Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Does anyone really believe this crap?

Too busy for a long post, but I just heard McCain get in the tackiest twofer I've ever heard in my life -- Reagan and Vietnam: he became a Republican after he heard about then Governor Reagan of California in whispered tap codes. Apparently, Reagan's death inspired the straight talker to write something that his intentions told him were true, and it's now part of his campaign spiel:
I first met President Reagan and his lovely wife, Nancy, not
long after I returned from Vietnam. But I knew of him in the
years before I regained my liberty, when my fellow prisoners-
of-war and I would discuss in tap codes and whispered
conversations the governor of California who was giving such
eloquent voice to the convictions we believed we had been
sent to war to advance.
pdf or html

Not exactly what he said tomight, but almost. Show me one former POW, one former Pow who isn't involved in Republican politics, who heard these whispered tap codes about Reagan. If you believe McCain's story, you probably believe that Crist wasn't offered some kind of deal to endorse a guy who doesn't believe in national catastrophe insurance.

Five minutes later: I've never liked McCain. I've always thought McCain was a phony who would do anything to be president. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that I've heard that fairy tale before. But hearing McCain say that as the likely Republican nominee prompted the first visceral reaction that I've ever had to him.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

No more Couhig

I hadn't listened Rob Couhig's radio show since sometime before Christmas, but I wanted to test something that I said at Oyster's:
They (whoever makes the editorial decisions) must know that weekday and Sunday editorials are far more likely to get discussed on talk radio and get noticed in other ways. I get the impression that they occasionally find it impossible to ignore the obligation to say something, but they're afraid to say it too loudly.

I wanted to see if Rob and BO would discuss the Picayune's timid criticism of the mayor. Instead, I heard Sean Hannity. I saw that Couhig was no longer mentioned on the station's website but was too busy getting ready for work to investigate. Just found it explained at New Orleans City Business:
'Rob and Bo' show signs off on 99.5FM

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans station 99.5FM has apparently canceled two local talk shows, including the "Rob and Bo Show" starring former mayoral candidate Rob Couhig and longtime radio personality Bo Walker.

Former insurance Commissioner Jim Brown also has been off the air since Wednesday, according to the station’s Web site, which still lists Brown as a host but no longer lists Couhig and Walker.
An advertisement on the “job opportunities” section of the site lists an opening for an on-air personality to fill the morning time slot, which is rerunning the syndicated Sean Hannity show.

Glad that I'm too busy to feel the need to post regularly; I'd only have Jarvis DeBerry to blog about on nothing else to post about days.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Did Media Matters miss something?

In Washington, we always say, a bumper sticker beats an essay. Right now the Republicans have a bumper sticker. The Democrats have a convoluted essay...
Ed Rogers

I received an email that contained the Investor's Business Daily hit piece on Barack Obama over the weekend. In addition to other absurd charges, IBD writes:
In the bloody conflict there (Kenya), which already has claimed some 700 lives, Obama appears to have sided with opposition leader Raila Odinga, head of the same Luo tribe to which Obama's late Muslim father belonged.
Yet Obama interrupted his New Hampshire campaigning to speak by phone with Odinga, who claims to be his cousin. He did not speak with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

In response, Media Matters wrote:
The editorial also said that "Obama interrupted his New Hampshire campaigning to speak by phone with [Kenyan opposition leader Raila] Odinga, who claims to be his cousin. He did not speak with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki." However, the editorial did not note that according to a January 12 Economist article, Obama "has apparently tried to get in touch with Mr. Kibaki, too, but without success."

Seems to me that Media Matters and Keith Olbermann missed something:
In a statement broadcast over U.S. government-funded Voice of America radio, Obama, who seeks to become America's first black president, said he was "deeply troubled" by the turmoil in the east African country.

That seems to imply that Obama acted with the permission of the U.S, government, if not at its request -- no Logan Act violations here.

As I've said before, if Obama is the Democratic nominee, how each party handles the racial politics will go along way toward determining the winner of election. I won't say that the Republicans will lose if they overplay their "race card', but they will lose if the play it ham-handedly -- unless the Democrats overdo the "racism" reaction. While I wouldn't want the Democratic Party to become the party of simplitic slogans, the IBD editorial is full of ridiculous insinuation that could easily be shot down, but I'm afraid that the average Democrat would just cry racism.
With al-Qaida strengthening its beachheads in Africa -- from Algeria to Sudan to Somalia -- the last thing the West needs is for pro-Western Kenya to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.

The response to that shouldn't be "racism." It should be, "Sudan? You want to talk about Sudan? Why the hell do you think we're too weak to a damn thing about Darfur?"

The editorial expresses concerns about Obama devoting too much attention to Africa. That's funny.

The IBD editorial was equal parts "Obama is a closet Muslim" and "Obama belongs to Jeremiah Wright's Afro-centric racist church." The "bumper sticker" response is that Trinity is part of the United Church of Christ not part of the Separatist Church of Christ. In my response to that group email, I'll mention my year-old post about Jeremiah Wright. The one speaker at The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference who blamed Nagin for the city's slow recovery was Jeremiah Wright. If there was one minister that nobody could say "blamed the white man first, blamed the white man last, blamed the white man always," it was Dr. Wright. I'll mention that in my email response, but I wouldn't know how to reduce it to a bumper sticker.

BTW, the above shouldn't be taken to mean that I'd now rate Obama the front runner. I prefer him to Clinton, but if he can't improve his standing with Hispanic voters, his campaign will crumble in California. If the "wine-track" explanation is correct, he might be able to overcome that, but I don't know if nine days is enough time.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Missing the point

In a latter to today's paper, City Finance Director Reginald Zeno writes:
Krupa notes that in the written responses to the findings, the city pointed repeatedly to the impact of Hurricane Katrina. This is true. No matter how tiring it may be to hear, it is a fact that the storm and levee failure had a major impact on every area of city government.

In addition to forcing us to cut staff,

To be fair, Zeno's letter was not written in response to today's tepid Picayune piece:
If cuts to the finance department and layoffs of accounting personnel in other departments meant that it couldn't adequately handle the city's money, that was a bad management decision.

However, last week's news contained two stories about the shortage of accountants at city hall. I don't if the average resident really cares about the effect of Finance Department staffing shortages on a city audit, but when you read that Finance Department layoffs have kept federal money from reaching non-profits that provide housing for the homeless, it's only natural to question how Finance Department layoffs compared to other departments. One department comes to mind:*
Agency .................. Positions....Positions reduced .... Percent reduced

Mayor......................100.............34..........................35 (sic)
Finance ....................173.............113.........................65

In other words, the Finance Department was 73% larger than the mayor's office before the layoffs, but slightly smaller after the layoffs.

Of course, the bigger question would be would be about how money that could have been used to restaff the Finance Department has been spent since the layoffs, but I've been over that dozens of times before.

In fact, it's not really important to this discussion, but I wanted to bring up something that I haven't mentioned in a while:
It also seems suspicious that 65 out of 100 mayor's office staffers had been able to return by the time the layoffs took effect in October. I suspect they got a longer grace period than other city employees. I suppose it's possible that the mayor thought it more important to offer space on one of the cruise ships to members of his personal staff than to, say, wiring inspectors.

It seems impossible to me that 65 out of 100 mayor's office staffers could have found housing by October 2005. How long had those mayor's office staffers even been back on the job when they got their raises?

*Sorry to resume the Jeffrey Sadow imitation from my last post on this subject, but the original article is no longer available online. Of course, I didn't use those links to earlier posts in place of source footnotes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Et tu, Russell? Pt. 2

Once again, The Times Picayune glosses over a Nagin connection:
The trio also formed a company called Community Based Corrections that angled for a share of the local home-incarceration monitoring business. The company landed a Municipal Court contract from Mayor Ray Nagin's administration in 2005.

That's hardly doing it justice:

You'd think Mayor Ray Nagin would want to foster companies like Total Sentencing Alternatives Program.

The company is locally based. It has several years of experience in running a home monitoring program for Orleans Parish courts. Its owners are African-American, and encouraging the growth of minority-owned businesses has been a goal of Mayor Nagin and his recent predecessors.

After New Orleans advertised a contract to create a home-monitoring program for municipal offenders, an evaluation committee ranked TSAP's proposal second among three. But you could argue that the company deserved the contract -- or at least a chance to improve its bid.

Apparently, though, TSAP lacked the connections necessary to land the Municipal Court contract. So did the highest-rated firm, Georgia-based PPS, which offered the best prices and has been doing similar work across the country for 16 years.

In a decision that looks like pure political hackery, city officials gave the Municipal Court job to the lowest-ranked bidder, Community Based Corrections LLC. Never mind that the company submitted the highest-price proposal; the city gave CBC, but not its competitors, the chance to come back with a lower price, and the firm obliged.

Home monitoring systems use electronic technology to keep track of nonviolent offenders, and it can be an effective, low-cost alternative to putting people in jail. Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice is touting the contract as a money-saver.

And maybe it will be. But it's hard to imagine an innocent reason why Mayor Nagin would award a monitoring contract to a company with no significant experience in the area.

The firm was created only in October 2003 by Burnell Moliere, Jimmie Woods and Ray Valdes. Mr. Moliere has a janitorial business. Mr. Woods runs a trash-hauling company. Mr. Valdes, whom company officials say is no longer a principal there, has worked as a financier in large municipal leases. All three men have been involved in lucrative public contracts in New Orleans in the past, and all three have political ties to District Attorney Eddie Jordan and former Mayor Marc Morial.

In awarding them the Municipal Court contract, Mayor Nagin wasn't just helping someone else's supporters. Companies owned by Mr. Woods and Mr. Moliere have contributed thousands of dollars to Mayor Nagin's campaign fund since 2003. Campaign finance records show no such contributions from PPS or TSAP.

Actually, I have a high opinion of Gordon Russell's reporting. I just figure that there should be some kind of counterweight to the idiots and/or paid hacks who write letters of complaint every time he does an investigative report about cronyism in City Hall.

However, today's article about political corruption, brings up something that I wondered about when I was city employee.
Norco businessman Burnell Moliere, president of the politically active janitorial services firm AME Services Inc., was charged in federal court Tuesday morning with helping former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms gain access to at least $40,000 in bribes she took while in office.

How could a city with residency requirements for employees justify preferential treatment for out-of-town firms as part of its DBE program?

This is a entirely separate question from any discussion of the pros and cons of the city's DBE program.

Q: How do you predict Nagin administration actions?

A: Make a joke:
When time permits, I'll try to find an updated donor list and make a prediction about what firm will get the contract to sign the checks. If such a contract were awarded, the Picayune and Clancy DuBos would almost certainly praise the mayor's wisdom in hiring an outside firm to sign the city's checks.

It hasn't happened yet, but we'll see:
In response to nearly every problem uncovered, city officials attribute their shortcomings to a lack of capacity owing to significant layoffs that followed Hurricane Katrina. In the sections of the audit reserved for City Hall reaction, officials say they are working to rehire accounting staff and consultants to rectify the problems. (my emphasis)

Nobody doubted that the city was so broke after the Federal Flood that it had no choice but to layoff most of its workforce. However, I soon realized that I couldn't continue to complain about federal failures unless I also wrote about the mayor's failure to put the city's limited resources where they would do the most good.

In the intervening two years, what's the mayor done to "stretch" every dollar to make "this recovery work"? In addition to deciding that increased garbage collection costs would somehow help the recovery (the mayor called it a "cornerstone"), our high-maintenance size queen of a mayor decided that amply-sized garbage cans were more important than an adequately sized accounting department. Funny thing is, the great big cans that the mayor couldn't live without were no bigger than the old ones.

I could add more, but I'll just refer you to We Saw That for a more detailed analysis of the audit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama, Clinton and Race

"In just the last month or two, you've had Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair, Bill Shaheen, bring up Obama's drug use (a highly racially charged subject, of course),"

What the hell are you talking about? Seriously, what the hell are you talking about? To the best of my knowledge, Obama is the first serious presidential candidate to admit to anything stronger than marijuana use. To a large number of Americans, there's a major difference between smoking pot as a kid and doing anything stronger. At least, that's the CW. Just suppose it were a race between between Clinton and any other candidate and the other candidate admitted to cocaine use, don't you think some Clinton surrogate would try to use it as an attack poit (sic)? So, again, what the hell are you talking about?

Odd feeling, siccing oneself

I made the comment above at American Prospect and followed it with a lengthier comment at Oyster's. Part of it read:
Do white liberals ever talk to whites who will admit to some level of prejudice, but react ndignantly(self-sic, again) to accusations of out-and-out bigottry, i.e. the overwhelming majority of whites? One of the most popular (top 2 or 3) justifications for the degree of prejudice that they will admit to is what they see as unjustified cries of racism. I don't know what that excuses, but when something happens being a black person and a white person that would happen between two (white) people, cies (more self-siccing behavior) of racism do seem absurd. I said would, not possibly could -- think calling a lying bitch a bitch at a VCC meeting. That seems to have been the reaction to the Obama side of the Obama/Clinton dust-up, from a lot of center to center/right types who don't like Clinton.

I don't agree with the philosophical underpinnings of the reaction, but I certainly agree with some of the particulars.

There are reasons why I continue to dwell on this. For one thing, I'm amazed that seemingly intelligent people can not just assert, but state as indisputable fact that certain statements are clearly racist. It's obvious that Chris Matthews and Andrew Sullivan become thoroughly deranged when the subject of Hillary Clinton (or "the Clintons"*) comes up, but I was mystified that Matthew Yglesias seemed to agree with one of Sullivan's absurd charges:
"Yglesias and Marshall are quite busy not readying themselves to own up to the fact that one of their main candidates is using surrogates (in this case, a black surrogate, a fiendishly clever move) to peddle the charge of cocaine use to scare off the white women. Period. That’s what she’s doing."

WTF? A Clinton supporter brings up something that Obama wrote about in his own book, so it must have been done to scare white women? I don't get it, but a lot of people who aren't affiliated with the Obama campaign, and who aren't named Chris Matthews or Andrew Sullivan, seem to agree.

I can only come up with one explanation for the difference in viewpoint:
Until race got injected, I thought that Obama might be the most electable, because the press hates Edwards and Clinton. Well, I can't imagine the press portrayal of Edwards as a phony hurting him against Romney. Now, I'm afraid that Obama supporters have raised his negatives to the point that Edwards might be the most electable. I don't care who started it, Obama supporters don't seem to know that there are two ways of analyzing whether a statement is racist:

1. A statement IS racist if it contains racist stereotypes.
2. A statement IS NOT racist if a white person would say it about another white person.

More importantly, Obama supporters don't seem to realize that most white people (IMO almost all white people who aren't walking parodies of liberal guilt or else academic/media types) object to 1 when 2 is applicable; they don't just disagree, they object.

Sorry to get pedantic, but it took me a long time to find words for the only explanation I could come up for the inanity that I heard from a lot of seemingly intelligent people. I'm liberal enough to be aware that statement 2 isn't always statement 2; it's often a rationalization that should read, "might possibly say about another white person." But let's get real, Obama mentioned cocaine use in his own book -- any white politician would have attempted to use it against any other white politician. Throw in a deliberate distortion of Bill Clinton's fairy tale statement -- to try to make it sound racist-- and Obama supporters have succeeded in raising his negatives to a comparable level with Clinton's. The irony is that a lot of it was done by media types who loathe Clinton and love Obama.

It could use some polishing, but I just copied something that I added to a group email about Obama because I'm lazy, and I have a reason to bring up the group email.

My point is not to debate whether condition 2 from the email always outweighs condition 1, but what most voters think. Personally, I think that it's rarely clear cut, but when it really is something that a white person really would say about another white person, it's usually a fair statement to make. I also think that most voters would agree with me. And to say that the Clinton camp wouldn't try to make an issue out of admitted cocaine use by a white front-runner is a fairy tale.

Unjustified cries of racism from Obama supporters won't keep me from voting for him (at this point, I'm voting for Edwards next month and the Democrat in November), but I've heard strong negative reactions from white people that I didn't think had even started paying attention to the presidential election. Of the two that immediately come to mind, one may well have been looking for an excuse not to vote for a black candidate, but I seriously doubt it in the other case. If Obama gets the nomination, the Republicans will be every bit as willing to play hardball as the Clinton campaign. If his supporters cry "racism" every time it gets heated, they will cost Obama the election.

The group email that I mentioned is potentially scary for Democrats, but that will have to wait; I doubt many readers have gotten this far anyway.

Just to be clear, I have no doubt that the Clinton campign would be smart enough to try draw Obama into negative campaigning -- of course, they started that. But I seriously doubt that they'd be stupid enough to try turn it into a racially divisive campaign; that would weaken clinton's position too much in November.

We have, depending on how you interpret the events of the last couple of weeks, the exploitation of racial divisions and suspicions (including multiple Clinton surrogates criticizing Obama for his admitted teenage drug use).
Paul Waldman

In the comments, Oyster wrote:
Billy Shaheen aired all kinds of speculation about what Republicans might say or do in November, intentionally throwing out the query about whether Obama "sold drugs" in his past. Now, there's no evidence of that, and I believe the "selling" angle violates principle #2-- a white candidate probably wouldn't introduce that specific charge.

To which I replied:
Oyster, you state the case better than anybody I've read or heard. I'm not just talking about the lunatics (Sullivan and Matthews), but almost everyone I've heard on TV and even Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias make it seem as if any mention of Obama's admitted drug use is racist. I don't think that one question out of many crossed the line, but I can see where it's debatable. The pro-Obama cry babies were far broader in their complaints than you were. In a general election, I can imagine the discussion changing to something along the lines of , "is it racist to bring up a subject that Obama mentions in his own book?"

I wasn't being facetious, Oyster could teach some of these big time liberals a thing or two. Crying racism for something that Obama wrote about himself will backfire in a general election. If Obama gets the nomination, the Republicans will do every thing they can to provoke dubious cries of racism. Sorry, if you leave out the question about selling drugs, rule 2 clearly applies.

*Is it all one word: THECLINTONS? I hate that construction, but I wouldn't make any generalized comparisons. "The Bushes" or "The clintons" or "The Landrieus" or "The Kennedys" -- all attempts to dehumanize or demonize.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Continuing Education

Perhaps we should come together, and write an ur-post on Nagin.

Something like, "The Case Against Ray Nagin", and have a concise summary of his biggest, most hypocritical offenses that the nolablogosphere can link to at the same time. We could challenge the T-P for its editorial blindness, and call for Nagin's resignation.

Perhaps even some of the reporters or opinion wags at the T-P will take notice. They seem to be mentioning "bloggers" more and more these days (which isn't saying much, I grant).

Whaddya think?

Actually, I had already started a couple of posts along those lines when Oyster made that comment, but last week was a bad one for posting. Now that the presidential primaries are heating up, I don't know how anybody can work, follow local and national news, read local and national blogs, and find time to post blog entries himself. Aside from that, last week was a busy one for reasons having nothing to do with blogging or politics.

Anyway, the reason for the anti-Nagin posts is that I expect to be too busy to spend much time on the blog this Spring, probably starting some time in February. I decided to take advantage of the free tuition that comes with working for a university last Fall, but had to drop the more time consuming of two classes -- CPST 220 Problem Analysis and Programming Principles I.

Last July, I bought a new computer with XP Home; in August, I signed up for a course in PHP, taught using IIS. I don't quit that easily, but a collapsed ceiling caused some disruption in my personal life in September. Notice the Roman numeral I in the course title; it's one thing to play catch up all semester when you only want a credit on your transcript, but it's an entirely different matter with a foundation course. I've been told that programming classes can be very time consuming; I'll also be taking another class, so expect some drop-off in blog activity.

First,a quick reminder:
In response to a question, the mayor said he would not cut his own pay. "I'm homeless, so let's just put the dagger all the way in," Nagin said. He has bought a house in Dallas, where his children are attending school. He said the voters could give him "the ultimate cut" during elections in February.

I can't find a link, but in a televised interview, a reporter (can't remember who) asked Nagin about pay cuts for himself and top aides. The hapless reporter allowed Nagin to answer about himself only, I can only assume that the reporter was unaware of the huge raises those aides had recently received.

At any rate, Nagin's flippant dismissal of the suggestion didn't make a good impression on at least one of those laid-off workers. I don't expect elected officials or bosses (technically, Nagin was both) to be "touchy-feely," but nobody responds well to rank insensitivity. More importantly, such pay cuts would have been more than symbolic, or could have been more than symbolic -- if the money that such cuts would have made available had been properly spent.

I really did try to give both Nagin and Blanco a second chance after Katrina, but it quickly became impossible to hold any feelings of good will toward the mayor.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Et tu,Russell?

I understand that reporters don't write the headlines that accompany their articles, so I can't hold Gordon Russell accountable for this:
Morial friend pleads to tax count

However, when an article begins:
Lawyer Roy Rodney, a member of former Mayor Marc Morial's inner circle whose business dealings have been under federal scrutiny for years
I can't help but wonder what river we live on the banks of.

Once again, I'll quote at length from a Louisiana Weekly column written before the 2002 mayoral election:
Who Are You For?...

One of the most confusing questions in New Orleans politics in this past week has dealt with who City Hall insider and Morial confidant Roy Rodney is supporting for mayor. Rumors some weeks ago implied that Rodney would back Councilman Troy Carter as his friend and ally Ira Middleberg had.

In fact, a rumor campaign to that effect circulated around the city. Even the entry of Rodney's business partner Ray Nagin into the race did little to quell the idea that the Morial insider planned to team up with Carter. Political insiders immediately took to the story because of its allure. It seemed to hearken to a move by Morial's political organization L.I.F.E. (Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors) to back Carter. With the news that fellow Morial alum Middleberg had jumped on board made the story even more believable.

There was just one problem. The rumor was not true. For the most part, the L.I.F.E. members have sat out of this contest. Some back Pennington. Most are waiting for the runoff before they publicly make their stand. However, their leaders are desperate not to show a division in the ranks.

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.
(my emphasis added)

Friday, January 11, 2008


Moldy City in August, quoting a July Economist article:
John Edwards trails in third place. But his policy ideas are shaping the Democratic presidential race
The combination of bold goals and mainstream means is evident in two other Edwards plans: health care and energy reform. And it is why his campaign, regardless of its electoral fortunes, is shaping the Democratic race. Unable to dismiss his proposals as crazy radicalism, the other candidates have to be both bolder and more detailed than they would like.
But even if the man himself does not make it, the Democrats' presidential platform will be shaped by Mr Edwards's plans.

Ezra Klein the following January, quoting Chris Hayes:
No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, the fact remains that the Edwards campaign has set the domestic policy agenda for the entire field. He was the first with a bold universal healthcare plan, the first with an ambitious climate change proposal that called for cap-and-trade, and the leader on reforming predatory lending practices and raising the minimum wage to a level where it regains its lost purchasing power....Ultimately, though, the Edwards campaign has been both a campaign and a cause, with the latter outperforming the former. Few remember that the signature economic policy of Bill Clinton's presidency, balancing the budget, originated as a plank in the platform of his primary rival Paul Tsongas. If the next Democratic President manages to pass universal healthcare or a carbon cap-and-trade, we'll owe the Edwards campaign a significant debt.

Updated: My comment at American Prospect:
I doubt there was any intentional plagiarism involved, but I suspect that Hayes subconciously remembered the July 19th, Economist article "Man of the Left."

Of course, I left out a third possibility -- Chris Hayes could have arrived at that line of thought on his own. The thought of also-rans changing the debate isn't a novel concept. If Chris Hayes did subconsciously remember the Economist article, it's sure nice to know that writers for the Nation read New Orleans blogs.

In a totally meaningless vaguely Edwards-related matter, I couldn't help but think of recent discussion at Oyster's when I read the following:
Washington Times Names Controversial Reporter John Solomon As New ‘Executive Editor’

Not that Solomon's subsequent appointment has anything to do with the earlier discussion, or anything else for that matter.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

$3 Quadrillion or $100,000?

Brace yourself for a new round of shock headlines about greedy Katrina Victims:
Hurricane Katrina Victim Sues Army Corps of Engineers for $3 Quadrillion...or 53,700 Times More Than Bill Gates is Worth!

Perhaps some Americans feel that Uncle Sam is really a rich relative that they can impose upon for a ridiculously high handout in their time of need, though not even the legendary Scrooge McDuck of Disney fame would have a vault big enough to shell out the amount of cash that some Hurricane Katrina victims feel that they are due by our Federal Government or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be more precise. It has been reported in USA Today, that among the nearly 1/2 million expected claims against the government in the hurricane's aftermath, there is a claim for $3 quadrillion, as well as one for $6 trillion.

It is sad enough that someone thinks that a government, your government I might add, would have the resources to pay a claim that is roughly equal to 250 times the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. It is even sadder to think that a lawyer would have the audacity to fill out the claim on their behalf.

To get a feel for the magnitude of the number on such a "frivolous lawsuit" lets take a look at some comparison of what $3 quadrillion is roughly equals to.

$3 quadrillion would make instant billionaires out of 3 million Americans.

$3 quadrillion would make instant millionaires out of every American ten times over.

$3 quadrillion would make you 53,700 times richer than Bill Gates (estimated to be worth $56 billion by Forbes Magazine in 2007)

$3 quadrillion is 2 million times the value of the richest football franchise in America, Dallas Cowboys (valued at $1.5 billion dollars)

By Rolando Cruz, published Jan 09, 2008

Rolando Cruz goes to a great of effort to tell us abut the value of $3 quadrillion, but absolutely none telling about the amount of the average victim's claim. Neither does the AP's Michael Kunzelman:
Katrina's Victims Ask for Huge Checks

NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane Katrina's victims have put a price tag on their suffering and it is staggering _ including one plaintiff seeking the unlikely sum of $3 quadrillion.


Of roughly 489,000 total claims, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has received 247 for at least $1 billion apiece, including the one for $3 quadrillion.

It's easy to find reports on staggering Katrina claims, but I couldn't find a single report on the value of the average claim. Finding the total amount of the Katrina claims would have made it possible to make an estimate, but I couldn't find that either. Instead of the blatant sensationalism, the AP and USA Today should tell us what the average victim is asking for, once you factor out the greedy, the insane, the greedily insane, and some that seem to be making some kind of political statement. My first thought was that average claim will probably turn out to be entirely reasonable; as Sandy Rosenthal points out:
The filings will force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the damage and to come up with a dollar figure.

Also, the inclusion of a few inflated claims does not nullify the validity of the rest of the half-million.

Also, none of the national reporting mentioned a key point that Joe Bruno raised in a Picayune article:
"Government also requires that you put down a figure .¤.¤. although only a judge can determine value." he said. "But here's the deal: Whatever number you put down, you can never get one dollar more than that amount. To be safe and fair, we told folks they'd better put a larger number."

For that reason, Bruno said, the numbers on the claim forms have little to do with what he ultimately expects claimants to recover.

"My best estimate as to the worth of this case .¤.¤. the amount of uncompensated damages .¤.¤. is about $50 billion," he said.

If my math is correct, $50B divided by just under 500,000 is about $100,000.

As Ashley points out in the comments, median claim should be substituted for average claim. For more on this, see also New Orleans Ladder, First Draft and Oyster.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A glaring omission from local bloggers

So let's see, we've got one local blogger posting about David Bowie, and at least two mentioning Elvis' birthday, but I can't find anybody saying, "Happy Birthday" to the Thin White Duke (or outside agitator). Don't know if this link is a year late or four years early.

I was also surprised to realize that I may have been the first local blogger to post about the pastor of Barack Obama's church. Of course, my post had nothing to with the presidential election. But don't believe any of the nonsense* about Obama's church, if it were a separatist church, it would not be part of the United Church of Christ.

*The link is to a criticism of the nonsense, the post linked is in no way nonsensical.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Way I See It

Looking at tonight's BCS game from a purely political perspective, we've got a dumb ass southern state that voted to re-elect Bush in 2004 against a spineless Yankee state that allowed the Republicans to steal the 2004 election. You can educate the ignorant, but you can't put a backbone in a jellyfish. GEAUX TIGERS.

Update: 38-24, see what LSU can do when it gets to play a big game without an SEC officiating crew.

Hypothetical question, if the game had been close enough for AP voters to vote another team, no. 1, why not Georgia? Please try to come up with a reason that sounds like you're not trying to explain the need to repair a wall. When chosing between one-loss or two-loss teams, what difference does failure to win one own's conference, or own division within a conference, make? What does losing out in a tie-breaker formula have to do with anything? That argument really means that, under certain circumstances, an in-conference loss is worse than an out of conference loss. Why?

Well, it's purely hypothetical, and I don't care that much about what team is no. 2, but I think that are other teams as deserving as either Georgia or USC. For the best anti-USC argument, for an extremely compelling anti-USC argument, see the penultimate question here. It does bring up the question of how having the no. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final poll play each other could solve anything.

FWIW, I think that, when penalizing for losses, blowouts should hurt more than close losses, with overtime losses hurting the least. Home losses should also hurt more than away losses, and late season losses should hurt more than early season losses. I would throw in something for blown calls, but that's too subjective and some blown calls appear more dramatic on TV than others. For example, one of the many blown calls of the Pittsburgh-Seattle was a holding call that couldn't be found on any replay, but that doesn't make for dramatic television. Yeah, something similar happened to LSU against Arkansas. At any rate, blown calls would definitely not top my list of my criteria to use when chosing between one-loss teams, or two-loss teams, but I would consider them.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy Mardi Gras


The start of the carnival season seems like a good time to remember that it's not just our political leadership that's failed us and that people other than politically connected minister/businessmen have profited at the city's expense.

Jefferson's biggest contributors, and the biggest donors to assessor campaigns generally in the past half-decade, are members of a partnership that shared a lucrative contract to collect delinquent property taxes until Mayor Ray Nagin was elected and cut them off two years ago.

The original contract, inked by Marc Morial's administration, was held by a joint venture between a Texas law firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair, and United Governmental Services of Louisiana, a local firm whose members included lawyer and 2002 King of Carnival William Grace Jr., restaurateur Sam Kogos, lawyer John Keller and businessman Westervelt "Westy" Ballard, Grace's brother-in-law. The Linebarger firm still has the contract.
Jefferson puts Grace's Victorian mansion at Third Street and St. Charles Avenue, where Rex has stopped each Mardi Gras since 1907 to make a toast, at $504,500. He, too, received an increase this year.

Grace's home has been in his wife's family for generations, and the Graces sold off a portion of the property in 1996, making it impossible to compare his assessment to the sale price. But the valuation Jefferson has assigned the property, $504,500, is only a third of what a lender who holds a $1.5 million mortgage on the property thinks it's worth.

The appellate court deemed unconstitutional a 1998 city law that established a 30 percent penalty on delinquent taxes for the purpose of paying the Texas law firm that won the collections contract.
City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields noted that the suit targeted a law passed during former Mayor Marc Morial's tenure to accommodate a contractor hired by Morial. Nonetheless, she said in a statement that the city will join in the appeal "pursuant to its duty to defend all actions filed and pending against the city."
The contract, signed in 1998, was among the more controversial of Morial's tenure, in part because of the winning partnership's nebulous duties and in part because of its political pedigree.

Partners in United Governmental Services include restaurateur Sam Kogos, a member of Morial's inner circle; lawyer John Keller, a partner with Morial's uncle Glenn Haydel in a lucrative Regional Transit Authority management contract; lawyer William Grace, who was a Morial appointee to the Sewerage & Water Board; and businessman Westervelt "Westy" Ballard, Grace's brother-in-law.

Update: Revision forthcoming. In the meantime, see Jeffrey's second comment and mominem's comment as well.

Do we have to draw them a map?

another local media rant

Except for a brief mention in a Picayune article, WWLTV seems to be the only local media operation to pick up on a recent WAPO article about Mary Landrieu and a Washington D.C. School reading program. Personally, I'm happy to see media reports on any connection between political fund raising and government contracts. I'm not not going to defend Landrieu on this one, but I will point out one contradiction in the WAPO article.
Landrieu's earmark illustrates the unusual role that Congress has played in shaping the District's troubled school system. No other school budget is subject to approval by Capitol Hill. None is so susceptible to the whims and policy prescriptions of federal lawmakers.
With the Voyager earmark, she (Landrieu) intruded on a curriculum decision normally made by teachers, principals, administrators and educational advisers.
Landrieu was one in a long line of congressional overseers of the District. Congress retains the right to approve the city's budget because it was the only way in 1973 that a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.), would agree to grant the District home rule

At best, James Grimaldi (the WAPO reporter) has a structural problem caused by trying to report on a systemic problem and a particular case in the same article.

Still, saying "everybody does it" is no excuse, especially in this case as D.C. schoolchildren are some of the poorest in the nation. The best one can assume is that Landrieu and her ilk tell themselves that it's money that they've succeeded in adding to the school budget. They're not rewarding their contributors at the expense of schoolchildren, but at the expense of the federal budget. That might excuse them as human beings, but not as elected officials. That's assuming there's anything to the charges.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you can probably guess what I thought when I saw the WWL report -- "oh, they're finally reporting on local politicians awarding contracts to their financial backers" -- or something along those lines. To be fair, the Picayune did report on the connection between campaign contributions and the sanitation contracts, a year after the contracts were approved -- when the federal government forced the issue. If I remember correctly, that article focused more on campaign contributions to Cynthia Willard-Lewis than to Ray Nagin, I screamed about contributions to Nagin when the contracts first come up for a vote. By and large, the local media still seem to be ignoring the mayor's invitation.

Of course, it could be that we don't need to draw the T/P a map at all. It might be well aware where that road would lead. That would explain the placement of the Landrieu item.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

There's never a WSJ reporter aound when you need one

My earlier post about the demolitions asked questions that suggested the possibility of corruption causing the problems with the city's house smashing program. I'll try to come up with some less inflammatory questions tomorrow. But, it seems to me that everybody who comments on politics and life in New Orleans -- every op-ed columnist, every radio talk show host, every blogger, every drunk barroom pontificator -- should be asking, should be demanding to know, how this occurred a full five months after this. Think the WSJ will notice this time?

Finding what you're looking for

I wasn't paying close attention, but if I heard what I think I heard, Norah O'Donnell of MSNBC is the early front-runner for this election cycle's vapidity in broadcasting award. A few minutes ago (about 7:30 CST), MSNBC reported that all three of the Democratic front runners (Edwards, Clinton, Obama) were receiving 30-35% of the Iowa caucus votes according to early exit polls, with Clinton polling 32%. Norah O'Donnell does a segment on where each of the candidates is drawing his or her strongest support. For example, she listed yong voters as major source of Obama support. I thought she said that Obama was revceiving 57% of the vote of 17-29 year olds (like I said, I wasn't paying close attention). I didn't catch Obama exact number but I remember that he was polling somewhere in the 30-35% range overall, at that point. 57% is significantly more than 30-35%, so it's fair to say that young voters were a significant source of Obama support, score one for O'Donnell (or the teleprompter). However, O'Donnell listed married women as a mjpr source of Clinton support as she was polling 32% among married women. She was, at that point, polling 32% among caucus goers in general. That's Norah O'Donnell.

Alas, I must confess to having experienced a sad epiphany while typing the above. I'm really getting to be old enough to stop being suspicious every time somebody more than ten years younger than me gets a job as an upper-level political reporter or analyst with a major network.

Could one possibly be enough?

If you've missed them, let me direct you to two important posts at Squandered Heritage and Think New Orleans. At ThinkNOLA, I commented:
Don’t know if it’s the same DRC.

Offhand, I’d say that it would take at least two of three factors to produce something like this:

1) Bureaucratic bumbling and indifference.

2) Corruption.

3) Unfathomable stupidity compounded by unbelievable arrogance.

On the last point, you have at least three colossal egos belonging to major demolition proponents. Nagin, Blakely and Couhig all seem eager to bulldoze anything outside of a few rich or historic areas. Don’t know how much sway Couhig still has through his NORA position.

Whatever the root cause, it's certainly exacerbated by an attitude, a top-down attitude, at City Hall that claiming accessibility and transparency is an acceptable substitute for honest communication.

It seems to me that obvious questions need to be asked. "How did DRC go from being a p***ed-on outsider to being an apparent insider," "What, if any, subcontractors are involved," and "Are there any recent additions to the city's DBE list?" all come to mind.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Six extractions and ten wasted days

I never did finish up my last post because of a...toothache. I hadn't been to dentist in fifteen years, yes fifteen years, but don't be too judgmental; I was an uninsured waiter throughout the nineties and had more pressing health issues when I worked for the city. Finally decided to get some long overdue dental work done this year. Since my plan has $1500 maximum in a calendar year, I waited until October figuring that I'd space out the needed work over two years -- turns out I waited too long. Go see a dentist who says that I need my three remaining wisdom teeth and three other teeth (if you can still call them that) pulled, a root canal, a crown, three plugs and some minor work. She refers me to one specialist for the extractions and another for the root canal. Call for the appointment about the extraction first, have the consultation and get an appointment for the extractions on Dec. 28. Decide to wait until the new year to get the other work done. On the Friday before Christmas, I get a call from the oral surgeon's office saying that he'd be out of town that week and the appointment would have to be rescheduled to Jan. 2. Figured it was my own fault for waiting until the last minute to try schedule it around the year end. Also, I was elated about being able to fully enjoy that week off that university employees get between Christmas and New Year's.

No such luck. I didn't have any pain when I decided that it was time to see a dentist, but was kept awake by toothaches a couple of nights afterwards -- the last time being the night before the oral surgeon's office called. Since then, it's been almost every night. The Friday before Christmas I took a Tylenol 3 at 2am, still awake with pain at six am. Tried brushing with Sensodyne and that actually worked -- for a couple of days. But it had been sleepless, finally drifting off to something resembling sleep around daybreak, every night from Dec. 26 to Dec. 31. Even left-over hydrocodone from abdominal surgery a few years ago didn't help. Hydrocodone combined with Lorazepam (don't ask) didn't, but those two drugs might have gotten old and lost some of their effectiveness. When I remembered that I had a prescription for Percocet and an antibiotic to be filled and went to the drug store Monday, I slept fine.

Anyway, I had hoped to use my eleven day vacation to do a lot of more enjoyable things than blogging, but I really had hoped to follow up on that post. I still think that it's inexcusable that the Picayune did its "naughty list" editorial without any mention of the sanitation contracts. I'll go into more reasons after I've recuperated, but the paper should have at least mentioned its effect on a racially polarizing election. Also wanted to follow up on a comment that I made at Adrastos; Jarvis DeBerry really is an asshole. Blanco's out of office, so she no longer needs to be exposed or opposed. I'm quite serious when I wonder when I wonder how DeBerry reconciles the venom that he spits at Blanco with his Christian faith that he writes about almost as often as expresses his hatred for Blanco.

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