Monday, November 28, 2005

Foghorn Leghorn Republicans

Poultry Glossary: mostly US terminology

All chickens are chickens !!
They all hatch out as chicks.
Young males are cockerels , and become roosters , or cocks , at 1 year of age.
Young females are pullets. At 1 year of age they're called hens.

Feather Site- The Poultry Page

Before I stopped drinking, I found it amusing to hear heavy drinkers talk about the dipsomania of other drinkers. Though it would often be expressed in terms of concern, it was apparent that some drunks took great satisfaction in saying things like: "Joe passed out last night. Again." I finally decided that what was at work could be described as the Foghorn Leghorn school of denial. I suppose it's human nature for someone with a particular vice to look for the more obvious presence of that vice in others. I suppose, that in the case of politicians, one should expect this subconscious human tendency to be supplemented by a conscious effort to seek cover or to control the media spotlight.

So, with billions to be spent and blame to be assigned after Katrina one almost had to expect to hear a steady Republican drumbeat about the level of corruption and incompetence in Louisiana. Yet considering the corruption charges facing Republicans everywhere from California to Missouri to Ohio(there's no need to go state by state, it's fair to say that the GOP has been corrupted from the "grass roots" to the very top,more from The Post), it's still amusing to hear Republicans like Larry Craig use the corruption of Louisiana as an excuse to abandon the flooded parts of New Orleans.

Likewise, considering the incompetence the administration showed in its Iraq War planning or that the Republicans showed in writing their prescription drug plan, it's almost funny to hear Republicans like Chris Shays say, " I have no
faith, candidly, in the ability of New Orleans to
spend money wisely." (on Scarborough Country 10/04/05, after laying the blame for events at the Superdome entirely on the mayor). Still hearing Republicans like Shays, or Craig or Tom Tancredo (who urged his colleagues not to let La. politicians "get their hands on" any of the reconstruction money), it's easy to imagine Foghorn Leghorn saying, "I say, I say we're not corrupt, bumbling politicians. I say, those are corrupt, bumbling politicians."

At first, I thought that these attacks were intended to keep control over reconstruction spending at the federal level. Now, it seems that the GOP focus has shifted to limiting the size of the Reconstruction bill. Would it be too cynical to point out that the GOP started to back away from the president's pledge that:

"Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems,"

at around the same time as FEMA came under fire for awarding no-bid contracts to politically connected firms? Whatever the cause, the Republicans in congress are still united in their criticism of Louisiana. So next time you hear a Republican official talking about Louisiana, just think of a large rooster.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Well it seems that some Mississippi officials are trying to blame Louisiana for their problems getting federal funds for bridge repairs. From The Times Picayune:

Brown blames delays by President Bush and Congress in funding Katrina highway reconstruction, at least in part, on Louisiana's requests for astronomical amounts....Gov. Haley Barbour has voiced the same opinion about Louisiana's initial requests for $250 million in federal Katrina relief.

"In my opinion, Louisiana's request has spooked the president, Congress and the Federal Highway Administration," Brown said

It could be that Wayne Brown (Mississippi's Southern District Transportation Commissioner) is following the party line that aid requests by Louisiana must be attacked at any opportunity, or it could be that criticism at home has prompted some CYA behavior on Brown's part:

Brown's announcement, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday when the news media cannot easily find public officials, has the feel of an intentional decision to sidestep the impact of his news. His announcement was timed when most Coast residents are busy preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday and not paying attention to the news. Brown surely should have know for weeks that he didn't have the money. In his interview on WLOX TV, Brown speculated that the bids might go out in January. But his performance so far suggests that he was only speculating since no specific date was mentioned, nor asked for by the WLOX reporter. And if Brown did not know about his agency's finances until Wednesday, then it suggests a serious management failure.....

Brown and MDOT in general have been widely criticized for months for being monolithic and unresponsive to the public and to the road needs of the Coast...

The bridges and roads are the arteries of the Coast's economy, and at this time, when the Coast is suffering the most, Brown's management of a serious crisis is becoming more like a heart attack

Whatever the reason,it's simply wrong for Wayne Brown (Mississippi's Southern District Transportation Commissioner) to blame Louisiana for Mississippi's difficulty getting federal funding for bridge repair. It's simply inexcusable to single out La.'s aid requests while ignoring the cost of Iraq, the insistence on eliminating the inheritance tax and even the congress' willingness to spend money on bridges to nowhere (the money went from being earmarked for bridges to being a no strings attached check, some difference)for the shortage of federal funds.

However, it wouldn't be too cynical to note that the administration's commitment to reconstruction spending started to shrink at the same time as the awarding of no-bid contracts came under fire. If there is a connection, it might be correct to blame some Louisiana officials for the tightening of the federal purse strings. Of course, there are some Mississippi officials that Mr. Brown might want to blame as well.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I normally don't look at Deal Book (the online business newsletter) from The New York Times but this story (another link that might not require the survey)caught my eye:
The Deal That Even Awed Them in Houston

Published: November 23, 2005
HOUSTON, Nov. 21 - Texas Genco might lack the flash and fame of Enron, but its low-profile owners have managed to accomplish something rare in this swaggering city: a deal so ambitious in its scale that it has caused jaws to drop in Houston's energy circles while angering and perplexing people who are feeling the sting of surging electricity prices.

The buzz in Houston these days is over the $4.9 billion in profit that four elite private equity firms - the Texas Pacific Group, the Blackstone Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Hellman & Friedman - stand to make from selling an electricity company for $5.8 billion.

Lured by deregulation of the electricity industry in Texas, the investors acquired the electricity company Texas Genco, which owns several power plants in the Houston area, just last year with $900 million in cash. Now, they are selling it to NRG Energy of Princeton, N.J., for a gain of $5 billion, a flip that will be one of the most lucrative private equity investments in recent memory.

"This part of the deregulation process has transferred billions from ratepayers to investors," said Clarence L. Johnson, director of regulatory analysis at the Office of Public Utility Counsel, a state agency in Texas created to represent the interests of homeowners and small businesses on utility issues. "It seems extraordinary, doesn't it?"

The investors profited largely by exploiting an obscure part of electricity deregulation here that pegs electricity prices to the price of natural gas. Because Texas Genco fuels some of its plants with relatively cheap coal and nuclear power, its operations become much more lucrative in times of high natural gas prices, like now. The profit from the deal is about half the $9.9 billion that Exxon Mobil, the nation's largest energy company, with 86,000 employees, made in the most recent quarter. Such an outcome from deregulation, which made it perfectly legal for a handful of investors to reap fortunes from their control of Texas Genco, a little-known electricity company with 1,200 employees, has stunned some people in Houston, which has some of the most expensive electricity prices in the country.
Electricity prices in Houston, the largest city in Texas, have climbed about 86 percent since the deregulation of the state's electricity industry in 2002. In unusually cool or hot months, when air-conditioning or electric heating are heavily in use, that means monthly energy bills for a three-bedroom home in Houston can easily run $300 to $450.

Electricity cooperatives that are not part of the state's deregulated market have increased their rates only 18 percent over the same period, even though most of them also rely on expensive natural gas, according to the southwest regional office of Consumers Union in Austin, Tex.

"Electricity is a basic necessity," Ms. Junkin of Houston Acorn said. "This kind of profiteering off the misfortune of others should be illegal."

Advocates of deregulated electricity markets see things differently. Energy analysts say it is possible that the Texas Genco takeover might encourage similar deals in Texas and other deregulated electricity markets around the country.

Craig Shere, an analyst at Calyon Securities, attributed this excitement to the "dark spread," or the widening difference between coal and natural gas prices over the last year. Natural gas prices have doubled since September 2004, when the investors led by the Texas Pacific Group of Fort Worth bought Texas Genco from CenterPoint Energy.

A spokesman for NRG, the company that is buying Texas Genco from the private investors, left little doubt in a telephone interview as to why higher natural gas prices made Texas Genco an attractive asset. "This puts NRG in an even stronger position to thrive on this volatile natural gas environment," said Jay Mandel, director of media relations at NRG.

David Crane, the chief executive of NRG, also said the acquisition would enhance NRG's geographic reach.

Representatives of the four private equity firms involved in the deal declined to comment. Thad Miller, the executive vice president at Texas Genco, which has remained generally silent about the takeover, countered the deal's critics by claiming that deregulation in Texas had encouraged companies to build more power plants to meet growing demand for electricity....

Of course, the article didn't say anything about the investment group actually building any power plants to earn its $4.9B, because it didn't build any power plants to earn its $4.9B. No one is suggesting that Texas Genco is the next Enron or that any illegal insider trading took place. But I can't see how anyone can justify a $4.9B transfer of wealth from consumers to speculators, not producers but speculators.

It's just inconceivable that 4 1/2 years after the California Energy Crisis, we still have the kind of deregulation that allows speculators to make billions while consumers get fleeced. I suppose a market worshipper would argue that the system hasn't been thoroughly deregulated and, until it is, they'll always be inefficiencies. That's a valid argument, but I believe it's mistaken. It seems most of the problems, and brown outs in Cal. and $400.00 utility bills in Houston are not minor problems, follow deregulation. Whatever the cause, I can't see any justification for a system that allows consumers to be fleeced so that non-producers can profit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Just saw the Frontline on Katrina. I'll read the transcript before commenting at length, but it made me wonder if I was too harsh on Stephanie Grace recently. The reporter asked Blanco the same question about critics who say she didn't ask for the right kind of help in the right way.

Maybe I'm just an ignorant product of the New Orleans Public School System, but it seems to me like that criticism is based on such a ludricrous premise that it couldn't withstand a moment's thought. Are we really supposed to believe that when the mayor and governor were screaming and pleading for help, there was something wrong with aid request? Let me see if I understand this scenario, The President (or Michael Chertoff) receives an aid request from the governor,but something's wrong with the paperwork and the request for assisstance can't be honored. Are we really supposed to believe, in this scenario, that there's some law that kept anyone in The White House or DHS from telling someone in the Governor's office about the problem? If there was no communication between Washington and Baton Rouge, was there anything that kept Scott McClellan from telling the press: "we'd love to help, but we need form 10A?" Is it all possible that Michael Brown's secretary (when she text messaging Marty Bahamonde about B.R. restaurants) was somehow prohibited from sending a message telling Bahamonde to tell the folks in La. to sign line 86c?

So, in all seriousness, am I missing something? Or has the combination of he said/she said journalism and intellectual laziness rendered today's reporters incapable of critical thought? Comments welcome. If it's that I'm dense, feel free to say so. You might want to explain it in real simple English though.

Actually, the Frontline special was pretty good.

After my last post, I came across CBS' response to criticism of its Sixty Minutes piece on Blageur, another fairly new La. Blog. One thing stuck out:

Pelley also said Kusky's involvement in the piece grew out of concerns that it was too biased in favor of rebuilding

What can I add that CBS didn't just say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Who's More Dishonest, Scott Pelley or Tim Kusky?

updated 11/23/05

I emailed Dr. Kusky and was impressed with the speed and graciousness of his response. I was perhaps too hasty to question his integrity. Actually, no perhaps needed, I was wrong to question his personal and professional integrity. I still disagree with his conclusions, but he has offered to send supporting detail.

However, I stand by everything I wrote about Scott Pelley. I really was not that angry about the Sixty Minutes story until I saw the reporter's notebook online. It's a classic example of someone sounding fair and unbiased while giving a totally one-sided presentation.

After watching Sixty Minutes last night and checking its web site (unfortunately complete, verbatim transcript not online) today, it was hard to tell who was more dishonest the reporter or the "flood control expert." Before, I go any further I should state that, in this case, dishonest means conveying a false impression without telling an outright irrefutable lie. If a reporter who's researched a story loosely uses terms that his research should have revealed to be misleading, he abandons all pretense of pursuing the truth. If the "expert" that he interviews allows these terms to be misused, the expert abandons all claim to scientific objectivity.

To get a sense of Pelley's ability to distort without telling an actual mistruth watch the reporter's notebook video on the Sixty Minutes web site. He begins by stating that New Orleans is naturally sinking at a rate of a 1/2 inch a year. Not up to a 1/2 in. but a 1/2 in. There's no debate that subsidence is a naturally occurring problem in N.O., but most geologists believe it to be occurring at a rate of 1/2 centimeter a year (audio link) or 2 in. a decade. An honest mistake perhaps, but it overstates the case by a factor of two and a half.

The rest of the clip (and last night's story) is full of omissions so glaring that the obfuscation must be deliberate. Early in the clip he refers to the coastal erosion that occurred as "hurricanes approched the Gulf Coast and the sea has edged forward"; later he refers to reclaiming the coast that "hurricane Katrina and other storms have washed away." The clear implication is that Louisiana's loss of coast has been totally caused by natural forces. Perhaps the most telling omission comes at the end of the clip. When asked how people in New Orleans would justify spending the money on flood protection and coastal restoration, he replies that they'd say that N.O. is a jewel that must be saved at any cost. That's it. In the time he spent in N.O., he never heard any one say that most of the erosion was the product of human activity or that the most ambitious coastal restoration proposed would cost about the same amount as The Big Dig . I suppose it was an honest oversight.

The actual story was even more misleading (again, complete transcript must be purchased). To begin with, in the promos CBS referred to Kusky as a natural disaster expert and, during the story, Pelley introduced him as Tim Kusky, a professor of earth sciences at St. Louis University and a flood control expert. However, during the interview, Pelley referred to the fact that that Louisiana was naturally sinking while showing a map that showed the amount of coast Louisiana had lost to erosion, primarily the result of human activity (technically, the erosion occurs naturally, but human activity both contributes to the erosion and prevents the coast from being naturally replenished). Oddly this scientist felt no need to clarify the difference between subsidence and erosion, two scientifically distinct terms. Worse, he seemed happy to leave viewers with the impression that New Orleans would naturally be surrounded by The Gulf of Mexico in 90 years.

It's undeniably true that other human activities (construction and maintenence of the MRGO, dredging, digging of canals, by the oil industry, through marshland,etc.) only contribute to the problem caused by the levee system along the Mississippi River. Whether fresh water diversion projects could offset the effects of controlling the river might even be a legitimate subject of scientific debate. That, however, was not the case that Kusky made. Instead, he allowed Pelley to make scientifically misleading statements while arguing that the cost of saving New Orleans would make such a project untenable. In so doing, he stopped speaking as a scientist and started speaking as an advocate.

Finally, one has to wonder that Kusky was comfortable being referred to as flood control and natural disaster expert. An examination of his St. Louis University homepage finds his research interests listed as:

Tectonics and Geodynamics, Structural Geology, Precambrian Geology and Crustal Evolution, Evolution of Orogenic Systems,
RemoteSensing and GIS, Tectonics and Mineral Deposits.

Nothing in there about flood control or natural disasters.

However, a glance at Amazon U.K. does show that he wrote this book:

Geological Hazards: A Sourcebook (Oryx Sourcebooks on Hazards & Disasters S.)
Timothy M. Kusky

described as:

An introduction to the scientific principles behind various geological processes to explain how and why they can sometimes be dangerous to humans, this sourcebook contains numerous examples of famous or recent geological disasters. The text provides contemporary scientific information on all major types of geological disasters, such as volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunami, as well as on such less common events as sinkholes and asteroid impacts.

I suppose writing an introductory book on a particular field might qualify one as an expert. Of course, Amazon also has this listing for him:

Asteroids, Comets and Meteorites: Cosmic Invaders of the Earth (The Living Earth Set)
Timothy Kusky (Foreword), Jon Erickson

Clearly written and well illustrated with black-and-white photographs, illustrations, and helpful tables, Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites provides students, researchers, and general readers with the most up-to-date information on this fascinating field. From the days of the dinosaurs to our modern environment, this book explores all aspects of these cosmic invaders.

One can only wonder whether CBS will have Kusky on to give his scientific opinions as an "asteroid expert" or "space exploration expert" next time NASA is in the news.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open Letter To Stephanie Grace

Dear Ms. Grace,

I am writing to take exception to something you wrote in your op-ed piece in today's Times Picayune . I should state from the beginning that I had no problem with the overall tone of the column. Even had it been totally negative, that would be fine. I wouldn't expect the op-ed and editorial page writers to be apologists for the mayor and governor; I wouldn't be surprised to see this story prompt a scathing editorial for instance.

All that said, I must question exactly what you meant when you said:
She failed to ask for the right type of help the right way.
Were you be perhaps intending that to be tongue-in-cheek and I just didn't catch the humor? Was it intended as a subtle criticism of the Bush Administration? With a little thought, She failed to ask for the right type of help the right way, actually says something pretty damning about Washington. But your column failed to convey any sense that that was your intention.

Even with a second reading, it seems that you're uncritically repeating the discredited administration talking point that state and local officials were somehow responsible for the woeful federal response to the Katrina disaster. With so much to legitimately criticize, I can't imagine why you would lend your prestige to such a laughable notion. An independent congressional study showed that Louisiana took the necessary steps to get federal aid. Specifically it found that:

All necessary conditions for federal relief were met on August 28. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Stafford Act, "[t]he declaration of an emergency by the President makes Federal emergency assistance available," and the President made such a declaration on August 28. The public record indicates that several additional days passed before such assistance was actually made available to the State;

The Governor must make a timely request for such assistance, which meets the requirements of federal law. The report states that "[e]xcept to the extent that an emergency involves primarily Federal interests, both declarations of major disaster and declarations of emergency must be triggered by a request to the President from the Governor of the affected state";

The Governor did indeed make such a request, which was both timely and in compliance with federal law. The report finds that "Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested by letter dated August 27, 2005...that the President declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period from August 26, 2005 and continuing pursuant to [applicable Federal statute]" and "Governor Blanco's August 27,2005 request for an emergency declaration also included her determination...that 'the incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of disaster."

It's certainly true that the national press repeated the line that Blanco was somehow tardy or deficient in her request for aid, but you certainly recall that both The Washington Post and Newsweek acknowledged this error over two months ago.

I suppose that it's possible that I'm being too harsh. Perhaps, due to hurricane damage, you and several colleagues are sharing the same desk and you don't have the resources to conduct the simple fact check I did on a home computer. But, with a little thought, you should have realized that the notion that Blanco failed to ask for help properly doesn't pass a simple smell test. We know that Blanco made the proper request for federal assisstance the Friday before Katrina. Are we supposed to believe that some mistake in the paper work prevented the federal government from honoring the request? Are we further supposed to believe that the administration would have been helpless to communicate that the request was not filed properly? With Blanco on TV asking for any help the federal government could give, are we supposed to believe that something prevented anyone in the administration from calling her (or going on TV) and saying that they needed form A? Frankly, Ms. Grace, you're helping to propagate a myth that doesn't pass a simple thought test.

First saw this Times story on another site last night. Not much to add to what Steve M. had to say; he's certainly right to emphasize this paragraph: Sept. 7, at Mississippi's request, the disaster zone was expanded as far as 220 miles inland, reaching 32 counties, including several that never experienced sustained hurricane-force winds. The zone eventually reached 47 counties. The disaster area in Mississippi - which is led by Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican ally of President Bush's - extends 200 miles farther north than that in Louisiana, which is led by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat who at times criticized the federal storm response.

and to link to this about Barbour:

His firm has been named by Fortune magazine as the number one lobby firm in the Capital, and Barbour is also the man in charge of raising money for Republican Senate campaigns.....Some of Barbour's current and recent lobby clients include: BMI, CBS, Microsoft, RJR, Amgen and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company and dozens more businesses. Now that's synergy

I would, however, call attention to this from The Times article:

Officials in Mississippi fault both the Red Cross and FEMA for not having clearer - and tougher - standards about what kind of damage merited a claim. In the end, it appeared that simply being a resident when the storm passed through was enough to collect a check.

"The Red Cross is thought of as the premier charity," said Representative Reeves of Jackson. "In my judgment, they dropped the ball."

It could be that the Katrina blame game is over. But, with the Katrina Committee still investigating, The Republicans on the defensive, and $Billions still to be allocated for reconstruction it would be naive to assume it. We should fully expect to hear a replay of (Red Cross President) Marsha "Marty" Evans' statements that Red Cross relief was blocked by state officials who wanted to concentrate on evacuation. It would be unseemly for state officials to be too critical of the Red Cross, but they should be able to point oit that it isn't always fully informed.

With luck, other sources than ,Media Matters will point out that The Red Cross isn't alway consistent either:

In a FAQ apparently posted on its website September 2, the Red Cross emphasized that its "presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city," and noted that "[w]e are an organization of civilian volunteers and cannot get relief aid into any location until the local authorities say it is safe and provide us with security and access." The FAQ concludes by describing the Red Cross' "appropriate role" under the circumstances:

As the remaining people are evacuated from New Orleans, the most appropriate role for the Red Cross is to provide a safe place for people to stay and to see that their emergency needs are met. We are fully staffed and equipped to handle these individuals once they are evacuated.

These sentiments were echoed by Red Cross spokeswoman Renita Hosler, according to a September 3 Pittsburgh Post Gazette article. "Though frustrated, Hosler understood the reasons. The goal is to move people out of an uninhabitable city, and relief operations might keep them there. Security is so bad that she fears feeding stations might get ransacked.

Nor does it seem that it's always unbiased either:

Indeed, when Garrett was asked in a September 7 interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt why the Red Cross was eager to get the story out there, he responded, "Because they work hand-in-glove with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When FEMA is tarred and feathered, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are tarred and feathered, because they work on a cooperative basis. They feel they are being sullied by this reaction."

According to the federal charter of the American Red Cross, the organization has "the legal status of 'a federal instrumentality' " with "responsibilities delegated to it by the Federal government." Listed among these responsibilities is "to maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the Federal Response Plan coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)."

The Red Cross has political ties to the Bush administration as well. Evans donated $500 to the Republican National Committee in September 2004, while Red Cross chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter has donated more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and political committees since 1999. Media Matters found no record of any donations to Democrats by either Evans or McElveen-Hunter. President Bush, in fact, appointed McElveen-Hunter ambassador to Finland in 2001, a position she held until 2003.

I'm not suggesting that The American Red Cross is an arm of the RNC, but I fully expect the Republicans to use it to shift as much blame as they possibly can to the state.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Somethings to remember any time Louisiana's aid requests are portrayed as outrageous (Houma Today July 23,2005):
Advocates in Louisiana argue that inland states split oil royalties from federal property 50-50 with the federal government. But Louisiana receives relatively little from oil-and-gas drilling occurring in the Outer Continental Shelf in federal waters far offshore.

For instance, Louisiana received less than 0.5 percent of the $5 billion in oil-and-gas royalties generated in federal waters off its coast in 2001. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the state brought in more royalties than any state -- $7.5 billion.

Or from the same paper one week earlier:
While inland states enjoy 50 percent of the tax revenue from drilling on their federal lands, Louisiana gets back a mere $35 million of the $5 billion it contributes to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, or less than one percent

Or from House Resources Committee Archives":
About a fourth of the nation's entire oil and gas supply comes to rest on Louisiana's shores by pipeline, tanker or barge. In light of today's energy crisis, this is a staggering thought. A more disturbing thought, however, is that the coastal wetlands that protect that industry's infrastructure are disappearing. Without their protection, the ecological consequences of a Category Four hurricane making a direct hit on more than 20,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines coming on shore is unthinkable.

During the past 50 years, Louisiana has lost more than 1,000 square miles of its coast. Even with current efforts, we expect to lose another 1,000 square miles over the next 50 years. This loss represents 80 % of all coastal wetland loss in the entire continental U.S. .....

The price tag to do the job is estimated at $16 billion to $20 billion, but the cost of doing nothing is far greater. The cost to the nation of lost infrastructure alone would be close to $150 billion. .....

The price tag to do the job is estimated at $16 billion to $20 billion, but the cost of doing nothing is far greater. The cost to the nation of lost infrastructure alone would be close to $150 billion. .......

For example, in 1997, the state of Wyoming hosted development of Federal mineral resources that generated more than $569 million in revenues. Wyoming received $239 million for its share of revenues produced on Federal lands. In the same year, Louisiana hosted development of Federal mineral resources offshore that generated more than $3.8 BILLION, and received only $18.2 million for its share of the revenues produced in Federal offshore waters.

That testimony is four years old by the way. I'll let any reader draw his own conclusions.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What's wrong with this headline:
Alaska 'bridge to nowhere' funding gets nowhere
Lawmakers delete project after critics bestow derisive moniker

from yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle,
or this headline and opening sentence:
Two 'Bridges to Nowhere' Tumble Down in Congress
Republicans decided Wednesday to take a legislative wrecking ball to two Alaskan bridge projects that had demolished the party's reputation for fiscal austerity.
from yesterday's New York Times?

Sure seems like The Chronicle was right that " Fiscal conservatives in Congress won a rare victory Wednesday
until you get down to paragraph five:
Under a compromise transportation spending bill, Alaska would still get the federal dollars -- but the money would not be specifically designated for the two bridges. As a result, Alaskan lawmakers and other officials would decide where to spend the money .
Since a quick Google search showed that The Chronicle and The Times weren't alone repeating the RNC line, I decided to wait a day to see what the reaction would be.

Once again, the Times' Editors seemed to notice something that its reporters didn't:It won't actually save money because the funds will be shifted to Alaska's general transportation kitty for who-knows-what disposal.(Full editorial here)and a quick Google search showed that most newspapers starting to get the story right. There were a few headlines like this:Bridges get the budget ax, from Tennessee, but this from Florida, seemed to be more the norm.

I suppose it would be pretty typical: RNC puts out a certain spin on a story, media buys the spin, a day or two later media realizes its error and weakly corrects spins. Of course, the original spin usually reaches a bigger audience than the correction; almost certainly more people think Alaska gave up the bridges, than know that Alaska got the money. What's weird in this case is I haven't noticed it getting much attention on liberal sites. They must know how the Republicans are attempting to play it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Anyone Remember Upton Sinclair?

Links to this salon story (registration required) or this link to it have been all over the internet today and it's a moving story. Unfortunately, this type of story is usually only good for preaching to the choir. Most Americans simply are not going to get all that outraged over exploited Mexicans and Central Americans, especially if they can be portrayed as illegal aliens. Don't bother telling most people that they were lured here; it won't sink in. Of course, the administration did back down and announced that it would reinstate Davis-Bacon, but it apparently did feel enough pressure to enforce it.

When the administration first announced the suspension of prevailing wage laws, a few commentators pointed out that suspending the law after awarding the contracts meant that contractors were making a huge windfall at public expense. Soon, however, the focus shifted to the general unfairness of it. Most people really don't care whether workers in the Gulf South make union wage or minimum wage. They should care that politically connected firms were compensated (at taxpayer expense)as if they were paying prevailing wage and then allowed to pay much less. That's a lot of money going from public coffers to private bank accounts. Of course, if they're not paying some workers at all that's an even bigger savings. I don't say this out of indifference to the cheated workers, but the fraud against the U.S. government and taxpayer might be more important in practical terms.

As it is, Democrats are doing little to point out the fraud and cronyism that the Republicans are engaging in. Instead it's the Republicans who are posing as the guardians of the public purse, saying they won't let those corrupt Louisiana politicians get their hands on a penny of the reconstruction money (I posted about it at greater length here). Sadly, the fact that some Louisiana Democrats seem to be venal enough to steal millions makes it easier for the national Republicans to steal billions.

Liberals waste time aiming for the public's heart, while conservatives claim to be looking out for the public's money (while robbing the public blind, even Ted Stevens' cronies are getting a piece of the reconstruction pie). This all leads us to Upton Sinclair. He wasn't happy about it when he said:"I aimed for their hearts but hit them in the stomach",but administration critics can still learn from his example. We need to aim for the public stomach (or bank account) as well as its heart. Instead, we're doing the opposite and letting the thieves pose as the bank guards.

Atrios linked to this item earlier today. Not much to add; it seemed that the death toll virtually stopped climbing much faster than it should have, even with the search called off.

One has to wonder if we'll see the toll jump by 517 in the near future. I've yet to see any follow up to stories like this or this in either the local or national media. The fact that there haven't been any protests from family would lead one to think that it's a nonstory, but family members would also be scattered and without resources. Usually, even nonstories turn up something on a Google search, not in this case. If the prisoners were all accounted for, one would have expected a press release to that effect.

One can hope that they all escaped and the Criminal Sheriff's Office doesn't want the embarrassment. One could further hope that they all escaped and that they were all nonviolent offenders; it's really not that unlikely. But apparently one couldn't hope that the heroes in the local media would look into the matter.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Since every blogger and his brother has commented on the Target issue, I saw no reason to jump in. Even though I have a slightly different personal interest (more on that later), I was going to stay out of it until I came acros this from Media Matters:

Last week, the Los Angeles Times fired liberal columnist Robert Scheer, a 32-year veteran of the paper. The Times article announcing the firing offered no hint of explanation, though Scheer himself suggested it was the result of pressure from conservatives: "I've been a punching bag for Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh for years and I think the paper finally collapsed."

Scheer has, in fact, been the target of relentless criticism from conservative commentators, led by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and right-wing activist David Horowitz.


Given both the history of conservative attacks on Scheer, and the Los Angeles Times' failure to explain his firing, it seems plausible that the Times bowed to right-wing pressure in firing Scheer.

Contact the Los Angeles Times' reader representative and editorial page editor Andrés Martinez to register your protest of the newspaper's decision to purge a Bush administration critic in the face of right-wing pressure.

Then I read the comments (about Target) on some liberal web sites and was astounded by the contrast. Conservatives get Robert Scheer fired, The Catholic League even decides that getting some guy fired from Wal-Mart is the Christian thing to do, but liberals wring their hands over whether they should boycott Target or just write letters. Is it any wonder that one side is feared and the other neither loved nor feared?

Actually I have some sympathy for the fact that Target's in a difficult position. I can even see giving a letter writing campaign a chance, but you better be willing to back it with a boycott. If liberals are less willing to exert pressure than conservatives, they might as well just give up.

I did notice that some of the commenters on other sites brought up rape victims. Though that's a strong argument for keeping Plan B legal, I suspect it would have more bearing on its availability at E.R.'s and rape crisis centers than retail outlets. However, there are prescription medicines that carry a greatly increased risk for birth defects and miscarriages for both women patients and female partners of male patients. Since I'm such a patient, it's an easy choice for me. I would assume that there are at least a few million other patients on similar medications. If liberal groups are going to pressure Target, that would be a good apolitical group to bring in. It would also give give Target a good rationale for re-evaluating its policy.

Ultimately, though pressuring retail outlets is less important than pressuring media outlets. I mean mainstream media outlets, not Fox. For years before his resignation, conservatives had marginalized not just Dan Rather but the entire CBS news operation. That certainly had a chilling effect throughout the MSM. I'm sure most liberals would rather have an honest media that feared neither liberals or conservatives, but since that's not going to happen, there must be some mainstream outfit that deserves to be marginalized. Let's see after one the presidential debates last year, I seem to recall a commentator on a major network calling Kerry a shameless panderer for daring to disagree with Alan Greenspan (on Social Security no less) without revealing that Greenspan was her husband. Didn't the same network let Frank Luntz conduct its focus groups for years before revealing that he was a Republican consultant? Don't they also have a famously tough Sunday morning interviewer, who does ask both Republican and Democrats tough questions, but who is demonstrably more inclined to ask Democrats follow up questions (actually unless the Republican involved is George Bush,being asked the tough question without a follow up should be a favor)? Isn't it time liberals do to NBC what conservatives did to CBS?

David Paulison: October's Liar Of The Month

Quick review, who said:"I've never been a fan of no-bid contracts," and . "All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and re-bid. We're in the process of re-bidding them already." at a Senate hearing on Oct. 6th? O.K. I went over that last time. In addition, to the fact that FEMA never re-opened the contracts that Paulison specifically pledged to re-open, it seems that FEMA is still awarding no-bid contracts to politically connected firms. From The Times article:

Provided by a politically connected Alaskan-owned business under a $40 million no-bid contract, the classrooms cost FEMA nearly $90,000 each, including transportation, according to contracting documents. That is double the wholesale price and nearly 60 percent higher than the price offered by two small Mississippi businesses dropped from the deal..
Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, has long pushed for changes in contracting rules that have helped enrich Alaskan companies.

So not only are are no-bid contracts still going to firms that help fund the GOP money machine (more on the money machine here, here, here and here), at least one is going to firm with connection to Ted (my bridge is more important than the Gulf Coast) Stevens. You have admire the chutzpah, but with billions still to be spent, it's no joke.

I don't know if Paulison actually committed perjury, but he certainly misled the senate. Actually he was honest about one thing:when asked about staffing FEMA with political appointees he said:"I fully support the fact that those types of positions should be political appointees, they have to carry out the president's policies and guidelines. However, I do feel that the person has to have the capability of doing the job."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Remember this statement (from David Paulison): "All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and rebid."
that received so much attention last month? The fact that that statement was considered so much more noteworthy than this one : "A lot of the contracts that were previously awarded without competition are completed or are beyond the point where it would be economically feasible to re-compete"(from FEMA spokesman Larry Orluskie)contibuted to my decision to start blogging. Now it seems that even the four contracts that FEMA had specifically promised would be rebid, won't be, links here andhere.

Don't know whether Paulison was under oath but, if he was, is he possibly guilty of perjury? Seriously. Now does anyone truly believe the administration is honoring it pledge on Davis-Bacon?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is It Getting Ugly Again So Soon?

Bobby Jindal seems to be joining Charles Boustany (links here and here) in the ranks of Louisiana Republicans who put the national party before the state. This From WWL-TV's web site:
Most Republicans blame a slow response from Washington on an unorganized and misdirected agenda from state and local leaders shortly after the hurricane, and say neighboring Mississippi's approach proved to be more effective.

“They came to it easy. Their Governor came up very quickly with a very specific plan…They offered very specific plans and had an early legislative session,” Jindal said

It didn't make the online story but (on air) Jindal also praised Mississippi for trimming its request from $38B to $33B (compared to La's much larger request) and offering to pay 10%. If Jindal's half as bright as he's reported to be, he knows that that's irrelevant.

Surely he knows that Louisiana was hit with two major hurricane to Mississippi's one. He knows that no county in Mississippi sat under water for three weeks as much of Orleans Parish did, only to have recovery further delayed by a second storm. He also knows that the damage to Orleans Parish alone probably equals the damage to all of Mississippi (great as that devastation was), the lost revenue (to both the state and city) from Orleans Parish alone will almost certainly equal or exceed that of all Mississippi. Does Mississippi have eroded coastal wetlands that will require billions to restore? Does Bobby Jindal know about some damaged levees in Mississippi that will also require many billions to repair? Of course not, Jindal's more concerned about the national party than the people of his safely red district.

Obviously, Jindal was right that the bloated aid request form La.'s two senators (of course,he neglected to blame the Republican)looked bad. But for him to imply that Louisiana should need anywhere nearly as little aid as Mississippi was ludricrous. If we're getting this from a Republican who represents the New Orleans area, who knows what we can expect from national Republicans. Thanks, Bobby.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Did The Times Picayune's Editors Buckle Under Pressure?

Is there any logical explanation for what happened to the editorial staff of the T/P this past September? In a Sept.4th open letter to the president they wrote:
Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.
Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You're doing a heck of a job."
That's unbelievable
, but in the Sept. 18th editorial (about the President's much maligned Jackson Square speech) we read:"To bring relief to an afflicted region, the president offered a number of substantive proposals" and "Nevertheless, the considerable reach of President Bush’s proposals suggests that he recognizes not just the scale of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina but also the vital importance of rebuilding the Gulf Coast."

Did the editors get a memo in early september? Did they turn into pod people, as Bob Somerby might say? Could be that they were just following the pack, as by mid-September the national press had largely swallowed the White House line that the city and state were responsible for the disaster. Still, the fact that national reaction to the President's speech was at best mixed leads me to think that they felt some pressure to write an upbeat editorial. I don't claim to have any idea rather that pressure was direct from Newhouse or the result of an internalized fear of alienating conservative voters, but the paper's focus clearly shifted.

For whatever reason, after the first week of September, The T/P avoided criticizing the Bush administration until Marty Bahamonde's testimony forced the issue in October. Instead the editors focused on state and parish governments. That focus would be expected in a local newspaper, but the T/P had become a national paper, a widely praised national paper that seemed to love the attention. More importantly, it shifted its focus just when the national media seemed to be buying Republican efforts (described in my Nov. 1st post) to blame the Katrina tragedy on the state and city.

Of course, a newspaper shouldn't be an arm of the local chamber of commerce and no one would expect the T/P to be as shamelessly boosterish as the Anchorage Daily News, but there were a lot of mistaken "facts" out there that the T/P should have refuted. He said/she said journalism doesn't work when the administration is putting out disinformation about Louisiana officials who can't respond because they're asking the administration for help. As Josh Marshall pointed out the Post and Newsweek both ran rather lame corrections, but I think the entire liberal blogosphere missed the fact that Tim Russert repeated the same RNC talking point twice on the Sept. 11 Meet the Press. When he twice (in a question to Mayor Nagin) said that The President declared a state of emergency on Sept 26, he was technically accurate, but he forgot to mention that this was in response to Gov. Blanco's request. To my knowledge, Mr. Russert has yet to clarify this comment and the national media in general did less to dispell the myth that Blanco was late in requesting aid than it did to propagate it. As for as the local media, Ms. Beyerstein's heroes at the Picayune did less to dispell this myth than the apolitical urban legends website.

There were other misconceptions around that the local media did little to dispell. Warning time is perhaps the most important, especially as it relates to the famous photos of flooded busses. That's a long enough subject for a separate post and reporters from other regions could be expected to get it wrong. However, the local media remained silent, even in the face of claims that New Orleans had five days warning that a major category four or five hurricane was coming (O.K.that was on Fox).

The sad fact is the Bush Administration and GOP leadership were successfully slandering the state and the city (not just the governor and the mayor) in the national press and the local paper failed to set the record straight. This is not to say that the T/P should have been an advocate for the city, but it neglected to use its national forum to address obvious distortions. Even though he said/she said journalism is the current norm, it obviously can't work when the slandered or at the mercy of the slanderers. Had Marty Bahamonde's testimony not put the administration on the defensive and other events not changed the media's focus, who knows how ugly it would have gotten. Instead of basking in its accolades, The Times Picayune should be ashamed.

This would all be water under the bridge, except for the fact that the Katrina commission has yet to finish its investigation and billions in reconstruction money is yet to be allocated. One would have to be naive not to expect things to get ugly again. Will The Times Picayune, and now Gambit Weekly, perform any better next time?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Not So Fast With That Pulitzer

Considering its reputation around here,I can't have been the only local who was amazed at the overwhelming praise that The Times Picayune received from the national media and on the internet in the month following Katrina. It was praised all over both the print and broadcast media and, in the blogosphere, it was praised by everyone from instapundit to Lindsay Beyerstain of Majikthise who said "The T/P staff are my heros. They are living the ideals American journalism(in her defense, she did add that she didn't get to meet any of them)." Hard to believe this was the same T/P everyone had always laughed at for its timidity and its reliance on wire services for local stories that required real reporting.

Could it be that everyone had always been too hard on The Picayune? Had it had a baptism by fire and turned into a real newspaper? Or was the local media (T/P included) uniquely positioned to have a "Giuliani Moment" (I'm sure that better definitions are out there, but I'll define a Giuliani Moment as a seemingly overwhelming situation in which just doing one's job,a job that most people in the same situation could do, makes one appear heroic)? I was away that first week, but from what I've seen since, it was a Giuliani Moment. Alternate theory: the T/P staff performed admirably, even heroically, under stress then reverted to form. Whatever the explanation, by mid-September its performance was abyssmal. That might seem harsh but throughout September and into October the T/P was a national paper, one of the most influential in the country, and it went back to being lazy and timid.

This widely praised (around here, anyway) story from Oct. 10th is a case in point. It does a good job of describing the problems of local businesses, but something seems to be missing. Couldn't figure it out until a friend showed me this email he sent the reporter:

what is the sound of one dog not barking
Dear Mr. Walsh,
I'm just curious, in your Oct. 10th article on FEMA contracts, did you purposely avoid asking how the firms that got FEMA contracts managed to get them? Sure, you recite the official story about their long work history with FEMA, but did that really strike you as the whole story? Didn't it strike as the least bit interesting that the one Louisiana firm to get contracts cites its 1992 Hurricane Andrew work for FEMA? In addition to the fact that FEMA's work after Andrew was widely criticized (though it may be far fetched, some say it contributed to Clinton's victory) didn't you think about the last name of the president in 1992? Haven't you heard the stories that said firm, the Shaw Group, employs Joseph Albaugh's lobbying firm? Is it possible for a reporter to be so incurious?

My friend's email may have been a tad harsh (I suspect he got carried away by his own cleverness) but he was correct that it treated one of the most important parts of the post-katrina story as a human interest story. Bill Walsh replied to say that he had asked how the firms got the contracts and Katrina was worse than Andrew. so I guess the Picayune's Washington bureau considers giving the official explanation to be asking the question, at least when Republicans are in power. The other part made absolutely no sense: FEMA handled Andrew poorly, Katrina was worse than Andrew, so FEMA rehires the same firms that it used after Andrew.

The story may have seemed complete to a Washington Bureau reporter, but the following story that appeared on page A5 ten days later, sure raised some of the same questions as my friend's mail. Of course, the story was from the associated press. In the month since, I've yet to see anything in the Picayune about many contracts have actually been re-bid. Anyone want to guess how many will be?

Just to clarify, I'm not saying that the reporters for the Times Picayune are all biased Republicans. But I've long thought that the case with its Washington Bureau. A quick examination will show that most of the reporters at the T/P have email addresses ending in, but the Wash. bureau reporters all have addresses ending in Think there's a connection?

Tomorrow (schedule permitting): the editorial page, what happened between September 4th and September 18th, and why it's important.

Monday, November 07, 2005

This from today's New York Times:Estimates are that by the end of the decade, an area larger than the state of Delaware will have been laid waste by dynamite and bulldozer. The Bush administration's report, issued in the name of environmental impact, will only speed this course.The Army Corps of Engineers, so busy lately repairing the levee devastation in New Orleans, has been just as busy rubber-stamping permits to mountain strip.

Read the entire piece and try to convince yourself that the Bush administration is staffed with human beings. Despite the clear role that wetlands play in hurricane protection, does anyone truly believe that thisadministration will get behind coastal restoration?

In a recent post, Atrios asks: "Is Anyone Happy With Their Health Insurance?...I'm curious. Is there anyone who has had at least a moderately seriously health event been happy with their health insurance?"

As a matter of fact, I have. But with, all respect to Atrios, isn't the question irrelevant? With employer funded health insurance going the way of VHS (though I can't figure out why some conservatives seem so happy about it), shouldn't the question be what do we replace it with? Would most Americans really choose a market "solution" over what works for the rest of the world?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Well, it Made the Financial Pages

While international media outlets; liberal, libertarian and even satiric web sites have noticed that Donald Rumsfeld, George Shulz and who knows who else stand to profit immensely from the administration's decision to spend $3Billion stockpiling Tamiflu, that fact seems to have largely escaped the major American news outlets. A search of The New York Times' web site yields nothing and all I could find on The Washington Post's site was a couple of brief items (one in response to a reader inquiry): link and link. For the most part, it seems to be purely a financial news item to be covered by CNN MONEY and FORTUNE.

This isn't to knock the administration for trying to prepare for a potential crisis, but one has to wonder whether the money is really being spent to enhance The Department of Health and Human Services' ability to respond to public health crises. Or is it just being spent in an expensive game of CYA and to enrich a large pharmaceutical company and a politically connected bio-tech firm? This from a government that's looking to cut billions in domestic spending and is demanding $3.7B from the State of Louisiana for Katrina Relief. Make your own judgement.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

In a previous post I commented that Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) might have revealed more than he intended when he compared Louisiana to Iraq. Well remember how Haliburton began running PR ads when its Iraq contracts were questioned? Well questions have been raised about the awarding of contracts to companies like the Shaw Group, even The Times Picayune has started to ask questions (of course the questions were buried several paragraphs deep into the story and the reporter wasn't from the Washington Bureau). And on TV today I noticed that the Shaw Group has started running PR commercials. Yes Sen. Craig, there are similarities between Louisiana and Iraq.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Been waiting all week for someone to comment on CNN's "security analyst's" appearance on Tuesday's situation room. So far, not even Media Matters seems to find it noteworthy that CNN merely bills as a security analyst someone whose official bio says "Falkenrath was named acting deputy homeland security advisor in January 2003 before being appointed to the deputy position three months later. He joined the White House's Office of Homeland Security in October 2001 as special assistant to the president and senior director for policy and plans. Before that he was the director for proliferation strategy on the National Security Council and a member of the National Security Council transition team for President Bush and Vice President Cheney" He did allow that "I, as you know, served in the White House during this time" But you would've had to have listened carefully to hear it (I had to check the transcripts to notice). Disclosure maybe, but hardly full disclosure.

Considering that he said "I thought today's action by the Senate Democrats was really surprising, was unseemly, and it was sad." then added (of the Roberts' report): "The first phase report was a very good report, one of the best investigations by a congressional committee that I've ever read." You think it might have been relevant to mention that he had personal reasons to praise a report that blamed the intelligence failure on "group think" rather than "the politics of pressure?" Or that he might not want to see a true bi-partisan investigation?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Times Picayune is Still a Corporate Rag With a Blatantly Partisan Washington Bureau

The Bush administration on Tuesday named Donald E. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission and a former Texas banker with long ties to President Bush, to coordinate the federal role in rebuilding the parts of the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita....

... In the 1990's, as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush named Mr. Powell to be chairman of the Board of Regents at Texas A&M University. Mr. Powell was one of Mr. Bush's leading fund-raisers in the 2000 presidential campaign.

... he has no direct experience overseeing large-scale rebuilding efforts of the sort being undertaken by officials in Louisiana and Mississippi

From yesterday's New York Times via the always interesting No More Mister Nice Blog

Scroll down and read the post titled Hey, I Nominated One Non-Crony, then read this fluff piece from the Washington Bureau of the always timid T/P .

Now the Washington Bureau has this piece in today's paper. I'm sure it took no effort at all to write an entire article about Jack Abramoff without once mentioning Tom Delay, Grover Norquist or The Republican Party .

Yeah Right. Coming soon: Don't Give Them that Pulitzer Yet, Lindsay.

Will David Vitter Get to be The White Knight

The Republican leadership seems adamant that the Katrina Reconstruction loans be non-forgivable, yet Vitter sure seems confident that “we’ll be able to work something out” about the terms of the loans.  As I pointed out in my last post, it’s inconceivable that the GOP leadership is all that concerned about the repayment terms on $750M in reconstruction loans.  Since Mr. Vitter seems so confidant, it can be assumed that he’s received some strong assurances from his colleagues.  My guess is that the free spending Republicans will try to look like sound fiscal conservatives by spending a few months pledging to protect their constituents' hard earned tax dollars from those corrupt politicians in Louisiana.  Then at some point next year (maybe in time to make Mr. Vitter the hero of the first post-Katrina Mardi Gras, maybe closer to the fall elections) a deal will be announced giving the White House the discretion to forgive the loans.  National Republicans get to look tough; Vitter gets to look good; Landrieu, Blanco and the Louisiana Democrats get shown up and the state is one step closer to being as solidly Republican as its neighbors.

The question is: will it work?  Or will anyone point out that this gamesmanship will have left the state and several local governments dangling (not to mention slowed down the recovery) for several months?  Judging form past performance, I wouldn’t expect the local press to spoil the party.  James Gill will probably be rude enough to ask what took so long, but he’s our Maureen Dowd: everybody reads him, nobody admits to liking him.  His colleagues at The Times Picayune and Clancy Dubos at Gambit will pose the question in such a way as to trivialize it and conclude with praise for Vitter for ending the impasse.  You read it here first.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Shorter George Will

The American middle class (or a large part of it) has reached its Herb Stein moment. Get over it
Not why I started this blog, but it's been two weeks and I haven't seen anyone else say it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No-bid Contracts, The Blame Game and The K Street Project on Steroids

The following was submitted to another site on October 18,2005 with the following note:
If you print ths please note that I am one of those laid-off city workers.  With my limited computer access (since Katrina) I couldn't find an article that clarified whether the $1.6 billion figure counted each of the four contracts at 100 million, the ceiling on each or whether it included the roughly $130 million that all four contracts together totaled.  The wording seemed deliberately vague.

Everyone is aware that the federal government has been criticized for its insistence on strict repayment terms on loans to local governments devastated by Katrina and for its awarding of no-bid contracts.  Yet no one seems to have noticed that the Republicans have answered this criticism with a resumption of the blame game that they profess to hate.   Since it would be impossible for La. officials to ask for help while responding to attacks, the Republicans feel safe engaging in this finger pointing.  Space doesn't permit a detailed discussion of responsibility, but the fact that one of the first actions of the Bush administration (after Katrina) was to plant a false story about the Blanco administration in the Washington Post should itself raise questions.  The fact that, six weeks later, DHS still had problems communicating with a local government (this time about the New York subway terror threat) should also raise questions.

 Since administration hopes that Texas would make Louisiana look bad got stuck in traffic, it seems that every Republican in congress feels the need to talk about the corruption and incompetence of Louisiana officials.  On October 4th, Chris Shays went on Scarborough Country to blame all (every single one) of the problems at the Superdome on Mayor Nagin and then segue into not trusting New Orleans with any of the reconstruction money.  Tom Tancredo has joined in, urging his colleagues not to let Louisiana politicians "get their hands on" any of the money because of their  "mind-boggling incompetence" in dealing with the storm. 

Well, it wasn't the state that awarded no-bid contracts to politically connected firms first and suspended Davis-Bacon second.  It wasn't the city that spent over $200 million to house people on cruise ships or that still spends $11 million a day to house evacuees in hotel rooms.  To put that in context, the city of New Orleans has laid off most of its civilian workforce in order to save $5-8 million a month.  So we have an administration that spends over $200M on oceans liners and a congress that spends over $200M on a bridge to nowhere but the GOP is going to quibble over the terms of $750M in reconstruction loans because it doesn’t trust local government to spend money wisely? 

It is true that FEMA has announced that it will re-bid all the contracts, but it has only re-opened four contracts totaling at most $400 million out of $1.6 billion.  The $400 million figure may be too high as even FEMA's press releases aren't transparent.  FEMA has since announced that "a lot" of the no-bid contracts "are completed or are beyond the point where it would be economically feasible to re-compete."  One wonders how many projects will prove to be beyond that point. 
Despite living in a rather large glass house themselves, the Republicans are obviously correct about Louisiana's corruption, but Sen. Craig of Idaho may have given the game away when he said that fraud was part of the culture in both Iraq and Louisiana.  Give your cronies billions to rebuild devastated lands with bad reputations and, when most of the money gets wasted, blame the locals (if that seems far-fetched, try taking advantage of deregulation to manipulate the California energy market, when shortages occur, blame excessive regulation).  In Louisiana, you get the added bonus of being able to cite it as proof that large federal spending programs just can’t help some people.  How many people will actually realize that the money didn’t go to Louisiana but through Louisiana?
No one is saying that the Republicans want to harm Louisiana (or Iraq for that matter).  The strict repayment policy is probably just to look fiscally tough while giving away billions.  Good or bad outcomes are irrelevant: take credit for one, spin the other.  The main thing is to give fat contracts to cronies who will then contribute to the RNC and various PAC's so that the Republicans can remain in power to give fat contracts.....The K Street Project on steroids.
David (real last name)
New Orleans (now Metairie)

In the two weeks since I wrote this other events have pushed Katrina out of the spotlight and Marty Bahomonde’s testimony has (temporarily I’m afraid) short circuited the Republican effort to blame the relief nightmare on the state and the city.  I’m fully confident the effort will resume.  I’m equally confident that virtually none of the no-bid contracts will be re-opened.  They’re all certainly too far along to be re-bid; they’re in an analogous position to a real estate development where the historic structure has already been demolished or the virgin forest bulldozed and the pilings already driven, but the developer regrets any wrongdoing.  The question is whether the party in power in Washington gets blamed for the waste and fraud or whether they succeed in blaming it on the locals or even the general wastefulness of government spending.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Old Favorites
  • Political Boxing (untitled)
  • Did Bush Take His Ball and Go Home
  • Teratogens and Plan B
  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
  • Quote of the Day
  • October's News(Dec.1)
  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts