Saturday, September 23, 2006

So far: 2 front page stories, 6 opinion pieces, and 1 cartoon on Yachtgate 

Shorter Sabludowsky: "Who at the T-P is going after my friend?"

Dambala rightfully skewers Sabludowsky's ridiculously awful column defending Greg Meffert. Like most of the stuff I see at Bayou Buzz, it's so bad that it hurts to read. Unless you're a masochist, you should probably read it via the excerpts presented in this American Zombie post, where you can take breaks from the stupidity and relish Dambala's fiery retorts.

Twice, Sabludowsky asserts that Meffert "gave his life to the City" as Nagin's CTO. Oh my goodness. I didn't know he had given his "life to the City". Well, then, how can filthy newsies dare investigate someone so noble? If Meffert gave his "life" to the City, what more can he possibly give?


And it just goes downhill from there. However, nestled in between the paragraphs of incoherent bitterness Sabludowsky does ask "So, you must wonder, why [is the T-P] going after Meffert?" Now, of course Sabludowsky, a self-described "teacher", fails to explore this potentially interesting query to any degree whatsoever. But, in a gesture of almost incomprehensible benevolence, I will attempt to modify his mediocre question into something mildly interesting. This reconfiguration won't be enough to redeem his hopelessly convoluted, lame column--- but it is a nice gesture.

(Unlike, say, this story from London, which describes the very opposite of a "nice gesture", H/T Magical Shrimp. Hardier souls may wish to also read the hideous Iraqi version of a similar story.)

The question isn't "Why is the T-P going after Meffert?" That's obvious. There's apparent ethical violations involving one of the Mayor's top guys. Da Paper should cover these sorts of stories, and, especially after Meffert's unconvincing denial of wrongdoing, that's fair game for opinion columns and editorials. Throw emails that reek of cronyism and intimidation into the mix, and no one should wonder why the T-P is going after Meffert. I think the more interesting question is "Why is the T-P going after Meffert to this degree?" Like I said above, Sabludowsky seems more interested in who at the T-P is going after Meffert rather than why, and that is one of the many reasons his column is such a wreck.

Some of my esteemed colleagues (like BSJD) seemingly think the Times Picayune, at times, has been rather soft on Meffert and Nagin so far. I disagree. Considering how few known facts there are, I think they've been relentless. If you include today's editorial calling for a "review of contracts", the paper has run three editorials on Meffert/Imagine/Yachtgate so far. Plus, James Gill has written two columns on the "scandal" and Stephanie Grace has written one as well. The T-P put both news stories about Meffert on the front page, and yesterday there was even a S. Kelly cartoon about the affair.

Now, that is a helluva lot of coverage on a story that isn't that big (yet). So it is indeed worth speculating why the T-P has "gone after Meffert" to the degree that it has. Does the T-P believe that Yachtgate is only the tip of the iceberg? Have previous T-P investigations been actively thwarted by Meffert, as Dambala suggests? Or does the paper simply have an anti-Nagin bias, and want to hit him in one of his last supposed "strong points" (i.e., his administration's reputation for honesty and transparency)?

I'll be intrigued to see how Yachtgate "develops" and what it might lead to. It does seem, though, that the opinion page has driven the story as far as it can go until new facts are uncovered.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Corruption news from the past 48 hours 

Bush's Education Dept:

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

Bush's HUD:
An inspector general's report charges that top U.S. housing official Alphonso Jackson urged staff members to favor friends of President Bush when awarding Department of Housing and Urban Development contracts. But investigators so far have found no direct proof that Jackson's staff obeyed.

His chief of staff told investigators that Jackson, the HUD secretary, "personally intervened with contractors whom he did not like... these contractors had Democratic political affiliations," says the report...

Bush's Dept of the Interior:

Four government auditors who monitor leases for oil and gas on federal property say the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government.
The auditors contend that they were blocked by their bosses from pursuing more than $30 million in fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The new accusations surfaced just one week after the Interior Department's inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, told a House subcommittee that "short of crime, anything goes" at the top levels of the Interior Department.
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"It's unacceptable to think" 

I think Keith Olberman's latest commentary is a little overblown. Basically, he takes Bush to task for saying the phrase "It's unacceptable to think...[insert strawman of the day]" and goes on an eight minute Murrow-esque rant, and calls for a Presidential apology. Don't get me wrong, it's a damn good rant. Well worth your time. But its four-word inspiration is a little thin, in my view.

I mean, the Prez gets tired and frustrated all the time-- often at the press. He's not a person who has an excellent command of language, so when he tries to go off-script and freelance some strawmen, awful things are bound to occur.

So give President Bush a break. I mean, this is a guy who recently welcomed a dignitary to Washington D.C., when they were actually in New York City (link). It happens.

This is a guy who recently said something about "explosives" and the 9/11 attacks, which adds plenty' o fuel to the hopelessly flawed 9/11 conspiracy theories which have bewitched a few of my esteemed colleagues.

In short, you'll go crazy if you parse Bush's particular phrases, trying to figure out his (lack of) thought processes. Lord knows I have done as much. I've learned not to listen to what he says, but to the things he repeats over and over. That gives you a clue about the agenda he is trying to sell, and Rove's persistent attempt to control the context of any debate via straw man gambits ("some say...", "to think that...", "I've heard...", "no one could've anticipated...").
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

HBO plans "Disaster" miniseries 

From the Disaster web site, we learn that "HBO has acquired the book 'Disaster,'... and will develop it as a miniseries." Details here.

Congratulations to Rising Tide keynote speakers Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, who wrote an excellent book that deserves as much exposure as possible. Thanks to HBO, also. Between Spike Lee's documentary and now this upcoming Disaster miniseries, I would say they have went above and beyond in covering this story.
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This is Republican governance 

Big Oil rakes in record-breaking profits and fails to pay their fair share of royalties from Gulf Coast drilling, and the current administration allegedly stops auditors from pursuing these "underpayments". NYT:

[Federal] auditors contend that they were blocked by their bosses from pursuing more than $30 million in fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The agency has lost its sense of mission, which is to protect American taxpayers,"said Bobby L. Maxwell, who was formerly in charge of Gulf of Mexico auditing. "These are assets that belong to the American public, and they are supposed to be used for things like education, public infrastructure and roadways."

The Bush administration would have us believe that Louisiana getting its fair share of oil royalties to rebuild its coast is fiscally imprudent. And they allegedly won't crack down on companies making windfall profits who won't pay what they owe. That irritates me.

Angry Bear makes the point that lax enforcement is a "tax cut" of sorts. An unwelcome one, that benefits greedhead cheats.

Further, when such blatant waste and fraud occurs in, say, a warzone like Iraq, it hurts troop morale. Far more than anything said by war critics, I would imagine.

Update: Intel Dump offers a status report (good comment thread, too).
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Front page invitation to N.O. party in Nation's #1 newspaper! 

Today's print USA TODAY's cover story title reads: "City throwing a party at restored Superdome, 'Super Bowl-like' buzz builds for Saints return to stadium that became a symbol of Katrina misery".

Now, I could quibble about a few things (the Sacredome should be a symbol of hope as well as misery, the "11 deaths" cited by Superdome spokesman Bill Curl is either inaccurate or includes people who died outside the Superdome [none violently, btw]...). But in general this is tremendous national advertising at a crucial time for the city. There are no big conventions right now, and the city can use an influx of visitors and positive publicity to help businesses make it to the tourist season (Nov-May).

The other day Lovely and I went to Cafe Giovanni, and had a spectacular meal. We simply sat down and told Chef Duke to "Feed Us". There's no need to waste time ordering-- it's all good there. Sadly, though, there were only a couple other customers in the dining room with us. (And Cafe Giovanni is, imo, one of the top 5 restaurants in the city right now.)

So this quasi-Super Bowl that seemingly came out of nowhere couldn't be more timely. Undefeated rivals on national prime time TV, a human interest storyline, U2/Green Day, several days worth of events, massive free media exposure... this is much more than the first game of the season in a renovated arena. This is about as meaningful as a football game can be, at every level.

It's amazing. Especially after the one year "anniversary" of Katrina, one wonders whether this game would have become so big nationally if the following things hadn't occurred:

1) Houston drafts "Super" Mario Williams (2 games, 4 tackles), enabling the Saints to get media-darling and fan favorite Reggie Bush.

2) Both teams winning their first two games, setting up an interesting football matchup. (I credit new head coach Sean Payton in a big way for the Saints 2-0 start.)

3) U2 and Green Day getting into the act.

4) Saints fans rallying around their team in a profoundly supportive way, selling out the entire season in advance. (The article quotes Deuce McAllister who says, "You have to live here to understand." True dat. Joe "Hollywood" Horn says more here.

5) The city demonstrating that it could successfully host big events like Mardis Gras, Jazzfest and the Librarians Convention.

6) ESPN paying a king's ransom for MNF, and trying to make every matchup as big as possible.

So, this football game is hugely important for our city, but it has also become a national story in a way that few would've predicted earlier this summer. That's a good thing. I'm certainly enjoying how things have transpired, and will see y'all at the Dome (courtesy of benevolent Ashley).

Of course, the USA TODAY cover story on the game was "balanced", if you will, by the other front page headline "Nursing home owners indicted". Uggh.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Zombie vs. Meffert Gras 

I love James Gill's columns in the T-P, and think he's one of the best in the business. Wednesday he chimed in about "Yachtgate"*. I hate to take issue with a rather small point he makes, but I can't help myself. Gill writes:

[Greg] Meffert did not leave City Hall because he was caught with his ethics down. Indeed, his secret may have remained safe if, a couple of weeks later, he hadn't celebrated his birthday with a "sunset cruise."

Meffert sent out invitations bearing a picture of the M.S. Silicon Bayou to a bunch of friends and colleagues. Inevitably, he was betrayed in a jiffy.

Sadly, No! The American Zombie was on to Meffert well before that, erm, "fateful birthday trip". (Was it a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour?) As Wednesday's article makes plain, Meffert's birthday sunset cruise on the Silicon Bayou should not be confused with Nagin's "thank you" sunset cruise a month prior.

On July 8, about a month before Meffert's 41st birthday cruise, Mayor Ray Nagin hosted his own party on the boat. On the "sunset 'thank you' cruise," the mayor treated friends and re-election campaign contributors to cocktails and refreshments.

Indeed, the first Times Picayune story on Yachtgate reported:

To celebrate his 41st birthday, along with his recent decision to give up the drudgery of his job as the city's chief technology officer, Greg Meffert took a couple of dozen revelers out onto Lake Pontchartrain in early August for an evening cruise on a 53-foot yacht.

However, in late July, after Nagin's cruise but before Meffert's birthday in early August, American Zombie posted the following information:

The Imagine [Software] crew has a company yacht... how the yacht was purchased is a question mark. Also.... Sugar Ray [Nagin] has reportedly taken more than his fair share of cruises on the boat.

So, no. In point of fact it wasn't Meffert's August birthday outing that "inevitably" led to his "secret" becoming public. Actually, a NOLA blogger had been raising questions about Meffert and Imagine Software's controversial yacht in late July.

I believe the American Zombie's contribution to this story should be acknowledged, especially when the Times Picayune continues to run front page stories and opinion pieces about this apparent ethics violation.

Don't miss AZ's latest information on this "developing" scandal. He files an "unconfirmed" report which alleges that 2 years ago a curious reporter started
filing for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Meffert and the Imagine crew... basically freaked. They literally shut down the entire city server system in order to wipe out all emails stored on the email server(s) to ensure that the information couldn't be obtained... They performed this feat under the guise of a "System Software Update" which after completion, accidentally erased the email server archives.

What an interesting "accident". Read the whole post for all the juicy details.

* this scandal needs a catchier name. Usually I'm golden when it comes to these things, but I got nuthin'. I'm toying with various cutesies, but nothing is coming together: "Silly Con Buy you", "Meffert's Vain Efforts", "Like water for Chocolate City", "Sailing the seas of guilty pleas"... urrgh. Help me, clever hivemind!
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Why the Superdome is a Sacredome, not a Thunderdome 

A recent T-P Sports article said:

For [Saints] quarterback Drew Brees and several others it will be their first trip inside the stadium that drew worldwide attention during Katrina.

"I'll be wide-eyed a little bit just looking around and seeing what it's going to feel like for the next 10 years hopefully, the rest of my career," Brees said. "I've only seen it on television.

"If anything, the Superdome was a saving grace for a lot of people; it housed a lot of people and probably saved a lot of people. For that to have happened -- I think several people were killed and there was a suicide, that was horrible. But to think of all the people who were saved, you look at that arena as more than just a football stadium."

While quarterback Drew "Cool" Brees is correct to say that the Superdome is more than just a football stadium, and that it was the refuge of last resort for "a lot" of people (over 25k) during and after Katrina, he did make a factual error which the T-P article failed to correct. YRHT will endeavour to remedy this oversight. However, let me say at the outset that Brees' claim is still probably far more accurate than most people's lingering perceptions of the so-called "atrocities" that supposedly occurred in the Superdome during the Katrina aftermath.

First, let's consult the book Disaster by Chris Cooper and Robert Block, and see if we can't counter some of these false, lingering perceptions about the "killings" at the Superdome (as well as the Convention Center). From page 223, we begin to learn the real story: that FEMA's deputy coordinating officer estimated there were 200 homicide "bodies" between the Convention Center and the Super Dome. That when FEMA's mortician crew arrived at the Super Dome with refrigerated trucks to collect the bodies, they found precisely NONE in the arena. Overall, the Dome's dead numbered six bodies: a heart attack victim, three natural deaths, a suicide and a drug overdose.

At the Convention Center, the scene was similar. Despite the lurid tales of wanton violence, the scores of dead that officials insisted were waiting inside, the massive building yielded up just four bodies, only one of which, an apparent knifing victim, seemed to have met with a violent end. There were no dead babies, no adolescent girls with their throats cut, no bullet-riddled bodies at all.

In the entire city, during the anarchy and looting and chaos in catastrophic conditions "hardly any of the victims had died a violent death at the hands of others. City coroner Frank Minyard reckoned there were eight gunshot victims during the storm and its immediate aftermath, and two of those were suspected suicides. (223)

So perhaps someone can please tell Drew Brees that, actually, "several people" weren't killed in the Superdome.

And perhaps someone else can inform the rest of the country that NO ONE WAS KILLED IN THE SUPERDOME DURING THE KATRINA AFTERMATH!

NO ONE! No killings! Nada. Zero. Bupkis. Zip. Zilch. Squat.

How many Americans know that fact?

Now, I'm not saying it was a picnic in the Dome. Hell no. Tensions were high. Rumors swirled. Some fights broke out, as well as a small fire. There was no running water, there were no working bathrooms, there wasn't enough food or medicine or generators or security. The roof was leaking, it was hotter than Hades, and FEMA wasn't bringing promised supplies. Many New Orleanians who sought refuge in the Dome had just lost family and friends to the floodwaters, not to mention homes and businesses. These are the harsh conditions that 25,000 strangers were dealing with day after day after day. But it is important to note that people weren't killing one another in the Dome.

Seriously, try this experiment: Take any major metropolitan area, strip it down to its last 50,000 most desperate citizens, and throw them in dark, stench-ridden, insecure arenas and convention centers during a major catastrophe. Keep them there without enough food, water and meds for several days, and see if you can limit the homicides to under one, total.

Now, when we add five more deaths to the one in the Convention center, we get SIX TOTAL HOMICIDES IN THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS DURING THE KATRINA AFTERMATH.

SIX. Put that fact in your sugared coffee and stir it, America.

Sure, I wish there were fewer murders, but six is a remarkably low number given the catastrophic conditions. From the media coverage, however, one would have expected six hundred homicides city-wide, not six. Everyone remembers the reports about the "atrocities": the raped babies, the slit throats, the mass killings, the shooting at helicopters, the wanton violence and destruction, the bodies stacked up "like cordwood" in the evacuation centers.

But who remembers the corrections?

To his credit, Drew Brees tried to describe the other side of the issue. It's true that people's lives were saved in the evacuation centers of last resort. But one can take that point much, much further. The Dome and the Convention Center were places where humanity didn't unravel during unexpectedly desperate circumstances. For the most part, these evacuation areas were centers of admirable endurance-- perhaps even "superhuman forbearance", as Bob Somerby describes it. And yet, people still associate the Superdome and Convention Center with widespread death and killings, because the traumatic news reports that were seared into our brains during "Katrina week" were wrong, wrong, wrong!

New Orleans may never be able to disabuse the rest of the country from the myths and rumors that were reported during the Katrina aftermath. Our tourist-based city's reputation was massively (and unjustly) damaged. Let's revisit one of the main reasons why this happened (the following extended excerpts are again from Disaster):

Rumors [at the Superdome] spread like poison gas. Mayor Nagin and his police chief, Eddie Compass, contributed on this score. For days, the two men had been delivering fanciful descriptions to the press of the Superdome and the city at large. Nagin had spoken of the "animalistic" state of the Superdome's residents, of dead bodies piling up in dark rooms, of killings, rapes and child mortality. Compass let fly with tales of sustained gun battles, assassination attempts, and other accounts of derring-do. At the Superdome on Wednesday night, Compass... [was] in tears. "My guys are getting killed out there," he cried. "A girl, a child died in my arms." (pg 193)

The Convention Center, like the Superdome, would become synonymous with lurid lawbreaking, and again, New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass was stirring the pot. Compass spread unsubstantiated reports that the Convention Center was a hideout for an armed gang that moved among the thousands of evacuees and had commandeered the building's third floor as a vast weapons armory. He said this shadowy force was picking off tourists who ventured too close. He also claimed that he had sent a force of eighty-eight police officers to the building to bring order to the place but that they had been beaten back by a better armed, highly organized thug army. Inside, he (and others) claimed, children were being raped and adults were being executed. Bodies were said to be stacked like cordwood in the building's catering coolers....

These reports prolonged the suffering at the Convention Center. After getting an earful from Compass, the Louisiana National Guard, in consultation with the city government, withdrew its plan to bring supplies to the building in the middle of the night, deeming the mission too dangerous. (pg 205-206)

[One] of the enduring mysteries of the fumbling U.S. response has always been why the Pentagon did not move more quickly to quell the unrest in the city shortly after the disaster began. And one of the reasons... was that the federal government believed-- largely based on rumors-- that it had to plan for a far more complicated military operation, one in which federal soldiers might have to kill American citizens, perhaps in great numbers. Such a prospect added serious political and tactical complications to what otherwise might have been a more straightforward relief effort. [207]

What did the National Guard actually find at the Convention Center, when they finally arrived?

a dispirited crowd that was hungry, thirsty and fully cooperative....

There were no heavily armed thug forces, no third-floor hideaway. Soldiers searching the crowd said they found a scattering of weapons, steak knives mostly, and one rusty pistol that didn't appear to be operable. The place was secured within a half hour. (pg 211)

Again, I'm not saying everything was fine in the evacuation centers during the Katrina aftermath, but I believe 99% of folks were behaving quite admirably under the circumstances. Yet 99% of what was initially reported about the violent crime was totally untrue. Out of the 50,000 people in desperate circumstances at the Superdome and the Convention Center, there was ONE homicide during the Katrina aftermath. (Six, total, throughout the city.) There were ten deaths, and most of them were natural. For perspective, consider that about SIXTY people died in Houston's poorly coordinated evacuation from Hurricane Rita.

I'm reminded of Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levees Broke", which includes some tantalizing footage of New Orleanians who attempt to lighten the mood in the Dome by marching through the halls and singing songs. Now that's what you call a great moment! The government had failed these people horribly, their city had flooded, there wasn't enough food, water, and medicine... and yet they decide to sing and dance!

Truthdig provides some more detail about this particular episode:

In one of several remarkable scenes from Spike Lee's new four-hour documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem for New Orleans in Four Acts," a young man who sat out the flood in the hot and stenching Superdome surprises us with a recollection of grace. During a particularly desperate moment in the sewer-- no water, no food, no help in sight-- someone took charge. "There was this brother named Radio," he tells us, "...and he started clapping it up, like in a basketball game.... It was a big, big spirit; people just started singing praises."

Our storyteller continues in voiceover as the camera cuts to archived footage from the Superdome-- a line of men and women dancing and singing, sweat visible through dirty T-shirts. "It was a proud moment for us. We marched around the dome, and that time I felt back to the Movement, the civil rights movement, when it was real powerful."

In my view, THIS should be everyone's dominant memory of the Superdome during Katrina: New Orleanians marching and singing praises in awful conditions. Despite their government having failed them, these men and women not only kept their composure, they rejoiced! They sang and danced and remained faithful amidst tragedy. That should have been the hopeful, inspiring story about the Superdome to come out of Katrina. That should have been our heroic image, our city's symbol of strength.

New Orleanians are not "savages" nor "Somalians". When everything breaks down we do not rape children and go on mass killing sprees like the media reported; we are not "animalistic" like our mayor said, we do not form "thug armies" in desperate circumstances, we are not anarchists.... But, after Katrina, America was ready to believe the worst about us, as if most New Orleanians were depraved criminals at heart.

The country needs to understand that this is NEW ORLEANS, and that neither hurricane nor flood nor FEMA can stop us from dancing.

Monday Night might be the first time since Mr. Radio "took charge" last year that crowds will be singing and clapping in the Superdome. The Saints will take on the hated Falcons in what is being called the "most anticipated game in franchise history" (T-P), and "the most triumphant moment in the history of American sports" (Big Shot). U2, Green Day and Trombone Shorty , among others, will be performing there. This city of unmatched football loyalty needs its football team more than ever right now, and everyone is very excited about the Saints 2-0 start, and about Reggie Bush, our exciting rookie running back. For the first time ever, the team has sold out every single home game in advance. (Remember that New Orleans is only half-populated.) So, it's hard to describe what this team means to us right now. It is a source of unity and pride, as well as a therapeutic distraction from all the other "real life stressors" that abound here. It's possible that the Dome will never be louder or more energized than it will be Monday Night. I expect the team to surprise the rest of the country and upset the Falcons on national TV. In particular, I hope Brees and Bush perform spectacularly.

However, as we cheer on the Saints, let's remember all those who displayed remarkable patience and forbearance under grueling circumstances a year ago (despite being slandered by government officials who spread wild, unconfirmed rumors about them). No matter what good things happen on the field in the months and years to come, for me, the stalwart spirit of "Saints" like Mr. Radio will always be the highlight of the Sacredome.
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Imagine story finding "legs" 

The Times Picayune has a follow-up story on Imagine Software's yacht. Apparently the mayor rewarded supporters with a "thank you" party on the controversial pleasure craft back in July. All the story needs now is a "bimbo" component or some sordid, incriminating detail (cash in the freezer... etc) and it will turn into a "full blown" scandal.

There's not a whole lot in this article though, until the end, when a delicious little vignette about Imagine is tacked on:

Records show that Imagine gave $5,000 to Nagin's campaign in May, while [Imagine partner Mark] St. Pierre ponied up $2,500 in 2004. The company gave even more generously to the unsuccessful criminal sheriff campaign of Warren Riley, whom Nagin named police chief last fall. Imagine gave the Riley campaign $10,000, and St. Pierre put up $5,000.

Imagine did not limit its activism to the checkbook.

Paul Bible, a former Imagine employee, nearly quit when he got what he saw as an inappropriate e-mail in September 2004 pressuring Imagine workers to donate to Riley and volunteer for his campaign.

He shared the e-mail, and several others, with The Times-Picayune. They make clear that Imagine's partners saw their interests and those of the mayor inextricably intertwined.

"We'd like to stress to all of the Imagine team the importance of our supporting the mayor's efforts," the e-mail, written by Hastings, read in part. "It is extremely important that the entire Imagine team step up to the plate and do whatever we can to help... Now we'd like to ask each of you to participate in this effort. We realize that we all have family commitments and other obligations, but this election has a direct effect on all of us and our desire to continue in our current roles.

"We realize that we can't demand that everyone participate in this effort, however, we strongly urge you to join us. Whether it's warranted or not, this is a very political environment, and your participation, or lack thereof, could have an impact on whether or not you are viewed as a 'team player.' "

A month or so later, Bible responded to another message soliciting campaign volunteerism, this one written by Kurt. Bible wrote: "please exclude me from all campaign related email messages."

Kurt wrote back: "F--- you, delete the message (sic) if you get them."

Bible took the matter up with St. Pierre and threatened to resign and hire an attorney. St. Pierre apologized profusely and promised it wouldn't happen again, e-mails provided by Bible show.

A couple of months later, Bible left the company voluntarily. He now lives in Dallas and works for a software firm there.

"All the campaigning begs the question of how much time was spent working on these campaigns," Bible said. "How much money is the city spending for them to work on these kinds of projects?"

When and if this develops further, it might become (or lead to) a major scandal. But even if it doesn't metastasize, and remains relatively small beer, remember at all times that Mayor Nagin and his supporters claim that he "understands business" and is not part of the "politics of the past".
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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's "Talk Like a Pirate" day 

Aye, you scurvy dogs, it's true!

Someone tell Greg Meffert about this special day! He could go out on the yacht he claims to own, and pretend to be Jean Lafitte, "The Gentleman Pirate of New Orleans".


Tonight, Lovely and I will talk like Pirates while feeling Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise at the HOB. I will drink a certain brand of spiced rum, and will heartily endorse Stevens' project of making an album for each state of the union... (Except for Tejas-- "I just don't want to deal with that" he has said. )

Well, Mr. Stevens, what about da "gret stet", then? The DHS itself has confirmed that we are "still part of the United States".
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Glad the "Politics of the Past" are safely behind us 

Nagin's Former Chief Technology Officer, Greg Meffert, needs to answer more questions according to two editorials in today's Times Picayune:

"Cruising with Cronies"

Mr. Meffert insists that he owns the 53-foot yacht, complete with two staterooms and piloted by a captain.
But public records tell a different story. A title search shows that the boat was bought by the four original partners of Imagine [Software]: each of them held a 20 percent share in the yacht, while Method Investments, a corporation formed by the four, held the fifth share.

If Imagine owns the vessel, it would be unethical for a city official to use it free of charge. Mayor Nagin, who campaigned against corruption and patronage, should want to make sure that no ethical breaches occurred on his watch.
Mayor Nagin had no reason to think his technology chief was lying when he said he owned the Silicon Bayou. But there's reason to doubt him now and to demand answers. The issue isn't only what Mr. Meffert might have done but what Imagine's role might have been.

That's especially critical because Mayor Nagin has hired Mark Kurt, a former partner in Imagine and a former partner in the yacht, to take Mr. Meffert's place. Mr. Kurt will now oversee his former colleagues -- a relationship that's even closer than Mr. Meffert's ties to Imagine.

Mayor Nagin needs to make sure that Imagine was chosen for what it can do for New Orleans, not for the ego-boost that Mr. Meffert got from having a yacht at his disposal.

Stephanie Grace's T-P column, echoes this call for answers:

Meffert boasted to many, including Mayor Ray Nagin, that he owned a 53-foot yacht, aptly dubbed the Silicon Bayou. He and his wife threw his 41st birthday party on the boat this summer, just as they welcomed friends aboard while he was still on the public payroll. Meffert even offered an elaborate explanation of how he came to purchase the yacht -- with the proceeds of a plantation home in Convent that he had fixed up and sold, even though his renovation costs appear to have dwarfed any possible profit.

The problem is that, publicly available records say Meffert didn't own the Silicon Bayou at all.

A title search showed that it belonged to partners in Imagine Software LLC, a major vendor to the city department Meffert oversaw. Those same partners all happened to have been Meffert's employees during his days in the private sector, an arrangement that smacks of the same type of insider dealing that Meffert crusaded against -- back when the offenders were close to former Mayor Marc Morial, rather than to Nagin.

At the least, it could be a violation of a state ethics law banning public employees from receiving a "thing of value" from anyone doing business with their agency or department, if the arrangement truly is as fishy as it sounds.
Faced with Coast Guard records stating otherwise, Meffert continues to insist that the boat is his, and that any contention that he doesn't own it is flat-out wrong.
Imagine, which remains ensconced at City Hall, isn't a no-show firm. In fact, many of its employees have worked out of city offices over the years, and the firm helped drag the mayoral Web site out of the dark ages.

But because Imagine is a subcontractor to a number of prime contractors, it's unclear just how much the company gets paid for its work. Meffert has said that Imagine once collected about $2.7 million per year from the city, a figure that later dropped to $1.8 million.

More about "Yacht-gate" here. (I welcome all suggestions for a catchier name for this potential scandal in the comments.)

Update: speaking of yachts, whatever happened to the U.S.S. Sequoia, a former presidential yacht which Jimmy Carter decided to sell, and which Bush and the GOP Congress tried to buy back from private owners with 2 million tax dollars?
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Spending accelerates under our GOP gubmint 

Bloomberg News 9/15 (via kos) :

Republican Voters Dismayed by Biggest Spending Rise Since 1990

Republican voters are angry, not for the first time, at big-spending politicians in Washington. This year, their wrath is aimed at their own party.

The Republican-controlled Congress heads into the Nov. 7 elections having increased federal spending this year by 9 percent -- the most since 1990 -- to about $2.7 trillion, according to projections from the White House Office of Management and Budget. The agency estimates government spending will grow to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 from 18.5 percent when President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

Republican lawmakers say they are confident their constituents will stick with them because the Democrats are even less committed to restraint.

"They may have some concerns with some of us," said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. "But I think they'll understand that things will be much worse, not better, if they elect our friends on the other side."
Between 1996 and 2001, when Democratic President Bill Clinton was in the White House and Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, government spending declined from 20.3 percent of gross domestic product to 18.5 percent.

Well, that last statistic would seem to argue against Cornyn's claim. But what about Clinton's first term, when he had two years with a Democratic Congress? Perhaps the GOP Congress deserves all the credit for the "smaller government" during the 90's. Let's examine those first two years of Clinton's term when the Dems controlled Congress, and see what actually occurred. Here's some analysis from a 1996 article in Reason magazine titled "Clinton confidential - economic strength of the Clinton government " written by conservative Richard B. McKenzie :

The unrecognized (or ignored) fact remains that federal spending this year and next year will be a lower fraction of GDP than it was in any year of the two Reagan terms: 21 percent in 1996 and 20.8 percent in 1997, versus Reagan's low of 21.3 percent in 1989. Average federal spending as a percentage of GDP during the first Clinton term, 21.1 percent, will be lower than it was under either of the two Reagan terms: 23 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively.

And the recent decline in federal spending relative to the economy cannot be totally attributed to the Republicans' congressional victories in the 1994 elections. Nearly three-fourths of the percentage decline in the relative size of federal spending during the Clinton years occurred before the advent of the Republican Congress.

So, federal spending as a % of GDP shrunk from 22.5% to 18.5% during the Clinton fiscal years, with three quarters of the decline in his first term coming from the Democratic Congress' budgets.

Federal spending under George Bush and the GOP congress rose from 18.5% of GDP up to 20.6%. Who knows how high it will get by the end of his term? Perhaps back up to the Reagan/Bush (41) levels of 22% and 23%, or higher.

But if Dems take over Congress, so-called fiscal conservatives like Cornyn would have you believe that government spending would rise faster than it would under the current spendthrifts.

Actually, nothing's more expensive than big, ineffective government. And that's what we currently have with the GOP: crony capitalism on stilts.
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Wearing a stupid hat is not a crime 

But, apparently, taking photographs of a Femaville and the adjacent Exxon oil refinery is.

Gentilly Girl alerts us to this piece, which informs us that
[investigative journalist Greg Palast] has been charged by our own Department of Homeland Security with "unauthorized filming of a 'critical national security structure' in Louisiana.

Now, Greg Palast may be a misinformed man with a big ego and a stupid hat. However, his account of a conversation with a DHS agent about the "criminal complaint" that was filed against him (by Exxon) is rather disturbing. For example:

Once I was traced, I had a bit of an other-worldly conversation with my would-be captors. Detective Frank Pananepinto of Homeland Security told us, "This is a 'Critical Infrastructure' ... and [Exxon gets] nervous about unauthorized filming of their property.

Well, me too, Detective. In fact, I'm very nervous that this potential chemical blast-site can be mapped in extreme detail at [Google Maps].
After I assured Detective Pananepinto, "I can swear to you that I'm not part of Al Qaeda," he confirmed that, "Louisiana is still part of the United States," subject to the first amendment and he was therefore required to divulge my accuser.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dambala's "Imagine Software Story" gets front page treatment in T-P!! 

Congratulations to Dambala at American Zombie for anticipating (if not scooping) the Times Picayune's Front Page story on Imagine Software and their controversial pleasure craft.

Here's the first few graphs from Gordon Russell's T-P article titled "Yachting by N.O. official raises questions":

To celebrate his 41st birthday, along with his recent decision to give up the drudgery of his job as the city's chief technology officer, Greg Meffert took a couple of dozen revelers out onto Lake Pontchartrain in early August for an evening cruise on a 53-foot yacht.

Many of those aboard, Mayor Ray Nagin among them, were under the impression that the party boat -- christened the Silicon Bayou, a nickname for New Orleans' tiny technology community -- belonged to Meffert. Indeed, at Meffert's invitation, they had cruised on it before during his tenure as chief technology officer.

But according to Coast Guard records, the vessel's owner is not Meffert but a group of partners in a computer programming and Web-managing company, Imagine Software LLC, that has enjoyed lucrative and continuing work at City Hall since Meffert's arrival there.

Free use of a vessel owned by a major city contractor would clearly violate state ethics laws, said Loyola Law School professor Dane Ciolino.

Back in July, Dambala "raised questions" about this boat, saying:

The Imagine crew has a company yacht named "Digital Bayou" anchored somewhere in Mississippi (apparently they were dumb enough to have it anchored in Ponchartrain at one time). Of course it's not illegal to have a yacht...but how the yacht was purchased is a question mark. Also....[Mayor Ray Nagin] has reportedly taken more than his fair share of cruises on the boat.

So, a big tip of the "skull cap" to New Orleans patriot Dambala, who has a slew of investigatory posts that will likely anticipate future front page news stories. I'll simply repeat what I said last month:

American Zombie is describing some very interesting "apparent conflicts of interest" which have occurred during Nagin's administration. An intrepid journalist would do well to investigate the claims made in AZ's last few posts. I bet there's something to them.

YRHT is very proud and honored to be one of Dambala's regular internet "haunts". I encourage everyone who reads this blog to read American Zombie as well (if they don't already do so).

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Asking Permission to Go After Bin Laden 

Jonathan Schwarz juxtaposes the following quotes:

9/15/06 Press Conference:

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier this week, you told a group of journalists that you thought the idea of sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden was a strategy that would not work... recently you've also described bin Laden as a sort of modern day Hitler or Mussolini. And I'm wondering why, if you can explain why you think it's a bad idea to send more resources to hunt down bin Laden, wherever he is?

THE PRESIDENT: Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan.

1/20/04 State of the Union:

BUSH: America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.
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No matter what, Favre's a winner. 

Well, it seems apropos to explain the reference I made to the FSU '89 team in the post below. Expectations were quite high that year as FSU opened the season against Southern Miss (Lovely's alma mater) in Jacksonville. Shockingly, the Golden Eagles proceeded to dismantle the Seminoles with a ruthlessly efficient passing game. I couldn't believe it. My mighty Noles were getting dissected by some unknown quarterback named Brett Favre. It was highly frustrating and disconcerting, but what I'll never forget is the look on Favre's face throughout the game. He had the biggest, broadest smile each and every down. No matter what happened, he kept smiling. Sack, incompletion, touchdown, scramble... no matter what, he looked as if he was having the time of his life.

My team's season seemed to be going down in flames in the very first game against a huge underdog.... and, yet, I started to enjoy watching this opposing quarterback work his magic, because he was such a bona fide winner. His enormous love for the game was impossible to ignore, and I'll never forget seeing Favre have the time of his life upsetting my FSU Seminoles.

I got to see Favre play in the Superdome several years ago with the Big Event, and while he was by no means at the top of his game, Brett effortlessly threw one of the prettiest passes I'd ever seen in person. I'd also played blackjack with Favre at a casino in Bay St. Louis. He was at the $10 table, of course, and no one was making a big deal about his presence.

Today's game against the Saints, I think, will be difficult for Green Bay fans to watch. I suspect that the Saints will be all over Favre, and will sack and pressure him into making mistakes, and the game might get ugly for the home team. Favre will be ready to play, as always, but I think both his body and his teammates will fail to match his desire. The game won't be pretty, and it saddens me that this Hall of Famer par excellence won't have the honorable exit from football he so richly deserves.

If, however, Favre is somehow able to once again lead his team to victory over the Saints, I'm sure that he'll be smiling... and I will too (in spite of myself).
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