Friday, June 23, 2006

News and Notes 

1. The National Geographic Explorer special "Drowning New Orleans" was outstandingly informative and graphically spectacular. I wish everyone could see it, because it covers a lot of territory in only an hour show. Also, there's some new video footage of the 17th St Canal breach that our Congresspeople in D.C. didn't want you to see .

Drowning New Orleans airs again Saturday evening and Wednesday. Check local listings, and don't miss it.

2. The importance of the American Library Association conference to New Orleans cannot be overstimated. Seriously. This is the first big convention since Katrina, and the business community and the local government are doing everything they can to ensure things go smoothly. The Director of UNO's School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism said that the city was going to "get creative" in order to bring (enough) people back so that there would be no hotel/restaurant staff shortages during the ALA conference. Apparently, they're pulling out all the stops to make sure this convention goes off without a hitch, so that they can use it as a successful example to lure future conventions. I don't know if the latest crackdown on crime is related to the ALA convention coming, but I would suspect it factored into the decision-making at some point.

Perhaps Jeffrey from Library Chronicles will have something on this next week. I suspect he might have been involved in the preparations. An added bonus: the First Lady will make a speech at the conference! Yay.

3. Rep. Bobby Jindal's Oil Royalty-sharing bill got out of committee and will get a vote in the House of Representatives. Fair Oil/Gas royalties for Louisiana is an issue of paramount importance, because with those added monies the state could fund Category 5 Flood protection and Coastal Restoration on its own. A recent T-P article explains:

Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, said the [House Committee] deal preserves most of the provisions of his revenue-sharing legislation. He said it would provide Louisiana with $10 billion during the first 10 years after the legislation is enacted, $28 billion over 20 years and eventually $2 billion a year.

But the bill faces major obstacles, including opposition from lawmakers who don't want oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Florida, California, the Carolinas and Virginia. And the Bush administration has said the loss of federal revenue under the Jindal proposal would carry excessive short and long-term costs.

Remember, LA voters will be able to amend the state constitution this November so that all royalty revenues will be strictly designated for levees and coastal restoration. It's about a $40 billion dollar project, but if Louisana gets the royalty payments it deserves, it will be able to self-finance the endeavour.

So, when the Bush administration claims the proposal is "excessive" in its "costs", it is basically saying that funding for Category 5 flood protection for South Louisiana is too expensive, because that's how Louisiana will spend its royalties.

However, the Louisiana delegation may be able to form a bi-partisan coalition that will pass the bill, despite the White House working behind the scenes to neuter or kill it. I just hope the ever-optimistic Jindal has a handle on what it takes to oppose this White House. They unceremoniously rolled Rep. Richard Baker under the bus in January after basically blowing sunshine up his butt for months. I wonder if they will do the same with rising GOP star Bobby Jindal.

I'll also point out again that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has already committed to Cat 5 Levees for New Orleans. It would seem he understands that enabling Louisiana to finance its own flood protection would be a wise "investment"-- not merely an excessive "cost" that will widen the "budget deficit". However, this issue doesn't break down neatly along party lines. (For example, environmentalists are worried that it will encourage states to open their coasts to more drilling. And Bushies are worried-- suddenly-- about the budget deficit.) So the bill will either pass or fail with a weird bipartisan coalition. I hope the LA delegation can "make it work".

4. If it's not Fires in Resort towns, it's either unsound dikes in Florida, repeated flooding in Houston, or growing earthquake risk in SoCal. How can we possibly ask cabdrivers in Detroit to support these cities?!

(Hat tip to my pal Medium Jim, who properly introduced me to New Orleans fifteen years ago.)

5. Indeed.

6. Attendance required.
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

So "Obvious" 

How did crime become issue #1 so quickly in post-K New Orleans? This, I think, is worth some contemplation.

Five teenagers being gunned down in the streets (at 4am) is horrible, we all agree. However, one grisly incident by itself doesn't necessitate a call for 300 National Guard and 60 state police, does it? No, one incident by itself should not force the Mayor and the Governor to effectively announce to the world that a half-populated, tourist city has become dangerous and lawless ten months after a hurricane.

But that's exactly what happened this week. A single crime incident spurred a massive call to action. I daresay that if five teenagers had been murdered over the span of one or two weeks, we wouldn't be seeing the familiar camouflaged Humvees running about town. We wouldn't have made national news about our crime problem just prior to the most important convention this city will host since the storm. (More about that later.)

Y'all know where I'm going with this, right? The only way a single murder incident could have spurred such a massive call to action is if it revealed a problem that was already there; if it made a truth that was previously deniable, utterly undeniable. And that truth those dead teenagers revealed is this: violent crime has increased drastically since March, and New Orleanians are feeling less and less safe. On a per capita basis, is crime worse than it was prior to the storm? I don't know. But the perception is that crime is worse than it was in March, and worse than it should be now, and that the police department has been unable to curtail its rise.

A month ago, New Orleans participated in the so-called "most important mayoral election" in the history of the city. Crime was hardly an issue, though. The main issues were things like Mitch's last name and Nagin's flooded cars. When the issue of crime came up, Nagin asserted that despite "little upticks" the city was basically on the right track, and that Chief Warren Riley was the right man for the job. Mitch Landrieu disagreed (albeit limply), and asserted that crime had increased significantly and that a new search for police chief would be appropriate.

Clearly, Landrieu assessed the situation more accurately. Crime was indeed rising significantly at the time. Yet, Nagin characterized the rise as "little upticks"-- nothing to really worry about-- and Chief Riley blamed politicians for exaggerating the reality of the situation to their political benefit.

All of which brings us to our local paper: the highly influential, award-winning Times Picayune. Here's what our Pulitzer Prize-winning Paper said in its editorial yesterday:

The signs have been obvious for months that violence was ticking steadily upward. The mass slaying of five teenagers on a Central City street corner before dawn Saturday was horrifying confirmation of just how bad things have gotten.
Even with a shrunken population, murder is becoming commonplace.
The Police Department seems ill-equipped today to deal with the combination of drug-related violence and pervasive looting of homes that are empty or under renovation.

So, the rise in crime has been "obvious for months"? Well then. Surely this "obvious" reality should have factored into New Orleans' most-important election, right? Surely, if a mayor declares, in May, that "[on a per capita basis] the murder rate is down almost 50 percent", surely a diligent paper would examine such a specious claim. Right? Surely a non-complaisant paper would ask Nagin to explain why he was so confident in Riley's crime-fighting gameplan. Right? When a candidate downplays an obvious reality, shouldn't a quality paper like the T-P aggressively follow-up, especially during an important election?

I think New Orleanians should want to know: How, exactly, did New Orleans go from "little upticks" in crime to needing 300 National Guardsmen? How exactly did police force levels that were deemed sufficient in May become totally inadequate by June? How can an area surrounding the District 6 police headquarters suddenly become "the Triangle of Death"? How did we go from the mayor saying murder is down 50 percent (per capita) in May, to it being a national news story in June?

Again: according to our Paper (which has been exemplary in so many ways since Katrina) the strengthening of "Hurricane Crime" was "obvious for months". Yet, in their endorsement for the most important mayoral election in the city's history (pettily issued on a Wednesday), the Times-Picayune didn't even mention the "obvious" issue of rising crime-- even though it was one of the few areas where the candidates had significant differences. Landrieu was alarmed about rising crime, Nagin wasn't. Nagin was set on keeping Riley, Landrieu wasn't.

The mayor and his chief deserve to be asked some tough questions about their recent statements concerning crime in the city. The Times Picayune did not do that during the all-important mayoral campaign, and they only compound their error by failing to do so a month later.

Moldy City has more on this. Also, read his comment here if you haven't done so yet.

Update: Front page T-P crime story explains the FBI's view of the situation:

A recent FBI intelligence dossier blames the recent resurgence of crime in the city on a turf war among rival gangs that controlled the narcotics trade before Hurricane Katrina and have moved back into the city. Jim Bernazzani, special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans field office, said the May report, which summarizes intelligence from law enforcement agencies across the metro area, shows that nine family or neighborhood-based drug organizations have returned to New Orleans and most have taken up residence in and around Central City.

"The vast majority of the violence is being driven by street drug trade," Bernazzani said.

Aggravating matters is the influx of residents who have returned to the city since the school year ended, many of whom do not yet have jobs and are living in flooded-out houses because of the lack of suitable housing.

Update #2: Evacuee points me to this relevant post.
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Mindfreaking quotes 

Criss Angel has nothing on Ron Suskind. Two accounts from Suskind's latest book will leave you agape:

1. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"

2. "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
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I think we're ghana win! 

Let's score a goal America. Just one!

Perhaps this pic and caption will motivate:

If you need to see more women on the gridiron, then go here. (Warning: Sound and unsubtle rap artistry and imagery.)

Speaking of futbol and football, didja know that adidas is not only an official partner of the World Cup, but that it also signed New Orleans Saint Reggie Bush to an endorsement deal? You'll see the commercials soon if you haven't already. They treat him like he's already a single-name sports star: "Reggie".

Googly moogly.


Na Ghana do it.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hurricane Crime 

Update: Welcome Dead Pelicans!

"'We are not going ... to let hurricane crime replace Hurricane Katrina,' City Council President Oliver Thomas said in televised remarks as mothers of victims of the Saturday shooting stood nearby." (via Reuters).

So, our most widely respected councilperson says we're now battling "Hurricane Crime", after a bloody weekend in which 5 teenagers were shot to death in Central City around 4am Saturday. How did a "Hurricane of Crime" happen, you ask? That's a good question. Since the storm, Police Chief Warren Riley and Mayor Nagin have been saying things are fine in the city. They pointed to misleadingly low crime statistics, and described recent killings as a "little uptick" in the murder rate. And voters endorsed Nagin (and therefore Riley) in the mayoral election last month.

But now, suddenly, a half-populated city needs an extra 300 soldiers and 60 state troopers to maintain order.

Think about that.

After a non-stop string of post-K N.O.P.D. embarrassments (including corruption, cowardice and brutality), it seems that a historic opportunity to "start over" and get control of crime has been squandered. After being re-elected on a crime platform of "stay the course, everything is fine", Mayor Nagin effectively admitted to the entire nation that he doesn't have control over violence in his city.

That's a bad advertisement for a tourism-dependent economy.

Say what you want about former Mayor Marc Morial, but he found a Police Chief who was able to significantly cut crime in the 90's-- from insane levels down to merely outrageous ones. During businessman Nagin's term, however, crime trends increased until the city was emptied following Hurricane Katrina. Now crime is increasing again, heading back to previous levels. In fact, the biggest cluster of recent homicides occurred within 1 mile of the 6th District's Police headquarters. Now that Central City area is being called the "Triangle of Death".

New Orleans used to have an old "Triangle of Death" and now we have a new one. Just like Iraq.


I want to point out that on election day last month, wealthy uptowners in a low crime neighborhood overwhelmingly decided to raise taxes on themselves by about $500/yr per household to pay for additional security patrol services. And yet some of the conservatives who live in this district, after voting themselves a tax increase, then voted against the mayoral candidate (Landrieu) who was actually alarmed about rising crime and who wanted to overhaul the NOPD. I'll never be able to understand the rationale of these Nagin Republicans-- not ever.

Let's face it, Mayor Nagin and Police Chief Riley are not effective against crime (and by crime I mean drug-related murders). Nagin will be with us for 4 more years, and he is committed to keeping Chief Riley at least through the end of this "long, hot summer". I don't dislike either man, but they are simply not up to the task. Either they purposefully downplayed and misled voters about rising crime during the election, or this call for 300 national guardsmen is an embarrassing overreaction to one incident, and is a waste of precious human resources.

It's highly irritating to me that Mitch Landrieu didn't press his "Safe City" message more forcefully during the end of his campaign. I know I sound bitter, but I'm still hung up on this. The conservative white voters who proved to be the difference in the election wanted someone who "understands business". Yet, these "law and order" types somehow forgot that nothing kills business like rising crime.

Below, I've compiled an unofficial "Political Crimeline" with quotes about the issue from Nagin and Riley. Pay attention to the highlighted portions, and keep in mind that 300 guardsmen and 60 state troopers have been brought in so that our police department can come to grips with New Orleans' latest "death triangle".

Feb 2004: Deputy Chief of Operations Warren Riley declares "We feel as though the momentum has shifted... We are taking control of the streets."

August 29, 2005: Hurricane Katrina hits Gulf South.

October 2005: T-P reports:

[Warren] Riley, a Southern University graduate who spent much of his career in the Fifth and Sixth districts before rising through the ranks to a post at headquarters, has never made a secret of his ambitiousness and drive. He made an unsuccessful run last year for criminal sheriff, with Mayor Ray Nagin's backing.

His career record is not spotless. He has been suspended from the force during investigation of traffic accidents, and in a case that became a major issue last year during the sheriff's race, he acknowledged a lapse in judgment during his time as an investigator with Internal Affairs.
Despite those past problems, Riley is considered a strong candidate to become chief on a permanent basis.... The importance of the job requires a national search for Compass' successor, said [Metropolitan Crime Commission director Rafael] Goyeneche who favors hiring a talented and disciplined executive over a swashbuckling crimefighter.

December 2005: (T-P):

[Police Chief Warren Riley said,] "Although we're smaller by 200-some officers, we're stronger."
"The fact that we're not overwhelmed gives us the ability to track all criminals who reoccupy the city. We'll go to bed with them and wake up with them."

February 2006: (T-P): Arrests were down almost 60 percent from 2005... no major incidents related to Mardi Gras were reported, New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley said.

March 2006: T-P reports:

Riley said that with killings in the city down 80 percent and overall violent crime down 90 percent, law enforcement has a unique opportunity to keep criminals out of the city and to pounce on them when they return.

April 2006: Times Picayune reports:

Residents in some neighborhoods that enjoyed relative peace just after Katrina have already started to grumble over increasing crime. Citing the statistics about lower crime, Riley said some politicians are fueling such talk by just telling people what they think they want to hear.

"Anytime someone is murdered, it's alarming," he said. "But I don't think it's a here-we-go-again situation. I don't think we've reached that stage."

May 6, 2006: Times Picayune reports:

Although crime in New Orleans has risen as the population grows, the city is still much safer than it was before Hurricane Katrina, police Superintendent Warren Riley announced Friday as he revealed the city's first-quarter crime statistics.
Anticipating the argument that the decrease was insignificant because population is dramatically down in the city, Riley produced figures that he said show that even adjusting for the lower population, violent crime is still down about 26 percent...
"April was the first time where our crime numbers went up significantly," Riley said, calling it "our worst month" since Katrina.

Violence broke out in Central City, with several shootings two weeks ago... But the police chief said he is optimistic because in both cases, police flooded the areas and the problems seemed to have abated.
In Central City, Riley said, Tactical Unit officers used abandoned houses as a base of operation to root out criminals. Although a teen wanted in a multiple shooting there has not been captured, Riley said the violence has abated since the teen's warrant has been publicized.

"What I can assure you is that, when a crime trend surfaces we'll address it quickly and very firmly," he said.

Riley said he thinks the roughly 1,480 officers on the force are sufficient for now. But "we do need to get back up to 1,600 probably in the next year and a half to two years," he said.
Riley has asked the State Police for "50 or 60 troopers" to help patrol some of the abandoned areas of the city, where now one patrol car with two officers must cover a "square mile or two square-mile area."

May 9, 2006 N.O. Blogger John Vinturella writes a letter to the T-P:
Riley suggests that even after adjusting for the lower population, violent crime is down about 26 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

Is 26 percent enough? From 2002 to the day Katrina hit the city in 2005, New Orleans' murder rate was nearly eight times the national average. For perspective, New Orleans averaged about 59 people killed per year per 100,000 citizens -- compared to New York City 's seven.

Are we "under-policed?" Before Katrina the city had about 1,450 police for a population of about 460,000 or about 3.2 officers per 1,000 residents. This compares to a national average of 2.3, and an average for larger cities of about 2.8. Currently there are about 1,200 police for a population of about 180,000 or about 6.7 officers per 1,000 residents.

May 17, 2006: Times Picayune reports:

[Mayor Ray] Nagin believes that the city is on the right track in combating its historically high crime rate. [Mayoral Candidate Mitch] Landrieu expressed frustration that violence has been creeping back as the city repopulates.
Recently released first-quarter crime statistics show that, indeed, violent crime is again on the upswing after an unprecedented lull following the city's mass evacuation and virtual military occupation on the heels of Katrina.

When asked about the return of murder and violence at Monday's debate, Nagin downplayed the numbers and expressed confidence in several initiatives put in place by the police department in the past few months.

"As the population has come up there starts to be a little uptick in the murder rate, but if you convert that on a per capita basis ... and you compare that to pre-Katrina, murder is down almost 50 percent,"
Nagin said. There are some hotspots and we are starting to see some activity in certain sections of the city. As we do that, we're deploying our resources in a very unique way."
At the debate, Nagin indicated his plan to attack the problem by maintaining his current game plan.

That plan starts with keeping Police Superintendent Warren Riley...

May 20, 2006: Mayor Ray Nagin re-elected to a second term.

June 17, 2006: Five teenagers are shot to death in Central City. It's the worst homicide incident in New Orleans in over ten years.

June 20, 2006: AP reports that:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco ordered National Guardsmen to help police patrol the city for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, following a bloody weekend that brought fears of crime disrupting the city's delicate reconstruction.

At Mayor Ray Nagin's request, Blanco ordered 100 troops-- and committed to send 200 more soon-- and 60 state police troopers to head to the city Tuesday to support the Police Department. Six people were killed over the weekend, including five teenagers in one incident.

"The situation is urgent," Blanco said. "Things like this should never happen, and I am going to do all I can to stop it."

June 21: T-P reports:

National Guard soldiers and State Police troopers rolled back into New Orleans Tuesday, less than a year after chaos unleashed by Hurricane Katrina first called them to calm an unruly city.

Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley said the move had been in the works since March, but the arrival of armed soldiers three days after the city was rocked by the murder of five teenagers cast an unwelcome spotlight on resurgent crime that some officials fear threatens the fragile reconstruction from the storm and its catastrophic flooding.
"It's going to be a long, hot summer," Riley warned.

June 21, 2006: Times-Picayune Editorial:

The fervent hope post-Katrina was that New Orleans would become a less violent city, but it has not.

The signs have been obvious for months that violence was ticking steadily upward. The mass slaying of five teenagers on a Central City street corner before dawn Saturday was horrifying confirmation of just how bad things have gotten.
Even with a shrunken population, murder is becoming commonplace.
The Police Department seems ill-equipped today to deal with the combination of drug-related violence and pervasive looting of homes that are empty or under renovation.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

GOP soft on corporate looters 

Kos quotes the following from a NYT article:

Republicans defeated a Democratic measure calling for an investigation into waste and fraud in military contracts today as the Senate engaged in an emotional debate over the Iraq war.

By a 52-to-44 vote, the Senate rejected the proposal by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, calling for a panel like the one led by Harry Truman when he was a Senator, which uncovered many abuses in military spending during World War II.

Mr. Dorgan said that military spending is the worst it has ever been "right now -- right now! I think the American taxpayers are being fleeced."

Indeed. I too believe that extraordinary oversight measures are needed, right now, to expose and correct the continued widespread fleecing of American taxpayers (not to mention Iraqis).

When Republicans campaign on tax cuts, their constant refrain is: "It's your money, folks. It's your money". But these so-called fiscal conservatives will oppose tougher oversight on government contracts in Iraq, and then have the gall to tell us the budget is "too tight" for national security needs like Category 5 flood protection for South Louisiana. Apparently, waste in Iraq is necessary. Protecting our coastal "homeland" is optional.

Happily, today's Wall Street Journal has a front-page story on the fraudulence of Custer Battles, the unfortunately named sham-company run by a Republican Congressional candidate. The article details how Custer Battles-- even after being investigated for fraud-- used foreign sham companies to continue their practice of defrauding American taxpayers with grossly inflated invoices. Here's a link to a free reprint of the WSJ piece. Below is an excerpt of the first few paragraphs:

On Jan. 3, 2005, Jerry Cullen signed an unusual document at the Baghdad headquarters of his employer, Custer Battles LLC, which the U.S. military had accused of fraud and barred from receiving any new Iraq contracts.

The document was a single-page "bill of sale." Attached were several pages detailing assets such as cars, trucks, prefabricated housing and communications gear that Custer Battles was selling. The buyer was a little-known company in Bucharest, Romania, called Danubia Global Inc. The document said Danubia would pay Custer Battles "U.S. One Dollar" upfront, and an unspecified amount of money in the future. The company never gave Custer Battles any additional money, Danubia executives say.

While the U.S. sanctions technically put Custer Battles out of business, it never actually shut down. After paying its dollar, Danubia took on most of Custer Battles's employees, who continued to work out of Custer Battles trailers on the grounds of Baghdad's airport. They were paid, for a time, from Custer Battles bank accounts. Danubia's owner, Richard Levinson, was a former Custer Battles senior executive. After signing the sale document, Mr. Cullen left Custer Battles to work for Danubia as a consultant.

Now, the Custer Battles-Danubia link is the focus of a federal criminal investigation. Law-enforcement authorities are exploring whether Danubia was an artificial entity created to evade the government ban on Custer Battles, according to investigators involved in the probe. They're examining whether Danubia executives defrauded the federal government by obtaining millions of dollars of contracts they weren't entitled to receive.

Just a little Republican razzle-dazzle. If you get caught looting with one company, just use another one. Preferably off-shore.

Just make sure the corruption talk in the U.S. stays focused on relatively small time stuff like the $90k in Bill Jefferson's freezer, and $8k in a FEMA Hurricane fraud sample. Keep everyone's eyes locked on the scandals surrounding their tax pennies while their tax dollars are being fleeced in record amounts. Lecture Louisiana on how American support "will wane" if tax dollars are wasted, but don't ever apply that principle to Iraq.

Yeah, that's how the game is played.

Update: Take a look at this unholy Parsons project.
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A wild tie before Father's Day 

For those who couldn't make it to the U.S. soccer celebration at my place Saturday, all I can say is "wow". What a wild event! The game itself had everything: professional ball-handling, playoff drama, nasty tackles, bloody faces, own goals, horrible calls, irritating violinists... and all of this resulted in what must be the most exciting tie since "The Choke in Doak" in 1994 (which I enjoyed in person*). I mean, it was the sort of TV party which inspires artists like Black Flag ("That's Incredible!").

Then things really got sick.

I swear, I haven't had that much fun since the hogs ate my brother. It was off da proverbial hook, yo. For the few of you who missed it, all I can say is that there was some abundant social synergy occurring on Prytania Street this weekend. Perhaps it was Michael's suspiciously delicious shrimp curry, or Ashley's Carribean Sweet Leaf, or copious amounts of Beck's, or the three hostesses provided by Deja Vu Showgirls (226 Bourbon St.)... but things got really wild at the end. All that was missing was a young Tom Hanks and a wigged out donkey.

Thanks to everyone who came (I'm sorry if I didn't meet you all personally), and thanks to the Milan Lounge for accomodating the overflow crowd, and to Quintron for the impromptu block party. If you have photos of the evening, email them to me and I'll post them as long as all incriminating details are blacked out.

* Followed by an enjoyable rematch in the Sugar Bowl known as the "Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter", which FSU won 23-17. I had lower level 50 yard line seats for that one.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

"'Do we have to go there?' [Blanco] asked when questioned..." 

Emily Metzgar hits the bullseye in her latest column about Gov. Blanco and the abortion bill she just signed.

I remember receiving an alarmist, last-minute Blanco abortion mailing during the campaign in 2003. I kept a copy because it was so over-the-top in its attempt to portray the slightly less "anti-choice" candidate (Blanco) as a palatable liberal option-- at least when compared to Bobby Jindal's "extremism". Unfortunately, the mailing was lost in the flood, but Metzgar quotes from it and bothers to do some more research about Blanco breaking her promise in terms of rape/incest exceptions for abortion.

Rep. Bobby Jindal's stance is still consistent with the GOP platform. That is to say, he would make all abortions illegal, even those that would save a mother's life or health. And now, Governor Blanco-- who used to be two steps away from Jindal's abortion position-- has decided to move one step closer to her "extremist" opponent.

Your Meemaw was pro-life, (so die die) dawlin'.
Atrios tells his 100k daily readers that he won't be coming to Louisiana after this. Also, it appears that Blanco's stupid, untimely effort hinders New Orleans' chances of landing the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Suspect Device has much more about atrios' reaction (and other fellow travelers).
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Mr. Melpomene 

Mr. Melpomene contributes a must-read post over at World Class New Orleans. Please attend to it, and discuss his observations in the comments at World Class. Here's a teaser excerpt, which lists some hard truths:

Yes, New Orleans is a unique place. But unique does not have to mean dysfunctional. Otherwise, the new New Orleans is not going to be World Class in anything other than booze soaked nostalgia and bitterness.

Moving towards "World Class" may require New Orleans to accept several unpleasant truths.

1) The place was limping when it took its death blow.

2) Only a 21st Century community will be viable in this century, so there is no era of New Orleans' history (authentic or romanticized) that is an appropriate goal of re-building efforts.

3) A 21st Century metropolis is educated, clean, digital, functional, innovative, inviting, multi-ethnic, has a level playing field, is safe and is consequently relevant.

4) Great Cities create and attract great people, places that shun great people based upon race, class, religion, language, and parochialism export them.

5) Government spending alone will not return the City from the one hundred fiftieth or so largest city in the nation back to the 31st largest.

6) Outside money does not create opportunity, it finds it.

7) World Class is not going to come from above, it is only going to come from within.

8) "If nothing changes, then nothing changes"

The Federal reparations are welcome compared to the alternative of injust neglect, particularly given that the U.S. Army killed more Americans, on our own soil, than any time since at least 1865.

But, don't forget, while the event was a nightmare, we had been stoically putting the best face on decades of [helicopter free] humiliation prior to the final collapse. The I-Wall design didn't make our public school system a fraud; The ACOE didn't put a pothole on every corner. FEMA didn't order a mandatory evacuation of the Fortune 500 from our City in the 1990's.

Even if every house is re-built better than before, there is so much more to be done if we wish to attract prosperity, instead of pity.
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Bush audits new Iraq leader's soul 

President Bush flew to Baghdad last week to size up Iraq's new leader. "I have come not only to thank you," he told American troops gathered in the Green Zone on Tuesday, "but to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes -- to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are."

The presidential determination? "I believe he is," Bush said.

The snap assessment recalled Bush's famous assertion that he had sensed Vladimir Putin's soul and showed how Bush often appears more comfortable with his gut-level assessment of foreign leaders than the one he gets from briefing papers prepared by his intelligence agencies.

Much is riding on the president's judgment
that Nouri al-Maliki, an untested leader who was little known by most senior U.S. policymakers until only two months ago, is capable of healing the divisions that have torn Iraqi society apart and providing the basic services that have been lacking since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

After the Putin fiasco, we're still trusting Bush's ability to audit a foreign leader's soul with a simple gaze into the eyes? What is this, a Larry David skit? Did Bush and al-Maliki get into an extended staring contest while a clarinet chirps playfully in the background?

Aides to the Prime Minister again stated that al-Maliki intends to grant amnesty to some insurgents that have attacked American Troops. This would set a horrible, unworkable precedent. As AJ from Americablog writes:

Under some circumstances amnesty is understandable, even beneficial. Most notably in a cease-fire agreement. But you can't have a government that both asks America to keep our troops there AND tells its people that it's okay to kill our troops. How is it possible that there are Republicans who don't understand that?

More at 2 Millionth.
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