Friday, May 26, 2006

Help the librarian 

Jeffrey needs assistance here (and here too).

Previously, I've suggested that New Orleans should have a local "N.O. Idol" program. Why not showcase our talent! Have some local celebrity judges, competition between neighborhoods, recording contracts...

Couldn't it work?
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When penny-pinching is pelican pinching 

Let's note that the all-important federal housing monies are anything but assured:

Louisiana will have to wait until after hurricane season begins to get any more hurricane-recovery money from Congress.

Lawmakers had hoped to wrap up negotiations on an emergency spending package -- including $4.2 billion for Louisiana housing and $3.7 billion for New Orleans area levee repairs -- before leaving for a weeklong Memorial Day recess. But late Wednesday negotiators threw up their hands and said they would try again when they return June 6, the first week of the 2006 hurricane season.


After much contentious debate over the size of the spending bill, a Capitol Hill source familiar with the closed-door talks said both sides have agreed to a cap of $94 billion, including $92.2 billion for on-going military operations in Iraq and hurricane relief and $2.3 billion to combat bird flu. The amount would be a dramatic reduction from the $109 billion passed by the Senate and a slight increase over the $92 billion bill approved by the House and proposed by the Bush administration.

Critically for Louisiana, the money for housing assistance appears still to be in a state of flux, the source said. The money is the linchpin for the Louisiana Recovery Authority's "Road Home" housing rehabilitation program, which plans to offer flooded-out homeowners up to $150,000 each to make repairs.

I wouldn't be surprised if the "Capitol Hill source" was Mary Landrieu or her staff.

To say the Louisiana Recovery Authority is counting on this money would be an understatement. President Bush has been admirably vocal in support of Louisiana getting the entire $4.2 billion in housing funds. However, he's been equally vocal about Congress not spending over $94 billion on this bill which contains said funds. His veto threats have delayed the passage of the bill, and have helped the House snip away at the Senate's version during negotiations. (I wish Congress would just call the President's bluff and dare him to veto a military and hurricane relief package. Or veto anything, for that matter.) But the President and the House GOP want to cut that extra $12 billion because they want to say that they are fiscally prudent. Throughout the fall, they will champion this $12 billion "cut" in proposed spending (even if it means delaying or reducing crucial funds for Louisiana). They aim to soothe fiscal conservatives prior to the elections in November. Meanwhile, the country's debt is soaring to $10 trillion, and the budget deficit will be in the hundreds of billions.

The killer is that Louisiana can't afford to split this $4.2 billion with three other states. It will severely limit the recovery money for flooded homeowners, and many more New Orleanians will still be "upside-down" in their mortgages which will lead to bankruptcies, blight and the dreaded jack o' lantern effect (where rebuilding is spotty and haphazard).

The article says our housing money is "in flux". This is really the bare minimum amount needed for Louisiana to recover. Yet, other Gulf states want money, too. But the President says he'll veto anything over $94 billion. So if the House/Senate committee doesn't agree to add money for other states, the $4.2 billion for housing (which the LRA, Bush and Powell all believe we need in full) might get split.

Once again, it appears the GOP's (newfound) fiscal conservatism comes primarily at the expense of Louisiana. They laughed at our LA Senators when they proposed a $250 billion Katrina/Rita package, and then proceeded to waste almost $100 billion on FEMA trailers and favored GOP companies who do nothing but subcontract work for profit. Wetlands restoration? Naw. Category 4 or 5 storm protection? Naw. Fair Oil/Gas Royalties? Naw. Better levees for Plaquemines parish and south Louisiana? Naw. More than a pittance for our shattered infrastructure? Naw. And on, and on...

The GOP thinks a hundred billion wasted is fine, but $250 billion invested in projects that will limit future storm catastrophes, and protect vital oil/gas infrastructure and our port... that's just crazy talk.

So then, THEN, when it comes to the all-important housing funds for Louisiana, the GOP House (after teasing us with fake support for the Baker Bill) is suddenly pinching pennies for its President. For example: a $95 billion bill that fully funds Louisiana's recovery program is too expensive. But a $94 billion bill that doesn't fully fund Louisiana's recovery is... what? OK?!

I hope such a scenario doesn't play out, but it is technically possible. The GOP controlled House or the President could refuse to sign off on a bill because it's $1 billion "too much"-- and that "extra" $1 billion would represent money going to hurricane victims in Louisiana.
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Vomit the bland 

Earlier this week, I attended the ICSC show in Las Vegas. The ICSC show is a huge convention where millionaires who think there are too few shopping centers can get together and make deals to build more.

Oops, pardon me. "Shopping Center" is not really a vogue term anymore. "Lifestyle Center" is the new industry-preferred buzzword. What's a "lifestyle center"? Well, in many cases it seems to refer to mixed use, office/retail/residential new urbanist, smart growth "in-fill" developments. These centers provide a tremendous opportunity for folks to live within walking distance of their favorite chain stores! So, they can have their Panera Bread and eat it too. Fabulous!!

A: My Lifestyle Center has an Old Navy and an Olive Garden.

B: Oh Yeah? Well my lifestyle center has a Gap and a Macaroni's Grille.

A: Omigod! I am, like, sooo jealous. Mine has a Starbucks, does yours?

B: Umm, DUH! Every Lifestyle Center has a Starbucks. How can you have a Lifestyle Center without a Starbucks?

A: I dunno. I guess I don't get out of my lifestyle center very often.

B: I guess not.

In a nutshell, that's the future of retail for much of America: newer, prettier "malls" with more glass and plants, and attached apartments and offices. Just another repackaging of the same old commodified, homogenized, recognizable, chain-stores you see in every other part of the country. Only with more artificial common spaces.


It was a brutal experience seeing tens of thousands of rich guys networking and dealmaking throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center's cavernous rooms (1.1 million sf). It was like watching a huge, suited, carnivorous, capitalist beast making plans for a neighborhood near you. Billions if not trillions of dollars in capital was committed (in only 23 convention hours) by decisionmakers sitting at little conference tables, in temporary booths, talking face-to-face. Pretty exhilirating and terrifying, too.

I won't say this new urbanism version of progress is the worst of all possible worlds (though I invite readers who wish to make that argument to do so). For one thing, it at least recognizes the possibility of an oil crunch. I think the sprawling suburban mall and mini-mall models were much more hideous. If you want, you can read Kunstler to get your fill of disgust for suburbs.

Still, I couldn't envision how these lifestyle center/commercial chain store formulas could dominate New Orleans. And thank goodness for that! Our penchant for preservation and uniqueness will be what saves us (assuming we don't drown first). We should celebrate, say, Magazine Street's narrowness and its lack of parking! That's precisely what keeps the big boys out! Like Blake says, we're "so far behind we're ahead".

Surely some infiltration will occur-- perhaps along the river and in other areas. But we won't be dominated by the relentlessly boring chain stores, or artificial "lifestyle centers"... even if our defiance comes at great cost.

We say: Vomit the lukewarm! Vomit the bland!!

Anyway, the Big Dog gave a well-received speech at the ICSC. Get this: he said, "Climate change is this industry's biggest threat over the next 30 years." Clinton comes to a convention of shopping center moguls, and tells them "Climate Change" is their biggest threat-- Climate Change! And they love him for it!! You just have to marvel at that talent. I swear, this week, Elvis was once again in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Hotel/Casino developer Steve Wynn also gave a speech at the convention. Only two words can possibly describe his new hotel, the Wynn: Dee-Luxe.
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Can Pat Robertson out-kick Chuck Norris? 

SD alerted me to the "Miracle of Pat Robertson's Mighty Legs", which the Reverend claims can lift 2000lbs by virtue of his magical protein shake and training regimen at God's gym.

The guy who set the Florida State leg-press record was Dan Kendra, a body-building blackbelt who played Quarterback for the Seminoles prior to hurting his knee. This weakling could only lift 1335lbs. (Kendra attended preseason camp with the Colts as a FB, but decided to become a Navy SEAL).
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Staring at the Sun brings clarity 

Ernie the Attorney informs us that Mitch Landrieu made a pilgrimage to Medjogorge, Yugoslavia in the 1980's to witness the "miracle of the sun" (as did his father's friend Joe Canizaro).

In 1981, six children from Medjogorge claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them, and told them "secrets", and brought a message of "peace" to a region that was subsequently torn apart by ethnic strife, war, and genocide. Even so, the witnesses to the original apparition (who are now young adults) have not disclosed these divine "secrets".

I guess timing is everything when it comes to these matters.

So, to review: Mitch Landrieu and Joe Canizaro-- two of the state's biggest political "movers and shakers"-- were inspired to go to a hilltop in Yugoslavia and stare into the sun, because in 1981 some Croat kids said the Virgin Mary appeared to them, and brought a message of "peace", and told them (still-undivulged) "secrets".

Does anyone else find that a bit... curious?
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