Saturday, July 08, 2006

Godless: returning a divine Durango during Hurricane Season 

In a stunning move, former New Orleans Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt returned a Dodge Durango given to her by God.

The background to the story is as follows: after flooding devastated the city, Renee Gill Pratt appropriated an SUV donated by DaimlerChrysler to local first-responders (police, firefighters... etc), and used it as her personal vehicle for the next eight months. Then, just prior to the municipal elections in April, Renee donated the Durango to Care Unlimited. After failing to be re-elected, Ms. Gill Pratt took a job with Care Unlimited, whose president is Mose Jefferson (aka Mos Jef), the brother of Congressman William Jefferson (aka Dollar Bill, Cold Cash, Dead Presidents on Ice... etc).

Some watchdogs and bloggers raised hell about this suspicious coincidence. They felt the vehicle should have served the City that Care (Unlimited) Forgot-- not Ms. Gill Pratt's personal transportation needs, nor Mos Jef's "nonprofit" organization.

However, when asked to explain the suspicious circumstances, Renee Gill Pratt made an inspired statement. She said:


Sometimes God puts things in places for you.


I could not have been more proud of her after she said those powerful words. "Sometimes God puts things in places for you". Ain't that the absolute Truth!

See, it didn't occur to godless bloggers and treasonous media types that the Almighty "puts things in places" for our blessed leaders. God is an omnibenevolent deity, who gives to those who are ready to accept his abundance. Renee Gill Pratt understands that her Durango was a holy gift; it was part of the Divine plan-- otherwise why would it keep turning up in her possession? Huh? Riddle me that, you unbelieving critics! If the liberal media and local bloggers ever even opened a Bible, they'd understand that the God of Abraham occasionally requires a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to test his chosen instruments. This, I believe, was one of those circumstances.

Tragically, the media philistines put too much pressure on Gill Pratt, and she failed the Lord's test. Yesterday, she reluctantly returned her divine Durango.

The former New Orleans City Council member turned in the keys Friday to a Dodge Durango that was donated post-Katrina for use by police, fire or other public agencies but instead made its way to her driveway.

Ms. Gill Pratt... says that she hopes the return of the Durango and three other donated vehicles under her control will be the end of this controversy.

Do you suicidal heathens understand what you've done? Do you?! You've pressured a faithful servant-- a potential instrument of God, no less-- to return a gift from the Creator. You've forced a woman to reject an overture from the all-powerful Godhead... during hurricane season!! Are you people insane!? After Katrina, y'all want to anger the Supreme Being... yet again? Didn't our mayor warn us about doing that?

In short, I will blame the next hurricane on the media and local bloggers. It's their fault, not Renee's. They have indirectly angered the Heavenly Father by politically crucifying His chosen instrument in New Orleans. They don't understand God's Divine Plan for Ms. Gill Pratt and that Durango-- how could they? These are the same types who don't want decalogues in our courts, nor the words "under God" in our pledge. That tells you all you need to know right there. I can only pray that these critics repent their sins before the next counterclockwise wrath blows upon us.

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Oh, yeah. One more thing. Adrastos has the chutzpah to say that RGP isn't a good driver. Well, Monsieur Adrastos, have you ever considered the possibility that Renee might be Driving While Intoxicated... intoxicated on God!! She might be a latter day Spinoza, (perhaps the purest sage of all time).

And proper driving etiquette dictates that when an approaching motorist is communing with the Godhead, you should get out of her way... and wave palm fronds while she passes, if possible. It's similar to all those "in case of rapture" caveats you see on bumper stickers. Every driver who is not among the "twice born" should appreciate those helpful warnings. I'm certain many, many traffic accidents will be prevented on judgment day.

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Today's Times Picayuliar Automobile section reviews... take a gues... the Dodge Durango! If that isn't serendipity, I don't know what is.

(But if you want a newspaper car review that's not complete fluffery, and is actually useful, read James R. Healey's Friday "Test Drive" column from USA Today. I think he's spot on.)

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Long, long ago, your humble bivalve sold 4 x 4 Dodge Durangos to soccer moms who never planned to stray off paved surfaces. The Durango's fuel economy was so bad that it should have been rated in Gallons per Mile, not the other way around. No matter. Gas was cheap back then, and minivans were viewed (incorrectly) as uncool.

Now, looking back through the lens of current events, I see that it was all part of the Divine plan. Americans have been chosen to live an abundant lifestyle, and this lifestyle should never be compromised. RGP understood that, and I'm glad I was able to assist in that effort.

By the way, my boss was a silver haired New Orleans patriarch who "bridged the gap" by promising that his family was "here to stay... we're not going away". A few years later the dealership was sold.

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A Previous YRHT Ramones tribute post that that contains the word "Durango" can be found here.

Also: As y'all know, in the sixties Anthony Burgess wrote a prescient book about young man named Alex who drove a Durango 95 and acted all horrorshow. Eventually he learns that if a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man. Alex's choices, unfortunately, were not so gorgeous.

Conversely, RGP was tryint to do the right thing, and we forced her to go against her will, and mock our Creator by returning the gift he specifically placed for her. Heaven help us.
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Friday, July 07, 2006

Jindal predicts passage of Oil Revenue sharing bill 

Here's an article on Rep Bobby Jindal's "optimism" and "hopefulness" concerning the oil revenue sharing bill that's due for a vote in the Senate. I am "hopeful" that Jindal's optimism is reality-based, and not merely congenital. Below is an excerpt from the Houma Courier, via the DP:


U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal says he's optimistic Louisiana lawmakers will win passage of their proposal to send the state billions of dollars for coastal restoration and hurricane protection.

...

"The most important issue for Louisiana is our ability to keep some of the very royalties we generate off our coast," Jindal told a crowd of about 200 people at the Quality Hotel.

Last week, the U.S. House approved a bill introduced by Jindal that would give Louisiana $9 billion over 10 years in oil-and-gas revenue from production along the Outer Continental Shelf, but the bill now heads to the Senate, where it's expected to face opposition.

Jindal predicted that the Senate will vote along party lines, and, although the outcome might not be as generous for Louisiana, a House-Senate conference committee will likely return the bill closer to the House version.

In its current form, the bill would give Louisiana 25 percent of energy royalties produced 3 to12 miles offshore for the first five years and 42.5 percent from sixth year through the 10th year.

Louisiana would also receive 42.5 percent of royalties from 12 miles out through the year 2022, resulting in nearly $9 billion in the next 10 years.

This would provide Louisiana with about $2 billion a year to bolster flood and hurricane protection, restore coastal wetlands and barrier islands or build infrastructure, Jindal said.

Louisiana produces 30 percent of the nation's energy and 30 percent of its seafood, which makes the state's coast, wetlands and barrier islands all the more significant for the country.
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Meeting 

Today at 6pm there will be a meeting that will include some planning about the proposed Rising Tide conference. As I understand it, the meeting will begin at 1113 Thalia Street at 6pm and will migrate to the Bridge Lounge around the corner.

Email me oystersliq at g mail dot com for more information.
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Thursday, July 06, 2006

This month, I'll take the over 

After steadily declining since February, I think June's net payroll jobs growth will exceed expectations (+170-200k). Every few months it seems to shoot the moon and then gradually fall from good to mediocre to lackluster before jumping way up again. Unfortunately, the market seems simultaneously worried about inflation and stagnancy (due to a housing slowdown). So a really high number may send stocks down for fear of the Fed's response. But a really low number like last month's paltry 70k may be interpreted as economic weakness (due to a slowing housing sector).

I'm expecting a good number tomorrow morning (240+), but the best advice I can give you is to read Barry Ritholtz's Big Picture. In my view his analyses are very accessible, and razor sharp.

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Update: My optimism was misplaced. Payrolls up by 121k. Much weaker than expected, but the markets might like the tepid number. Yay.

The amazingly low job growth during the Bush "boom" continues. Despite record-low interest rates, extreme "guns & butter" deficit spending, and massive tax cuts, more net jobs will have been created during Carter's 4 years (10 mil) than in Bush's 8.
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The Rising Tide conference 

Location: New Orleans
Proposed Date: August 25-27, 2006
Featured Speakers: TBA


Rising Tide is the best name I've heard so far.

Dambala has volunteered to webcast.

Blake has generously offered his (ever improving) Humid Beings forum to host webcasts and cross post blog entries.

Liz has offered to host an afterparty in da Quarter.

I can do the same at my Uptown oyster reef.

Now all's we need is a purpose, and a "draw". Keep the suggestions coming!


I'm really feeling Tim's proposal about not getting too "formal" or "grand" with this deal. He suggested that the conference "should be spontaneous and chaotic, with flashes of brilliance. Let's rent a VFW hall and buy a couple kegs of beer and let'er rip!" There's a lot of merit in that idea, even beyond the beer. I like the fact that (me or someone else) wouldn't be consumed with sponsorship and research and hand-holding and ID badges and goodie bags and hotel group discounts, and paypal deposits and all that stuff. Keep it simple. Announce that local bloggers are going to get together and do something cool-- and everyone is invited to join us if they want! So perhaps we should make every effort to get all interested bloggers within driving distance to come, and sorta make THAT the attraction. "Netizens" of the Gulf South are convening in New Orleans, and they intend to share their stories about the disaster, about the aftermath, about the rebuilding AND/OR discuss important topics with an all star panel AND/OR participate in a workday or party... etc. Cheap, informal and potentially brilliant and chaotic-- I like that.
I think Lisa and Shawn and everyone who expressed concerns about the short timetable are probably correct. A real conference with all the usual bells and whistles may not be possible to accomplish in such short order. So perhaps we should aim lower, and concentrate on making "Rising Tide" as creative and informative and productive as possible on a shoestring budget.

Who knows? This could be like a pilot conference that sets the stage for a bigger, better Rising Tide II. We can dare to dream.

Here's why I'd like to have the conference prior to the one year anniversary of Katrina.

1. Obviously, it capitalizes on the media and internet attention surrounding the one year mark.

2. I'm fond of this "work day" idea, and August 29th is the (supposed) deadline for people to gut their houses before the city starts getting involved. I'd love to be able to help an organization like Common Ground gut an extra house before that deadline occurs. And those who haven't yet gutted a flooded house would get their chance to "get dirty".

3. The hotel and restaurant prices are less expensive during the summer.


Keep telling me what you think in the comments.
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Chad Rogers abuses news story in order to claim New Orleans is an emerging "quagmire" 

Mr. Chad Rogers has demonstrated a remarkable ability to aggregate Louisiana news at his site, the Dead Pelican. He should also be congratulated for his successful advocacy against some stupid legislation which Governor Blanco recently vetoed.

That said, I always cringe when he comments on New Orleans, because (for someone who reads a lot of news) Mr. Rogers seems particularly ill-informed about the city. Perhaps its the quality of his sources here, or his pointed dislike for the Times-Picayune (which nailed him on a false claim about Mitch Landrieu) or something else. I don't know.

One thing for sure, though, is that he gets too cute in his latest "Rant" (7/6/06) about crime in the city. I found the results to be unusually disappointing. It begins:

From July 4th's Times Picayune, we learned that the presence of the national guard in New Orleans has not made things better: it has only made them worse. Michael Perlstein reported that "The shootings and stabbing haven't stopped. The street corner crack-slinging, opportunistic looting and rough-trade prostitution continue to surface in the city's darker corners."

Rogers claims that the National Guard "has not made things better: it has only made them worse". And that statement is based on a T-P quote which claims, essentially, that "[assorted crimes] haven't stopped" in New Orleans. The logical move from "haven't stopped" to "only made [things] worse" is left unexplained by Rogers. Similarly, the next two sentences in the T-P article cited by Rogers are not quoted. They read:

But the infusion of National Guard soldiers and State Police troopers two weeks ago has put law enforcement on the offensive, freeing New Orleans police to swamp high-crime neighborhoods with aggressive patrols, Police Superintendent Warren Riley said.

The Police Department released arrest figures Monday showing promising crime-fighting results since federal and state support was brought in as a backup to city cops.

But never mind those details, Rogers wants to get cute and make implied parallels between the state of New Orleans and the War in Iraq. And that's fine-- hell, I've been doing that sort of thing for over two years. (The only difference being that I always used the provocative Iraq/LA comparison to support the 'gret stet', never to demean it.) Unfortunately, though, Rogers makes an implied comparison between two superficially similar situations, and the results in my opinion are very misleading and unfortunate.

We've inspected the hollow foundation for Rogers' cute little "Rant". Now let's see where he goes with it. I'll intersperse his quotes with my commentary:

Let's face facts here. The Louisiana National Guard is immersed in a segment of Louisiana culture that it does not understand. As a result, the street thugs have grown more resentful of the guards' presence and as a result are committing more crimes.

Some of the LA NG are from the city of New Orleans, and are not newbies to New Orleans' "crime culture". Secondly, they are patrolling the outskirts of town for looters. Most "street thugs" are not directly impacted by the NG. Further, statistics show that crime is down (although it still exists!) since just prior to the NG's arrival.

The governor and the mayor clearly should have known better. One cannot install military law and order in an impoverished, crime ridden area.

Again, the NG are not patrolling the "impoverished, crime ridden" areas. They are securing vacant, destroyed areas from being looted.

This is all worsened by the fact that Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin have given no timeline for troop withdrawal, and no exit strategy. This is recipe for quagmire, and we're headed there fast.

The governor and the mayor need to act quickly. They need to withdraw the National Guard troops so that the New Orleans security forces can take over. This is the only hope to end the violence in New Orleans. The present course will only lead to an ever mounting increase in casualties and an open-ended urban war with no end in sight.

Yes, these implied comparisons between Iraq and New Orleans are very cute. Rogers repackages criticisms of Bush's handling of the war, and applies it to New Orleans.

Obviously Rogers is trying to be humorous, but he's stretched his point so far that it's unrecognizable. I'll try to bring him back to earth with these observations:

1. We went to War with Iraq because Bush claimed Saddam Hussein had WMD's and was a threat to the region and to the U.S.. New Orleans received the National Guard because its Police Dept couldn't handle rising crime in a catastrophe zone.

2. The National Guard is not a hindrance to the city's security. The vast majority of New Orleanians are glad that they are here, and deeply appreciate the work that they are doing. Most criminals are unaffected by their presence. So there's no rising tide of "resentment" from either side.

3. Before sending troops, the Bush administration relentlessly "sold" the American public on Hussein being a "grave" threat. There was plenty of advance notice, and the run-up to war involved a very carefully orchestrated campaign. Conversely, Governor Blanco and Nagin sent troops in with almost no advance warning, and explained it very poorly.

4. The National Guard's mission is clear and narrowly defined. They are helping to secure a city that is struggling to recover from the worst engineering failure in U.S. history. New Orleans is not Baghdad; it's not some foreign "part of the world"-- these are Americans helping other Americans. Drawing comparisons from the Iraq quagmire to New Orleans-- even in jest-- does a disservice to a city struggling mightily to recover from an unprecedented disaster. Same goes for cherry-picking quotes about "crack-slinging" and "prostitution", and purposefully using them out of context to make an unsupported claim about rising crime.

Those are four obvious differences. Now, if you want some similarities between N.O./LA and Iraq, here are a few:

1. Most of the devastation in Iraq and New Orleans was man-made.

2. Both Iraq and LA experienced extreme wetlands loss. (Iraq's wetlands are now largely replenished).

3. Both Iraq and LA are crucially important oil-producers in strategic geopolitical locations.
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Katrina Bloggers Activate! 

Form of... a convention in New Orleans!

Think of it: bloggers from all over could get together, and talk about the Katrina aftermath, and blog, and argue, and party, and share information, and podcast, and effect political change, and meet each other in person, and have a "work day" in a flooded neighborhood, and actually do something, and have panels and guest speakers and t-shirts and stickers, and we could get some press and everyone would leave feeling really good about their experience in New Orleans, and would blog about it, and want to do it again...

I'm thinking the August 26 and 27 weekend, just prior to the 1 year anniversary of the storm.

But who cares what I think--- what do YOU think? What are your thoughts and ideas about this proposal? Additions, subtractions, crazy off the wall stuff, criticisms... go for it, you won't hurt my feelings. Weeks ago, Scout Prime floated the idea of a blogger convention in N.O. and I'm sure it could work, but plans would need to be made quickly. So if you suggest a good idea, be prepared to help realize it, and "make it work".

Let's brainstorm a bit in the comments here. Guest speaker ideas? Promotional ideas/links? "Work-day" ideas? Suggestions about venue and lodging and technical details? Who will coordinate? How much will we have to charge?.... Be constructive. Unless a proposal is a real sandtrap, I'm not anxious to hear at length why it won't work.
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Librarians had a good time 

According to most of the blog coverage, the big ALA conference was a success. As I've noted before, the hospitality industry made every effort to make sure things went smoothly. It was very important for them because they wanted to use the ALA conference as a positive example to use when trying to draw other big conferences. [Then the mayor and governor sent 300 National Guard to secure the city, and the paper started running articles about New Orleans' "Triangle of Death".]
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Pirates of the Gulf South: Dead Man's Chest 

Why oh why must Louisiana be surrounded by Giants of Corporate Fraud?

Mississippi: MCI-- $11 billion fraud (so far the biggest of all time)

Alabama: HealthSouth-- at least $4 billion in fraud (starting in 1986)

Tejas: Enron-- $1.6+ billion in fraud


Naturally, these are only the "on the books" accounting fraud totals from our business savvy neighbors. For example, by virtue of its accounting chicanery, Enron parlayed its market capitalization to $60 billion, which quickly evaporated after some brave whistleblowers started tooting. So, if you owned that wildly promoted stock-- even in an index fund-- your retirement became that much poorer. Same with the others. Hey, it's your money.

Which brings us to Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which recently decided to pull out of New Orleans during a severe healthcare crisis. Here's a summary from the Lafayette Democrats chock full of links about the story.

The decision to sell its hospitals coincides with a nearly billion dollar settlement (.pdf) with the Dept. of Justice regarding ... uh... what's the corporately-correct way of saying it?... ah yes: "Medicare outlier payments" and "billing matters". Can someone decode those terms? The ownership society/investor class/buy-high-sell-low laymen might need clarification.

Perhaps the Motley Fool will help us! They're always there for the little people (mostly) and to their credit, the Motley Fool inspects Tenet's settlement, and pronounces it "weird".

Tenet announced on Thursday that it has reached a master settlement in which it will pay $725 million to the government, waive another $175 million that the government owed the company, and pay an additional $36 million. That's a grand total of $936 million, but that's not exactly the full story. That $175 million in "waived fees" was never booked as revenue or a receivable. What's more, the settlement will be tax-deductible.

As if the tax-deductible part weren't strange enough, it gets even weirder. In the settlement, Tenet admits no wrongdoing. The payments the company is making are for inflated charges, kickbacks, and patient upcoding ... and it doesn't have to admit wrongdoing? I'm not a lawyer, so maybe the deal had to be done this way -- maybe the government would have been obligated to pursue additional penalties without that clause. Either way, it buries the needle on my weirdness meter.


It's not that "weird". Tenet will pay about a billion because it can afford to do so. They (allegedly) sucked Medicare as dry as they could, and became profitable enough to settle their so-called "billing issues" by paying a tax deductible penalty-- and defraying this "cost" by selling hospitals in a stricken city in the midst of a healthcare crisis. That should delight their stockholders.

See, Louisiana, that's how it's done!
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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

You can't spell Louisiana without U, S and A 

Some of my esteemed fellow Pelicans are feeling less than deliriously happy this 4th of July holiday.

Will N.O. still be here on July 4, 2026?

We are not OK

Independence Day

Speaking Frankly...

"Oprah Help Us"


And while I agree in the main with the content of these posts, I'll also add that today I couldn't be more grateful to all the Americans who keep South Louisiana in their hearts, and who look past its absurdities, and who donate their time, money and sweat to help us rebuild.

We are strongest when we work together to accomplish great things.


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Monday, July 03, 2006

Please Swiftboat this Lunatic 

Can you believe this? Right before the 4th of July some Democrat candidate named James Webb said:

I have believed strongly that when things aren't working well, it is the responsibility of our leaders to admit it, and to fix the problem. Some say that speaking out against a war is disloyal to the troops. Whoever says that should consider what it's like to be a troop, wishing someone would speak the truth.

This is unacceptable! During the Neverending War on the Tactic of Terrorism, we must never forget that truth should serve patriotism. Not the other way around. Webb's words sound like these foolish statements:

To criticize one's country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. It is a service because it may spur the country to do better than it is doing; it is a compliment because it evidences a belief that the country can do better than it is doing. Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism -- a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation. -- Sen. William Fulbright

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. -- Pres. Theodore Roosevelt

I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves... too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: 'Our country, right or wrong!' They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: 'Our country-- when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.' --Sen. Carl Schurz

66% do not support the president; 34% think Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church. -- Tina Fey

It's a blessing that we've somehow been able to overcome such treasonous sentiments.

Clearly, the strength of our country emanates from its True Patriots, who understand that Americans are too fragile to deal with hard wartime truths. That is why our unerring Leaders have been so startlingly effective: combat experience has never clouded their view of war. They've not been softened by exposure to physical jeopardy; and thus, they have a clear view of truth's role during a neverending military conflict. And let us offer a prayer of thanks for that.

In other words: America must fake it until it makes it, because of the fear that if we don't make it this time, we may never get to "fake it" again.
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Sunday, July 02, 2006

What equals Nada? 

Maybe it's because I love Noo AH-leeyunz or Papa Nada or dada or WWI references or Floating Balls of Fire Ants (or all of those things and none of them)... But I was really feeling this "proposal" from Professor Lavender at Nola Fugees. Part of it reads:

Dada is perfect for NOLA because both are nothing and then loom large, like a city imagined on barren plain at night. Dada is a city and NOLA is a choice picked from a hat, but no one wears hats anymore so dada is impossible, or at least rare, and no one walks around any more so NOLA is impossible, or at least rare, and nada is itself as always.

Just to be clear: dada isn't the NOLA drama but the nada that comes after. The NOLA drama builds around a core of nada, like a ball of fire ants floating in a flood, but the dada comes when the ball unwinds and we are walking within lines of marching ants.

Yes, I couldn't agree more. If we could only dance our ants off (balled or otherwise) we'd be ok. But, as you sorta know, we are not ok.

If you please, read the whole thing.

Many New Orleanians will easily understand that post, and many who live outside NOLA will not understand it at all. Yet, some of those outsiders will try to imagine what sort of bizarre circumstances are necessary for such a post to be widely understood in an area... and that's enough.


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Should we inscribe the Nada Prayer on to tablets and place them in public courthouses?
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E.B.R. GOP chairman arrested for bank fraud 

I was checking the internets for an embarrassing quote from Sean Riecke, the former E. Baton Rouge GOP chariman who has been arrested for bank fraud. The most immediate thing I could find was from the LPNS, which devoted a post to Riecke challenging Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden to" stop playing back door politics". (Yeah, I know, big whoop.)

Conservative Louisiana blogger Jeff Blanco had alerted us to Sean Riecke's boobery many moons ago. We salute his awareness of character in this instance. Speaking of Blanco and Riecke, here's the LA Pol forum about the arrest if those familiar with Riecke's clownery want some schadenfreude-- (I don't go in that political swamp forum very often, but I believe Sean Riecke was a frequent commenter there.)

On a related note, it appears that Jeff Blanco has cut down on his blogging recently.

That's a shame. Bloggers like Jeff remind me of the guy in the parking lot who is picking his ears with his car keys. You just kind of laugh and shake your head. "Good luck with that", you think. It's a comical little scene that brightens the rest of your day, and puts a little spring in your step. Or at least that's what it does for me. How can you take a person like that seriously?

An altogether different sort of blogger reminds me of the guy you see in the parking lot who picks his ears with his keys but... doesn't stop there. He goes on to inspect the brown gunk on the end of his key, sniffs it, and prepares to taste it. Those types scare me.
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