Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

More than fifteen years later, still can't get the Geto Boys out of my head when it falls on a weekend

It wouldn't change any votes, but...

There was an interesting omission in today's Picayune:
A handful of notable local business executives also gave to Jefferson. Home health care entrepreneur Lisa Crinel donated $2,300, while Liberty Bank President Alden McDonald gave $1,500 and New Orleans garbage hauler Alvin Richard contributed $1,000.

I can't find it online, the accompanying graphic in the print edition lists a $2,300 contribution from Norbert Simmons. He might not be a notable business executive, but you might remember his name from Jefferson's Nigerian dealings. Simmons also figures in an report tonight that should be on the first page of the Metro section tomorrow, if it's not on the paper's front page:
Investment in stocks had decimated the firefighters pension
As disastrous moves go, it would be tough to top the city of New Orleans' decision eight years ago to sell $171 million in bonds and invest the proceeds in the stock market as a way of shoring up an underfunded pension plan for firefighters
And so a scheme that was supposed to save the city tens of millions of dollars over four decades has become such a stinker that, according to the latest projections, it will cost city residents as much as $400 million over its lifetime.
Tina Owen, a leader of Morial's campaign for a third term, split a $135,000 fee from the deal with another consultant. And an investment firm owned by the politically connected businessman Norbert Simmons took in about $75,000.

I was little ticked off by another omission a couple of weeks ago. None of the news reports listed the two dozen ministers who endorsed Jefferson. Had any of the reports listed the names of the ministers, it's a safe bet that several bloggers would have checked the Secretary of State's website to see how of these ministers are minister/businessmen who see no conflict in serving God and mammon. Also, it would be nice to know who the Jefferson backers are for future reference. What's the press protecting these guys for?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One all too possible thing before breakfast

Steve Scalise actually has a commercial that brags about his association with Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Did anybody count?

Exactly how many local reporters were in London last week? You always here about the budget cuts to TV news departments and about the financial difficulties facing the nation's newspapers, yet they seemed to have no trouble covering travel expenses last week. It was a one time expense, but the same thing happens with Super Bowls, Olympics and all sorts of national and international events that are covered by the wire services. Yet, nobody seems to think those are questionable expenditures for local news organizations that have trouble finding the money to do more in-depth reporting on local stories. No wonder the local media was not only slower than me, but slower than Dr. John and Jeremiah Wright to question how a city that had much more pressing needs could the money for things like Palm trees on Canal Street. No wonder the mayor thinks he can get away with asking for a millage increase.

I'm not trying to be a Scrooge, but I've always objected to providing expensive perks to those that keep their jobs at times when others are in danger of losing theirs. Also, it seems like a bad allocation of resources.

My mayor playin' tricks on me

It sounds like Edward Blakely isn't the only tippler working at City Hall (when in town):
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Monday that the 2009 operating budget he will present today to the City Council will call for a slight reduction in city spending next year but a 10-mill increase in the property tax rate to bring in an additional $24.5 million.
One mill equals $1 of tax per $1,000 in assessed value, or $10,000 in actual value. A 10-mill increase would cost the owner of a house worth $200,000 an extra $125 a year, after the homestead exemption allowance.

That doesn't sound like much, but there are a few things to consider. The most obvious is that the $75,000 homestead exemption covers more than a third of the increase on a $200,000 house, but there's no exemption on either rental property or commercial real estate. A millage increase would be yet another burden for home owners, but the added cost would be about twice as much for business owners and would slow the return of rents to their pre-Katrina levels. Also, a 10-mill increase would wipe out more than a fifth of last year's adjustment* designed to keep the re-assessments revenue neutral. Since the re-assessments reflect sale prices from the top of a bubble, it's reasonable to question whether most New Orleans homes are over-assessed already.

It's fucked up when your mayor is playing tricks on you. However, Fielkow and Hedge-Morrell sound serious about looking at every component of the budget to find other ways to replenish the emergency fund. I'd suggest that they start by asking why New Orleans is paying more money to the same companies for the same services than its more prosperous neighbor to the west.

*From the same article:
Laumann, a dispatcher for a trucking company, said he'll probably have to raise the rent on his tenant, Tee Eva's restaurant, which has been leasing the front of his building for about 20 years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hope I'm just being paranoid

Since I've decided to take advantage of the free tuition that comes with being a university employee, I don't have as much time for blogging as I used to. So, I onlyhave time for a couple of links and a few sketchy thoughts about something that could be nothing or could be important.

I've noticed trucks marked "Reliable Tree Service" with a 605 area code around the neighborhood the last couple of days. It seems that Reliable Tree Service, from Sioux Falls has recently registered with the state. I know nothing about Reliable Tree Service, and I'm certainly not making any insinuations about the company or its owners. I'm more curious about whether something has happened to prompt other out-of-state tree service companies to set up shop in the New Orleans area. I'd hate to think that the city, or state, has placed the kind of bounty on trees that the city seems to have placed on houses.

I recently commented at Oyster's that seemingly bat shit crazy letters to the paper often aren't the work of harmless nuts or cranks at all; they're often an indication that a government official or a public spirited business has something in mind. Had the letter appeared right after Gustav, it would have struck me as neither crazy or suspicious, but as an overreaction that I would have strongly disagreed with. Appearing when it did, it caused me to do some searching and find that some people are pushing for more aggressive tree trimming. At the very least, it's something that we have the right to be informed about. Unfortunately, when you think you've found the right place to look on the city website, you get a 404 error message. Whatever genius designed the city council website decided that we'd all find the site easier to navigate if it didn't include a search button. Simple things that could lessen your suspicions don't seem to work in New Orleans. Seriously, considering the city's track record with houses, I think we all have the right to monitor whatever it has planned for its old Oaks and other trees.

Rob cambias did a commendable job of answering Mac Brown's letter, but I do have to respond to one part:
Cutting trees would irritate some people, but those people need to be told where to go.

WTF? People that don't like trees already know where they can go. When I feel an overwhelming urge to see a wide treeless street, I borrow a car and drive down Veterans Blvd. The old Oaks are part of what makes neighborhoods like Uptown and Mid-City desirable places to live. People that don't like trees should join Ray Nagin in his dream city.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

No Moon River?

I could hear R.E.M. playing when I walked through the other part of City Park earlier tonight, but I all heard were R.E.M. songs. I've seen R.E.M. live once, at McAllister Auditorium back in 1984. I vaguely remember it being a great show, but all I that really remember, twenty-four years later, is some of the covers they played. "Moon River" and a combination of "We Walk" and "Behind Closed Doors" stood out because they were unexpected. I had forgotten about "Falling in Love Again," between "We Walk" and "Behind Closed Doors," but it rings a bell. I'm pretty sure that "Moon River" was performed separately from "Pretty Persuasion."

Anyhow, for those of you who care about this sort of thing, any songs that R.E.M. performed off its first two albums are older now than "Moon River" was when R.E.M. played it twenty-four years ago; any songs from "Fables of the Reconstruction" are as old. Also, I'm happy to report that I was able to stand on a park bridge at night and listen to a band that I last heard twenty-four years ago without feeling the slightest twinge of middle-aged angst or melancholy -- for those of you who care about that sort of thing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why didn't David Vitter or Bobby Jindal help Peter Gomez*?

If you live in the New Orleans area, you've probably seen the commercial about Peter Gomez, the WWII veteran whose lost combat medals were lost during Hurricane Betsy. If not, you can see the ad on Scalise's website. For forty years, Peter Gomez unsuccessfully fought the bureaucracy to get replacements for his lost medals. Unsuccessfully, until Steve Scalise intervened on Gomez' behalf this Fall. In other words, for forty years, Bob Livingston, David Vitter, and Bobby Jindal all failed to get replacement medals for Gomez when Louisiana's 1st Congressional District was a safe Republican seat. In fairness, the same could be said of F. Edward Hebert when it was a safe Democratic seat; it makes you wonder how a freshman congressman was able to do what his more influential predecessors couldn't. Suddenly, for the first time in forty years, the incumbent faces a real re-election challenge and Gomez gets his medals back. Go figure.

Update: Now he has a commercial that touts his association with Sarah Palin.

*t.c. from the anemic "Another example of why Louisiana needs a strong Democratic Party."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What a vote of confidence

When George Bush refused to appear alone before the 9/11 Commission, his critics assumed it was because he needed Dick Cheney to guide him through his testimony. In an interview with Don Imus this morning, McCain said that Palin "did fine" in interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, yet she needed McCain with her in first interview since the Couric interview. I can't be the only person to have a feeling of deja vu. Of course, we always knew that Cheney would be there if Bush needed a steady hand in tough times. Obviously, if Palin ever needs McCain's steadying influence,* McCain won't be there.

Though Ben smith chose to focus on Imus' racial gripe, it's worth the time to listen to the interview. McCain seems to think that things are going well in the struggle against terrorism.

*That's a scary thought.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't give me ideas, Leon.

There's no link at Leon Cannizzaro's website, but his latest campaign ad features endorsements from Sidney Torres and Marlin Gusman. Even though neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, Torres and Gusman's names have come up in connection with the most expensive, and most suspicious, contract decisions of the Nagin and Morial administrations. Apparently, the ad has been out for a few weeks (it's also on YouTube), but I saw it for the first time tonight.

Well, you can guess where this is going. First Cannizzaro/Gusman Google search led to a typical, take with a grain of salt comment, but I had to check out the Schultz connection that he mentioned. I can't find a working link, but from a 2002 T/P article*:
Longtime Morial consultant Bill Schultz is managing Criminal District Court Judge Leon Cannizzaro ’s run for a separate Appeals Court seat and is also consulting on Municipal Court Judge John Shea’s re-election campaign.

That would be an incredibly stupid commercial, except for the fact it probably helps Cannizzarro. I still think that Capitelli's first attack ad should have been much more low key, something like: "Capitelli: endorsed by prosecutors, Cannizzaro: endorsed by politicians." Seriously, I normally have nothing but scorn for "outsider" campaigns (not to imply that Capitelli's running as an outsider), but do we really want a D.A. who's the choice of so many of the city's established politicians?

*Morial stays low, but his allies run many shows
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, August 24, 2002
Author: Stephanie Grace and Frank Donze Staff writer

Monday, October 20, 2008

An easily tested hypothesis

I was struck by the same passage as Oyster when I read Saturday's New Orleans Politics column:
Try this conundrum on for size: Curious about who provided the informational kiosks that have shown up lately in the lobby of City Hall, The Times-Picayune recently filed a public-records request asking to see the bid documents, contracts and invoices related to the kiosks.

The response? No can do.

The city's Law Department explained that before it can make a contract available, it has to know who the contract is with. So until a reporter or member of the public knows who has a contract, he can't find out who has the contract.

The rationale for the policy isn't secrecy, according to the administration.

"The Law Department's contracts database is maintained by the name of the contractor and not by the professional services they provide," City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields wrote. "Therefore, without the name of the vendor, we cannot provide a copy of the contract you request."

But my reaction was slightly different. Since it's obvious that nobody has the slightest idea what's going on at City Hall, it's pointless to ask whether administration officials are lying or telling the truth when they respond to reporters' questions. Since it can be assumed that they usually give their best possible guess as to what's going on, the task is to determine whether they're offering valid hypotheses. In this case, the validity of Moses-Field's theory could be tested by asking for all the city contracts for various politically connected firms. I'd be willing to bet that such a request would either be denied, or answered with lists of contracts that would quickly prove to be inaccurate and out-of-date.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's the difference between sexual assault and rape?

Once the police arrest a suspect, its acceptable to call it rape. Until then, it's the sexual assault of drunk college girls. I assume that it has something to do with saving the city, but I have to wonder how differently the Gentilly rape/murder/car jacking/kidnapping would have been reported had no arrests been made.

BTW, the title question was a rhetorical one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


James "no more business as usual" Carter and Jackie "priority budgeting" Clarkson will join Willard-Lewis and Hedge-Morrell in voting to approve funding for most of the economic development projects that come up for a vote tomorrow. I've been too busy to comment on the economic development grants since the T/P first reported on the matter Saturday, and I really don't have much to add what E wrote here and here. He even said almost the same exact thing that I had in mind:
The administration refuses to follow the law, withholds information, or otherwise fails to provide reasonable rationales behind whatever it is they press upon Council. Then, because this city is so desperate for infusions of cash, so desperate for construction, for ANYTHING, Council is under the most immense pressure to rubber stamp whatever it is just so that the cash gets spent. Any 'no' vote is seen as obstructionist or worse, even if 'no' means 'well at least provide us with the basics we'd need to make an informed decision.'

I suspect that we'll read something similar to the following next month:
The charter sets a Nov. 1 deadline for the mayor to present his proposed budget to the council. Starting during last year's hearings and periodically since then, Fielkow urged administration officials to get the 2008 budget to the council before the deadline so members would have more time to review it. However, this year's presentation again came on the last day possible.

Bruce Eggler wrote that last November.

I also question the proposed $2.7M for the new VA hospital. $2.7M for infrastructure assistance for a proposed hospital before its site location is determined? Sounds like that could be a way of trying to influence the site selection or a favor to the developer illuminati. Personally, I go back and forth on where the hospital should be located, but it doesn't seem like a proper use for the fund -- especially since $2.7M is more money than the millage that generates the fund produces in a typical year.

Other than the $2.7M, most of the projects are small potatoes, and I don't believe that unspent money from the fund can go to fund normal city services. The big question is whether we'll see the same thing next month.

Update: Happy to have been proven wrong, but I won't be proven totally wrong, or not, until December.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why does Charles Schumer hate Mary Landrieu?


Any good Republican can tell you that CREW is just a liberal front group, so it's interesting to see the GOP cite CREW when campaigning against Landrieu. I'm sure that the state GOP will consider CREW a reputable organization when David Vitter seeks re-election.

Back to New Orleans matters in future posts, but I've been busy and that was quick and easy.

Update: The title was a reference to the second link above. Of course, Minnesota Republicans claim the CREw is a "Team Franken front group." The point isn't to defend Landrieu, although the original report was a bit inflammatory, but to establish that Republicans campaigning in Louisiana consider CREW a reputable source of information.

On the subject of Republicans, what Clinton initiative are they going to blame this on?
The troubles sound familiar. Borrowers falling behind on their payments. Defaults rising. Huge swaths of loans souring. Investors getting burned. But forget the now-familiar tales of mortgages gone bad. The next horror for beaten-down financial firms is the $950 billion worth of outstanding credit-card debt—much of it toxic.
Sure, the credit-card market is just a fraction of the $11.9 trillion mortgage market. But sometimes the losses can be more painful. That's because most credit-card debt is unsecured, meaning consumers don't have to make down payments when opening up their accounts. If they stop making monthly payments and the account goes bad, there are no underlying assets for credit-card companies to recoup. With mortgages, in contrast, some banks are protected both by down payments and by the ability to recover at least some of the money by selling the property.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Deregulation for Dummies

If you're still having trouble understanding the mortgage crisis, try this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Working the Refs

If it's not already obvious, it soon will be apparent that the Bill Ayers attacks were never intended to be much more than a sideshow. A few of us were right that old ways of firing up the base aren't new signs of desperation. I couldn't foresee the ACORN story, but I should have seen that GOP complaints about lack of attention to the Ayers story were intended to pressure the networks to pay more attention to other stories. If you watched CNN last night, you know what I'm talking about. It's going to be a long three weeks.

Update: Atrios commented yesterday,
Sometimes the press covers stories in such a way that it's impossible to believe they're really this stupid.

Well, they're not that stupid. Shortly before the Anderson Cooper report on voter registration fraud, which CNN obligingly labelled voter fraud, there was a report on Republican anger over the imagined lack of attention to the Bill Ayers' story:
HENRY: ... and enraged the media is allegedly giving Obama a pass to his ties to former 1960s radical William Ayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are all a product of our association. Is there not a way to get around this media and line?
COOPER: All right, Ed Henry, thanks.

And, also, for viewers who are saying we should be doing stuff on Bill Ayers, we have. Drew Griffin did a very tough piece looking at the connections. You can look it up on the Web.

I don't think anybody could argue that the pundits favor McCain this year, certainly not like they hated Gore in 2000, but the GOP still knows how to influence which stories get covered. The fact is, Obama has little to fear from more in-depth reporting on the Ayers' connection. Not more reporting, like the GOP base seems to want, but more in-depth reporting. It wouldn't be entirely flattering, but the Democrats would love to see more coverage of Ayers, Rezko and Wright, if it were coupled with coverage of Diamond, Liddy and Keating. We don't hear much about them on CNN either.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's October, where are the yard signs?

Four years ago, my part of the Bayou St.John area was full of Kerry signs, but this year, Obama signs are few and far between -- not that McCain signs are any more plentiful. At first I thought I was looking for signs too early in the campaign and/or that a needlessly long evacuation had caused a delay this year. It's been a weird, busy couple of weeks, so I hadn't thought about it again until I saw this Suburban Guerrilla post. A little googling revealed that the Obama campaign has decided to de-emphasize yard signs. Judging by the dates of those last two links, it's probably old news to some readers, but I was curious.

Frankly, there's only one scenario in which yard signs have even a slight influence on my vote, and it doesn't occur in presidential elections. In primary elections with two or more candidates that I consider unacceptable and two or more acceptable candidates, I vote for the acceptable candidate who has the best chance of making a runoff. In such elections, I do take some note of yard signs. With some of the lousy runoff choices that Louisiana voters tend to get, I have no tolerance for people who preach that you always have to vote for the best candidate in a primary election. For all you preachy types, that's a valid voting philosophy, but not the only valid voting philosophy. At any rate, I can't imagine how anybody could be influenced by yard signs in a presidential election. I'm not dismissing any positive impact altogether, I just don't get it.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How can MSNBC get it so wrong?

Chris, Keith, Rachel, Pat and company keep wondering why McCain didn't pursue the Bill Ayers line of attack. They all cling to the notion that St. McCain's a wonderful human being who's not as comfortable making the dirty attacks that Palin seems to relish -- because McCain dropped a clumsy attack in favor of a potentially more damaging counterattack, it's a sign of his inherent decency*. To expand on a comment that I made at Huck's a few days ago, the attack on Ayers has been the left jab. McCain tried to land the right hook at the very beginning of the debate when he brought up campaign contributions from Fannie Mae. As much as Chris Matthews loves to talk about relishing the combat of politics, you'd think he know that. Tonight's format probably kept McCain from pursuing that line of attack, but expect to hear much more about Franklin Raines and Fannie Mae, and the Clintons and the CRA this week.

If you haven't seen it, there's an email making the rounds with this clever YouTube compilation. Sure, the racial play is obvious. So is the attempt to make an openly gay politician the face of the Democratic Party, but it's a potentially effective effort to shift the blame for the credit crisis. Every Democrat should have answers to both the CRA caused the crisis attack and the Democrats caused by blocking Fannie Mae reform attack. Please don't take your talking points from clowning Keith
But the winner, the most un-American member in the American House of Representatives, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota. She read into the Congressional record part of an article from the right wing publication "Investors Business Daily," which purports to explain the mortgage crisis by blaming a Clinton era rule change. Congressman Bachmann read aloud that the rule pushed, quote, "Fannie and Freddie to aggressively lend to minority communities to offer, quote, home ownership as a way to open the door for blacks and other minorities to enter the middle class."

In other words, Congresswoman Bachmann blamed the meltdown on blacks and other minorities. In other words, Congresswoman Bachmann is a racist! Congresswoman Bachmann of Minnesota, today's worst person in the world.

That's just weak. In other words, Keith Olbermann is too lazy, or too interested in flaunting his moral superiority, to come up with serious answers to potentially damning charges. First off, it's not inherently racist to say that a federal program designed to help poor people and minorities can backfire. Some of the variations on these two attacks are dressed in obvious racist clothing, but the core charges still need to be answered.

In addition, to the links that I provided here, I'd recommend this Barry Ritholtz post to anybody who might find himself debating the issue. For your own understanding, you could certainly do worse than This American Life. My apologies to somebody, because I'm not sure where I came across that last link.

During the Democratic primaries, I frequently wrote that dubious charges of racism would cost the Democrats votes from some people that would strike the average liberal as irredeemably prejudiced, but who could actually vote either way in an Obama/McCain election. Admittedly, my point might not have always been clear, but read E's post about some of his coworkers. Do you think they'd be more favorably influenced by Ritholtz's questions or Olbermann's assertion?

*Not that I blame the Republicans for trying to shift the blame, it is a political campaign after all.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Two election recommendations

Vote no on the expensive criminal justice proposition. Some of the improvements are needed, but that's not enough reason to approve a poorly vetted proposal.

Ignore the Picayune's endorsement of Keith Pittman's wife. The fact that a former aide to a convicted councilman became a businessman with the connections to get a city contract with a price 62 percent higher than the lowest bid the city received isn't incriminating. I wouldn't even rule out voting for the spouse of such a businessman in a runoff against a truly objectionable opponent, but certainly not in a primary with five candidates. I'm trying to find out if either Pittmann has any connection to Fulton Johnson Newman & Pittman Insurance which does business with the city and contributes to the mayor's fundraising efforts, but I can't tell from the firm's corporate filing.

The BGR offers a contrary opinion

Gambit Weekly and The Times Picayune have come out in favor of both of the propositions that will be on the ballot in Orleans Parish tomorrow. The BGR disagrees about one of the propositions; anybody who's familiar with the BGR can probably guess which one. Though I'd agree that the BGR is usually predictable and somewhat biased in its conclusions, its analysis always stikes me as fair and reasonable. Since BGR analysis of ballot propositions is often the most thorough that we get, you should always consider it, even if you often disagree with the BGR's policy recommendations. I've had a busy week and haven't yet had a chance to read this particular analysis, so I'm not making a recommendation one way or another.

While I'm discussing the BGR, I'd once again recommend its report on magic wands, especially in light of recent circumstances. I'll return to the subject when time permits.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I hesitate to recommend this

Some interesting photographs are on display at Popp's Fountain in City Park. I guess that technically they'd be called canvas or screen blow-ups of photographs -- obviously, I don't know much about the technical aspects of art or photography. Anyway, even though Popp's Fountain is normally closed to the public, I noticed that one of the gates was open yesterday and several canvasses were hanging from the beams that connect the columns that surround the fountain. The canvasses are pictures of the City Park Golf Course (post-Katrina); I believe that they're blow-ups of the photographs mentioned in these two articles. It's worth checking out, but I have no idea how long it will be there. I noticed the open gate and hanging pictures yesterday and went back today. There were a couple of other people walking around both days, but they were as curious as I was about who put up the exhibit and how long it would be up. So, I can't guarantee that anything will be on display, or that the gate will even be open, if you go there.

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