Sunday, February 17, 2008

Robert Novak channels Cord Meyer, visits a thirld world city

A recent Robert Novak* column was reminiscent of a Cold War era Cord Meyer column in which we were told what third world leader the U.S. needed to back in order to thwart Soviet ambitions and bring peace, stability and democracy to the horn of Africa, or East Africa or Central America. You'll never believe who the Jonas Savimbi role goes to in Novak's New Orleans:
In a city whose good-time image belies high murder rates and violent crime that existed even before Katrina, the new local district attorney, Keva Landrum-Johnson, and police chief Warren Riley are bringing reform to a law enforcement system notorious for putting arrested criminals back on the street

To be fair, Novak lavishes the bulk of his praise on Inspector General Robert Cerasoli, who certainly seems to be the right man for the job. He should, however, do a better job of checking his facts before making public statements:
He wondered why crime was much more rampant in New Orleans than in Atlanta, a larger city with a smaller police force.

It's possible that Novak incorrectly paraphrases Cerasoli, but the second part of the statement is factually incorrect and the first part is misleading. Metropolitan Atlanta has had a larger population than Metropolitan New Orleans for decades, but the city of Atlanta didn't overtake New Orleans in population until the 1995 census estimate, it's never a greater population in a ten year census count.

That's a minor quibble, the main question is why Novak rushes to praise the turnaround that Cerasoli has helped to bring about before we've had a chance to accurately gauge Cerasoli's performance. Cerasoli took office last Summer, but he didn't receive the funding for his staff until this year's budget took effect, so why the rush? I suppose it's possible that Novak's short on material in an election year, but i find it far more likely that he wants to defuse Katrina reconstruction as an election issue.

To that end, Novak comes up with laughable statements like:
But civic leaders I met agreed that law enforcement, criminal justice, education and health care all are better than they were before Katrina.

He sets the bar about as low as you could possibly set it, and he still gets it wrong. Health care?

More importantly, he repeats a misleading statement that we've all become disgusted with:
Louisiana politicians grumble that the flow of around $120 billion from Washington has been insufficient and mourn for some 180,000 New Orleanians who have left the area

Once again, that figure overstates the amount of aid by over $20B in flood insurance payments right off the bat. The federal government was obligated to make. And, Novak implies, though he doesn't state, that the money has all gone to the New Orleans area. That's money that's been allocated for the five Gulf Coast states for relief from three hurricanes. If I'm not mistaken, it actually goes beyond gulf states to reimburse inland states for costs associated with Katrina evacuees. I don't have the time to list the myriad other ways in which the aid figure overstates the case, but I will point out that it even includes "Go Zone" tax credits for developers in places like Tuscaloosa. I was under the impression that conservatives like Novak maintained that "tax relief" doesn't cost the treasury money. It's funny that they include tax credits in their tally of Katrina aid.

Update: Scratch the opening paragraph.

* H/T Suspect Device.

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