Friday, May 30, 2008

Hard-hitting editorial in today's Picayune

Symbolism is integral to politics, and spending taxpayer money is a political act. The mayor and his advisers help control the purse strings of a city that lives to eat. They're under the false impression that money is no object, and, if that's not galling enough, they don't even know how to spend it properly.

Well, the quote doesn't come from the editorial page, but from food critic Brett Anderson's column on "checkgate" in today's Lagniappe section. He also asks,
Setting all that aside, I still have to ask: Morton's? On the city's dime?

In a related column he suggests several locally-owned restaurants where city officials could have spent a lot of money, but not quite as much money.

At first, I didn't post much about the credit card story, because my initial reaction was similar to Jeffrey's: $150,000 is petty bullshit when the city budget is $972 million (really $467 million). As I said, that was my initial reaction and it might have been more than a fleeting reaction had the biggest expenditures not been spent lobbying New Orleans City Council members and New Orleans legislators. It might be appropriate to buy a out-of-town investor or a North Louisiana legislator a steak, but that's not how I want to see the mayor and city council discussing their differences.

After two weeks, I'm convinced that my initial reaction was wrong and my second thoughts were correct. For a number of reasons, I'm much more in agreement with Varg at The Chicory than with Jefrey's disdain for toppling structures.

To begin with, the Nagin administration is in no position to dismiss any expenditure as trivial. It hasn't been very long since the mayor insisted that the city could only afford $1.3M for an inspector general's office if there was a "roll forward" of property tax millages. In a city with glaring needs, what matters isn't the size of an expenditure relative to the city budget; what matters is what the money isn't being spent on.

The overlooked part of the credit card story was that Mayor Transparency refuses to answer questions about his own city credit card. If nobody cares about Mayor Transparency breaking state laws about secrecy, I wouldn't expect anybody to care about him refusing to provide information to the newspaper. However, the "petty bullshit" credit card story provides prime examples of the twin reasons, secrecy and careless spending, why the city will be broke long before any of its recovery projects are completed.

It doesn't matter whether the mayor himself is completely honest or thoroughly corrupt, you simply can't have a complete lack of transparency combined with a spendthrift attitude combined with ambitious plans to make everything bigger and better without having more corruption than the city can possibly afford. I'm not so naive as to think that we could possibly have a corruption-free rebuilding process in modern America or in any imaginable free world, but we can only afford so many cost overruns without the city looking like the Spanish Plaza before the World's Fair or like the main library looked within twenty years of its opening.

There's another reason why I agree with Varg's analysis. The entire Gulf Coast rebuilding process seems to be corrupt, yet there seems to a naive faith among many New Orleanians that the ongoing federal investigation into Morial Era corruption will somehow uncover any corruption in the Nagin administration. Any investigation into the Nagin administration would invariably involve Katrina reconstruction contracts, and why would anybody possibly think that the federal government would have any desire to open that can of worms? I doubt that they will without public pressure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'll be out of town

But this Picayune editorial makes a very good suggestion:
The latest example is the group's call for citizens to show up next Monday at the City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee meeting. The discussion is expected to revolve around the city's 311 information line and crime camera contracts, which have been wrapped in secrecy.

The Nagin administration has resisted providing detailed information to the public on the programs, both of which have been plagued with problems. Perhaps if New Orleanians pack the council hearing to show their displeasure, the administration will get the message.

Two questions answered, one big question unanswered

I wondered what the mayor was talking about when I heard him say
Downtown office occupancies are the highest they’ve been since the 70s oil and gas boom.

I don't get downtown often, but when I made the walk from the Tulane Medical Center to the streetcar stop one day recently, I was shocked by the number of vacant buildings in that part of the CBD, including this one. It turns out, as the WWL report explained, that the number of empty buildings leads, of course, to less office space, which leads to higher occupancy rates. In other words, and this really is a good one, Mayor Bozo was bragging about the number of vacant buildings.

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell made some very good points in a recent letter to the editor about the proposed airport sale ownership transfer with compensation. The underlying question was, "what's the rush?" The answer to that was obvious. Tonight we found out why Nagin was coy about the deal:
He doesn't support the proposed creation of a new agency with mayoral and gubernatorial appointees to control the funds that would go to the city as part of the deal. Instead, he wants the existing New Orleans Building Corp., which is comprised of the mayor, his appointees and City Council members, to handle the funds.

Since Juan LaFonta and Ray Nagin have always been close, and Nagin and Sean Cummings this is interesting:
After flying through the state House, a bill that could force Sean Cummings to resign as head of the New Orleans Building Corporation is awaiting changes that could strengthen its chances of survival in the Senate.
"I'm not going to do a bill just for Sean Cummings, but I do think he is someone with a unique position," LaFonta said. "I want it to apply to that group, and I want it to apply to all those who will derive an economic benefit from the decisions that (the building corporation) makes."

Have Nagin and Cummings had a falling out, or have LaFonta and Nagin had a falling out? Or is something else going on?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

While the link works

It's been a few weeks since I saw the print edition of the April/May issue of New Urban News, and, because the archives seem to require a subscription, I'm not sure how long this commentary on a recent conference in Houston will be available.

I don't have time to snark about people who think that "66 percent more freeway lanes per capita than the average US urban area" is wonderful thing, but I do wonder what was said about the rebuilding of New Orleans at a conference of such people.

I don't mean to imply any criticism of Houston, but if the American Dream Coalition holds up Houston as the ideal American city, I really don't care what it has to say about the rebuilding of New Orleans. Please, no angry comments, I'm not knocking Houston. However, the physical differences between Houston and New Orleans aren't merely aesthetic. There are obvious geographic differences between the cities that shaped the development of both.

As a matter of fact, Houston is probably the only deep water port city in which it would be possible find anything resembling the concentric zone model or any kind of uniform outward expansion, at least on such a large scale. Strange that that the learned fellows of American Dream Coalition discuss Houston's affordable housing without mentioning that. I won't bother discussing the other issues related to sprawl, everybody already has an opinion on those issues anyway.

I wonder who Miles talked to

My guess would be somebody from America's Wetland. It was nice of Anderson Cooper to do a segment on Louisiana's vanishing wetlands, but it would have been nicer to hear something about the major immediate cause:
Still, the Louisiana coast might have survived another 1,000 years or more, Louisiana State University scientists said. But the discovery of oil and gas compressed its destruction into a half-century.

By the 1980s, the petroleum industry and the corps had dredged more than 20,000 miles of canals and new navigation channels from the coast inland across the wetlands. The new web of waterways, like a circulatory system pumping poison, injected saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico into salt-sensitive freshwater wetlands. Fueled by the advance of big business on the coast, the Gulf's slow march northward accelerated into a sprint.

I'll post the transcript of last night's Anderson Cooper 360 segment on coastal restoration to save you the trouble of scrolling through. The segment was on restoration efforts, but if Miles mentioned the background cause of the erosion, he should have mentioned the major accelerant, IMO. While the link still works (it's surprising to see it work over a year after it was published), Bob Marshall's series is still worth reading.

The transcript:
Up next, battle on the bayou, man versus nature. Wetlands being rebuilt before the next storm hits Louisiana. See how they are doing it and what is at stake? Our "Planet in Peril" report, next.


COOPER: Hurricane season starts Sunday and this year could be worse than normal. NOAA predicts up to 16 named storms and says a handful may turn into major hurricanes. Federal forecasters worry that some people could be caught unprepared lulled by two relatively quiet seasons; seasons they said were going to be bad.

Along the Gulf Coast, however, work is underway to curve the power of the hurricane and repair our "Planet in Peril." The latest now from Miles O'Brien.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the swamps of Louisiana, the water is murky and filled with menacing eyes. But folks here are not afraid of that. No, what they fear most is that by the time he grows up, it will all be gone.

CAPTAIN TOM BILLIOT, WESTWEGO SWAMP ADVENTURES: Some of this swamp here is 3,000 years old. When you go after this what it look like --

O'BRIEN: In the past 20 years, Captain Tom Billiot figures he has given 10,000 tours of the swamp just South of New Orleans. He is anything but a silent witness to its destruction.

CAPTAIN BILLIOT: In the last 50, 100 years, now the Gulf of Mexico is having its way with us and it is not nice.

O'BRIEN: The swamp is nature's flood protection and the human effort to tame the Mississippi river is at odds with that natural defense.

In the 80 years since they hemmed in the Mississippi with levies, Louisiana has lost enough marshland to cover the state of Delaware. The problem, the swamp needs a steady flow of sediment filled river water to stay healthy. The levies funnel the Mississippi straight into the Gulf bypassing the Delta.

JON PORTHOUSE, COASTAL SCIENTIST: We have to find a way to sustain that marsh by putting the river back in there, getting the sediments nutrients back into the flood plain where it used to be.

O'BRIEN: We dropped in on one effort to do just that. These barrier islands are about 100 miles Southwest of New Orleans.

BRAD MILLER, LOUISIANA DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Back in 1974, a hurricane but a breach in this island and cut it in half.

O'BRIEN: And now they are trying to put it back together again by pumping in sand from the bottom of the Gulf.

BRAD MILLER, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: These islands are very important because they offer a buffer for hurricanes. They are more or less a speed bump when a storm comes in from off the Gulf and comes in this islands helps slow it down.

O'BRIEN: There are hundreds of islands like this that need repair. Spending the billions to fix them is part of the state's master plan to bring the Delta back to life. And so is this. This is one of ten places where is the Mississippi is diverted outside the levies and into nearby marshland.

CHUCK VILLARUBIA, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: The marsh is degrading. Now we are seeing the marsh starting to come back. This diversion helps by helping the marsh grow faster.

O'BRIEN: The state would like to double the number of these diversions. But sending all that water out of the channels might leave them too shallow for the big ships that ply this vital port. It means people here are going to face some tough choices to preserve their way of life.

CAPTAIN BILLIOT: They need to consolidate the authorities if any of us is going to keep any of it. We got to all work together. You got to give something to get something back.

O'BRIEN: And that means giving something back to nature. After trying to use brute force to control this mighty river, the experts now say they have no choice but to go with the flow.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, Westwego, Louisiana.


Did I miss something?

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Dr. Blakely, call your former colleagues

It wasn't clear from Saturday's article whether a statement by Ed Blakely summed up the entire administration position:
Blakely said the administration's policy would require developers seeking a TIF to put up 25 percent to 30 percent of the cost of a project in private equity -- what he called "hard" money -- rather than depending entirely on public subsidies or tax breaks

I should certainly hope there's more to it than that: sounds like letting market forces guide the city's rebuilding, except it it wouldn't really be market forces. If Blakely is still working on the administration position, he should start by reading a Lincoln Institute report that concludes:
Tax increment financing is an alluring tool. TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable. The issues we have studied are (1) whether the targeting causes the growth or merely signals that growth is coming; and (2) whether the growth in the targeted area comes at the expense of other parts of the same municipality. We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.

Policy makers should use TIF with caution. It is, after all, merely a way of financing economic development and does not change the opportunities for development or the skills of those doing the development planning. Moreover, policy makers should pay careful attention to land use when TIF is being considered. Our evidence shows that commercial TIF districts reduce commercial property value growth in the non-TIF part of the same municipality. This is not terribly surprising, given that much of commercial property is retailing and most retail trade needs to be located close to its customer base. That is, if you subsidize a store in one location there will be less demand to have a store in a nearby location. Industrial land use, in theory, is different. Industrial goods are mostly exported and sold outside the local area, so a local offset would not be expected. Our evidence is generally consistent with this prediction of no offset in industrial property growth in non-TIF areas of the same municipality.

Up until now, I hadn't read the 2003 BGR report, but it's long seemed obvious that there needs to be some limit on tax subsidies and tax incremental financing for new projects or the city would find itself with a frozen tax base. The BGR agrees:
To encourage prioritization and careful targeting of projects, the City should establish a cap, based on a dollar amount or a percentage of the City's General Fund, on the amount of taxes that can be diverted from the General Fund to TIF districts.

It's possible that I was too quick to criticize the city council's decision to hire a consultant to make policy recommendations. Ideally the council would draft a more comprehensive policy than city council staffers could expected to draft, But I don't see that happening. Without a cap, most other provisions will be easily circumvented, and I can't see the council approving a cap that couldn't be raised by 4-3 vote. If a council member can get the vote to approve a TIF district in his or her district, it will be easy enough to get the votes to increase the cap.

At any rate, a few key passages from the report:
To the extent that other areas and businesses are negatively impacted, the existing revenue base of the local government is reduced. In addition, successful TIF districts can increase a local government’s operating costs without providing additional operating funds to the local government. The end result in that case is a transfer of the additional operating costs to residents outside the TIF district. Given the many unknowns surrounding the performance of TIF districts, and the identifiable types of dislocations that can occur, it is exceedingly dangerous to
view TIF as free money. Rather, TIF should be considered an allocation of future resources and assessed with a stringency befitting other long-term investments of future revenue.

The TIF master plan and all TIF developments should conform with the master plan for the City.

The City should identify, and designate as eligible for TIF, blighted or brownfield areas that offer the greatest potential for development, assuming an appropriate amount of public funding. Blight should be defined in meaningful, quantitative terms to reduce the risk of the unnecessary use of TIF.

Good luck with that definition.
To limit the use of TIF to areas in which development would not otherwise occur, the City should condition the use of TIF on a finding that TIF is necessary for appropriate, future redevelopment (as opposed to a specific project) to occur in the designated area.

How rare do they think that finding will be?
All meetings relating to TIFs should be conducted in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the open meetings law. Practices that undermine transparency, such as one-on-one briefings and behind closed-door negotiations between council members and potential developers/owners, should be avoided.

Sales TIF districts are more likely than property TIF districts to capture revenues unrelated to the TIF investment, thus reducing current tax revenues available to the jurisdiction.

Because sales TIF districts need large, creditworthy retailers or shopping centers to generate significant tax increments, the quest for a TIF source can lead to land use distortions and unnecessary subsidies for big retailers.

Subsidizing a retail operation with TIF revenues gives it an unfair advantage over its competitors.

Finally, I'm not sure, but I really get the impression the report's authors don't think that TIFs are appropriate for New Orleans:
As in the use of other economic development incentives, the effective, efficient, and equitable use of TIF depends on the wisdom, financial sophistication, and integrity of those involved in the process. To the extent that decisions are based on sophisticated analysis, made with an unwavering focus on the public good, and implemented through skillful negotiation, the chances of successfully using TIF increase. To the extent that decisions are driven by relationships, political deals, and other agendas, or that the government lacks the high level of expertise needed to analyze and implement complicated transactions, TIF is likely to be an expensive mistake that results in an unnecessary transfer of wealth to private entities.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fieling Good

I know, I promised to stop using the nickname, but this is so Fielgood:
Seeking to lower the temperature and end the discussion, Council President Arnie Fielkow said Willard-Lewis had raised a good point. He added that the council will soon hire a consultant to review the administration's proposals and, as part of that review, will hold public meetings on the issue.

In fairness, the discussion probably needed to be tabled. However, as I read yesterday's article about the dispute over TIF's, I thought, "this calls for a consultant." After all, the city has plenty enough money to get the best possible opinions that money can buy, even if we just pay somebody half a million to read, and probably water down, an old BGR report. Anyway, what's more important, consultants or code enforcement?

I don't want to be too hard on Fielkow because the city obviously needs a policy on TIFs, and Willard-Lewis has legitimate concerns. But, the tendency to hire consultants to make every difficult decision is either blatantly irresponsible or just cowardly. I hate to keep bringing up the same, but we've been hearing about the city demolishing the wrong houses while truly blighted houses go uncited for almost a year -- the rest of the country noticed nine months ago. If budgeting and manpower decisions don't have something to do with this, something is really wrong.

I can't recommend the BGR report strongly enough. Every section of the city seems to need its own TIF lately, but that won't leave much for the city as a whole, unless the magic TIF wand produces an exploding pie. Since the BGR has its own biases, similar criticisms can be found here and here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Quotes of the Day

Update:Oyster has more on the subject.

Two year old quote:
Responding to an e-mail from Gray about the bill, Nagin noted that he just completed his difficult re-election bid and had not had enough time to review the proposal.

"My initial take is that we not move anything forward right now as I learned a lot about who my true friends (sic) and who are real supporters of the city of new orleans," Nagin wrote, according to the e-mail obtained by The Times-Picayune. "This bill unfortunately is one that I think should be tabled this session until I have a few heart to heart meetings with its sponsors. We will oppose it and not fund this if it passes."

New quote:
"I'm a little bit concerned that we're overtaxing a couple of firms," the mayor said during Wednesday's board meeting. "One other selection, I'm just not comfortable that we have done enough due diligence yet for the firm to step up to the plate."

The mayor added: "You've gotten me into this a little bit further than I wanted to go, but let's just delay it a meeting."
"At City Hall right now, we are pushing forward probably close to $1 billion worth of projects, and I'm seeing some strains as it relates to that, and I would not want to see that happen here," he said.

It may well be that the mayor's concerns were prompted by something that he noticed while driving his mack truck through the numbers, but this a mayor who learned a lot about his true friends. Unfortunately, a direct link to CHANGE's Inc.'s latest report doesn't work. You need to look up "Citizens for Hope Action" and the latest report seems to be a year old. Also, you can only tell so much from campaign reports, but it's worth remembering.

I don't see one of the companies mentioned on any of Nagin's friends lists, but Veolia, which owned US Filter from 1999 to 2004, does have a history with the S&WB and the city:
Another potential bidder, USFilter, has managed two of the city's wastewater treatment facilities for several years. However, a myriad of problems at the East Bank Sewage Treatment Plant in the Lower 9th Ward -- such as sewage discharging into the Mississippi River 50 times during 2001 and 2002 -- has inflamed tensions between USFilter and the S&WB.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pointless Question

It's easy to imagine the extent to which ABC will overdo the 80's nostalgia if we end up with a Lakers-Celtics NBA championship, but what pundit will write the most hacktacular op-ed piece about the Celtics playing the Lakers, the Gipper in the White Wouse and "morning in America?" If George Will didn't like to write baseball, he'd be the obvious guess.

A question from an ignorant layman

If any little tree root within fifteen feet of a levee, or on the levee's berm, can cause a levee breach, why should we believe an ACoE spokesman who says:
"I personally do not at all believe that this little wet spot is anything that is going to cause a breach or a failure of any kind," he said. A newly installed floodgate could be used to cut off the flow of water into the canal and reduce pressure on the levee, he said.

I understand that ignorant laymen whose common sense tells them that the earth is flat, can be a pain in the ass. But it's not just pain in the ass layman who are worried about the "little wet spot." Even if it was Joe from New Orleans instead of Bob Bea asking the questions, dismissing legitimate concerns is no way to reassure people. In case the ACoE spokesman didn't notice, you only heighten concerns when you answer legitimate questions in such a dismissive manner. I am not trying to be alarmist, but I'd love to know why we shouldn't be concerned about signs of seepage.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Take him to dinner, buy him steak

Whip out the credit card and make that man feel good. It looks like we may see more priority budgeting, priority budgeting as practiced by Mayor Transparency's administration
"If you're lobbying a council member or a state representative on something and you bring them to an environment where they're more comfortable and they feel more at ease talking -- as opposed to the drive-through window at McDonald's -- there's a greater likelihood of being able to prevail on the issue," Smith said.

Once again, New Orleans City Business is way ahead of the alternative newspaper that "New Orleans needs" in its reporting on the secretive practices of the transparent administration:
New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow said he is concerned with the administration’s “non-transparent” process of awarding city professional services contracts, which include contracts for accountants, engineers and various consultants.

He said the council intends to address the executive branch’s private selection process for professional service contracts May 28 at its Governmental Affairs Committee meeting.

Fielkow’s concerns reached a peak when he recently requested meeting minutes from the administration’s evaluation of request for proposals for a sports complex in eastern New Orleans but was told the meeting had not been recorded.

If he sticks to his guns, I'll never call him Fielgood again. Well, I'll certainly stop for a while.

The entire article is worth reading, but I was struck by two items:
Via an e-mailed response, Nagin’s press office answered questions about transparency saying “Requests for bids and proposals are advertised and posted on the city’s website; review committees include an outside evaluator and now also are attended by a representative from the Office of the Inspector General and final contracts are public documents.”

Inspector General Robert Cerasoli said his staff has only been “notified two or three times” of meetings.

According to a June 2005 executive order from Nagin regarding the panel review process, all deliberations are to be kept confidential and “all members of the Selection Review Panel shall be prohibited from disclosing contents of such discussions and/or deliberations to any third parties.”

“Talk about transparency,” Howard said. “(The city has) a confidentiality agreement as opposed to an open transparent approach to contracting.”

For those who persist in thinking that Nagin was a good mayor, or a reformer*, or whatever, before Katrina, do the math -- June 2005 was before August 29, 2005.

Last year, I went off on a tangent and butchered a post about Nagin's first term. When I read old articles** about the mayor's dealings with the city council, the Picayune's tortured efforts to portray Nagin as the good guy reformer reminded me of pre-Copernican efforts to explain apparently retrograde planetary motion. But, instead of rambling about vaguely remembered Karl Popper, I should have just written that it was time to admit that we had all been suckered -- Nagin never was a reformer. After the "dog and pony" show at the taxicab bureau, he didn't even bother to put on an act. We just wanted to believe.

Sorry, the follow up to last night's post will have to wait another night.

*For example: Chris Rose, "we are witnessing a public devolution from reform-minded idealist to political buffoon to race-baiting smack artist." Other than that, I'd recommend reading the column again.

**Gambit's take on the same dispute.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just slightly Inconsistent

The Times Picayune Saturday:
An ordinance introduced Thursday by Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson would call an Oct. 4election on a proposal to guarantee that the inspector general's office would receive at least three-quarters of 1 percent of the city's general fund operating budget each year.

As passed by the council last fall, the city's 2008 general fund budget, the budget covering day-to-day governmental operations under the city's direct control, amounted to about $467 million.

The Picayune in March:
The new round of discretionary raises for executive staffers -- at a total cost of $100,000 per year -- are a proverbial drop in the bucket in a municipality with a 2008 operating budget of $972 million.

The $500M difference is no mystery:
The $972 million operating budget, the largest in history, is inflated by more than $500 million in mostly federal and state grants earmarked to rebuild and repair streets and public buildings.

But, I was shocked that Gordon Russell, of all people, was the author of the second quote. Form your own thoughts, I'll post my usual carefully considered opinion angry rant tomorrow night.

Bad News?

Because there are more important things than city government

Read this San Antonio website posting from Saturday:
The Spurs were in Phoenix, winning their only playoff road game of the spring, when Tim Duncan froze. At least that's the way he looks when he takes his free-throw pose.

Suns fans noticed, and they began to count to 10, because that's how long a free-throw shooter is supposed to have. Shaquille O'Neal was being called for foot faults in that series. Why not tag Duncan on this infraction?

The Suns' coaches asked that very question of the official standing nearby. And Steve Javie smiled.

“I'm not reacting to the crowd,” he said, smiling. “You know me.”

The Suns' coaches know Javie, all right. They know he's the Road-Friendly Ref, and they knew his appearance in their building that night was not a good sign.
There aren't enough Javies, and it's the inherent flaw in this sport. Just as Doc Rivers wonders about calls that went against him in Cleveland on Friday night, and just as the Hornets wonder about Game 6 in San Antonio, the Spurs have reason to wonder now.

Will they be lucky and see Javie again on Monday night?

Now click this.

I was afraid that of all the talk about home teams getting the calls in the playoffs might lead the refs to overcompensate tonight; now we get a lead ref who makes a career out of it.

What happens happens. If the Spurs win, their fans should be penalized a game for a flagrant foul. That's right, give the Lakers a fifth home game to penalize the San Antonio fans for chanting "Horry." Horry might not have intended to hurt West, but the fans obviously thought he did.

Just joking about the home game, but Popovich is full of crap when he compares Horry's moving pick to Chandler's perfectly set screen.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Constructive Criticism

I can understand that the editors of The Times Picayune feel that their editorials should involve constructive criticism rather than confrontation with local government. Outside of the blogosphere, it might be that most residents would agree with sentiment. I doubt, but hey might. However, when a mayor who bills himself as a "champion of transparency" routinely violates open records laws it may be time to rethink the reluctance to be confrontational.

Still, I'm not going to lambast today's editorial because the editors chose to take the constructive criticism approach. I'll just make a couple of constructive criticisms of my own.

Understatement can be charming in conversation, but writing:
Mayor Nagin and his staff have a tendency to be secretive.

Is a bit like writing that the heat index in New Orleans has a tendency to exceed ninety degrees.

In a related note:
Withholding crucial information from the public is disrespectful, breeds distrust among residents and works against recovery.

That's true, as far it goes. But, it also makes increased waste and a corruption a near certainty.

There's also:
The city's finances are stable, which is a major achievement under the circumstances.

they seem to be stable in the short term because residents understand a temporary inability to provide basic city services -- basic city services like distinguishing between blighted property and property that's undergoing repair. As I said, finances seem to be stable.

Most importantly,
Although violence mostly revolves around the drug trade and largely is confined to specific neighborhoods, that is small comfort. Residents who live in those battle zones are under siege, and residents who don't live there worry that unchecked violence will spill over into the rest of the city.

I find the "happening to those people, in those neighborhoods" attitude as appalling as most other New Orleans bloggers, but the Picayune wasn't exactly expressing that attitude. Also, I a blogger has a better chance of pointing out ignored facts or getting people to ask unasked questions than of changing somebody's basic worldview. Still, there's much to object about that statement on purely factual grounds. Armed robberies in the French Quarter and Marigny and repeated "wildings" in the Carrollton/University area come to mind.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Informed Sources" Explained

If you watched last night's edition of Informed Sources you found out that crime in New Orleans is a problem because the Parisians sent all of their criminals here in 1719, which, of course, explains the violent streets of Canberra. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. However, that was Errol Laborde talking, and, though I couldn't say exactly why, I've never expected much from Mr. LaBorde. What made last night's edition the second worst ever (for a description of the worst, just click) was Allen Johnson's casual reference to a wilding incident in Palmer Park. He indicted that Larry Lorenz had referred to "the incident," but it must have been a passing reference; I didn't catch it. Maybe I'm being hypercritical, but I found it unacceptable that a reporter who was introduced as specializing in crime reporting at the start of the show, a devoted to the city's recent crime problem, referred to "a wilding incident" in Palmer Park. Read about the "wilding" and decide for yourself. Oh, earlier in the show, the panelists gave the distinct impression that the days of NOPD officers being accused of criminal activity are behind us. Off the top of my head, I can think of three incidents of NOPD officers being accused of serious wrongdoing in about the last month.

By pure coincidence, I found myself looking at an old copy of New Orleans magazine while I waited for a haircut this afternoon. Something in a column by the show's executive producer leapt out at me:
Both Muniz and Nagin are New Orleans natives who in their own way speak the language. Both try to do right and neither has been tainted with corruption.

I think we've found Nagin's third monkey.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If eyewitnesses won't step forward, what can they do?

The question isn't about the NOPD or the DA's office but about the Times Picayune. Oyster was certainly correct to castigate city leaders who wouldn't step forward to criticize the mayor, but Stephanie Grace almost sounded like Warren Riley in Tuesday's column:
Reporters Michelle Krupa and Frank Donze did their best to cut through the emotional clutter, to evaluate the areas over which Nagin has the most control, and to take a soberminded, objective look at where things stand in New Orleans.
Instead, very few of the dozen-plus community leaders contacted were willing to publicly assess Nagin's performance. Some said they feared retribution by an administration that has developed a bunker, with-us-or-against-the-recovery mindset. Others said simply that they had nothing positive to offer.

I don't want to be too harsh, for one thing, Frank Donze has reported on the obvious fact that there's more to the sanitation contracts than a trade off between cleaner streets and more expensive garbage collection. I assumed that Krupa and Donze were given instructions to keep the story balanced.

To be fair to Grace, she did acknowledge the importance of the fact that the city's rich and powerful seem as afraid of the mayor as the city's poor and powerless are afraid of armed thugs, but she also seemed to be offering an excuse for the fact that the story wasn't harder hitting. However, she pissed me off with this:
Despite controversy over the cost of three city trash collection contracts, the streets are notably cleaner.

If you've ever wondered how somebody as stupid as Nagin can walk around with that smug look on face, just think about that sentence and the history of the city's sanitation contracts. I recently went over most of this, but I'll try it once again.

Any reporting on the sanitation contracts that doesn't mention campaign contributions, questionable billing, RFP's that scared away competitors, contracts that didn't quite match the RFP's, and a hastily rewritten sanitation ordinance that rendered the more costly provisions of the contracts meaningless is incomplete. Instead, it's presented as a trade off between cleaner streets and greater costs. When he should have discussed costs and cronyism, we discussed carts. Now that we should be discussing rigged contracts and pressuring the city council to undo the rewritten sanitation code, we're talking about clean streets. The mayor might be a dumb ass, but he has every reason to be smug.

Update: I see that I neglected to mention that the contracts were proposed just a few months after Nagin won re-election by making insinuations about businessmen making contibutions to his opponent. I thought the mayor's re-election campaign invited questions about large contracts being awarded to two of the mayor's biggest campaign donors. To the best of my knowledge, that part of the story wasn't reported, outside of the blogosphere, until after the contracts were approved.

John McCain on Clarity

Not that I expect it to be of interest to anybody else, but something in McCain's speech today
It is important that the candidates who seek to lead the country after the Bush Administration define their objectives and what they plan to achieve not with vague language but with clarity.

brought back four year old memories
Leaving Saddam Hussein in charge in Iraq was a risk the country could not take, McCain said. While the war "has surely had its ups and downs,'' Bush's efforts "deserve not only support, but admiration. He has led with great moral clarity and resolve.''

I can't be the only person who got sick of hearing McCain praise Bush for his "great moral clarity." I'd love to see a couple of clips of dancin' George's statement of golf principles interspersed with clips of McCain's praise of Bush for his "great moral clarity."

For more on McCain and clarity, see Pat Buchanan. Yeah, he spins history, but I'm serious:
Having cheerfully confessed he knows little about economics, John McCain is advancing himself as a foreign-policy president, a "realistic idealist," he told the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles.

But judging from the content of his speech, McCain is no more a realist than he is a reflective man.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not worth the effort

I intended to do a detailed critique of the Picayune's midterm evaluation of Nagin's second term, but why should I put more effort into critiquing a story than the reporters put into research and writing it? Don't let the length fool you, I'm sure that most people that attended college, or even a college prep high school, wrote at least one term paper in which the bulk of the effort went into meeting the length requirement.

I should rephrase that, as it's too harsh towards the reporters involved. I suspect that the responsibility for the sort of fluff pieces that masquerade as serious reporting falls firmly on a newspaper's editors. I can easily imagine an editor calling a couple of reporters into his office and saying something along the lines of:
Lois, Clark, it's the midpoint of the mayor's second term. We need a front page story on the job that's he's doing. To make it look thorough, I need to you report on a dozen or so issues facing the city. To avoid looking biased, one way or the other, I need you to find both a criticism of the mayor and praise for, or a defense of, the mayor on each one. Make it look like you asked a lot of tough questions, but, for God's sake, don't write anything too controversial.

But I'm a layman with no press experience, what do I know? That kind of thing may well be tacitly understood.

At any rate, the paper will get to publish a couple of letters criticizing it for being too hard on the mayor, a couple for being too easy on the mayor, and a couple complimenting it on its awesomely wonderful in depth reporting. And we get:
Nagin made good on his pledge to improve trash collection, and most agree that French Quarter streets have never been cleaner and trash pickup citywide is reliable and thorough. But the city's new trio of garbage contracts carries big cost increases, and questions have been raised about whether two of the vendors are being allowed to forgo a costly requirement to pick up construction debris. A bevy of ministers and civil rights leaders gathered in November on the steps of City Hall to defend those companies, both owned by African-Americans.

In other words, anti-Nagin: expensive contracts, pro-Nagin: the French Quarter's clean. Real in depth reporting. Nothing about campaign contributions or rewriting the sanitation code to make the contracts fit the code. The article mentions questions about whether the vendors have been required to live up to all of the terms of the contracts, but that doesn't begin to tell the story.

For about the millionth time, the sanitation RFP contained elements that caused other firms withdraw their bids*, or refrain from bidding for, the sanitation contracts. This left two firms that contributed heavily to Nagin's re-election campaign, and continue to contribute to the mayor's campaign war chest, the sole bidders for the contracts. The contacts that were awarded, were not as stringent as the RFP's terms, and the sanitation code was rewritten to effectively make the terms of the contracts easier to meet. The contracts didn't just cost the city more money (money that could have gone to...housing inspectors, maybe) the whole process under which they were awarded smelled like a post-Katrina refrigerator.

I won't bother with the other items covered. Like I said in the last post, the opening paragraph reminded me of what caused me to change the focus of this blog from the federal government to local government in the first place. In December of 2005, I went down to City Hall to make my COBRA payment (remember what mail service was like at the time), saw the line to get into the permits office, thought about some of the articles that I read in the local paper and about how top-heavy I knew the city payroll to be, and I wondered what the fuck the mayor's priorities were.

*At least two major companies that sent representatives to that meeting said it was not their lack of interest but the city's impossibly demanding specifications that held them at bay, raising some questions about whether the winners will be able to live up to the contract terms.

Michelle, Frank...

In this morning's paper, you wrote:
Pollster and Xavier University political scientist Silas Lee said Nagin, like any mayor of a large American city, often gets judged for successes and failures in areas outside his direct control, such as the pace of work on federal levee projects. Some of the criticism leveled at the mayor is misplaced, he said.

Shouldn't that have read,"Pollster, highly paid Nagin consultant and Xavier University political scientist Silas Lee..."?

Silas, if the mayor paid me $60,000 $73,500, I'd probably defend him too. But, you also said,
"People want to hear more from (Nagin), see more of him, to reassure them. But he operates from a corporate leadership perspective: He delegates."

He delegates? Maybe so, but he doesn't delegate like an effective corporate executive.

I'll have more detailed comments on the articles after I attend to Mother's Day obligations. I will cite the article's opening paragraph:
When New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's administration quietly shut down the Good Neighbor anti-blight program last fall without reviewing thousands of complaints, howls of protest arose from citizens fed up with moldering, rat-infested houses.

The accompanying scorecard on p. A16 (couldn't find it online) implicitly praises the mayor for the 2005 city layoffs. I'll say it again, I didn't blame the mayor for my pink slip, but I certainly expected the city's remaining payroll to go to productive employees. But instead of retaining building inspectors, the mayor kept highly paid aides, department heads, assistant department heads and upper level bureaucrats on the payroll. It's certainly fair, though possibly naive, to suggest that blighted houses don't get cited and sound houses get condemned because of the mayor's failure to set budget priorities.

On a related note, I've been complaining for months that NOBC gets the funding, NORA gets the publicity. Not that I'd want Rob Couhig and company the money to bulldoze every thing that doesn't fit into their ideas for a post-Katrina New Orleans.

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Early morning line

To whom will Mayor Transparency give the first interview?
Nagin declined to answer detailed questions for this story, adding through a spokesman that he would "provide interviews on this topic within the next few weeks."


Lee Zurik: 100-1
WVUE morning crew: 3-2
Norman Robinson: 1-10

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Norman sprinkles the fairy dust

Get a load of Norman Robinson:
It was after that conversation that I began to think about how negative some of us are when it comes to appreciating what we have as a city. To listen to some of us, every politician is a crook, every agency is dysfunctional, every cause is wrong headed, and all the people are of less than average intelligence.

I wonder what we could accomplish if we all adopted a sense of positive energy about our city and about ourselves. Can you recall how it uplifting it was in the chaotic days immediately following hurricane Katrina - when we were all pulling together to help each other get back on our feet? Let us try to recapture that commitment and concentrate on making things work. What do you think?

What a load of crap. Maybe we'd be less cynical about politicians like the mayor if reporters like Norman Robinson started doing their jobs.

I'm sure we all remember how Mayor Transparency got all bent out of shape because WWL reporters actually did their jobs, had a temper tantrum and threatened to cold cock somebody. Of course, after his macho act, the mayor fled WWL for the safer confines of WVUE and WDSU. I guess it was more of a hissy fit than a macho act, after all.

The mayor may, or may not, be stupid or crazy, but he knew exactly what he was doing when he stopped giving interviews to WWL in favor of WVUE and WDSU. News of a potential scandal broke soon after Nagin made the switch, and the reporters at those two venerable institutions did exactly what Nagin expected of them. To be fair, they did ask about the Stone Age/Home Depot deal but didn't ask any follow up questions when the mayor declared the matter "private" and "off limits."

I can't find a link on WVUE's website, but Norman Robinson interviewed the mayor on April 5*. He asked the mayor why he refused to answer questions about the Home Depot deal, the mayor basically just said that it was private, and Robinson let it go at that. Am I laboring under a layman's misconceptions about journalism, or should Robinson have pressed the issue? Seems to me that Robinson should have said something along the lines of, "With all due respect, it's not private you own more than 25% of the company. If you own more than 25% of the company, a law was broken, whether it was broken intentionally or not. Don't you think that the people of New Orleans have the right to know whether you broke the law, unintentionally or not?"

Well, he didn't ask that question. To the best of knowledge, none of his colleagues in the local media did either.

So, Norman, if you're reading this, the way to make us less cynical is to start doing your job. When a mayor who calls himself a "champion of transparency" refuses to share information, it's not cynical to suspect the worst of him. We couldn't possibly be any more cynical about the mayor, but we might be less pessimistic about the city if we had more confidence in the people who reported on city government.

*I'm not sure about the exact date; my sense of time has been a little off due to three nights in the hospital and a week and a half of missed work in early April. I had surgery on the 7th; I believe the interview was the Saturday before I went in.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Getting their money's worth

Blossman disagrees. 'I'm not a big believer," he says. 'That global warming is nothing but media."
Gambit Weekly

At the very least, Lee Zurik's report on Jay Blossman demonstrated one thing, stupid politicians can be just as corrupt as intelligent politicians. Of course, we already knew that from watching the mayor.

WWL reports:
In 2007, about one third all donations Blossman received came from Entergy employees, spouses or consultants. Last year Blossman received contributions from 166 different people or companies. Approximately 54 of those contributions came from people connected to Entergy.
Since 2002, those solicitations have gotten Blossman more than $100,000 of contributions from Entergy employees.

Some of things that Blossman has done for Entergy:
The proposed rules would turn the traditional regulatory process on its head by allowing a utility to earn money on a nuclear plant before it is in operation. The rules would also require the PSC to approve of the need for a nuclear plant before it is built and again at the beginning of each of three phases. The PSC would annually review the construction costs and, in the case the plant is never completed, would allow a utility to collect its costs from its customer.

The rules were requested by Commissioner Jay Blossman last year.

That passed:
The PSC, in a 3-2 vote, will allow a utility that is building a nuclear plant in Louisiana to earn interest on money it is spending as it is constructing a nuclear plant.

Historically, utilities have only been allowed to charge customers for a power plant after it is producing power. And Commission Chairman Jay Blossman Jr. has portrayed the debate over the rules for a nuclear plant as a race with Mississippi and other southern states to be the site of one of the first new nuclear plants.

He's also not big on RFP's, at least where big utilities are concerned. From the June 12, 2006 edition of Power Markets Week (not available online):
The Louisiana Public Service Commission staff has recommended that generators categorized as qualifying facilities be encouraged to bid their available capacity into a utility's solicitation for power.

At the same time, one commissioner is proposing that solicitations be skipped when a company wants to build its own coal-fired or nuclear plants.

In a draft report to the PSC issued June 2, the staff said QFs should be encouraged but not required to participate in the request for proposal process. At issue is whether those facilities are exempt from the commission's market-based mechanism order, which requires capacity procurements to be tested in the marketplace through the RFP process.
PSC Commissioner Jay Blossman wants to exempt utilities seeking to build coal-fired and nuclear plants from testing their plans against competitive alternatives through bid solicitations.

Most recently, he was Entergy's point man on the Litte Gypsy plant.

I thought that the end of last night's report was quite telling:
Entergy says that Lambert Boissiere received about 50 Entergy contributions in his last race against Cleo Fields and Boissiere and Blossman receive more contributions from them than other commissioners because most Entergy employees live in their district.

I had noticed that Blossman and Boissiere seem to cast similar votes -- on both rate increases and on internal matters

Monday, May 05, 2008

Media Notes

New Orleans City Business has an interesting piece on the white bread, or beige paint, tastes of uptown New Orleanians.

While I was on vacation last Summer, the USA Today gave a report on riverfront redevelopment that mentioned one of the apparent conflict of interest charges that could be levelled against Sean Cummings in his role as head of NOBC. When I got back from my trip, I pored over a week's worth of newspapers and the Picayune's website, the one article that I did find didn't mention it -- better late than never, I suppose. I'm not familiar with any of Jen DeGregorio's other reporting, but I'd recommend her article on Sean Cummings in yesterday's Picayune. However, the opinions expressed by some of the people that she interviews strike me as astonishingly naive. To think that anybody who owns property in the city will always do what's best for the city betrays an ignorance both of the city's history, and of the very concept of competing interests.

As I've expressed before, my feelings about riverfront redevelopment are much more mixed than the above might indicate. I'll have more on this soon, but I'd be much less cynical if the project's informational presentations contained more information and fewerpromises:
An average of 5,800 jobs per year during construction
$13 million of state tax collections during each year of construction
$8 million of local tax collections during each year of construction
24,000 permanent jobs
$34.8 annual million of state tax collections upon completion
$28.5 annual million of state tax collections upon completion
An internal rate of return of 18% over 30 years.

All that and streetcars, who could ask for more?

Jeffrey is probably correct about what we can expect from the sports coverage if Tom Benson's purchase of WVUE is approved. I'll just remind everybody that, during the last mayoral election, WVUE really sucked. On May 6, 2006, WVUE made a truly bizarre editorial decision, that, to my knowledge, I was the only person to comment on. May 5 was the day that Paul Morton endorsed Mitch Landrieu, I can't find a link, but I'll print the LexisNexis feed for that date:
PROMINENT LOCAL PASTOR, BISHOP PAUL MORTON, IS ACCUSING DE LA SALLE HIGH SCHOOL OF DISCRIMINATION. MORTON IS ANGRY THAT HIS DAUGHTER AND OTHER AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS CANNOT WEAR 'BRAIDS' TO SCHOOL. BUT, AS SABRINA WILSON REPORTS... THE SCHOOL DENIES ANY RACISM OR DISCRIMINATION IN ITS POLICIES. DE LA SALLE IS BEING BLASTED. "i cannot site idly by and watch discrimination be exemplified in this school and which such an arrogant attitude." BISHOP PAUL MORTON SAYS THE SCHOOL'S RULES ARE RACIST. "i am speaking on behalf of innocent black kids who have been denied their right and who will be denied their rights if they go to this school." MORTON'S ANGER IS OVER HAIRSTYLES. "you can wear bangs like white girls, you can wear a pony tails like white girls, but you cannot wear your hair like a black girl." MORTON'S DAUGHTER CHRISTIE ATTENDS DE LA SALLE. HE SAYS SHE WAS SO UPSET ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO WEAR BRAIDS A YEAR AGO SHE WANTED TO TRANSFER. "she's a fighter, she believes in the cause so it was embarrassing on my part cause daddy you stand up for so many issues, how can you let this get away." NOW THAT SHE'S ABOUT TO GRADUATE MORTON IS SOUNDING OFF. HE SAYS HE WAS REBUFFED WHEN HE QUESTIONED THE RULES. "the answer was shocking to me because the principal responded because this is not a black school, it is a private school." THE SCHOOL DENIES ANY DISCRIMINATION. "our school since its founding as stood for one of being inclusive, we embrace all different cultures and i think we're known in the community for that." PRESIDENT TEDESCO SAYS THE RULES ARE IN BLK AND WHITE. "we have a student parent handbook that has been approved by our board we're charged with enforcing that." IT SAYS 'EXTREME' HAIRSTYLES LIKE BRAIDS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. THE PRINCIPAL SAYS THE MORTONS SIGNED ON TO THE RULES. "and actually sign that and yes they did." " bishop morton is even threatening to protest against de la salle if the hair style controversy isn't resolved to his liking." "we will form protest marches until de la salle changes." BUT, DE LA SALLE SAYS THE RULES ARE THE RULES.SIG, MORTON SAYS IF 'BRAIDS' AREN'T ALLOWED BY THE START OF THE FALL SESSION... THERE WILL BE PROTESTS.

That story, complete with film footage, was followed by a passing mention that Bishop Paul Morton had endorsed Mitch Landrieu. Since I couldn't find any mention of the De La Salle story anywhere, I don't even know if that press conference occurred on that day. I can't say that it was the most blatant media manipulation that I've ever seen during an election, but it was the most blatant that I've ever seen go unnoticed. The news coverage can't possibly get any more biased under Benson's ownership.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Great article, but

I highly recommend James Wolcott's latest Vanity Fair article :
In January 2009, the former president would pack his saddlebags and head back to his Texas ranch, secure in the knowledge of having wrecked pretty much everything there was to wreck (Iraq, the dollar, the national debt, America’s prestige abroad, the rebuilding of New Orleans, the Endangered Species Act). The president’s impromptu tap dance at the White House as he killed time waiting for a tardy Senator John McCain to arrive for his official endorsement as the Republican nominee was the perfect vaudeville symbol for the breezy, wanton disconnect of this administration from the consequences of its actions, the unsinkable cheer of its sunshine superman. Despite his dapper moves, Bush’s dragging approval numbers were proof that his old white magic had lost its spell, that his was not an aura in which it was healthy to bask. He shrivelled everything he touched.
A born-again populist, Edwards functioned as a lubricant, a slick lining separating—and dampening the friction between—two competing iconographic surge forces (the first black presidential nominee versus the first female nominee) and drawing enough support on Daily Kos and other liberal-Dem Web sites to diffuse the animosity, competitive zeal, and gender-generational differences between the two camps. Once Edwards dropped out of the race, however, the buffer zone was removed, direct contact replaced triangulation, and the Obama and Hillary supporters faced off like the Jets and the Sharks. The rancor was disproportionate in intensity and extravagant in invective, a fervor worthy of ancestral foes. Months-old grievances seethed and erupted as if they had been bubbling for centuries in a lake of bad blood.

But parts of it could have been written by Maureen Dowd (if she were a better writer):
On the most egoistic plane, it seemed like a clash of entitlements, the messianics versus the menopausals. The Obama-ites exuded the confidence of those who feel that they embody the future and are the seed bearers of energies and new modalities too long smothered under the thick haunches of the tired, old, entrenched way of doing things. The Hillarions felt a different imperative knocking at the gate of history, the long-overdue prospect of the first woman taking the presidential oath of office. For them, Hillary’s time had come, she had paid her dues, she had been thoroughly vetted, she had survived hairdos that would have sunk lesser mortals
(The majority of Huffpo’s high-profile contributors were so over the rainbow about Obama that it was as if they had found rapture in the poppy fields and were rolling around on their backs like ladybugs.)

If Dowd were a much better writer, I should have said:
Hillary and Bill Clinton have taken turns polishing McCain’s hood while Joe Lieberman pals around with Big John as if they were touring in La Cage aux Folles, two old queens taking in the sunset. As Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler blog decried, “The RNC [Republican National Committee] (and the rest of the conservative world) would never have tolerated the sanctification of some Big Major Democrat of McCain’s type. But liberals and Dems have stared into space as McCain has been endlessly vested with sainthood.” Democrats have pulled their punches for so long that they know only how to hit themselves in the face, earning the reputation for masochism that gives Dick Cheney a good chuckle each night at bedtime as he’s being packed in ice.

Also recommended: Lance Mannion's A couple of old Democrats sitting around talking
As much as they like and care about their candidates, to Uncle Bill and Pop Mannion Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are tools. I don't mean that in a snide or dismissive or insulting way. Because of the way the country is set up, we need a certain type of people to go to work every day on our behalf and get things done. Pop Mannion and Uncle Bill want certain things to get done. Their argument is over which one has the better chance of getting into the position of getting those things done and which one seems more likely to be able to get those things done. But it's the things that need to be done that are what's important. Not the person doing them.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Champion of Transparency

"Transparency and accountability must be the cornerstones of government," said Mayor C. Ray Nagin. "This Citizen Guide is another step towards bringing government and citizens together. I am very pleased to deliver it into the hands of the people of New Orleans."

Transparency in government is a priority objective for CBNO/MAC, and the "Citizen Guide" reflects Mayor Nagin's follow-through on a pledge he made during the 2002 campaign to work with the Committee to implement this objective.
website City of New Orleans

"All I can say is that the allegations that he, that the senator is making regarding an investigation about the mayor, aren't true," she said. She said Nagin "has a proven track record, from his first term until now, of being a champion of transparency."
Nagin's press secretary

“I ain’t helping you sensationalize nothing,” he said. “You can go and find that information somewhere else.”
Nagin himself

That last quote came when the mayor was questioned about an earlier WWL investigation into the city's 311 system -- an investigation in which members of the mayor's staff went to ridiculous lengths to avoid answering questions.

Before Katrina, didn't the Times Picayune have an op-ed columnist who was famous for exposing the hypocrisy of elected officials whose actions failed to match their rhetoric? What happened to that guy?

More egocentric blogging

I'm glad to see Don Cazayoux get elected over Woody Jenkins, although it's a safe bet that Jenkins will contest the result. However, after several posts defending Clinton* from unfair, dishonest, or just plain empty-headed attacks, I was looking forward to the opportunity to defend Obama from a dishonest or unfair attack. I mean, how often does a blogger the chance to show what wonderfully fair and unbiased commentator he is?

You may have a recent WAPO article about a potential GOP strategy for the Fall congressional elections:
Having shed their belief that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) would be the bigger drag on down-ticket Democrats in the fall, congressional Republicans are field-testing a potential general-election strategy that pins Democratic candidates to Obama. It comes just as Wright reclaimed the national spotlight this week with a series of controversial appearances, sparking new questions about how white working-class voters will respond to Obama's candidacy.

If their strategy succeeds here in the Deep South over the next 10 days, GOP strategists expect to take it nationwide.

Though the WAPO article didn't spell out the implication for the Democratic presidential contest, an AP article spells it out:
Democratic losses would give Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton new ammunition to build her case for her presidential candidacy by questioning the sturdiness of Obama's coattails.

Assuming John Maginnis has the slightest idea what he's talking about, that would be an entirely specious argument:
Jackson, who lost in the Democratic runoff, is running television commercials not to endorse his party's nominee Donald Cazayoux but to declare to supporters that he is running again in the fall. He told me he intends to seek the full term whether or not Cazayoux wins the special election, which is less likely without a strong black vote that Jackson is doing nothing to encourage.

The idea that the failure of Democrat to win a special election with a low black voter turnout demonstrates anything negative about the implications of putting Obama at the head of the ticket is absurd.

*I'm honestly not a Clinton supporter, but I am appalled at some of the attacks that I've seen. I took my name off the HuffPo's email list when this appeared last May. Attacking Clinton's Iraq vote is fair game, but I was outraged that there wasn't outrage over a supposedly liberal site trumpeting "Her Way."

Friday, May 02, 2008

Giving them the whole story

A follow-up to Monday's post.

From today's T/P:
With a markup of booth rental fees and a 200 percent increase in the price he pays for gas to fill the three trucks he uses to haul bread to the festival from Marksville, Laborde said he is worried that he will not cover costs this year.
This year, however, weather is just one part of the concern. Although the high price of gasoline, airline woes and the downward trend of the national economy have not seemed to keep visitors away from Jazzfest, there is some evidence that those factors are leading them to spend less.

"I'm not buying as much," said Barbara Moely, of Harahan. "Normally, I would buy artwork."

This year, Moely said she is tightening her purse strings and not even considering purchasing a piece.
Ginger Barbier planned to buy fewer beers so that she could still buy work from a local artist.

I guess those are the only possible factors:
The cost of a ticket at the gate of the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell is more than three times higher than in 1998.
1998: $16
1999: $18
2000: $20
2001: $20
2002: $25
2003: $25
2004: $25
2005: $35
2006: $40
2007: $45
2008: $50


Thursday, May 01, 2008


From today's Picayune:
City facing more red ink,
revenue conference is told

..., the city's budget faces almost $60 million in red ink during the next five years unless the city takes steps to increase projected revenue or reduce expenditures.
The council said it would either cut spending or raise property taxes, with the goal of being self-sufficient by 2011, the same target as under a five-year financial recovery plan drawn up by the administration after Hurricane Katrina.

Rebuilding money from the federal government, or non-profits, or who knows where, has nothing to do with the city's ability to provide essential services or staff those shiny new libraries.

Think about that when you hear stories like this:
When asked whether, based on his observations, New Orleans is paying a lot more than any community that he studied, Shick replied that, on a per capita basis, the city is paying “a lot more.”

In his research, Shick says the average city paid $2.99 per citizen per year for 311 service. San Antonio, Texas has the cheapest system, at just over $1 per resident. Minneapolis, Minnesota is the most expensive, hovering around $7. But according to Shick, New Orleans could be paying almost $20 per resident every year for 311 service.

Or when James "no more business as usual" Carter calls Arnie Fielkow a hypocrite for questioning $600,000 worth of business as usual.

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