Saturday, December 31, 2005

The New Orleans Media Are Just So Wonderful

What the NYPD and NYFD were to 9-11, the New Orleans media were to Katrina. Don't believe me? Just ask them, they'll tell you. Though I thought the Times Picayune performed admirably in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I really thought it did the city a disservice after about the second week of September. Like I said before (links here, here, here and in numerous other posts), the T/P did less than or to dispel many of the Katrina myths that are still harming the city's reputation.

Now, in today's paper, Dave Walker informs us that:

Years from now, Katrina coverage will be remembered as shining hours for most local TV news operations

What local coverage did Dave Walker watch? All four local channels put all the important information in the feed on the bottom of the screen, while the anchors and reporters told us how much they cared. All four channels basically ran one long commercial/orgy of self-congratulation. I'm not alone in that opinion, during the two weeks I spent in Mandeville, I heard members of all three families (sharing a house) shout things at the TV like: "If you really cared so much, you'd tell us that stuff that's written on the bottom of the screen."

But the games that the local stations played with their network feeds really were inexcusable. I know that there were technical difficulties, but why did WWL refuse to let satellite subscribers see CBS. At times that you could get CBS/wwl on an old tv with rabbit ears, on a TV with satellite you just got the same newscast/ self-promotion repeated ad nauseum. All we could figure was that WWL had some kind of deal with Cox to prevent cable subscribers from switching to satellite. Angry emails to WWL went unanswered. On WWL radio, they scoffed at a caller who complained, wondering how anyone could want to watch Survivor at a time like that. Well first off, channel 4's newscast weren't very informative the first time around, there was no need to see them repeated endlessly. Also, at a time when we wondered what kind of New Orleans we'd ever see again, it would have been nice to see the Nevilles and the Funky Meters on Letterman. I'll never forgive channel 4 management for that, unless there's some good explanation they haven't made public.

That's all rather minor, but it's a gripe I've had for three months now. It's my blog and I'll vent spleen if I want to. Hey it's New Year's Eve and I always feel lousy on Saturday from the Peg-Intron shot that I take every Friday night; I'm entitled. On top of that, a lot of laid-off public library employees (myself included) feel like they've just had salt rubbed in the wound. I'm debating how much to post about that, but Bill Johnson (the city librarian) should be ashamed of himself. The man's being paid as much to oversee a system composed of a main library, two branches and 19 employees as he was to oversee a system with 12 branches and over 200 employees. I think he's being paid enough to do more than take the path of least resistance.

Friday, December 30, 2005


I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I wanted to make sure that the reasons for my position were clear. I know that I'm taking an unpopular position (at least among liberals or even some moderates) and I've been reluctant to publicly criticize the mayor, but he needs to show some leadership, not bossiness.

Before I go into detail about why I blame the mayor for the impass over the placement of FEMA trailers, I should explain why I've been disillusioned with Nagin for weeks now. Much as I dislike bringing personal matters into political discussions, it's important to disclose any personal biases. Also, the two reasons that I'll give are both pertinent to this discussion.

I can't be the only New Orleanian who started to feel like the mayor was out of touch in late September and early October when he seemed unwillingly to discuss any parts of town other than uptown, Algiers or The French Quarter. I understood the need to get the viable parts of the city up and running first, if only so the city could start collecting tax revenue. I even understood that business owners had priority getting into the more heavily damaged areas. But, I couldn't understand the mayor's unwillingness to set any kind of timetable for letting residents into most of the city. The absurdity of the situation struck me when I was told by an NOPD officer that I couldn't enter Orleans Parish, at Metairie Road, a week after Rita. On that particular afternoon, there were national guardsmen, NOPD officers, JP sheriff's deputies, La. state troopers and out of state law enforcement personnel in town to help out. In addition to wondering if I'd find out whether or not I still owned a jacket before the Fall's first cool front, I also wondered why all those law enforcement personnel were in one place. Since the city was so strapped for resources, it only seemed logical to open up neighborhoods (on a daylight only basis) while there were extra policemen in town. But the mayor just refused to explain what was going on. Frankly the mayor's attitude was reminiscent of a boss who won't explain himself to his staff. When the mayor changed his mind and started allowing people into most of the city (west of the canal) a few days later, he didn't come across as flexible and reasonable. He just came across (to me anyway) as a stubborn jerk boss who won't change his mind, but will back down when overruled or faced with a determined strike.

The mayor further alienated me with the city's lay off announcements in the middle of October. I don't fault the mayor for the fact that my (now former)department was one of the two most heavily hit by lay-offs, but I found it inappropriate for the mayor to scoff at the notion of taking a pay cut. Personally, I think every city employee that was retained should have been a potential candidate for a pay cut and every employee who made over $100,000 should have taken an immediate pay cut, starting with the mayor (When I went down to make my January COBRA payment yesterday, I was amazed at the line at permits. If capping city pay at $100,000 could have kept any more permits employees on the staff, it would have been worth it). More importantly, I found it inexplicable that outside of the police and fire departments, the mayor's office was the least affected by lay-offs (The Sewerage and Water Board and School Board are budgeted seperately). How was the mayor's office able to retain 65 out of 100 employees at a time that the city laid-off two thirds of its civilian workforce? Did the mayor's office actually lose any employees that had returned to New Orleans? This actually has some relevance to the trailer discussion. Not much, but some, I promise.

Before I go any further, I should say that I'm appalled by the selfishness and even racism behind much of the NIMBY attitude; I certainly don't deny that it's there. But Nagin's "because I'm the mayor" (I know, BITM's a lousy acronym) attitude makes it difficult to fault many residents for their selfishness. Worse, it makes easy for some city council members to demagog the issue. If someone offers what seem to be reasonable objections and reasonable alternatives to trailer locations, I'm not going to call him a racist or even a selfish jerk. I certainly won't do that until the mayor actually points out what's wrong with some of those alternatives.

A letter in Monday's Picayune suggested that trailers go in the site of the abandoned National grocery at Carrollton and Claiborne rather than in Palmer Park. It certainly seems like a reasonable suggestion. If it's not, why doesn't the mayor's office explain why? I certainly don't think anyone can accuse the writer of this letter to Gambit of having a NIMBY attitude:

There's been a lot of discussion about placing trailers in parks, but what about parking them where it makes more sense: on surface parking. There's plenty of surface parking throughout the city, and with the decreased population and the fact that many cars were destroyed in the storm, one can imagine that there's excess space for trailers to be placed.

The city government should take the lead on this and show the country that housing displaced citizens is more important than reserving parking lots for vehicles. If the government fails to lead the way in this regard, then individuals, private businesses, churches and community centers could show them how it's done. Open up your parking lots. Give people a place to stay.

Michael Rolfus
Vienna, Austria
(Formerly of New Orleans)

Again, that seems like a reasonable suggestion. There may well be problems with it, but the mayor would rather say "NIMBY attitude" than have anyone from his office point them out. It's not like his office is that short staffed.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I had always found BayouBuzz somewhat biased, but I had never gone to the site enough to think much about it. Then I came across this item on Polimom:

The Big Spin
Funny how quickly people try to obfuscate what happened today in the Senate. From the
Bayou Buzz:

What today's Senate vote proved by a small margin is that the distaste for ANWR drilling and the dislike for the method in the way that Senator Stevens allegedly attached the controversial legislation to the Defense Appropriations was greater than the Democrats' concern for those on the Gulf Coast who need certainty in their lives more than anything else during this holiday season.

Trying to paint the vote (or lack thereof) that way is pure spin. They have nothing to do with one another.

Polimom is of course right; it was Ted Stevens and the Republican Party that put politics ahead of Katrina victims, not the Democrats. Ted Stevens even said:

"It's going to be awfully hard to vote against Katrina,"...

"And if it's in there, maybe disaster-area people will vote with me on ANWR" (link via da po'blog)

But Steve Sabludowsky (of BayouBias) would have you believe that it's the Democrats who put politics ahead of the people of the Gulf Coast.

Unbelievably, Sabludowsky seems to have the less biased voice at BayouBias. In another piece, his colleague Jeff Crouere concluded that:

To add insult to injury, the filibuster cost the hurricane damaged region almost $10 billion

Before reaching the conclusion that it was the Democrats that withheld money from the region, Crouere brings up the tired canard that drilling would only be allowed in a small part of ANWR. That's technically true, but largely irrelevant to the ANWR debate and totally irrelevant to the Gulf Coast. He even implies that the Democrats care less about Louisiana than Venezuela, "which is led by a Socialist who hates our President and is an enemy of the U.S." I didn't make up that last part, those were Crouere's actual words.

The analysts at BayouBias certainly have the right to their opinions, but I can't figure out why the local media quotes them as if they offered objective, insightful analysis. "A Socialist who hates our president and is an enemy of the U.S." would have been laughable coming from a ninth grader during the height of the cold war, but our local media considers the writers at B.B. sophisticated enough to quote in 2005. I suppose I should give Crouere and Sabludowsky credit for some sophistication, they didn't call the Democrats a bunch of poo poo heads.

Note: The above was all written last Thursday, but I decided to find references to Bayou Buzz in the local media before posting. Unfortunately, I don't have access to lexis nexis and I didn't want to spend the holidays going over microfilm, so my search was fruitless. To add to that, my past interest in state and local politics never lasted beyond a particular election. Still, my impression was always that B.B. was considered an objective mainstream source of political commentary. I even recall Gambit, the T/P, and local TV and radio stations referring to it as BayouBuzz not Though the site doesn't advertise its conservative leanings, it doesn't exactly hide them either. So I really have no quarrel with Sabludowsky and company. They have every right to put out a biased political blog. What I object to is that the local media quotes Sabludowsky as if he were something other than a conservative blogger. Yes, I know that he has academic credentials, but so do Duncan Black and Glenn Reynolds. Yet, when they're quoted in the national media, they're referred to as a liberal blogger and a conservative blogger.

Monday, December 26, 2005

An article in today's Times Picayune brings up some important points:

Louisiana, after all, saw 649,138 residents displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, compared with 110,000 in Mississippi.

The article also asks:

How is it that Louisiana, which had nearly three times as many homes destroyed as the three other hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast states combined, is getting no more than 54 percent of emergency block grants approved by Congress this week?

These are important points to remember whenever Louisiana officials are accused of being greedy in their aid requests, esp. in comparison with Mississippi. Not that La. should get into competition for aid with Miss., but combine the greater damage here with the cost of rebuilt levees and coastal restoration; and of course Louisiana's total request will be greater than Mississippi's.

However, I don't believe that now is the time to be emphasizing those or some other points-- offshore oil and gas activities contribute to coastal erosion, the cost of Coast 2050 (to restore the state's coast) will be about the same as Boston's Big Dig, etc. That should all be brought up in discussions of how much aid La. should get, after La.'s won the fight over whether it deserves federal aid.

The points La.'s officials and supporters need to make repeatedly (think of Bush and 9/11) are that the federal government bears at least some of the responsibility for the flooding in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish and that if La. received an equitable share of the offshore oil and gas revenue it produces, it would need much less federal aid. Next time Mary Landrieu is on Hardball she needs to keep saying, "You know Chris, in a recent year, Wyoming received $239M out of $569M in mineral revenues generated on federal lands within its borders, yet in the same year, La. only received $18M out f $3.8B in federal revenues generated in its offshore waters. That's less than 1/2 of 1% compared to 50%." She needs to keep saying that (like a Bush supporter saying 9/11 changed everything) when asked about the size of the state's aid request. If the host (or another guest) points out that offshore revenue is always treated differently, she need merely point out that the offshore boundary begins at 12mi. for states like Florida and Texas, 3mi. for La. That's it, lights out, fight's over.

We could land a classic 1-2-3 combination: left jab--the federal government bears some responsibility for the damage to the New Orleans area, right cross--we get 1/2 of 1% of our offshore mineral revenue compared to the 50% that inland states get, left hook-- our offshore boundary starts at 3mi. compared to 12mi. for some other states. Instead, we only occasionally throw the left jab. We throw it weakly at that.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I really don't hate everyone associated with the Times Picayune; I actually like Jarvis DeBerry and don't fault him for the fact that the T/P was so slow to respond to the idea that an evacuation order should have been issued 72hrs before Katrina made landfall. If I didn't respect Stephanie Grace's opinions, I wouldn't have gotten so worked up about what I thought was an incredibly stupid comment about the governor's request for aid. Still, I couldn't have been the only reader who was appalled by Ron Thibodeaux's piece in today's paper. The conduct that he descibes by Southeastern Louisiana Water and Sewer Co. of Mandeville is certainly appalling:

The utility repeatedly violated the discharge limits of its federal and state permits, operated some plants without permits altogether, failed to report violations to the state and even falsified reports to the state, investigators said.

And Thibodeaux begins his report with a tone of outrage that would make Ralph nader proud:

A dastardly criminal activity based in St. Tammany Parish was exposed this week at federal court in New Orleans. It was a dirty, rotten crime that gets us where we live, a crime so abhorrent that residents throughout the New Orleans area should be livid.

Unfortunately, that seems to be about the limit of Thibodeaux's indignation. Thibodeaux acknowledges that the company's actions were bad enough to merit the largest environmental fine in La. history, but he finds the size of the fine ($2.1M) unremarkable. If Thibodeaux thinks that $2.1M is an adequate fine for a company that knowingly polluted local waterways, ignored stop orders from state officials and lied about it for over a decade, he must be in the same time warp as Dr. Evil.

A day later, I still find it hard to believe that I'm reading this:

In environmentally conscious St. Tammany, this was unconscionable. Our fresh air, our neighborhoods, our creeks and bayous and our lake belong to all of us. For those to be intentionally despoiled to make a buck is indeed a crime of the first order.

We can only hope company Chief Executive Officer Jared Riecke is accurate when he says the utility has corrected all of the violations turned up in the investigation, although we're not rushing to pat him on the back for it

In the pollution case, Jean Champagne, the utility's longtime vice president and general counsel, is also a member of the Mandeville Planning and Zoning Commission

Utility matters aside, Champagne has been a pillar of the community, serving with distinction in recent years on all manner of civic and governmental boards and committees. But the criminal activity perpetrated by Southeastern Louisiana Water and Sewer Co. on his watch will cast a long shadow across Mandeville City Hall if he remains on the Planning and Zoning Commission in the aftermath of the company's guilty plea this week.

To paraphrase Thibodeaux: "S.E. La. Water and Sewer did some bad things, but the people that run it are our neighbors and they did agree to pay a fine. But I suppose I should (implicitly) call on Champagne to resign his public office." If they're so environmentally conscious in St. Tammany, why isn't Thibodeaux calling for criminal prosecution or at least a meaningful fine? As Bill Bennett might say, where is the real outrage?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Tuesday, I wondered how much of the $29B Katrina relief package was actual relief. In yesterday's news we found that in addition to the $1.6B to schools (actually I was wrong, only some of that went elsewhere, some of it went to damaged schools in the region), the $29B included $2.9B to the Corps of Engineers for storm and flood repair. Worthwhile projects, but not exactly relief. It also included $4.4B "for Defense Department expenses and facility damage", that's somehow going to be counted as Katrina relief money that went to La. and Miss. I still haven't haven't been able to find a complete breakdown of the $29B (I also had computer problems yesterday, so I might have missed it), but I found this (on da po'blog):

Most of the hurricane aid — $24 billion — has already been authorized by Congress as part of a federal Disaster Relief Fund. The money now will be diverted from the fund, overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and sent directly to Gulf Coast states and victims.

In other words, most of the $29B came out of the $62B that had already been appropriated. Here's a prediction: when congress reconvenes, we'll hear Republican congressmen and conservative commentators say, "First we gave them $62B, then we gave them $29B more." Three months later, the T/P will set the record straight. Of course,it won't do so in a front page story; hell, it won't even get addressed on the editorial page. Instead, the editors will let Jarvis DeBerry discuss it in an op-ed piece.

I added three new links today: da po'blog, Polimom, and wet bank guide. All three seem to do more than just offer their opinion on front page stories. Unless you have something really interesting to add to a current story, bring up something that the media's missed altogether, forgotten or just plain gotten wrong. That said, it's time for today's Atrios imitation: Markus Speak

You listen

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Quote of the Day

"To imply that we're flattening Appalachia is so untrue,
We're creating level land for Appalachia."

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association

Seriously, why don't the Democrats realize what a winning issue the environment is in both legislative and judicial battles. A little noticed item from last month's news:

Court reinstates mountaintop removal permits

RICHMOND, Va. - A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated streamlined permitting for mountaintop-removal coal mines in West Virginia.

Just curious, has any media outlet published a breakdown of that $29B Katrina relief package? Specifically how much of the $29B in relief spending is actually going to relief? We know that that $1.6B is going to other states to reimburse school systems for the added costs of taking in evacuees. That's certainly warranted, but it's not relief. Does it include the $8B in business tax credits? Does it include the $3B for levee repairs?

This might seem trivial, but with congress begrudging Louisiana and Mississippi every penny, it's important. When congress reconvenes next year, some GOP lawmakers will almost certainly claim that they passed a $29B aid bill on top of a $62B aid bill, despite the fact that most of the $62B was returned. Congressional leaders can't be allowed to claim that they given more aid than they have or it will make it extremely difficult to get more aid. Tax credits might encourage long range development, but they're not immediate aid. More importantly, if flood protection money is counted in with reconstruction money, Louisiana's aid request will always look outrageous.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on School Buses

I was happy to see Jarvis DeBerry's great column in Fri.'s Times Picayune, even if it came about two months too late. I don't mean to be that hard on Mr. DeBerry, I've always liked his column, but it's about time somebody in the local media pointed out that following the evacuation plan would have meant evacuating New Orleans when Fla. was threatened. It's unfortunate that nobody at the T/P pointed this out back in Sept. or Oct. when the myth was taking root and the T/P still had a national readership. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the urban legends website did more to dispel some of the early Katrina myths than the T/P did.

Now that Mr. DeBerry has pointed out that the 72hr evacuation plan could not have been followed and others have pointed out the buses didn't have drivers, one can hope that the rest of the nation will finally realize that the images of flooded school buses are totally irrelevant. However, I'd like to add one thing to that discussion. Even if the hurricane center's forecast map had included New Orleans 72 hrs in advance and even if the entire city had heeded the warnings that far in advance, where would the busloads of people have gone? No inland city would have taken the evacuees. Aside from any race and class issues, there's the fact that it would have been irresponsible for any inland city to have agreed to take busloads of evacuees that far in advance; 72 hrs out, a hurricane could hit anywhere along the Gulf Coast. How could any city agree to open its shelters to evacuees from N.O. when it might need them for evacuees from anywhere along the Gulf Coast? If anyone doubts this, they need only recall last year's Hurricane Ivan. It made landfall near the Ala./Fla. border around 2am Sept. 16, the hurricane warning for N.O. wasn't lifted until 10am Sept. 15. If New Orleanians had been bussed to inland shelters, they would have been occupying space needed by Mobile residents. A 72hr evacuation plan seems to be unrealistic, but to fault the mayor and governor for not following it is ludicrous.

Now that Mr. DeBerry is answering absurd spin points that should have been punctured weeks ago, perhaps he can get his colleague Stephanie Grace to explain what she meant when she said:

She failed to ask for the right type of help the right way.

That bit of spin disappeared when the national media and even The Daily Show (but not, to my knowledge, the Picayune) noticed that the White House waited until Sept. 7 to inform the Blanco administration that the request for aid needed to be re-sent. But Republican spin points are harder to kill than Jason from the Friday the Thirteenth movies, so I'm sure we'll hear more of that. When that heppens, we can now at least hope that the T/P will treat that canard with all the disrespect it so richly deserves.

Finally, maybe someone in the local media will finally ask why the administration's enthusiasm for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast began to fade when FEMA came under attack for patronage and no-bid contracts. I doubt it though; it's a dangerous question to ask. Any question that even suggests the slighest connection will be twisted into a cynical assertion. For the record, it would be cynical to assert that calls for a patronage free, open bidding process caused the administration to turn its back on the region. However, at least one high ranking administration official is reported to have said that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." Wouldn't it be naive not to wonder why this administration only started to worry about deficit spending after it began to look like it wouldn't totally control the patronage?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Question for Hal Rogers and Chris Shays

Which number is greater, 48 or 72. Hint: it's not a trick question. From today's Times Picayune:

Rogers waved a copy of the city's disaster plan in the air, saying it mandated a 72-hour lead time. Holding aloft the same report, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told Blanco bluntly, "It should have been mandatory and it should have been done sooner. The fact that you don't recognize that is troubling."

So here we had the two distinguished congressmen waving around a sheet of paper demanding to know why an evacuation wasn't called for 72hrs before landfall. If they had done even a minimal amount of fact checking, they'd have found that Katrina was expected to hit the Florida panhandle 72hrs before landfall. Katrina made landfall at 6:10AM CDT(7:10AM EDT) Aug. 29. Yet in the archives of the Northwest Hemisphere Hurricane Center we find:

Initial: (1800 UTC): 25.4N 81.3W 65KT
12 Hour: 25.4N 83.0W 70KT
24 Hour: 25.4N 84.5W 80KT
36 Hour: 25.8N 86.0W 90KT
48 Hour: 26.8N 86.8W 100KT
72 Hour: 30.5N 86.8W 110KT (at the coast)

New Orleans is 89.95W, Pensacola is 87.12W. So on the floor of the House of Representatives, the two congressmen demanded to know why the mayor and the governor didn't order an evacuation while the hurricane was still expected to make landfall to the east of Pensacola. The official forecast didn't include New Orleans until 4AM Aug. 27 (O.K. that's 50hrs). In the case of Rep. Shays I personally emailed his office to point this out after his Oct. 4 Scarborough Country appearance and I find it hard to believe that neither congressman had a staffer point it out. I have to believe that they were engaging in deliberate clowning and getting away with it. To add to the clown show, the congressman from Pensacola (Jeff Miller) also asked about the failure to use school buses to evacuate before the hurricane. No conjecture involved, the congressman from the Florida panhandle knew that he was engaged in a spurious line of questioning.

Though I thought that both Blanco and Nagin did reasonably well, I have to wonder when one of them will point out how stupid it is to ask why they didn't order an evacuation before the city was directly threatened. I don't expect either one of them to read this blog, but surely someone in one of their offices would have thought of it by now. Also, had that been Democratic congressmen questioning a Republican mayor and governor, does anyone not believe that first Fox and then the rest of the media would have pointed out the absurdity of the charges?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why I Call Him "David the Likable"

I've often wondered whether David Brooks happened across a rerun of the Get Smart episode with Jack Gilford one night early in his career when he was looking for a way to stand out from the pack of conservative commentators. After all, he could never hope to match the ability of a John Fund or a David Horowitz to get away with telling blatant lies. As for as lying shamelessly while engaging in moral posturing, who could hope to equal Bill the Pharisee in that department? Of course, O'Reilly and Limbaugh had the shouting windbag angle covered and the attractive blonde conservative thing was out of the question. I can just imagine the light bulb going off in his head when he saw that Simon the Likable epsode. After all, I'm sure David always was a pleasant enough sort. Who better to seem amiable and open-minded while engaging in blatant distortion?

I mention this half-baked theory of mine because of Brooks' appearance on Sunday's Meet the Press. The man is such a master that he even sounded pleasant when he said:

Look, I don't want to absolve Bush; Bush should be leading more. But let's get to the core issue here which is that when we looked after Katrina, we thought we've got a blank slate here, the city's been wiped out. Let's do some real experimentation. And the core problem is in New Orleans right now, where a lot of us from outside, frankly, thought, let's experiment. But people in New Orleans want their city back. They want the city they had. And so it's made it very difficult to talk about innovation.

When he said that utter nonsense, I wondered if he sounded reasonable to people in other places. Of course, it's utter nonsense to suggest that the people of New Orleans would have already received more aid if they had allowed more experimentation and innovation, but he sounded so nice that I had to wonder if people in other places were buying it.

Still, I can't help wondering how pleasant Mr. Brooks would sound repeating that nonsense to a group of New Orleanians. So I've decided to invite Mr. Brooks to come down and explain to some of my neighbors that they just need to let Mr. Brooks' friends experiment and more money will be forthcoming.

So, how about it David? Just email me, I'll be happy to show you around. It might not even be all that unpleasant; in my immediate neighborhood the damage ranged from the bad to the not so bad. However, if we take a short walk to the other side of The Fairgrounds people might not be so nice. That's getting into Gentilly where the damage ranged from bad to devasting. I can introduce you around there as well; I worked near Dillard university for four years prior to Katrina. I frequently walked to work and nodded or said hello to the people I passed, so I'm at least familar to quite a few people in the area. Unfortunately, they're not all back for me to introduce you to, but I'll be happy to take you around. Otherwise, I'll contact the Gentilly Neighborhood Association or Gentilly Heights Neighborhood Association and try to arrange a meeting. So email me and come down to explain to these people why they should have just let you experiment. Otherwise, please SHUT THE FUCK UP on national TV.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Can They Ever Spend Money Honestly and Wisely?

The $10M bat mitzvah that a Defense Contractor recently held for his daughter:

In terms of sheer outrage, millionaire defense contractor David H. Brooks is hard to top. The New York Daily News recently reported that Brooks spent an estimated $10 million on his daughter's bat mitzvah reception. Aerosmith performed at the reception (reportedly earning a cool two million dollars), and Kenny G, 50 Cent, Tom Petty and The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh also played. Here's the kicker: Brooks has reportedly made more than $250 million in wartime profits as the CEO of DHB Industries-- which has had thousands of defective bulletproof vests recalled by the government!

According to a government investigation into the faulty vests that was uncovered by the Marine Corps Times, DHB's equipment saw "multiple complete penetrations" when 9mm pistol rounds were fired into the vests. One government ballistics expert quoted in the government's findings said he had "little confidence" in DHB's equipment

has been all over the internet , more here. I don't have much to add to the outrage that's been expressed (online) over a war profiteer, who's sold defective equipment, flaunting his wealth. Of course, I'm appalled that more outrage hasn't been expressed in the MSM, but I'm not surprised. I also find it amusing that David the Likeable has a namesake who's profited from the war that he helped promote, but so what?

What I do find amazing is how little attention this item (more here) has received:

WESTBURY, N.Y., Nov.15 -- DHB Industries Inc. (Amex: DHB - News), which principally operates in the field of body armor, announced today that its subsidiary, Point Blank Body Armor has received a new delivery order for $30.1 million from the United States Army for its Interceptor(TM) OTV (Outer Tactical Vests) System.
Commenting on today's announcement, General (Ret.) Larry R. Ellis, DHB's President, said, "We are pleased the U.S. Army continues to see the effectiveness and the value that our advanced body armor provides in this challenging marketplace.

The article did not say whether the general was able to keep a straight face. Frankly, I have no idea what kind of political connections DHB has. But considering that in May the Army recalled over 5,000 of the company's vests and then in November awarded it a new contract for more, one can draw a reasonable inference. Can this administration spend any money without patronage being involved?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

But I Will Find Him When He Lies Asleep, And in his Ear I'll Holla "James Lee Witt!"

O.K., that's a tad over the top but sometimes it's a choice between anger and depression. Reading this:

A week after announcing in a news release that the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness could collect up to $26.1 million for the services provided by James Lee Witt Associates, FEMA withdrew the authorization and questioned whether the state acted properly in awarding the contract.

In a Dec. 5 letter to Col. Jeff Smith, Blanco's official representative to FEMA, federal officials asked whether James Lee Witt Associates got the contract on a noncompetitive basis, and whether any other companies were invited to apply

in the Picayune today, I had to wonder what prompted FEMA's actions. For FEMA to question whether a contract was awarded on a noncompetitive basis would be rich enough, but I believe that contract was awarded in early September (the story doesn't say) when FEMA wasn't bidding anything. Even if not, I can't imagine anyone more qualified than James Lee Witt.

It's possible that this is just another example of FEMA's inconsistency and the matter will be dropped next week. Could be part of the ongoing squabble between the state and Washington, though there may be reason to suspect that some venality is involved:

Even so, James Lee Witt Associates was not the only company considered for the job, according to the letter.
Blanco and her chief counsel, Terry Ryder, contacted several other firms and interviewed Joseph Allbaugh, who was head of FEMA from 2001-03 and is now a consultant.
State officials ultimately decided that Allbaugh, who managed President Bush's 2000 campaign, wasn't cut out for the job.

But I prefer to think that FEMA's action has something to do with the agency's reputation under Witt and then under later directors. Under Witt the agency was, at the very least, considered competent. Now, under David Paulison, the agency has done little to lose its reputation for being, at the very least, dysfunctional. I suspect that in parts of Washington the name James Lee Witt might as well be Mortimer. Don't think I'll bother having that starling taught to speak.

A couple of things to add to my last post. As a reader at Booman Tribune commented:

Not only is there the huge disconnect between half a percent and fifty percent, but there is also the inequity between what constitutes "offshore" boundaries between Florida and Texas (12 mi.) as compared to Louisiana (3 mi). Both of these issues need to be addressed

That's a major issue point for me to have omitted.

The other thing was how strange it seemed reading Lewis Lapham's essay. Apparently, he wrote it in late September or October and it was amazing to realize how much the situation had changed. Only a few weeks ago the big fear was that all of the reconstruction money would go to politically connected firms, and Louisiana would have little to show for the tens of billions that would be spent here. We were so innocent, way back when.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Did Bush Decide to Take His Ball and Go Home?

I just received my December issue of Harper's Magazine , yes mail service is still that far behind, at least in the parts of the city that get mail service. In his notebook, Lewis Lapham made the valid point that "attributions of competent criminal intelligence" toward the Bush administration miss the point. His comment that Bush and his friends more closely resemble spoiled trust funds kids or juvenile delinquents than Jesse James or Commodore Vanderbilt was penetrating, but it didn't go far enough; the behavior of the Bush Administration more closely resembles that of a bratty ten year old. Lapham couldn't foresee it, but when the "Category 5 deluge of fraud, graft, corrupt self-dealing, and outright theft," described in his essay, became threatened by serious calls for accountability and open bidding, the administration began to back away from its pledge to do "whatever it takes" to restore the region. In effect, upon being asked to play by the rules, the Republican leadership decided to take its ball and go home.

Before I go any further, I should say that I don't believe that the entire Republican Party has turned its back on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in a snit over open bidding. I'm sure that some of the GOP leadership is composed of true fiscal conservatives who just don't understand the full extent of the disaster or the degree to which the federal government was responsible. However, when you consider that the fiscal conservatives in the administration or congress hadn't won a major budget battle in five years, the apparent willingness of the administration to walk away from this one without a fight seems somewhat odd.

All that said, there are certain key talking points that have either been missed or underemphasized:

1. Most of the responsibility for the destruction of New Orleans lies with the Federal Government. As poorly as local agencies performed their maintenance responsibilities for the area levees, the Corps of Engineers had ultimate responsibility for the design and construction of the levee system as well as shared responsibility for inspection and maintenance.

2. The costs of coastal reconstruction and flood protection are totally separate matters from any reconstruction aid requests. Yes, the state's original request was bloated, but the $14B for coastal restoration and the estimated $30-60B for levee repairs and upgrades should not be held against a new, scaled down aid request. To put that in perspective, $14B was about the cost of Boston's Big Dig. More on coastal restoration here; for more on both Louisiana's wetlands and my next point see this testimony before congress.

3. If revenue from oil-and-gas drilling in federal waters offshore were treated the same as revenue from on shore drilling on federal lands, Louisiana could shoulder most of the costs of its own reconstruction:

inland states split oil royalties from federal property 50-50 with the federal government. But Louisiana receives relatively little from oil-and-gas drilling occurring in the Outer Continental Shelf in federal waters far offshore.

For instance, Louisiana received less than 0.5 percent of the $5 billion in oil-and-gas royalties generated in federal waters off its coast in 2001.

4. The arguments that had been used for maintaining strict federal control over reconstruction spending -La. officials are too corrupt and incompetent to trust with the money- are now being used to limit reconstruction financing altogether. Any leader who implies that this a good reason for limiting aid should be forced to state it explicitly.

With the above in mind, I urge everyone to sign this petition that I received from The Gulf Restoration Network, as well as this one that Joseph has put up at Blageur. I would also direct your attention to this diary from Booman Tribune. Please write (or copy and paste Julie Smith's letter)your senators and congressman, as well as any of the key leaders listed. I would also add Jeff Bingaman and Chris Shays to the list.

I have no idea where Sen. Bingaman stands on reconstruction, but he has been very vocal in his opposition to a renegotiated offshore revenue deal. He does have some valid reasons, but I think he now has the obligation to be equally vocal in his support of aid for gulf coast reconstruction. He can be reached

I included Chris Shays because on the Oct. 4 edition of Scarborough Country, he blamed the tragedy at the Superdome entirely on Mayor Nagin and used the incompetence of local officials as a rationale for maintaining strict federal control over spending. Now that some of his colleagues are using that as a rationale for severely limiting, rather than monitoring, federal aid, I'm sure that Mr. Shays would welcome the opportunity to clarify his position. From what I gather, he is a moderate Republican who's widely praised for his bipartisanship, right? Emails must go through his site:

Please sign the petitions and try to find time to mail your representatives.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I have to compliment the Picayune on this editorial in today's edition. The closing paragraphs really say all that there is to say:

In this context, the decision to drive the sheet pilings to an even shallower depth of 10 feet is mind-boggling. And one hopes that the multiple experts investigating the levee breach will eventually figure out who suggested that idea.

But there's no question about who bore ultimate responsibility for the design and construction of New Orleans' levee system: the Corps of Engineers

Reading that, I wondered if I had perhaps been too critical in Saturday's posting . Maybe I shouldn't have gotten so worked up about this headline:

Blanco's office scrambled to spin Katrina
E-mails detail effort to ensure feds took blame for slow response

especially since the facts in the story really weren't all that damning. I mean headlines are like advertisements, nobody really takes them seriously, right? Wrong.

A quick glance over at the letters section showed that the top letter was this:

Disaster control seemed secondary to image
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Re: "Blanco's office scrambled to spin Katrina: E-mails detail effort to ensure feds took blame for slow response," Page 1, Dec. 3.

The spin doctors are alive and well on the governor's staff. The memoranda and e-mails after the storm are most revealing of the true importance the governor and her staff place on organizing and managing the aftermath of Katrina.

The actions of her staff, and one would have to think the governor herself, are shameful and will only open this state and its people to more ridicule. To play the political card when dealing with lives and the economic health of the citizens of New Orleans should not be acceptable to any right-thinking individual.

This was not a time for thinking as a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. Instead, all thought and effort should have been directed at recovery from this storm.

However, we cannot be so naive as to think that the total concern is image and re-election. Once again the governor showed her true colors when she failed to support the reform of the levee boards as proposed by Sen. Walter Boasso.

When the gubernatorial election is held two years hence, one can only hope that the voters of Louisiana will remember Gov. Kathleen Blanco's actions, or lack of them, and grant her the title she so richly deserves -- the former governor of Louisiana.

Like I said, most readers don't see past the headline and opening paragraph. That was followed by this story in yesterday's paper about the delay in evacuation buses reaching the city. Though the text of the story made it look like a combined state and federal snafu:

The understanding, Bromell said, was that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had enough buses on the way, and that the military also would airlift people from the Superdome on Chinook helicopters. His staff for the next several hours instead turned their attention to other matters, such as trying to get generators for emergency centers hit by the storm

The headline read:

Roundup of buses for storm bungled
Blanco documents show staff confusion

I can't wait to see the letters in this weekend papers.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Others have already commented on this Kevin Drum post about fading interest in Katrina Reconstruction. Not much to add, but this comment caught my eye:

Given what we now know about that city; its below sea level environment, the risky and costly dikes, and that we now hear the coast there is sinking and NOLA will be flooded within 50-75 years anyway, I say to close it down gracefully.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on December 3, 2005 at 5:35 PM |

"NOLA will be flooded within 50-75 years anyway," It takes a special talent for dissembling to take a possible projection of what could happen ceteris paribus and assert that it's an inevitable outcome. I assumed anyone who posted misleading comments under the name of the Harvey Korman character in Blazing Saddles must have his own blog, so I clicked to see. Apparently he doesn't, but his email address ended in

Since it was 5:35 on a Saturday, he probably wasn't posting on taxpayer time and it's certainly not important. Yet somehow I find it oddly comforting that the executive office has such dedicated staffers that they spread half-truths on their own time.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

First came across this item on Blageur yesterday. If you've forgotten, Boustany did a little flip-flopping on Katrina back in Sept. (links here and here ). Funny how Mr. Boustany's perspective changed when the damage occurred in his own district.

In all honesty, when I started this blog, I wanted to vent about innacurate press coverage(esp. coverage that made it easier to shift blame from the federal to the state or local level) while remaining as non-partisan as possible. But, it just seems obvious that after allegations of cronyism arose about the awarding of reconstruction contracts, the national GOP began to back away from its commitment to reconstruction. In fact, that much is obvious: the federal government was pressured to open up the bidding process and the commitment to reconstruction waned. The only honest question is whether I'm committing the post hoc, ergo prompter hoc logical fallacy in connecting the two facts.

For years now, there's been talk of conflict between so called "big government" conservatives and fiscal conservatives within the Republican Party. Since Bush was elected, the "big government" conservatives have won every major spending battle. Now they seem ready to concede this one without a fight, it may well have no connection to the fact that it now appears that reconstruction won't be a patronage gravy train. Whatever the reason, the fiscal conservatives seem to have won the one battle they should have lost. That being the case, I can't see what good Mr. Boustany or the La. GOP can do for the state of Louisiana.

What's Up at the Times Picayune?

Before I go into detail about today's paper, I should say that I don't believe that the staff writers at the T/P should serve as apologists for either the Blanco or Nagin administration. They should report on the failures of the state, local and federal governments and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, one would hope that the entire media would realize that state's position of having to beg from the federal government makes he said/she said journalism inadequate for post-Katrina reporting. Still, the La. media would only embarrass themselves (and probably the state) if they acted as shamelessly boosterish as the Alaska Media .

That said, by mid-September the T/P's greater appetite for criticizing the city and state over the federal government became so pronounced that it led at least one writer (me,of course) to wonder if its editors had received the proverbial memo . This reluctance to criticize Washington, or correct groundless criticisms of La., continued through October before abating in November. Actually, the T/P has seemed fairly balanced for the last month. It has accurately reported on the failures at all three levels of government, although it still doesn't seem to have regained any desire to counter groundless criticism of the city or state.

Unfortunately, today's coverage of Gov. Blanco's handling of the Katrina crisis raises concerns that the T/P may be returning to its October (pre-Marty Bahamonde?) mindset. In three articles, two on pg.1, the third sandwiched between their pg.14-15 continuations, the paper addresses vaious aspects of the issue. Note: where the print headline or text varies from the online edition, I quote from the print.

The first was a surprisingly unbiased (well, surprising to me, Ive been critical of one of its coauthors, Bill Walsh, in the past) account of various versions of who was responsible for the delay in relief buses reaching the city. It does answer a question I've long had (links here and here , if anyone has that much interest in my opinions) about why nobody in the federal government said anything if there was something wrong with the state's aid request:

Margaret Grant sent an e-mail to Blanco's office Sept. 7 asking that the Sept. 2 letter be resent.

"We found it on the governor's Web site but we need 'an original,' for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making," Grant wrote

Apparently I've been wrong, somebody in the federal government did say "something." She just waited until Sept. 7th to say it.

It's hard to say that the third small story, (sandwiched between the other two) showed a bias, other than a timid bias toward he said/she said journalism. Rather than examine the facts about who was responsible for the delay in National Guard units reaching the city, the reporter is content to merely give the state and federal versions of events. Will someone please tell the staff of the Times Picayune that he said/she said journalism is only appropriate when both sides have equal abilty to get their message out. That's assuming that it's ever appropriate at all.

The bias of the second front page story is unmistable, the headline and opening paragraph say it all:

Blanco's office scrambled to spin Katrina
E-mails detail effort to ensure feds took blame for slow response

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Bush administration were locked in a pitched political battle to shape public opinion about the response to Hurricane Katrina at the same time they were trying to manage the rescue operation, documents released late Friday by the governor's office show.

Actually, the story begins with RNC talking points that it fails to backup. From the above, one would clearly think that the Blanco administration was focused on PR at the height of the crisis. However, the story goes on to say:

"We need to keep working to get our national surrogates to explain the facts -- that the federal response was anemic and had been shortchanged by budget cuts and avoiding responsibilities like protecting Louisiana levees and wetlands," Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin wrote to senior staff on the morning of Sept. 4, six days after Katrina made landfall.

Admittedly, I spent Sept. 4 in a Dothan,Al. motel room, but I sure got the impression that the height of the crisis was over by that point. That's not cherry picking on my part, either. The earliest date I can find mentioned in the article comes in this passage:

The exchange came two days after a private meeting aboard Air Force One in which President Bush asked Blanco to cede control over the National Guard forces in Louisiana to the federal government. Blanco refused.

Would even Bush's most ardent supporters, or Blanco's most fervent detractors, argue that by Sept. 2, federal help should not have already arrived? If the T/P is going to use its headlines to proclaim GOP proganda, it might want to check the text of the accompanying story.

If that seems like an overreaction to a headline and opening paragraph, remember that that's what most people absorb from a story. Also, I'm reminded of the headline of the OP-ED piece that the Picayune's Stephanie Grace published on Oct. 13 (not available on line):

It's time to care what others think

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teratogens, Pharmacists and Plan B

I've decided to put a more detailed response to Wilfred McClay's Commentary article on hold, as this is matter of some personal interest to me.

I began taking Peg-Intron with Ribavirin for Hepatitis C the last weekend of July. Not being able to locate my doctor for a month (while I was on treatment that calls for careful monitoring) made me aware of some evacuation related problems that still need to addressed, but that's not why I mentioned Ribavirin. It seems that Ribavirin is a teratogen , which means that it might interfere with the normal development of a foetus and result in the loss of a pregnancy , a birth defect , or a pregnancy complication . In the case of Ribavirin, both female patients and the female partners of male patients are at risk. I was told twice, rather emphatically to use at least two forms of birth control for six months after ending treatment, because the risk is that great.

All this leads us to Plan B. The recent matter involving four Walgreens pharmacists refusing to dispense Plan B is the second such item to get national attention in only a month. Still, I've yet to hear anyone ask these Pharmacists for Life how they honor my Ribavirin (other teratogens include Lithium, anti-seizure medications and chemotherapy) prescription yet refuse my girlfriend's Plan B prescription. Better yet, I'd like to ask them how they could refuse my wife's (if I were married) prescription. After all, accidents do happen, even in good Christian marriages.

Now, I don't believe for one minute that I've stumbled upon some magic bullet that will end the debate. The contradiction between dispensing known teratogens and not dispensing Plan B is far from complete. But it would be nice to know that these pharmacists have at least thought through their position. A little research seems to indicate that most haven't.

However, raising this subject could do some good. For one thing, it could make it easier for pharmacists in conservative communities to resist pressure to not dispense Plan B. More importantly, the national drug store chains could use it to justify a policy requiring their pharmacists to dispense it.

Finally, if Pharmacists for Life own site doesn't make them look bad enough, Media Matters has this must read post.

Why October's News Is Still Important

I suppose it would have been naive to believe that Marty Bahamonde's testimony put an end to the Katrina "Blame Game." We can probably expect more efforts by the administration and its backers to blame almost everything on the state and city, at least until the Katrina Committee issues its report. Today's online edition of Commentary may have given us a glimpse of what's to come:

In fairness, one has to grant that Bush did poorly in the first test of symbolic leadership: the need to appear before the public quickly and decisively and reassuringly. But none of the other accusations was deserved, and in sum they amount to one of the most breathtaking bum raps in memory

Whatever else you may say about them, you certainly have to admit that those writers over at Commentary sure are fair. Being the fair person that he is, the author (a former Tulane professor) goes on to add:

If villains are to be sought, then, they have to be sought among officials like Kathleen Blanco, the hapless Louisiana governor who was late in ordering an evacuation, late in requesting federal troops, and late in getting the Louisiana National Guard onto the street, who declined to permit President Bush to federalize rescue and relief efforts, and whose own Louisiana Department of Homeland Security inexplicably barred the Red Cross from bringing water, food, and health supplies to the stricken New Orleanians camped out on bridge overpasses and in the two megashelters. Or Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, who also waited too long to evacuate and failed to implement the city's own evacuation plan—which, as officials knew, was the only real defense the city had against catastrophic storms—allowing hundreds of municipal school buses under his direct control to sit idly in a parking lot.

I think that excerpt should explain why my next few posts may seem devoted to old news. Before going over why each point is either false or exaggerated, I suppose it would only be fair to write the editors of Commentary and ask them a few simple questions. "Did the author (Dr. Wilfred McClay) check to see when the forecast path for the hurricane shifted to include New Orleans?" and "Did he then stop to consider how long it would have taken to evacuate more than 100,000 people by bus?" are only two that come to mind.

In all fairness, I should point out that Dr. McClay also wrote that:

Bush, for his part, seems determined to thwart this by doing whatever it takes, and spending whatever it takes, to maintain a huge federal role in the post-Katrina reconstruction

This can only lead me to believe that the piece was written at some time before today's publication date, so perhaps the professor has had time to rethink his position.

However, I don't believe it's the least bit unfair to point out that on Sept. 5th (when the blame was all attached to the Bush administration) Dr. McClay seemed to think that it was childish to seek to blame anyone at all.

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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