Sunday, December 31, 2006

Guess the Movie Quote

Since I only have a few minutes to kill, here's something I've been wondering about for almost two months now. A quote from one of the greatest movies of all time popped into my head when I read about James Carter's part in the successful effort to neuter the new inspector general's office.

Hint: if you're thinking, "If is the middle word of life," you've got the right director. I've alluded to my suspicions both here and on another blog. I certainly found it hard to believe that a novice politician outmaneuvered all the reformers in the city -- figured there had to be somebody behind him. The newly elected reformer from District C has been distinguishing himself on the council.

If you haven't guessed it yet, it's:
Tattaglia's a pimp.

Which was followed by:
But I didn't know until this day that it was Barzini all along.

So, is somebody playing Barzini to Carter's Tattaglia? Or am I just an overly cynical blogger who's seen The Godfather one too many times? The mayor's staff would tell you that he's certainly smart enough to be a Barzini, but I had a more cynical idea. Whatever your opinion, all the best in the new year.

Full Disclosure: Since race and prejudice come up in every dsicussion of New Orleans politics, I should disclose my prejudice here: I found Carter's runoff opponent more attractive than him. That was a joke; I honestly don't remember who I voted for in that election. I couldn't find a difference between the two candidates and walked into the booth undecided. I honestly wasn't sure which candidate I had voted for a few minutes later; Harry Anderson might have convinced me to vote for Carter. I do have a serious prejudice against Carter -- I think that City councilmen should make a serious effort to answer constituent emails. I emailed five council members over the pay raise issue. I intended to write my representative, both at-large council members and every council member who was present for the budget committee meeting that discussed the issue. I had no reason to write Midura and I somehow forgot Thomas. If a citizen writes an email (it can be found here) that expresses heartfelt anger as a laid-off worker (there were, per the mayor, 3,000 of us) and legitimate concerns as a resident, the councilmember should try to respond. Head, who isn't my representative, gave a serious answer. Fielkow gave a brush-off answer, but at least he answered. In fairness, the emails to the other cuncilmembers were a little more restrained than the one to Carter.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

National Stuff

There was a brazen armed robbery at Parasol's. Sorry for the misleading post title, you didn't need to go to a national newspaper to read about it this time. New Orleans City Business covered the first robbery, but the local media largely ignored it. At the start of the mayoral campaign the local media pretty much buried a sensational crime story, but the city's web site says that Nagin defeated the media to get re-elected. Does Nagin really believe that nonsense?

For the real national stuff, Richard Valeriani had a truly loopy piece in today's Huffington Post:
If it hadn't been for Chevy Chase, Gerald Ford would have been elected President in his own right in 1976.

How can a man whose bio says:
He was also the Washington correspondent for the Today show when news was news.

get things so wrong? He also mentions the Nixon pardon and vice-presidential politics, but he's either dishonest or he has a faulty memory of the Seventies. I suppose that I should be kind to a senior citizen who seems to recall Ford pardoning Vietnam draft dodgers, but how can he forget WIN Buttons? One of my lasting memories of Gerald Ford isn't actually of Gerald ford; it's of some old vaudeville performer that I saw the Today Show one morning when I was in eighth or ninth grade --I wasn't a budding policy wonk, Today used to be the family TV when I was getting ready for school. Anyway, I remember that the guy was there on behalf of the White House and he handed WIN buttons and sang a song about whipping inflation now. As a thirteen or fourteen-year-old I could only wonder what kind of idiot thought that he could solve the nation's economic problems with a pep rally. I turned 15 on the day that Carter was elected, and it was as obvious to me that he would win then as his loss would be four years later. The primary cause was the same in both cases: stagflation. I guess reporters have always been too busy worrying about trivia to notice what was obvious to normal people even fourteen-year-olds. Then again, four years later, most voters cared more about the economy than Iran. It's amazing to me how often people forget about stagflation and the misery index when they about politics in the seventies. As far as the gist of Valeriani's argument, a commenter got it right:
Doubtful. In November of 1976, SNL had been on the air a mere year and the shows demographic was that of high school age and the young collegians of the day. The great mass of the electorate of 1976 did not watch and did not know of Chevy Chase. Those outside of the demographic that were aware of his 'prats,' came to the knowledge by way of urban talk and re-reportage. In 1976, the young voter, as today and every election since the 18 year old enfranchisement of the national vote, talk a good game but failed to show in the numbers required to be counted.

The voters in the booths in November of 1976 were unmoved and unaffected by SNL or Mr. Chase.

More relevant that November day was April of 1975, and then the Mayaguez.

That's especially valid if you consider the electoral vote in the 1976 election. That's an amazing electoral map from today's perspective, but I can't imagine that SNL gave Carter any of his states. Certainly not New York. I don't agree with that last link, but I may have overstated my case somewhat. Still, a sitting president isn't vulnerable when the nation's at peace, unless the economy's doing poorly. The Seventies began with Nixon attempting wage/price controls and ended with Cater (later Reagan) unsuccessfully pressuring Volker to ease the Fed's tight money policies.

Other bloggers at the Huffington Post were less than enthusiastic about John Edwards' campaign announcement. Michelle Pilecki certainly makes a good point, although it may be somewhat overstated. Harry Shearer makes the point even more strongly, I think he overstates the case. Edwards could have mentioned federal responsibility, I don't think it was right time to present a case against the ACoE. I'll have to find a copy of Edwards announcement, I assumed that Edwards brought up the fact that most of the good work was done by volunteers to point out the shortcomings of the government response. While he's somewhat reserved about Edwards' announcement, the T/P's John McQuaid agrees that it wasn't the time to go into the cause of the 17th street canal breach.

I had a somewhat petulant post about Edwards' announcement up for a couple of hours yesterday. I'll admit that when I heard he was announcing his campaign from the lower ninth ward during a week that I'd be off from work, I was looking forward to seeing it live. I still don't know why the details of the announcement weren't publicized in advance, I hope that it involved crowds in a residential area. I'd hate to think that involved wanting a hand-picked audience; we've been knocking Bush for that for six years.

I don't think it's quite fair to accuse any Democrat who changed from New Democrat to populist of being a calculating phony. In economic matters I was more conservative at thirty than twenty, but more liberal at forty than thirty. Though I remembered concepts like external costs from economics and Aristotle's golden mean from philosophy (think about it) too well to become a full-fledged market-worshipper, I'll admit to having been sold on NAFTA. When Socialism and even Keynesianism when out of fashion, it took most people a while to realize that the new god kinda sucked. Unless a politician's positions are constantly changing or you can show me the definite advantage to be gained by a change, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt -- and hold him to his promises. Economic liberalism isn't necessary to win the Democratic nomination and Edwards isn't that liberal; he will give specific plans to pay for his proposals.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Remember the Hummingbird

It might not be as catchy as "Remember the Alamo," but I just saw Sidney Torres IV on TV; I remembered the shades. I knew the Torres name, but I had forgotten the rich kid who thought he looked cool with the cell phone and sunglasses. The same guy who wanted an upscale Hummingbird is going to give us Disneyland-like garbage collection. At least he no longer poses with the cell phone.

I heard more than the beginning of Jim Brown's radio show today. Today's ten o'clock show is worth listening to. Brown's better than Couhig, but he blew it with a Mississippi and Florida caller today. The subject was Louisiana not getting as much aid as Mississippi relative to the amount of damage. Some lady from Mississippi said that they're not whining and begging in Ms., and we don't deserve help because we re-elected Nagin and Jefferson, etc.. Of course they're not going to complain if they got more money sooner. Even though she was an idiot, I couldn't help but wish that she'd call Couhig's show and say that she refuses to even change planes in New Orleans since we re-elected Nagin. The guy from Florida was also an idiot and Brown didn't correct him when he blamed the levee failures on poor maintenance. Brown should have known that most of the damage in New Orleans was caused by poorly designed and constructed floodwalls not poorly maintained levees. It's easy to find the audio on the above link, listen to it and email Brown before he has Haley Barbour on next week.

Saw the end of the first half of Sunday's Saints tivoed yesterday. There was clearly a second left when Bush stepped out of bounds. It's a moot point now, but it could have been important. I'll admit it, I thought the Saints should have kicked the field goal to make it 9-7 on the previous possession. In football talk, my brother pointed out that Chicago at home is nothing to be afraid of, they've hosted two playoff games this decade and lost both. He doesn't read my blog, let alone Ashley's. Still, with the Saints reliance on the passing game, I don't want to see them play in the snow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

If I Hosted a Local "Meet The Press"

Hey, it's this or freecell while I kill an hour before the family get-together.

Unless the local press starts paying more attention to either the obvious appearance of impropriety (involving the Nagin administration's contract decisions) or wasteful spending decisions, the only thing world class about the city's recovery will be the number of boondoggles. Since the local media seems to think that it's perfectly acceptable to mention campaign contributions to other politicians but not the mayor, I guess the focus will have to be on finances.

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell recently stated that the "key question" in considering each spending request was,
"Is this vital to move this city forward post-Katrina?"

That would certainly explain her reluctance to spend $250,000 on an inspector general's office. It would probably also explain the council's decision to add $304,000 to its own budget to hire nine new staff members -- if the mayor's office staff is 2/3 of its pre-Katrina size, it's certainly vital that the city council's also be. I certainly can't think of anything more vital than investing $350,000 in portable toilet seats.

If you ever watch Meet the Press, you know that a tough question is worthless without tough follow-up questions, and seemingly lame questions can lead to tough follow-ups. With that in mind, last week's street flooding gave me an idea. I agree with Matt McBride that it ridiculous for local officials to blame flooding on clogged catch basins. Next time a local official brings up clogged catch basins, I'd love to see Norman Robinson ask if the fact that the city went from having 129 to 14 street repair workers contributed to the problem. The official would probably respond that it was irrelevant because cleaning catch basins was never a responsibility of the city's street maintenance crews. Would that stop Tim Russert? Of course not, just imagine the follow ups. "Are you trying to say that with clogged catch basins contributing to street flooding, the city couldn't direct its road maintenance crews to unclog the basins, if it had a full staff?", "So, are you trying to say that the fact that the mayor's office was barely touched by staff reductions while the city city lost almost it entire staff of street repair workers doesn't contribute to the problem?" "If instead of hiring nine new city council staffers..." , "So when Cynthia Hedge Morrell says, 'Is this vital to move this city forward post-Katrina?'..."

Well, it's a thought. I'd prefer a more direct approach. When Nagin made an issue of Landrieu's campaign contributions, it should have been (to the local media) like Gary Hart's challenge (to the national media) to follow him around. Lists of campaign donors might not be as alluring as pictures of Donna Rice, but they are certainly suggestive. I can understand that the local media didn't want to mention that Nagin's campaign donor list was dominated by firms that do business with the city during the campaign, but Nagin did make it an issue. Some TV news director or newpaper editor (either at the T/P or a weekly) could certainly mention it now.

Merry Christmas

If you haven't seen it yet, before to see Loki's Blog Before Christmas, as well as his other holiday offerings. Since it would have been impossible for Loki to mention everybody in that context, Happy Holidays everyone who blogs about New Orleans or just reads and occasionally comments (or just cares enough to read and follow events here). Since I didn't see them on the list, season greetings to the Lafayette Democrats and the Katrinacrats.

Obviously, Merry Christmas to (and from) The Saints. I won't jinx things with any playoff predictions, but I'm starting to think about next year's fantasy football drafts. Where will Drew Brees go in most Drafts, second among quarterbacks? Tougher question, where will Marques Colston go?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Airplanes That Land Safely, Update

Once before I quoted Haley Barbour's theory as to why Mississippi doesn't get more national media attention:
I‘ll tell you why we were forgotten. The news media doesn‘t like to cover airplanes that land safely. You know, they want to go where somebody is complaining and whining and saying, Give me something. People down here were saying, Let me help my neighbor.

He also said:
Our people didn‘t look for somebody to blame. They weren‘t whining. Mississippi‘s not into victimhood. We got hit by the worst natural disaster of our history and got knocked flat. But our people that day got up, they hitched up their britches and went to work. They went to work helping themselves and helping their neighbors. And that‘s the way it‘s been every since, and that spirit is all the difference in the world.

They might not be whining and saying give me something in Mississippi, but self-reliant Mississippi is still getting its federal aid:
La. to receive $75M for alternate housing, Miss. $280 million

Louisiana will receive $75 million in new federal money to pay for modular quick-assemble homes, known as "Katrina cottages," to replace the cramped FEMA trailers where many residents have lived since Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said Thursday.

But that was far less than Louisiana had sought, and state officials said they were disappointed that Louisiana will get less than one-fifth of the $400 million pool available for the pilot program funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mississippi is expected to receive more than $280 million.

The divvying up of alternative housing money restarted complaints that Mississippi has been treated better than Louisiana in the allocation of federal hurricane recovery cash. Landrieu said FEMA was being unfair because the 2005 hurricanes destroyed more than 205,000 homes in Louisiana compared to 61,000 homes in Mississippi.

For the record, I don't resent Mississippi getting the help. I do resent Haley Barbour and Joe Scarborough acting like Mississippi is getting short-changed or that its people are more self-reliant than the people of Louisiana. South Louisiana that is.

In an unrelated matter, I can't believe that nobody's pointed out one obvious thing about last Sunday's game. It was the first home game where I haven't heard the Ramones. There's gotta be a connection.

Is it just my imagination, or is there something odd about the answer to the first question in this week's New Orleans Know-It-All? I'm not just talking about the excessive verbiage, a terse answer would be unusual. I wrote in a question for that column once but received no response. I posted the same question on my blog a few years later.

Back to this week's question, it hard to believe that the Causeway's fifty years old. That makes it twice as old as Gambit Weekly. Though Gambit is only twenty-five years old, New Orleans certainly didn't suffer from a lack of alternative weeklies in the sixties and seventies. Many of us fondly recall both the Vieux Carre Carre Courier and the New Orleans Figaro.

The Courier is perhaps best remembered...

It's too late in the evening to audition for a job at Gambit. I'll ask some older relatives what Causeway Boulevard was called before the Causeway was built, if there was a street there at all. I only vaguely recall the Courier BTW, I certainly don't recall the opening of the Causeway -- I'm only older than one of its spans.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why I Disagree With Shane Landry

Don't get me wrong, I respect Shane Landry immensely -- he's one of two candidates I would have considered voting for had I lived in District B. But he has things slightly wrong when he suggests that Louisiana secede from the rest of the nation. Louisiana doesn't need to secede from the United States as much as south Louisiana needs to secede from the rest of Louisiana.

The state gets far more in tax revenues from New Orleans than New Orleans gets back from the state. The entire state is dependent on revenue from Port and offshore oil and gas activities that have left the southern part vulnerable to hurricanes. Now, to put it in redneck terms, the ingrates are really starting to show their ass*****:
Rep. Francis Thompson, a Democrat from Delhi in northeast Louisiana, complained that the state's insurer of last resort, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which took a major financial hit from Katrina and Rita, is now taking an unfair toll on citizens who were not in the path of hurricanes. "It's a bad plan when people in the north are paying a 15 percent fee or surcharge and they're not getting any benefit from it," Thompson said.

Sen. Joe McPherson, a Democrat from Woodworth in central Louisiana, made a similar argument when debating legislation that would allow the state-run insurer to buy reinsurance for future storms. McPherson said too many officials have been "pushing the envelope" on coastal protection, while his constituents are more concerned about roads. "Why should our area be subsidizing people in the coastal zone?" he asked.
(link: Gambit Weekly)

If secession's out of the question, I have a modest proposal of my own. Bring back the old Louisiana license plates that identify the vehicle by the letter of the state police troop and when you see an E, F, or G in the middle of an La. plate, just... Warning shots for A... for now.

More seriously, I still don't know who the mayor's legislative floor leaders are -- assuming the city has anything resembling a unified legislative delegation. Back in May, I wrote:
I would think that would be an opening for the city and the rest of the metropolitan area to start working together and for Greater New Orleans to start working with the rest of south Louisiana. When I heard the mayor mention Monroe, I wondered why the mayor wasn't on the phone with other S. La. mayors/parish presidents or why his legislative floor leaders weren't working with other S. La. legislators. Then I just wondered who his legislative floor leaders even were.

I don't expect a total change from the old North Louisiana, South Louisiana and New Orleans political dynamic that (supposedly) always defined La. politics. To the extent that there still is a three-way political divide in Louisiana, community of interest should lead to more of a two-way dynamic. Although it would be nice to see a North/South divide in Louisiana politics, I don't think it's going to happen, and I can't blame it entirely on the mayor. For one thing, there seems to be too much resentment in southwest Louisiana over the forgotten hurricane. But Media attention isn't money; Lafayette and New Orleans should be able to see their common enemy. Yes, enemy. If New Orleans and the rest of South Louisiana were ever going to start working together to secure their common interests, some leadership would have to come from New Orleans. Unfortunately, if our globetrotting mayor is too busy for leaders of the city's most populous neighbor, I doubt he'll find time for the rest of South Louisiana.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Go See Joe

Joe from Lafayette has some must read posts (one more) about ICF, the Fairfax, Virginia company that's been awarded a $750M contract to administer the state's Road Home program. With all the attention that the national media and Republican Party have paid to corruption and fraud, I've wondered why we haven't heard anything about ICF and the Road Home from Republican politicians (outside of Louisiana) or commentators. It seems that ICF has closer ties to the Bush administration than the Blanco administration. That's no excuse for Blanco, but with all the attention that the Picayune's been paying to the story, you'd think that it might have asked a few more questions. ICF is located in Virginia, half Of Washington D.C.'s suburbs are located in Virginia, does the phrase "inside the beltway" ring any bells on Howard Avenue? I know, it's not there job to make excuses for Blanco, but with so much ink, you'd think there'd be a few more questions and a little less repetition.

For some perspective on that $756M contract, apparently the bids ranged from $424M to $916M. That doesn't tell us anything, certainly not enough to be exculpatory. I wasn't looking to make excuses for Blanco, but I didn't think she had the oomph to mess up things that badly; not without help.

Stupid, Grouchy Questions + Some Serious Ones

Who's paying $110.00 (total) for tickets to both playoff games?
Playoff ticket prices will range from $38 to $215 if the Saints host a wild-card game or second-round playoff game. If they host the NFC championship game, prices will range from $72 to $260 per ticket.

I was expecting some increase, but I didn't expect the ticket prices to more than double. Apparently the prices were set by the NFL:
The price range is broken into the same 17 seating categories that apply in the regular season. But according to the team, a total revenue threshold is set by the NFL. The Saints make more money from a regular-season game than they would from a playoff game, a team official said.

I can only assume that it's related to revenue sharing. Still if $25. seats cost a combined $110., my $30. seat should cost $132. The Saints, or the NFL. is charging 167. Why is the mutiplier greater if you buy slightly nicer tickets? I'm seriously considering not going. For one thing, I mainly bought the season tickets to see the opening game. Also, I might have felt ripped off at over twice the regular rate, I know I will at three times. Don't know if I'd enjoy the games feeling that way. Before you tell me to stop whining and being so negative, remember, I didn't get a 10% pay raise. As a matter of fact, I took a 20% pay cut when I stopped being an underpaid city employee. I'm making 30% less than I would be if my branch of the public library system had the same turnover before Katrina and the same rate of return as another similarly sized branch. Now you know why I considered moving rather than have my tax dollars go to city pay raises. Now you can call me whiney and negative. But before you call anybody else that and tell him to go ahead and leave, think about what I was trying to say in my last comment on the last post.

For a serious question (albeit one that shows that I've been too pre-occupied with local news to follow national and international news as much as I used to): Has the U.S. totally abandoned all pretense of being part of a coalition in Iraq? If the U.S. is alone in building up its troop presence...Okay, that's a stupid question.

Thomas and Fielkow are blaming the media for their reported contretemps. Wonder if they argued about whose name came first. Probably not, Thomas is the senior member. I do hope that Fielkow isn't too serious about the "unified team" part. If Thomas doesn't start to show some leadership, somebody will need to buck him. Fielkow does have some leverage based on that the fact that Thomas is sure that he'll be the next mayor, as long as he doesn't offend too many people. I'd like to think that Arnie said something along the lines of, "If you don't surprise me with mobs and compromise proposals by your protege, I'll..." I'd like to think it, but I doubt it.

I'm inclined to believe Bruce Eggler on this one. His reporting on the city council has been first rate, even if the paper's editorial and op-ed writers have largely ignored it, while commenting on similar reporting about the governor. However, I have been left with one question about city finances -- when the city budget was passed, did the city commit to the full seven year contracts with Metro Disposal and Richards Disposal? I've inferred that it did, but none of the reporting that I've seen has explicitly stated that. Of course, if the picayune made that explicit, its editorial and op-ed writers might need to stop writing so much about the governor and start writing a little more about the mayor. I do wonder how much more point shaving James Gill has left him. I certainly don't think the Times Picayune should go easy on Blanco, but in five days its had two editorials, two Stephanie Grace columns, a Jarvis DeBerry column and a op-ed column by a capitol bureau reporter about Blanco's problems and ICF. And no new information. The editors of the Times Picayune don't seem to be much better at resource allocation than the politicians their paper covers.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

About the Picayune's Coverage of Local Politics

4/01/07: I don't remember what I was going to write in this spot back in December, but it seems like a good spot to place a couple of Time Picayune op-ed pieces that I looked up on LexisNexis. Yes the T/P endorsed Landrieu, but it would be difficult to argue that the paper's coverage wasn't slanted in favor of Landrieu. In addition to the op-ed pieces that helped start the anti-Brinkley backlash, in effect an anti-Landrieu backlash, the paper also ran candidate profiles that portrayed the mayor as an independent-minded "maverick" and Landrieu an "insider's insider". That's not to say that the paper's coverage was slanted in favor of Nagin, but it certainly wasn't biased in favor of Landrieu. To illustrate my point, what follows are the above mentioned op-ed pieces:
May 14, 2006 Sunday
SECTION: METRO - EDITORIAL; Stephanie Grace; Pg. 99

LENGTH: 785 words

HEADLINE: The great backlash

BYLINE: Stephanie Grace


If Mayor Ray Nagin gets re-elected Saturday, one of the people he might thank is Tulane historian Doug Brinkley.


"The Great Deluge," Brinkley's quickie take on Hurricane Katrina that landed like a 716-page grenade in the middle of the mayor's race last week, is so over the top in its treatment of the mayor, so seething with ridicule, that a backlash is all but inevitable.

It's not that Nagin doesn't deserve scrutiny. But he doesn't deserve this.

What, exactly? Let's start at the beginning.

Nagin first shows up in Brinkley's account on the Saturday before Katrina as a nervous wreck, which, frankly, describes a lot of people that day. Brinkley goes on to paint Nagin as so clueless that he, according to that day's newspaper, had spent five hours that week -- "in the thick of the tropical storm season" filming a cameo in a locally-shot movie. But the shoot in question actually took place Aug. 23.

Equally offensive, apparently, was Nagin's unorthodox way of describing his acting fee, typical 'Ray Speak,' to borrow TP columnist Chris Rose's phrase, which Brinkley termed "a confusing inversion of words and ideas, all gathered up in tortured syntax, typically producing a mixed message, but marketed to his constituents as candor." And that's just the author's take on the mayor's saying "a buck fifty" in place of one hundred and fifty dollars.

Just wait 'til you get to the part about Nagin's outpouring on WWL, a cathartic tirade which many viewed as his most authentic moment. In Brinkley's view, the outburst was just more cynical Ray Speak.

"Knowing that federal troops were on the way gave him the opportunity to demand federal troops," Brinkley wrote. "That way his grandstanding words would be construed by the press to be decisive. It was the perfect, phony, cause-and-effect gambit."

There's lots more.

Also on Saturday, many politicos attended the funeral of longtime local Urban League leader Clarence Barney. Nagin was there too, to the stated surprise of one unnamed source, who said the mayor must have had things under control or he wouldn't have shown up. Readers have to flip to the footnotes to learn that the unnamed source was former Mayor Marc Morial.

Morial appears later in the book as a named source, taking a much less oblique shot at his successor. Nagin didn't have a disaster plan, Morial alleges, "because he was the disaster."

Pretty potent words coming from a man identified as the president of the National Urban League but not, notably, as a sworn adversary of Nagin.

Brinkley also turned to Nagin rivals for anecdotes, both widely quoted, purporting to prove that Nagin hid at the Hyatt across from City Hall and took too long to shower on Air Force One. The sources, Mitch Landrieu and Ron Forman, were interviewed while both were contemplating running for mayor themselves. Vanity Fair's excerpt discloses that. The book doesn't.

Ironically, both Landrieu and Forman seem to have stuck largely to a dispassionate account of Nagin's actions. It was Brinkley who added the harsh spin, likening the mayor, for example, to "a primping teenager" who "just wouldn't get out of the shower."

And so it goes. In print and in interviews , Brinkley calls Nagin pathetic and afraid. Over and over, he describes the mayor as "holed up," afraid to go into the Superdome, grab a bullhorn and reassure desperate folks that help was on the way. Nagin countered in the book that no bullhorn was available. And while it might have been a good idea to do so, what would have happened had he told people buses were coming, when no one knew if they were?

In fact, Nagin-watchers shouldn't be suprised that he shunned political theater. Despite Brinkley's histrionics, the Nagin of that week was the mayor we all know: Impulsive, short on follow-through, free-wheeling with statistics, averse to bureaucracy and tedious negotiations, maddeningly tone-deaf when it comes to public relations -- but ultimately well-meaning.

Whether that's the guy to lead New Orleans' recovery is a fair question. But even many of those contemplating a change or definitely voting against Nagin seem willing to cut him some slack for the storm's immediate aftermath.

A February CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of returnees actually found that a majority, 54 percent, actually approved of the job Nagin did in responding to Katrina. Gov. Blanco, President Bush and the hated FEMA fared much worse. The simple truth is that a lot of people still like the guy, and they sympathize with what he faced that horrible week.

If Brinkley's offensive reminds people of that, then he will have earned his thanks.

May 5, 2006 Friday

LENGTH: 642 words

HEADLINE: If we didn't weep, we weren't human

BYLINE: Jarvis DeBerry


My moment came Sunday morning, Sept. 4. When I walked into the sanctuary at Second Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, the congregation had already begun singing an Andrae Crouch composition taken verbatim from Verse 1 of the 103rd Psalm. Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

I had trouble with the second verse of the song, the one that repeats: He has done great things. First, there was a theological hurdle: How could I sing such a thing after the destruction I'd just seen? Then there was the physical hurdle: How could I sing while sobbing?

Soon after the strongest of the winds died down Aug. 29, I stood on Interstate 10 and looked down on people who had already taken extraordinary measures to keep their heads above the rising water. Three men paddling a boat yelled that they'd just left a house on North Miro Street where 13 people, including some elderly folks and a pregnant woman, were stranded. I don't know if the men realized it, but they, too, appeared to be in danger. There were power lines above their heads, and if the water kept rising, there was the potential they could be electrocuted.

After seeing those men paddling and that woman sitting on her roof and that old man with his arms thrown around an orange water cooler hanging on for life, after asking firefighters about the billows of smoke rising in the distance and hearing them say they'd have to let it burn, after seeing people wander the interstate barefoot and despondent or emerge from attic windows like so many wingless butterflies, I heard myself saying, "OK. My house is probably gone." There may have been resignation in my voice, but if so, that was the only emotion. That was neither the time nor the place to mourn. Nor was it the time to let worry about my house distract me from the important work ahead.

I held the tears at bay for six days. But on the seventh day. . .

That Sunday morning service wasn't the last time I cried. Nor was that cry the most cathartic. Such designation belongs to the weeping I did more than a month later in the parking lot of The Mall at Cortana on Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge. I was on the phone explaining to a therapist how the loss of some family heirlooms made me a failure as a custodian and how I'd hoped that my mother would validate my guilt by yelling at me. My mother never yells, least of all at me, so there was no chance she'd bring down on me the punishment I thought my failure warranted. And yet, it was the fact that she didn't respond angrily that intensified my guilt and prompted me to reveal my anguish to a therapist.

Mayor Ray Nagin cried, too. We learn this from historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the upcoming book "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast," excerpted in Vanity Fair magazine. That's hardly remarkable. If Nagin had not wept, one would have to question his humanity.

Had another writer chronicled Nagin's alleged moments of sorrow, frustration, anger and fear, it probably would have come off as the kind of thorough history the public has come to expect. But in a television interview last year, Brinkley heatedly accused Nagin of having blood on his hands. In his written account, Brinkley relies on some of the mayor's political enemies as sources. As a result, his focus on Nagin's private emotional moments seems intended not to flesh him out but to humiliate him.

Perhaps that will play well in Peoria. Maybe Brinkley will find readers so far removed from our situation they'll find it easy to ridicule a weeping man. But here in New Orleans, the man who hasn't wept sticks out, and the man who seeks approval for mocking the tearful would do well to search for another audience.

I have to give DeBerry credit, the column was well-written. It was also as dishonest as hell. As Bob Somerby might say, you can almost hear DeBerry say: Hey, Rube!

I'll also point out that neither DeBerry or Grace wrote columns defending city government in September and October of 2005, when pictures of flooded school buses were all over cable news and the internet. At that time the Picayune had huge online readership nationwide, by defending Nagin and city government then, they could have done a great service to the city's reputation. They waited until the election to defend the city (DeBerry did write one column in December), I'd say their timing was suspicious. Also, neither columnist considered the possibility that a national publisher might be more interested in releasing a book for Summer reading issues of national magazines than in the New Orleans mayoral election.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Interesting Stuff

Since I'm not going to finish that long overdo morally serious post, I'll make do with a few links and comments.

I'm sure the blogosphere, at least the local blogosphere, will be buzzing with the latest John Edwards rumor tomorrow:
Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, has decided he can and is planning to announce his campaign in New Orleans between Christmas and New Year's, two Democrats said.

The location for the rumored announcement seems like a natural:
Edwards' novel choice of sites shows how he wants to distinguish his candidacy: emphasizing policies he believes can unite a country divided by economic inequality, a situation no more evident than in the city's Lower Ninth Ward, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

I strongly disagree with people who blame him for the 2004 election. Sure the debate was, at best, a draw, but I thought he gave some great speeches. At least, the text of the speeches was great when I found them online, I never saw him on either CNN or MSNBC. I blame the DNC for not protesting the fact that he didn't the air time that Cheney did. I'm off that week; if the rumors are true, I'll be there.

For at least the third time since Katrina, the mayor hid from a crowd of angry New Orleanians:
About 50 people demonstrated in front of Mayor Ray Nagin's house Saturday, demanding the reopening of public housing in New Orleans.

Nagin was not present for the demonstration,

Channel 4 news reported the crowd size at a couple of hundred, Channel 8 News interviewed a woman protester who said that knocked on his door and nobody answered. I couldn't help but picture the mayor hiding under his bed, also had to wonder if the crowd knocked at his neighbor's house (I'm not 100% sure that it's the same Jimmie Woods).

If you missed today's paper, Bruce Eggler reports that Arnie and Oliver are starting to get along as well as Shelley and the Cynthias:
During Thursday's council meeting, Thomas and Fielkow got into a spat over a seemingly trivial issue. Either one could easily have walked away from the dispute, but neither chose to do so.

We'll have to see if that blows over or boils over, but I'm not real confident about the council filling the leadership void in the city. Eggler's article also gave an example of why I found it inconsistent for the Picayune to editorialize against Blanco's state pay raise proposals:
Despite the city's financial problems post-Katrina, the council and the Nagin administration have been handing out raises as if they were Christmas candy canes.

The latest pair of raises, approved unanimously Thursday, cover the alphabetical gamut.

Leslie Alley, assistant director of the City Planning Commission, got a boost to $80,000 a year, not counting longevity raises.

Associate City Attorney Franz Zibilich's salary was boosted to $82,000, also exclusive of longevity.

There's probably no connection, but I couldn't help but notice that Oliver got angry at Arnie after Arnie questioned the city's contract with MediaBuys:
Fielkow also asked the Nagin administration to give the council an update on the status of efforts to find official sponsors to help underwrite the cost of staging Carnival.

MediaBuys LLC, a Los Angeles advertising placement firm, was hired by the city after Katrina to search for sponsors for the 2006 celebration, but the results fell far short of the millions of dollars the city was hoping to land, due at least in part to the short time available.

With a whole year to find sponsors for the 2007 Carnival, Fielkow said, the company should have done much better. If it has not, he said, the city should consider replacing it.

Who does he think he is, an elected councilman-at-large or something?

Update: The Advocate (of Baton Rouge, the reporter is a wel-respected free lance journalist) describes the number of protesters yesterday as several hundred.

If you don't normally read comments, Rick in Gentilly's are worth considering. Not for the complimentary words, but for more the more sobering ones:
im really getting tired of this shit on a local and state wide level.

i've got four years left on the pricipal of my mortgage untill i can get out of here and retire in the sticks in another state.

i love my city but my city no longer exists.

Hopefully, things will change in the next four years. I don't think they will will as long people imitate Chinese monkeys. I'm sure that term's no longer PC, but I don't know what the preferred term is. IMO, when the paper mentions campaign contributions to judges who waste $250K, but not to a mayor who wastes millions, it's seeing and speaking no evil -- at least of the mayor.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Asymmetrical Reporting

I've meant to follow up on an earlier post about Nagin's ability to work the refs for almost two weeks now. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked by the election and the appointment of a recovery czar, er Katrina Kaiser. I won't write much on the subject tonight, just want to commit myself to it before I get sidetracked.

When I use the term asymmetrical reporting, I'm not making any reference to asymmetrical warfare. I suppose that you could that the Picayune has been so...intimidated by charges of "bias" that it's afraid to hold the mayor to the same standards that it holds the governor. Or the mayor of Slidell. Or local judges. Or the assessors offices or courts. What I mean is that the paper's coverage of the mayor and other local officials has been, in some ways, asymmetrical.

Compare yesterday's front page story about proposed state pay raises with this October story about city pay raises. The Picayune reported it when the mayor gave misleading figure when he proposed pay increases for city workers and it reported it when the governor engaged in similar behavior. So where's the asymmetry? Well, the story about the governor's page was on the front page and the story about the mayor was in section B. The story about the governor was also accompanied by an editorial and a front page graphic about average state pay in 2000 and today. Though Bruce Eggler's reporting on city finances has been close to excellent, we were never given any meaningful figures about city pay. Of course, if the Picayune had asked, it would have been with a demand for an FOIA request that would have been ignored. The city pay raises are no longer a personal issue to me*, but I do feel compelled to ask one question. Considering what a farce the budget hearings turned out to be, does anybody doubt that the city council budget committee should have used the meetings over the proposed pay raises to get some accurate information from the mayor? I suppose a second question would be about whether the Picayune should have given more prominent placement to its stories about the mayor's misleading cost estimates. The budget hearings did occur before we found out that we had "no choice" but to accept the sanitation contracts. It's late, like I said, I just wanted to get back on the subject before getting sidetracked again.

*For the most part. With so many people laid off, it 's unbelievable that nobody questioned whether the money could better used to rehire some laid off workers. In addition to the practical questions about resource allocation, there is the fact that layoff and rehiring decisions weren't made according to normal civil service rules -- in some cases they were highly subjective. 3,000 people can express quite a bit of sour grapes about the city, even if they are scattered. In my case, nobody would call it petty, but that would involve discussing something I no longer discuss publicly.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Election Myths

note: Since there was no exit polling, much of what follows is inexact; without exit polling, I can only assume that voting in precincts that are 75% or more white or black accurately reflects black or white voting. For the sake of brevity, I'll just say black or white voters based on the Times Picayune's breakdown (pdf.) of the vote based on the racial composition of precincts.

I'll start with the most important myth, you might even call it the metamyth or protomyth. Without it, I don't believe that Jefferson could have been re-elected:
Status of a Member of the House Who Has Been
Indicted for or Convicted of a Felony


There are no federal statutes or Rules of the House of Representatives that
directly affect the status of a Member of Congress who has been indicted for a crime
that constitutes a felony. No rights or privileges are forfeited under the Constitution,
statutory law, or the Rules of the House merely upon an indictment for an offense,
prior to an establishment of guilt under the judicial system. Thus, under House
Rules, an indicted Member may continue to participate in congressional proceedings
and considerations; under the Constitution, a person under indictment is not
disqualified from being a Member of or a candidate for re-election to Congress.
Internal party rules in the House, however, now require an indicted chairman or
ranking Member of a House committee, or a member of the House party leadership,
to temporarily step aside from his or her leadership or chairmanship position.

Technically, a convicted felon can hold a seat, but not for all practical purposes (link, pdf) All the talk of indictment, gave the impression that a Jefferson victory would result in a mulligan. The talk was certainly widespread enough to make me question my knowledge of the constitution. Without the widespread belief that a Jefferson victory would be short-lived, I don't believe that Jefferson would have been re-elected. People expected a low turnout, but nobody expected the anti-Jefferson vote to be quite that low, at least not until the end of the week.

It's certainly a myth that overwhelming black support re-elected Jefferson. As far as I can tell, only about 10% of black voters bothered to vote for Jefferson -- 76% of a 13% turnout. Ordinarily, I hate that use of statistics; you can prove almost anything based on the low turnout in American elections. But if a previously popular incumbent only gets 10% of his base to turnout in the "fight of his political life," he should be toast. To be sure, Carter could have done better among black voters. I've already mentioned her clever, but lame attack ad. You don't take off the kid gloves so you can slap your opponent. Once she brought up bribery, she should have made it clear that the charges against Jefferson are closer to extortion than bribery and that one of his victims was an African-American businessman. But that would have only gone so far, (if you're a regular reader, brace yourself) Jarvis DeBerry had it right, she should have forced Jefferson to take a stand on the Gretna police blockade. It would have made it very difficult for Jefferson to get the support of both Harry Lee and Tom Watson. Still the low turnout among black voters would indicate that most didn't see it as "civil rights" election. I suspect that the ministers and other black leaders behind Jefferson saw it as a stop BOLD election and that relatively few voters cared.

For the second big myth, see yesterday's Picayune headline:
Suburbs, white vote tip the scales
'Harry Lee factor' looms large, expert says

I suppose that without Harry Lee, Carter would have received more Jefferson vote. She almost certainly would have, so in that respect Harry Lee may have been the deciding factor. But turnout was low in Jefferson Parish, Carter should have been able to overcome Jefferson's lead there. I wouldn't give Lee too much credit for Jefferson's win.

Although Jefferson's margin of victory in Jefferson Parish was greater than I expected, I expected both that and Jefferson's win in black precincts. What I didn't expect, until Wednesday or Thursday, was the dismal turnout in white areas. I wouldn't be crass enough to post about how I would have been right, if I hadn't been wrong, but there are at least two reasons (which I'll get to) why it's important to know the reasons for the low white turnout.

IMO, the three most important were, in order of importance, the desired mulligan, the belief that Carter was a flaming liberal, and the belief that Carter was as a crooked as Jefferson. Jefferson certainly didn't campaign on the false promise that he'd have to give up his seat once he was indicted. He certainly did try to paint Carter as an out-of-touch liberal with her own ethical issues, but he had a lot of help.

In comments on two blogs, I mentioned my dinner conversation with my Republican sister and brother-in-law Sunday night. They live in Mandeville so they couldn't have voted anyway, but I suspect that they're very similar to many white non-voters. They're both very conservative (by my standards) but not overly political and my brother-in-law sometimes listens to WWL, but not religiously. In the course of our conversation, it became apparent that they thought of Carter as a wild liberal and they were aware of the chance that there's be a new election if Jefferson was indicted. I suspect that was the impression WWL radio gave, but I know it was the gospel according to Rob Couhig. I told them about Carter's ethical problems. My suspicion is that, if they lived in the district, I would have known without asking that neither had voted. Jefferson's a very smart politician, but it took the widespread perception that it was a meaningless election between two losers to suppress turnout. Jefferson had a lot of help in that department.

So, why is it important? I don't think that there was an active conspiracy to re-elect Jefferson, just a lot of misguided wishful thinking. Still, we should remember who the people involved were. As Stephanie Grace said:
A variation on that theme, which also contributed to Bill Jefferson's big showing in Jefferson Parish is the yearning by some parish leaders to elect a congressman who they believe is on his way to jail. That would provide a second chance for the parish to replace him with one of its own.

But if the various players who enabled Jefferson's victory don't have common interests, they all have to live with the result: a congressman hobbled by scandal, stripped -- perhaps permanently -- of his key committee assignment; a politician, should he be indicted, who will be only more adamant about clinging impotently to his office. Why? Because he'll be able to point to Saturday night's substantial margin of victory and declare himself the people's choice.

And if they don't like it, they'll only have themselves, and one another, to blame.

She's wrong to single out Jefferson Parish leaders, a number of New Orleanians wanted a mulligan. I've already mentioned Couhig, but let's review his recent history. He helped elect Nagin, helped make the 100 day smokescreen credible for Nagin to get his budget and contracts, and talked up indictment and abortion during the election. An operator himself, or just clever enough to be a perfect dupe? Take your pick, either way, now he's on NORA.

To the extent that people didn't vote because of Carter's ethical shortcomings, I have to ask, "why bother?" I recently asked a question on another blog. Adrastos provided an answer:
James Carter supported Princess BOLD but not actively. He owes his election to Oliver the actor.

Carter's been distinguishing himself since he took office. I wondered if he was somebody's proxy once. I'm not calling Thomas a shameless crook and I understand that he walks a bit of a political tightrope, but he hasn't been a knight in shining armor.

Quick Weds. a.m. addition:Just to clarify that last point, being in BOLD doesn't make a politician a crook. But if Carter's BOLD connections gave people second thoughts, it could happen to Thomas. Personally, I think that Thomas needs to feel some pressue to take a stand against Nagin's lack of acountability. That's why I'd like to see a new recall effort. Something needs to make fence sitters like Thomas realize that if they don't take a leadership position, they could find themselves challenged by somebody who does. Of course, nobody seems very eager so far.

Thursday update: My point exactly about Republican hopes for a do over being the most overlooked in the election: a letter to today's Picayune begins:
Lest Mr. Jefferson see this "victory" as vindication and support, I'd like to set him straight. I voted for Mr. Jefferson precisely because I believe he is guilty of ethical and legal lapses, with the hope that he will be removed in disgrace on a national stage before he has the chance to do any more damage.

The letter writer also goes on to say that Carter is far more liberal than jefferson. Yeah Jefferson said that, but most conservatives wouldn't have listened if he hadn't had help spreading that message. In an unintended bit of bit of irony, the writer ends with:
What a shame that our political options have come to this.

You can read the letter right here.
Over at oyster's, I commented on the irony that the legal problems that made Jefferson vulnerable enough to face a runoff may well be the reason why he won the runoff, I guess this thing's full of irony. Oyster also gave the example of a freeper who engaged in similar voting.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Post-Election Stuff

Can't say I'm surprised. I could tell in the last few days that the one demographic that I thought would be motivated to vote -- white Orleans Parish voters -- weren't looking very likely to vote. Don't know what I was hoping to accomplish with my last two hurriedly thrown together posts.

I haven't heard so much West Bank/East Bank nonsense since I went to Franklin in the late 70's. I wondered if people who lived in Algiers identified more with the West Bank or with Orleans Parish. It's obvious which it is in Jackie Clarkson's case. If her channel 6 interview shows up on WDSU's website, watch it. She was visibly elated to see the West Bank flex its muscle, even it was the west bank of Jefferson Parish. Remember that if she ever runs for office again.

I couldn't vote for Troy Carter in the primary election because I was afraid of a Shepherd/Jefferson run-off. I really don't want to see that see that snake (Shepherd) entrenched in power. Whether the next election's more likey to be in six months or two years, it's time to start the anyone but Shepherd movement. I take his endorsement of Jefferson as proof that I was right about him, it's not a Christian value to help elect an extortionist for your own selfish reasons. Anybody who tries to elect the viler candidate because he thinks he'll be able to get elected (or play kingmaker) doesn't deserve your vote (or respect).

I heard some Jefferson Parish official say something about electing somebody from Jefferson next time; apparently, they want both of the Jefferson/Orleans seats. With people on the east bank of Jefferson thinking in terms of Jefferson/Orleans, and people on the west bank of both parishes thinking East Bank/West Bank, it could happen. Anyone but Shepherd.

Clancy DuBos made one good point: if Jefferson survives the indictment, the party primary system will make it almost impossible to unseat him in two years. That's something for all the clever strategic voters who voted for Jefferson in hopes of getting a better choice after the indictment to think about.

Hedge-Morrell had the best comment of the night. It was something about the election showing that we still had much bigger problems than Katrina. She was talking about Jefferson and Orleans being divided, but the line was funny.

Finally, Ed Renwick thinks Carter should have gone more positive because the voters already knew the anti-Jefferson stuff. I disagree, I don't she could have gone more negative, but I think she could have been more effectively negative. That spelling bee commercial certainly made the classic mistake of putting cleverness ahead of effectiveness. She should have had the kid spell "extortion." Renwick was wrong about people knowing the negative stuff about Jefferson. Most people think he's in trouble for accepting bribes, and most people expect politicians to accept bribes. Most people don't realize than solicitation of bribery is extortion minus the threat of physical violence. Carter didn't mention the extortion of an African-American businessman until the end of the campaign. I also didn't hear her mention the bankruptcy bill until Friday. I know that outside of the liberal blogosphere, the bankruptcy bill doesn't get much traction. So I don't think it's a winning issue, in and of itself, but she could have used it as both a negative and a positive to point out a difference between her and Jefferson. Who knows, she might have even been able to tie it into some people's post-Katrina difficulties.

Addition: For anybody from out-of-town who stumble across this, this post from Adrastos will help explain some of the East Bank/West Bank, Jefferson/Orleans dynamics and Harry Lee's role in the election. This one helps explain the apathy.

BTW: For anybody interested ina friendly wager, I'll bet anybody a small amount of money, or a meal at a moderately priced restaurant, that Jefferson votes against net neutrality -- I suspect that there will be a high correlation betwen how congressmen voted on the bankruptcy bill and how they'll vote on a net neutrality. Again net neutrality and the bankruptcy aren't near the top of many people's list of issues, but along with the gay-bashing, they were two more reasons to vote for the new new crook.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jefferson Is Not Nagin

We're both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

Michael Corleone may have been in a position to say that to Pat Geary in The Godfather II, but New Orleans and south Louisiana aren't in a position to say that to the rest of the country in real life. In a recent editorial, The Times Picayune said:
Gov. Blanco's plan would send the wrong message about the state's fiscal priorities just as Louisiana is asking the Bush administration and Congress for additional hurricane recovery help.

If state pay raises and insurance rebates send the wrong message, I can only imagine what re-electing Jefferson would do. Let's face it, the city still needs help; that pie ain't gonna explode any time soon. If you don't think the city's going to need to borrow more money before that happens, you're a lot more optimistic than I.

Nobody wants to vote based on what outsiders think, and some people are probably thinking that re-electing Nagin didn't produce a noticeable backlash. But there's a major difference; Nagin had a reputation for integrity, however undeserved. Prior to the election, I can't think of many people who dared to even suggest that the mayor was a crook; even my Mandeville relatives acted like a crazy when I suggested it at a family gathering. The rest of the country might have wondered how we could re-elect an incompetent loose-cannon, but we didn't willfully and knowingly re-elect a crook. This would be much harder to explain.

I'll try to finish this later, if not, I'll admit that she probably isn't much better than Jefferson. But she's certainly no worse and she's not an extortionist. Like my favorite columnist said, "survival trumps everything." The city will survive either way, but it stands a better chance of getting needed help with Carter elected.

What an Asshole

Assuming the story's accurate:
Two independent inside sources reveal to that several members of the Congressional Black Caucus are sending staffers and campaign organizational personnel to aid Bill Jefferson in getting out his vote on Saturday in his close race against State Rep. Karen Carter.

Most notably, this news organization has learned that Texas Congressman Al Green is dedicating several staffers to the effort.

I'll admit to being biased against Jeff Crouere because of his past involvement in the GNOR, but read his latest column:
Some voters may opt to support “the devil they know” instead of taking a chance on a newcomer, especially one who is a social liberal. Carter’s strong support for very liberal causes, such as human cloning, late term abortion and gay marriage is way outside the mainstream for most voters in the district, especially the Jefferson Parish portion. For example, Carter was the only member of the Louisiana House of Representatives to vote against making human cloning a crime.
Will voters throw out a tainted incumbent or take a chance on a newcomer who is solid liberal on many volatile social issues?

At the very least, some of her positions might be a little more courageous than Jeffrey gave her credit for, in an otherwise excellent post.

Still, there's only one solid reason to vote for Carter that I can think of.

Clarification: The post was originally about Green and other congressmen coming in to help Jefferson, the epithet in the title refers to him. The rest of the post and the next were hurriedly thrown together to get out the point that Jefferson is trying to campaign on family values to a greater degree than people realize. I guess Jefferson's not really a hypocrite to bring up family values. I also believe that some Republicans are acting like values issues are of overwhelming importance in our new post-Katrina reality because they think that if Jefferson is re-elected and indicted, they can then elect a Republican. Crouere may honestly be reporting, but I'm convinced that Couhig thinks that. If nothing else, remember the bankruptcy bill.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Nothing Man?

Back in July, I wrote that the head of Oakland's earthquake recovery efforts not only advised New Orleans to name a recovery czar, but also seemed to be lobbying for the position -- judge for yourself. My main concern was that some guy flew on his own dime, as somebody let the press know, told a public forum that New Orleans needed a recovery czar, and described an ideal candidate that seemed remarkably like himself. I was also concerned about one reason why he thought an outsider would be the ideal candidate:
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.*

Since he led Oakland's recovery effort, I couldn't help but think of Gertrude Stein's famous line about there being no there there. Now that Nagin's named Edward Blakely to be the city's recovery czar, I see that he was also worked in New York after 9-11. I believe that Nagin said there was nothing there there, as well.

That might seem like facile cynicism, but when mayor transparency makes a major appointment without any public discussion, it's grounds for suspicion. I'm aware of the drawbacks to publicly naming potential candidates for any high profile position, but if he's going to have any real power, there should have been some discussion. I suspect that it will be another case of the city government hiring outside consultants or creating a new position in order to spread responsibility or because it seems like a good idea. That might be better than the alternative, especially this far into the planning process.

That said, I'd have withheld judgment if the man hadn't imitated an angry football coach or an army general at his first press conference. He sounded like a really "thick-skinned" "consensus builder" to me.

Update: Jeffrey shares many of my misgivings. Oyster has a much more positive opinion. da po'blog is somewhere in between. I don't really have time to clarify my comments, but if he has no real authority, then the appointment is just an expensive buffer betwen the mayor and public opinion. If he has any real power, I have real misgivings about creating a new, powerful position answerable only to a mayor whose idea of accountability is a matrix and a demand for an FOIA request. Yes, his campaigning for the position made a bad impression last Summer, as did his belief that an outsider would be a better choice because he wouldn't be swayed by local history and culture. I'm surprised that nobody else seems to object to that; I'd guess that Frank Donze does since he remembered (or found it noteworthy) months later. Since it's late, I'll just repeat the comments (with a couple of typos corrected) I made at Schroeder's:
Do we even know what his function will be? Is he going to be a decision maker or adviser? If he’s doing anything with real authority that involves his urban planning background, what’s UNOP been about? If he’s going to be a combination chief of staff/viceroy coordinating the activities of different city agencies and between the city, state, federal, other local governments and the private sector, then I don’t think an academic was the right man for the job.

My feeling is that most of the advisers that have been brought in have mainly been brought to provide political cover, like the expensive advisers that the RTA brought in. I suspect this will be the same. Or it could be a way of concentrating more power in the mayor’s office; if the council and city agencies defer to the mayor’s recovery czar, it’s more power for the mayor. That’s something I don’t want to see until accountabilty is more than the name of a matrix. It obvious that Blakely wasn’t brought in to open up the system.

*I see that Frank Donze remembered that comment from the July story, glad it wasn't forgotten (Damn, I wouldn't have spent the time on this post). Now, will anybody ask him to explain it?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Picayune Needs a Hobgoblin

Or, maybe I have a little mind...

From a Times Picayune editorial about proposed pay raises for Slidell city employees:
Money spent to reward city workers is money that won't be spent on roads, drainage and other public works, and the City Council ought to reject the supplemental pay.

The Council should also delay any talk of pay raises until the pay plan study is finished, as Councilmen Rickey Hursey and Ray Canada are urging.
That's the kind of careful analysis Slidell officials should be doing instead of rushing to spend more.

The Picayune on proposed state pay raises:
Teacher pay raises, state employee pay raises, tax breaks and the rest of Gov. Blanco's re-election laundry list should be set aside and dealt with in the regular session -- where there will be more time to debate the merit and wisdom of the proposals.
She and lawmakers should find a sensible way to do that, and leave the gift-giving to Santa Claus.

After the city council voted to approve Nagin's proposed pay raises for city employees a Picayune editorial did say:
Mayor Nagin has said he wants a "fiscally responsible" pay raise to firefighters, and that's the correct aim.

But he would have an easier time making his argument if the recent citywide increase had given proportionally larger raises to low-paid employees, as he's proposing firefighters do. Instead, he gave his top administrators 10 percent raises as well.

However, the Picayune's editors didn't mention the huge pay increases that the top administrators received four years ago, and The Picayune's editors didn't question any of the New Orleans pay raises before the vote. They must think that surplus funds need to be spent more carefully than borrowed money.

However, this isn't only about pay raises. It's also about the tendency of the Picayune's editorial and op-ed writers to act like high school refs dealing with Bobby Knight where the mayor is concerned. I've been a little under the weather all weekend, so I won't finish up on either subject. Consider this exhibit A, in both cases.

Exhibit B (in both cases), after the city council decided that Nagin's budget didn't borrow enough money, the paper's op-ed writers are upset about a boondoggle that the governor opposed, but not soon enough.

While I'm on the subject, Clancy DuBos certainly hasn't been afraid to criticize the mayor, but even he's been a bit inconsistent on budget issues. I agree with his column about the governor's eagerness to spend an unexpected surplus, I'm surprised that he hasn't written as strong a column about the mayor's willingness to get the city further in debt.

I hope that I'm wrong about the debt, but I'm afraid that using borrowed funds for items that seem wasteful or extravagant might make congress less likely to forgive any of the debt. Just to be clear, I've never been a Blanco supporter, but I have found myself being a reluctant defender--guess why, the headline (see the link) didn't match the story, and the story was far more negative than the national coverage. The local media never did acknowledge that Blanco was right about federalizing the response to Katrina (talk radio still makes oblique references); when the rest of the country, including some Defense Department figures and Republican governors, concluded that she was correct, they just quietly dropped the subject. But poor Ray Nagin is the victim of media bias.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

John Barry Katrina Anniversary Column

I've decided to reprint a column that originally appeared in USA Today on Aug. 29th. As oyster said at the time:
Every Louisianan should know the information contained in the essay. Barry summarizes why Louisiana's current vulnerability stems, in large part, from its service to the nation as a port and an oil-deliverer. Then he clearly lays out the main steps to solving our flood protection problems, which includes wetlands restoration.

Don't know how long USA Today's archives stay available online, but as recent developments show, every Louisianan should still know the information contained in the essay.
A city worth saving

By John M. Barry

Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans was not a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster. But it wasn't man-made only because the levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers proved so flawed that, as the Corps itself said, they offered protection "in name only." It was man-made in a much larger sense, for even if the levees had kept New Orleans dry last year, eventually another hurricane would have ripped the city apart.

That will still happen unless we do something. To understand why that is, how the city can be protected against Category 5 storms, and why the national interest requires action, one has to understand the Mississippi River.

By depositing sediment into what had once been ocean, the river created about 35,000 square miles of land from Cape Girardeau, Mo., to the current mouth of the river. As recently as World War II, a land buffer kept New Orleans reasonably safe from hurricanes.

Three factors changed the geological equation. All three benefited the rest of the nation but increased New Orleans' vulnerability.

First, the Corps of Engineers prevented the river bank from Minneapolis south from collapsing into the river by lining hundreds of miles of the Mississippi River with either riprap or concrete mats. This keeps shipping moving and provides flood protection but deprives the Mississippi of millions of tons of soil that historically built land farther south.

Second, because the river still carries enough sediment to block the mouth of the river with sandbars, closing it to shipping, the federal government maintains jetties extending more than 2 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. The jetties escort the soil into deep water, allowing New Orleans to serve as the busiest port in the USA.

But all this deprives the coast — from Texas to Mississippi — of the soil that created it. Coupled with development and levees preventing replenishment of the land with new sediment, this caused much of the city to fall below sea level.

A century in the making

Yet these forces have been at work for a century and alone did not put New Orleans in desperate straits. Virtually all cities near mouths of deltaic rivers are below sea level. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport lies 14 feet below sea level, lower than New Orleans. Near Sacramento, developers want to build on land 20 feet below sea level.

What has enormously increased New Orleans' vulnerability is a more recent problem: offshore oil and gas wells. These wells account for more than 30% of U.S. domestic energy production. To service them, the oil industry dug 8,000 miles of pipelines and canals through the coastal marsh; every inch of those canals and pipelines lets salt water eat away at the land.

As a result, 2,000 square miles of Louisiana's coast — some of it barrier islands, some marsh, and some once seemingly as solid as the land just below Cape Girardeau — has melted into the sea. The overwhelming majority of the loss has come in the past 50 years.

All of that land once defended New Orleans against the full force of hurricanes, soaking up many feet of storm surges. Barrier islands that no longer exist once helped defend both the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast.

So, protecting people hundreds of miles north of New Orleans from river floods, making Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and Tulsa into ports with ocean access, and supplying oil and gas to America have all made New Orleans vulnerable.

Yet New Orleans can be protected against great storms. Levees that survive overtopping is step one. Step two is building storm surge barriers, as the Netherlands, Great Britain, Italy and even Providence, have. Step three — the most important and most expensive — is restoring the coast. The river still carries enough sediment that, directed to the right places, it can provide significant protection to the city, even with the expected rise in sea level. Restoring the coast will cost an estimated $14.1 billion — spread over 25 to 30 years. By contrast, Iraq costs $6 billion a month.

Giving Louisiana the same share of tax revenue from its offshore wells that New Mexico, Wyoming and other states get from wells drilled on federal land would cover 100% of the cost. Those states justify getting their share because of the environmental and infrastructure costs that drilling causes, yet their costs are insignificant compared with Louisiana's.

Why change must come

More important, protecting New Orleans is the classic example of something we can't afford not to do. Those who believe New Orleans can survive as a smaller city and still serve the rest of the country as a port are mistaken. Louisiana continues to erode: the equivalent of roughly a football field melts into the sea every hour.

If nothing is done, the city will become a fragile walled island under constant assault. Nor can the port move to Baton Rouge. The port runs along almost 70 miles of river, much of which will be threatened.

Energy infrastructure will become even more vulnerable than the city, and we'll suffer constant supply disruptions and Katrina-like price spikes. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve won't help; Katrina knocked out its pumps and pipelines. Indeed, rebuilding Louisiana's coast might be the only thing environmentalists and the energy industry agree on.

The most important step in rebuilding New Orleans is assuring residents and investors that it will be safe. The most important part of that is committing to build Category 5 hurricane protection. It isn't just New Orleans that needs it; the national economy needs it.

John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza, is Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier universities.

Reading what some other bloggers like oyster, Ashley and Mark had to say about today's news*, I couldn't help but wonder how people in the rest of the country would react to their views. I do know how a professor in Shreveport would react, he'd say that the world doesn't revolve around Louisiana flood control (or insurance). Well, the rest of the word might not revolve around our safety, but the rest of the country contributed to our vulnerability.

On the issue of flood control, at least one West Bank official is putting seems to have his priorities straight (from today's Picayune):
But Carter has been making headway since she made the runoff. The latest example came this week when she picked up the endorsement of Westwego Mayor Robert Billiot.

While he noted that there are issues on which he and Carter disagree, Billiot said backing the incumbent was not an option because the Democratic Party leadership "has made it very clear that they no longer have confidence in Congressman William Jefferson and have effectively removed him from every position where he might have had leverage or the clout to represent us well."

For that reason, Billiot said in a written statement that he believes Carter "is best positioned to carry on the fight for stronger, better levees and flood control projects, which might very well be a life or death issue for all of us who live on the West Bank."

I hate to sound like a broken record about it, but with FEMA threatening to withhold money and insurance companies threatening to pull out, that pie's a long from exploding.

*Mark's post was obviously about a lot more than Traveler's decision to pull out of the area, and could have easily been written absent the linked article.

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