Saturday, September 30, 2006

Is He Joking?

From today's Picayune:
The second order, CRN 06-16, forecasts purchasing and procurement opportunities as the city rebuilds its infrastructure. Like the previous order, it also provides for local businesses to have access to the private market. With "transparent spending policies in place," Nagin's office said, "the city is better able to position its local small businesses to access private markets."

Bad News?
WWL loses two
News director accepts job in Phoenix and takes reporter-husband with her

Breland, the station's news director for more than a decade, had accepted the same job at Phoenix independent KTVK-TV, owned by WWL's parent company, Belo Corp., and she and McNamara, parents of two school-age kids, were making the big move out and up.

I don't know anything about the inner workings of WWLTV but this could be worrisome. Any change at the first station to report accurately on the UNOP FUBAR, and the only news source to report on the city's energy consultants or the true level of police protection in the city could be bad.

College Pick of the Week:

I intentionally waited until game time for this because I'm no longer confident in my handicapping abilities: Ole Miss+18 over Ga.

Only risk is that Ga. needs a big win to make up for last week. But Ole Miss is at home and Ga. doesn't have the offense to be favored by 18 over anybody. Of course, with their defense, they might not need to score much more.


I'm not sure which it is, but City Sanitation Director Veronica White either has a very keen sense of irony or none what so ever:
"We want uniformity," she said. "We don't want excuses."

Considering the number of excuses in that one article, the quote is almost humorous. One also has to wonder if Kimberly Butler has been brought back as a special consultant on sanitation issues:
Meanwhile, Nagin requested proposals last week from firms bidding to manage "Disney-like" trash collection in the French Quarter, the city's most notoriously squalid sector,

Apparently, Ms. Butler wasn't the only Nagin associate to prefer Disneyland to the real thing.

Dangerblond has been over the ridiculous contract with Waste Management and Mark has pretty much covered the expensive boondoggle angle, but I'll add a few points.

I'll remind everybody that when Nagin first ran for mayor in 2002, he endorsed the BGR proposal to let appointed professionals vote on the awarding of city contracts. Once he made the runoff, he backed away from that agreement, but pledged to announce his own plan to reform the process within his first 100 days. To give all due credit, he did announce a plan--three years into his term. Though the reform didn't go far enough for the BGR, it apparently went too far for the mayor as it still hasn't been enacted (my earlier rant on the subject, with the background links).

IMO, the money quote was:
Nagin, who said in May that sanitation is a priority of his second term, is expected to award lucrative contracts to two new trash contractors for automated or semiautomated trash pickup in every neighborhood except the French Quarter, White said. The announcement was supposed to be made this week but has been delayed until at least next week, she said.

Now, I understand the Paradox of Choice. There's almost too much in that one paragraph for one post:

During the campaign, I did point out that:
Considering the city's abandoned car and general garbage disposal situation and the mayor's insinuations about taking donations from individuals who might want to profit from the city, it seems like the mayor gets a lot of Benjamins from companies in the disposal, scrap metal or landfill business.

What's the delay--waiting for some new company to get fully incorporated this time?

Did White really need to tell us that the awards would be lucrative? Every contract that the sanitation department awards is lucrative. Of course, Ms. White would know all about that.

I also wonder if the delay is related to today's article about awarding reconsruction contracts to minority businesses. I totally approve of that, but two big minority subcontractors on other reconstruction work are a major Nagin campaign contributor and a firm with close ties to Nagin's former CAO.

One last point about the use of the word lucrative, it reveals a fundamental problem with Nagin's approach to rebuilding. Whether you believe that Mark described a total boondoggle or the mayor is taking a long overdue step toward modernization, it shows that Nagin doesn't give much thought to resource allocation. Whenever a problem is mentioned, the answer is to direct people to the city's Deniability Matrix where you can see how much money the city's spent on solving the problem. How will the city's pay for this? The answer to that question was in another article in yesterday's paper:
He said the city plans to pay it if it receives word that the federal government has approved a second $120 million Community Disaster Loan to the city. That word could come today, he said. If the city doesn't get that loan, he said, it could turn to a $150 million line of credit that private banks have agreed to extend to New Orleans.

You remember, that really favorable line of credit.

Finally, I couldn't help but notice that Veronica White said that her department had been reduced from 89 to 14 employees, that almost makes me wonder if they're the same 14 who work on street maintenance. More seriously, it points the extent to which Nagin is privatizing city services. Also, it make me wonder how many of the "underpaid" workers are left in city government, aside from police officers and firefighters, that is. That will have to wait for a separate post on the slap in the face, I mean across the board pay raise.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A College Memory: No to Amendments 5 and 6

Even though it was over twenty years ago, I still remember the day that my Twentieth Century American History professor said something that baffled the class. Nobody could believe that it was considered radical when Theodore Roosevelt said that human rights precede property rights. I wonder, would even the most conservative students consider that simple statement axiomatic today? I suspect that at least a couple of students would feel the need to argue about the importance of property rights.

If it's not obvious, the point is that property rights are not under siege. They simply aren't; no matter what some people would have you think. The fact is, John Stossel was railing against eminent domain long before Kelo. I won't go into a long-winded account of Richard Epstein and the concept of "hidden takings" (you can read an admittedly biased account from the Nation), however, a well-financed effort to exploit concerns over property rights was underway long before Kelo. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that its primary goal was the "repeal of the twentieth century":
It will be said that my position invalidates much of the 20th century legislation, and so it does," Epstein wrote in Takings. "But does that make the position wrong in principle?... The New Deal is inconsistent with the principles of limited government and with the constitutional provisions designed to secure that end." In telephone conversation, I asked the professor for examples and he obliged with gusto.

"Most of economic regulation is stupid.... What possible reason is there for regulating wages and hours?" Epstein said. "If my takings doctrine prevails, you have no minimum-wage laws. That's fine. You'd have an OSHA a tenth of the size.

When I found out that the lead attorney for Kelo was a member of the Institute for Justice, I suspected it was another Paula Jones elves situation --attorneys more interested in scoring political points than representing their client. But Scott "never mind the obvious" Bullock seems to be honorable. There was too well-funded an effort to exploit property rights fears for a Kelo case not to be exploited sooner or later. But Kelo has given people an exaggerated fear of their property being confiscated.

That's a reactionary liberal's conspiracy theory-based reasoning for why you should not make a knee-jerk decision to vote for amendments 5 and 6. Gambit Weekly, the BGR, and the Times Picayune all give more respectable reasons why you should vote against the amendments:
The Bureau of Governmental Research, Council for a Better Louisiana and Public Affairs Research Council have raised valid concerns about the amendment's complexity and potential for the unintended consequence of prohibiting the redevelopment of storm-ravaged South Louisiana. Critics also argue that there is no evidence of abuse of eminent domain laws in Louisiana and that the amendment is unnecessary. With the potential for thousands of blighted properties to fester in greater New Orleans post-Katrina, an amendment that could limit the expropriation and restoration or replacement of badly damaged buildings is ill advised.

Never thought I'd say this, but Gambit, the Picayune and the BGR are all right on this issue.

BTW: Not sure whether Dr. Collin was referring to:
ordinarily and in the great majority of cases, human rights and property rights are fundamentally and in the long run, identical; but when it clearly appears that there is a real conflict between them, human rights must have the upper hand; for property belongs to man and not man to property.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, address at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910.—

or the more provocative:
"Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."
(Speech, Osawatomie, August 31, 1910)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Accountability? Matrix

I guess it was wrong of me to assume that an accountability matrix was the city's way of providing the transparency that we were promised at the start of the "100 days;" it certainly doesn't provide any transparency where the city's finances are concerned.

This brings up a minor disagreement that I have with something that Oyster said:
Some of my esteemed colleagues (like BSJD) seemingly think the Times Picayune, at times, has been rather soft on Meffert and Nagin so far. I disagree. Considering how few known facts there are, I think they've been relentless. If you include today's editorial calling for a "review of contracts", the paper has run three editorials on Meffert/Imagine/Yachtgate so far. Plus, James Gill has written two columns on the "scandal" and Stephanie Grace has written one as well. The T-P put both news stories about Meffert on the front page, and yesterday there was even a S. Kelly cartoon about the affair.

I'll be intrigued to see how Yachtgate "develops" and what it might lead to. It does seem, though, that the opinion page has driven the story as far as it can go until new facts are uncovered.

Aside from the fact that James Gill reminded me of a point-shaving basketball player in those two columns (certainly the first), I have to agree with oyster--on the points that he raises. Though the paper has reported on other questionable dealings by this administration, it hasn't given those stories much prominence. To say that's buried them would be an overstatement, but it's certainly underplayed them.

However, my major criticism of the paper has to do with its coverage of the mayor's handling of the city's finances. I've said this before, but I'm convinced that if the governor or the top official in other parish made Nagin's spending decisions, it would be a major issue. Don't even think about how the paper would cover the mayor if it were anti-Nagin, imagine instead if Aaron Broussard had 66 employees in his office and 14 working on Jefferson Parish streets? Can anybody seriously say that I would have needed to piece together that information from multiple articles? Of course not, if it didn't make the front page, James Gill would certainly tell us about it. I can and will give many more examples, in case anyone's not convinced by that one.

Despite the fact that the local media is finally following Dambala's lead, it's still important, to ask other questions. Bear in mind the fact that Morial cronies are only just beginning to face jail time. If we wait for indictments, Nagin will have more than enough time to starve-the-beast. I don't think that's his intent, Nagin seems less like an ideologue than a spoiled kid who wants his trust fund. The effect, however, would be the same.

No idea-stealing intended, but after finishing that last paragraph, I remembered an old Lewis Lapham essay about the Bush administration.

Fox Sports

When I put up that last post, I thought that some people might be interested in how FOX sports covers post Katrina New Orleans. From what I saw when I walked by today's filming, the announcer was definitely trying to get a college audience excited. I don't expect much mention of the city when it airs (supposedly at 11:00) tonight.

Note to Vicky, and anybody else interested in seeing Robert Randolph tomorrow, there was no sign of Cowboy Mouth when I passed by shortly after 5:00 and again just before 6:00 today. Robert Randolph's site says he'll be performing a mini-concert at the end of the taping. I have no idea whether a mini-concert will be long enough to be worthwhile, but I wouldn't rush to get there too early.

On a personal note, it's amazing the memories that working in a university library brings back. Even though I went UNO, I often found the Loyola and Tulane libraries more convenient to use. The memories probably have more to do with the fact that Tulane's rathskellar was a bit of an uptown high school hangout when I was a teenager, probably more for Franklin students than some other high schools. One memory that's come back is how much young people in their teens and early twenties define their personalities in terms of the bands they like. What I had forgotten is how much really young people define themselves by the bands they don't like.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Best Damn Sports Show

Don't know how much attention this has received but ESPN is filming on Tulane campus this week from 4:30-7:00. Cowboy Mouth plays Wednesday; Robert Randolph Thursday.

Quote of the Day

From today's Daily Howler:
According to Senior, Blumenthal and Lapham’s work isn’t likely “to win over undecided readers.” If you actually care about political outcomes, things like that might actually matter. But we extremely excited web liberals don’t much seem to care about that. It almost seems that we’re mainly in love with our unrivaled brilliance—with our genius, with the fact that nothing we do could be wrong.

Substitute New Orleanians for web liberals and you describe a lot of New Orleanians (not just bloggers), myself included. In some cases self-righteousness might be a good substitute for brilliance; again, I'm not just thinking of bloggers.

I don't know if it's noticeable or not, but I decided to tone down my criticism of the Times Picayune a few weeks ago for similar reasons. There might have been some gratuitous snark at the end of the last post, but the post was reasonably restrained. I still think that one of the main functions of bloggers is to point out questions that the press isn't asking, except for bloggers who can actually report on what the press is missing. So I'm not planning any major changes, just a less caustic tone.

However, I do still plan a post about the paper's shameless propagandist, unless he explains the (no longer available online) Douglas Brinkley and B'rer Nagin columns. Before I do that, I'm curious about how many people actually saw any press coverage of the other local Martin Luther King Day march last January. If you watched the noon news, you saw coverage of a protest march that followed the traditional route through the Lower Ninth Ward. "Chocolate City" knocked it off the evening news, but some people took the fact that Nagin changed the parade as a sign that the Lower Ninth Ward wouldn't be resettled. While I'm sure that the was "oreo" was used quite frequently, on the one televised report that I saw, "land grab" seemed to be the preferred anti-Nagin slogan. Seems to me that if "Chocolate City" was a reaction to "Oreo," it was also a reaction to "land grab" and an outgrowth of his own use of the term "NIMBY." It's old news, but DeBerry brought it up this month. If it was a reaction to anything, was "Chocolate City" a reaction to "Oreo" or "land grab?"

Somebody has to point it out:

People Get Ready last Wednesday:

Here on Gilligan's Island

This week's Gambit Weekly:

Gilligan's Isle of Denial

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Entergy Reporting

I can't be the only person who's left with more questions than answers every time he reads an article or hears a report about Entergy's rate increase request. The article mentioned in the previous post didn't exactly say that Entergy N.O. has been overbilling its customers; it merely left that impression. What was left out of that last report was that Entergy New Orleans actually claims $398M in damages. If the city council's consultants say that $88M of that shouldn't be counted, that might explain allowing an 18% increase rather than a 22% increase. It might, but it seems odd that the city council's paid consultants would make that recommendation before finding out how much CDBG money Entergy ends up getting. It also wouldn't explain how the consultants went from a 44% decrease to an 18% increase or why Entergy's aid request has gone from $718M to $592M. Of course, if you get your news from Fox8, "Entergy N.O. needs almost $600M"
to remain solvent.

As I see it, none of the local reporting makes the distinction between Entergy's requests to cover actual damage and its requests to cover lost revenue or build up a huge interest earning cash reserve that would increase the value of its stock ( Entergy calls it an emergency fund) clear enough. We're also not given very much explanation when Entergy changes its aid request or damage claims, although we wouldn't expect those figures to remain constant, some explanation would be nice. In the Spring, there was talk of a $500M bond sale to repair Entergy damaged facilities, that seems to have been forgotten. It may have been reported on, but I missed it. Knowing who killed the deal would certainly affect my opinion. Most importantly, the media is ignoring the fact that the city council vote on a rate increase is scheduled for Oct. 31 even though Gov. Blanco hopes that a decision on state aid will be made sometime in October. Assuming the state makes its decision on schedule, the council still won't have much time to make an informed decision on Entergy's request. It would be nice if the Paper gave us a detailed account between now and then; of course, it wouldn't look as sexy on the cover of a Sunday paper as pictures of judges on beaches.

WTF? F******, What The F***?

Gentilly Girl, Jeffrey and I mentioned it on a day when relatively few local bloggers tend to post, so will the Times Picayune please give a little more detail on one of yesterday's front page stories? How does a consulting group determine that, even though it's been overbilling its customers, Entergy New Orleans deserves a rate increase? Saying that it needs the increase doesn't quite cover it.

I'm also a little curious about Legend Consulting; I never heard of it before. A google search didn't turn up anything that seemed the City Council advisers. A google news search only turned up yesterday's T/P story. A search for Legend Consulting LLC turned up something strange. So exactly who, or what, is Legend Consulting? Is it one of those politically connected firms formed to cash in on Katrina Reconstruction? I don't know, but I would like to know how much the city's paying it.

Update: Legend Consulting LTD does show up on list of Nagin campaign contributions prior to Katrina, and it consulted with the city council about NOPSI in 1995, so it's apparently not another MCCI. Still, I am curious, and the MCCI case demostrates why that question should be asked of every city contract.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reading and Googling: Antinomianism* in New Orleans?

From yesterday's Times Picayune:
Ratified the reappointments of David White and David Campbell to the Aviation Board. White is one of Nagin's closest friends and advisers. Campbell, who represents Kenner on the board, had resigned to run for a Kenner City Council seat early this year.

I don't have the inside information to judge whether Nagin really cleaned up the patronage and corruption at the airport. Although it does seem that the credit he gets for cutting airport legal fees might be somewhat overblown, things certainly seem to have improved since the Morial administration.

However, it did bother me that the city council voted to reappoint Nagin's campaign manager (I mean close friend) to a board that does control so much patronage. This is, after all, the successfull businessman who either lied to the press and broke campaign laws or took weeks to count five thousand dollars.

You might not be aware of what a major player the aviation board has been in the local real estate market, but, because of expansion and noise issues, the airport bought out hundreds of Kenner homeowners in the early nineties. Airport expansion or relocation hasn't been discussed much since Katrina, but it's a safe bet that it will be before White's five year term expires. Since, as Dambala has pointed out, the mayor and David White have formed a real estate investment company, the potential conflict of interest is obvious. Most people don't seem to find it troubling that the real estate developer/mayor is spending the city's Benjamins to fly all over the country urging people to buy New Orleans dirt, probably because they assume he's just promoting the city. Now his business partner is reappointed to the aviation board; I suppose that to the pure, all things are pure. Steven Sabludowsky seems to think so (another h/t to the angry zombie).

Until I googled it, I had forgotten that the head of the aviation board was none other than Dan Packer. Nothing wrong with that, board members tend to be local business and civic leaders. However, I had no idea that, in addition to being Nagin's choice to head the aviation board, Packer was also co-chair of Nagin's 2002 transition team.

As I said, to the pure all things are pure, but this seems just a little too insular. The mayor's appointed both his business partner and the head of Entergy New Orleans to his Bring New Orleans Back Commission and to the most important (arguably) of the city's municipal boards. In addition to that, one was his campaign manager and one was the co-chair of his first transition team. Just bear it in mind.

Another thing to bear in mind, the mayor's inner circle has always been heavily comprised of former executives of the very monopolies that the city regulates, CAO's Brenda Hatfield and Charles Rice come to mind, one could argue that Dan Packer belongs in that number. I've often wondered what exactly the city was getting for the millions it's spending on consultants' fees in its negotiations with Entergy. Whenever I read or listen to an interview with one the consultants involved, I have trouble deciding whether they're representing the city or the utility. But that's an admittedly subjective opinion. I'm sure they consider the people of New Orleans their clients, not the former utility executives they deal with directly.

Update: The above was mostly written late last night. Today's paper has an item about Sullivan & Worcester hiring a PR firm in response to the two Lee Zurik reports (linked above) about the fees it's collected from the city.

The paper also reports that one of the city's consultants has found that Entergy has been overbilling its customers and that they're entitled to a decrease in rates. Because of that, the consultants recommend a smaller increase than the one that Entergy is requesting. Glad we're getting our money's worth.

*Okay, a little pretentious, but why should Republicans have all the fun? You might remember William F. Buckley types leveling the charge against Clinton and his supporters in the nineties.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

1,100 Police Officers and No OMI

The city really does have about 1,400 police officers, however WWL TV reported Tuesday night that:
Currently, the Civil Service Commission reports 1,413 on the city's payroll, but that doesn't necessarily mean there are 1,400 officers on the streets.

After subtracting those with desk jobs, those on long-term medical leave and the 40 administrators for the different districts from a list of all the officers in the department, Eyewitness News learned there are closer to 1,100 officers actually out on the streets.

The TV report made it somewhat clearer that the loss of civilian employees led to fewer active patrolmen, but failed to go into detail. Also, as underpaid as police officers are, they're almost certainly paid more than the filing clerks and phone operators whose positions they're temporarily filling.

It attracted very little attention at the time of the layoffs, but in today's Times Picayune article about the debate over creating an inspector general's office we read that:
Proponents of the idea have said the need for government oversight became more critical last year after Mayor Ray Nagin effectively shut down the city's Office of Municipal Investigation. Nagin laid off the agency's entire staff after the storm as part of a series of cost-cutting moves.

Considering that the state of emergency has relaxed the already lax city and state laws regarding public spending, it wold probably be extremely difficult to prove that this administration has broken any laws. But that's no reason why the media and public citizens shouldn't be asking much tougher questions about city finances.

They Left Out the Part About Leaping Tall Buildings

I'm sure somebody else has already done this, but I just read the mayor's official bio on the city web site.
Mayor Nagin's progressive policies resolved to erase the image of New Orleans as place where graft is part of the old world charm.

Somebody was paid to write that the policies resolved? Have to wonder whether it was a municipal employee, or did somebody get a professional service contract to write that? (There's an obvious cheap shot, but I'm strictly an amateur.)
Under Mayor Nagin's Leadership, Hollywood South was created and New Orleans became the second city behind Hollywood for film production, bringing in nearly a half billion dollars in the last few years.

If you could possibly give any one elected official the lion's share of the credit for that, wouldn't it be Mitch Landrieu?

Other great lines include:
The world is seeing us with different eyes these days," says Mayor Nagin. "We are no longer considered just a great place to party. People are starting to realize New Orleans is a great place to do business."

Most recently, Mayor Nagin again defied the odds by defeating twenty-two other candidates and the media to win a second term...Mayor Nagin was out spent four to one during the campaign.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sour Grapes?

That's probably part of the reason for my negative reaction to the report of a proposed pay raise for city employees:
Over the loud protests of many firefighters, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission voted 4-0 Monday to raise most other city workers' pay by 10 percent starting Nov. 1, and to raise the minimum wage for the lowest-paid of those workers to $7.50 an hour, as requested late last week by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration.

I would imagine that the reaction of most of the city's laid off workers ranges from mildly peeved to angrier than the firefighters. But there are several items (in order of increasing importance) in today's article that should be of legitimate concern to everyone in the city:
"This administration understands that the cost of living has increased since Hurricane Katrina and the work load for city employees has doubled...."Hatfield said

A minor matter by itself, but it's important whenever an administration makes absurd statements or contradicts its statements about some matters, when giving it reasons for its decisions on other matters. Brenda Hatfield managed to do both in one sentence. I'd love to rant about the absurdity of the doubled workload, but it's the least important item in the article. Also, I don't want to argue against a pay raise for most workers, but the doubled workload is a joke.

The cost of living increase as a justification for a pay raise contradicts everything the mayor says about rents and living expenses in general returning to normal. At most, it would justify a hardship bonus until the city determines what its post-Katrina employment situation will be.

I know that elected officials often sound college coaches talking up their teams when they're trying to impress bowl officials and pollsters and talking down their teams when they lower fan expectations, but it can go so far. If a college coach over does it, it becomes a joke. If an elected official does it too much, he risks a loss credibility. Mayor Nagin's doing it to an extent that would make Bobby Bowden blush.
She said the city can pay for the raises because of improvements in the city's economy and revenue picture and the arrival of federal community disaster loans.

Loans--to cover a pay raise? Will city workers also be given bottles of champagne along with their mid-November paychecks?

But the truly important point is:
The administration apparently intends to keep the city's work force well below pre-Katrina levels for the foreseeable future. The city laid off about half its civilian workers last fall to save money.(over 60% excluding police officers and firefighters)

That can only mean more private contracts for services that were provided by city workers. That alone isn't a sign of corruption; it would be consistent with the mayor's governing philosophy. But combined with a lack of openness, it certainly can lead to it. At the very least, it points out the need for transparency about contract decisions, stricter bidding rues and a clearer definition of what constitutes a professional services contract. Those are all ideas that the mayor indicated some support for when he first ran for mayor--4 1/2 years ago.

While it's true that the only pay raise most city workers have received in the last several years was a 5% pay raise in 2004. That's not the case for department heads and other high ranking employees. The huge pay raises for those employees might have brought their salaries in line with officials with similar positions in other cities, but they no longer have the same responsibilities or the same size staffs to supervise, yet they're also getting 10% pay raises.

A city official said of the firemen:
DiRosa and Civil Service Commission members said firefighters should not necessarily benefit from every raise awarded to other city workers because they are the only workers who by state mandate get a 2 percent annual raise for 20 years, which cumulatively amounts to about 48 percent.

It might be true that firefighters were the only workers to get longevity raises, but they weren't the only workers to get their own separate raises.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Clancy, You Got Snowed

Okay Clancy, I don't expect to agree with everything you write, and I know that you would jeopardize your credibility if you wrote nothing but criticisms of hizzoner, but I was more than a little disappointed in your review of his 100 day report:
Last week, as the mayor presented his 100-day post-inaugural report, it was clear that the visionary showed up. He was a welcome sight.
"The key question is, is New Orleans in a better position today than it was 100 days ago," Nagin said. "And my conclusion is that we are."

I hate to nitpick, but I find it hard to believe that a visionary would set the bar that low, and I really find it hard to believe that you found that acceptable.

However, the most glaring fault wasn't with anything that the mayor or his team said. Well, some people do wonder where Mr. Couhig takes his showers. The most obvious thing was what wasn't said. Clancy, of all the 100 day promises, which one should have been the easiest to keep? I'll give you a hint, Rob Couhig practically guaranteed it. Of course, I'm talking about greater transparency. Seriously Clancy, don't you think that a sincere administration could have given us more transparency in a week? Other than some vague promise of an "accountability matrix," the subject wasn't mentioned in the 100 day report. Seriously, are you satisfied with a vague promise after 100 days? Can you think of a single reason why the initial promise couldn't have easily been kept in the first 100 days? And don't even think about saying that there already is more transparency, just look at the third comment on the last post. If experienced, dedicated activists can't find that kind of information, the city isn't being transparent.

I'm especially surprised that you missed the omission for two reasons. The first is that, even with the utter lack of transparency, it seems obvious that the city is contracting out basic services that had been performed by municipal employees. At least, that seems to be the reason why the city only has 14 street repair workers. While there certainly are plausible reasons why this might be a necessary or even a desirable move, we simply haven't been given the information needed to make that judgment. Considering this city's history with professional services contracts and the fact that you've commented
that this mayor seemed to be emulating his predecessors in that regard, I would expect more interest on your part.

You might even recall that you criticized the mayor for awarding a professional service contract for bombproof garbage cans, if so, have you noticed that those bombproof garbage cans disappeared after Katrina? If so, you might have heard the seemingly contradictory explanations that they were being "cleaned and serviced" followed by the story that they were being replaced. The two explanations aren't entirely contradictory, but the alternative is both hilarious and infuriating. I know that I won't be signing a new long term lease in Orleans Parish until I look at that "accountability matrix" and find an entry for "garbage can related expenses."

The other reason that I'm surprised that you didn't notice the forgotten accountability has to do with your suggestion that mayor do a better job of selling the city to New Orleanians. You do mention that many people have begun to lose faith in the city's prospect. Have you asked people why? Lack of confidence in the administration would be at or near the top of everybody's list. There's one sure way for the administration to allay doubts about its integrity. I understand that the local media don't want to be too negative, but Gambit Weekly, The Times Picayune and all the cities TV stations combined couldn't begin to cause the doubts about the mayor's integrity that his administration's own secrecy already has.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Local Politics

The Times Picayune seems to have stopped running its Saturday New Orleans Politics column in the Jefferson Parish print edition. The reverse seams to be true for the Jefferson Politics column in Orleans Parish. In the past, the Jefferson column would run on page B-I in Jefferson, and the Orleans column on B-1 in Orleans, but you could find both columns in both editions. I haven't been able to for two weeks now. I understand the need for cost cutting, but everybody is supposed to be aware of regional interdependence; the Picayune certainly preaches it. The odd thing is, anecdotal evidence indicates that suburban interest in Orleans Parish seems to be at an all time high; in some cases, the realization has even taken hold that if New Orleans goes down the tubes, the entire metropolitan area will go with it. I've been told that Jefferson Parish officials are actually saying that at meetings of Jefferson Parish neighborhood groups; two years the idea of a Jefferson Parish politician expressing concern for Orleans Parish to a Jefferson Parish civic group would have been unthinkable. A more negative example of Jefferson Parish interest in Orleans Parish can be found on the chalkboard in front of Gennaro's on Metairie Rd. The message changes every few days, but, recently, it's called on Eddie Jordan to step down--for the sake of crime victims. I could give more examples, but the point is that recent cost-cutting is not only irresponsible, it also doesn't seem to be what the paper's readership would want. Hope the Picayune's publisher doesn't truly believe that it's a "hackneyed expression" that "floodwaters don't respect political boundaries."

In actual local politics, we've found out what Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman's slogan will be in future campaigns:

Jay Blossman:
Loves Nuclear Power
Hates Entergy Critics

You might also remember that the mayor recently indicated that he thought of Cynthia "no inspector general" Hedge-Morrell as his "go-to" woman on the city council. Her husband, Arthur Morrell, was fined by the state ethics board last week for improperly using his office to benefit private clients. I know, that's guilt by association, but it brings up a key point. In conversation, people often roll their eyes and act like I'm being obsessive and naive to mention behavior on Nagin's part that any other politician would engage in--it's just politics. Yet such people, even the ones that have strong doubts about his competence, are loathe to question Nagin's integrity,. The fact that this is his first elected office, seems to make people think that he's not a politician. That brings up the obvious question of who's being naive.

Apropos of that, an interesting letter appeared in yesterday's paper:
Get behind our city's mayorSaturday, September 16, 2006

Re: "Car 54, where are you?" Living, Sept. 10.

It's about time The Times-Picayune got on board with the rest of the city and worked toward progress. We know you are still upset that the city did not follow your recommendations for the election, but it's high time you get over it.

Your unbalanced coverage and obvious contempt for the mayor ensure that your Pulitzer Prize-winning days are over.
The nerve of Chris Rose, who once handed out business cards proclaiming himself a "professional drinker," to suggest that the mayor and his staff are not entitled to have a good time.

Perhaps he should sober up and look at the real culprits: the federal government and the lack of funds and assistance to our communities.

Melissa Smith Haley

New Orleans

Well, Ms. Haley, I'd like to make a few points. Even purely local celebrities like Chris Rose are, at least to some degree, fair game for ad hominem attacks. But such attacks are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. Also, if you're the Melissa Haley who's an officer of the United Way, such attacks should certainly be beneath you.

You're certainly correct about the lack of federal funds being the real culprit behind the city's problems, but I don't understand how that means we should ask the mayor fewer, rather than more, questions. It would seem to me that a lack of federal funds would mean that mayor should be held to a higher level of accountability than than previous mayors, not given a free rein to govern as he chooses.

The Times Picayune editorial endorsing Landrieu is a matter of public record. But op-ed pieces (I can't remember rather there was an editorial) that not only defended Nagin from Douglas Brinkley's criticisms, but helped promulgate the idea that Nagin was under attack from powerful outside enemies are also a matter of public record. Not only is the proposition that one of the nation's largest publishers would take such an interest in New Orleans politics dubious at best, the assertion furthered Nagin's re-election plans. If anyone wants to argue that the coverage by the Picayune, or the local media in general, was biased toward Landrieu, I'd love to have that debate. I'd especially love to have it with Norman Robinson, who scoffed at Landrieu on the night before the election.

Finally, the idea that the Picayune's post-election coverage of the mayor has been unbalanced and contemptuous is, frankly, absurd. There hasn't been a single T/P editorial or op-ed piece about questionable professional services contracts, usually to Nagin supporters, costing the city millions since Nagin was first elected. I might have missed one, but I didn't see a single front page story on the matter until Billboard Ben came under federal investigation. In contrast, we've seen at least two front page stories, two editorials and two op-ed pieces about judicial spending that cost the city less than bombproof garbage cans alone cost the city. Similar examples could be found involving the governor and other area officials; if you really want to argue that the paper's been too negative toward the mayor, I'd definitely love to have that debate.

Update: The above was mostly written last night, the Picayune does have a front page story on Imagine Software, today. Nobody could honestly call it a biased story. Dambala wrote about Imagine, almost two months ago. At that rate, the Nagin haters at the T/P should write a cautious article about Nagin's real estate dealings sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The editorial will come some time after the federal subpoenas.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Home Cooking Game

What else could you possibly call today's LSU-Auburn game? You could call it the worst-officiated game since the Super Bowl, except the officiating was worse than in the Super Bowl. In both cases the losing team was victimized by an inexplicable holding call, I think the one that hurt LSU was the only holding call on either team all day.

Just commented at Jeffrey's that somehow Notre Dame will almost certainly remain higher ranked than LSU, even though Notre Dame got blown out at home and it took two teams to beat LSU on the road. Definitely the kind of thing that makes a college football playoff system more appealing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ass Backwards: The Media Edition

Sept. 11, 2006 Times Picayune editorial:
Seeking sponsors for Carnival might have seemed a necessary evil last year, when the city and its tax base were reeling from Hurricane Katrina.

But that doesn't mean that the Nagin administration should seek sponsors for next year. Doing so risks commercializing a celebration that defines who we are, and that would not be an acceptable tradeoff.

Sept. 2, 2006 Times Picayune article:
In a first, Mardi Gras 2007 may play out on live television before a national audience, along the lines of the annual Parade of Roses, according to a firm hired by the city of New Orleans to seek sponsors for the city's signature event.

Sounds like the contract's already been signed. Sounds like the mayor committed the city to a questionable deal before anybody heard anything about it. I suppose that MediaBuys, like CH2MHill before it, might be prevailed upon to allow the city out of the deal, but Nagin shouldn't be putting the city in that position. More importantly, those weren't isolated incidents and they do precede Katrina. Emergency powers have only made it easier for the mayor to enter the city into questionable deals. If Katrina gave the mayor more media scrutiny to contend with, I guess it's only fair that he have emergency powers to even things out.

I've decided to tone down my Times Picayune criticisms*, so I'll make this brief. This isn't the first time that we've first heard about a questionable deal after the contract was signed. This deal doesn't sound as wasteful or costly as the deals involving garbage cans, parking meters, garbage collection, car towing or some others, but it's still potentially embarrassing. So the question is, why isn't the Times Picayune reporting on these deals before they're signed? If the city is withholding information on these contracts until after they're signed, isn't that a story? If the mayor's abusing his emergency powers to rush through contracts, it's at least as worthy of an editorial as snakes on a beach. It might have been forgotten yesterday, but we were promised more transparency at the start of the 100 days. Nagin's certainly not skipping the public announcements to speed up the recovery.

*Jarvis DeBerry will be fair game until he either stops serving as the mayor's chief apologist or explains his Br'er Nagin column. An honest columnist would correct the inaccuracies in one defense of a politician before defending him again.


As Nagin put it: "The key question is, is New Orleans in a better position today than it was 100 days ago. And my conclusion is that we are."

Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion, the very question is total bullshit.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Kudos to the Mayor

I hope we can finally lay to rest all this talk about the mayor having a big ego. In his 100 day statement today, he didn't once brag about the great strides he had made in the effort to promote carnival, or sign a professional services contract to do so. Egotist? The man's so self-effacing that he even left out all mention of the Nagin cam.

He did mention that he fully expects the city's population to be back to 300,000 by the end of the year. In my last post, there was a reason why I tagged the part about taxi medallions on to a discussion of professional service contracts. It would be easy enough to catch any elected official contradicting himself, but this clearly reaches the level of cherry picking. The city's population is bouncing back faster than anybody could have expected. Unless of course it isn't: The city can't rehire municipal employees, it's lost too much population--far better to sign a professional services contract. There never will be any political favoritism involved in reissuing those revoked permits, the city's population has shrunk too much.

I suppose that the disclosure thing comes up for a laid off city worker, even a no longer unemployed one. Weird thing, feels tasteless to keep repeating it. It would seem dishonest to write about city employmnent so often without mentioning it occasionally.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Nagin's 100 Day Pledge

His first term 100 day pledge, that is. He's been mayor "trust me" much longer than you thought:
Of course there's always the chance that the candidate doesn't follow through with the promise to enact the pledge. Nagin was the only major candidate to sign the pledge in 2002, but during the runoff he explained that his vision for contracting reform differed substantially from the process described in the pledge. He nonetheless promised to implement his version within 100 days.

However, Nagin waited more than three years before enacting any sort of change in the process. And when he finally announced his reforms two months before Katrina blew into town, BGR President Janet Howard said they had "no resemblance" to what her organization had proposed.

The major change Nagin introduced was to include a private citizen, selected by either the Chamber of Commerce or the Urban League, to the panel of two City Hall administrators that reviews all bid proposals for professional service contracts worth at least $150,000. Typically, about 50 contracts awarded annually fall into that contract.

It's not clear whether Nagin's changes have been fully implemented. In the aftermath of Katrina, the panels that have reviewed bid proposals reviewed by the Times Picayune have included only city administrators. The Nagin administration could not list any contracts awarded under the new procedures Wednesday.

I should point out that the above is from an April Picayune (pdf) article that I happened across while searching for an exact definition of "professional services." As Peggy Wilson pointed out in the article linked above, there isn't one. If you haven't noticed, it did start to become a matter of some importance during Nagin's first term:(printer friendly link)
Omni's offer wasn't the cheapest of the six offers the city received. But the city didn't have to pick the low bidder, an experienced firm, because the job was considered a professional service rather than a finite task.

The contract for removing, "abandoned and damaged vehicles," is a professional services one, meaning the mayor is not required by law to select the lowest bidder.

The matter did come up before Katrina. Sure Nagin's no Morial, but I do expect the issue to come up much more frequently. Remember, after the number of city electrical inspectors dropped from ten before Katrina to two after, the city finally announced in January, not that the department had been restaffed, but that the service had been contracted out. The number of street maintenance workers hasn't been increased from the present 14 back to the pre-Katrina 129, but the first of several street-repair contracts has been signed. Which leads to the not-so-bold prediction that I planned to post about: the state of emergency will be lifted at some time after the last street repair contract is signed.

Update: the April article should really be read in its entirety. To give credit where it's due, Peggy Wilson was right about the need for a strict definition of "professional services." But there will still be the potential for kickbacks and cronyism whenever public services are outsourced.

Since I started off on the subject of Nagin's first year in office, I can't be the only person who's curious about Nagin's latest dog and pony show. The city's rationale for revoking taxi medallions does not stand up to scrutiny:
Bournes called the taxi market in New Orleans "completely oversaturated." Before the storm, the city had about twice the number of cabs per capita as comparable cities, he said; now, with half the population gone, the number of cabs is even further out of balance.

Once the medallions are recouped, he said, "the guys left standing are going to make a better living."

To begin with, there are certain areas where New Orleans is comparable to similarly sized cities, but demand for taxis would not be one. Not unless similarly sized cities have tourism as their number two industry and large numbers of service workers who work nights.

Also, since the medallions that will be recalled belong to cab drivers that haven't returned, it's hard to see how their recall would lessen competition for the remaining drivers. That also brings up the question of why a free market guy like Nagin would want to limit competition.

Most importantly, the administration strongly denies that the recalled medallions will be re-issued as political favors. With the city's greatly reduced population, the administration maintains that they can be permanently retired. That's real consistent.

Maybe I'm just being too cynical. Maybe the mayor's just finishing the job he started four years ago. Maybe there really is a reform fairy.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Advice for Mary Landrieu and the Democratic Party

Actually the point I didn't get to when I posted last night.

Let's face it, the Democratic Party blew it when it allowed the president to pad the Katrina relief figures with the $18B cost of federal flood insurance payments last January. Let me rephrase that, they should have demanded to know how Bush figured that the congress appropriated $85B in federal aid money for the residents of the states affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma.

I understand that the bigger issues about Katrina spending like the waste ad cronyism that led to blue roofs that cost as much as real roofs. But I'm still flabbergasted that I had to wait two for da po'blog to explain where the extra $18B came from. If the Democrats were a serious party or the reporters covering reconstruction were more than stenographers, the question would have been asked the minute Bush finished the Bay St. Louis speech in which he first used the inflated number.

That's all over with, and once again the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to define the terms of debate. Or so it seemed, until a recent GAO report questioned how the government has been spending the $88B. The Democrats have the chance to point out the dishonesty of the president's spin, or at least redefine the terms of the debate, if they take it.

They can:

1) Continue to accept the $110B figure.

2) They can show some backbone by pointing out that it's not exactly fair to count insurance payments that the government was legally obligated to make as aid, before questioning the waste and corruption involved in the rest of the spending. Of course, that's assuming that the Democrats aren't happily taking their share of the wasted money or taking bribes from the profiteers that are.

3) They can show some brains by questioning how much of the $88B is actually going to help the people who were hurt by last year's hurricanes. When questioned on it, the smart thing would be just to say that's the GAO figures. They'd probably need to say a little more than that, but they should keep it as brief as possible To say too much would be to unnecessarily assume the burden of proof.

I'll give Mary Landrieu credit for having some backbone; I'd like to see her show some brains. I'd like to see the national Democratic leadership show either.

Now if somebody can use the fact that the GAO report mentioned three hurricanes to combat the impression that all of the money's going to New Orleans. Most of it is going to Louisiana and Mississippi, but some people are giving the impression that it's all going to N.O. If we're to believe Jarvis DeBerry, Fox news is doing a lot more than implying.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where Are the "Bush Lied" Headlines?

The GAO contradicts the president and nobody notices. Nobody but da po'blog that is. In case you missed it, the GAO has announced that it is unable to track the $88B that congress allocated to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. (The Picayune's article)

Clearly, the GAO thinks that less money has been allocated than the president does. Da po'blog does a far better job of tracking the money than I could ever hope to do, but what's as important as how the president arrived at his inflated figures is the reaction to it, or non-reaction to it. From the beginning, there's been almost no response from reporters, pundits or even the Democratic Party. There's been the occasional story about how the money's been spent, but almost no questioning of the obvious padding that's been going on since at least January. At least I thought it was obvious, it was a total WTF? moment when I thought I heard the president say $86B. My jaw dropped, I stopped what I was doing and I actually started paying close attention to a man who usually turns my stomach. If Bush didn't explain the new aid figure, I was sure that the commentators on CNN would question it afterwards. They didn't, and they barely have since.

I thought I was getting somewhere when I emailed the WAPO and got responses from Deborah Howell and Spencer Hsu, but neither answered my reply. At least they responded, I emailed a couple of the more widely read liberal bloggers and got no response at all. My feelings arent hurt that they didn't respond to me, so don't expect a Chris Rose style piece about my attempts to contact the famous (well famous in the blogosphere). But isn't refuting the other side's spin one of the main thing a blogger tries to do? You would think there'd be some interest in such obvious distortion but there hasn't been so far. I wonder if it's obvious enough now.

Funny Librarians

I gave up on even trying to be clever when my comment about Greg Meffert playing more roles than Harold Hecuba got absolutely no response--none, zero, donut egg; Jeffrey's, usually good for a witty line or two, though. Well, we found out in a letter to the editor today that the funniest librarian in the city is none other than Lance Query, Dean of Libraries at Tulane:
Better yet, the mayor should follow the second rule of an effective administrator: If you are wrong, admit it and correct your mistake.

In H.H.'s words, "Now that's a hot one."

But it wasn't even the funniest letter in today's paper; that honor belongs to Ginger Burke of New Orleans:
Although Mayor Ray Nagin may not be living up to everyone's expectations, realistic or not, he should get credit for the things he has accomplished. That lukewarm article about the surprisingly good health of the city budget, postponing the necessity to tap a $150 million credit line, which they said he would never get, was especially irritating.

I've never made fun of an ordinary citizen in this blog, and I don't want to start now. But I do hope that somebody explains to Ms. Burke that she was 100% wrong about that article; it was irritating, but she was completely wrong about why. As I pointed out before,the article wasn't nearly critical enough. We can now reasonably infer that Nagin was willing to needlessly commit the city to millions of dollars in interest costs, just so that he could make a pre-election announcement.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

100 Days of Couhig

Couhig in May:
Couhig said his aim by July 1 is “to begin doing things to demonstrate that we are indeed making progress.”

“The first thing you and I as citizens want to know is: ‘What’s the deal?’ ” Couhig said. “My goal at the end of the 100 days is that we have made substantive progress in the quality of life in New Orleans (and) that there is better understanding for what the future portends in the city of New Orleans.”

Describing himself now as a dutiful member of Nagin’s team, Couhig said he wants to help the mayor foster transparency at all levels of city government.

Couhig in July:
Mayor Ray Nagin's "game plan" for the first 100 days of his second term should be ready by "halftime," Gambit Weekly has learned. "We will do something at the midway spot, around July 20," says lawyer Rob Couhig ...the mayor's plan will list work the Nagin Administration has done during the first 50 days since his second term began June 1, as well as the goals for the next 50 days and the next four years.

Couhig in September:
Nagin intended the 100 days to be construed "not as a time period," Couhig said, but rather a short-range campaign to focus the attention of community leaders and his staff on quality-of-life issues, such as trash collection and crime reduction, that weigh on residents' decisions to stay in New Orleans.

Glad he made it so transparent.

Update: I don't have much hope for the online recall petition, but don't see what harm it can do. Recall talk seemed to have had a sobering effect on Aaron Broussard. Of course, Broussard's a mere mortal with some obvious weaknesses that he'd probably acknowledge--Nagin talks to God. First saw the petition at American Zombie, where it was followed by a darkly humorous, but all too serious post.

Adrastos has a humorous take on the administration's inability to count to 100.

I missed it in July, but The Louisiana Weekly reported that Couhig stated that the mayor's reconstruction plan woukd be available to the public on day 50.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ass Backwards

Arguably Ass Backwards:

From Sunday's Stephanie Grace column:
Nagin's inclination is to step out of the way while New Orleans grows itself out of Katrina. But until he proves that his administration is willing to set guidelines for the rebuilding and make the tough decisions about where to invest in infrastructure, he stands in the way of that hoped-for growth.

Yet in Saturday's paper we read that the city has already hired a firm to seek sponsors for next year's Mardi Gras. We also learned that the mayor plans to replace the head of the library board as part of an effort to "refresh" all of the city's municipal boards.

Sounds to me like the mayor is trying to micromanage the details of the city's recovery before coming up with even the most general plan for the city's recovery.

Obviously Ass Backwards

At some point prior to May 27th, the RTA hired a team of consultants to advise it on transit issues facing the rebuilt city. On July 30, the city held the first in a series of meetings to... do something. Every blogger in the city has discussed UNOP and I've discussed the RTA before, but you simply can't get more ass backwards than hiring consultants to tell you how to provide transit service to the resettled city before deciding what parts of the city to resettle.

The RTA consulting fee can probably be attributed to political cowardice--if you have to make tough cuts that are bound to make some people unhappy, just hire some experts and say you were following their advice. If new plans are going to have to be drawn up almost as soon as the old olds are implemented, well it's not like the city could have put the $1.8 million to better use. If they also recommend creating a new $125,000 position while laying off half of the workforce, that's just an added bonus.

The only possible explanations for the more recent ass backwardness are unbelievably cynical or borderline surreal. Seeing the discussion in the comments on two recent Adrastos posts, the one certain thing is that nobody is likely to take Dambala's bet. As to the rest, it's hard to decide which explanation is more cynical. It's certainly cynical to believe that the mayor is suddenly taking interest in previously unimportant boards because previously unimportant boards are now going to be in position to dispense patronage. But it's not exactly flattering to think that the mayor's is so out of touch that he thinks promoting Mardi Gras and "refreshing" the city's municipal boards should be anywhere near the top of his agenda.

Actually, when I hear "refreshen the city's municipal boards," I get a mental image of a movie gangster telling his moll, "Go freshen up, while we discuss business." Somebody (or some "powers that be") telling Nagin, "Go refreshen your municipal boards...," comes to mind.

Sounds Like the Bush Administration

From Live Journal:
How much longer are they going to turn their heads and pretend this doesn't exist? Crime meetin' was a joke a couple of weeks ago. They wouldn't let us speak, made us write our questions on cards and then filtered through them, and wouldn't touch upon the Mimi's incident which had just happened, now it's Sugar Park.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nobody's Criticizing the People of Mississippi

But you wouldn't know that from the defensive attitude of some Times Picayune letter writers. The residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have every right to be angry about the scant media attention paid to their region, but more media attention paid to New Orleans has not translated to more federal aid for New Orleans. Some Mississippi residents and some national commentators (via Scout Prime) seem to think so, but it's simply not the case. More money may have been allocated for Louisiana than Mississippi ( the money getting here is another story) even though the eye of the storm hit Mississippi, but I'm sure that more money has been allocated for Harrison County than Hancock County--even though the eye of the storm hit Hancock County. The reason's is the same in both cases. In fact, in proportion to the damage done, less money has been allocated to Louisiana than Mississippi.

It's possible that I'm wrong about the last assertion, but I would think that the governor of Mississippi would know if that were the case. People use many adjectives to describe Haley Barbour, but nobody describes him as "unprepared" or "uninformed." Yet, when asked about damage estimates that showed the overwhelming majority of the damage caused by last year's storms occurred in Louisiana, all he could say was he didn't believe those figures. He said that before a senate committee when he went to ask for a share of $4.2B that the president had requested for La. The allocation was intended to supplement earlier funding that had greatly shortchanged Louisiana. It was an entirely predictable question for a governor who was asking for money; Barbour's non-response speaks volumes.

I should leave it at that, but I will add a few things.

To the Gulfport resident whose letter appeared in yesterday's paper: it doesn't bother anybody that Mississippi is recovering (or not) and we certainly don't put you down for it. But I do think that you misunderstood the intentions of the writer of the Aug. 27th letter that you found so objectionable. Nobody thinks that it was easier for individual residents to come back to houses that no longer existed. As a matter o of fact, I know that letter writer, I know her entire family--her brother has been one of my closest friends for nearly thirty years. They have close relatives who live on the coast--not people with second homes, but residents--that lost everything. Almost everybody in Louisiana knows what the residents of Mississippi have been through, Virginia certainly does. Her point was that total destruction did, in some ways, make rebuilding easier at the government level.

To the commenter on a National Geographic forum who said:
the rest of the world thinks that New Orleans was hit harder than the Miss Gulf Coast and this simply is NOT true. What happened in New Orleans was that the levys broke and flooded parts of the city, not Katrina. True the levys were weakened by Katrina but the levys should have been beefed up enough to do their job by the government officials in that town.

While the rest of your comment makes it clear that are you are sympathetic to both areas, you seem to be misinformed on this matter. Yes, the conduct of our levee board was disgraceful prior to Katrina, but the destruction in most of New Orleans wasn't caused by the failure of poorly maintained levees, it was caused by the failure of improperly designed and constructed floodwalls--floodwalls built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ACoE has admitted at least some responsibilty for the failures. Leaving aside the role of the ACoE constructed MRGO or coastal erosion in last year's destruction, the fact is the people of Louisiana can legitimately say that the federal government has some responsibility for the damage they suffered last year. The people of Mississippi can't say that, the people of Florida couldn't say that two years ago, people in the Midwest can't say that when they receive aid after a tornado and people on the west coast can't say that after an earthquake. Yet the people of Louisiana aren't asking for better treatment from the federal government, just the same treatment.

Finally, to Missippian who's recently made some comments on Wet Bank Guide, I'm a much bigger fan of Gene Taylor's than Richard Baker's--I wish we could import to take Jefferson's seat. As far as Barbour not being responsible for any of Louisiana' problems, it's certainly not for lack of trying. He truly has treated Katrina Reconstruction like a zero sum game. Also, one could argue that the actions of his lobbying firm have hurt the people of both Louisiana and Mississippi. When I do address that subject, the anger won't be directed at Mississippi's residents.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No Picayune Rant This Week

Today's Picayune,Frank Donze (print edition also credits Michelle Krupa) reports that Nagin didn't decided to replace the head of the library board, because he's trying to "refresh" all the city's boards to avoid "entrenchment" by political appointees. I was all set to let loose with another rant about the Picayune's refusal to comment on the connection between the mayor and Billboard Ben, but Frank Donze actually brings it up:
As for Nagin's desire to "refresh" municipal boards, there are many examples of other mayoral appointees who continue to serve even though their terms have expired.

The most notable is Sewerage & Water Board member Benjamin Edwards, who was originally appointed by former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and retained by Morial. Nagin has not reappointed Edwards, but has allowed him to continue serving, although his term expired in late 2003.

Federal investigators are examining the connections between Edwards and six companies that may have received S&WB contracts after Hurricane Katrina, according to two grand jury subpoenas sent to the agency in June. By his own account, Edwards spent more than $200,000 trying to get Nagin re-elected, paying for billboards and radio ads in various evacuee hubs, including Atlanta and Houston.

The second part of the article simply must be quoted at length:
I've been looking everywhere for some example, some playbook, something to guide me, something to guide all of us," Nagin said. "I've been to the library. I've been to Barnes & Noble. I've been searching. And you know, the Lord led me to the Old Testament."

"So the Lord led me to the book of Nehemiah," Nagin continued, likening himself to the biblical figure. "In the book of Nehemiah the walls of Jerusalem had fell. They were devastated. They were surrounded. They were pillaged. And they didn't know where to turn to.

And after being disoriented -- after Katrina -- Nehemiah, who was close to the king, went to the king and said, 'King, we need to do something here. We must do something for the people.' "

The result, Nagin said, was an unleashing of civic activism that resulted in the rebuilding of the wall, despite taunting from naysayers, who Nagin likened to today's news media, which he implied mocks his endorsement of a market-driven rebuilding of New Orleans.

"What happened was what's happening in New Orleans: The people took it upon themselves to start rebuilding the walls,"

Nothing bizarre about Nagin being bizarre, but it is bizarre the Picayune noticed (that it was bizarre):
Despite Nagin's implication that modern New Orleanians are on par with God's chosen people, the tale actually may highlight what some of his constituents have called the mayor's greatest failure since the storm: the decision not to craft a blueprint to guide neighborhood recovery, thus leaving the massive task of rebuilding the Crescent City in the hands of its residents.

Nevertheless, this week's biblical reference becomes the latest in a series of utterances in which the mayor has alluded to the Almighty's role in the city's fate.

If any of this finds its way into tomorrow's editorial or James Gill column, I'll really start to wonder about parallel universes.

Correction: It won't really surprise me if Nehemiah gets mentioned, but that Billboard Ben piece is long overdue.

Must Have Been Emergency Spending

Okay, Nagin's latest effort to find commercial sponsors for Mardi Gras is good for a few laughs:
Mark Folse made this comment,
So, would the Nagin cam be sort of a wireless, do it yourself colonoscopy?

But the obvious question is why wasn't the story reported until after the contract was signed:
In a first, Mardi Gras 2007 may play out on live television before a national audience, along the lines of the annual Parade of Roses, according to a firm hired by the city of New Orleans to seek sponsors for the city's signature event.

Shouldn't this have been discussed first?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Does He Even Give A Damn About Details?

Jarvis DeBerry that is. Hard to knock the man for defending New Orleans and criticizing Fox News, but I had to shake my head at something I read in his column today:
Cavuto argued that more than $100 billion had been committed to New Orleans.

Yes, Deberry is correct to point that the money hasn't been sent and that Richard Simmons was a terrible choice as the pro-New Orleans guest, but he didn't seem to see anything else wrong with that sentence.

This isn't just about the $100B figure, there's something far worse with that sentence. DeBerry doesn't seem to notice that Cavuto said the money is going to New Orleans.

The news reports, especially the ones about Mississippi not getting enough attention, often imply that New Orleans is getting all of the aid, but I wasn't aware that Fox was actually saying that. Unfortunately, Fox doesn't provide transcripts and DeBerry's the columnist who somehow managed to use anti-Landrieu campaigning by the GNOR as example of Nagin's tremendous disadvantage in the recent election.

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