Monday, December 29, 2008


Times Picayune, Dec. 27, 2008:
With the smoke barely cleared from recent battles for Congress and district attorney, the next big political contest looms: the 2010 mayor's race in New Orleans.
So far, only two candidates -- state Sen. Ed Murray and state Rep. Austin Badon, both Democrats -- are actively campaigning.

Times Picayune, Nov. 11, 2006:
On Friday, several speakers, including state Sen. Ed Murray and state Reps. Austin Badon and Cedric Richmond, urged the City Council to approve the contracts with the two African-American-owned trash haulers, Alvin Richard and Jimmie Woods, who were described as 'home-grown" businessmen.

When I questioned Cedric Richmond's endorsement of the sanitation contracts in a comment at Your Right Hand Thief, A Richmond supporter replied:
Here is a direct quote: "Metro and Richards disposal are both located in my district and SDT is another local business. They were all the most responsive bidders and followed the rules. In the end the council praised their work and all voted for it."

Part of the scandal is that the RFP was worded in such a way that they were the only responsive bidders. That would certainly explain why Richards Disposal felt that it could charge Orleans Parish more per unit (22% more) than Jefferson Parish. But, I don't expect Badon, Murray and Richmond to defend the sanitation contracts. In November of 2006, they all took time away from their duties as state legislators dealing with Katrina recovery issues to pressure the city council to approve the expensive sanitation contracts. Are we really supposed to believe that sanitation contracts in New Orleans were more important than anything they had to deal with in Baton Rouge?

Why every liberal should read Business Week

I wasn't surprised that the first link in that Agonist post that I recently praised was to an article in Business Week. Since I've started working with periodicals, I've noticed that Business Week often pays attention to subjects like the Dirty Truth About Clean Coal*, the return of the subprime wolves and the possibly fracked-up rush to drill for natural gas that the MSM downplays or ignores altogether.

I certainly don't mean to imply that Business Week is a liberal journal, it's a pro-business magazine (of course) with writers that I assume are mostly Republican. However, unlike another high profile business magazine, Business Week doesn't seem like the house organ of either the National Association of Manufacturers or the GOP. Liberals shouldn't just ignore the concerns of business leaders, and if your liberalism can't survive an encounter with honest conservatives who at least show an implicit understanding of old fashioned concepts like external costs, it's probably a rather flaccid liberalism anyway.

*In the past week, the MSM has paid some attention to the coal ash spill that I first learned about from Pharyngula, but not much.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jack is looking pretty fucked right now.

A billiant post that probably won't get enough attention because of the holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Local Media Priorities

WWl's Ten P.M. newscast lasts thirty-five minutes, including commercials. I have no idea how many of those thirty-five minutes are consumed by commercials and much time is devoted to news, how much to sports or how much to weather. However, I do know that last night's Twelve for the Road segment dragged on for eight minutes and tonight's lasted about seven. Those figures are approximate -- I didn't use a stop watch, just glanced at the time when each segment began and ended. BTW, I'm not that obsessive, I changed channels when last night's segment began, changed back several minutes later and was surprised that Bill Capo was still talking to some lady from St. Bernard. So, I timed it when the segment ran again on Channel 15. O.K., maybe I am that obsessive.

The Picayune's senior op-ed writer has written about Vince Marinello and his toupee three times this month. He hasn't written a single column about the budget impasse between the mayor and city council.

In a comment at We Could Be famous, Jeffrey expresses the opinion that the T/P devoted the attention that it did to the personnel shakeups at NOPL because of its "Morial complex." While I disagree, at least to some extent, I do think it's ridiculous that a $650 million plan is treated as a cause for celebration while a personnel shakeup is treated as a major controversy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pre-Katrina history question

When did the "functional and aesthetically pleasing" main library described in a letter to the Picayune become the disgrace described by Jarvis DeBerry? Both writers make valid points, particularly DeBerry:
I'd be fine with a library system that aggressively and adamantly depicts the importance of reading, that shows that this community holds libraries in high regard and is willing to pay for them.

That's not to say that Mayfield's idea is bad. It actually sounds very exciting. It's to point out that library officials could clear a much lower bar and still make people quite happy.

Had DeBerry gone a step further and shown the heretical common sense of another letter writer, I would have immediately singled him out for praise.

But, back to my question, by what point had neglect and poor maintenance taken their toll on the main library? Would it be fair to say that it had seen better days by 1980? 1985? It might be a good idea to save some that construction money for routine maintenance.

I'll have more on Lolis Eric Elie's disappointing effort soon, but I will point out one glaring omission:
Suspicions are fueled by at least two factors: the whispered concerns of people who are critical of Mayfield's leadership and the absolute refusal of Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to obey the state's public records law.

There's really only one difference in this controversy and every other Nagin administration controversy. In every other controversy, the refusal to share information has come first and the obvious bullshit explanation has come second. In this case the obvious bullshit came first -- he replaced a law professor with a trumpet player as the head of the library board because he wanted to refresh all of the city's municipal boards, yet, only two weeks later, he reappointed his campaign manager to the aviation board.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Double the Millage

I noticed something in Library Journal last March that was glossed over by the local press:
While NOPL’s budget was about $18.45 per capita in 2004, at the 16th percentile of peer libraries, the library’s per capita budget would be the equivalent (in current dollars) of $40.53 per capita, thus placing it in the upper quartile of its peers. Personnel costs would more than double to add service and hours for a population estimated by 2030 to remain 16% of pre-Katrina figures.

The plan estimates a capital budget of nearly $200 million in current dollars, or $277 million over time. Where to get the capital funds? Mayfield was optimistic, saying that federal and state funds had not been tapped, nor had local and national foundations. The city’s economy has been growing, and Mayfield said “we think we have justification to double the millage.”

I'd guess that the above should read that population by 2030 is expected to remain 16% below pre-Katrina figures (still seems odd), but that last item didn't appear in the Picayune. At the time, I noticed something that I thought was just another case of city government inflating job titles and salary at the top while cutting staff at the bottom. I was wrong:
But soon it became clear to Schremser that she was being marginalized, left out of key decisions. In March, the board named Trigs to the new position of chief operating officer.

For those of you who read the paper online, there's a sidebar in the print edition that includes this item:
March 6, 2008: Saying that consultants from Library Development Solutions recommended it in a report not released to the public, board appoints Rica Trigs, 36, a non-librarian and former assistant to mayor Marc Morial, to the new position of chief operating officer. Job calls for her share authority with library director.

I know that nobody wants to criticize Irvin Mayfield; I don't want to criticize Irvin Mayfield. However, he's not Superman, but he seems to be busier than Ed Blakely:
Preparing "All the Saints" is not the only endeavor on the multitasking Mayfield's mind these days. He is a member of numerous boards, including the New Orleans Public Library 's. This summer, he was named artistic director for the acclaimed Minnesota Orchestra's "Jazz at Orchestra Hall" series.

It's time for other people to start asking questions. Chairman of one board that's become very important, newly appointed member of what may be the most important board in the city's recovery, numerous other activities and a hectic travel schedule -- my guess would be that Mayfield's a very smart, well-intentioned guy, but self-confident enough and busy enough to be manipulated by more political types. My guess could be totally wrong, but Mayfield's taken on enough responsibility to invite the scrutiny.

Car Numbers

One item that I found interesting about the report that the city has five times too many cars* was the fact the mayor's office alone has 73 vehicles. The mayor's office only had 100 employees before the post-Katrina layoffs. Well, two of those cars are used by the mayor:
Nagin himself gets two vehicles -- a 2005 Lincoln Continental and a 2007 Ford Expedition -- with a combined insured value of $70,542.

So, our fiscally prudent mayor had the city buy him a new Expedition while his Continental was still under warranty. I suppose that, since Seletha is a key adviser she needs a vehicle to drive to her lunches with the mayor.

WWL's report last night seemed to allude to earlier reports of gas purchased on city credit cards and then siphoned off for use by private vehicles (the siphoning step may have been skipped altogether), but that wasn't clear:
He also writes about the misuse of fuel, instances of fuel dispensed in excess of the vehicle's capacity. One example, a Ford F-150 with a fuel capacity of 18 gallons was fueled with 91.2 gallons, and in another case, a Ford Taurus with a fuel capacity of 18 gallons was fueled with 39.9 gallons.

On local TV stations last night (can't find it online), the mayor's explanation was that the department that oversees that program had gone from sixty-something employees down to fifteen employees. That's an argument against waste, not an excuse for waste. I really don't understand how the mayor and his defenders can use staff shortages as an excuse without immediately being asked about questionable spending practices - a top-heavy salary structure in every branch of city government (departments that lost almost all of their staff retaining most of their executive staff, pay raises for six-figure employees, creation of new six-figure positions), bombproof garbage cans replaced by appropriately sized garbage cans, etc.

*WDSU rounds 4.55 down to four. If I used numbers the way the mayor does, I would round 4.55 up to almost 7.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Déjà vu

"I'm just scratching my head. It doesn't make sense to throw away this asset," said Bill Settoon, the board's vice chairman, who has told the mayor's staff that he is willing to let Tetlow serve the three years left on his term.
Tetlow, a Tulane University law professor appointed to a partial term by Mayor Marc Morial in 1999, will be replaced as soon as the City Council approves Nagin's recommended replacement, musician Irvin Mayfield.
September 2, 2006

"There is nobody I know of on this committee whose heart has been more into this work than Paul West, who has given up more than Paul West," said Rob Couhig, a lawyer and talk-radio host. "I will always thank the mayor for appointing me so I got to know him."

BP American executive Karl Connor offered a slightly more caustic appreciation.

"I thought about resigning because Paul is being taken off this board," he said. "This is the most insane switch of a person that I've ever seen.
The new members are the Rev. Vien Nguyen, pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in eastern New Orleans, to replace James Gray III; Ellen Lee, interim president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, to replace Wayne Woods; and trumpet virtuoso and New Orleans Library Board Chairman Irvin Mayfield to replace West.
December 13, 2008

For the record, I've heard nothing but praise for the job that Mayfield is doing on the library board, but that has nothing to do with the doubts and suspicions that I've raised in the past. The question wasn't why Nagin wanted Mayfield on the board -- Ike Spears was already a member. The question was, what was his real motivation for getting rid of Tania Tetlow? The reason he gave couldn't pass any kind of smell test.

In a marginally related note, I just heard Brian Brox tell Norman Robinson that the city council has to share the blame for the breakdown of communications with the mayor. Hey Dr. Brox, get your nose out of your academic text books and start paying attention to the actual city that you live in. The mayor would rather break the law than share information. Go back and read the newspaper accounts from two years ago, the council assumed the mayor was acting in good faith and how'd that work out for us? He stonewalled the council until it had no choice but to approve sanitation contracts that the city can't afford. Don't give us that fucking "takes two sides to have a fight" kindergarten teacher shit. "You have to stand up to a bully," is the more appropriate childhood lesson here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I got your war on Christmas O' Reilly

Frosty the Coalman is a Jolly Happy Soul He's Abundant here in America and he helps our economy roll
Frosty the Coalman is getting cleaner everyday
He's affordable and adorable and helps workers keep their pay

Oddly enough, this crap from "America's Power" (the Facebook page is a lovely touch) hit the liberal web on the same day that some New Orleanians with entirely too much time on their hands started their annual holiday video war.

Since it's all over the liberal blogosphere, I wouldn't be so gauche as to try to sneak in the videos as my entry, but I did think it was worth sharing with anyone who may have missed it.

At the risk of of sounding Scrooge-like, I really hope that my local associates have been saving that up for a while. Otherwise, I hope they all have great job security or amazingly fast internet searching capabilities.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Kevin or Clancy missed a rather obvious point

Whoever writes the commentary at Gambit Weekly is correct that it's risky for the city council to use $10M of CDL to meet ongoing expenses, but I can't help but wonder at the naiveté of whoever wrote:
Nagin probably won't veto the entire budget, but he could use his line-item veto to strike the use of another $10 million from the disaster loan. If that happens, the council may muster the necessary votes to override his veto — but we think the better plan would be for the council and Nagin to work together to keep the last $10 million in CDL money out of the 2009 budget.

I thought that Gambit had editorialized less about Nagin administration secrecy than the Picayune, City Business or The Louisiana Weekly. Now I wonder if the good folks at Gambit or even aware of the extent of the problem. Since when does Nagin work with anybody? His administration withholds information and even tells bald-faced lies until it gets what it wants.

Which brings me to the obvious point that I referred to. $1.2M is a large chunk of $10M. I was totally serious last month, the mayor's office does not have a communications department, and $1.2M for P.R. is outrageous. If the mayor is going to pretend to be responsible about $10M, somebody should ask him about that. Nobody knew about tiered re-entry, nobody can ever find out anything about demolitions, and the city council can't even find out what departments are being audited. A department that doesn't tell anybody jack shit about anything can't be called a communications department. The mayor requested $1.2M for public relations, but he wants to claim to be financially resposponsible. Somebody needs to ask him about that. Give me a press badge, I won't be afraid to ask him the goddamn question.

Stacy Head had the right idea
She also proposed many other cuts, such as $500,000 from "excessive personnel expenses" in the mayor's office, $840,000 from the $5.6 million fund to fuel the city vehicles,

But $500,000 doesn't begin to cut it. I can think of a few other questions that I'd ask the mayor.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Are they crazy?

Congressional Democrats sent the White House an emergency $15 billion auto bailout plan Monday, complete with provision of a "car czar" to oversee the industry's reinvention of itself. Link

A "car czar?" Have they been to New Orleans?

We know the Republicans are crazy:
The emergency loans would be drawn from an existing program meant to help the automakers build fuel-efficient vehicles.

Today's AP report doesn't state that the GOP insisted that the money for emergency loans come from the fuel-efficiency program, but that's been a Republican demand all along. Republicans also insist that they want to see the automakers take steps to insure their long-term viability before they (the Republicans) will go along with short-term loans. No contradiction there.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Those Hitler as a sports fan clips are getting old

But you might not have seen him as an LSU fan yet (no, he doesn't get drunk).

My, aren't Montgomery, Alabama news anchors just too clever for words? You can find asshole fans everywhere (there was a video of Ohio St. fans making the rounds last year or the year before that could best be described as stomach-turning), but I liked this post from a Florida blogger. Don't think I linked to it last year:
The improbable three Fs of the LSU football fan: Friendly! Fucked up! And Fucking Hostile!
We’ve read about the intangibles of playing in a place like Tiger Stadium before–the vague “something” described alternately as “special,” “different,” or “MY GOD I’M NOT GETTING OUT OF HERE ALIVE”–and scoffed.

We scoff no more. It’s real, live, and tangible enough to hang your freshly slaughtered baby alligator carcass on in a pinch. (We met a tailgater who, in festive fashion, had slaughtered a baby alligator that morning in order to prepare it for the tailgate. Tiger meat’s a bit harder to come by. Thanks, Chinese Medicine black market! Assholes.)

It’s as loud as The Swamp, yet somehow more unhinged.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

One difference between bloggers and journalists

Bloggers ask stupid questions: Did the city council hire Strategic Planning Associates to help J.P. Morrell get the endorsement of Jefferson Parish politicians?

Journalists repeat baseless allegations: Shawn Barney is soldiering on in a down ballot election that's not even getting local attention to increase turnout in a congressional election that's even getting national attention.

When I questioned the contract with Strategic Planning in November, I was primarily concerned with the apparent conflict of interest: the firm hired to advise the council on budget matters has a business partnership with one of the city's garbage contractors -- a partnership in the demolition business. Since the item about about the contract appeared as an unrelated item in the weekly political roundup that reported J.P. Morrell's endorsement by several prominent Jefferson Parish politicians, I felt compelled to question the coincidence. Strategic Planning Associates and its owner, Charlotte Burnell, are very well-connected in Jefferson, but that seems to be Strategic Planning's first contract with the City of New Orleans. It certainly seems to be the first that was big enough to mentioned in the paper. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find that information on the city website.

Anyway, until yesterday, I was willing to ignore that post as an example of a rightly ignored pointless question.* Early on, Oyster's post made me wonder if the problem wasn't with my question, but with the fact that I raised a question rather than made an accusation. My question was no more ridiculous than Clancy's allegation. Then, I read Bruce Eggler's column. Word has it the city council didn't get much for its $15,000.

*I remain convinced that it was inexcusable to hire a Metro Disposal business partner to advise the council on budget matters. It might have just been carelessness, and it may be a small partnership, but it was still inexcusable.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Did anybody at the Times Picayune know about it June?

Very busy, so what follows is somewhat rushed. Slightly edited Thursday a.m.
It turns out the council was apprised of the department's decision to request bids for a specific, expensive package of services including automated trucks, twice-weekly pickups and large garbage cans.

Head complimented the city in a memo sent by her then-assistant in June 2006. Head notes that she had been on the council roughly a month and wasn't sufficiently experienced then to analyze the deal.
Lolis Eric Elie

I was so shocked to read that this morning this morning that I had to spend my lunch break checking to LexisNexis for any report of a proposal to change to the more expensive automated garbage collection prior to September 2006. I couldn't find anything, but I could have missed something. It's possible that the proposal was reported in June, but it certainly wasn't discussed.

While Elie's column doesn't absolve Veronica White of all blame for the garbage debacle, I think he tries a little too hard to be fair. Whatever the Sanitation Department may have told the City Council in June 2006, the proposal wasn't put before the public until September 2006 -- three months (I believe) before the old sanitation contract expired. Even then, the administration consistently underestimated costs and failed to reveal details of the new contracts until November 2006. By that time, the council was left with a choice between approving the expensive new contracts or allowing garbage to go uncollected. Seems to me that Elie could have written a column criticizing the council for farting around during the Summer of 2006, but that has absolutely nothing to do with stonewalling by the administration during the Fall of 2006.

When the Picayune did report about the proposal in September 2006, it did make an issue of the added expense. Still, I have to wonder just how much it knew in June; it wouldn't have known just how much more expensive the new proposal would turn out to be, but it should have reported any expensive new proposal. The previous February, it editorialized:
The city government isn't just broke. It's holes-in-your-pockets broke, flat-on-your-back broke, headed-to-the-poorhouse broke. With much of the tax base gone, it's hard to see how City Hall will pay for all the services necessary to get New Orleans functioning.

So the Picayune knew that the city was broke. Also, it already had reason to be suspicious of the sanitation department. I'll supply the links later, but we had already had expensive bombproof garbage cans taken off the streets to be "cleaned and serviced." To be fair, they hadn't yet been replaced by expensive big cans that weren't all that big, but a questionable post-storm debris removal contract had already been signed with Charles Rice's new employer -- on the day before Katrina made landfall.

I can understand that the then new city council members didn't realize how dishonest the Nagin administration was (of course that doesn't absolve them of all charges of negligence), but the local media certainly knew what they dealing with. If anybody in the local press knew about the proposal in June, if anybody had the slightest inkling that the city was considering a proposal to increase garbage collection costs, he should have reported it, and it should have been discussed on the editorial page right away.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Old Favorites
  • Political Boxing (untitled)
  • Did Bush Take His Ball and Go Home
  • Teratogens and Plan B
  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
  • Quote of the Day
  • October's News(Dec.1)
  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts