Monday, July 31, 2006

Random Stuff

Be sure to look at this month's National Geographic. Decide for yourself if the ending of the Earnest Gaines' essay is too heavy-handed:
New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans, you will come back. But will you be my New Orleans, or the little boy's New Orleans, or the woman's New Orleans, or the Joseph sisters' New Orleans? I doubt it. Katrina and the politicians have made you a different New Orleans forever.

I didn't think so. There's also a photo gallery, slides and a video. I was tempted to jump into a topic on the discussion forum, but decided to let somebody that tact comes naturally to speak for the city. I might try to jump in tomorrow, in a diplomatic manner of course.

I'd like to recommend the article on killer storms, but I still have a headache from trying to figure out one passage:
It would be easier to find a building undamaged by Katrina in New Orleans' Ninth Ward than to locate a reputable climate scientist who doubts that human activity is warming the Earth. But the claim that hurricanes are growing stronger as a result has set off a tempest of its own. William Gray of Colorado State University, a pioneer hurricane forecaster, has called it "plain wrong."

From what I have learned of how the atmosphere ticks over 40 years of study, I have been unable to convince myself that a doubling of human-induced greenhouse gases can lead to anything but quite small and insignificant amounts of global warming.

I don't think it's presumptuous for a layman to point out that Dr. Gray doesn't just have doubts about the influence of global warming on hurricane activity, he's still a doubter about global warming altogether.

After all the negative things I've said about the local paper, it's only fair that I give a big thumbs up to the T/P for yet another hard-hitting, meticulously detailed front page expose of a politician who's no longer in a position to plunder the public purse.

I actually went to the City Park Botanical Garden yesterday without going to the meeting. I couldn't get there until 3:00 and couldn't tell from the publicity (if that's what their calling it) whether it was going to be one organized four hour meeting or something more like an open house. As I walked up, I got the impression that meetings were already in progress, but that wouldn't have kept me entering quietly and listening. As it was, a distinctly bad vibe that I thought I sensed from the meeting prompted me to walk around the gardens instead. Apparently I was right that bad feeling.

One hint to the organizers, when you go on the news to discuss the reconstruction of New Orleans, don't paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld talking about the reconstruction of Iraq. "Democracy sometimes happens in chaos," sounds a lot like, "Democracy is messy." We already know that as much profiteering is taking place here as there, now it's looking like our messy, chaotic democracy will be every bit as democratic. But we already suspected that.

BTW, Schroeder, if you noticed a guy with a raincoat trying to read your name tag when you were interviewing somebody behind the building, I wasn't sure if that was you. I probably would have been carrying the raincoat at that point, didn't know how long the interview would last.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

“There is big money in disasters,”

"Huge money," Nagin stated. He said that a couple of months ago, but he even noted that garbage collection is big business. With "huge money" involved, it seems fair to comment on the lack of transparency in city government. As a general rule it would be fair to say that if a government that has no responsibility for national security, but does oversee the spending of "huge money" is less than open in its business dealings,it's a strong sign of corruption and cronyism. I didn't say incontrovertible evidence, just a strong sign; hardly a cynical statement, more like an axiom.

With that in mind, I'd strongly recommend Dambala's recent posts at American Zombie. Keep an eye on the site, as he seems to have some inside sources and promises more to follow. I do have to disagree* with one thing he said in the comments:
I don't necessarily "blame" the TP for not reporting these things on the whole. They are aware of the majority of this post...and they did attempt to delve into the situation, but could not come up with the hard evidence they needed to go after the story. I have friends who are reporters at the TP and they told me some interesting things. However, they are much more privy to lawsuits than a blogger, and they have to have much harder evidence than hearsay. Plus, the only thing I think would have actually been illegal is if Meffert is actually being bankrolled on an Imagine Credit Card...

Sorry, can't let the T/P off the hook that easily, although I would have to admit that a wishy-washy editorial about the appearance of cronyism wouldn't be so wishy-washy after all, if it ever published such an editorial. The Picayune can make observations and ask obvious questions without making actionable accusations; it does so in the case of other local politicians.

Comparing the Picayune's recent coverage of the Nagin administration and other local leaders, I'm struck with competing mental images of Jim Mora and Keith Olebermann. Prior to Katrina, the City of New Orleans spent more on bombproof garbage cans than all the judges in the GNO area spent on that trip to Sandestin. Now we find out that, rather than being cleaned and serviced, the city's garbage cans are being replaced. Presumably, the new cans are also bombproof (i.e. expensive), but the T/P hasn't told us diddly squat about that; it has, however, told us everything we could possibly want to know about Judges on a Plane. When the Feds subpoenaed Billboard Ben's records, it made the front page, but the editorial writers didn't say diddly squat. However, they did wax wroth about Judges on a Plane.

The city continues to do business with companies that either contributed heavily to the Nagin campaign or have strong ties to his administration--MCCI, CH2MHill, TSG, Omni pinnacle, Richards Disposal, Amid Landfill,etc. A look at the list of Nagin campaign contributors shows a heavy concentration of disposal, sewerage,scrap metal and other businesses that could might be looking it for reconstruction contracts. It also shows a smattering of apparently newly-formed companies that, like MCCI, can't be found either online or in the local phone book (all the out-of-town money went to Landrieu), but James Gill hasn't said diddly squat about that. He has however told us (twice now) about Snakes on a Beach:
Jamaican Sunset is owned by two New Orleans attorneys, Keith Doley and Ammon Miller, who are regular contributors to judicial election campaigns. Their expensive Jamaican packages are particularly popular with the city's trial judges, who emerged from the ruins of Katrina as prodigal with our money as ever.

So, why hasn't he said diddly squat about the other Snake on that Beach? I'm not defending the judges, but due to building damage, the city does have more judges than it has court rooms. It doesn't have more mayors than it has city halls.

The Times Picayune didn't allege that the judges acted illegally, but it did rightly judge that most of its readers would find the judges behavior improper. The same holds true for its expose of the connections between Renee Gill-Pratt and William Jefferson. The bulk of the article didn't deal with illegal activities, just highly improper ones. Would anyone argue that the press shouldn't report on questionable relations between public officials unless it can show illegality?

One thing I'll be looking for is how close an eye the T/P keeps on the people who've already moved to fill the power vacuum created by Gill-Pratt's and Jefferson's problems, will the paper say diddly-poo if they engage in any questionable behavior?

*None of this is even remotely intended as a criticism of Dambala.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

But Are The New Cans Bombproof?

Remember when most of the city's garbage cans disappeared in March? You might remember that, in April, Chris Rose found out that the missing cans had been removed to be "cleaned and serviced." Yet, according to today's paper:
Sanitation Director Veronica White said her agency plans to sponsor citywide cleanups for each weekend in August and soon will place 500 new trash cans on downtown sidewalks.

So, what happened? Did it take four months for somebody to realize that the old cans couldn't be cleaned and serviced? Bear in mind, these weren't just any old garbage cans, they were state-of-the-art, bomb proof garbage cans that the entire city could be proud of. No bomb-throwing intended, but there some obvious questions that somebody should ask. What happened to the old, bomb proof cans? Are the new cans also bomb proof? How much did they cost? Who got the contract, was it TSG? Can we start making lame, juvenile jokes about White on Rice? If the paper meant to say, "500 newly cleaned (and serviced) garbage cans," how much did the city pay for the cleaning and servicing?.

Just to be clear, I really don't try to be local blogosphere's version of a Fox Democrat. I don't even try to channel the spirit of William Proxmire, but remember:
"A small amount of money in pay is holding up billions of dollars for our city," developer Angelo Farrell said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Facts and Quotes to Go With That Last Post

A chart accompanying the Oct. 14, Picayune article cited in the previous post (no link)

Agency .................. Positions....Positions reduced .... Percent reduced

Council ..................76..............30..........................39
Safety & Permits...........109..............50..........................46
Police Department.........2,296.............291.........................13
Human Services...............63..............48.........................76
Finance ....................173.............113.........................65
Property Management.........133..............55.........................41
Civil Service................37..............25.........................68
Public Works................258.............199.........................77
Parkway ....................221.............120.........................54
Library ....................213.............194.........................91
HDLC .........................7...............2.........................29
Vieux Carre ..................7...............5.........................71
City Planning................24..............15.........................63
Mosquito Control ............42..............7..........................17
Museum ......................44..............34.........................77
Neighborhood 1 ..............98..............58.........................60
Workforce ....................9...............0..........................0
Coroner .....................25..............13.........................52
Municipal Court.............121..............78.........................64
Traffic Court...............166.............147.........................89
Criminal Court(state financed)1...............0..........................0
Clerk criminal court.........89..............39.........................44
French Market................42..............29.........................69
Municipal Yacht..............20..............16.........................80
Rivergate Development.........1..............0...........................0
Canal St. Development.........2..............0...........................0
Audubon Institute.............4..............0...........................0
Aviation Board................192...........75..........................39


Excluding Police & Fire (not in paper, a small amount of rehiring has occurred)


From Friday's Picayune
The Public Works Department has had its staff slashed to 86 from more than 340 five years ago. The street maintenance staff is down to 14 from 129.

That would be an 89% reduction.

From Saturday's T/P article about the potential problems caused by understaffing in the permits and planning offices:
Unless the New Orleans City Council authorizes more employees for the City Planning Commission and Safety and Permits Department, delays in the planning review process could force developers to scrap billions of dollars worth of projects, potentially dealing a blow to the city's recovery, a group of prominent business people told council members this week.

Problems could be averted and billions of dollars in investment salvaged if the council were to vote to spend several hundred thousand dollars to fill salaried positions left vacant after the city laid off 3,000 workers in the wake of Katrina, business leaders said.

From a July 12, 2002 Picayune editorial:
When Mayor Nagin proposed substantial raises for nearly three dozen high-level positions in city government, it was only a matter of time before other city workers began pushing for higher salaries as well...

The commission, which oversees conditions of employment within the city's civil service system, recently approved a plan to raise the base pay for eight top civil-service positions by 53 to 77 percent. The positions in question include the deputy director of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the director and assistant director of mosquito, termite and rodent control and the personnel director. In practice, the plan would cost the city about $440,000 per year.

That was for the eight civil serice positions, there were similar raises for eight top Nagin aides among the three dozen other raises referred to.

From a December 2005 T/P article:
The resignation of Recreation Department Director Charlene Braud comes as less of a surprise. Braud evacuated from the city and has been unable to return because of personal circumstances, Nagin said. Braud has been replaced by Deputy Director Lora Johnson on an interim basis, Nagin said, but she will oversee a department that already has lost 90 percent of its staff to layoffs.

I don't recall any question of why a department that had laid off 95% of its staff still had its top two employees, working at their recently increased salaries.

Also from Saturday's article:
Brenda Hatfield, chief administrative officer to Mayor Ray Nagin, said the city has placed a priority on public safety, sanitation and street repairs. But she said Nagin has asked her to review staffing levels at the planning commission.

Council President Oliver Thomas asked Hatfield to draw up a budget for the addition of staff to City Hall departments that generate revenue or spur economic development. That list, he said, could help officials persuade state and federal agencies to assist the city in nontraditional ways, such as reimbursing certain salaries.
"If you can prove through these (staffing) deficiencies that we are losing billions of dollars of investment, maybe we can get some policy waivers or some amendments," he said.

Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow pledged to join other local governments and corporate groups to lobby for a one-year extension, to 2009, of the qualifying deadline for certain tax incentives available through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act.

Francine Fialkoff of Library Journal:
If we'd have waited for FEMA, we'd be waiting and waiting. An opening day collection takes nine months to a year. They pulled it off in three months."

Referring to the efforts to re-open theAlvar Branch of the Public Library.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Significant Numerical Inconsistency?

In Friday's Picayune we were informed that:
The Public Works Department has had its staff slashed to 86 from more than 340 five years ago. The street maintenance staff is down to 14 from 129.(The accompanying chart lists the number at 346)

Yet, when the layoffs were announced in October, we were told (link to flymsy, then scroll down to Oct. and click "Layoffs hit NORD") that:
Other areas of government that were hit hard include:

-- Public Works, which lost 199 of its 258 positions, including nearly 100 parking control officers and dozens of street maintenance workers. A skeleton crew will continue to enforce parking regulations

The city has done a limited amount of rehiring since the October layoffs, so the difference between 59 Public Works Department employees in October, and 86 in July might be explainable. However, it would seem difficult to account for the difference between 346 public works positions and 258, unless the public works staff was reduced by 25% before Katrina. That would be worth remembering when examing some of the mayor's post-Katrina payroll cuts,and it would also imply that Nagin's vaunted pre-Katrina reorganization of city government involved reducing the number of employees who actually performed important tasks, while increasing the pay (and number) of upper-level employees.

It's generally reported that the October layoffs amounted to about 50% of the city workforce, but that's a gross oversimplification. The fact is that the layoffs amounted to about 38% of the city workforce, but excluding the police and fire departments, the layoffs amounted to about 63% of the civilian workforce.* To be consistent one should use either one figure or the other. If you choose to explain the 34% reduction in the staff of the mayor's office (the smallest reduction by far), by comparing it to the 38% reduction in the total workforce, don't then explain the reduction in other departments in terms of the reduction in civilian employment. At any rate we've had the following reductions in city employment (approximate figures):

Mayor's Office: 34% (34 out of 100)
Overall City Employment: 38% (In Oct., no available figures on rehiring)
Civilian Employment: 63% (in Oct., ...)
Public Works Department: 75% (Very approximate, see above)
Road Maintenance Crews : 89% (115 out of 129)

Clearly, road maintenance has not been a high ranking budget priority. That alone would be noteworthy, but I have a much bigger reason for flogging an old horse.

I'll return to this, but it's worth noting that civil service rules resume when the emergency declaration is lifted. Also, I have a suggestion for Cynthia Hedge-Morrell:
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who chairs the council's Budget, Audit and Board of Review Committee, said she understands that the payoff for hiring more staff could be exponential. But she stressed the dire financial straits that the city still faces nearly a year after the catastrophic hurricane.

"As with everything in the budget, we need to make sure that in trying to boost up one department, we're not tearing down others," Hedge-Morrell said.

*Arguably higher, as the layoffs to the police and fire departments involved the civilian employees of those departments.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

One Year From When?

What in the hell should the date of Katrina have to do with the deadline to gut and repair homes? Seriously, should a deadline be based on when residents were forced to leave their homes or when they were welcomed back? Since houses without safe running water are legally unfit for human habitation, perhaps a deadline dated from the restoration of water service to an area would be appropriate. I'm not sure what a proper deadline for gutting and securing homes should be, but I do know that a consistent, citywide deadline of a year (from Katrina) certainly wouldn't be fair. Arguably, it wouldn't be consistent.

It's certainly not consistent with what Nagin said during the campaign. I don't have much to add to what Adrastos wrote, but Nagin didn't lie, exactly. As I recall it, Nagin said that he saw the need to gut and secure empty houses, but he didn't think a one year deadline would be fair for the entire city. If you've ever had a friend who was adept at misleading (without actually lying), you might not have broken off the friendship or even called him a liar. But if you ever played cards with him, you certainly paid close attention to his deal.

I'm Speechless

From the Picayune's website


• Submit your stance on the Memorial deaths

• What you're saying

• La. doctors outraged at murder accusation

Flabbergasted might be the better word, because I do have something to say:

The presumption behind that first question....

The invitation for opinions...

I'm pretty much speechless.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Power Outage

Couldn't post Tuesday and Wednesday, then a loss of electricity (seemed to extend from the bayou to Broad, maybe past that)at 11:00 last night wiped out a lengthy link-filled post. Quick summary:

Gambit Weekly Poll: Jeffrey at Library Chronicles had a good idea, but don't overlook best lie by a local politician. I know what I'm voting for.

Informed Sources: Last Friday night, Clancy DuBos said that Greg Meffert has said privately that even he doesn't know what Nagin's going to do next. No transcript available, but did anybody else hear it? This was three days before Meffert's voluntary resignation.

Gertrude Stein: I can't be the only T/P reader to have made the connection:
New Orleans needs a rebuilding czar, ideally someone without ties to the city, who can spearhead the stymied recovery process and exercise final authority over the nuts-and-bolts rules of how residents can return home, an internationally renowned urban planner told a citizens advocacy group Saturday.
Ed Blakely, an urban affairs professor who led recovery efforts after Oakland's 1988 (sic?) earthquake and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, said success in those and other massive rebuilding efforts resulted from leaders' swift action, sometimes laying out recovery plans within 24 hours of a disaster, and their willingness to install a single chief to guide a comprehensive plan "so that you're not moving home by home."

"It should not be a local person," said Blakely, who paid his own way from his home in Australia to address the African-American Leadership Project's summit in Central City. "They (should) have no baggage, but they have to have a real human touch to know where people are coming from."

Blakely said such a leader would be less likely to be influenced by historical, cultural and political factors that can sway the decisions of local residents on issues including which geographic areas, if any, should be off limits to rebuilding.

Not that he's campaigning for the job or anything. I'll try to add to this on my lunch break, no criticism of Oakland was intended.

Finishing up that last point: I've never been to Oakland, so I have no idea how well Oakland's recovery was handled, but I do have to wonder whether we want to bring the man who headed Oakland's recovery to be the city's recovery czar. It sure sounds like he was campaigning for the job: New Orleans needs an out-of-towner to head the recovery, said the out-of-towner, who made sure that the reporter knew he was here on his own expense. It would be interesting to hear what anybody from the area has to say; I've emailed a friend in Oakland, but no response.

I did love the way the event's organizer disguised a harsh criticism of the mayor, as a milder criticism of the city council:
Mtangulizi Sanyika, the AALP's project manager, criticized the council for taking a back seat in the recovery effort since Katrina and for frequently failing to step in when Mayor Ray Nagin has made conflicting statements about the process or remained silent on some issues, such as exactly which sections of eastern New Orleans may be situated on dangerously low ground.

"There has been a lack of process from Day 1," he said. "From the beginning, the city of New Orleans has acted paralyzed. . . . We've gotten so many mixed messages that we are thoroughly confused."

He also revealed a potential problem in bringing in a non-New Orleanian to head the recovery:
Sanyika suggested, for instance, that the council adopt a formal definition of "a low-lying neighborhood," as well as catalog, once and for all, which neighborhoods will be allowed to rebuild in their pre-Katrina locations.

That sounds sensible, but either the city rebuilds as if it's going to have adequate levees, or it doesn't rebuild. Also, I can't imagine any definition of low-lying that doesn't include most of the city. I have to wonder if Sanyika is aware of the existence of the Esplanade Ridge, or other very thin strips of land that suffered little flooding, even though they were surrounded by much deeper flood waters. Another question would be whether a practical definition of low-lying neighborhood would entail on a moratorium on new development in low-lying (but undamaged) parts of the westbank.

I'd argue that the real reason that the city doesn't want a clear cut definition of low-lying is that resettlement decisions have as much to do with city budget as elevation. Others have more cynical explanations.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gambit Had a Great Editorial

Sixteen months ago:
Then, a few months ago, things started changing. Our mayor started acting just like all the others before him -- in all the wrong ways. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had started making intelligent political decisions. Instead, he's just as dumb (politically) as he ever was, but now he's doling out favors like an old-time ward heeler.

It started, oddly enough, with garbage cans. I should have suspected something was amiss right then and there because the official excuse for buying pricey garbage cans from a company with connections to the mayor's right-hand guy was that these garbage cans would be bomb proof. Bomb proof!?? Who in the hell wants to blow up a garbage can in a city as hot and humid -- or as thoroughly littered already -- as New Orleans? But that was just the beginning.

The mayor followed that by awarding several other contracts to firms that were not the low bidders -- and that also happened to be owned by folks with political connections

Exactly a year later, Jeff Crouere made similar observations:
During his tenure as Mayor, citizens have seen costly deals that rewarded close associates of his Chief of Staff. For example, the city chose a company with close connections to former Chief of Staff Charles Rice to operate an advertising campaign for all the city’s trash cans. It became clear the lowest bidder with the best deal for New Orleans did not win the contract.

Schroeder made a similar comment in November:
Nagin is either a dunderhead or equally guilty of patronage. Omni Pinnacle wasn't the cheapest bid. We deserve an explanation, and the contract out to be rebid by an independent board
I've said before that I thought the Picayune was prepared to run an editorial warning the mayor about appearances when Katrina struck. Now I can say that I sure hope that it was; at least Gambit did. I can understand that investigative reporting can be dangerous during an election, I can even understand that the consensus opinion is now something along the lines of: "The election is over and the people have spoken. The city is too far behind in its recovery efforts; it's time to stop the petty squabbling and unite behind the mayor and move the city forward."

I can understand that opinion (though I don't think it has anything to do with reporting), but I'd translate it as: "With hundreds of millions of dollars and the city's future at stake, it's not the time to ask the mayor the same questions that we'd ask any other mayor or bother him with minor things like accountability." Like I said, I can understand the consensus opinion, I just don't agree with it.

Quick questions: Do you believe a word the mayor says about his campaign finances,that is if you don't work for the T/P? Do you expect his accounting of city finances to be any more accurate? Remember, no boom lasts forever, and that loan package wasn't so generous after all.

BTW: There was a great quote in Crouere's commentary:

I guess running a regulated monopoly does not take great business savvy.

Sounds vaguely familiar ( check the comments).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why Is The Recovery Taking So Long?

Yesterday's Picayune gave part of the reason:
The LSU Health Sciences Center employee, who lives with his two children in a FEMA trailer at the property, is worried that the $118,000 insurance settlement he received for home damage -- which he said he could not use for repairs because his lender demanded it be applied to his mortgage -

Between the actions of the lending companies, and the related behavior of the insurance companies (more), you can find a large part of the short answer. Of course, everyone in New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast knows this already. Longer answers, or theories, to follow.

Correction: That last sentence should read: for longer answers see the the top half of blogroll.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

They're Not Only Ignoring Bigger Problems

The editors at the Times Picayune aren't exactly being straight forward either:
With the criminal justice system in New Orleans operating at half-speed post-Katrina and 6,000 backlogged cases to wade through, it is worse than wasteful to have judges jetting off to Jamaica at the public's expense.

That certainly gives the impression that the judges' absence from the city is contributing to the backlog, but from an Picayune story, one could only wonder how much the junkets contributed to the problem. There are only six functioning courtrooms in the criminal court building,i.e. there seems to be more judges than workspace for those judges.

This isn't to defend the judges; I would have ignored the editorial if it hadn't begun with a deceptive premise. The Picayune's editors seem to have realized that the amount of money involved was small potatoes; the total cost of CLE (at least to the city) seems to be less than any one of the outside consulting fees that the city has contracted, consulting fees that seem to be contracted for an estimated amount that can later be increased. To my knowledge, the paper has yet to question that aspect of the consulting fees, or some other obvious questions. How many of the outside consultants are brought in to make political pay offs (kudos to Stephanie Grace for alluding to it)? Are they merely brought in to provide political cover for the decisions to make painful, but necessary, cuts? I suspect a combination of the two.

Since the costs of the CLE didn't justify that degree of attention--two editorials, two page one stories, etc.-- did the Picayune start looking for important stories? No, it merely switched the emphasis to inappropriateness of elected officials leaving town under the circumstances. Personally, it's hard for me to imagine the good writers the Picayune keeping a straight face as they type out they're newly-found outrage over New Orleans' officials going to Jamaica. At any rate, you certainly just have to wonder when anyone outside of the living section will wonder at the travels of local officials.

I understand that it's long, drawn-out series that win journalism awards, but I have to wonder if a reluctance to criticize the mayor plays a factor. Who could accuse the T/P of shying away from investigative reporting now, just look at the hard-hitting series on the judges. Of course, there was that reporting on a congressman (who's already in the Justice Department's crosshairs) and a city council member (who lost her bid for re-election). But I suspect that, like the mayor they so clearly identify with, the editors at T/P are just too stubborn and egotistical to give up on something that they've decided is important.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Is the ACoE now emphasizing coastal wetlands restoration:
In a cover letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, who serves as president of the Senate, John Woodley Jr., the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, warned that making the decision to proceed with greater hurricane protection could be daunting.

"Ultimately, decision makers will have to use their best judgments to make trade-offs as to which, if any, measures they deem practical," Woodley said. "There is no such thing as unlimited resources, and we must also not be indifferent to the consequences of proposals for levees and other storm-damage-reduction structures on the wetlands ecosystem."

That one paragraph alone brings up a few questions: Is it common for assistant secretary's of the army to tell vice-presidents about the non-existence of the tooth fairy? Has the Corps always been this concerned about coastal wetlands restoration? Environmental groups have expressed concerns that massive levee building projects were incompatible with coastal restoration, but I wasn't aware that this was a major concern of the Corps*. At any rate don't those concerns only apply to levee building along the entire Louisiana coast? Does building category five levees in the GNO area make caostal restoration more difficult in any way (other than finding funding for both)? If not, why should levee improvements in New Orleans wait for a study of the effects of coastal levees?

Finally, the qestion I just have to ask: will the revenue sharing bills somehow cause a shift in emphasis (in the Corps' hurricane protection philosophy) away from a primary emphasis on levees, toward a greater reliance on coastal wetlands restoration? Like I said, I just had to ask.

*It may have been, I wanted to spend a lot more time on this before posting, but I have no idea how my weekend's shaping up.


Did Rob Couhig really say that a learning curve is a good thing for a mayor? Stephanie Grace, in today's paper:
Still, Couhig argued, the administration's task is more difficult than most such efforts. There was no transition period between election and inauguration, for one thing

I'm not really sure what Couhig meant by that, but there was a lot of talk about perceptions. I assume that Couhig meant that people aren't giving Nagin the grace period that they'd give a new mayor. Didn't Couhig help re-elect Nagin because he wouldn't need a grace period.

But what do I know? Either my reading comprehension's not what I thought it was, or Couhig's light years beyond me in his thinking. Frankly, I had no idea what to think when he mentioned serendipity and non-lnear planning in the Nagin administration. Didn't he help re-elect Nagin because he understood business?

However, I'm little worried about Stephanie Grace's job security; she seems to be straying from the party line:
Couhig said the initiative includes resumption of street maintenance, the opening of several city pools, and the launch of a $5 million enhanced trash pickup effort. Also on the list, Couhig said, was the appointment of former Attorney General Richard Ieyoub -- who works in Couhig's firm -- as liaison to the criminal justice system, which Couhig deemed a crucial step to making the system functional again.
(my emphasis)

Wonder if she intended the irony of having a quote about the "city progressing back to normal" precede the above. She may have, but I doubt she meant to be quite that skeptical.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Marine Shale Report?

The following comment was made on an old post last night, I believe:
posted by Anonymous : 6:21 PM

Thank you for the comment, anonymous, but can you give any more information? Where in Morgan City? Will it be a meeting, a documentary film screening? If you see this please post another comment or email. Please.

I'm So Embarassed

It seems Nagin didn't raise nearly as much money in Chicago as I, or anyone else, thought:
Finally, the latest reports put to rest a lingering mystery of the campaign: How much money did Nagin raise at a well-publicized May 8 fund-raiser in Chicago? The answer: $5,950, according to the reports.

That's about 1 percent of what organizers told the Chicago Sun-Times that the event netted. In a story about the fund-raiser, the newspaper quoted Nagin's hosts as saying the mayor had brought in $500,000. About 200 people attended, some of whom paid as much as $1,000 each, the story said.

Days after that story was published, Nagin said it was inaccurate and exaggerated the fund-raiser's size, but he declined to say how much he raised. On the day of his inauguration, which featured the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dorothy Brown of Chicago as speakers, Nagin said the event had brought in about half as much as media reports indicated, or $250,000

It's not that I was wrong about the money that embarasses me, it's how wrong I was about Nagin's supporters. Days later, they still hadn't finished counting the 5,950 dollars. Obviously the poor, hard-working, down-trodden people of Chicago were so moved the difficuties that our mayor was facing in finishing the job of leading our city, that they scraped together their pennies and nickels to help the cause. How else could it have taken so long to count the money?

Only a cynic (and certainly not the Picayune) would suggest that the mayor would still be covering his number-fudging during the first campaign because the second, important campaign is just beginning. If you're curious about who the poor, persecuted underdog is in that campaign, just ask the mayor. He'll tell you:
As long as I was doing 100 percent of what was requested, everything was good. As soon as I said 'no,' I was the evil genius."

If you follow that last link, you'll notice that the mayor's "go-to woman" is the Cynthia who couldn't even be bothered to come up with a plausible excuse.

How'd I Miss This Saturday?

Apparently the city council has the power to take away the mayor's emergency powers:
But it appears the council could end the state of emergency on its own, whether Nagin likes it or not.

The state law authorizing state and local officials to declare states of emergency says such a declaration can be ended by, among others, "a majority of the surviving members of the municipal governing authority." In fact, the law says, "the document terminating the state of emergency or disaster may establish a period during which no other declaration of emergency or disaster may be issued."

Only question would be whether it's settled law that the city council is the "municipal governing authority." If so, the only question would be whether the council members think Nagin is too powerful to challenge, or just don't want the responsibility themselves.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Halfway There Jarvis, Halfway

That was nice column in today's paper:

It's hard to stay here, but harder to leave

Nice column, really. But might I be so bold as to suggest a companion piece:

It's hard to stay here, if you're the mayor

Oh, if this gets your attention Jarvis, could you show your editors a comment that I made on another blog. You can skip the part about voir dire in Calvin Johnson's courtroom being a pool of quicksand (although that seems to be a common opinion) and show them the part that concerns your paper:
Thing about the story is: yes it's a worthwhile story, but they're up to (at least) 2 front pages, 6 interior pages, an editorial and one op-ed piece on CLE-- something that cost a few hundred thou and that even Rafael Goyeneche said was mainly a matter of symbolism. The T/P's allocating its resources about as well as the city and state governments that it covers. Of course CLE is a "major" scandal that doesn't involve C. Ray.

Aren't there other things your paper could spare some of that ink for? There was a sewerage contract to a barely formed, but politically connected, firm that cost ten times as much as that judicial conference; yet you've given it a tenth as much ink. That's just one example.

It's getting to be an obsession, but they make it so easy.

Some Things Just Go Together

Red Beans (Hat Tip:Gentilly Girl)
At least 12 tons of concrete collapsed onto a car in a Big Dig tunnel, fatally crushing a passenger and prompting renewed scrutiny Tuesday of a troubled highway project that is already the costliest in U.S. history. The state attorney general said he plans to treat the site as a crime scene that could lead to negligent homicide charges...

What we are looking at is anyone who had anything to do with what happened last night," Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said. "No one is going to be spared."

Gov. Mitt Romney pinned much of the blame on the head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and promised to take legal action to oust Matthew Amorello. He compared the situation to the replacement of former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina.

...the notion that what happened to New Orleans almost a year ago was a hit from a hurricane, as opposed to the fact: that what almost destroyed the city was a set of levee breaches caused by the design and construction flaws of the levees and floodwalls, courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers

Hate to be the one to say it, but I'm not sure how seriously we can take the first story. Both Reilly and Romney might be a little inclined toward chest beating and political posturing, under the circumstances

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Just to clarify, I never took speculation and said that it proved Nagin was a crook. I merely took inconsistencies in Nagin's statements and other matters of public record and asked why Nagin's squeaky-clean image was taken for granted and why there was never any follow-up reporting on some questionable contract decisions. Just wanted to clarify.

They tems I refer to are still matters of publc record (though no longer working links on The Picayune's website), so why have there been no followup stories or federal investigations? And why do even Nagin's detractors tend to say, "Well, at least he's honest?"

Reading some of the discussion on other posts about making accusations without proof made me realize that someone could think that about me. I'm certainly not paranoid enough to think anybody had me mind, or conceited enough to think that people think that much about what I post, but a casual reading could give the wrong impression. All I've ever accused anyone of is a ridiculous refusal to ask obvious questions. Of course, I've accused the entire local media, as well a large percentage of the local populace of that and there was a fair amount of scorn and anger in my tone.

Selective Outrage and Other Links

The Times Picayune reports questions the propriety of area judges heading for Caribbean beaches. Suddenly, they're shocked, shocked to find local officials going to Jamaica when there's so much post-Katrina work to be done here.

Harry Shearer reminds everybody of an important point at The Huffington Post:
the notion that what happened to New Orleans almost a year ago was a hit from a hurricane, as opposed to the fact: that what almost destroyed the city was a set of levee breaches caused by the design and construction flaws of the levees and floodwalls, courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The latter fact, documented by a team from UC Berkeley and a team from LSU, and acknowledged by the Corps' own mea culpa-lite report, has been buried by the conventional media, and now the alternate version--that somehow a hurricane that brushed by New Orleans actually succeeded in flooding 80% of it--has become the conventional un-wisdom.
(hat tip: Third Battle)

Reconstruction Watch reports on that Advancement Project paper on the exploitation of workers in post-Katrina New Orleans. It's easy to see to see why the report has been so widely ignored:
Its not just poor black and Latino workers that have been exploited in New Orleans -- the black middle class has also been devastated. The United Teachers of New Orleans - UTNO, the teachers' union -- was the largest union in the city, and a majority of those represented were black workers. The School Board voted in the fall to lay off all but 61 of the 7,000 employees, and last week let the teachers' union contract expire with little comment and no fanfare. "Elites of the city may prefer the teachers don't come back," Jacques Morial, community advocate and brother of former mayor Marc Morial, said at a recent forum, "because they represent an educated class of black New Orleans, with steady income, seniority and job protection."

I've got real problems with the move to charter schools, and I certainly don't want the union to be crushed, but this is just plain absurd. Katrina gave the power structure a chance to crush part of the black middle class by crushing the teachers' union; does anybody actually believe that kind of crap?

Of course there's racism involved, but it's often just plain greed. The powerful exploit the powerless, unless there's enough public outrage to insure that existing laws are enforced. The fact is, I have no idea what color Jeffrey Steele is; the same hold true for the anonymous commenter on this post. As a matter of fact, it may well turn out that Steele was a white worker exploited by a minority subcontractor (see my comment on that post). Whatever, race doesn't seem to be a factor in every case of exploitation. There's certainly a shamefull amount of exploitation going on, that a lot more light should be shined on. It just seems like a waste for the Advancement Project to put that kind of effort into an important report, and then limit its audience by focusing on racial issues--some of which are, quite frankly, exaggerated.

Readers might find the comments on the previous post interesting, the exploitation of workers--local, out-of-state and immigrant--seems to be a bigger story than anyone cares to acknowledge. After reading the City Business story, I found some interesting items on ECC, and I'll post them soon. Unfortunately, I also found what I found about the apparent involvement of local companies. Somebody is profiting from the labor of these people but not paying them for it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Unconscionable Exploitation

A little noticed item in New Orleans City Business (don't think anyone other than Joseph noticed, and I did check the national media) made my blood boil two months ago:
Jeffrey Steele came to New Orleans from Atlanta last fall hoping to earn $10 an hour or more in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Steele thought he found a job working for subcontractors of Burlingame, Calif.-based ECC, which has a $500-million contract with the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Glenn Sweatt, ECC general counsel, said Steele was not contracted with ECC.

Steele said he worked from 5:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m. seven days a week from October to December removing debris from Elysian Fields, the French Quarter and other nearby areas.

When pay time rolled around, Steele received just $500 of an expected $5,000...

Steele, now working in New Orleans for a different company, said he was one of 65 workers who came from the Atlanta area last year to work in New Orleans.

Many went back to Atlanta a week before Thanksgiving "dead broke," he said.

Sweatt said ECC has heard other reports of phony contractors.

"It's happened more than once. That's all I have to say about that," Sweatt said.

Complaints are turned over to federal officials, he said. ECC has a "pretty aggressive program to investigate complaints," he said. ECC has a person working full time to resolve payment disputes.

Sweatt said a lesson can be learned from Steele's experience. Sweatt's advice to workers is to have a written contract.

"People need to have everything in writing before they commit themselves to anything," Sweatt said. "When it's time to pay the bills, a handshake is a handshake."

As for inhumane working conditions, Sweatt said federally funded jobs are swarming with safety inspectors. "I think somebody would be hard pressed to say there's dangeorus and inhumane conditions (with) the federal work,

That last point is certainly debatable, but it was the part about needing a contract that caught my eye. I can't believe the law's that settled--you need to have a written contract from your boss to have any guarantee of being paid. I suspect that it's more a case of corporations knowing that they can get away with murder where immigrants and poor Americans are concerned.

Anyway, it's an old story that I should have written about two months ago, but something made me think of it today:

Report: Workers in N.O. endure abuse
Low-wage laborers exploited in recovery

"The treatment of workers in New Orleans constitutes a national crisis of civil and human rights," said the report by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Center, which interviewed more than 700 workers over several months only to find glaring examples of unfair labor practices, homelessness, and harassment by police and contractors.

The report bluntly depicts racist, bleak times for those on the working end of construction equipment or in the service industry. It details the experiences of migrant workers from out of town, many Hispanic and Asian, and also of African-Americans born and raised in New Orleans.

"New Orleans is being rebuilt on the backs of underpaid and unpaid workers perpetuating cycles of poverty that existed pre-Katrina

I haven't been able to find any national stories on the report (or even the text of the report), but something tells me that impression is going to be that it's New Orleanians doing the exploiting. Need I point out that ECC is a California-based company?

Note:Hadn't seen the print edition of the paper when I posted last night. At, the last story that I mentioned is clearly listed as a Front Page story, yet now that I have the print editions of both today and yesterday's paper's, it doesn't seem to be in either. Odd.

How is it a "Car" Controvery?


Thursday, July 06, 2006

More Serious Quote of the Day (today's)

About $128 of the bill would be for the electric portion, still much lower than Boston, where the typical electric bill is $207.34, the highest in the nation. Electric costs, however, would still be higher than the rest of the state.

The Picayune on Entergy's request for a 25% rate increase--if it doesn't receive $718M in "federal" aid. The article does mention that rates would still be higher in N.O. than the rest of the state, but it compares N.O. to the city with the highest average electric bills in the nation. It doesn't mention the lowest rates in the nation or median incomes in New Orleans and Boston. Perhaps more importantly, it compares electric bills in the two cities--not utility bills. I've only been to Boston once, but it was in December; I don't recall seeing much gas heating. I suspect that electric bills are a higher percentage of total utility bills in Boston than New Orleans.

This is a more complicated issue than I have time to go into tonight, but today's article gave the impression that Entergy was looking for aid from Washington. Other recent articles make it clear that Entergy is seeking to get that $718M out of the money that the state has already received from Washington--not from new appropriations (the text of the first does, the headline doesn't). We're hearing CDBG lately, not ConEd after 9/11.

Some quick points, the city really seems to understand the value of public/private partnerships where Entergy is concerned. It's sometimes hard to tell whether Clint Vince is representing New Orleans or Entergy. It might be correct that both have decided it would be a waste of time to try to get more money out of Washington, but the city doesn't seem prepared to take an adversarial position with Entergy's parent company. I would hope that, after hiring that kind of legal talent, the city would at least have a contingency plan.

Also, it's been almost two months since we've heard that almost half ($340) of that money is not for repairs, but lost revenues. In the same article, Andy Kopplin, of the LRA, said he didn't expect more than a billion to CDBG money to be available for all of the state's utilities. My guess is that Entergy's plan is try to get CDBG money to cover the repairs, and then people in New Orleans will be relieved to only need to pay enough of a rate increase to cover the lost revenue. But don't worry, Entergy's parent company is helping out, it's making low interest (4.5%) loans available to Entergy New Orleans--well maybe up to $200M worth of low interest loans.

I don't know what the city's course of action should be. However, if you retain high-priced legal talent, have him look at all of your options. It's not like the CDBG money is a bottomless well. That last link is an important one, unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much real reporting on it.

Note: I understand that it would probably be impossible to get the money out of Washington at this point, I just think that it gives an incorrect (or incomplete) impression to say that Entergy is seeking federal aid.

Quote of the Day (yesterday's)

The rally brought dislocated residents together with protesters from the Common Ground collective, most of them young, white and bedecked with piercings, shaggy facial hair and other trappings of counterculture

The Picayune's description of Tuesday's protest of the closing of the St. Bernard Housing Project. It wouldn't be intentional that the description brings to mind terms like "outside agitator" or "trouble maker" or, even "gutter punk," now would it?

Yep, sound just like the kind of people you might mistake Chris Rose for.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Cowardly Watchdog

From: The History of the Watchdog Mission

The project for Excellence in Journalism
Journalism's watchdog role has long been seen as critical to its mission of informing the public....
It was the watchdog role that made journalism, in James Madison's phrase, "a bulwark of liberty."

Hate to act like a high school civics teacher, but sometimes I just feel this overwhelming compulsion.

Kudos to the Picayune for Sunday's story on the connections between Renee Gill-Pratt and William Jefferson's family. The reporter did a great of tracing the complex financial dealings between Gill-Pratt and the Jeffersons and shows just how closely connected they are. Definitely a must-read story. I almost feel petty pointing out that Gill-Pratt lost her bid for re-election and Jefferson's career is toast.

I'm not knocking the Jefferson story at all, just contrasting it with the same reporter's story on Billboard Ben Edwards. The Billboard Ben story mentions the connections between the Water Board member and the mayor, but doesn't really follow up on them. If there was any investigative reporting in there, I didn't see it. Seemed to me to just repeat information from old stories and tell us what's in some new federal subpoenas. There was nothing in there that wasn't a matter of public record. I guess a re-elected mayor and a Water Board member need less of a watchdog than an indicted congressman and a defeated council member.

If you disagree and think that the stories were equally thorough, you may be right--that's a subjective matter. However, only one story came with an accompanying editorial, and the editorial did say:
But New Orleanians shouldn't have to count on the feds and the state to make city government run cleanly and efficiently

Isn't it time that Billboard Ben get his own editorial? What's he have to do to get all the attention he so richly deserves?

Why Not Try a Little Political Judo

Last week the two councilmen-at-large called on the mayor to end the state of emergency. Now he's in Houston, as part of what may, or may not, be a national tour. So, instead of demanding an end to the mayor's emergency powers, why not pass a resolution saluting the mayor for the wonderful job he's done steering the city through the emergency and complimenting him on the great he's done representing the city, as well. But, since the emergency continues when the mayor is doing such wonderful things in other places, some high ranking official or elected representative should be designated to have emergency powers when the mayor is away--the lack of any one person to take responsibility for the church demolition could be respectfully cited.

Why does the mayor travel so much anyway? He certainly couldn't be delusional to have national ambitions, could he? Actually, there are national jobs other than the obvious ones--now I'm getting an absurd idea. More realistically, you know man, you can pull in a lot of Benjamins on the national lecture circuit.

Updates: While in Houston, the mayor said that he didn't know who was sending untrue messages that the city was not recovering. Damn lying Tsunami victims.

Something I didn't notice when I first read the Stephanie Grace column cited above:
In other words, they want in. And as long as they're willing to be productive partners, Nagin should welcome them.

Not that any reluctance he might show wouldn't be understandable.

Is she kidding us? What job does she think the mayor was re-elected to? If they promise to behave themselves, the mayor should let the recently elected council do its job. I haven't looked up the law, but I imagine that, at some point, the council would have some legal recourse. Whether in court or the state legislature, nobody would want that. BTW, I really don't hate Stephanie Grace (or Jarvis DeBerry either). We've never met, and I agree with her more often than not. But she knows better than that.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Updates and the Usual Long-Winded Stuff

WGSO didn't didn't air Informed Sources at 5:00 p.m. yesterday, don't know if the other times are valid. The NOPD wasn't a major topic of conversation--Norman Robinson expressed doubts about the manpower figures, talked about how overworked and exhausted the remaining officers were, and then changed the subject. Look, I don't expect all of the statements by any official to be consistent with each other or with facts that have changed. I just expect some of those statements to be consistent with each other, and the known facts at the time. As for why I'm so obsessed with it, if you're going to give anybody increased powers to expedite the recovery, that calls for more, not less,scrutiny. I would think that would be a no-brainer. Anyway, dozens of other local bloggers make the case for increased federal funding--the federal government accepting responsibility, rather. Also, quite frankly, I just can't put my heart into demanding more resources when nobody in city government seems willing to account for the resources that it does have.

That said, I can't think of any issues more important than those raised in yesterday's Picayune. I see that, in addition to oyster, Gentilly Girl and Adrastos have also mentioned it. When a newspaper obtains a draft report, it often means that somebody is testing the water. If that's the case, that's all the more reason to react quickly and loudly. I would definitely suggest emails or something to bring it to the attention of the national media, if no major outlets pick-up the story.

Finally, I updated my blogroll (although I'm sure that I missed some people) and changed the comments, so that anyone can post a comment. Didn't realize that failure to close a quotation mark caused one link-2millionth weblog--not to appear, and the one below it--Wet Bank Guide--to not work. Wonder why blogger alerts you when you make that mistake in the text of a post, but not on your template. Sorry to wait so long on the comments, didn't realize that was the default setting when I started blogging and it only came to my attention once or twice (in passing) before I started a new job in May. In my defense, after work, I was always too tired to deal with something that I was afraid would be irritating with technical detail (it wasn't), and this was my first real weekend since last July.

I first decided to mention peg-intron because I thought that teratogens had some relevance to the debate over Plan B and birth control. I never thought that it could be a major talking point, but I still think that it has some value as a minor talking point. My reasons for bringing up the treatment since have been somewhat less noble. Say something too angry on this or anyone else's blog (not to mention in my personal life), just whip out that doctor's note saying:

Please excuse David's bad behavior, he's taking a medication that can cause increased irritability, anger and even homicidal ideation.

It can also cause depression and suicidal ideation, but I just decided to stay too angry to be susceptible to depression. After, all the medicine does weaken you too much to really act on the anger and homicidal ideation, also it thins the blood--patients are strongly advised to avoid activities that could lead to bruising or bleeding. I think picking fights with construction workers might qualify, or is that another excuse?

I guess that means I'll have to can that "Sinn Fein Begins at Home" post. Also means no more excuse for sloppy unfocused writing--impaired concentration. Also means no more excuse for staying home watching the Sci-Fi channel on Friday night.

I will do a post on how the treatment affected my opinion of at least two Katrina related issues and maybe even Lance Armstrong, but that it will need to wait. Having gone through a year (actually 48 weeks, it's relevant to that future post) of peg-intron, which involves one injection a week, has made me realize how difficult regular interferon treatment (3 injections a week) must be. If you should find yourself dealing with a regular interferon patient, treat him with the respect and consideration he deserves--what I underwent is much easier. If you find yourself talking to somebody who overuses a certain Nietzsche quote, tell him from me: what doesn't kill me, can still suck.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

If It's Convenient

Listen to or watch one of the re-runs of Informed Sources this weekend:
A repeat of INFORMED SOURCES can be seen on Cox Cable, Channel 76 every Friday night at 11:00 p.m. and Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. You can also hear a repeat of this program on Saturday and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. on WGSO,
Biz 990.

Norman Robinson seems to agree with me about NOPD manpower. It's a very brief discussion (at the beginning of the show BTW) that doesn't go into much detail. No speculation whatsoever about what Robinson's statements imply about the mayor's integrity or even his willingness to get serious about setting the city's budget priorities.

Anyway, despite the recent focus on local leaders and the local media, I haven't forgotten the big picture. With that in mind, oyster has an important post this weekend. If you read one New Orleans blog post this weekend, make it that one. Be sure to click the link to Lisa, from the recently flooded part of Pa.

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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