Monday, August 31, 2009

Vitter has a challenger. | News | Melancon to take on Vitter — Baton Rouge, LA
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Charles “Charlie” Melancon announced Thursday that he will challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter next year in what is expected to shape up to be a political donnybrook.

The Napoleonville Democrat’s entry into the race is expected to immediately attract national attention with ammunition in the form of campaign dollars from the national parties.

I might get my wallet out for this one.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Return of the Dust Bowl.

Small Midwestern States To Be Hit Hardest By Climate Change: Report

The map included in this article shows the worst effects will be on the old Dust Bowl states, so the Dust Bowl will return, but worse, and bigger.

Tucker commission gets free advice from consultant. "Graduate MORE students."

From the Advocate: "La. higher ed to get consulting assistance"

“Both of these foundations will tell you the most important thing that Louisiana can do is graduate 10,000 additional students,” Jones said.

But how do you do that while cutting the budget? It looks like the governor's voice will not be the only one heard.

“This will be the first time in history that our nation takes a step backwards in education.This economy can’t run on all cylinders if half of those that enter college don’t finish,” said Jones. “Louisiana is positioning itself so it can be competitive by focusing on graduating more students.”

Another commission heard from. Abolish boards, not colleges. | Legislature & Politics | Panel: Put colleges under Regents board — Baton Rouge, LA
The ex-governor told the advisory group that putting all public colleges under the Board of Regents would force the institutions to work together without closing a single university.

Roemer unsuccessfully pushed a similar idea in 1988 when he was governor. Former Gov. Mike Foster — who as a state senator opposed the idea when Roemer pushed it — also tried to put all colleges under a single board.

Another commission heard from. Abolish boards, not colleges. | Legislature & Politics | Panel: Put colleges under Regents board — Baton Rouge, LA
The ex-governor told the advisory group that putting all public colleges under the Board of Regents would force the institutions to work together without closing a single university.

Roemer unsuccessfully pushed a similar idea in 1988 when he was governor. Former Gov. Mike Foster — who as a state senator opposed the idea when Roemer pushed it — also tried to put all colleges under a single board.

New consultants for Tucker commission. | News | La. higher ed to get consulting assistance — Baton Rouge, LA
“Both of these foundations will tell you the most important thing that Louisiana can do is graduate 10,000 additional students,” Jones said.

But how do you do that while cutting the budget? Seems that the governor's voice will not be the only one heard.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For the poor, we're Burundi.

By T.R. Reid -- Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World
In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.

Politics? Graft? or just Incompetence?

Probe: New Orleans flood control pumps not reliable -
WASHINGTON — Huge flood-control pumps installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina don't protect the city adequately and the Army Corps of Engineers could have saved $430 million in replacement costs by buying proven equipment, a federal investigation finds.

The investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel finds there was "little logical justification" for the corps' decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the "untested" hydraulic pumps, which are meant to empty millions of gallons of water from the below-sea-level city during storm-related floods.

Citing the corps' $430 million plan to replace the hydraulic pumps by 2012, just five years after they were installed, the special counsel concludes that a "proven" direct-drive pump design would have been less prone to corrosion and breakdowns. Based on an independent engineering review, the counsel says direct-drive pumps could have been purchased "more quickly, more reliably and without planning for pump … replacement."

This is why no one wants the Corps involved in New Orleans flood plans.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another commission heard from on higher ed.

Interesting -- I'm not sure what the guv with think of this -- perhaps not in his instruction set?  Is this a "rogue commission"?

Commission focuses on job cuts and education - WAFB Channel 9, Baton Rouge, LA |
The commission passed a plan to abolish all state higher education boards, including those at Southern and LSU. Instead, their power would transfer to one joint board, the Board of Regents. Kennedy says that way each institution would have a purpose and focus. They could coordinate with each other, instead of overlap interests. The Commission also wants to eliminate thousands of state jobs. Kennedy suggests each get rid of at least 5,000 jobs each year for the next three years. "No one's going to be fired. No one will be laid off. We'll do this gradually over time," he said.

From The Advertiser
"I do not believe we have too many schools," Kennedy said after his Advisory Group on Efficiency and Benchmarking adopted his series of suggestions. "We have too many boards that promote too many schools that try to do the same thing."
. . . . . .
Kennedy's proposal for a single board was suggested by former Gov. Buddy Roemer, who told the panel Monday that having one board actually strengthens each university because it would be given a singular purpose.

"Do we have too many universities? No, we don't," Roemer said. "We don't use them well. We don't coordinate them.

No university would be closed, Roemer said, and they would work together.

"There can be only one flagship," Kennedy said, and other universities should not try to duplicate it. He said every school does not need nursing and engineering programs.

Eliminating the management boards created in the 1974 constitution would not be easy. Roemer and former Gov. Mike Foster tried to pass amendments to do it and failed.

Surprise!!! LSU will clear away any competition.

Harry Shearer: Obama neglecting New Orleans, playing politics.

Harry Shearer: Playing the Inside Game -- A Cautionary Tale
Experiment officially over. To be clear, I'm not upset I wasn't treated like a celebrity or given ego-satisfying access. Frankly, the inside game creeps me out, the flattery that you're "connected" can bring out the late Bob Novak in anyone. I'm just angry that New Orleans, which did not bring about its own disaster, is watching a second consecutive president trash his glib promises to "rebuild it better".

Obama supporters chided me, back in January and February, to "give him some time, he's only been in office for a month/two months/three months." I guess they knew what I didn't, that the presidency gets easier as you go along, that progressively fewer surprises get dumped on your desk as time passes. Obama's remarks about New Orleans during the campaign were anodyne boilerplate, and what he's giving us now is more of the same. He won't even do the obligatory photo-op in the city on 8/29; he told the Times-Picayune he'll come down "before the end of the year". He didn't say which year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obama will visit New Orleans this fall.

Rebuilding New Orleans still a priority, Obama says - Louisiana Politics | State Legislature News -
"I think that Katrina was really a wake-up call for the country -- about our need to fulfill our commitments to our fellow citizens, a recognition that there but for the grace of God go I, that all of us can fall prey to these kinds of natural disasters, " Obama said.

"I think to fail to follow through on that commitment would be a betrayal of who we are as a country. I also think that the Gulf region generally, but New Orleans specifically, has a unique place in America's imagination and American life and that's why it is so important now.

State drops rail plan -- not because Jindal was taking heat.

State drops proposed Baton Rouge-New Orleans line | News for New Orleans, Louisiana | Top Stories | News and Weather for New Orleans |
The state has dropped a plan to seek about $300 million of federal aid to launch passenger railroad service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
. . .

Ankner later said he was not pressured by Gov. Bobby Jindal's office to drop the proposal because of any political considerations.
You may recall that Jindal came out against rail subsidies in his famous speech.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Letter: Jindal's real agenda. | Opinion | Letter: Funding favors research schools — Baton Rouge, LA
By his statements and his actions, Gov. Jindal has done nothing but provide another platform to those who want to shut down Southern University, Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans and Grambling, by hook or by crook. Going by his higher-education policy, Jindal’s health-care policy will be just another version of eugenics.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Excellent summary of what the Tucker Commission means to higher ed.

Higher ed needs major overhaul : Politics and People
Too many students attend four-year universities and fail to finish. More students should be encouraged to attend community colleges where tuition is less expensive and they wouldn’t have to go into deep debt to get an education.

One report said if 10,000 students went to community colleges instead of universities, $26 million would be saved.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said the state’s education programs should be geared to producing students that can foster in-state economic development. Otherwise, Louisiana graduates go elsewhere.

State economic development and workforce officials said 30,000 students get bachelor’s degrees or advanced degrees every year in the state, but there are only 13,000 jobs out there for them. So they leave Louisiana.

On the other end, there are thousands of jobs not requiring a four-year degree that go unfilled.

If we don't "need" more than 13,000 graduates to fill Louisiana jobs, that means we can cut universities in HALF or more! Then create lots of 2-year institutions to "produce workers" for low-skill jobs. (Hey, Louisiana Economic Development Person, how about attracting some more high-skill employers to Louisiana, instead of subsidizing chicken farms and sweet potato processors? How about keeping some of the raw material we produce in abundance here and finding new ways to process it her, instead of sending it upstream?)

There is just so much wrong with this idea that higher ed needs to be more "efficient" and "productive," as though students were not persons but simply units of labor. This article makes it clear that there are serious costs to society to making higher ed more "efficient." Among numerous other arguments for higher ed, this one seemed to me pretty persuasive:
It is true that we as a nation must educate for the skills/abilities that fuel our economy, and at reasonable cost. But we educate for the habits of mind and action that fuel a democracy as well. Educating for democracy as opposed to mere academic coursework is a global differentiator of American higher education.
That differentiator seems ever more necessary these days, and it's not cheap.

If, at last, you do not think that Jindal and Tucker are out for higher ed blood, check out the following.
A state budget official said the state faces a $939 million shortfall in its fiscal year 2010-11 budget and another $1.93 billion shortfall in the year after that.

Across-the-board cuts under that scenario would translate to a 54 percent higher education cut, according to a former legislative budget official now working at LSU.

Brits do not pull the plug on grandma, Senator Grassley. | Opinion | Our view: U.K. experts assail myths — Baton Rouge, LA
“It is neither true nor is it anything you could extrapolate from anything we’ve ever recommended to the NHS,” Dillon said.

Several experts told The Guardian the distortions of Britain’s experience verge on lunacy. “An e-mail widely circulated among U.S. voters, of uncertain origin, claims that anyone over 59 in Britain is ineligible for treatment for heart disease,” The Guardian noted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vitter and the Tea-baggers.

The GOP's Sex Scandal Dodge - Page 1 - The Daily Beast
Many of those attending Vitter’s town halls have been shepherded to the events by local chapters of, a supposedly grassroots network of national activists that happens to “partner” with the health-care and insurance industry-funded lobbying firm Freedom Works, which has directed angry mobs to Democratic events. At a town-hall meeting on August 10 in Jefferson Parish, many local constituents were reportedly turned away while Tea Party activists were allowed to enter. When the event concluded, Vitter rushed out of the back door and away from the press and his constituents, guarded by a phalanx of police officers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oh, yeah, that's what higher ed needs -- a two by four to the head. | News | Goal: Improve education — Baton Rouge, LA
Tucker: “We need you to take a 2-by-4, if that’s necessary, and smack us across the head.”

According to this article in the Advertiser, the commission has not a single new idea. It's all the same old stuff.

Jones presented data showing Louisiana well below the national average in enrollment in two-and four-year institutions, percentage of graduates and percentage of workers with degrees, both from four-year and two-year schools.

"There is no community college in the center of part of the state and as a result, low participation."(What happened to LSUA?)

Commission member James Wharton, former chancellor of LSU's Baton Rouge campus, agreed with presenters who said students would be better served if they attended community colleges prior to enrolling in universities.

Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, recommended that college and university systems work with high schools to assure that what's taught in high school to college-bound students aligns with what is taught in college.

Gov. Bobby Jindal agreed "It's not fair to students to start out a career with a huge debt."

Jindal laid out four goals: align degree programs to meet workforce needs; fund universities based on performance (something the Board of Regents has started doing); build on each university's high-performing programs and eliminate low-performing and duplicative programs.

This is the best they can do? All of these so-called solutions have been talked to death for years. The Regents created a community college system less than a decade ago, and it's working. Universities have instituted admissions standards, and they are working. The Regents funds universities based on performance, and that's working. So what do Tucker and Jindal have to add. Let's watch. I predict -- a push to close Southern and Northwestern. Demoting LSUA back to 2-year status.

In other articles Jindal and Tucker have complained about low graduation rates, yet in this article in the Picayune, he says that numbers shouldn't count: "For too many years we have funded based on head count instead of priorities and results,. . . seeking size over excellence."

And it 's interesting that Tucker won't even vouch for his own assertions,
Tucker said there's "widespread belief" that the state's colleges operate inefficiently, that Louisiana has too many universities and too many college boards and that the state has put too much emphasis on four-year colleges and not enough on the two-year schools. He urged panel members to be bold in their recommendations.
I hope that tucker is not recommending that we change higher ed based on "widespread beliefs" instead of facts. What some might describe as "bold" others might see as "unfounded" and "mmendacious."

If you really want to know what Tucker and Jindal want to accomplish, then read the following paragraphs from an article at the WAFB website carefully.
Tucker says another possible solution would be to consolidate some of the state's public four-year schools. "This commission in particular needs to look at issues that we have too many universities, too many boards, racial divides, underperforming universities, duplicate programs, and just general inefficiencies," Tucker added.

Louisiana's current graduation rate is 37%. Governor Jindal says that's the lowest in the region. He and Tucker agree the commission should start by re-evaluating the lowest performing schools in the state. The state school with the lowest graduation rate is Southern University in New Orleans, with about 10%. Nicholls State and UNO are tied for the second lowest rates among the state's four-year public universities at 28%. LSU in Baton Rouge had the best graduation rate at 65%.

There it is -- what schools are close enough to one another to consolidate efficiently? SUNO and UNO? Southern and LSUA&M? Grambling and La Tech? Is there a pattern here?

Louisiana voting machines hacked.

Raw Story » Computer scientists reveal new voting machine hack successfully changed votes
While the voting machines were older and had been discontinued by North Carolina, where they were originally used, the voting apparatus are still in use in Louisiana and New Jersey.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Even nuttier than I thought.

Bush saw Iraq war as fight against Gog and Magog.

Council for Secular Humanism
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

Well at least he's a New Ager.