- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Aug. 4

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on state’s economic growth factors:

An old saying once used to suggest something is not relevant is a bit ironic today: What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?

Unfortunately, the price of a lot of things in China is more than relevant to Louisiana’s generally positive but a little bit more uncertain economic prospects.

The price of stocks in China after a market tumble, as well as Greece’s status in the EU, apparently have had an impact on United States consumer confidence, or at least economists at the Conference Board think so.

The consumer confidence survey is the lowest since September, but economist Lynn Franco told The Associated Press that it’s still a positive number: “Overall, the index remains at levels associated with an expanding economy and a relatively confident consumer.”

The U.S. economy grew by a solid 2.3 percent in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported. So economic output numbers and orders of durable goods continue to be positive but also with a level of uncertainty. The latter were boosted by big airplane sales by Boeing after the Paris air show but not necessarily other products; the strong dollar inhibits foreign sales by making U.S. products relatively more expensive.

One of the durable-goods numbers is relevant to Louisiana - oil and gas drilling equipment. That market has been severely curtailed by the fall in the price of oil.

And here’s another price-of-tea-in-China effect: A slowdown in that giant economy in Asia is one of the factors in the fall of oil prices.

While in the United States much attention has been focused on expanded domestic production - a long-term good for the economy and for Louisiana’s service oilfield industries - a world market is also highly sensitive to energy demand, and China and European countries have not been growing as in the past.

Louisiana’s energy sector thus does not show quite the countercyclical growth that we have been used to. With energy demands growing, even in past national recessions, we could count on energy for Louisiana growth even when the rest of the nation was undergoing harder economic times.

Now, our economic fortunes are more heavily dependent on others’ growing. That was particularly apparent during the nation’s heavy recession that began in 2008; closure of timber yards and lumber mills, for example, hurt the state significantly north of Interstate 10. Louisiana’s exports, from food and fiber to petrochemical products, are today more than ever integrated into world markets.

The price of tea in China? Our answer to the question these days might be along the lines of, “Well? What is it?”




Aug. 4

The Advertiser, Lafayette, Louisiana, on getting jobs back in Louisiana:

There’s reason to believe that lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil might help some Louisianans get back their jobs.

Some 125,000 oil workers around the country have lost jobs since oil prices took a plunge a year ago. Things aren’t getting better: Shell, Chevron, BP and Halliburton have announced cuts recently and market prices, already low, are backing up again.

Low oil prices have caused U.S. companies to pause production and send workers home. Job losses in Louisiana run at least at 10 percent, maybe more. But if the U.S. could export oil, it could create new markets and opportunities for U.S. companies.

Shipping U.S. crude oil out of the country would not help with prices - in fact, it could exacerbate the price problem by putting more oil on the market - but it would give the U.S. the opportunity to resume drilling on land and sea and put people back to work.

Important, too, is that it would enable us to sell fuel to our political allies, who often must import oil from countries hostile to the free world. That in itself would be a good step forward.

The proposed international treaty with Iran, recently negotiated by the Obama administration, would enable that hostile nation to put additional oil on the market - a million barrels a day, Iran says; much more eventually, some market observers suggest. That would help Iran’s economy.

But what about the U.S. and its oil industry? Should we not be worried about the health of our oil producers and their workers?

Should Europe and Japan be buying its oil from Russia and Iran - two countries with no love of freedom - when the U.S. could be filling some of those orders? No.

Should Russia, Iran and other oil-producing states gain world market share while the U.S., unable to export crude oil, lags behind? No.

Should the U.S. help free up the Iranian oil industry but continue to restrain the U.S. oil industry? Of course not.

The current ban is the product of the Nixon and Ford administrations, an era when OPEC put a stranglehold on the global oil market and threatened to shut down the U.S. economy. Four decades have passed, and U.S. ingenuity has enabled us to recapture our prowess as an oil producer.

U.S. oil output has soared and promises to keep soaring, crude inventories are high and imports are down a third over the last decade. There are pockets of Democrats who agree with the Republican majority that the obsolete ban ought to end.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, are pushing to end the ban. They are right; we should support them.




Aug. 5

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, on the new University Medical Center in New Orleans:

It seemed at times that construction on the new University Medical Center to replace Charity Hospital post-Katrina would never begin. And then it seemed it would never end. But, at last, the building is done.

Twenty-eight days shy of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches that flooded New Orleans in 2005, patients were transferred into the $1.1 billion, state-of-the-art medical center.

Unlike the glitches, disagreements and delays over the past decade, move-in day went flawlessly.

The move started at 6 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 1), and the last of 131 patients had been transferred from LSU Interim Hospital into University Medical Center before 1:30 p.m.

Juara Wilson, of Baton Rouge, was the first patient to be taken to a new room. Ms. Wilson, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in October, had spent long hours at the interim hospital. “I thought I was in another continent,” she said after the move. She even got a bouquet of flowers from the medical center staff.

“I was at a loss for words,” she said. “I really felt like a queen.”

Rachel Alcina, of Kenner, was the second patient moved into one of the medical center’s high-tech beds - which are programmed with hundreds of languages.

Ms. Alcina is in remission from breast cancer and recently underwent reconstructive surgery. Everything about the new room was an improvement, she said - from the rolling cart beside her bed to the extra space for family members.

“Everything is so soft, like the textures - which doesn’t have a lot to do with the medical (care). But … it makes you feel better,” she said.

That isn’t how you typically hear a hospital described. But this one has the look of a boutique hotel.

“We wanted it to feel not like a hospital,” Mackenzie Skene, an architect at NBBJ, said earlier this summer. “You want a hospital that doesn’t assault your senses, strip your privacy.”

Of course, this is a hospital - one covering 2.3 million square feet. It has 446 patient beds, 60 of those for people with mental health issues, and is the only Level One Trauma Center in the region. It is staffed by 2,000 employees, including 600 physicians, and is equipped with cutting-edge technology.

Images from operating rooms can be transmitted to classrooms throughout the complex. Interoperative imaging equipment will allow surgeons to order MRIs during surgery.

Having a 21st century teaching hospital in the heart of New Orleans is important to the city’s ongoing recovery post-Katrina. In addition to training new doctors, the medical center is a key component of a biomedical corridor in Mid-City that is expected to be an economic engine for the city. The other integral piece is the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System complex, which is under construction nearby. The new VA hospital is scheduled to open in 2016.

The hope is that other health care and research facilities will fill out that part of the city and produce high-paying jobs.

The opening of the medical center - which is formally named the Rev. Avery C. Alexander Academic Research Hospital - is an important moment. But it will take a while to grow into its full role.

Initially, the hospital will use 250 of its 446 beds. Officials will work to fill the others over time. The hope is that top-notch facilities and medical care will draw patients from outside the region, as MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and University Hospital in Birmingham do.

That will require balance, though, because University Medical Center still has a mission to care for our community’s indigent patients - as Charity Hospital did for so many years.

How successful the new hospital and the bio-medical corridor become will play out over time. But the long wait for the doors to open is over, and that is a positive sign for New Orleans’ recovery.



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