Friday, February 10, 2006

Item! 

A bill to begin the process of consolidating the seven assessors of Orleans parish into one, was deferred "indefinitely" (read: killed) with very little difficulty.

Story here.
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"Slow-motion train wreck" is beginning to look like a euphemism 

This is just brutal. Bru-tal.

NYT: Virtually every measure of the performance of Iraq's oil, electricity, water and sewerage sectors has fallen below preinvasion values even though $16 billion of American taxpayer money has already been disbursed in the Iraq reconstruction program, several government witnesses said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Of seven measures of public services performance presented at the committee hearing by the inspector general's office, only one was above preinvasion values.

Those that had slumped below those values were electrical generation capacity, hours of power available in a day in Baghdad, oil and heating oil production and the numbers of Iraqis with drinkable water and sewage service.

Only the hours of power available to Iraqis outside Baghdad had increased over prewar values.

In addition, two of the witnesses said they believed that an earlier estimate by the World Bank that $56 billion would be needed for rebuilding over the next several years was too low.

How can America succeed in its nation-building experiment in Iraq if, three years after the invasion, basic infrastructure is worse than it was under Saddam? I don't see any possible way at all.

And be assured, this plays right into the hands of terrorists. They could hardly draw up a better scenario: a chronic lack of basic services increases frustration levels within a populace, which enflames pre-existing ethno-religious divisions, which makes it easier for terrorists to sow chaos and violence. These are the conditions in which extremism-- not representative democracy-- flourish.

But wait, the article's not finished:

"What's happened is that an incessant, an insidious insurgency has repeatedly attacked the key infrastructure targets, reducing outputs," [Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen] said.
...
This downsizing of expectations was striking given that $30 billion American taxpayer money has already been dedicated to the task, according to an analysis by Mr. Joseph Christoff of the [Government Accountability] office. Of that money, $23 billion has already been obligated to specific rebuilding contracts, and $16 billion of that amount has been disbursed, Mr. Christoff said.

Mr. Bowen's office has pointed out that another $40 billion in Iraqi oil money and seized assets of Saddam Hussein's regime was also made available for reconstruction and other tasks at one time or another. Last week, Robert J. Stein Jr., one of four former United States government officials in Iraq who have been arrested in a bribery and kickback scheme involving that money, pleaded guilty to federal charges.

According to the AP "Robert Stein was comptroller and funding officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority's South Central Region. Court records show he was convicted in 1996 for defrauding a financial institution. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight months in prison and three years of supervised release."

You know, we really need to keep a close eye on those Louisianans spending their Katrina windfall. Otherwise waste might occur.

Mr. Christoff also brought another new figure to the hearing: he said that on a recent trip to Baghdad, the American forces there had told him that they would need another $3.9 billion to continue training and equipping Iraqi forces, in part so that they can better protect the infrastructure.
...
If the $3.9 billion that the American forces believe they need is actually appropriated, it would bring the total amount spent simply on training and equipping the Iraqi Army and the police to about $15 billion.

$30 billion in U.S. taxpayer money for reconstruction plus $40 billion in Iraq oil money plus $15 billion for police training equals $85 billion... plus current estimates say that's still more than $56 billion short of what's needed.

I would like to remind the Bush administration that $141 billion is a lot of money.

A "heckuva" lot.
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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Now I ain't sayin' they a gold digger, but they ain't messin wit no broke [folk] 

The Bush administration is tireless in its efforts to remind us how expensive disaster victims can be. Their fiscal rectitude is truly something to behold.

Although this wouldn't kick in immediately, and won't be implemented until 2007, it's amazing what this administration will cut-- especially after touting the SBA loans as a near cure-all for disaster victims (though the majority of applications are rejected).


WASHINGTON -- Facing budget pressures, the Bush administration is seeking to markedly increase the interest rates that small businesses and homeowners pay for government-backed loans designed to get them back on their feet after disasters.

The Small Business Administration, already under criticism for its handling of such loans after the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, is raising new concerns in Congress with the interest hike proposal.

The agency wants a new formula that, if implemented today, would raise the disaster loan interest rate for homeowners from its current 2.68 percent to more than 4.5 percent by pegging it to Treasury bill rates.
...
An SBA spokesman estimated the new rate would add about $41 million to government coffers during the first year it is enacted.


To get some perspective let's contrast those "$41 million" in first year "savings" with something local. Say, the controversial new Wal-Mart on the Northshore. Using easy round numbers, let's say the Wal-Mart will cost $200 million to build. Now, according to the new post-Katrina tax rules, they have an option to immediately depreciate 50% of that cost-- effectively achieving a $100 million instant tax write-off for poor, lil', cash strapped Wal-Mart.

And that's just one single store!

What do Joe and Suzie Homeowner get from the SBA after the next hurricane? Basically an Adjustable Rate Mortgage because the gubmint says its budget is so goshdarn tight due to security costs and nation-building and corruption in Iraq... (And don't think that Bushco won't want more SBA loan cuts and restrictions enacted. They haven't really liked this program since day one.)

So we see huge incentives for the Wal-Marts-- deficits be damned!-- while future disaster victims will get SBA loans at nearly double the current interest rate. The federal budget is too tight for the dispossessed, but isn't an issue for the big corporations... funny how that works.

Here's the relevant IRS link, explaining the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 (aka the GO Zone legislation.) It's worth knowing, and the tax benefits are enormous: but mainly for the big players who have a team of savvy accountants, and have the cash to step in when there's blood in the streets.


Special Bonus Depreciation to Help Businesses Rebuild. Businesses of all sizes affected by Hurricane Katrina can take a special first year depreciation deduction for qualified property placed in service after August 27, 2005, and before January 1, 2008. The special deduction is equal to 50 percent of the property's depreciable basis.
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Good news summation at the Device 

Greg does the heavy lifting so you don't have to, covering assorted "gret stet" topics (plus muslims and cartoons!).

Here's a sentence that will get you over there: "I think passing the money through the fewest possible hands is in order; you never know when Bob Odom is going to want to build a 600-ft statue of Cochise out of cane syrup and starts to rifle through the drawers."

So go. And if you haven't seen his latest comic, shame on you.
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Bouquets 

1. To the Grammy Awards, who paid tribute to New Orleans music during their finale, and made an eloquent request to visit the city during Mardis Gras and Jazzfest to spur on tourism. We appreciate it to the utmost. And congrats to the producers of the Grammys, who put on a very watchable and enjoyable show this year. Given the inherent limitations of the format, I thought the program was extremely well-done (save for the egregiously brief "lifetime achievement award" presentations to Bowie and other worthies). I was glad that I perservered through Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, Linkin Park singing "Yesterday", and ended up seeing the show in its entirety.

By the way, if you liked Allen Toussaint's performance of "Yes we can can", you can buy the benefit album via this link.

2. To Ben Franklin High School Senior Camille (missed the last name) who came in a close second in Teen Jeopardy last night. In her spare time, Camille reads to the blind.

3. To the Krewe of Muses, who donated $50 grand to the N.O. Police to help with the costs associated with security during the Carnival parades.
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Irritating 

Da local Paper:


The budget would make tax cuts initiated in the president's first term permanent at a cost of $1.4 billion over 10 years.



No, sorry, that would be $1.4 TRILLION over 10 years. Not $1.4 billion. TRILLION, not billion. Roll it off your tongue with zest: "Trilllllion"!

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$1.4 Billion is the approximate amount of the largest cash disbursement in the history of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Which was flown to Iraq in hundred dollar bricks.

And distributed.

But to who?


---
Professor DeLong has more on the President's "Budget". Here's a fun quote from the Post article he excerpts:

The president's budget acknowledges the cost of Bush's call to make his tax cuts permanent -- $1.35 trillion over the next decade and nearly $120 billion in 2011 alone. But beyond 2007, the budget assumes no military expenditures in Iraq or Afghanistan and no effort to address the unintended effects of the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax system that was designed to hit the rich but has instead increasingly pinched the middle class. It also assumes Congress will cut domestic spending every year after 2007. Those factors led Goldman Sachs economists to tell clients yesterday that the deficit forecasts are "unrealistic."

White House Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten said that something must be done about the AMT. But beyond 2007, when Bush assumes a one-year provision to mitigate the AMT's impact on the middle class, Bolten said any fix should be part of a broader "revenue-neutral" restructuring of the tax system. Such a revision, once viewed as a priority of the president's, has disappeared from Bush's political agenda.

"In the absence of even mentioning tax reform in his State of the Union address, it may be presumptuous to assume a revenue-neutral AMT fix after 2007," said Brian M. Riedl, a federal budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration, for the first time, has spelled out anticipated spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a formal budget document. Previously, the administration submitted requests for supplemental or emergency spending to cover costs. But the $50 billion in war funding for next year falls well short of the $120 billion that was requested for 2006. And no further war spending is included in future deficit projections."This budget is not going to happen," said Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget analyst at Financial Dynamics Business Communications. "Of all the budgets I've seen recently, this is the one going nowhere the fastest."

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Huh? 

Gubmint watchdog C.B. Forgotston (1/24/06):


Frankly, I'm pleased that Congress is showing some uncharacteristic sense in not rewarding our poor fiscal practices. They are finally rewarding those who are frugal and not those who are wasteful. We are getting way more money than we deserve.


But in a recent Lolis Eric Elie column dated 2/1/06, we find:


If approved, the Baker bill would seem like a kind gesture from the rest of the nation to Louisiana to help see us through these hard times.

But C.B. Forgotston... says the federal government is getting off easy. The failure of the levees, not the strength of the hurricane winds, destroyed New Orleans. Those levees were built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The federal government destroyed my house and possessions. Why should I accept 60 percent?" Forgotston said.

"If you left your house this morning and returned this evening to find that the Corps of Engineers, by mistake, incompetence or negligence, had bulldozed your house to the ground, would you accept 60 percent payment for your loss?

"The only difference in that scenario and what happened was that the damage was done with water instead of a bulldozer," he said. "Legally I would be entitled to pain, suffering and living expenses for the last five months. But as a compromise, all I want is to be put back financially where I was in August."

According to C.B., we're legally entitled to "pain, suffering and living expenses for the last five months"? How much do ya figure that would amount to? Gracious, that has to be one of the most liberal recompensation proposals I've heard since the storm. And yet, how does this belief square with C.B.'s earlier contention that we're "getting way more than we deserve"?

Truly, I'm puzzled.

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More here on this at Schroeder's.
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Thanks to Levees Not War for making YRHT one of its "must read" blogs.
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Pelicans playing hardball 

"If no effort is made to guarantee our fair share of royalties, I have warned the federal government that we will be forced to block the August sale of offshore oil and gas leases," [Governor Kathleen] Blanco said. "It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game Washington understands."


---
And with that statement, our much-maligned Governor has shown a stronger grasp of political reality than half the state's punditocracy. I won't name names, but I'm talking about the Libertarian/Moderate good government fantasists who don't understand (despite overwhelming evidence) how this radical Bush administration operates.

These are the pundits who are saying, in effect, "let's try to impress the administration who outspent LBJ with our frugality". Yeah, that should work. Under Bush, total Federal spending increased nearly 50%!!-- from $1.9 trillion in '01 to $2.7 trillion this year; while producing deficits of over $1.5 trillion!!

These are the same pundits who are saying, in effect, "Mebbe, jus' mebbe, Louisiana can impress Jack Abramoff's Congress with some new sunshine provisions!! Yeah, let's show the Administration tolerating the fraudulence in Iraq that we have a new moral code down here"!

This is naivete on an Olympian scale. The Bushies respond to political pressure. Period. They view money spent in Louisiana as a waste: billions on levees are a waste, billions on coastal restoration is a waste, billions on rebuilding New Orleans is a waste, billions on a liberal housing bailout plan is a waste, billions on a bailout for Entergy is a waste... and so on.

But, the key thing to realize is... for them, it's not a "waste" because the money won't be wisely spent. Oh hell no-- they let billions get "lost" in Iraq, and when the auditor alerts them to the problem, the Bushies make him persona non grata. It's a waste because those pesky catastrophe-related expenses interfere with Bush's promise to cut the deficit in half. It's a waste because, quite plainly, this is not a city or a state that Rove wants to help. Like Mr. Clio said, Bushco views Louisiana as "a vassal state to Texas... a quaint colony where McMansion owners can send their A&M sons for lap dances and bachelor parties."

So some realize the need to play hardball, and some fantasists don't. To his great credit, Senator Vitter immediately supported Blanco's proposal. He seems willing to deal some chin music* if necessary.


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*That's high heat on the inside; a brushback pitch, if you will.

I dream of a Cajun hearing a whispered instruction, and deciding, out of the blue, to clear a baseball diamond in his sugarcane field. And perhaps one night a young J.R. Richard will emerge from the tall stalks and take the mound, and will face a cocky Texas Ranger who thinks he has it all figured out. Then the 102mph chin-music.... and the John Kruk jelly-knees... and a reorientation of priorities.
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State GOP takes no position on Baker Bill 

Seems that the only people in Louisiana who don't have a position on this crucial bill is the state Republican Party.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, would create a federal agency to buy out damaged and destroyed homes and provide some repayment to owners and mortgage companies.

[State GOP chairman Roger] Villere would not say where the state party stands on the bill, which is backed by the state's congressional delegation and opposed by the Bush White House.

"We are working with Congress and the president . . . to all come together for a solution," Villere said.


Nothing but pure substance there. So, when not working with President Bush for the common good of Louisiana, Villere blasts Governor Blanco with jaw-dropping eloquence:

"I think she (Blanco) is derelict in her duty.
...
"We have gotten billions of dollars that have not been spent yet... All we have is a governor going to Washington begging for more money. How are you going to spend what you have?. . . Why would you just blanketedly hand them money?"



Uh... "Blanketedly"?

Can we throw in an "Irregardless" and call it a day?
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Reminder 

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