Friday, September 17, 2004

Erase the Board 

In my opinion, Saturday's Orleans Parish School Board election results have statewide significance. The equation is simple: improving schools will make New Orleans more attractive to business, which will create jobs, and expand opportunity all around. YRHT has followed the School Board saga here and here, and if you've missed the Times-Picayune's superb coverage of our grossly derelict School Board, then I would just say that in recent years the Board has presided over unconscionable levels of fraud, fiscal buffoonery and scholastic disgrace . Worse, they attempted to oust the new Superintendant who had begun the arduous process of cleaning this thing up. The whole mess has cheated everyone in the community, but most directly our city's urban youth. It's been an unmitigated disaster, an obscene squandering of human potential... To say that New Orleans' urban (mostly black) youth are "educationally underserved" is like saying the Saints performed "imperfectly" against Seattle: a huge understatement. In short, the time has come (again) to "erase the board", save for perhaps the two members who worked to retain Superintendant Amato.

Given the scores of failing schools in Orleans, and the opportunity cost of reelecting Board members who are either incompetent or corrupt, I believe the stakes for the city and state couldn't be higher.

Here is a brief run-down of my impressions from the Alliance for Good Government's Candidate Forum that took place several weeks ago. Curiously, the Times-Picayune didn't cover it, though the forum involved candidates from the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Districts. Instead, the T-P chose to focus separately on individual districts, profiling each in depth. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit for emphasizing the importance of these elections, and have useful videos of candidate interviews at They missed an interesting night, though, at Axel's reception hall on dreary Tulane Avenue.

First I want to describe a promising phenomenon that was evident at the forum. It's the emergence of what I will term "Naginites"-- successful, black, (often bald) businessmen like Mayor Ray Nagin, who became so frustrated at the recurring problems holding New Orleans back that they decided to fix them via elective office. I love this development and hope to see more and more of it. There are two Naginites running for the School Board this year. One of them, Glenn Wilson (Dist 7), recalled being in the conference room when a company explained that they wouldn't relocate to New Orleans solely because of the horrendous school system. The incentives were fine, the business climate acceptable, but relocating would necessitate expensive private school tuitions, and that was the deal-killer. Five hundred well-paying jobs went elswhere because of the awful public schools. I shudder to think how many times New Orleans has been passed over like this. For perspective, recall that when Governor Blanco lured a manufacturer (bringing 800 new jobs) to Alexandria this year, the news of this economic coup made the front page of nearly every newspaper in the state. Imagine monthly articles trumpeting such successes... Rebuilding Orleans Parish public schools is the first step.

I wish I could report that all of the challengers were both highly prepared and politically gifted, but they simply weren't. Far from it, in fact. (If you're a young Carville wannabe eager to cut your teeth, you could easily get in with a School Board candidate. It would be a good experience, and isn't as small time as it sounds.) Anyways, the 4th district is a real problem since the Board member most deserving of defeat (Brooks-Simms) has the most politically inexperienced competition. (You can read "politically" to mean: saying and doing the things that will win an election.)

I live in the fifth district, where the current Board member is wisely retiring. There are two outstanding candidates, Karl Connor, the other Naginite, and Phyllis Landrieu. Both were knowledgable and high-toned at the forum, but clearly Mrs Phyllis Landrieu has the most political talent. Of course, she should, given that her niece is a Senator and her nephew is the Lieutenant Governor. Actually, Mitch stopped by that night to see his aunt speak. I chatted briefly with him during an intermission and he pretended to recognize me, although we'd only met once before at a Wes Clark event. He was charming, totally at ease, working the room like a champ... Despite making her first foray into politics, Phyllis Landrieu was by far the most polished candidate, and she'll win the fifth district easily. I mean, how could voters turn down the connections she brings to the table? The real pity of it is that her opponent, Connor, is probably the second most desirable candidate in the entire field. It's a shame only one of them can be elected.

One of the standard questions by the moderator was: "How many schools are in your district, and how many have you visited?" I swear, laughably, tragically, almost EVERY CANDIDATE, in every district, gave different answers. They'd say "There are 19 schools in my district and I've visited every one of them" Then the next candidate (same district) would say "There are sixteen schools in the district and I've visited them all twice." And the next one would give even another answer. Heaven help us! One bit of news might have been made when Harvard alumn, and true Amato suppporter Una Anderson said there were 12 schools in her district. Ms Latoya Cantrell, who effectively (and rightly) expressed her disappointment with the Board, "corrected" her and said there are 13. With all of the the openings/closings/mergers, I have no idea what the actual number is, but if Ms. Anderson (an incumbent) was wrong, that would be news.

(Unfortunately Sandra "18 Wheeler" Hester's district wasn't included in the forum, nor can she be seen at the NOLA website which has boring video interviews with most of the candidates. )

For what it's worth, here's Oyster's recommendations for the September 18 elections:

District 4: Camacia Smith-Ross received the Gambit's endorsement, though Lourdes Moran got most others. I was definitely most impressed with Ross at the forum. Moran was not ready for prime time at all. (I spoke with Smith-Ross in Axel's parking lot afterwards. Her political skills could use some tweaking, but on the plus side she's attractive and drives a clean silver BMW 3 series. [ed: Sit down, Waldo!])

District 5: Phyllis Landrieu (She'll probably roll with over 60% in a 3 way race). I just wish Karl Connor lived in another district.

District 6: Una Anderson. She's behind Amato, and helped save his job. Also, she's a Harvard alumn and former state track star. If you can't stomach re-electing someone to this Board-- which is totally understandable, then pick Cantrell or McKnight.

District 7: Anyone but Dr. Willard. He put on such a rabid and bizarre performance at the forum, yelling and shaking his fist in hopes of creating crowd enthusiasm. But he'd emphasize the wrong words, and make every excuse for his sorry record. Quite frankly, the man appeared unstable. I like all of his opponents equally, though Torin Sanders is collecting most of the endorsements.

Please remember to vote. And if in doubt, throw 'em out.
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

"We don't run from hurricanes. We drink them." 

While many New Orleanians take pride in their relaxed, lackadaisical response to approaching hurricanes, the fact is that Ivan missed this city. For citizens returning home today, please dismiss anyone who stayed and wants to tell you about how they unflinchingly "road out" the storm. It was nothing. No flooding, no levees breaking, no floating balls of fire ants... I've seen worse wind shear at a Pancho's buffet.

Save the tough talk, people, and send your prayers to the coasties who need them.
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In Memory 

John Cummings (1948-2004)

Update: A magnificently comprehensive obit (NYT).
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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Who's the real "Cat Five" Monster? 

Ivan... or Bush's Iraq strategery?

Consider the following analyses:

Philip Carter is rightfully disgusted at how our National Guardsmen in Iraq are still coping with inadequate supplies and training:
Our nation has sent its reservists into harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have not done a good job of preparing them for the hazards there. It took us more than a year to field up-to-date Interceptor body armor to the force. Many of our Guardsmen still shoot, move and communicate with gear that's older than they are. They make do with inadequate pre-deployment training, because the Pentagon continues to delude itself that 39 training days a year is enough to sustain individual and collective proficiency at warfighting. (It's not!) And yet, when our Guardsmen go downrange, they fight the same fight as their active-duty brethren-- just with less resources, older equipment, and older soldiers (on the average).

The implications of such data should be spelled out very clearly: American lives have been lost due to unrealistic postwar planning and inadequate body-armor outfitting. Whatever silver linings that had surrounded the epic blunder in Iraq are now totally obscured.

Kos echoes Scott Ritter's prescient assessment from last year:

"We've lost this war."

Michael ably summarizes the cockamamie attempt to defund Iraqi infrastructure projects so that Bush can avoid a pre-election request for more money. Just one in a continuing pattern of accounting shenanigans...

Even nasty Ivan must cast a jealous "eye" on the damage and cost which the current administration inflicts on this country (not to mention others).

How much longer will the squalls of BushCo reign?


TBogg puts blogging in its place-- hilariously, of course:
Blogging is just a cyberspace letter to the editor, instant venting, and little else. It's not "new media" (which sounds like hubris reflux from the days Fast Company, anyone?). Just like Penthouse Forum was a collection of phony stroke stories designed to give teenagers hope and older white men false memories, blogs are like newspapers made up entirely of op-eds for the likeminded. Critical thinking is rarely the price of admission, and, speaking of admission, how many blogs would you pay to read?

And don't miss Norbizness on dildoes and Matt Gunn on bullets.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What a packet of butterscotch this article is 

From the AP (my emph):

The worst-case scenario for New Orleans -- a direct strike by a full-strength Hurricane Ivan -- could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks, experts say.

But what's the downside?

If the storm were strong enough, Ivan could drive water over the tops of the levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River and vast Lake Pontchartrain. And with the city sitting in a saucer-shaped depression that dips as much as 9 feet below sea level, there would be nowhere for all that water to drain.

"Those folks who remain, should the city flood, would be exposed to all kinds of nightmares from buildings falling apart to floating in the water having nowhere to go," Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Public Health Center, said Tuesday...

I bet he doesn't have any computer simulations to support his outlandish, irresponsible speculations.
[LSU] computer models show a hurricane with a wind speed of around 120 mph or more -- hitting just west of New Orleans so its counterclockwise rotation could hurl the strongest surf and wind directly into the city-- would push a storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain over the city's levees. Ivan had sustained wind of 140 mph Tuesday.
New Orleans would be under about 20 feet of water, higher than the roofs of many of the city's homes.

Besides collecting standard household and business garbage and chemicals, the flood would flow through chemical plants in the area, " so there's the potential of pretty severe contamination," van Heerden said.

Details, details...

Severe flooding in area bayous also forces out wildlife, including poisonous snakes and stinging fire ants, which sometimes gather in floating balls carried by the current.

Damn, I didn't know about the dangerous balls of stinging ants-- I might have to rethink this.

A rescue of people who stayed behind would be among the world's biggest since 1940, when Allied forces and civilian volunteers during World War II rescued mostly British soldiers from Dunkirk, France, and carried them across the English Channel, van Heerden predicted.

Much of the city would be under water for weeks. And even after the river and Lake Pontchartrain receded, the levees could trap water above sea level, meaning the Army Corps of Engineers would have to cut the levees to let the water out...
As long as we're doing WWII parallels, perhaps crucial bourbon supplies could be airdropped into the city a la Berlin.

The worst storm in recent decades to hit New Orleans was Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which submerged parts of the city in water 7-feet deep and was blamed for 74 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. That storm was a Category 3, weaker than Ivan is expected to be.

Puh-leeze. There's 80 to 100+ year old buildings all around me. If they've been able to survive this long... *knock on wood* I'm sure it will be fine *gulp*.

Even if New Orleans escapes this time, van Heerden said, it will remain vulnerable until the federal and state governments act to restore the coastal wetlands that should act as a buffer against storms coming in from the Gulf.

Yes, a political angle!

Louisiana has lost about a half million acres of coast to erosion since 1930 because the Mississippi River is so corralled by levees that it can dump sediment only at its mouth, and that allows waves from the Gulf to chop away at the rest of the coastline.

"My fear is, if this storm passes (without a major disaster), everybody forgets about it until next year, when it could be even worse because we'll have even less wetlands," van Heerden said.

Vote for Democrats (who support larger coastal restoration investments) unless you like swimming in a contaminated flood, dodging floating balls of fire-ants.
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Ivan le terrible 

Thanks to all who've expressed their concerns about the approaching storm. I'll be doing some imprudent hurricane blogging at Metroblogging New Orleans (under "Mark") while I ride it out. Yes, I'm crazy for staying in New Orleans, but I've tenants to look after, and buckets to arrange.

Don't worry: Lovely and Colicky are at a safer, undisclosed location.

My friend Ratboy stopped by and unloaded six large boxes of CD's that he wanted me to keep dry. This guy has more records than EMI, and he didn't have space to bring them with him (and his Jack Russell) out of town. So now I have this huge library of music at my disposal. I should invite my other stalwart friends over and have a party. Any suggestions about appropriate songs to play?

I felt like a Montana Separatist when I bought this on clearance from Sharper Image a few months back. But now, I think I could survive a nuclear winter with this multifunctional wonder. I'm embarrassed to tell you that some small part of me is eager to use it.

Emergency 11-in-1 survival and communications center!

Includes: Black and white TV, AM/FM weather band radio, dual fluorescent lamps, spotlight, emergency siren and red blinking bunker light. LCD digital clock, thermometer, compass, sonic mosquito repeller, built-in handle and retractable shoulder strap.

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Monday, September 13, 2004

A reminder of life's impermanence 

Aaron Hawkins, author of Uppity Negro blog, died last week. Our most sincere condolences go out to his sister, family and friends.

I visited his site only a couple times per month, commenting and linking to it infrequently. Still, I was stunned at the news when I checked in the other day.

Rest in Peace, Aaron.
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The "Stupidest and the Craziest" 

Others compile better news-oriented rants, but today I had to vent en masse.

First, let me say that Lyndon Johnson serves as an enormously revealing historical study right now, and I'll be referring to him a lot in coming days, despite the imminence of hell and high water. LBJ's misdeeds (as well as his dark methods and associations) seem extremely pertinent .

Helpfully, Digby makes my job easier by fishing out some superb and insightful quotes. The first is LBJ's candid assessment of Vietnam. Johnson believed political necessity trapped him into escalating America's role in an unwinnable conflict. He had to escalate, or else the GOP would "out-hawk" him on foreign policy. Still, he thought the whole project was a deepening quagmire :
It looks to me like we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there with, once we're committed.... I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think that we can get out. It's just the biggest damned mess that I ever saw.
Robert Sheer tightly sums it up:
So in the end, Johnson sent half a million troops to Vietnam and carpet-bombed the country with more explosives than were used during World War II because he wanted to deprive the Republicans of their one issue and feared even Congress would turn against him if he withdrew...
Dwell on the hideous enormity of that sin for a while.

Now recall that after LBJ led us into the viper's pit, he began making tactical decisions. He put his own "stamp" on a war that he tracked with maniacal intensity, and basically started playing "Risk" from the Oval Office by directing military operations-- sometimes with great specificity.

Fast forward to Arbusto's White House interview with Russert in February (h/t Atrios):

The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.

Spoken like a thoughtful history major. Regrettably, when scenes of hanging American corpses were broadcast on the tele, Commander BringItOn declared: "Heads must role!" Recently, details about the political motivations behind the Fallujah strike were reported. The following story should be profoundly disturbing to everyone, no matter what the political stripe:
"We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah: that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," [Lt. Gen. Conway] said in an interview.... He echoed an argument made by many Iraqi politicians and American analysts -- that the U.S. attack further radicalized a restive city, leading many residents to support the insurgents. "When we were told to attack Fallujah, I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed," Conway said.

He would not say where the order to attack originated, only that he received an order from his superior at the time, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the overall commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Some senior U.S. officials in Iraq have said the command originated in the White House. (WP my emph)

Apparently, Bush overruled General Conway at least TWICE. First in the decision to attack Fallujah too early, and then ordering troops to pull out too soon. So, in light of Lyndon's mistakes echoing in Bush's Fallujah debacle, read James Fallows extremely important piece in this month's Atlantic. It is worth quoting at length and rereading (my emph).

Over the past two years I have been talking with a group of people at the working level of America's anti-terrorism efforts. Most are in the military, the intelligence agencies, and the diplomatic service; some are in think tanks and nongovernmental agencies. I have come to trust them, because most of them have no partisan ax to grind with the Administration (in the nature of things, soldiers and spies are mainly Republicans), and because they have so far been proved right. In the year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that occupying the country would be far harder than conquering it. As the occupation began, they pointed out the existence of plans and warnings the Administration seemed determined to ignore.

As a political matter, whether the United States is now safer or more vulnerable is of course ferociously controversial. That the war was necessary and beneficial is the Bush Administration's central claim. That it was not is the central claim of its critics. But among national-security professionals there is surprisingly little controversy. Except for those in government and in the opinion industries whose job it is to defend the Administration's record, they tend to see America's response to 9/11 as a catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in American history-- or only the worst since Vietnam. ...about the conduct and effect of the war in Iraq one view prevails: it has increased the threats America faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond.

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full of shit. In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we may gain along the way, this will prove to be a strategic blunder."....

The Bush Administration... placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq. It hampered the campaign in Afghanistan before fighting began and wound it down prematurely, along the way losing the chance to capture Osama bin Laden. It turned a blind eye to misdeeds in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and to WMD threats from North Korea and Iran far more serious than any posed by Saddam Hussein, all in the name of moving toward a showdown with Iraq. It overused and wore out its army in invading Iraq-- without committing enough troops for a successful occupation. It saddled the United States with ongoing costs that dwarf its spending for domestic security. And by every available measure it only worsened the risk of future terrorism.

You'd have to be f-ckin crazy to want four more years of these incompetents.

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Take my volume, take my volume control 

Back in the day I used to help "bridge the gap" at Lamarque motors, selling cars. Many nights I'd get off work at 9pm, and make the hour drive to Houma to see Lovely, my girlfriend (now wife). It's not a long drive when you're rushing to someone you love. Unfortunately, my old Integra had air conditioning problems, so I'd lower the windows. One particularly warm Friday night I was on my way to Houma, driving fast, with a lot of wind noise inside the car. I had to have the radio loud just to hear it. Then an underplayed favorite like "Der Kommisar" came on, so I blasted the music even louder (Alles klar?). Anyway, the song ended at some point but my mind was on my girlfriend, and seeing her soon and then spending the weekend with her. Immersed in twitterpations, the outside world gradually fell away until I arrived at her street.

Seeing the sign for the nearby Gas 'n Sip, I decided to pull in and get some beverages. There were three t-shirted ne'erdowells in front, hanging out, looking for mischief. In the back of my mind an alert sounded, telling me something was wrong. I was still in a mental fog, though, and couldn't perceive the danger. Then, as I slowed into the parking spot, I sensed the decline of wind-noise, while the radio seemed to get louder and louder. What the hell am I listening to? I thought, and why is it at eardrum-splitting levels?! ...Oh sweet mercy, I'm blasting Laura Branigan's "Self Control", and my windows are down!!!

Oh-Oh-Oh (boom)
Oh-Oh-Oh (boom)...

[If you know the song, you're familiar with how hokie that part would sound.]

Fumbling and bumbling, I turned it down to a modest level. Not off, mind you, because that would indicate I was embarrassed by the music, and I didn't want to appear uncool in front of strangers. T-Jay, Coco and Shortround (I'm guessing) were sitting there, eyeing me, doubtlessly wondering where this effete Branigan-lover came from. I felt the pressure in their mocking stare, and I shot them back my most serious, tough guy look while entering the store. As I purchased the cold drinks and candy for Lovely, I was worried those "creatures of the night" would say something when I returned to the car. Luckily they didn't mess with me-- I hadn't the will to try and fight.

So that memory flashed through my mind last week when I read Laura Branigan died of a brain aneurysm at age 47.

Laura B. Posted by Hello

For those inclined toward prayer:
O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great despair. Yea, admit this kind and decent woman into thy arms of thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he lay us upon the band of the Canaanites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give her a break.

Hey, I'm not an ordained minister; I'm doing my best...
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