Thursday, November 06, 2008

The terminal state

\trē-ˈäzh, ˈtrē-ˌ\

1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care

2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.

(Merriam-Webster Online dictionary)

scarce resources, either medical or economic, from the hopelessly sick to those who have a fighting chance -- that is, with the added help -- isn't exactly new. If you've ever watched old M*A*S*H reruns, you understand the concept, as well as its application.

For an even longer time than the concept of "triage" has been around, Louisiana has been the Poor Man of America. The Sick Man of America, too.

In the late 1920s and early '30s, Huey Long thought a little all-American socialism funded by the Standard Oil and Refining Co., could cure what ailed his (Every Man a) Kingdom. It couldn't.

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal couldn't make Louisiana look like a functioning, prosperous democracy, either. Nor, later on, could Huey's little brother, Earl.

More than a half-century down the timeline, Louisiana remains a place that's sicker, poorer and more uneducated than your average state. Crookeder and more licentious, too, as illustrated by this Associated Press report on the saga of indicted congressman William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson:

Despite the indictment, Jefferson won 56 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, a primary runoff against former television reporter Helena Moreno. Jefferson, a stalwart Democrat who became Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991, won more than 92,000 votes to Moreno's 70,159.

Moreno is white and struggled for support in a district where black registration is roughly 60 percent and where Jefferson has been a powerful political presence for nearly three decades.


But Jefferson has shown remarkable political resiliency though his fund-raising and support from political officials have waned. He survived a challenge from a dozen opponents two years ago after news broke that he was under investigation and that federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer. He drew fewer challengers and won just as easily this year, even after the 2007 indictment.
State Democratic Party leaders, asked for a comment, issued a statement through spokesman Scott Jordan: "The Democratic voters of the 2nd District have spoken, and the Louisiana Democratic Party respects their choice and supports Bill Jefferson."

Jefferson, on Tuesday, scoffed at political opponents and pundits who, he said, "are perplexed" at his success.

"We work hard for the people we represent and we deliver for them day in and day out. . . . That's why we win elections," he said.

MEANWHILE, 80 miles up the Mississippi River in the capital, Baton Rouge, voters decided against taxing themselves to fix infrastructure and expand its convention and tourism base.

And on a more meat-and-potatoes level,
says The Advocate newspaper, Baton Rougeans also said no to building a new parish prison, replacing a police headquarters that's literally crumbling around the city's cops and rebuilding 38 dangerously substandard bridges.

Holden said many of the projects that were proposed as part of his half-cent sales tax and 9.9-mill sales tax are desperately needed.

As an example, Holden pointed to the $35 million needed to replace 38 bridges that are rated the same or worse as the bridge that collapse in Minnesota last year.

“We are not going to play Russian Roulette in this parish with those 38 bridges,” Holden said.

But Holden said that problems with the bridges and drainage are so severe because of past neglect that a new revenue source is needed to address them.


The mayor-president said the proposal would have qualified for an additional $137 million in matching federal funds.

Although Holden’s proposal did not receive any organized opposition, there was some criticism that the $989 million program benefited mostly the city of Baton Rouge.

Two of the biggest projects, a $247.5 million Audubon museum and a $144 million expansion of the River Center and its parking, were both in downtown Baton Rouge. If the River Center expansion had been approved, a Virginia developer had pledged to spend $100 million in private money to build two hotels there.

Holden’s proposal included a $135 million parish prison, a $43.5 million juvenile justice center, $89.7 million for a public safety complex, and $26.2 million to replace eight aging fire stations.

Also included was $45 million to modernize and synchronize more than 200 traffic signals and $49 million to convert the Governmental Building into a City Hall after the 19th Judicial District Court moves into the new courthouse that is under construction.
WHAT WE HAVE HERE, obviously, is a state that's grown accustomed to lying in its own feces. Its residents refuse to invest today to prosper tomorrow . . . or to pull together for the common good. At all.

Hell, whole segments of the Louisiana citizenry refuse even to deny high office to the obviously, and embarrassingly, corrupt. (Ninety grand in cold cash, anyone?)

What we also have here, particularly since Hurricane Katrina, is a state with its hand perpetually outstretched to the American taxpayer, seeking a quick infusion of cheap grace.

But with the national economy in shambles, the financial system in ruins and the federal till emptied by intractable foreign wars and immense domestic bailouts, Uncle Sam increasingly will reach into his pocket for a little something for the beggar . . . and pull out a whole lot of nothing.

Welcome to the Age of Limits. Welcome to the age when the federal government might be able to pull some chestnuts out of various fires, but not all.

WHO TO SAVE? How to decide? Triage. You save the ones you can. You don't waste time or money on the ones you can't.

The question for Louisiana is "Can this patient be saved?"

If you ask this expatriate who knows the patient well, the answer would be "Probably not. No will to live."

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