Sunday, February 26, 2006

From today's Times Picayune:

The Senate committee elicited comments from top Pentagon officials that Blanco was right to have resisted pressure from the White House to partially federalize the state's National Guard.

Um, Clancy. If you didn't see him pronounce his verdict on TV, you wouldn't understand..

Quick note on the Katrina Reports: "everybody made mistakes" avoids the passive voice. Other than that, isn't it basically the same as "mistakes were made?"

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tax cuts; Katrina Related and Nationwide

So let me get this straight: tax cuts don't contribute to the federal deficit because they pay for themselves. Unless you're talking about tax cuts targetted towared Katrina Reconstruction; in that case, it's money out of the federal budget. Seems like an obvious contradiction.

I don't claim any great originality or insight for pointing that out. I'm sure we've all mentioned it in passing, but I've always considered it a minor matter or even just a glib conversational point. But we're talking about making hundreds of billions, actually trillions, of dollars in tax cuts permanent because they pay for themselves. Yet we're told that 10-20 billion dollars in Katrina related tax cuts are money that rest of the nation is spending on the Gulf Coast. Like I said, at first glance it seems like a clever conversational point at best. Actually, though, pointing out a trillion dollar contradiction is a lot more tham bon mot. Either tax cuts take money out of the national treasury or they don't. There's been linkage between Katrina and the tax cut debate, but I don't believe that that particular point has been made very forcefully.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tax Cuts and Mandatory Payouts

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that everyone who blogs or comments on blogs should take the same time to write at least one MSM outlet about the administration's inflated aid claims. Also, said that I received at least an attentive response form Deborah Howell (the WAPO's ombudsman). I just noticed that Deborah Howell forwarded a response from a reprter on the story the same day--I rarely use that gmail account. Unlike yahoo or hotmail, gmail bundles together all responses to same mail, still can't believe I missed it-- so I just responded this afternoon. But am I missing something? I don't like posting emails without permission, especially since I didn't write as a blogger, but the following seems like it would be okay to post:

There is debate as the writer states over whether the administration ought
to be credited for money spent under a mandatory program like flood
insurance, which is owed to insurance holders regardless of congressional

There is also debate over whether tax cuts should be counted as aid.

In both cases, however, the impact on taxpayers and the budget is real, in
a truth-in-budgeting sense.

A final wrinkle is, regarding the $17B in flood insurance borrowing
authority, that the administration has not yet disclosed if it plans to use
some of the $18B supplemental it has requested to pay off some of that
borrowing. If so, it's a stronger argument to count such dollars as new
aid, although the underlying argument the writer raises is not changed. An
explanation on this last point is expected next week

A couple of points. As I said I just replied to Ms. Howell to forward to Mr. Hsu this afternoon, so no response as of yet. The numbers seem to be off slightly--it was $67B+18B, not 68B+17B. I have to agree on the tax cuts, much as I hate to say it. The budget impact is the same with tax cuts as direct spending, although I would like to see the numbers get enough scrutiny that the Republicans actually had to acknowledge that. I've avoided the issue, even though I think it's the stupidest way to give the aid, because it is money out of the entire nation's budget.

Can someone explain to me how the flood insurance money is the same? Yes, it's money out of the federal budget just as the actual aid is, but as the reporter says:

which is owed to insurance holders regardless of congressional

It's not an optional expense. So, yes, it is money out of the federal budget that goes to the Gulf South, but so is my mother's social security check. My tax refund will be also. I suspect that reporters often over analyze in the interest of balance, at least that's what I make of that last paragraph. It's been two weeks and I don't believe we've heard an explanation of the last point about the supplemental yet.

modified 2/27: names taken out, to avoid quoting without permission.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Martin O'Malley

If you ever want to a shut up a know-nothing who says that a white candidate can't get elected mayor of a majority black city, remember the name. It's probably not all that relevant to New Orleans politics, if only because of our open primary system. However:

In 2004, O’Malley was re-elected in the general election with 88% of the vote.

That's in a city with a similar racial makeup to pre-Katrina New Orleans:

White persons, percent, 2000 (a) 31.6%
Black or African American persons, percent, 2000 (a) 64.3%
American Indian and Alaska Native persons, percent, 2000 (a) 0.3%
Asian persons, percent, 2000 (a) 1.5%


No real reason to bring it up now, but with all the talk of racial politics...Well, it was good for at least one bar bet before I stopped drinking a couple of years ago.

The Anniston Star Sets the Times Straight

I can only assume that the following from the Anniston Star is in response to yesterday's New York Times:

In struggling to return to their feet after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi and Louisiana are not in a race. Good thing, too, for Louisiana, which in almost every way trails Mississippi in crucial recovery benchmarks...

The consensus is that, following the storm, Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., moved faster than his counterpart to the west, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La.

Barbour’s former life as a Washington mover and shaker in Republican circles surely helped in securing federal dollars. However, money gets you only so far when it comes to better planning and organization.

If you missed yesterday's Times (I believe the article was also printed in the T/P):

But it was also probably beneficial that Mr. Barbour, as chairman of the Republican National Committee in the 1990's and later as a prominent lobbyist, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mr. Hastert and other House Republicans.

Either way, the logjam broke and the House agreed to the Senate's higher number, $29 billion. In the process, Mr. Barbour helped ensure that Mississippi got nearly as much housing money as Louisiana, even though his state had far less damage.

I wonder how many conservative bloggers have linked approvingly to the Anniston editorial. Wonder if some conservative blogger even has a similarily titled post. It also brings up the fact that the "that part of the world" attitude toward New Orleans and south Louisiana is probably stronger in the rest of the south than in the nation as a whole.

Well. I'd advise the editors in Anniston to read this editorial in today's Picayune:

But Louisiana has had a tougher go in Washington than Mississippi has. That may be largely because our leaders failed to present a unified front. But it is partly because Haley Barbour can get the House speaker into a post-midnight meeting.

But reading the following (in the same editorial):

In the process, Mississippi ended up with almost as much money for housing as Louisiana, even though this state has far more storm-damaged houses

along with the following (from today's other editorial):

And because the catastrophic failure of a levee system built by the U.S. government caused the flooding here, this region arguably has a stronger claim to federal dollars than other areas of Louisiana.

brings up up a question--when are we going to start talking about 100% as much as we talk about 70%?

Yes, it's right to remind people that 70% (or whatever the current estimate is) of the storm damaged or destroyed homes in the region are in Louisiana. But 100% of the homes damaged by flooding caused the failure of the federally built levees, or caused by the federally built MRGO, were located here.

BTW, the above was not intended as another shot at the Times Picayune. I've probably carried that hostility a little (just a tad) too far. But I stand behind what I premised that hostility on.
Since the anger has always come through even when I've tried to explain it calmly, I'll give it one last try: For whatever reasons, starting around the second week of September and lasting into October, the MSM sought to "balance" its early criticism of the Bush administration with criticism of state and local officials. Unfortunately, during this time period, several Katrina myths and misconceptions went largely unchallenged, i.e. the images of flooded buses. My position is simply that during the critical period when those misconceptions were taking root, the local media was seeking the same "balance" as the national media. Hopefully, that's a rational sounding explanation for why I've often seemed so hostile toward the local media.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I can't be the only blogger who's been tempted to have a post a week making fun of stupid letters to the editor; that would be too easy. Had to love that recent one about not consolidating the assessors' offices because it would mean that some people would have to fight bridge traffic to drop off their homestead exemptions, though.

Friday's paper had one that deserved attention for positive reasons. It was from somebody in the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, brought up a question I hadn't considered:

I asked about whether the system of continuous levees across the coast envisioned in the Barrier Plan would work at cross purposes with deltaic restoration, and whether, given the time and expense required to complete it, this was the best approach to pursue.

Here's the link to the group's website.

On a totally different note: was I the only person who laughed at the opening two words of The DaVinci Code : "renowned curator?" So how many times today have you heard the term "legendary sportscaster?" I know that's going to get groans and I know that Curt Gowdy was a great guy and great at his job, but "renowned curator", "legendary sportscaster?" Maybe some of us can aspire to "illustrious blogger" after all.

Yo, Clancy

There's something I've been meaning to ask you about. Between your weekly column in the state's largest alternative weekly, your editorship of the same paper and your frequent TV appearances, you're one of the most influential opinion makers in metro N.O., if not the entire state. So why do you so often seem to put about as much thought (forget research) into your opinions as a bar room pontificator or know-it-all neighbor? Or state your opinion on a debatable issue as if it were received wisdom?

Case in point, I saw you on TV6 news giving your opinions on Blanco and Nagin at some point during the last week of October, right before your paper resumed publication. You said that Blanco's decision not to federalize the response or the National Guard was unquestionably (you might have said "hands down") a terrible mistake,etc. Well Clancy, that floored me. I like to think of myself as reasonably well informed and up on current debates, but apparently I wasn't in that case. I thought that was still a subject of some debate. "But," I thought, "if Clancy says that debate's been settled, I guess it's been settled. Anyway, I'm sure he'll explain it further when Gambit resumes publication." Well as far as I know, that's still a subject of some debate, and, as far as I know, you still haven't backed up that statement. Since those decisions involved human lives opinions about them shouldn't be stated as fact.

Actually, considering that her growing reputation for weakness and incompetence is perhaps her biggest obstacle to effectively governing, you should be able to back up all such criticisms. I'm most certainly not saying that you shouldn't criticize her at all. I've only found myself defending someone that I'd otherwise be very critical of because of criticisms like that one or the failed to ask for the right type of help the right way canard.

Now you seem to give Ron Forman sole credit for the zoo's turnaround. You're a couple of years older than me, and I have vague memories of the "zoo is for you/ parks are for people" fight. Surely you knew that no one person was responsible, and don't give me that "well that's the perception, and perception is reality" crap. A little research showed that it wasn't the case. Although in this case the research did actually involve going to the library, since so little was available on line. I'm not saying that Forman doesn't have some impressive credentials, he does. But this is too important an election to make anyone out to be Annie Sullivan to the city's Helen Keller.

Well, I suppose that it is your paper and you can write what you want to. But if you're just going to give opinions as fact, you might want consider blogging. Actually, bloggers at least do internet searches. Sometimes we even go the library.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Yeah, What Schroeder Said

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I wanted to be circumspect since this is a rather important mayor's race. I could have done a much quicker and shorter hatchet job, but this is actually meant more as a yellow light than a red.)

AND THEN SOME. I made the first comment (on the linked post) before I saw any of the "Forman for Mayor" TV spots, the second after. The ad campaign has had an influence on my opinion of Forman's candidacy: I've gone from probably won't vote for him to almost certainly won't*.

Before getting into the details, I should say that I've long had decidedly mixed feelings about the Audubon Nature Institute (ANI). First off, it's undeniable that first the zoo and then the aquarium were two of the few well-run successful public institutions that the city had to be proud of. However, I've also agreed, to some degree with critics who accused the ANI of being another nonprofit organization that's taken on the characteristics of a for profit corporation.

I might come back to that theme in a later post, but this will primarily be about why I suspected that Forman was overrated, but I now think that he's a dishonest self-promoter. To begin with, I think that he's given too much credit for the zoo's turn around. At the same time, I couldn't really blame him for the common tendency to find one person to praise or blame when things go well or poorly. Still, I couldn't get too enthusiastic about a candidacy largely based on the premise that one person was responsible for the zoo's turn around.

Take, for example, this near endorsement from last week's Gambit Weekly:

Forman has a long track record of tackling tough assignments and getting them done. Think turning one of the world's worst zoos into one of the best -- and when he began he knew nothing about animals. Think Aquarium of the Americas, which he carved out of highly coveted Dock Board space at the foot of Canal Street -- when he knew nothing about being a developer.

In those instances, and others, Forman started with a vision, a network of committed contributors and professionals, and his own determination to bring the best team available to the task. He's as persistent, and as resilient, as any man you'll ever meet.

Hey, it's not Forman's fault if DuBos gives too much credit (but really Clancy, you should know better). But, a quick review of some facts is in order (couldn't find online sources, cf. Audubon Park: An Urban Eden Ron Forman and Joseph Logsdon, pp.132-138):

In 1967 Zoological Society of Louisiana was formed "to maintain, develop and improve conditions of zoological...where animals are exhibited to the public in the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana." By 1970 it had over 200 members and had changed its name to the Audubon Zoological Society to concentrate on the Audubon zoo and it brought in the curator of the St. Louis Zoo to do a professional study. His critique brought about pressure for the zoo "clean up or close up. This led to another study underwritten by the RosaMary Foundation (composed of members of some of the city's wealthiest and most prominent families) to draw up recommendations for reforms. The 1971 study drew up plans for establishing the Audubon Zoo as the premier zoo in the southeastern U.S. A 1972 referendum funded these reforms:

"On November 7, 1972, voters demonstrated popular support for the new Audubon Zoo... But the biggest hurdle in the park's history had been overcome. The voting public had finally endorsed the kind of funding that was required for major developments in Audubon Park."**

Clearly, the groundwork for the zoo's transformation was laid between 1967 and 1972. However, Forman didn't become executive director of the zoo until 1977. As I remember it, the zoo was already a source of local pride by 1977. To be fair, Forman did join the zoo as assistant director in 1973, but the turnaround had already begun. Also, he was brought aboard for his business background, not his expertise in running zoos. As DuBos said, "when he began he knew nothing about animals."

Still, the above merely amounts to an argument for curbing some of the Forman as miracle worker enthusiasm. He obviously has run a wildly successful (quasi)commercial enterprise that's also been a job creator and engine of economic development. When DuBos praises Forman's "hallmark energy, vision and salesmanship," he might be overstating the vision, but he's certainly right about the energy and salesmanship. At the very least, he's been a highly successful CEO.

The last point's a valid one, but I think that it's often overstated when corporate businessmen enter politics (yes, I'm saying that the ANI is for, all practical purposes, a highly successful corporation). Seems like the current mayor brought a business background into politics, and don't we have a CEO president or an MBA president, or something? Also, hard as it is to run any organization during a period of great growth, that's a vastly different challenge from turning around a desperately bad situation. Throw in the criticisms that ANI has turned into a corporation that exists more to generate revenue than to serve the public or that it's become out of touch and autocratic, using its exalted reputation to silence opposition***, and you have more reason for giving the Forman candidacy a second thought.

However, those are arguments for being cautious about jumping on the Forman bandwagon; they're not overwhelming arguments for voting against him. That's pretty much where I stood before this weekend's ad blitz, which provoked a WTF reaction for two reasons.

The first was curiosity over campaign finances. Either he has a very large campaign chest, or he's gambling it all on a shock and awe campaign to grab the early momentum and scare away other candidates or their potential backers.

The bigger WTF was more a matter of "who does he think he's fooling?" On the claim that his leadership turned the zoo from a national disgrace to a national treasure, see the above. On the claim that when others said it couldn't be done, his leadership built the aquarium and brought families back downtown, I can only say that we don't all have amnesia.

Time for another local history recap. Starting with the World's Fair (if not before), there was a surge in development along the riverfront and in the French Quarter most of the activity shifted from the Rampart side to the Decatur side. The Jax Brewery opened in 1984, the Riverwalk in 1986. By the time the aquarium opened in 1990, people weren't afraid of that area becoming abandoned, they were afraid of it becoming too congested. The main controversy over the aquarium was over location. There was some over building it at all, but mainly the opposition thought that it was putting resources into an area that was already getting overdeveloped. As a catalyst for economic development, any of the other sites had much greater upside. Personally, I thought that some of the other sites (lakefront, east N.O., other end of Canal street) were a little risky, but I certainly thought that a location further up or down river would be preferable. At any rate, the decision to put the aquarium at the foot canal street was, more than anything else, the safe short term business decision. That fact it was carved out of highly coveted Dock Board space at the foot of Canal Street , says more about the ANI's political pull and economic muscle than Forman's vision or leadership. It certainly didn't bring families back downtown.

Maybe I'm overreacting to two typical campaign exaggerations. But it's usually a mistake to paint someone as a savior, and I'm always leery of people who paint themselves that way. But like I said, this was actually intended more as a yellow light than a red.

*I should say up front that I have the same bias against Forman that I have against Nagin or that I would have against Scott Cowen for mayor-- I question the values of any executive who maintains his own rate of pay, and the pay of top aids, while making massive layoffs. That may be unrealistic; it's SOP for most corporations, but I would expect something else from governments and nonprofits. It may even be "class warfare", I think it has more to do with values and resource allocation. In Nagin's defense, his pay cut would be mainly symbolic, but he has retained a large upper level staff (at full pay) when the lower level layoffs are expected to be long term. In Forman's defense, the ANI will probably back up to nearly full staff more quickly, but he has laid off 700 employees while maintaining a nearly half million dollar yearly income.

** There was loud opposition, but public opinion was strongly in favor of the zoo. It does give an interesting perspective to the common criticism that the ANI s aloof and out of touch : "This tactic, like that of harkening back to the controversy over the now universally acclaimed zoo, is Mr Forman's stock in trade. It suggests that public opinion is useless and irrelevant, and that because the Audubon Institute was right once it will forever be right in the future and any opposition is necessarily ill-advised."
In other words, because ANI was once right to work with the public, it's now right when it disagrees with public criticism. Obviously Save Audubon Park has its own biases.

***For more on this see Schroeder's many posts or go to Full disclosure: I've been leaning that way at least since they replaced the basketball court at Avenger field with tennis courts. Who knows, had I been a good enough basketball player to hang at Lawrence Square, I might have had a much higher opinion of ANI. Nah, that was one thing out of many.

Friday, February 17, 2006

56 hours and $85 billion

So the Katrina Commission report (lengthy pdf.) says that the state and city had adequate warning 56 hrs before landfall. That 56hr. claim wouldn't be objectionable in and of itself, one could reasonably say that the state had anywhere from 50 to 56 hrs advance warning. I'll go into more detail about the report after I've had more time to thoroughly go over it. At a quick glance I found it odd that Mississippi and Alabama were praised for issuing mandatory evacuation orders on Aug. 28, while Louisiana was criticized for waiting until the 28th (I know, you could object that that's too facile a criticism, but there's a counter objection. more later). By my reckoning, the state had 50hrs notice. The difference in 50 and 56 isn't major, although when you're talking 72hrs evacuation time, it matters. But the point is that, with the same party controlling all three branches of the federal government, we can expect any federal reports to the use the estimates that best make the feds look good. In this case, it's obvious where making the state look bad might be in Washington's interest. The point though, isn't who was at fault; I was getting to a broader point about any numbers that we get from Washington.

If the 56hr figure is merely a case of cherry picking figures, the $85B goes beyond that--almost to the point of making stuff up. So why am I bringing up stuff that every blogger in town (esp. da po'blog) has been over, and that the Times Picayune has finally caught on to? Well for one thing, I suspect that the $85B which is padded right off the top (in addition to the other padding) by $18.5 in flood insurance costs, will soon be $100B padded by $24B*. Today's T/P article on the new aid request only gave a partial breakdown of the new $19B.

Also, if you look at the stories that do mention the fact that flood insurance payments are being counted as aid, you'll see that, in each case, it's buried several paragraphs into the piece, links here, here, and here. That might be my own personal quibble, the stories do detail all the ways in which the aid figure is overstated. That's just the problem, the national media had already noticed the ways in which the $67B figure might be overstated, and apparently decided it was just a minor argument over details. By including the flood insurance with the other questionable aid figures, the T/P (and the national media almost certainly pays attention to the Picayune's Katrina coverage) gives it the appearance of being just another wonkish detail. In fact, padding the aid figure with flood insurance payments went beyond being just another exaggeration, to being an act of pure chutzpah. Or it should have required some chutzpah, but the administration new that La. officials couldn't really get bogged down in that argument and it also knew that it could rely on the rules of he said/she said reporting to keep the press from taking the initiative in questioning its figures.

I can still remember my jaw dropping when I first heard Bush toss out the $85B figure (I thought he said $86B at the time). To me it was that noticeable. Prior to that speech, even some national commentators had observed that, in this case, $62B and $29B only added up to $67B, and that the $67B wasn't all exactly aid. But that extra $18B (I thought 19B) bothered me enough to go through some light mental gymnastics. Other bloggers noticed it, and it didn't take da po'blog long to figure out where the extra money came from. That's why I wonder why it took the T/P so long to show any notice.

Not to suggest that a bunch of Keystone reporters work on Howard Avenue, or that the T/P should pay some local bloggers a finder's fee (it would be nice, though), but when reporter's don't ask obvious questions it's similar to dogs not barking. In the past I thought it might have been corporate pressure or fear of the dreaded liberal bias charge rather than mere incompetence at work. I think it probably has more to do with he said/she said journalism and the fact that local papers don't want to appear to be home town boosters. However, it still leads me to repeat some points that I've made before, but this time I'll try bold print:

This administration and its congressional allies go way beyond selective presentation of facts--almost to the point of making stuff up.

State and local officials are really not in a position to refute most of the false or distorted claims of federal officials.

Because of the above, the drawbacks of he said/she said reporting are mutiplied in the case of Katrina coverage.

While Katrina and rebuiding are national issues, the Times Picayune is, to some degree, a national paper. To a lesser degree that could be said of the local media in general.

Because of the above, I do think that it's incumbent on the local media to point out (to really point out,not just say "critics say") that including flood insurance payments as aid goes beyond the usual spin to being an act of brazen distortion. It would also make the seemingly wonkish debate over how much of the rest of the aid is actually aid seem a lot less wonkish.

*update 2/18: I see from da po'blog that increased funding for for the NFIP was less than originally expected. It's still the most obvious example of the padded figure. And I still expect to hear terms like "bottomless pit" or "100 billion dollar rathole."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Has anyone come up with good reasons for opposing levee board consolidation? Like most people, I think, I've assumed that most of the opposition was led by people who benefited from the patronage associated with the various boards, and that they preyed on parochial fears and resentments to make their case.

However, I've been reluctant to get too worked up about it because I remember so many other cases where the overwhelming consensus opinion turned out to be wrong, or at least questionable--creation of DHS, expiration of the special counsel law, even NAFTA (I know public opinion was pretty well split, but "elite" opinion wasn't and it was obvious where that argument was going). I could go on, but in all of those cases, it wasn't hard to find well reasoned opposing arguments. Do such arguments even exist in the case of the levee boards?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Don't try this stunt at home

Or at homestead, or homestead exemption, or homestead assessment or something. Who's going to be the first knuclehead to suggest that a compromise that was good enough for the levee boards should be good enough for the New Orleans assessors offices?

Another Step in the Right Direction

Some of the money has gone to municipal and business loans than will have to be repaid. And a substantial portion of the overall sum — about $17 billion — has gone to pay flood insurance claims that were at least partly backed by premiums paid over the years by homeowners.

Critics also say the administration shouldn’t be counting in its overall total the $18.5 billion in additional borrowing authority that Congress has granted the National Flood Insurance Program. After all, they say, home and business owners pay premiums for their coverage.

That was on the T/P website tonight, didn't see it in today's print edition. I'll be curious to see if there's more detail in tomorrow's print edition. Especially on this:

According to the Senate Budget Committee, the $67 billion Congress passed in three hurricane-related supplemental appropriations bills last year is more than was committed to the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake ($15.5 billion), Hurricane Andrew in 1992 ($17.7 billion) or the 2001 terrorist attacks ($43.9 billion).

Mainly, what were the comparable damage estimates for those disasters. I'd watch for the damage estimates being adjusted for inflation, but not the apprpriations, so that the need will look greater relative to the relief that was given.

I have to ask, can this administration make any claims about Katrina aid without engaging in deliberate hyperbole:

“The president has taken action to direct as many resources as possible to the Gulf Coast within his authority under the Stafford Act and above that, has committed billions of federal dollars to the long-term rebuilding efforts in the region,” said Nicol Andrews, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Those commitments dwarf federal funding for any other natural disaster, including 9/11, many times over.”

Maybe it's just a subtle pitch for increased funding for math education. Uh, Ms. Andrews, $67B is not many times $43.9B.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Exact Quote from Previous Post

Well, as a matter of politics, it can do it, because, frankly, Department of Homeland Security was foisted onto the White House. They didn‘t really want to do it anyway. And it‘s a creature of Congress.

I haven't heard that spin yet but expect to hear it from conservative commentators. Reporters will just say, "administration officials say..."

Friday, February 10, 2006

From the DHS web site

"The President proposes to create a new Department of Homeland Security, the most significant transformation of the U.S. government in over half-century by largely transforming and realigning the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland. The creation of a Department of Homeland Security is one more key step in the President’s national strategy for homeland security."

-From the Department of Homeland Security June 2002 - George W. Bush

That's hardly taken out of context;DHS' timeline of its early history gives the impression that it was an administration initiative:

Sep 20 President addresses Congress, announces creation of the Office of Homeland Security and appointment of Governor Tom Ridge as Director

Earlier tonight on MSNBC's Countdown, I heard Richard Wolffe of Newsweek say that the White House was opposed to the creation of the department, it was foisted on them by congress (will update to include quote when transcript becomes available Mon.). I'm not a regular reader of Newsweek, I have no idea what bias, if any, Wolffe tends to show. However, he is Newsweek's chief White House correspondent; it's a safe bet that he hears the desired administration spin. Obviously, that won't be the official White House line, just the line put out by conservative pundits and unnamed officials. I'll be shocked, however, if we don't start hearing it by Sunday's talk shows, certainly by Monday.

It's been obvious from the start of the Katrina investigation that there were three main places where blame could be assigned: state and local officials, federal officials, or unforeseen problems caused merging FEMA into DHS. Now that the GOP is going to be forced into blaming the hasty governmental reorganization, it will be interesting to see the spin on the creation of DHS. Remember, during the last election the Democrats claimed that it was their idea and the White House only went along in response to public opinion. The White house replied that that was nonsense because the President doesn't govern according to the polls and that several Democrats opposed the final bill.

On balance I found the Republican version more credible; to think otherwise you'd have to believe that Bush governs according to the polls. And we all know that Bush doesn't govern according to the polls. Just ask the editorial page writers of The Wall Street Journal:

In contrast, the Bush media model has been to ignore the polls, skip the spin and govern for results.

Or ask Scott McClellan:

Let me first correct you in terms of saying that we don't ever look at polls. We don't govern based on polls. The President does not govern based on polls. The President governs based on a clear set of principles and a clear set of beliefs.

Better yet, ask the President himself:

You know, if a President tries to govern based upon polls, you're kind of like a dog chasing your tail. I don't think you can make good, sound decisions based upon polls. And I don't think the American people want a President who relies upon polls and focus groups to make decisions for the American people.

Finally, only a conspiracy theorist or rabid Bush hater would believe that an official goverment web site would distort history to make the President look good, right?

All sarcasm aside, it's a safe bet that most of the official blame for the Katrina problems will fall on unforeseen (unforeseeable?) organizational problems caused by creation of DHS. It will be interesting to see four things:

1) How far the administration will go to change its version of the creation of DHS from it having been an administration initiative to it having been a bipartisan congressional initiative.

2) Whether the media will question the inconsistencies in this new version of events, including the fact that it would mean that DHS has been putting out pro-administration spin.

3) Whether the Democrats will be smart enough and aggressive enough to point out the above, especially if the media doesn't.

4) Whather DHS changes its official web site and publications.

We'll start seeing the answers to the first three Sunday morning. Keep your eyes on the DHS web site.

Best Take Yet on Michael Brown Testimony

From Talking Points Memo:

"If you aren't watching the Michael Brown senate hearings, you just missed a real treat. Sen. Norm Coleman (R), doofus senator from Minnesota, just managed to get his butt kicked by disgraced former FEMA Director Michael Brown.

That's a singular accomplishment."

The GOP Doesn't Engage in Voter Suppression

Yeah Right. Before I hear any knee jerk objections, poorer people are still more likely to vote Democrat. Does anyone honestly think that one's financial situation doesn't affect his chances of getting convicted, or having to make a plea, if he does get in legal trouble?

They'll stoop to anything to turn those purple states red.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The associated press gets it right

Well, mostly right:

The Bush administration has requested and received congressional approval so far for 68 billion dollars for disaster relief and recovery, as well as 18.5 billion for flood insurance. White House officials have said another 18 billion dollars in aid will be requested, of which a portion will be devoted to strengthening New Orleans levees.*

Don't know where the extra billion came from and it still gives the impression that flood insurance money was somehow optional aid sought by the administration and granted by congress. But it's a step in the right direction.

Maybe I'm being alarmist, but I'm afraid that $100 billion is going to be played for maximum shock value in certain quarters. Just imagine the exclamation points in their voices everytime Rush, Sean, Tom Tancredo etal. say, "100 billion dollars, it's abottomless pit." Though it will ultimately need to reach $100B, especially once levee repairs are included, let's not allow the administration to claim to have reached that milestone when it's nowhere near it.

We all know that the alleged $85B contains $18B to fund the flood insurance program (see da po'blog. I missed it the first time, just noticed the particularly egregious error MSNBC made in one of the links in that post). If I'm correct, the new $18B is going to turn out to include another $5.6B to fund NFIP. Once the $85B (soon to be over $100B) is shown to be exaggerated by $18.5 to $24B, it will be a lot easier to question whether money to repair military bases or faultily constructed levees should be counted as aid. But once the $100B is accepted, every additional dollar will be that much harder to get.

With that in mind, I challenge everyone who spends time blogging or even posting comments on blogs to email at least one mainstream media source. It's quick and easy; you don't need to compose a pithy letter to the editor designed to be published--I suspect a dozen quick emails to a public editor get more attention than one missive worthy of Thomas Paine. If you didn't like the sound in Bush's voice when he said $85B is a lot, imagine when it's $100b. So once again, the email addresses for the WAPO's ombudsman and NYT's public editor:

Byron Calame, public editor of the NYT:

Deborah Howell, WAPO ombudsman:

Actually, I only received an automted response from the NYT, Deborah Howell at least indicated that she would send it to the person in charge of New Orleans coverage, for whatever that's worth.

With CNN or MSNBC, you can pick a particular show or the entire network, it helps to cite a particular example. The ones I wrote about are now a week old.

*longer version of AP story in print edition of today's T/P, couldn't find it online.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

couple of good links you may have already seen:

From The Village Voice

From The Frown

Funding for Corps of Engineers cut 11.2% in new Bush budget.

via Daily Kos via Majikthise.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Since its analysts tried to blame the Democrats for Ted Stevens' cynical attempt to tie Katrina relief to ANWR, I've pretty much stayed away from BayouBuzz. But I came across this via another blog:

Perhaps the most volatile issue on the call could be the consolidation of New Orleans City government. This issue involves jobs and institutions. At issue is the merging the civil and criminal courts, clerks and sheriffs and the municipal courts. Many believe that due to the lack of population those functions should be now simplified and made more cost-effective.

Today's T/P had this in an editorial:

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.
The drive to combine multiple offices isn't just the obsession of fussy government-reform types. It will also save money -- over time in some cases, almost immediately in others. By one estimate, just merging the assessors' offices would save at least $800,000 a year.

The city can fill a lot of potholes and cut a lot of grass for $800,000.

I agree with both but wonder why they stop at that. Anyone who's read this blog in the past probably knows where I'm going from here. After mentioning it here, here, here, here and finally here, I figured that it was time to drop it. But after reading today's editorial, I decided that it was my duty to point out, once again, the obvious source of grass cutting money. After all, the paper did say:

It's holes-in-your-pockets broke, flat-on-your-back broke, headed-to-the-poorhouse broke.

Actually, I'm quite serious; the waste is appalling. What's mystifying is that the paper, or at least one of its columnists, seems to be aware of it. yet it only mentions it in passing; from a recent Lolis Eric Elie column:

Nagin deserves praise for the pay raises he budgeted for city workers in his first two years in office. But those raises are a distant memory. Not long after the hurricane, when it was clear the city had little money and few prospects for an infusion of capital, Nagin fired most city workers.

What about his top staff members, the ones he awarded substantial pay raises in better times? They kept their jobs and weren't even asked to accept symbolic pay cuts.

To be fair, from the column, Mr. Elie might believe that it was only a few raises for a few employees. In fact, pay increases were sought for nearly three dozen upper level employees, most were granted.

There's also the other issue that I raised, why greatly reduced departments have retained not just both their directors and deputy directors, but bureau chiefs of decimated bureaus. In the case of the public library, the position of assistant city librarian (with a salary close to that of the former city librarian) was created when the current city librarian was hired. So that we now have two people overseeing a department with 39 employees, when one used to do for a department of over 200. When this article came out, one had to wonder why NORD still had a director and deputy director. Now one wonders whether the deputy director's position was filled, when the deputy director became director. If so, why? If not, that leads to the question of whether any upper level positions were eliminated, other than through Katrina related attrition.

Don't smaller cities either pay their supervisors less or combine departments to have fewer supervisors? There was talk of consolidating departments when Nagin first sought upper level pay increases (from the article cited, some of them were justified at the time), isn't it time to bring it up again?

The courts and the assessor's offices aren't the only place to find grass cutting money, and the city is "headed-to-the-poorhouse" broke.

Note: (2/10) Just to emphasize: that post and the ones linked were not motivated by rancor as a laid off city worker. The only role being a former city worker played was that it made me aware of the how top heavy the retained staff was, at least in my deparment. That caused my to look for signs of it in the limited info available about other departments. The only anger is over the wasted resources. I'm somewhat surprised that we haven't heard more of it, either from the angry tax payer POV or because of anger that the city isn't using its limited funds more wisely.

I thought that this was worth copying and saving from The Daily Howler when I started to think about blogging:

In our view, this is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing on the liberal web. We should:

1. Help frame the way major issues get discussed.

2. Identify facts which deserve wide exposure.

3. Identify basic talking- or spin-points which deserve to get shot down

Thought I'd share it, even though I neglected to copy the link to the exact post. Obviously, there are other things we can be doing also: fund raising,publicizing rallies, etc., but it's something I try to keep in mind, even though there's the natural tendency to pontificate rather than stay focused.

With #3 above in mind, I'd say that one of the most important we can concentrate on short term is the administration's exaggerated aid claims. There are more important points, but those it will be easier to combat the false claims before they're accepted as fact. So if anyone has time the email address for Byron Calame, public editor of the NYT:

and for Deborah Howell, WAPO ombudsman:

Couldn't hurt to write and, politely, ask them to start examining the figures.

I know that La.'s leaders can't waste their limited national TV time sounding nit picky, but I wonder if any of the state's Democratic (obviously, our Republican reps couldn't ask their colleagues to challenge the prez) legislators have brought up the subject with their colleagues. Mary, if this reaches you, you might want to talk to Mark.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tried to post this yesterday, thought I had. In addition to a slow connection (due to a virus and/or deleted files, my friendly neighborhood geek tends to be overbooked, I don't know the technical stuff), the connection keeps going out, esp. when I try to send or publish. Anyway from Friday's T/P:

The hearing, the third in a series by the committee, came as flood insurance administrators prepared to seek permission to borrow another $5.6 billion from the federal treasury to keep paying claims stemming from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

In all, losses are predicted to add up to about $23 billion, or more than 11 times the program's annual revenue from premiums and fees. Although the money is supposed to be repaid, Shelby suggested last week that the government may have to eat the loss.

Something tells me that the new $18B that the president is promising is going to be closer to $12.5B.

Jenny Woman of the Day

Maybe not the best choice of words, but I've often wondered why nobody uses the term anymore.

In comments on Rodger K's and Polimom yesterday, I made the comment that I thought Louisiana's situation was similar to that of a public sector union. When it comes to negotiating a private sector collective bargaining agreement, assets and leverage are everything. In the public sector, public opinion is far more important than leverage. It could be that I'm stating a debatable theory about labor economics as generally accepted principle, or it could that I'm overdoing the analogy.

But if you accept my basic premise, you can see why I agree with RK that it's time to stop begging, but vehemently disagree with him on the state imposed $1 a barrel tax on oil. On the first point, the state has made a big mistake in concentrating its efforts on pointing out the extent of the devastation and how badly the state needs help. That's important, but in concentrating on that, the state has put reconstruction spending in the category of welfare spending--at least for some people (before I get any angry comments: 1) I'm not arguing that that should be the case, I'm arguing that it is the case and 2)I'm certainly not arguing against programs that broadly get labelled as welfare spending, but the unfortunate fact is that they are low on most people's list of priorities). When you beg for help, help seems optional, at least to some people.

However, when you attempt anything that can be seen as extortion (holding Mardi Gras hostage, taxing people's gasoline), you lose public sympathy. That's why Blanco's,move on offshore oil leases may be the smartest thing the state's done yet. Unlike a tax on oil, opposing new drilling is something that other states routinely do. It is, however, using the little leverage that the state has to make the case that the state deserves, rather than needs, the money. In concentrating on how badly the state needs, rather than has the right to, federal money, La. has been putting the wagon in front of the horse. Maybe Blanco's getting it right.

Now that the state is finally doing something to call attention to how badly it's getting screwed on oil&gas revenue, will we finally start emphasizing the federal responsibilty for the levee failures, even if it is a shared or partial responsibilty. Like I said before, the state needs to be concentrating on the federal responsibilty for the damage and the raw deal that it's getting on revenue sharing to establish its right to federal money first. After that, it can establish the need, or the amount of the need, second.

note: above started Thurs 02/02 but interrupted until Sun. 02/05. Hence the reference to yesterday for something that occurred Weds.

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Old Favorites
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