Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Funny or Outrageous?

Shouldn't they have bought him a villa on the French Riviera?
Jay Lapeyre, the president of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, acknowledged that business leaders, Nagin and Jordan discussed finding the district attorney -- his professional reputation deeply scarred -- a way to make a living after leaving office. Lapeyre wouldn't outline where and how those discussions took place.

"Mr. Jordan has some skills," Lapeyre said. "The challenge was to match those skills up for some period of time. That is what we tried to work through."

The mayor, Lapeyre said, played a key role in crafting the strategy.

"We were simply supporting Mayor Nagin's approach," he said.

I've suffered a head injury, so limited posting while I have headaches. Skull fracture, but only a hairline fracture that will heal on its own. Details when I'm up to it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Arnie the comedian

It's our job to guard the public funds here. We're the stewards of those funds.

Arnold Fielgood said that on Rob Couhig's 7am show (at the end of the show, direct link here) yesterday morning. He phoned in to say it, must have been on his way to berate Shelley Midura for publicly criticizing other council members -- to berate her for publicly criticizing other council members in front of a reporter.

The obvious question is, if sunshine laws prevent any council meetings from being truly private, whose brilliant idea was it to have a private, "let it all out, don't pull any punches" retreat? The articles states that the retreat was conducted by a volunteer, so I assume that the guardians of public funds didn't spend any public money on it. Still, a google search led to an interesting result. The biggest feud on the council is between Hedge-Morrell and Midura, and a colleague of Hedge-Morrell's conducts the togetherness session. I don't know want to read too much into one google search, but searching for Leslie Bouie and finding an old picture of Cynthia Hedge-Morrell did add another surreal element.

Adrastos has more, mainly in the comments. There were two marginally related stories in today's paper. In one we're reminded of the earliest days of the feud:
Councilwoman Shelley Midura later criticized the grant, suggesting it was not a wise use of money.
Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis defended it, saying the toilet seat was a good product with the potential for large sales that would mean jobs and money for New Orleans. The toilet seat's developers, Susan Perry Hinton and Calvin Hinton, lived in Willard-Lewis' eastern New Orleans district before Hurricane Katrina and said they hoped eventually to manufacture the seat at a plant in her district. The council has not been told what progress has been made on the project.

Two months ago, Midura and Councilwoman Stacy Head voted against $1.3 million in grants to six nonprofits that also had been approved by the advisory committee before Katrina but that still needed council ratification. The grants included $337,000 to Newcorp, a business assistance center; $300,000 to the Capital Access Program, which works with small and disadvantaged businesses; $220,000 to Total Community Action's program to help poor families file for the federal earned income tax credit; $200,000 to the Goodwork Network's Micro-Entrepreneur Development Program; $200,000 to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; and $50,000 to the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Willard-Lewis and Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell defended the allocations.

Another article makes me wonder if the bad feeling between Midura and the Cynthias has affected recycling efforts. Of course, I wouldn't expect Willard-Lewis to have much interest in recycling anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

James Gill is a (part time) hack

I'm not sure when I decided to try to temper my criticisms of reporters who work full time and are often under pressure to meet a deadline. Op-ed writers, however, write two or three columns per weerk, and two of the Picayune's writers don't seem to spend much time researching their columns. James Gill and Jarvis DeBerry might draw full time pay checks, but they don't work full time hours.

James Gill isn't just lazy, the paper's most cynical writer refuses to take even a slightly critical look at the Nagin administration. He demonstrated just how badly he had lost it when he attempted to exorcise the spirit of Lafcadio Hearn in a particularly daft column last year:
Ill winds blow some good
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
James Gill

Good times are expected shortly. The Road Home Program has finally grasped that all that money won't do any good so long as it just sits there, and distressed homeowners may soon see some action on their grant applications.

The crying need for rental housing will apparently soon be met as developers, spurred by tax breaks, plan construction all over the city.
But Katrina has turned New Orleans into the most desirable burg in America for businesses looking to relocate, according to Expansion Management magazine, which cites state and federal financial incentives and cheap labor in its list of inducements.

It didn't seem to occur to Gill that the cheap labor that would attract employers might have the opposite effect on real estate developers. Had he bothered to read his own paper he would have learned that primary reason given to consider relocating to New Orleans was cheap commercial real estate. You don't have to be an economist or financial expert to wonder about the stability of an economy with cheap labor and commercial real estate but sky high residential real estate.

Flash forward to the present, Gambit Weekly tells us why the mayor's plan to relocate the civil courts is "just plain dumb":
Another 3,550 legal support staff, including paralegals, legal secretaries, court runners, bookkeepers, receptionists, administrators, clerks and others, also work in downtown office buildings. All told, more than 6,700 members of the legal community work downtown.

Moreover, more than 30 percent of downtown's office space is leased to attorneys, according to a recent survey of property managers.

Clearly, the legal community helps anchor the downtown area " not just in terms of office space but also in terms of related and ancillary businesses: large banks and financial service centers, high-end hotels and restaurants, copy centers, coffee shops, parking garages and more. A major sector of the local economy revolves around the legal community's presence downtown.

But, to paraphrase Kanye West, James Gill doesn't care about working people. In his column on the subject, Gill doesn't question Nagin's motivation for uprooting a large sector of the local economy, or even whether it's a good idea. He'd rather make clever jokes about lawyers than question the "champion of transparency."

If you consider the fact the mayor has bold plans involving both the city's legal and medical communities, it might be wise to question whether the mayor is being reckless. As mominem indicates, in the comments at Jeffrey's, there may be more than recklessness at work. I've wondered about that myself.

However, I'm sure that Gill will write a clever column this weekend about a slick politician who expects us to believe his absurd claims. I'll be shocked if the column mocks two politicians.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fitzmas, New Orleans Style

I had no idea that Michael at 2millionth weblog coined the term Fitzmas. Unfortunately, early indications are that Shepherd's bombshell will lead to more speculation about Letten's next move than questions about Nagin's actual conduct.

I can understand (understand, not condone) that fear of the "bias" charge or of hindering the recovery has caused the local press to be somewhat restrained in its reporting about the Nagin administration, but it's time to start asking some serious questions. Even if Shepherd is just firing a warning shot or blowing smoke, it wouldn't be "bias" for a local paper or television station to start asking whether there's any reason to believe Shepherd's allegations about the mayor. If the mayor's press secretary's response is that the charges must be false because the mayor is a "champion of transparency," one would expect the response to be "what transparency?" I expect the response to be that if Nagin's done anything wrong, the FBI will let us know.

Bernazzanimas? Thanksletten? Jack-o'-letten? Sinn Fein, y'all.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Liar, or high-maintenance* size queen?

Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother.
Michael Kinsley

The title doesn't have much to with this post, but I liked that description of the mayor when I used it before.

I'm glad to see the Times Picayune ask the question:
How much shorter were the old cans than the ones the city is replacing them with?

But that leads to new set of questions. Some general:
Does Nagin consider the Sanitation Department a professional agency performing a vital city service or a cash cow for cronies and campaign contributors?

Do the mayor and high-ranking members of his administration feel any need to tell the truth? If not, do they feel the need to at least tell halfway believable lies?

Some more specific:
Why did a sanitation department that is in no hurry to implement a recycling program feel such a sense of urgency about recycling the metal in the old cans?

Is Veronica White really indifferent to recycling? Or is another money-making scheme planned? Did an important crony get left out of the last sanitation scam?

Why did the Sanitation Department first stonewall, and then say that the old cans were being "cleaned and serviced" if they were, in fact, being replaced?

Though nobody else seems to consider the last question anything more than a "gotcha" question, I'll make one more effort to show that it's anything but a gotcha question.

The possible answers are that the cans never were "cleaned and serviced" -- the cans were removed because the city could no longer afford to empty them and overflowing garbage cans are a health hazard; or the cans were "cleaned and serviced" and then they were replaced.

The first answer would seem reasonable enough, but why the dishonest answer to a reporter's inquiry? At best, the mayor didn't want to to answer questions about his budget priorities. At worst, there were reasons why Nagin and/or Veronica White wanted to avoid questions about the operations of the sanitation department. Either way, it would be fair to conclude that the mayor heads a dishonest administration and White heads a dishonest department.

If the cans really were "cleaned and serviced" before they were replaced, it would certainly be humorous, but it would also be reason to restart a recall effort. It would simply be unforgivable for a city government that was so broke that it had recently laid off 2500 employees to be that careless with funds. If the city had already decided to replace the cans, but paid to have them "cleaned and serviced" anyway...Robert Cerasoli has a big job ahead of him. I have to wonder how tough it could be, at least the investigative part.

*If the $670,000 cost of the new garbage cans ($335,000 already spent, $335,000 more requested) seems trifling, remember it was an argument over $600,000 that led the mayor to call the NORA board "high-maintenance".

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Biased Reporting

I saw some reporting yesterday that would make Fox News blush, but I'm not talking about the election. Last night, on ESPN's college football wrap-up, one of the commentators said something about USC being scary, now that it's getting healthy. By itself, that would be an innocuous comment, but combined with some of the commentary on ESPN's College Gameday, and we see reporting that could have a real effect on the final college polls.

On the morning show, ESPN's college football experts talked about the "injury bug affecting the PAC 10, especially Oregon." I have no idea how many injuries any PAC-10 teams have, especially Oregon, but there's a not-so-subtle message behind the comment -- in a season in which several one loss teams are likely to be vying for a spot in the BCS championship game, some PAC 10 teams, especially Oregon, have a legitimate excuse for their one loss. Still, by itself, the segment wouldn't have been particularly objectionable.

However, earlier in the show, Lee Corso called LSU's vaunted defense "a fraud." He gave some statistics to back his assertion, but he didn't say anything, not a single thing, about injuries. Chris Fowler listed the names of LSU defenders that need to play harder and included Marlon Favorite. Of course, he left out Charles Alexander --Charles Alexander is out for the season. That's why Favorite is starting instead of splitting time. There was also a glaring omission from the discussion of the Kentucky game:
At least five LSU players were injured in the Tigers' 43-37, triple-overtime loss at Kentucky on Saturday. Practice is usually closed to the media on Monday, but Miles chose to close it Tuesday and Wednesday.

Among the injured are cornerback Chevis Jackson, center Brett Helms, defensive end Kirston Pittman, running back Jacob Hester and safety Craig Steltz.

Of course, last night's Auburn game was Early Doucet's first game, and Matt Flynn's first healthy game, since the season opener. I guess injuries are an excuse for Pacific Coast teams but not Gulf Coast teams.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Not a world class candidate

I suppose I should stop making fun of Kaare Johnson for his overuse of the term "world class," he used it twice in his opening statement in the one televised forum, but not again after that. Still, his campaign has been anything but "world class."

I try to avoid judging a candidate by his website, unless he frequently assures us that details can be found on his website. Johnson loves to refer voters to a website that's long on promises but utterly lacking in detail.

There's no detail about how Kaare would put 100 more cops on the street. I assumed that Johnson was talking about moving 100 cops from desk jobs to patrol duty, now I assume he's just talking. I've heard that about 100 more cops than usual are assigned to administrative duty, but I have no way of knowing. That would certainly seem to be consistent with the fact that about 300 civilian employees were laid off, and civilian employees could be quickly replaced while more cops are recruited and trained. But Johnson just talks about "100 cops in 100 days" without saying where they will come from.

100 civilian employees would be cheaper than 100 cops, if they're paid about the same as city council staffers, the cost would be just under $3.5M* per year. That's not a lot of money, but add it to the $3.5M that Johnson promises for the IG, and I'd like to know where Johnson plans to find the money. He was right to criticize the council to vote to spend $90,000 for a PR person, but he says nothing about the mayor's bloated PR staff.

Of course, the primary reason to vote against Johnson is that he believes that he can cross Perdido Street, spread some fairy dust, and get honest, meaningful answers from the Nagin administration. Boulet seems to be the only candidate who will acknowledge that Nagin does not operate in good faith. Clarkson is distant second choice if you can't vote for Boulet.

*This time last year, the council budgeted $300,000 for nine new staffers. 100 new employees at that rate would work out to $3,333,333.33. BTW, I fully expect to hear that the NOPD doesn't have the manpower for Endymion to return to Mid-city in a couple of months. If any blogger who hasn't asked about the civilian layoffs whines and complains about it, I won't feel the need to make my comments civil.

Friday, October 19, 2007

there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death

When this newspaper contacted Mr. Rodney and asked the simple question: who he was supporting and was the candidate Troy Carter, as the rumors alleged, it was his secretary who returned the telephone call in Rodney's place and said definitively that the attorney did not support Carter. So, this reporter responded, "Who is he supporting?"

The secretary said, "I can't tell you that."

"You can't tell me that? Why not?"

"I just can't?" she concluded, and implied that comment would be the last that Rodney would release to the press.

As strong as a political position as L.I.F.E. continues to hold in the Crescent City, there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death, considering the reform attitude that prevails in the city today. One can observe this displayed in the lengths that the Pennington camp goes to separate itself from Mayor Morial and show the Chief's independence.

One source says that Rodney does indeed support his friend and business partner Ray Nagin, but one can never tell in the somewhat Byzantine atmosphere that has descended upon this year's fractured election.

Just for the record, any implication or statement that this column might have made to connect Roy Rodney to Troy Carter is inaccurate, and we retract it.
Christopher Tidmore, Louisiana Weekly, January 2002

Nagin appointed him to the water board, a seat Vassel had to resign to run for the council post.

But Vassel said he has never been a rubber stamp for the mayor. He pointed to the council's recent approval of a S&WB-endorsed water rate increase, which Vassel pushed hard for months while Nagin stayed silent until expressing timid support the day of the vote.

Indeed, Vassel said he met a brick wall when he called the mayor before qualifying last month. "He did not encourage me to run," Vassel said. "His advice to me was: Don't, because government is hard."
Frank Donze and Michelle Krupa, Times Picayune, October 2007

Well, Oyster was impressed, but I don't see how doing the heavy-lifting for Nagin demonstrated independence. Leadership or courage, maybe, but not independence. And, claims of support or discouragement don't mean much from the Nagin circle.

I should probably just refer back to a recently updated post and leave it at that; I have no idea just how close Vassel is to the mayor. Apparently the editors of the Picayune don't either, and the disingenuous mental gymnastics that they use to convince themselves, and us, of his independence are incredible. Notice that Vassel demonstrated his independence by criticizing a privatization plan. He didn't demonstrate his independence by voting against the plan because he didn't need to. As the editors know, Vassel expressed misgivings after the plan was dead.

Of course, I don't vote for candidates because of misleading Times Picayune editorials, so I shouldn't urge anybody to vote against a candidate because of one. However, there is something in the candidates' profiles that Oyster didn't quote:
Vassel, who lives in Treme, also might be the candidate who has known Nagin the longest. The pair went to high school together for one year, became reacquainted through 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans and both invested in the now-defunct New Orleans Brass hockey team.

Nevertheless, Vassel said he got into the race because he thinks he can help mediate the increasingly tense relationship between the council and the administration.

Trying to get along with the mayor sounds good, but we all know where it led in the past. I've got a hunch, where it could lead:
It may well be appropriate that the city's sanitation director, a member of the executive branch, has a grand vision for the future of recycling in New Orleans. If all goes as hoped, two or three years from now our city will have a state-of-the-art recycling facility.

in upcoming budgets:
White explained that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will have to approve the city's recycling plants. By the time the plants are approved and constructed, the Nagin administration may well be out of office.

Even if White and Nagin aren't planning state-of-the-art, Disneyland-like recycling (at total costs that won't be revealed until it's too late to cancel the deal), the third part of Lolis Eric Elie's report on recycling is a must-read for the portrait of Veronica White. I don't want put words in Elie's mouth, but somebody sure sounds like a ... never mind.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reality Check

When in your lifetime have Louisiana's leaders looked out for anyone but themselves?

Listening to the Republican Governor's Association commercial, you'd think that, in the election four years ago, Bobby Jindal was running to be the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Since they say that Jindal was our chance to bring "honor and wisdom" to state government, the implication is that he he was running to replace a fool and a scoundrel. In fact, the election was to succeed Jindal's mentor, sponsor and fellow Republican, Mike Foster. Since Foster served as governor for four years, one can only wonder why Republican governors would ask such a question.

Of course, they'd probably say something about Foster's hands being tied by a Democratic controlled state legislature, and they'd expect you to believe it. The fact is, foster was a very strong governor. Strong enough that when he really wanted to push through a tough reform over the opposition of entrenched special interests, he not only bent the legislature to his will, the state supreme court went along as well. Thanks to Foster, we no longer have "a bunch of big fat professors drawing big paychecks to run people out of Louisiana." Actually, Foster was one of two strong governors that the state had in my memory (if not lifetime) and used that power to limit the ability of law school legal clinics to represent poor people. He could have pushed for real reform, but that's what our last Republican governor thought was important. He also helped pass the Stelly Plan, but most Republicans don't like that reform.

On the other hand, Walter Boasso spearheaded a real reform that even impressed Adam Nossiter. Yet, the Republicans would have you believe that Boasso is part of the "corruption crowd" and Jindal is the reform candidate. The Republicans think you're stupid.

For more reasons to vote against Jindal, see Cenlamar and YRHT. Go to the home page and scroll down in both cases. There's more worth reading than I have time to link to individually.

I must be clairvoyant

Last night, I wrote the following (slightly edited) in a comment at oyster's:

Why would anybody think that Jindal orchestrated it? Fourth reason why Jindal is good:

* Bobby Jindal is Good because he delivered his own child. No really, he did. His wife woke up in the middle of the night in labor. Before the ambulance could reach the Casa del Jindal, Bobby J welcomed this third child into the world. Not to take anything away from Mrs. Jindal, who according to published reports, did most of the work. But we're still pretty damn impressed.

Still it seems to have been a clumsy statement on Georges' part, but remember we're not reading the text of a formal interview. It seems like it might be an illustration of why I have such mixed feeling abouts Stephanie Grace -- she occasionally does really good political analysis. However, every election she dutifully writes a column about the need to focus on the issues rather than campaign strategy or the trivial and the titillating, and every election she writes a couple of columns about campaign strategy, the trivial and the titillating. I'd like to see her notes, if not hear a tape of, the conversation.

BTW, Rogers was a Boasso fan before he ran against his hero and paying sponsor Jindal:

Boasso’s Bill Dead

May 10, 2005

The state retirement system is a “ticking time bomb.” I did not invent this term, but I understand it’s meaning. Senator Walter Boasso tried to stop the clock, but his colleagues made sure that this didn’t happen. At this point, it’s just a matter of time until the bomb explodes.

The problem was stated by Senator Boasso himself, in a letter submitted to this site:

The State had to pay $1.7 billion of the state’s retirement systems’ liabilities during the last legislative session. As previously stated, this said $1.7 billion brings the total of the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) for the state retirement systems to $11 billion.

This is what Boasso was trying to stop. His attempt has been shot down. Time to run for cover.

–Chad E. Rogers

So what did Stephanie Grace write about today? It didn't seem like a column about the issues to me. I'm still curious that Georges interview with Grace. It's common practice for a journalist to have a chat with a politician and then report key points, but I don't like the practice. I'd hate to think that a journalist who constantly calls for more focus on the issues decided to go for something juicy instead, but we can't tell without seeing the line of questions that led to the comment. Not that I care about Georges, I'm either voting for the real Democrat or the candidate with a real record as a reformer.

I don't know who started the mud-slinging between Boasso and Jindal, but I know that I saw anti-Georges commercials from the Republicans long before I saw anti-Jindal commercials from Georges. So, for the second case of something being predictable, rather than me being clairvoyant:
Also, the no traction line from Couhig seemed odd, Georges yard signs have been popping up in Metairie for a couple of weeks now; if Georges starts to poll above 10% expect "the most ferocious campaign attacks in the history of American politics," because Georges' vote would all come at jindal's expense and almost certainly force a runoff.

I didn't foresee Georges making a strong enough push for black votes to possibly make a runoff himself, but I did foresee him getting enough white votes to force Jindal into a runoff. Which do you think is causing the Republicans to "launch negative broadsides against Georges the ferocity of which has yet to be seen in American politics?"

I'm still predicting a runoff, but that's as far as I'll go based on yard signs in my small corner of the world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Last minute advice for Virginia Boulet

I really don't understand Virginia Boulet's campaign tactics. She's taken the strongest position of any of the candidates that the council needs to take charge, but she most know that anybody who's looking for an anti-Nagin candidate remembers her endorsement of Nagin in the mayoral election. Some of us remember that she defended the mayor, calling him a "good steward of public money," even after last year's sanitation contracts. She must realize that she needs to make more specific criticisms of Nagin if she's going to have any chance of capturing a sizable anti-Nagin vote. It seems to me that those garbage collection contracts are the place to begin.

I'm certainly not a Boulet fan, but the three novices that I thought I could consider voting for -- Johnson, Jones and Lewis -- seem to think that the council hasn't tried hard enough to work with the mayor. All three have talked about the need for the council to do a better job of working with the mayor at election forums, Jones the most strongly, and Johnson makes a similar statement in a WRNO interview. What city have they been living in? The council bent over backwards to get along with Nagin for fifteen months, a booming recovery didn't come to a screeching halt when the council finally started asking questions. If they had been paying attention this time last year, they would have seen the Nagin administration stonewall and give misleading answers to questions for weeks before the Sanitation Director finally said, in effect, "sign these expensive contracts that double or triple our garbage collection bill, or the garbage doesn't get picked up."

Since one or more of the candidates is bound to talk about the need for the council and mayor to get along, Boulet needs to say the council tried that, the mayor showed that he doesn't operate in good faith, and you're calling for the council to forget the lesson that it learned the hard way. It would be a harsh statement, but she won't make the runoff if she doesn't swing for the fences. This way, her campaign would have a positive affect whether she was lected or not. I don't expect her to try anything nearly that forceful, but the other candidates keep giving her openings. If she doesn't take advantage of them, even in a more diplomatic way than I'd like, I won't make any more pitches on her behalf.

If you listen to the Clarkson interview on the WRNO link and recall what she said at last week's forum, she seems to be backing away from the anti-Nagin stance that she took at Loyola. I can only assume that she saw the positive response that Boulet got for her anti-Nagin statement and decided to strike an anti-Nagin pose herself. She had my vote, but now she's lost it -- at least in the first primary.

Diane Bajoie has a large family

"Senate Passes Toughened Ethics Bill for Hurricane Contracts"

Louisiana - New Orleans Times-Picayune; Associated Press - Published on: 11/22/2005

Issued: November 23, 2005

Louisiana state officials would have to inform the state ethics board about money that they, their spouses, siblings, or children make from federal disaster-related contracts, under a bill that appears close to passage in the Legislature. Originally, the bill would have forced elected and appointed state officials to report money they and their spouses make from the contracts. However, Sen. Jay Dardenne added an amendment forcing disclosure of contracts going to other immediate family members.

Several senators complained to Dardenne that it could be impossible for a legislator, for example, to keep track of all their close relatives and find out if they have received federal contracts. "I'm going to have to start calling everybody and ask what they're doing and I have a large family," said Sen. Diana Bajoie. "I think this really reaches a little far."

Scroll down to Louisiana. Spouses and children are a no-brainer, so I assume the objection involved siblings. Under normal circumstances, it might have been a reasonable objection, but this was November 2005; the entire country was watching and much was at stake. In fairness to Bajoie, the bill did pass unanimously.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I don't really disagree


Today's Picayune endorses Tommie Vassel in the council-at-large race, but the editorial isn't yet available online. I have a test tomorrow night, so I don't have time to go into detail, but I've rethought my objections to Vassel. I still have very strong misgivings, but he's now one of three candidates that I might vote for. I really have misgivings about Picayune-endorsed CPA's, but that's not exactly a rational prejudice.


Actually, I have very strong reservations. To begin with the Times Picayune wrote something misleading in its endorsement:
More recently, as Mayor Ray Nagin's appointee to the Sewerage & Water Board, Mr. Vassel was an independent voice -- criticizing an ill-conceived proposal to privatize the agency.

The deal was already sunk, the example of Atlanta was no longer a selling point.

There is no way to talk honestly about this election without talking about race, and the fact is, I wouldn't have even considered Vassel if he were white. I would never say that being a water board appointee is proof that somebody is a crook; as a general rule, I'd guess that it only takes a couple of crooked board members to push through crooked deals. The fact that Vassel was a "business partner" (in the same way as John Georges), whom Nagin appointed when he was determined to overhaul the water board, doesn't make him a crook. The fact that he was appointed to the school board when Morial was mayor, doesn't make him a crook.

As a matter of fact, I have no idea whether Vassel is a crook or the most honest man in city government. But, he certainly appears to be what anybody would call an insider. I wouldn't take a chance on him without good reason.

Though it's not considered polite to bring it up, race is a valid reason. Having a white at-large has certainly been reassuring to most white residents for the almost three decades that black voters have been in the majority. Even if that had less to do with an "unspoken rule" than the wording of the city charter, demographics, and the fact that we rarely had two serious white at-large candidates, it certainly had a stabilizing effect. Upsetting that balance now would certainly be a serious matter.

As I discussed at Maitri's, I'd also hate to see a council that was racially divided on reform and expenditure issues. Of course, if you still believe that Carter is a reformer, that won't be an issue. I don't, that's why I won't take a chance on somebody with strong Nagin connections. It doesn't help that he's said the council should have tried harder to avoid the recent subpoena fight; after last year's garbage scam, I have strong reservations about anybody who would say that.

Uhura in New Orleans


I decided to take a class on Monday nights, so I haven't been able to watch "Heroes" this year. I finally used the show's website to watch the three episodes episodes that have aired this season and found the new season a bit of a disappointment. The first disappointment was George Takei's recurring character was killed off before we even found what was his powers were, but mainly, I've had more curiousity about what happened between seasons than what will happen this season. How did Sylar keep his memory but lose his powers, while Peter kept his powers but lost his memory? How did another character take a job as a Kinko's assistant manager but keep his very affluent lifestyle? At any rate, the decision to bring back Syler and Peter is reason enough to stop watching. Their accumulated powers were getting ridiculous at the end of the first season, and the actor who plays Peter does a really annoying Keanu Reeves impersonation.

I was ready to give up on the show until the end of the third episode, when one of the characters brought her son to live with "Nana" in new Orleans. The characters arrive at Nana's house in what appears to be a desolate neighborhood, but it seemed desolate than devastated. Well, it was only one shot. They knocked on the door and Nichelle Nichols answered, with what sounded like a ridiculous accent. Well, it was only one line. They killed off Sulu but beamed in Uhura, I guess Hiro isn't the only character who does time travel. If a report on Wikipedia is correct, the New Orleans subplot could get really interesting or, more likely, just plain silly. One of the New Orleans characters is described as "an avenging angel intent on bringing justice to prevalent corruption." Since it's a different network, she probably won't be hooking up with Boulet and Cobb.

Update: Dave Walker wrote an article that I missed. Also, Nichelle Nicholls didn't put on an accent when she had more lines. Either she decided against it, or I misheard her first line.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Council-at-large forum at Xavier University Thursday night. Sponsored by The League of Women Voters. There will be one more forum next Tuesday. More at G Bitch Spot.

Also, Rob Couhig started interviewing the candidates on his 6 a.m. show this week. he's only done three short interviews so far, not very informative, but easy enough to find.

Uninformative, but Kaare Johnson unwittingly demonstrates the reason why I'll vote for Clarkson or Boulet. As he puts it, he doesn't have an ego. He walk across Perdido street if he needed an answer from an official. He wouldn't issue a subpoena.

Most of the other candidates made similar comments about the need to work together at last week's forum. You'd think that the recovery was progressing wonderfully until the subpoena was issued. "It takes two to tango" might be the correct thing to say to fighting fifth graders, but the council bent over backwards to accommodate the mayor for over a year.

Quote of the Day

"In Louisiana, we all outsmart ourselves too often."

It might have been "too much, too often." Guess who said it and what he was talking about.

It was Rob Couhig talking about voting strategies. Yep, Rob Couhig actually said that we tend to overthink who we vote for. The tape of the 7 a.m. show isn't on the website yet. It should be up this afternoon; I didn't hear the slightest trace of irony or humor in Couhig's voice. One odd thing I've noticed about Couhig is that he'll make the occasional criticism of Nagin, but he'd much rather criticize Blakely. He almost sounds like a jealous child. I actually think that has something to do with the reasons he and Boulet both endorsed Nagin and their public statements since. I'll have more on that tonight.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Clutching at Straws?

I can't find a link, but Bobby Jindal has a new commercial in which St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens praises Jindal for getting emergency help to St. Bernard Parish after Katrina, when "nobody else could." Is it my imagination, or is that somewhat troubling, if not incriminating? A Republican congressman could get federal help for St. Bernard, while a Democratic governor couldn't get federal help for New Orleans. There's both a racial and a partisan component to that, BTW.

There's something else that's troubling about the commercial, Stephens didn't authorize it.

I do have admit that when I read Gambit's endorsement of Jindal, I was surprised to see that he supports an LSU teaching hospital in new Orleans. I was more surprised to find it on his web site. I don't know if that went up recently, or I just didn't see it before --I may have been sidetracked by the "Second chance for Louisiana" commercial and website. His refusal to take a position was my strongest argument for anybody in the GNO area to vote against him, but he still won't get my vote.

I have zero tolerance for bullshit from politicians who run as reformers; I'd like to have zero tolerance for bullshit from all politicians, but this is the real world. I shouldn't say zero tolerance, it's more along the lines of a pet peeve than a deal-breaker. I'll vote for for a bullshit artist, who claims to be an honest reformer, if his opponent is clearly more corrupt or just plain incompetent, but Jindal hasn't shown Boasso (or Campbell or Georges) to be either. He doesn't even try to convince us that Boasso is corrupt, just part of the "corruption crowd." There's an eight letter word for that, begins with a "B." Jindal will speak up against Hollywood's corruption of our values, even though he knows it might not be popular. There's an eight letter word for that, ends with a "t." The Jindal campaign criticizes Boasso for voting to increase the compulsory minimum automobile liability insurance, and Boasso did cast such a vote. But there's an eight letter word for the very thought that Jindal would have voted differently.

As much as the Republicans would like you to believe otherwise, this election is not a do-over of 2003. Jindal isn't running against Blanco, and an endless stream of Katrina disaster pictures on the TV screen doesn't change that. Yeah, I suppose that I should come with stronger reasons to vote against Jindal, but the reasons that he gives you to vote against his opponents are all bullshit.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Vote for Boulet or Clarkson

I'm serious. I certainly don't expect either Clarkson or Boulet to provide the leadership that the Louisiana Weekly called for last Summer:
Making matters worse, there are very few local, state or federal elected officials who have consistently represented the interests of those most affected by these man-made and natural disasters. When we've needed them the most, these elected officials have been nowhere to be found.
Much of that stress is the result of incapable, myopic "leadership," unscrupulous business practices and government agencies that have shown very little compassion for those most affected by the devastating hurricanes of 2005.
I blame the mayor, City Council, state legislature, governor, president and Congress for the ongoing woes of this region.
Somebody somewhere needs to step up and provide true leadership in this age of ineptitude and chicanery.

As I said, I don't expect Boulet or Clarkson to provide that leadership, but it will have to come from the City Council. We know that it won't come from the mayor, or his city attorney.

As a recent Stephanie Grace column implied (it matches my recollection at Adrastos), Boulet and Clarkson are the only two major candidates who are willing to come out and say that the council needs to provide the leadership that the mayor can't, or won't, provide. For the most part, the other candidates emphasized the need to work together. Even the candidates who were critical of the mayor (at last week's forum), called for an end to the finger-pointing and blame games. That certainly sounds good, and the the Louisiana Weekly editorial that I quoted called for the same thing. However, when the editorial was written, the finger-pointing and blame games were all between city, state and federal officials, the city council was trying to work with the mayor at that time. For over a year, the council was reluctant to confront the mayor, and we all know where that got us:
City's garbage pickup costs to jump

The cost of collecting household trash in New Orleans will nearly triple starting Jan. 2

Some of that money could have been used to prevent this:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said orders to tear down the house came from City Hall -- but no one is City Hall is answering questions about Banks' home.

I'm not a fan of either Clarkson or Boulet. Unlike some other Landrieu supporters, I don't expect Boulet to do penance for her endorsement of Nagin, but I do want to hear details about her disillusionment with Nagin. Saying that the "mayor's disengaged" and "may move to Dallas," doesn't provide much detail. I'd also like to know whether she still approves of the mayor's handling of the city budget. Since Clarkson talks about priority budgeting, I'd like to hear what she'd cut. It's too late to do anything about the sanitation contracts, where would she challenge the mayor now?

I don't think that many residents are happy with the choices that we have in this election, but it can be a referendum on the mayor's leadership.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Separate But Related

The Inspector General will conduct activities designed to detect and deter waste, fraud, corruption, abuse of power and other illegal activities in all financial and other transactions involving the City of New Orleans and related entities.

I couldn't find the actual ordinance online, so I settled for the job description.

At last night's city council forum, Lee Zurik asked each of the candidate's, "yes or no", if they would "fully fund" the new inspector general's office at $3.5M? I thought it was a ridiculously loaded question and, in conversation, I even compared it to push polling. I want the city to have an adequately funded, truly independent inspector general, but somebody in Cerasoli's position is almost expected to ask for more than the minimum amount he would need to the job. Also, the $3.5M figure was arrived at as .5% (note the decimal point) of the city budget and I'm not sure that a percentage based formula would be the proper one to use -- a $100M contract will probably more complex that a $1M contract, but not 100 times more complex. I would think that the size of the of an inspector general's staff would be more properly determined by the size of the city or the city government Of course, the rebuilding process would increase the size of a staff that an inspector general would need.

That said, it should be noted that the Sewerage and Water Board has a separate budget from, is a separate entity from, the "City of New Orleans." If you read today's paper, you're probably wondering who's going to sign the checks:
The water board will use the additional money to maintain operations and pay for improvements to the city's water network, which includes two treatment plants and 1,600 miles of pipe. The board expects to be in a position to sell new bonds by 2011.

The water system, even before Hurricane Katrina, was suffering from years of deferred maintenance and needed hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs. The cost to replace the pipe network, much of which is almost 100 years old, has been estimated at $3.2 billion over 25 years.

The mayor recently appointed a new board member, but he didn't replace Billboard Ben Edwards. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the city's very survival is dependent of proper funding for the IG's office, but I can think of local leader who might:
"If we cannot provide the water, no one will be here," Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis said.

On a marginally related note, most local political junkies read the "New Orleans Politics" column that usually runs in the Saturday Picayune. The following appeared on the first Saturday of last October:
With the city's finances still in post-Katrina shambles, Nagin plans to wait until the last possible moment to submit his 2007 budget proposals to the council.

The City Charter provides that he must present his budget by Nov. 1, and that's when he will do it, during a special council meeting at 10 a.m.

Also, from about a year ago:
Proponents of the idea have said the need for government oversight became more critical last year after Mayor Ray Nagin effectively shut down the city's Office of Municipal Investigation. Nagin laid off the agency's entire staff after the storm as part of a series of cost-cutting moves.

Adrastos has more on the forum, and I'll have more later. I disagree about Bajoie coming off the best of the major candidates, but it's hard to say who did. Boulet had the misfortune of speaking right before Quentin Brown; her best moment was largely spoiled by Brown's comment that Adrastos described. I wonder, if the candidates are seated in alphabetical order in the remaining forums, could it actually have an impact on the race?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Impromptu Investigative Reporting

Frankfurt contrasts bullshitting and lying; where the liar deliberately makes false claims, the bullshitter is simply uninterested in the truth. Rather, bullshitters aim primarily to impress and persuade their audiences. Whereas the liar needs to know the truth the better to conceal it, the bullshitter, interested solely in advancing his own agenda, has no use for the truth. By virtue of this, Frankfurt claims, "bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

In an editorial in today's paper, the editors of the Times Picayune take the Nagin administration to task for wasting money, that could be better spent on building inspectors (it's about time they thought of that), on new garbage cans. Though the editors couldn't quite bring themselves to use the word, the editorial strongly implies that the stated reason for buying the new cans is bullshit, as the word is used by Ivy League philosophy professors.

Philosophical bullshit is almost impossible to prove, but if a politician makes a statement that can be shown to be bullshit in the common, "That's bullshit, you lying sack of shit" sense of the word, the press should point it out. When I read Saturday's article, my first thought was, "Bullshit! The mayor's a lying sack of shit!* The new cans seem a lot smaller than the old ones." But, since I haven't seen any of the old cans in months, I didn't know how to prove it.

By chance, I had reason to ride home via the CBD yesterday, and I passed a can that looked just like the one pictured here on Magazine St. (between Poydras and Canal). Well, it appeared to be bigger than the new cans to me; it was certainly wider, so the volume would be greater. However, the mayor's objection was to the height of the cans. Unfortunately, I don't usually travel with a ruler or tape measure. So, I decided to stand next to it, and I observed that the top of the can, not the domed top, was just below one of the seams of my hip pocket. I rode to the next block to try the same test with one of the new garbage cans, which, BTW, are obviously narrower which much less girth. To be fair to the mayor, the top of the can, not the pointed top, was just above the same seam (the title did say "impromptu investigative reporting"), so there might be a half-inch to an inch difference. Maybe the mayor isn't a lying sack of shit, just a high-maintenance size queen to whom a half-inch is worth $670,000. Or, so I thought, until I noticed that the new cans all have a concrete base that's at least an inch thick. I'd have to say that the stated reason for buying new garbage can be called "bullshit" in either sense of the word, since some kind of base could probably been added to the old cans for a lot than $670 each.

Again, I hate to criticize one of the Picayune's best reporters, but if the mayor's going to have hissy fit about a size difference between the two types of cans, Gordon Russell should report the actual dimensions of the cans. Actually, I think that would be a better report for TV station: "'Six on Your Side'" asks, 'are the new cans bigger?'"

*I did warn that the subject would lead to profanity and exclamation points.

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Old Favorites
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