Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why I'm on the Lefty Blogroll

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Adam Smith

Vast amounts of money are flooding the world's commodities markets, driving up prices of staple foods like wheat and rice. Biofuels and droughts can't fully explain the recent food crisis -- hedge funds and small investors bear some responsibility for global hunger.
Der Spiegel

Juxtaposition of old quote and current news shamelessly stolen from John Maxwell. More context:
The "hot money" that has fled the collapsed real estate bubble is now moving into the commodities bubble, and that includes food. "Hot money" is an influx of speculative capital in search of high rates of return, quickly moving from one market to another. It moves, however, not because the products are better (the traditional justification for price-setting according to "free market forces") but because the speculative "spread" is better. Money is invested not in making real goods and services but simply in making more money. Food prices are being driven by speculators, and today that includes ordinary investors like you and me, who can now gamble in agricultural futures through ETFs that have opened up a lucrative market formerly available only to big investment players.
If you want to invest in the commodities boom without driving up the global prices of food or fuel, buy gold.

Personally, I expect gold to rise some more, but I think it's looks toppy short term. Of course, I also thought that when gold was selling at $550 two years ago. Full disclosure: I own 200 shares of CEF. Wouldn't want to be accused of trying to drive up the price of gold without acknowledging that any increase in the price of gold adds to my vast personal wealth.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The WTFingnest WTF? in months

Standing in the meeting room Thursday night, with the Algiers Charter Schools Association board of trustees poised to remove Brian Riedlinger as the chief executive officer, Delery, a parent and ACSA employee, couldn't believe what he was witnessing.
Board member Charles Rice, who appeared to lead the initiative to get rid of Riedlinger, kept his comments to a minimum at Thursday's meeting. But Friday, he referenced a "serious lack of communication" between Riedlinger and the board that necessitated a change in leadership.

"It is my belief that Mr. Riedlinger did not understand, nor did he truly comprehend, the financial situation of the system," Rice said. "I don't think he truly understood the operational aspects or what it takes to operate the system."

I'll admit it, I haven't paid much attention to the controversies involving the School Board, the Recovery School District and the various charter schools. It's partly that I don't have kids and probably never will, but it's mainly either that I've been too cynical, or not cynical enough.

If anybody was paying attention, one of the few things that I said at the first Rising Tide conference was that the great hopes for public education in post-Katrina New Orleans struck me as naive. Though there may be individual schools that do good jobs in poor neighborhoods scattered around the country, I don't think there's a single poor school district or city in the country that does a good job district-wide or city-wide. To expect a city that's been as damaged as New Orleans to show the rest of the country how to do it seems absurd. Sorry, if that seems cynical, but I don't believe in miracles.

In retrospect, I should have been more cynical. If you take a historically corrupt school system and throw in the opportunities created by "school choice," you'll probably bake a pretty tempting pie. So, I should have started paying attention much sooner and had my first "WTF" moment in November:
The Algiers Charter Schools Association welcomed not one, but two new trustees Tuesday night, after amending its bylaws to allow up to nine members on the board.

Charles Rice, a lawyer and former chief administrative officer for Mayor Ray Nagin's administration, will join the board, effective immediately. He replaces Calvin Turner Jr., who stepped down in August, citing personal and professional obligations.

WTF? Isn't the appeal of the charter schools supposed to be based on the premise that they're run by honest educators rather than the corrupt politicians that one finds on school boards?. So the people that run the ACSA name Charles Rice to the board of trustees, and, within a few months, he starts trying to get rid of the CEO. However, the first effort to get rid of the CEO failed. Not to be deterred, Rice comes up with another rationale, and, this time, it works.

How WTF can you get?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Oddly Amusing

For some reason, this struck me as funny:
In his first year, Di Martino, who was notified about a month before opening weekend of his selection as a Jazz Fest vendor, said he spent $15,000 on the kitchen supplies, shelving, safe and other equipment required for his booth at the festival. He also spends between $7,000 and $10,000 each year in booth rental fees, to say nothing of the money spent on the 2,000 pounds of meat, 3,000 loaves of bread and 200 gallons of olive salad he estimated goes into the operation each year.

The cost for those provisions is up significantly this year, Di Martino said, thanks to a spike in food prices exacerbated by a declining dollar that makes his European-imported salami and olive products particularly pricey.

In what he described as one example of the highly-regulated environment confronted by prospective festival vendors, Di Martino said he wanted to raise the price for his Jazz Fest muffulettas from $5 to $6 this year to account for those inflated wholesale costs. Festival organizers, he said, wouldn’t let him.

Can't quite put my finger on it.

Update: Searched online, but I couldn't find the chart from Saturday's paper that showed ticket prices doubling in just four years.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

James Gill: One Wise Monkey

Wise as can be, where Nagin's concerned

As I passed Stone Age Granite's new digs at Palm and Monticello recently, it occurred to me that it had been a month, and the story had been allowed to die. The mayor refuses to answers questions about a deal that can't pass any kind of smell test, and that's good enough for the local media. To be fair, the mayor has avoided WWL reporters, but WGNO and WDSU have both allowed the mayor to declare the subject an off limits, personal matter.

Last month, I wrote:
I was glad to see the Picayune run an editorial, and Stephanie Grace write a column about the Stone Age/Home Depot deal, but gutless Gill has been silent on the subject. Gill is happy to write about the mayor's misstatements and temper tantrums, but he still refuses to question the mayor's integrity.

Since I wrote that, Gill has written columns about Jay Blossman and Bobby Jindal that show he still has his nose for hypocrisy and his writing chops, but he still hasn't written about the Stone Age/Home Depot deal. The fact that Stacy Head recommended the sale of land to Home Depot only explains so much. It's hard to reconcile one part of the Home Depot deal:
Head said Nagin also played a role in scrapping a "community benefits agreement" that Head initially supported but that Home Depot opposed. The document would have required the retailer to make specific commitments to hire members of the surrounding community and pay them at a certain scale, among other pledges.

with some of the mayor's earlier actions. A cynic might point out that minority subcontractors, as defined by city ordinance, tend be politically connected firms on the city's DBE list, but the Central City residents that Home Depot would hire under such an agreement would be unlikely to contribute to future Nagin campaigns.

At any rate, it's inconceivable that Gill would fail to notice if any other area politician proclaimed himself a "champion of transparency" and then refused to answer questions.

Egocentric blogging

I'll admit it, when I heard Keith Olbermann name Ercon Corporation his "worst person in the world last night, I thought, "F***, there goes my post." Let's face it, "Worst Person in the World" has become the shoddiest segment of a show that started getting sloppy months before the election season started. "Condemn first, ask questions later," might be a conservative's idea of the modern liberal M.O., but it isn't mine.

Now WWL follows up Thursday night's report on creative levee repair with this:
After initially telling Eyewitness News a Lafayette based company did the work on those joints, the corps now says the work was done by laborers hired by the corps.

There go the easy jokes about Ercon proclaiming itself the "Leaders in Safety" or its boasts of "innovaive engineering." That only took a couple of clicks to find, but it took several to find that the company's registered agent was a personal injury lawyer whose firm offers "effective legal
representation to individuals who have been seriously affected by the
negligent or unlawful acts of others." So much for that joke about innovative ambulance chasing. Obviously, such jokes would be pointless now, as the blame lies with the Corps and not with Ercon -- I wonder if Olbermann will apologize Monday.

Of course, as Jeffrey and Celcus point out, the Corps' admission of responsibility still leaves unanswered questions. Can we really believe that this was an isolated incident? Or was this the only case of anybody witnessing the corps' "innovative engineering?" I'm still curious about how it took two years for the story to break.

Frankly, a Dec. 2005 article from Engineering News Record (unfortunately pay wall protected) makes me wonder if anybody actually knows who's responsible for what:
Capturing the full picture of the federal contracting effort is difficult, as hundreds of contracts are being awarded by many agencies and there is no unified database capturing it all, Brett explains. "It's a mess down there," he says. "It's all over the place, and unfortunately, it's going to be like that for the next few months." Adds Debbie Walbert, an industry analyst with the firm, "I had one contracting officer tell me it's like counting raindrops--while it is raining."

Jarvis DeBerry: Cato Fellow?

Epstein's theory of "regulatory takings" galvanized the movement fifteen years ago when his book Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain first appeared, describing an ingenious new constitutional interpretation designed to rein in modern government. Regulations, he argued, should be properly understood as "takings" under the Fifth Amendment ("...nor shall private property be taken for public purpose without just compensation"), so government must pay those businesses or individuals whose property value is in some way diminished by public actions.

"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. That's fine too. You'd have no antidiscrimination laws for privileged employees, which would be a godsend." Does Professor Epstein wish to restore the Lochner era of 1905? "Well, God bless, of course," he said. "But why do you think that's socially irresponsible?" In fact, he portrays his approach as moderate compromise because, unlike the Lochner doctrine, it would not invalidate the regulatory laws that legislatures enact. He would merely make the public pay for them. "We will allow the majority to have its way so long as it's willing to buy off its dissenters at a fair valuation," Epstein told the libertarian magazine Reason.
William Greider

The Parish Council, by its own authority, decided that it could void the property rights of everybody within its jurisdiction. A lawsuit contends that the ordinance violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that Americans can't be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law" and says "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." On April 3 a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the parish from enforcing the ordinance.

The plaintiffs' argument is beautifully simple: By not allowing them to rent their property as they see fit, the parish is effectively taking their right to use and enjoy their property. They note, "All plaintiffs have obtained mortgages to redevelop their properties with a pledge of rentals as part of the security given."

The consequences of St. Bernard's "taking," could be the plaintiffs' inability to pay their mortgages.
Jarvis DeBerry

I can't believe that I'm criticizing Jarvis DeBerry for not bringing race into a discussion, but some issues can't be discussed honestly without mentioning race. As this City Business article makes clear, the St. Bernard rental ordinance is almost certainly about race:
“Really and truly I don’t feel comfortable there, but I need somewhere to live,” said Alveris, who has been living with his mother in her Harvey home since being evicted. Blacks such as Alveris make up 70 percent of the 54 Your Home Solution Louisiana renters, said Brenneman.

The YHS plan was to renovate the properties and “quickly sell” them for between $135,000 and $165,000, said Brenneman, an investor and an employee of the parent company, Your Home Solution Management, which manages investor-owned properties in Central Florida and the New Orleans region.

Of course, it also seems that the plaintiffs are "flippers."

In fact, I'm really not interested in criticizing DeBerry, but I cringe whenever the concept of "property rights" is applied to investment property. I won't go into a long-winded discussion of property rights, but I will refer to this letter from a Bywater resident and this one from a Violet resident. The arguments of this Picayune editorial could only be used against one; DeBerry's could be used against either.

BTW, I am sympathetic to the home owner from Violet; a community should have some right to protect itself from absentee profiteers. Zoning regulations limiting the number of units on a rental property would be well within a community's rights, but that's not what St. Bernard Parish is proposing. I can't imagine that these that any investor group would want to hold on to single, or even double, unit investment properties indefinitely.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Policin' ain't easy

"She told us, 'He had been pimping me out for a while,' "

This first one sounds like a case of cops gone stupid, but I can't tell from the from the report whether the cop was pimp or john. Not that it would be excusable either way:
A veteran New Orleans police officer resigned his position with the department after Kenner police arrested him during an undercover prostitution sting on Thursday afternoon.

Raynard Lyons, a 17-year veteran of the department, was booked with pandering after officers watched him drop off a prostitute at an undisclosed Kenner apartment building, Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway said.

Caraway said Lyons had driven the woman to the spot after undercover detectives agreed to exchange sex for money. The connection was made through, a popular advertising Web site.

Just last night, my brother and I were talking about the fact the NOPD rarely makes arrests in even high profile murder cases that clearly don't involve the drug trade anymore. I can't imagine why. I'm not knocking the entire NOPD for on officer's action, but, God, that sounds like one stupid cop.

Worse than stupid:
Clyde A. Clarke, 45, of 438 Holy Cross Place, Kenner, was booked with malfeasance in office after authorities claimed he forced an unidentified 26-year-old woman to expose herself to avoid arrest on two occasions. Demond T. Ferguson, 24, 1740 Hampton Drive, Harvey, was fired by the Sheriff's Office but was not arrested.

Col. John Fortunato, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said that on Saturday, Clarke and Ferguson were traveling separately when they stopped the woman and her boyfriend on Ames Boulevard. During the traffic stop, the deputies determined that both were wanted on other traffic violations and arrested only the unidentified man.

The deputies allowed the woman to leave, but not before asking her to provide personal information, including a telephone number, Fortunato said. After Clarke took her boyfriend to jail, he telephoned the woman and told her to meet him outside her home.

I think we may see lawsuits in Jefferson Parish:
Clarke joined the Sheriff's Office in 2004. Ferguson, who was fired for not preventing the incident and not reporting it, joined in 2006. Both men had worked at the parish correctional center before recently being assigned to patrol duties, Normand said.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Exactly

NYT Editorial today:
It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

NYT report very early in the campaign:
Mr. Obama’s aides circulated the memorandum to news organizations on the condition that news organizations not say where they obtained the information.
These documents – with their bold type and grabby headlines, including one that referred to Mrs. Clinton as (D-Punjab) – are text-book examples of old-school opposition research practices. Second, the documents include what could be construed as attacks on Mr. Clinton, who is probably the most popular person among Democrats these days.

Also from last June:
Drudge has been touting his latest Clinton “scandal,” this time accusing the former president of giving a for-profit speech for Asian investors on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Like far too many Drudge “scoops,” this one’s false.

Drudge told readers:

FORMS REVEAL: Bill Clinton commemorated the 5th anniversary of 9/11with a paid $100,000 speech [via satellite] to a group of investors in Hong Kong attending a forum about personal wealth….
Greg Sargent explains.

We’ve just obtained an email that shows that the Obama campaign yesterday circulated a negative, and ultimately false, story about Bill Clinton — that he allegedly made money giving a speech on September 11, 2006.

For more on the negative campaigning that Clinton supposedly started, read this and take the time to follow some of the links. Eriposte does stack the deck somewhat, but no more than Obama supporters. To me, the biggest mystery of the 2008 election has been the eagerness of liberals, especially liberal bloggers and blog readers, to embrace the campaign season's dominant media narrative. I'm not attacking Obama; to be elected president, a politician has to play to win.

Update: James Wolcott:
Shorter New York Times editorial:

Hillary Clinton's ruthless insistence on winning big-state primaries with traditional Democratic voters only hastens and strengthens the case that she drop out of the race and let Barack Obama finish his waffle.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Volcker and Reagan -- another comment turned blog post

Probably too full of myself, but I'm too pleased with a couple of links to leave them buried in comments, where I'll have trouble finding them in the future.

In a must-read post Oyster quotes the WSJ:
Nationally, median household pre-tax income in 2006, though slightly higher than in 2004, fell to $48,223 from an inflation-adjusted $49,477 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. Weekly wage figures from 2007 suggest the decline persists.

He also quotes a Historical Revisionism Today* article:
Part of Reagan’s legacy is the latitude he gave Paul Volcker, as risky and painful as that was, to deal with those problems. Unless one believes the next president will want to take the hit for Bush’s decisions, or that someone with Reagan’s mandate and courage is about to appear, whoever is in the White House a decade from now will probably confront the economic fallout from current policies. But by that time will anyone remember how it all started? How many cursed LBJ or Nixon in 1979? The White House not only knows the answer, it’s counting on the nation’s forgetfulness.

Oyster rightly pointed out that Volcker was a Carter-appointee, but the first sentence didn't jibe with my recollection of the early Eighties. So I did a little a googling and left a lengthy comment:
According to data from, if all the changes since 1983 were undone, newspapers would be sporting banner headlines about 12% inflation, instead of one-column, below-the-fold items reporting 4% annual CPI growth.

To be fair, Clinton also benefited from Pollyanna Creep, but it's called creep for a reason. At any rate, if median income, in inflation adjusted dollars, didn't quite hold even using the official rate of inflation, the decline in median incomes when adjusted with an honest rate of inflation should be much greater (edited version).

The 1979 quote is spot on; people always dismiss it as partisanship when I point out that the economic problems of the 70's were too much for three presidents. I was too young for Nixon's attempt at wage/price controls to register, but, as an eighth or ninth grader couple of years later, I was old enough to laugh at Ford's WIN buttons. That's also, BTW, why I've never had much interest in historical speculation based on the Nixon pardon or Iran, I think the economy would have made it extremely difficult for either Ford or Carter to be re-elected.

Finally, in the case of Volcker, Greenspan and inflation, you have to wonder why it took that success so long to even get a second father. For years, conservatives pretended that Carter-appointee Volcker never existed; now "The American Conservative" is crediting Reagan for giving him latitude -- that's really rich. Time Magazine 1984:

Last week they were started anew by White House Press Spokesman Larry Speakes. Immediately after the banks raised the prime rate, he told reporters, "We have been asking the Federal Reserve Board to allow sufficient monetary expansion to assure noninflationary growth. Although the economy has been growing at a healthy pace and inflation remains at a low level, it appears that the money supply is not accommodating real economic growth."

The following day the attack was picked up by Treasury Secretary Regan. In a speech to Massachusetts businessmen and community leaders, he warned that the Federal Reserve's stringent credit policies could begin to hurt. Said he: "If the Fed continues on its tight path now, it will have an effect on November and December. Does that have us worried? You bet your life it has us worried."

Real Clear Markets, 2008:

Given Volcker’s historical ties to Reagan, some Republicans logically took offense to his seeming apostasy. Their dismay is misplaced. Volcker was never on board with the Reagan economic plan in the way that modern history suggests, and rather than an essential driver of the ‘80s economic renaissance, a more realistic account of Volcker’s early years at the Fed shows that far from a facilitator of pro-growth policies, Volcker’s actions nearly derailed Reagan’s economic plan and presidency altogether.

I've said for years that Volcker did the heavy lifting and Greenspan got the credit. I don't claim it was an original thought, but you only heard from the fringes; few mainstream commentators would say it until very recently. I can only speculate as to why. I'd guess that conservatives didn't want to share the credit while Greenspan was treated like God, mainstream liberals were afraid were afraid of being accused of petty partisanship, and academic and types didn't think it worth the "liberal bias" charge.

Credit for the old Time Magazine quote goes to Xpatriated Texan, but I give myself some credit for remembering my college and spotting a lie -- more credit for remembering my college years than for spotting an obvious lie. Judging by the magazine that Oyster quotes, some conservatives will believe anything -- the Federal Reserve is independent, and the president can't just remove its chairman.

*Not the actual name of the magazine.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Careful there, Stacy

I missed this article when it was published last week and would have been unaware of the goings on at The Stern Tennis Center if not for Cait's* comment on this post.

From what I remember of the neighborhood in question, one passage in the article gives an incomplete description:
As city officials prepare to move ahead with a $1.6 million plan to resurrect the Atkinson/Stern Tennis Center, an iconic Uptown institution in the middle of an old residential section, a dispute has erupted between two factions with competing visions about how to bring back the New Orleans Recreation Department facility.

That's true, but it's near the edge of a predominantly black neighborhood that borders a predominantly white neighborhood. At least, that's how I would have described the neighborhood a few years ago. But, it's late, so I'll just copy, paste and slightly edit the comment that I left on the other post:
Cait, the Stern Tennis Center was completely off of my radar, but if Fanucci Jim Singleton is involved, something's up. I wouldn't guess that there'd be enough patronage involved for Fanucci Singleton to wet his beak, but I can easily see a trap for Head.

Can I assume that Head's on the privatizer's side -- the Picayune article didn't give any indication? It doesn't matter if Oliver Thomas' mentor, Singleton, is involved, that's no excuse to act disdainful of people who disagree. First off, the burden of proof should always be on the party that wants to privatize. Secondly, it's a public facility in a poor to working class neighborhood that's probably experienced some gentrification (haven't been that way in years) and that borders a much more affluent neighborhood. Poor and working people have every right to be suspicious when somebody proposes a change to a public service in their neighborhood; the demographic flux that enabled Head to be elected can't help but heighten those suspicions.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that Jim Singleton's just a retired public servant motivated by a sentimental attachment to clay tennis courts.

Update: In a letter to the editor, the secretary of A's and Aces writes:
A's & Aces is not a management vehicle for a tennis facility. Because of its location and historical significance, it was thought that the Atkinson Stern Tennis Center would be a perfect venue for a program like A's & Aces to benefit neighborhood children. That is the sole connection ever proposed between A's & Aces and the tennis center.

However, the article linked above contained the following:
Pushing for private management of the complex, Schumacher is offering the services of his recently formed nonprofit group, A's & Aces, to oversee tennis instruction and the suggested learning center.

I have no interest in a tennis center across town from where I live, but something interesting is going on.

*Cait's comment caused me to look up the article, I have no idea what she thinks of Singleton or anybody else involved.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

I wouldn't even call them streetcars

Five pre-Katrina items about the Canal street things -- not a thesis, just background source material from the pages of the local paper.

I. Letter to the editor Times-Picayune April 21, 2004

Transit is not just for tourists

After 35 years, I thought I had lived in New Orleans long enough not to be surprised by the incompetence and contempt for the public by those who supposedly provide public services. But as I witnessed the utter chaos on Canal Street Monday morning, I was reminded again just how close we are to Third World status.

Fortunately, my usual bus was still running, albeit not on any recognizable schedule. There were plenty of people who had no idea that their usual buses were not running, or that some buses had new names. There were no signs giving information at the numerous former bus stops.
I am sure the streetcars will please the tourists, increase the RTA's income and maybe even help the New Orleans Museum of Art. But the people who are going to work or to school have been shafted.

Edward Real

New Orleans

II. Editorial Times-Picayune August 18, 2004

Streetcar successes

When a brand new streetcar line took the place of most Regional Transit Authority bus services along Canal Street in April, commuters had to endure delays and other unexpected mishaps. But the latest surprise along Canal is a pleasant one.

In May, June and July, RTA operations on Canal -- the streetcar and two express buses -- together served 260,000 more riders than old bus lines did during the same months last year. The authority didn't expect so large an increase.

The question now is whether ridership will hold up over time.

Streetcars have an undeniable aesthetic value; unlike buses, they catch one's fancy as they roll by. To be a success in the long term, though, the streetcar line must operate smoothly enough that commuters can rely on it to get to work on time every day.

The authority still has some problems to hash out. For example, riders have had to wait to board the streetcars because riders ahead of them in line can't easily fit their dollar bills into the cars' fare machines. RTA officials are thinking about installing better bill-reading equipment aboard cars and putting vending machines that would dispense tokens at more stops.

Such changes are in order if they'll cut down on delays.

A well-designed transit system reduces traffic congestion and the demand for parking spaces and improves employment prospects for people who don't drive. For the Canal streetcar line to play that role, its cars don't just have to be pleasant and attractive. They also have to be an easy, consistent, dependable way to get around.

III. Letter to the editor Times-Picayune June 10, 2004

Speed up, how about it?

The new streetcars on Canal Street and on North Carrollton are nice attractive red cars. They run on very smooth tracks, and they are air conditioned.

But they are an operational disaster!

Sunday my wife and I went for a ride on one, from Royal and Canal out to the Sculpture Garden in City Park. We had to wait 20 minutes before our car came along. It missed almost every traffic light before it got out of the CBD, and it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for passengers to load and pay their fares. Then the car poked along at about 10 to 15 mph. It took 40 minutes to go from Royal Street to the end of the line at Beauregard Circle.

My wife said, "How would you like to have to commute to work every day on this thing?" The whole trip took us an hour, counting the time we had to wait at the car stop downtown.

It seems something could be done to load passengers faster. Also, I wonder if the cars couldn't be given some kind of control over the traffic lights. If the cars aren't sped up, I don't see how they will be attractive to riders, nor do I see how they will ever fulfill the great expectations for them to help revitalize Canal Street.

Richard J. Moore


IV. Article Times-Picayune April 30, 2004

Streetcar delays among growing pains;
But new Canal line attracted 125,000 riders in its first week

By Frank Donze; Staff writer

Delays likely will be the norm along the Canal Street streetcar line in the near future as the Regional Transit Authority continues to grapple with growing pains associated with breaking in the popular new service.
"It's no secret we're not consistent just yet," Gerald Robichaux, the RTA's deputy general manager, said Thursday. "But after this weekend, I promise we'll get much better."

The return of streetcars to Canal after a 40-year absence has been a rousing success, attracting 125,000 paying customers during the first week of service, which ended Sunday.

But the RTA has been bombarded with complaints from rush-hour commuters about long waits along the Canal Street route between City Park Avenue and the Mississippi River, and the North Carrollton Avenue spur that terminates at Beauregard Circle.
In addition to the community-wide excitement that has accompanied the streetcar renaissance, the launch of the new line coincided with the final day of the French Quarter Festival, whose patrons used streetcar service in large numbers.

While the crowds have slowed the system at times, particularly last weekend during the first three days of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, there have been other vexing problems.

For example, transit officials said drivers and riders still are adjusting to the super-sensitive fare boxes on the new streetcars that often refuse to accept worn currency. And despite stepped-up police enforcement and new signs, motorists are failing to obey the no-left-turn rules up and down Canal Street, blocking intersections and impeding the flow of streetcars.

Thus far, transit officials said there have been only a handful of minor accidents involving vehicles and streetcars, and none has been the fault of RTA personnel.

But perhaps the most unanticipated obstacle to on-time performance was the large number of wheelchair-bound customers who used the line during its debut week.

Unlike RTA buses and the agency's only other commuter streetcar line on St. Charles Avenue, the Canal streetcars are equipped with hydraulic lifts to accommodate disabled riders, as required by federal law. The St. Charles line is exempt from the requirement because it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the seven-day period that ended last Sunday, 245 wheelchair-bound customers used the two dozen streetcars on the Canal Street line, officials said. Each streetcar can accommodate two wheelchairs.

In a typical week, RTA managers said about 125 riders using wheelchairs board the system's 350 or so buses.

"We advertised that we are an accessible system," Robichaux told the RTA board of commissioners during their monthly meeting Thursday. "And they've said, 'OK, here we come!' "

On average, it takes a driver about 12 minutes to board and secure a rider in a wheelchair.

While Robichaux said the enthusiastic response from the handicapped community has been "heartwarming," it also "slows us down. But that's part of the game."

With experience, RTA brass hope drivers can reduce the time it takes to board a wheelchair passenger.

When it comes to traffic hazards, the RTA intends to enforce the law.

Last week, in fact, transit police officers told the board that they issued 114 citations for illegal left turns at a single intersection: Canal at Claiborne Avenue.

As for the fare box problems, the RTA is encouraging riders to use coins or transit tokens, rather than bills. The one-way streetcar fare is $1.25.

Tokens are on sale at two fare booths, one at Canal and Carondelet streets, the other at Canal and North Peters streets. The booths are open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Customers also can buy tokens and multiday transit passes at dozens of commercial locations across the city, including Hibernia and Whitney Bank branches and Winn-Dixie supermarkets. The list of vendors is available on the RTA's Web site,, or by calling the agency's RideLine at 248-3900.

RTA officials also said they are exploring the possibility of installing machines that dispense tokens along the Canal Street route.

While regular bus service along Canal Street has been discontinued, customers still have the option of using the West End and Canal Boulevard express lines that travel the route on weekdays during rush hour.

The express buses operate every 30 minutes or so from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The express buses pick up riders at every stop between the lakefront and the intersection of North Anthony and Canal streets, and between Claiborne Avenue and the Mississippi River. There are no stops between North Anthony and Claiborne.

Ideally, Canal streetcars are supposed to arrive every six minutes between Carrollton Avenue and the river and every 12 minutes along other sections of Canal and along the spur line.

But RTA officials acknowledge that they have not been hitting those marks.

"Ridership so far has been beyond our imagination," RTA General Manager Bill Deville told the agency's board. "But with success comes a few growing pains.

"It took 14 years to design and construct this project. And it will take a few weeks to straighten things out."

V. Article Times-Picayune April 20, 2004

Bugs bite new Canal streetcar line service;
Riders complain of unexplained delays

By Susan Finch and Tara Young; Staff writers

Glitches that threw schedules for the new Canal streetcar line out of whack during its first weekday commute prompted angry complaints from riders who said rush-hour delays made them late for work and school.
On the line's upper end at Canal Street and City Park Avenue, anxious riders cooled their heels Monday morning for nearly an hour while a riverbound streetcar stood empty in front of them and no others were in sight.

Several of those waiting said the service was too slow.

"The (rush hour) buses are more quicker and more convenient," said Trenice Jackson, a cook at a Canal Street restaurant.

Regional Transit Authority officials promised a quick fix but urged the public to keep in mind that the service, ferrying riders on Canal between the river and City Park Avenue and on Carrollton between Canal and the New Orleans Museum of Art, will take some getting used to by riders and drivers.
"We know that it was slow today," RTA spokeswoman Beth Branley said. "Any time anything is brand new, we have to step back, analyze what went wrong, fix it and go forward. We want people to ride and be happy and get to work on time."

The confusion apparently started when the driver of an empty streetcar that had developed a problem turned onto the Carrollton avenue spur and headed out to the art museum, instead of up Canal to the cemeteries, where the malfunctioning car was to be replaced by another car.

Another streetcar driver followed suit. So, for a spell Monday morning, no cars were available between Carrollton and City Park Avenue, and the delays were long, said frustrated riders and RTA officials.

Later Monday, to help meet greater-than-expected demand on the line going to City Park Avenue, the RTA routed more streetcars that way. In the morning, the agency had evenly split 18 cars between the two terminus points. For the afternoon, it sent 15 cars to City Park Avenue from downtown and only three onto the Carrollton spur.

Additionally, RTA officials said a supervisor was stationed at Carrollton and Canal during Monday afternoon to make sure the streetcars headed to their intended destinations. They acknowledged the day was not without kinks, but noted it was the first workday and demand was high.

"Give us three months and we should have it under control," one supervisor said.

Many riders said they were willing to give the Canal line another chance. James Bergeron, who started out from his home in the Garden District at 2:30, transferred to the Canal line from the St. Charles line, but didn't get to Carrollton until 4:40 p.m. He was still waiting for the connection to City Park 45 minutes later.

"I understand it is the second day," Bergeron said. "It is an easy thing to fix. I am not the least bit concerned about that. If I can leave my car somewhere and get to places, that's the route I am going to take, and it's nice. I can't wait to use it for Jazzfest."

Some commuters were unaware the new Canal line replaced RTA buses. Johnny Brown, who works at a restaurant at Metairie, waited 90 minutes, and when neither bus nor streetcar showed up, called the restaurant. Someone came to get him.

Deborah Shelby, who works at Mercy Hospital, was among those waiting. She said she hoped the RTA wasn't too focused on tourists.

"They need to look after the people who have to go to work," she said.

The Canal line was slowed, too, by large number of riders boarding and dealing with a new kind of farebox, RTA officials said.

"It's a highly sensitive, computerized system that's all tied together," Branley said. "We just have some growing pains. We're going to take a look at them and we're just going to have to fix them."

The goal is to have streetcars available to commuters every 6 minutes during the morning and evening rushes, but RTA officials acknowledge they aren't there yet. Transit users who want faster service on Canal Street can catch express buses, which RTA is running only between 6 and 9 a.m., and 3 and 6 p.m.

During nonpeak times, the schedule aims for cars every 15 or 20 minutes, Branley said. Like its St. Charles Avenue counterpart, the Canal line runs 24 hours, seven days a week. And, like St. Charles line, waits for streetcars on the Canal line will be longer in the late night and early morning hours, officials said.

For some Monday commuters, the novelty wasn't worth the wait.

One young woman, waiting to hop a streetcar at the cemeteries stop to get farther down Canal where she planned to board a bus to her job in eastern New Orleans, said the streetcar service is "very inconvenient for people trying to get to work."

Downtown Development District hospitality ranger Alfonso Martinez, part of the gaggle of people at the cemeteries stop, was enthusiastic about the new service and predicted it would be a big hit with tourists.

But he gave RTA officials low marks for how they handled him and others who waited and waited. Two of the agency's supervisors and a driver were standing across Canal Street, he said, and none came over to explain the delay.

"People see the lack of customer service," Martinez said. "They view it as, 'This is just for tourists.' "

Not every one of the Canal line's Monday morning customers was depending on the new streetcars to get to work.

Some were older people glad to see the resurrection of the Canal line, which was discontinued in 1964 by New Orleans Public Service Inc., then running the city's transit service.

Among those riding down memory lane was 78-year-old T.K. Schimpf, who began as a motorman for NOPSI in 1945 and moved up into other jobs with the firm over a career of nearly 40 years, and his wife.

"We courted on that streetcar," Catherine Schimpf said.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hard-working reporters, trying to do their jobs

Have you no sense of irony, sir, at long last?! Have you left no sense of irony!?

Not that it would have been either clever or original, but that's what I was tempted to yell at Keith Olbermann last Wednesday. Olbermann's derisive tone as he mocks Clinton doesn't come across in the transcript, but he sneered at Clnton's claims of biased press coverage in the most belittling tones imaginable before introducing a comedian to introduce the evening's number one story -- a dispute over payment of a Clinton campaign bill. Who could have predicted it, Keith Olbermann: prince of the pod people?
Do you know you're a dipshit, Keith, at long last? Have you left no sense of your own dipshittiness?

Well, I was prepared to forget all about it, until I heard Howard Fineman on last night's show:
Well, this isn‘t the Obama network. We‘re reporters here. I‘m a reporter. You‘re a reporter. We‘re trying to do our job (sic).

In Campaign 2000, just how hard did pundits work to assert that great spin-point? Consider Howard Fineman’s influential piece in the June 5, 2000 Newsweek. The piece was headlined “Al Gore’s Next Makeover.” By now, just how easy had it become to accuse the veep of conducting a makeover? Here is the entire passage explaining the use of that term:

FINEMAN: Gore’s handlers are plotting yet another rollout of their candidate, this one a massive ad campaign based on the notion that he’s not so much an alpha male as a thinking man with a heart: a former journalist who used his time in Congress to educate himself, and the nation, on over-the-horizon issues; a man of profound, restless intellectual curiosity—unlike a certain governor of Texas. In the meantime, even Democrats think Bush won the spring, and they worry about signs of drift in the Gore campaign.

“Not so much an alpha male?” Fineman pulled another dim-witted spin-point from the pundit corps’ endless supply. But what actual news was the great scribe reporting? Gore would air a set of ads stressing aspects of his life story. According to Fineman’s slender text, this new ad campaign—and this alone—comprised the veep’s “Next Makeover.”
Readers, was there something odd about these ads? Surely, the question answers itself. Obviously, candidates “roll out” new ads all the time. And just how “new” would these “new ads” be? In fact, the first of the ads wasn’t new at all; it had widely aired in New Hampshire during the primary. But Newsweek knew the corps’ approved points. The ads were described as “Gore’s next makeover;” this touched off a week of press corps spinning.

Whenever Howard Fineman strays into the truth and says something negative about Bush, Zeitgeist sniffers jump to the conclusion that Dubya is stinking up the joint so bad that Even Howard Fineman Has Turned on Him. That maybe there's hope for Howard after all.

Forget it. Fineman will never obtain a lasting clue about anything. His translucent shell of professional narcissism is impregnable.

One supremely, fatuously blithe sentence says it all. Writing about the media's bloodhound pursuit of the truth about the war in Southeast Asia and Watergate, Fineman, lolling in the comfort of hindsight, observes, "The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans."

1) I would say that those "crusades" also seem like pretty goddam good ideas in retrospect, considering that the alternatives were endless slaughter in Vietnam and the complete subversion of the Constitution and a gangster mentality unchained had Watergate never been investigated. I have to believe that if Howard Fineman had been an editor in 1972, he would have shrugged off Watergate and assigned his reporters to meatier stories, such as finding out who's designing Mrs. Nixon's inauguration gown and how well it drapes.

The day my high school declared war on Iraq
Newsweek's Howard Fineman wrote this column going on ten days ago and I thought I'd managed to shrug it off, but I guess it's been working away slowly on my mental immune system. Stupidity is a persistent little microbe.

Here's Fineman's opening:

You knew Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in high school. At least I did. They were candidates in the student senate election. She was the worthy but puffed-up Miss Perfect, all poodle skirts and multicolored binders clutched to her chest. He was the lanky, mysterious transfer student—from Hawaii by way of Indonesia no less—who Knew Things and was way too cool to carry more than one book at a time. Who would be leader of the pack?

Presidential elections are high school writ large...

Yep. Exactly as I remember it. Our high school student government had a multi-trillion dollar budget to play around with, a stockpile of nuclear weapons, thousands and thousands of miles of roads to repair and bridges to inspect, and trade treaties with Japan, China, and Great Britain all set to expire.

My junior year the big issue in the class elections was whether or not the incoming student president would continue the war in the Middle East the previous administration had started. There was a lot of angry debate about redeployment and whether or not what one of the candidates was proposing should be called a surge or escalation.

My God, there is so much stupidity packed into Fineman's paragraph that I have no idea where to start shoveling.

(Marginally related) Update:
Just heard David-the-Likable on Newshour:
DAVID BROOKS: ... the "bitter," yes. And going to the church, "Is he like us?"

So Barack Obama has to address those issues. And the way you do is through symbols that seem trivial in their nature, but do go to the essence of who he is.

And I thought he should have been grateful for the chance to demonstrate that he does share the same values. He gave, frankly, not-so-great answers to those questions.

Is dipshittiness contagious? However, he also said something that could prove useful to quote later; it could prove useful in a couple of ways:
And the reason I think they were legitimate is this. The reason Democrats have lost presidential elections in more recent years has not been because people don't agree with them on the issues. They do tend to agree with them about health care and education, things like that.

It's because they're not sure that candidate -- John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore -- is like them, shares their values, shares their basic life experience. The question is now asked of Barack Obama, "Is he like us?"

And whether you like it or not, the way people measure that question is through the use of symbols, whether it was Michael Dukakis sitting there in the tank, or John Kerry wind-surfing, or John Edwards' $400 haircut, people care about the symbols when they're saying, "Is that guy like us?"

That is a prominent conservative saying that Republicans win on symbols rather than ideas and issues.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


I was unable to post most of last week so I couldn't comment on Reclaiming the River. When I was looking up campaign contributions for this post the week before, I was struck by the generosity of the Cummings family, and their various enterprises, as well as that of William Broadhurst. I wasn't particularly surprised to see John and Sean Cummings giving money to various city council members, but William Broadhurst brought back memories. I didn't realize that the former Edwards confidante and Monkey Business skipper was still involved in local politics. The Riverfront article may have explained:
Upriver, the planners' suggestion that three privately financed residential towers could be built on the wharves between Richard and Race streets has drawn a protest from lawyer William Broadhurst, a friend of Miami developer Michael Samuel, who bought the nearby Market Street power plant in early 2007 for $10 million.

Broadhurst said construction of riverfront buildings would mar the view from the proposed condominium, hotel and retail project and would hurt Samuel's chances of getting financing.

I've scrapped most of the posts that I've done on the riverfront because they've ended up looking like hatchet jobs, but I will finish one up soon. I'll also say that I had a WTF moment when a Google search led to The Nagin Files, but you can't always tell what's meant by "business partner."

Also, I can't believe that I missed this a while back. Of course the mayor's office should be responsible for all complaints about city government. Otherwise, the council wouldn't have given in so easily.

Finally, I don't have time to replay the whole thing, but if I remember the Frontline piece on Katrina correctly, Bennett Landreneau seemed pretty inept.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Snarky (but F***ing obvious) answers to snarky (but simple) questions

Earlier today, Jeffrey asked:
Besides... who's a bigger douche than Stacy Head, anyway?

I happen to agree with almost everything E wrote in the post that Jeffrey linked (under the circumstances, I thought that the blown kiss was understandable), but the f**ing obvious answer is, transparency's champion is a bigger douche than Stacy Head. A probable answer would be Mr. "no more business as usual", but, I'll address that in a separate post.

Anyway, I'll just repeat what I said last month, I'm seeing more effort to embarrass the council member for what she did say than to embarrass Mayor Transparency for what he refused to say. Or to embarrass the media for allowing him to not say it. With the recent attention it's received, the local blogosphere might have the stroke to help some reporters and op-ed writers find their backbones, maybe even the guy who kidnapped James Gill, or whoever inhabits that desk on Howard Ave.

Like I said, I agree with almost everything that E said. To be charitable to Stacy Head, I'll merely point out the obvious fact that nobody should propose citywide ordinances from a district council member's point of view. I'll repeat what I wrote when the mayor went from posing as champion of the displaced to acting as demolitionist-in-chief:
What in the hell should the date of Katrina have to do with the deadline to gut and repair homes? Seriously, should a deadline be based on when residents were forced to leave their homes or when they were welcomed back? Since houses without safe running water are legally unfit for human habitation, perhaps a deadline dated from the restoration of water service to an area would be appropriate. I'm not sure what a proper deadline for gutting and securing homes should be, but I do know that a consistent, citywide deadline of a year (from Katrina) certainly wouldn't be fair. Arguably, it wouldn't be consistent.

Since different parts of the city were more heavily damaged by the levee failures than others, and different parts of the city had services restored at different times than others, one set of reconstruction deadlines is both morally indefensible and logically absurd. It would probably be easy enough to set different deadlines for different sides of the Industrial Canal, to try to fine tune it beyond that would almost certainly be unworkable.

Shortly after the deadline (the trailer deadline) was proposed, I took a bike ride through Gentilly. I'm one of Head's bigger fans in the local blogosphere, but I had to wonder how often she ventures out of Distict B. There are very few trailers left in my immediate Bayou St.John neighborhood, but head out toward the lake and you'll easily find trailers inhabited by people who are obviously working on their homes. Under normal market conditions, without insurance and Road Home difficulties, the majority of those homes could probably be inhabitable by June 1, but conditions are far from normal. There probably is, or soon will be, some need for deadlines. However, to set the same deadline for residents east of the Industrial Canal as for the rest of the city is absurd. Any deadline set for the rest of the city should be based on what's fair to residents between Elysian Fields and the canal, not what's fair for residents between St. Charles and the river, or even between St. Charles and Claiborne. There should be enough ordinances to combat blight in those areas anyway.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jimmie must believe Jim

I really don't know what to make of this. But Jimmie Woods seems to be concerned with possible criminal trials than an ongoing civil case:
Trash hauler Jimmie Woods, who holds a share of New Orleans' lucrative residential garbage-collection contract and shares in the fees generated by an eastern New Orleans landfill, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination last month during a deposition in a federal civil case.
Invoking the amendment also can affect the case at hand. When a witness has refused to answer questions in a civil case, opposing counsel has wide latitude to say what he thinks the facts are.

The case in which Woods invoked his Fifth Amendment right involves a complicated dispute about the 463-unit Beechgrove apartment complex in Westwego. Parties to the suit include the complex's owners, its insurers and several contractors and subcontractors who were hired to rehabilitate it.
It is unclear whether Woods' invoking of the Fifth Amendment owed to the feds' interest in the Beechgrove deal. Two other Woods ventures -- the New Orleans landfill, which he runs with contractor Stephen Stumpf, and the residential trash collection contract, which he shares with Richard's Disposal and SDT Waste & Debris Services -- also have stirred up controversy.

Meanwhile, the feds also are probing an Orleans Parish School Board trash contract that was awarded to Metro, Woods' firm, in 2002. Barré has told federal investigators that he delivered cash bribes to the husband of Una Anderson, then on the School Board, from Woods and Richard's Disposal in exchange for a promise of Anderson's support for a contract. Anderson has denied the allegation, portraying Barré, who is awaiting sentencing, as willing to tell investigators anything in hopes of reducing his sentence.

Hope the last item in this post didn't seem too snarky. Heads on a post by October might be a more believable promise than "cranes on the skyline by September," after all. I'm not going to get too excited yet, but we'll see.

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Picayune Items

Last Thursday, the Picayune ran a story about a possible abuse of public office on the part of nuclear power advocate/wind energy critic Jay Blossman*. Appropriately, a scathing column by James Gill appeared in today's paper. It's interesting to compare the column that Gill about Blossman's apparent abuse of office to the column that he wrote about Mayor Transparency's refusal to answer about the deal between Stone Age Granite and Home Depot. Oops, you can't link to a column that never got written.

I do have a couple of things to add to Bruce Eggler's report on Mitch Landrieu's effort to bring the board of the Louisiana State Museum directly under the control of the lieutenant governor's office. The State Museum Board provides the lists of nominees for one seat on the Vieux Carre Commission. I have been told that the strong backing of the state museum made Ralph Lupin fireproof when the mayor attempted to take advantage of Lupin's mistake in not calling Veronica White a crook. In addition, the State Museum Board also controls all the retail locations in the Lower Pontalba. In other words Bruce Eggler understated, at least to some degree, the amount of patronage that the proposed bill would put under the lieutenant governor's control.

*FWIW, I'm not as opposed to nuclear power as I am opposed to Republicans who support nuclear power. That's not partisan b.s.; I find the thought of increased reliance on nuclear power combined with the conservative attitude toward government regulation frightening.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Orleans Politics/Jefferson Politics

Nothing of real interest in today's Orleans Politics column, however, we are informed that a "slow-starting" D.A.'s race finally has a second candidate waging a visible campaign. If that's a slow start, I can only wonder about the lack of candidates for William Jefferson's seat. In December 2006, I heard Clancy DuBos say that the upcoming party primary system would make Jefferson almost unbeatable in upcoming elections; it would be a real pisser if a man who thought Blanco had a better shot at re-election than Nagin picked that one to get right.

Hope I'm not poaching in any oyster beds, but that leads to today's Jefferson Politics column:
It was a common scene at election time, save one element: Several of the supporters were the same politicians who snickered behind Shepherd's back about his perceived lack of ethics, even calling him the "walking indictment." Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, for example, had publicly accused Shepherd of lacking integrity a few months earlier, saying his negotiations for a pet project amounted to "public extortion."

Fast forward to Thursday, when a federal grand jury indicted Shepherd on five charges related to a bond broker's money-laundering scheme. Asked if he regretted lending Shepherd political support in 2006, Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse responded that he didn't endorse Shepherd that day. When reminded that, in fact, he was in attendance, Lagasse recalled it and said his presence was just "tongue in cheek."

Lagasse, like others in that crowd, said the endorsement signaled a preference for any Jefferson Parish candidate over those from New Orleans.

"He was definitely a Jefferson Parish leader, so I was going to support him," he said.

I don't think I ever blogged it, but, at the time, I was appalled at what greedy bastards Jefferson Parish politicians were. Orleans Parish, Jefferson Parish and the Northshore basically have two congressional districts between them. Not only did Jefferson Parish want both, its leaders were willing to make a deal with the devil to get the second. BTW, if anybody from Jefferson Parish were to take that as a sign of parochialism, you'd be wrong; I'm also well aware that Sal's was selling snowballs long before Orleans Parish schools were integrated.

I'll admit that I voted for the wrong Carter, Karen rather than Troy, in the primary election because I really didn't want a Jefferson/Shepherd runoff -- probably the only time in my life that I voted for the least of three evils. I understood the reasons of people who sat out the general election, because, like Dambala or Adrastos, they thought an unindicted Karen Carter might prove worse than than an indicted William Jefferson, but I thought the short term cost of re-electing Jefferson outweighed all other considerations. That was an honest difference of opinion; I thoroughly agree with what Oyster said about people who voted for Jefferson or sat out the election for other reasons.

At any rate, Shepherd's now under indictment and Bold's been weakened by Oliver Thomas' downfall, so Karen Carter won't mount a serious challenge to William Jefferson. I'm not aware of anything scandalous in Troy Carter's background and he'd have strong west bank support; would it be quixotic to start a draft Troy Carter movement? It's a safe bet that there'll be other Karen Carters and Derrick Shepherds ready to run when Jefferson actually goes down.

In other local news, Jim Bernazzani says that local corruption will be cleaned up in six months. Hey, that's what the headline says.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stupid journalist tricks

I'm pretty cynical about political reporting, but this is unbelievable:
FRANKEN: Well, there are couple of issues. First of all, the Clintons have a long standing credibility problem, going back to the Clinton presidency, all the investigations into the financial dealings then, and questions about just how credible much of what Bill Clinton have to say for instance starting with I did the nail (ph).
But beyond that, John McCain for the most part, we all agree that he, while he married up, he married into a fortune, he really did, his wife comes from a family that's probably worth about $100 million, one of the largest beer distributors in the United States. And so, it's entirely possible, I think we've all assumed that really, he can just pretty much rely on his government job and that's all we're going to really see.

Even though McCain reminds me more of little* Bill Macy (Maud's husband) than William H. Macy, I couldn't help but think of Fargo when I heard Bob Franken say that on "Verdict with Dan Abrams," last Friday. There's almost an embarrassment of riches in trying to decide where to begin documenting Franken's breath-taking stupidity.
First of all, the Clintons have a long standing credibility problem, going back to the Clinton presidency, all the investigations into the financial dealings then,

As CNN's primary correspondent on the Clinton impeachment, bright bulb Bob should remember that years of investigations into Clinton finances led to ... proof of an affair with a White House aide. Years of GOP smears have led to the Clintons having the most thoroughly investigated finances of any couple in America, Franken was talking out of his ass.

But, of course, it's hard to imagine a journalist coming up with something as stupid as Franken's assertion that the fact that McCain married into money means that his integrity is above reproach. Even without a prenup, that would be an absurd statement and an unbelievable position for a reporter to take. But, as Bob Somerby informs us, McCain signed a prenup (for more on prenups and double standards, click this).

I've been out-of-touch since Monday morning (hernia operation) so I don't what the overall reaction to the clinton tax returns has been. But for a little perspective on roughly $50M that Bill clinton has earned in speaking fees since leaving the White House, I'll remind you of the $4.5M that his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, made for one speech. Well, he did do more than give a speech to pocket $4.5M; he also showed the uncanny market timing that got Stewart Stewart arrested, or that conservatives cite as evidence of Hillary Clinton's dishonesty. I might be over-simplifying a little, but not much. You can read all about it at one those questionable, liberal sources that we liberal bloggers love to cite -- Business Week. We have one George Bush who had questionable dealings with Global Crossing, another George with his own questionable dealings, and there's Neil Bush, but Bob Franken would have us believe that family fortune is proof of integrity. I know that bloggers often get carried away with their pot shots at reporters, but really, how did this clown rise to the top of the journalism profession?

The other guest on Friday's show was Kate Obenshain, an obviously biased guest, who basically talked Abrams into submission:
OBENSHAIN: Look at John McCain, yes, he is a very wealthy man because of

who he marries. But the pressure to release the tax returns just didn‘t

come from the media. This is not a Teflon John issue. This is—the

Obama campaign in the midst of a bloody nomination battle demanding that

Hillary Clinton release her records -

ABRAMS: No, it wasn‘t just the Obama campaign.

OBENSHAIN: Yes, it was, Dan.


ABRAMS: The media has been demanding this—come on.

OBENSHAIN: Because they‘re following the lead of the Obama campaign. John McCain has already said he‘s going to release the issues. He‘s going to release the tax reforms. He‘s done that.

ABRAMS: He said it.

OBENSHAIN: He‘s going to.

I'm pretty sure that the Obama campaign has called for both Clinton and McCain to release their tax returns.

*Little Bill Macy

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Priority Budgeting, Jackie?

It's hard to believe that James Carter campaigned as a reformer when he was elected to the city council two years, but he did. His campaign website (no longer online) displayed the slogan, "no more business as usual," and Harry Anderson even proclaimed him an agent of change or a reformer, I can't remember the exact words, in a TV spot*. Now he has the nerve to call Arnie Fielkow a "hypocrite" for wanting to take a closer look at contracts that have been let for years. Apparently, Mr. "no more business as usual" believes that the old way of doing business is the proper way to do business. According to a report in Friday's Picayune, Fielkow even warned Carter in advance that he planned to ask the council to defer the vote to renew $600,000 in consultants' contracts.

However, I'm beginning to wonder if Jackie Clarkson's campaign promises were also hollow posturing. She won my vote when I heard her speak of "priority budgeting" and when I saw her promises about professional services contracts:
However, in the last four years, the City Council has passed several ordinances to coordinate utility companies and city departments.

I have pledged to lead a referendum for a Charter change to mandate that all professional services contracts be brought before a public hearing and be ratified by the City Council.
All contracts should also be approved by an Inspector General.

Now she's apparently more concerned about ending public squabbles that she considers "very embarrassing" to the city council than about her own campaign pledges. A public squabble, that Carter seems to have forced, is embarrassing? What about voting money for cable TV consultants when the city still can't find the money to adequately staff the offices that prevent the wrong houses from being demolished?

Update: A quick check shows that both William Aaron and his law partner, contributed to the Carter campaign. Basile Uddo is listed as a contributor to both Cynthias.

Additional update: Apparently, you need to do make a few clicks of your own.

*For the record, Anderson was no easily-fooled, dilettante celebrity endorser. Before he finally got discouraged and left, Anderson took a more active part in civic affairs than most locals.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Tassels in a Twist (Over Mose Jefferson's Lawyer)

Even if no corruption is involved, the city's grandiose plans for the public library system are a world class example of the path to a bigger and better bankruptcy. It's not being a nay-sayer to say, "Just fix things. Fix what was broken by the federal flood. To the degree that it's possible, fix the things that were broken before." To attempt to do more, is to risk accomplishing nothing. I'll expand on this in an upcoming post, but this letter writer makes a valid point.

I've tried to avoid getting into full-fledged Tucker Carlson mode when discussing the mayor's library board appointments because I could understand why more people didn't express outrage. To be sure, the mayor's stated reason for replacing Tania Tetlow as head of the library board:
Addressing the reason for change, Hatfield wrote that Nagin is tying to "refresh" all the boards he controls in an attempt to avoid "entrenchment" by appointees.

doesn't pass any kind of smell test. During the same month that the mayor expressed the need to "refresh" all the boards he controls, he reappointed his friend, campaign manager, and business partner, David White, to the aviation board. Of course, Billboard Ben remains on the Sewerage & Water Board. The croniest of cronies remained on boards that traditionally oversee vast amounts of patronage, while the mayor felt the sudden need to refresh a board just it became responsible for overseeing costly rebuilding projects. But only a fool would expect outrage over an obvious lie involving millions of dollars of public money; it takes racial conspiracy theories and threats of violence from the mayor to elicit that response.

That last sentence was joke. The obvious reason for the reluctance to question the mayor's obvious lie is that nobody wants to imply anything about Irvin Mayfield's character. I'll state it one more time, I'm not implying anything about Mayfield's character. You wouldn't need a crony heading up a board that you intend to rip-off, but you certainly wouldn't want an honest law professor who could easily spot a questionable contract.

Still, my concerns would seem a little more valid if I could point to an apparent crony on the board. Well, suppose I told you that the mayor didn't just name Irvin Mayfield to the board when Tetlow was forced out; suppose I told you that he also appointed Mose Jefferson's lawyer, would you begin to wonder what was really going on? Suppose I told you that the brother of a convicted bribe-taker, who didn't have time for an indigent defense board in crisis but did have time for a library board that would suddenly be in the position of awarding huge contracts was appointed, would your curiosity be at least slightly piqued?

Unfortunately, I can't say with total certainty when Ike Spears was named to the library board; I couldn't find the exact date of library board appointments online. I worked for the New Orleans Public Library before Katrina and I don't recall Spears being a board member. I can't remember all the names of board members, but I believe that I'd remember his. At any rate, I do know that this crusader against assessment reform* is a board member now. I also know that the appointment is recent enough that neither his law firm bio nor his zoominfo page mention it. Don't make me wave my hands around like the dork I am.
*Ike Spears, a lawyer working to turn back the I.Q. effort, said Ms. Jefferson — the sister of the local Democratic congressman, Representative William J. Jefferson — had nothing whatsoever to do with these legal challenges to the I.Q. movement, which he tried to dismiss by invoking an image from a past nightmare.

"When people were being airlifted off their homes, when people were in the Superdome, nobody was crying out for a single assessor," Mr. Spears said angrily.

Still, though Betty Jefferson is not named in the actual lawsuit, her name does appear as the complainant on the cover page of a fax from Mr. Spears's office.

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Ashley Morris

Shelley Midura:
And so I honor my fellow New Orleanian, Professor Ashley Morris. He will be so dearly missed by so many, of whom I am only one. New Orleans aches for him today and wishes his wife, young children, family, and loved ones its heartfelt condolences.

I only met Ashley once, but one glance at his blog was enough to see how much he loved New Orleans. The city lost a great voice and a wonderful person this week. I wish I could add more, but to my great regret, I never got to know Ashley. I'll refer you instead to a video of Ashley and Oyster, and Dangerblond's remembrance. My heart goes out to his wife and children.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


With Special thanks to Lolis Eric Elie for leading by example.

One compound word has haunted me for the past twenty-four hours: "dumbass."

I used that word to describe the mayor's son Jeremy in last night's post.. That's a strong word and expressed genuine amusement at the manner in which the mayor's son responded to entirely legitimate questions about the mayor's role in the family business.

But using such a strong word so glibly was presumptuous on my part. I owe the mayor's son an apology and intend to use this post for that purpose.

To be sure, Jeremy Nagin did write a "dumbass" letter to the editor that contained one paragraph of almost breathtaking stupidity:
Our company is family-owned, and I am very blessed to have parents who believe in me and have invested a significant amount of our family net worth and taken on major debt to put this company in position for growth.

Remember, the letter was written to convince readers that the mayor would not have been tempted to exert influence on the company's behalf.

However, one dumbass letter does not a dumbass make. It was wrong for me to leap to that conclusion and I deeply regret the error. As a matter of fact, the little that we know of Jeremy Nagin indicates that he is, actually, anything but a dumbass. To have overcome his troubled past and established such a successful business at such a young age is truly remarkable. To have done so with only the benefit of occasional late night advice and working capital from his bespeaks a gifted young man who is certainly no dumbass. I regret having called him one.

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Old Favorites
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