Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Matthew 6:24

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

You may have noticed this item in the news over the weekend:
A Virginia company has agreed to pay $4 million to settle claims it breached a contract to set up a base camp for relief workers in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Lighthouse Disaster Relief and two of its partners, Gary Heldreth and Kerry Farmer, were accused of billing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for work they never performed after the August 2005 storm.
Two days after the contract was issued, FEMA was "deluged with Katrina-related invoices" when it paid the company $5.2 million for the full price of the contract, according to the Justice Department's lawsuit.

"Had officials at (FEMA) known that defendants had billed for work not yet performed, they would not have authorized such payments," the lawsuit said, adding that auditors uncovered the erroneous payment in January 2006.

A contractor that took over for Lighthouse told FEMA the camp was "in chaos" when they arrived, according to the suit.

You might not recall that Lighthouse was apparently awarded the contract as part Bush's faith-based initiative. From a 2006 Scout Prime report:
Heldreth never did the work but pocketed the $5.2 Million. And the pastor began spending it……

U.S. District Judge James Brady on Monday froze the assets of Lighthouse Disaster Relief and owners Gary Lee Heldreth and Kerry Lynn Farmer one hour after the Department of Justice filed papers claiming the two are “moving money at an alarming pace” — spending it on a motor home and three new cars, and cashing checks $10,000 at a time.
Investigators have since determined that Lighthouse Disaster Relief wasn’t even incorporated until October 2005 — a month after it won the FEMA contract.

I guess there's one more similarity between the Bush administration and the Nagin administration.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Will we see similar savings in New Orleans?

Interesting article in yesterday's paper:
Governments get lower bids from contractors as economy slows

A catastrophic hurricane and a booming world economy combined to make construction prices soar in the New Orleans area in the past three years. But the tide has turned, and contractors are underbidding construction estimates by substantial margins.
The city of Slidell planned to spend $5.8 million on a 23,000-square-foot municipal building, or $252 per square foot. But when city officials tore open bid envelopes in January, the low price was $4.35 million, or $189 per square foot.

"The taxpayers are getting a break," Morris said.

In St. Bernard Parish, recent bids for a cultural arts center at Chalmette High School came in at $25 million, $4 million less than anticipated, and the cost of a new Arabi Elementary School came in at $14.5 million, $1.5 million less than the estimate, school Superintendent Doris Voitier said.

For some reason, I doubt we'll see the same savings when rebuilding contracts are awarded in New Orleans. I also doubt that many people will bother to ask why.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Questions of general principle

That should be asked before Saturday's election.

Do you think that ridiculous hyperbole should be treated with ridicule? If a politician kills an important piece of reform legislation because it goes too far, do you think she has an obligation to help craft a more acceptable piece of legislation?

If the answer to either question is yes, I'll remind you of a bill that Julie Quinn killed last Summer:
But state Sen. Julie Quinn said counter letters are essential. She chairs the committee that killed the bill to ban counter letters.

It would have destroyed commerce in Louisiana over night,” Quinn said. “The legislation was so wide open, I don’t think there’s a single business that would stay here a minute if that was the case.”

Quinn said she’s not trying to open the door for corruption, but wants to make sure that if lawmakers go forward with any counter letter ban, it doesn’t affect private legal practices.

“We certainly shouldn’t go overboard and outlaw all private contracts,” Quinn said. “It’s the backbone of commerce in our country.”

Maybe Julie Quinn really believes that outlawing counter letters would destroy commerce letters and there's no need to introduce another bill. I suppose it really is possible that, despite Governor Awesome's awesome tax cuts and even awesomer ethics reform, nobody would choose to do business in Louisiana if we didn't have a mechanism for secrecy that no other state in the union has. But, I 'd like to hear her explain that. Otherwise, somebody should ask her why she's running for the Jefferson Parish council when she has unfinished business in Baton Rouge.

FWIW, I really don't care which Republican gets elected to the Jefferson Parish Council. If anything, I can think of at least one reason why I'd probably prefer her to Cynthia Lee-Sheng, but I hate exaggeration that goes far enough to border on dishonesty or insult our intelligence. Also, her commercials are...interesting. She implies that she's the straightforward, straight talker in the race, yet one of her commercials implies that The Gambit endorsed* her over Lee-Sheng. Gotta love straight talkers who exaggerate and mislead. She also says that the impression that she owed $265,000 in unpaid taxes was due to a complicated divorce settlement. I'll withhold judgment on that, but the complicated divorce settlement with a major hotel magnate/real estate developer raises questions about her reasons for killing the counter letter bill.

Again, I really don't care about a Jefferson Parish council race, but I do want to hear one of the candidates answer some serious questions about her part in killing a reform that would have brought greater transparency to business and politics throughout the state. I could say something about double standards, racial politics and the transparency issue, but I'm waiting for the city's politically active minister/businessmen to raise a stink over the failure to outlaw counter letters. I'll agree with them if they do.

*Can't figure out why she left out the enthusiastic endorsement of "We Saw That."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Which is the April Fools' Day Joke?

  1. The Justice Department dropped the case against Ted Stevens.

  2. After our experience with Nagin, it would be insane to elect an inexperienced politician to serve as our next mayor.

  3. Penile fractures are unusually common in western Iran.

If the lack of a link doesn't make the answer obvious, here's a hint:
Though Nagin said Monday he wasn't sure who paid for his family's trip, he said he was sure it wasn't a city contractor.

"It's no vendor," he said. "It's a personal vacation. What's up with you guys? What's with y'all, man?"

Asked specifically who paid for the trip, Nagin became irritated.

"I don't know, man," he said. "This is a personal trip. I've taken trips to Hawaii before. I've taken trips to the Caribbean."

Funny he should mention it. I was just getting ready to bring up the fact that Nagin went to Jamaica less than three months after Katrina. I'll return to the subject at some length, but the only lesson to be learned from Nagin's time as mayor is that city can't afford another smug prick who doesn't give a shit. I will grant that, to some degree, Nagin demonstrates the risks inherent with choosing an unknown quantity, but not to the extent that you might think. We chose to ignore what we did know, or could have known, about him.

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