Saturday, September 27, 2008

National Museum Day

Great Price, if you have a printer. I was surpised at some of the participating venues, haven't been to Longue Vue Gardens since a junior high school field trip.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It wasn't a false report

Since nobody else bothered to report it, I was beginning to wonder whether this WDSU report about Nagin and Meffert being sued by Southern Electronics was erroneous. Apparently, it wasn't. The Nagin administration is using litigation with Southern Electronics as an excuse to avoid answering questions from the city council:
Most of Monday's meeting was held in closed session because Southern Electronics' lawsuit against the city was on the agenda.

But Head said the private discussion held under the cloak of executive session had little if anything to do with the lawsuit and should have been in the open.

She also said that administrators at the meeting, including lawyers and purchasing agents, appeared shocked upon hearing of the payments to Ciber.

At least one of her colleagues was surprised as well.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, " said Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, after being told the gist of the letter. "Every time we ask questions, it's, 'you know, we're in litigation.' "

Gordon Russell's article about the crime camera contract covers much more than the lawsuit, but, as far as I can tell, that's the first time that the Times Picayune has mentioned the lawsuit.

Not that I expect anybody to care about my changing attitudes toward the local media, but I had decided to stop being so knee-jerk in my criticisms last July. I've been pretty ticked off since Gustav, but I've tried to show some restraint. That said, I don't think these June posts were angry enough. The mayor "takes responsibility" for problems with the crime cameras but says that it wasn't really his fault because the vendor walked off the job. The vendor reacts by suing the city, but, with one exception, the city's news outlets ignore the lawsuit. However, the city's editorial and op-ed writers do praise the mayor for "taking responsibility." Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Former Bush Cabinet Member Exposes McCain Dissembling

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill blasted George Bush in an ABC News interview tonight. In fact, he was critical of both political parties and their presidential nominees, but the final part of the interview interested me:
O'Neill has been asked by the Obama campaign "on several occasions" to take part in conversations with the candidate on the economy with the understanding that his participation doesn't represent an endorsement. He said he would be willing to offer the same help to McCain but hasn't been asked.

Last Friday, he was on the telephone with an Obama meeting that involved the candidate, his running mate Sen. Joseph Biden, investor Warren Buffet, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former treasury secretaries Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, and the former chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Laura Tyson.

"I'm happy to be part of that kind of opportunity to talk about serious issues and bring the knowledge I have to bear on what people are thinking," O'Neill said. "I'm happy to do that, and I'd do it for either party."

Think about that when you hear McCain refer to Franklin Raines as an "Obama advisor."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Suburban Nagin

I had assumed that the anger over John LaBruzzo's support for a legislative pay raise had subsided, but it seems that he may still be worried about his re-election. Sure, his proposal to fund sterilizations for welfare recipients may just be the racist rantings of David Duke's successor, but it could just be cynical politics -- not that the two are mutually exclusive. A politician who has lost the confidence of his constituents plays on racial divisions and risks embarrassing the entire state at a time that it desperately needs federal help -- it all sounds depressingly familiar.

Of course, LaBruzzo's proposal is blatantly racist. However divisive some of Nagin's statements have been, I can't think of a single one that crossed that line. On the other hand, LaBruzzo's district wasn't hurt by Gustav or Ike and I don't think that LaBruzzo's proposal will get much national attention. In a normal week, he'd probably make Liberal Man's "worst person in the world," but there are too many more important national news stories this week. Not that LaBruzzo would care if he were vilified by the "liberal" national media. I doubt that he minds being insulted by a bunch of elitist, liberal New Orleans residents either. If you're going to talk, write or blog about LaBruzzo, at least mention that he's a scared politician who wants people to forget about his vote for a pay raise.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Guilt Free Shopping

In the WTF department, the Times Picayune reports:
Amid intense demand to collect storm debris stretching across two states, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said Monday that he has raised the price the administration pays contractors for hauling.

The increase to $12.33 per cubic yard, from $9.97 spelled out in a contract that was awarded before the storm season, went into effect Sunday, designed to sharpen Jefferson's competitive edge in vying for debris crews and to speed the pace of collecting tree branches downed by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

In case you don't get the WTF? reaction:
White said last week that SDT Waste & Debris, which charges $200 a ton to collect storm debris, would be called on first to handle the task. The city's other garbage collectors, Richard's Disposal and Metro Disposal, earn $30 and $60 a ton, respectively.

Is anybody still pushing the line that Orleans Parish residents should do as much of their shopping as possible in Orleans Parish? I stopped feeling that way two years ago, but, even now that any lingering personal anger has largely subsided, I really can't feel any guilt about spending money in Jefferson Parish that I could be spending in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, I do most of my grocery shopping at Terranova's or Canseco's on Esplanade, but that's a matter of convenience and supporting small businesses. I certainly don't feel any need to give the city my tax dollars. Can anybody seriously argue that I should?

For more on the subject, see Celcus (this post also) and my earlier post. Since we've heard this joke before, I'll repeat the question. Can anybody seriously argue that Orleans Parish residents, or people who work in Orleans Parish, have any kind of obligation to try to keep their tax dollars in New Orleans?

Alternate Question: Considering the fact that the city makes no apparent effort to set budget priorities and spends more for the same services than its more prosperous neighbor, how can anybody accept the budget shortfall/staff shortage excuse for anything? Jefferson Parish doesn't exactly have a reputation as a model of good government.

Update: As Al points out in the comments, $12.33 per cubic yard works out to just over $40 per ton. That still means that, at $60 and $200 per ton, two of the city contractors are being paid significantly more than Jefferson has started to pay its contractors. Those contracts were negotiated before the Ike and Gustav forced Jefferson Parish to raise its price, they were also negotiated when the price of oil was much lower. Unsurprisingly, the two contractors making pre-Ike wages don't seem to want any more work.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Things go from bad to weird

We all know just how bad the mayor's bulldozer addiction has become, but this is getting weird:
Wade Verges says he's the largest commercial property owner in New Orleans East and was shocked when he got a letter about this building on Crowder Boulevard one of his most successful properties since Katrina.

“It is incompetence, negligence or harassment,” said Verges.

Earlier this week, Verges received a letter from the City of New Orleans, citing his commercial property at the corner of Crowder and Lake Forest Boulevard for being a public nuisance and blighted, fining him $325 dollars and notifying him that his property was eligible for demolition.

Verges said that was the first time that he heard about this from the city, and that the city had never tried to contact him before.

But the citation says he was charted with the violation in May, and the city labeled the property blighted after an administrative hearing in mid-August.
“The entire ground floor is occupied. We have two realtors in the building, our offices, we are developers,” he said.

And even a state representative has his legislative office on the 2nd floor. In fact, Verges says the building is 75 percent occupied.

“We're actually the only building at the intersection other than Walgreens that is not blighted,” he said.

And one of the few in the neighborhood up and running.
"Such a finding does not mean a demolition permit has been issued for a property,” said James Ross, deputy director of communications. “Rather, it means that at the time of a hearing with Code Enforcement, the property was found not to meet code. In such cases, the property owner must present evidence of rehabilitation to the office of Code Enforcement."

You can watch the WWLTV report here.

Unfortunately, there's nothing unusual about the Nagin administration citing the wrong building and approving it for demolition. Hell, the city's been knocking down the wrong houses for over a year now. The weird thing about this building being cited, other than the fact that it houses a state representative's office, is that it's owned by a NOAH contractor. You remember NOAH don't you? It was in the news during that brief moment when the mayor was questioned about something other than his tendency to make an ass of himself.

Just to be clear, Verges Construction was not one of the contractors accused of anything unsavory in the NOAH investigation. I guess this just demonstrates that mayor is more interested in being able to talk about the number of citations and demolitions permits issued than in citing and demolishing the right properties. Still, if that building can be cited and judged blighted without its owner knowing about the administrative hearing...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The CRA caused the mortgage crisis meme

Judging by the results of Google News and Technorati searches, conservatives are pushing the "Community Reinvestment Act regulations caused the mortgage crisis" theory a lot harder than liberals are pushing back. Barry Ritholtz* made a derisive reference to the conservative position and linked to two liberal responses today, but those are five month old links. I can't find any current liberal responses to an idea that's been all over the conservative blogosphere (and probably in group emails) the last couple of days.

For criticisms of both the liberal and conservative takes on the current financial crisis, Time Magazine gives a typical Time Magazine assessment. Mike Volpe of The Provacateur gave criticisms of both sides last month, and followed up with a criticism of the conservative attack today:
Now, first, I am no fan of the CRA, and I do believe that it had the effect that its attackers say it had, however, the effect is significantly more limited than any of the conservative partisan make it out to be. As such, while it may have had a corrossive effect on lending standards, this effect was a small blip compared to other factors.
To really prove that CRA was an insignificant factor, what one really needs to do is identify those areas most helped by the real estate boom and also those areas with the most foreclosures. If all these Conservatives are correct, then the real estate boom would have centered most of all in most of the poorest areas of the country and the current crisis in foreclosures would also be the same. In other words, the years 2003-2007 should have then seen an explosion in areas like Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, Englewood in Chicago, and Compton in California, and on the flip side those areas should be leading the pack for foreclosures now.

Instead, the biggest concentrations of foreclosures can be found in well to do areas like Boca Raton, Riverside County near San Diego, and of course Las Vegas. Does anyone really believe that there was an explosion of lending in Vegas because banks were attempting to meet some sort of quota of lending to poor folks? In fact, the real estate boom had a fairly negligible effect on the poorest areas of the country. In fact, the same areas Boca, Phoenix, Miami, and Vegas that boomed the most during the height of the real estate market are also now the ones suffering the most now that it is over.

I have no idea whether Volpe would describe himself as a conservative, but a look through his archives shows that he's clearly no liberal. However, it looks like you'll need to go back to the April archives of the big liberal blogs if you're looking for liberal answers to the talking points that you'll probably hear from from your conservative friends tomorrow or Friday.

*Not to imply that Ritholtz is a liberal. He's a frequent critic of the Bush administration and he clearly believes in some regulation, but I've never seen anything to indicate whether he's more of a moderate or a liberal.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

How James Carter Can Win My Vote

I recently received the following in an email from a local neighborhood group:
Urgent Action Needed!

(Please forward this to your friends who love New Orleans.)

See this alarming article from Friday's Times-Picayune, below, and this letter from Matt McBride who inspired the story. The creation of the citizen-driven Neighborhood Conservation District Committee was an important reform measure by the current City Council. That process is now being shoved aside.

The City Council should declare its own "state of emergency" - about how legitimate city processes are being gutted by the Mayor.

Please e-mail your City Councilmembers to urge them to stop this breathtaking abuse….


Matt McBride's letter can be found at Squandered Heritage; more about Nagin's abuse of power can be found at the PRC's website.

Since Democrats around the country are fed up with spineless representatives who are afraid to stand up to presidents who engage in naked power grabs, and the mayor and city council are analogous to the president and congress, James Carter has an opportunity to demonstrate that he's what most Democrats are looking for in a congressman. That's unfair to the other candidates, but life is often unfair. It's equally unfair to Carter that he's the only candidate with the opportunity to prove himsel to be a spineless jellyfish. If he won't stand up to an unpopular mayor, he's hardly likely to stand up a dictatorial president. He's already looking a little bit suspect in that regard, but he has a great chance to make up for that.

So, I second the exhortation to email your council members, but, if you live in the 2nd Congressional District, I'd recommend that you email Carter, even if he's not your council member. Like I said in my comment on Karen's post, the 2009 budget hearings should start next month, so urge your council members to ask Nagin exactly how he wants those hearings to go. When she ran for an at-large position last year, Clarkson indicated a willingness to use the council's power over the budget to compel the mayor to act reasonably; time for her to show that her tough talk wasn't merely empty campaign posturing.

Not that I'm delusional enough to expect anybody at WWL to care, but I'm still waiting for that follow-up story.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Most Misnamed Show on Local TV

Did anybody else just hear John Maginnis just say something ridiculous on WYES? You know, that comment about people taking the responsibility upon themselves to get out a map and find alternate routes to use when the interstates are backed up. Did any of the other "informed sources" bother to tell him why the back roads in Mississippi were empty? They should really change the name of the show to something like "Insiders Speculating." Considering Errol Laborde's apparent dislike for bloggers, "Gatekeepers Farting" might be a better name.

On second thought, I understand that Maginnis lives in Baton Rouge, which unlike New Orleans, really was hurt by Gustav, but none of the other "informed sources" bothered to mention that evacuees weren't allowed to exit I-59 and were, reportedly, directed off of HWY 11.

Quick Recap

In a recent post, I pointed out that the city only lists 67 houses on its Gustav demolition list. Yet, WWL reports that 300 houses will be demolished because of Gustav. Now City business (H/T Squandered Heritage) reports 166 demolition permits issued in the last week. Why is the list that we're allowed to see so much smaller than the others?

Also, the city council questions the performance of a storm debris removal contacts, but it barely questions the unbelievably wide variation in the costs of the various debris removal contracts. Also, it questions DRC's ability to remove debris, but not its ability to create debis:
DRC Emergency Services, the demolition company contracted by the city with federal Hurricane Katrina recovery funds, will take down the buildings issued under the mayor’s order.

If you really want to make something out of probably nothing, you'll even find that DRC has a past history with Southern Scrap.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sister Companies?

Two different Picayune articles by two different reporters contain two very similar sentences:
in all, Isakson, DRC and a sister company have donated at least $11,500 to the mayor's war chest.

SDT has given at least $5,000 since 2006, campaign finance records show. Richard's has given at least $12,500, and Metro has given at least $10,000, records show.

Pick either link for either sentence. Jimmie Woods and Metro Disposal have so many sister and related companies that contribute to Nagin that I couldn't begin to count them. Also, SDT's biggest subcontractor is also a major Nagin donor.

I'll have more about this at some future point, but DRC seems to have had a hot and cold relationship with Nagin administration since Katrina, but Metro and its owner have been warmly embraced by the Nagin administration for years. Not to make apologies for DRC, there's a lot of interesting stuff there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Does Maya Rodriguez watch Channel 4 News?

If you heard the mayor's press conference last Friday, and you followed the NOAH story at all, you probably thought the same thing that I did when the mayor mentioned emergency demolitions. I don't want to be too snarky about this, but I saw a WWL tonight that belonged on WDSU. My first impulse was to blast Maya Rodriguez for reading a Nagin administration press release as if it were a news report, however, I've no idea what kind of time pressure she was under and I didn't interview a New Orleans resident whose house was destroyed by the collapse of a neighboring residence. I suppose that it's even possible that WWL management felt the need to give a positive report about the city's demolition program, so I'll hold off the usual media blasting. Still, I got the impression that Rodriguez went to the houses that somebody from Safety and Permits sent her to instead of randomly picking houses off of the list that she was given. As I said, that was an impression. WWL and Maya Rodriguez can redeem themselves by doing a follow-up story that inspects more of the houses on the list that Rodriguez was given and cross-references that list against other lists. I'm also curious about the list of 300 properties that Rodriguez reported the city discovered were are in imminent danger of collapsing. By my count, the city website has 67 properties on its list of Properties scheduled for immediate demolition because of Hurricane Gustav damage. There appears* to be over a thousand on the imminent health threat list from July.

Just in case you don't think it's worth worrying about, I'll quote the closing line of Rodriguez' report:
The city is now in the process of inspecting properties in the historic districts of the city, like Treme, Bywater and the Faubourg Marigny.

Karen Gadbois also alerts us to the fact that the next NCDC meeting has been cancelled.

*I counted 50 on one page, the list was 23 pages.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What a jennywoman

He keeps talking like a bitch, somebody's gonna coldcock* him:
“We had an agreement,” Nagin said. “The state was behind it, all the parishes were behind it, that we would going to allow our utilities and our hospitals to get in front of our people getting back.”

He said that reentry was supposed to start Thursday, but that some people “jumped the gun,” speeding up the process ahead of schedule and putting people in the city before the needed services were put back in place.

I didn't know which of the posts that I started Saturday were still timely, but I heard that whining this morning. Since Katrina, I've wondered how many mandatory evacuations we could have before people started ignoring mandatory evacuation orders. I had no idea that the mayor would botch re-entry so badly that the answer would be one.

Anyway, no internet when I got home Friday night, I didn't get an internet connection or cable until Sunday. I started a couple of posts (on Word) Saturday, but was too busy to finish them yesterday. I addressed the topic of one in a comment that I made at Pistolette's. Seriously, how many professional communicators does it take to f***-up a simple message? The message on CNN Tuesday morning was that the mayor was urging residents to stay away, that implied that they could return. Of course, later in the day, you could turn on CNN and see seemingly ordinary, non-tiered residents walking or riding their bikes in front of news cameras.

I also gave away the post comparing Bobby Jindal to Les Miles in a few comments at YRHT. I won't bother to finish that post, but I think we can all agree that Bryan Wagner made the dumb-ass statement of the week:
"God made Bobby Jindal to handle hurricanes," said Bryan Wagner, chairman of the Louisiana delegation.

Nagin was the dumb-ass of the week, but Wagner made the dumbest statement. However, several GOP members and Picayune writers gave him a run for his money. Sorry Oyster, Wagner's New Orleans' Sarah Palin. I suppose that it could have been intentional, not-quite serious hyperbole on Wagner's part, but can one ever assume that when Republicans talk about God?

Update: I can't find a link to CNN, but the story tuesday morning was very similar to this. Even if the mayor's office issued a statement saying that residents wouldn't be allowed to return and used the phrase "urging residents to stay away" while explaining the reasons, that was piss poor communication from a highly paid communications staff.

*I really hate the term "bitch slap." I don't like to use the word bitch, but God, C. Ray sounds like a whiny bitch. However, that is the first time that my use of the word "jennywoman" (or "jenny woman," or ginny woman) hasn't felt forced.

Could this possibly be true?

If one official can fuck over so many people, can we at least get his name?
Problems included the original plan for contraflow not being followed. That plan stated contraflow was to run all the way to Hattiesburg, but a complaint from an official in Hattiesburg caused the contraflow to end and bottleneck at Poplarville, Manley said.

I can't find any other mention of a change, or proposed change, in Mississippi's contraflow plan, but that's astounding if true. That official should be placed in stocks or pilloried in Jackson Square, if you ask me.

Mississippi's 2005 Evacuation Guide calls for contraflow to end "just south of Poplarville," but it's possible that the horrendous traffic jams of the Katrina evacuation caused a re-evaluation of that plan. Or, the entire evacuation guide may just be an example of Mississippi humor:
The shoulders of both Interstates 59 and 55 should be kept clear for
emergency vehicles. Motorists needing to stop should use the next
available exit.

Supposedly all exits were available:
All exits within the contraflowed sections of the interstate highways
will remain open and law enforcement officers will be present to assist traffic.

For anybody interested, the newspaper article quoted above also states that:
Exits were closed for an hour at a time before Gustav by the Mississippi Highway Patrol to alleviate traffic on U.S. 11, Lumpkin said. Other than that, the exits remained open.

I was unfortunate enough to be able to leave on Saturday, but that doesn't jibe with what I've heard from people who left on Sunday. Could be a case of callers to WWL giving out faulty information, but Mississippi officials should have explained there actions.

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