the proposed tax. A more nuanced reading indicated PAR didn’t like the tax as proposed but was still open to it in another form. Some analysts studying the advent of alternative media sources actually suggest that non-traditional media formats have a natural tendency to be self-correcting – meaning that inaccuracies are quickly identified by consumers and corrected by the blog or website that initially had the wrong information. This characteristic is often contrasted with the small print corrections blurbs run regularly by traditional newspapers. The question is one of visibility of corrections and right now it looks like alternative media might be better at it. When it comes to discussion of alternative media and the misinformation-enlightenment debate, perhaps he who is without sin should cast the first stone... Mohandas Gandhi once observed that, “In true democracy, every man and woman is taught to think for himself or herself.” Given Louisiana’s poor performance on a litany of public policy indicators, that a growing number of people in Louisiana are thinking for themselves can only be a good thing.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

More trouble for the wetlands

Mr. Bill, Saturday Night Live icon and until now, spokesman for Louisiana's wetlands, walks away from the role. The explanation from Mr. Bill's creators is cause for concern -- and echoes the arguments of those long concerned about message control in environmental causes.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Arlene & Louisiana

The first named tropical storm of the season offers an opportunity for Louisiana to renew efforts to raise national awareness about coastal erosion. While the erosion may affect the Louisiana gulf coast, the repercussions of failing to address it will be felt at a national level. For more about Louisiana's coastal erosion check out Bayou Farewell by Michael Tidwell.

Infant mortality in Louisiana

Recent reports here and here indicate Louisiana still has some of the nation's highest infant death rates. Those who want to shrug off the latest stats should remember that infant mortality rates figure into corporate decision-making (i.e. expansion or closure or relocation) in the same way that general health care, education and quality-of-life statistics do. Long-term neglect of these factors can (and already does) have serious implications for the state.

My most recent column

This week's column in the Shreveport Times addressing Louisiana's proposed cigarette tax. Recent reports suggest a change in strategy.

Into the blogosphere

I'm finally jumping into the blogosphere. After tracking many blogs of all political stripes for the last 6 months, I'm ready to take the plunge. My promise to readers: 1) original commentary on selected current events; 2) no repetition of party rhetoric -- from either side of the aisle; 3) lots of opinions; 4) always common sense. Your comments, criticisms, and suggested links are always welcome. So here goes...