Saturday, December 02, 2006

Insurance rants 

Scout Prime correctly describes this latest insurance development as "disasterous to the recovery":

St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc., Louisiana's largest commercial insurance provider, plans to cancel all its commercial property policies in the New Orleans area next year, sparking fears that other insurers will follow and slow the region's economic recovery.
State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who was tipped off about Travelers' plans Wednesday night by the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, said he was stunned by the news. When he met with Travelers on Thursday, he was equally stunned by the stated reason for the company's retrenchment.

"They cited the state of the rebuilding of our levee system as the primary reason for their decision," Donelon said.

Travelers is a huge insurer, and this decision may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of cancellations in South Louisiana. While this country is saddled with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, and a presidential commitment to explore Mars, the Feds have carefully avoided any commitment to Category 4 or 5 protection for South Louisiana-- an indispensable portion of America's "Energy Coast". We are rebuilding to Category 3 strength protection in a way that is unacceptable to the largest business-insurance provider in Louisiana. Here's a couple of reprinted YRHT quotes which encapsulate my current frame of mind:


Metzgar, Forgotston ["A Simple Plan..."], and the LABI rightly say Louisiana needs to reduce taxes, red tape, and corruption. Yes, of course. But without federal help towards protective infrastructure investments, those reforms won't matter a bit. Business growth will not occur in New Orleans if the area is uninsurable. Period.

Without a federal commitment to Category Five levees and world-class flood protection, displaced businesses will not return to Southern Louisiana and insurance costs will quickly become prohibitive. Cutting taxes and red-tape will be meaningless without these essential infrastructure investments.

Rep. [Jim] McCrery stated: "Two things are necessary for people to come back: housing and jobs."

That's wrongfully incomplete. Housing and jobs will not "come back" if the area is uninsurable. All else is secondary to significant federal commitments to rebuild floodwalls, levees and wetlands... even New Orleans' critical housing/labor shortage. This is the precondition for all of the pretty images President Bush described in his nighttime speech in Jackson Square. Yet, curiously, he and his party are "skeptical" of Cat 5 levees and wetlands restoration.


Through Bush, Rove has told Louisianans that we must wait for "solid science" before we can restore the wetlands; and now we must wait to see what "science dictates" as far as category five levees go. We must wait... for science.
Almost immediately after the storm, displaced business-owners from New Orleans began demanding a federal commitment to Category 5 levee protection.
See, when [Bush] wants to go to Mars, science is at his service. However, when he doesn't want to pay to protect the "gret stet", science becomes a profound obstacle.

One wishes to know: what does Bush regard as "definitive science", anyway? This is a man who believes the "jury is out" on evolution and global warming.
And what the hell's the point of a Texan in the White House if all we get is some weak-ass "Well, let's see what science dictates..." posture!! Wasn't Bush the guy who promised "bold action" after Katrina? Well, where is it? I thought Texans were supposed to do the dictating-- not the guys in lab coats. The scientists figure out how to accomplish the big goals that Texans set for them. Right?
Tuesday we get the vote in Congress on the offshore oil royalty bill, in order to get a long-term revenue stream to build our own Category 5 flood protection. But, will such legislation matter if South Louisiana is uninsurable until the projects are complete (in 20 years or so)?
On a radio interview with WWL 870am, Rep. Bobby Jindal said the bill would pass.
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Friday, December 01, 2006

Crime: the French Quarter"back" killer 

USA Today:
Crime, that old menace of the old New Orleans, is back, and it's bedeviling a city trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. There have been 147 people killed in New Orleans this year, police say, down from 204 by this time in 2005. But the city's population is about half what it was before Katrina flooded 80% of the city, forcing an almost-complete evacuation.

That means New Orleanians are murdering each other at a rate of 73.5 murders per 100,000 residents. That figure is above that of the nation's most murderous city-- Compton, Calif., whose rate was 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2005, according to the latest FBI statistics.

Because many traditionally violent areas flooded and remain nearly empty, crime has moved to upscale, high-traffic areas such as the Marigny, the French Quarter and Uptown, leaving residents with one more reason to question their decision to remain in the city.

But, you know, according to some it's mainly "red tape" and "taxes" that are killing this recovery, not crime (and infrastructure and insurance). Glad the "Couhig Conservative" swing vote could help us re-elect an embarrassing mayor who is committed to an ineffective police chief. The alternative, you see, wore make-up and had chia pet hair, and was related to his father and sister. Glad we eschewed the campaign "vaudeville" in the most important mayoral race in the city's history.

Not that Mitch "Safe City" Landrieu would've solved the crime problem by now, but he would not have downplayed the issue, and would've conducted a national search for a new Police Chief, and that would've provided political "cover" for any rise in crime during the post-election months. National news coverage of crime in N.O. would be obligated to report the changes occurring under the new regime-- an easy "before and after" storyline-- and there would've been at least some "hope" for positive improvement in the near future. But instead we have the same old Nagin and his ineffective police chief.

Again: I'm so glad the "politics of the past" are safely behind us. Because, you see, we can focus on other matters since Our Mayor's police chief reassures us that the NOPD's "crime strategy is second to none in this city".

H/T to the DP.
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Keeping track 

In one of my earliest posts 2.5 years ago, I took issue with William Safire's prediction of impending "political equilibrium" in Iraq. I countered saying that if the odds were right I would "bet" on civil war in Iraq by 2006. (It may be amoral, but I don't have a problem wagering on... anything. Placing money on a potential future event doesn't necessarily mean that you desire it to occur. It could be a way to profit from a sensible prediction based on available evidence.) So, in that post, I formulated the (unoriginal) "Punditbook" idea:

A "current events" style sportsbook could assess odds, track predicted events, and grant payoffs on accurate calls. It could release results so that pundit predictions would be tracked over time. Political opinion-makers would have to back their thoughts with money (or credits), which always adds a new dimension to any contest. Currently too many pundits haughtily criticize the past, reliably overreact to the present, and wildly predict future events that never occur. When pundits are wrong they rarely admit it, or they promptly explain why they were really right, or they simply change topic. Let's hold these people-- self included-- to account. I say: if politics is a horserace, let's bet! That would show commitment to viewpoint. Plus, a willingness to disclose one's betting history would be highly interesting.

For example, William Safire today predicts Iraq will reach "political equilibrium". I'd love to wager on that one. How would "equilibrium" be determined, you ask? Well at the punditbook there might be constantly updated odds on the chance of civil war in Iraq by 2006. For example, if it were better than 3:1, I'd get in the game. Optimist Safire would be on the other side.... In a few months, someone would cash out; either the "defeatists", or the panglossians. Wagers might include: Kerry versus Bush, state political races, Supreme Court decisions (and appointments), legislation passing... let the imagination go.

Since open markets are terribly efficient, if someone continually beats the averages, it shows they are not just lucky. Perhaps these high performing pundits are particularly well sourced, analyze events and subtexts well, know history, and are talented at tracing the contour of future events from current ones. Those people would gain immeasurably from this objective record. The blowhards and inbreeds would likely lose big time.

The mission in Iraq was sold to the public as "disarming a dictator". Now, in a war that has lasted longer than WWII, (and which will eventually be more expensive than any war except for WWII) we still have 140,000 Americans in the middle of a sectarian war with no end in sight. Breaking our army, bleeding our treasury... and for what? An Iranian client state? Presidential vanity? It's unconscionable to keep our troops in an ill-defined, paradoxical, "nation-building" exercise where "victory" means, at best, staying in a terrorist factory our invasion helped create.

Fareed Zakharia describes the morass:

If you want to understand the futility of America's current situation in Iraq, last week provided a vivid microcosm. On Thursday, just hours before a series of car bombs killed more than 200 people in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, Sunni militants attacked the Ministry of Health, which is run by one of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. Within a couple of hours, American units arrived at the scene and chased off the attackers. The next day, Sadr's men began reprisals against Sunnis, firing RPGs at several mosques. When U.S. forces tried to stop the carnage and restore order, goons from Sadr's Mahdi Army began firing on American helicopters. In other words, one day the U.S. Army was defending Sadr's militia and, the next day, was attacked by it. We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.

It's not a matter of "will to win". We are simultaneously protecting and hunting supporters of death squads and terrorists, while providing an easy scapegoat for both sides. That is a massively unfair "mission" to give the men and women who volunteered to protect this country.
These days, anti-Iraq war pundits are rightfully complaining that, despite being right about the war, they do not have a voice in the national discussion. Even now, the national debate on Iraq seems to be dominated by split-the-difference moderates and conservatives. We can't leave Iraq because it will get worse, or because we can never admit defeat... yadda yadda. Swell. I guess we can expect more of this for a couple more years.

I'm not saying a Punditbook would totally solve any of these discourse problems, but I do think it would give many liberals some objective "credence", if they had a track record of correctly predicting foreign policy outcomes. The media loves the horserace angle because it's easy, and a Punditbook "scorecard" would provide a way for underappreciated, perceptive pundits of all stripes to gain instant accessibility and respect in the MSM.

Perhaps, if there was a Punditbook, the media would spend more time reminding folks about Sen.-elect Webb's profitable prescience in 2002, rather than focusing on some snippy exchange he had with President Bush.

In short, how about more accountability for our pundit class?
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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Great news! 

Greg had a successful heart surgery and is recovering speedily. He's out of intensive care and is now in a regular room at the clinic.
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I thought this might be a signpost 

This concise economic report by Rex Nutting at Marketwatch is worth reading closely, as it might shake one's confidence in a) the economy's purported strength b) the usefulness of initial economic statistics and c) Fed Chairman Bernanke's grasp of the biggest risks to the American economy (yesterday he warned about inflation instead of growth).

To be sure, the Bush administration has suffered more than its fair share of bad "headline" economic numbers that were later revised upwards. Now, though, it appears that the shoe might be on the other foot. Recent lukewarm numbers might be actually overstating the economy's "health". My simplistic view is that the housing deceleration will profoundly slow economic growth and will lead the economy dangerously close to recession, and will keep the Dow range-bound between 12000 and 7000 for several more years. (It's currently hovering above the top end of that range right now.) Frankly, I thought the slowdown would be happening already, and it may be, but until numbers confirm or disprove my simple model I'll borrow a phrase from Iraq war fantasists and just state that "the next four to six months will be crucial" for the American economy.

This is just my amateur opinion, based on close monitoring of the real estate market and the belief that there is a credit bubble that is (at best) deflating. Also, I think Louisiana will be largely immune to the coming slowdown. And I hope that I'm wrong about the national economy, even though I know that a near recession in 2007 would have disasterous political consequences for Republican supply siders who believe borrowing money to fund unsustainable tax cuts and spending is solid long-term policy. We'll see. But read and think about this article, and see if you can't find some clues about where (and why) the economy is directed:

One of the Federal Reserve's biggest worries about inflation has just been revised away, only to be replaced by a different worry about growth.

A huge spike in wages and salaries in the second quarter proved to be an illusion, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Affairs.

The revisions released Wednesday show that growth in unit labor costs (and therefore in inflationary pressures) has been much lower than assumed. That's good news on the inflation front.

But they also show that consumers don't have as much money as everyone thought they did ... $100 billion less on an annual basis. That's bad news for growth.

The Fed had been expressing concern that wage pressures were building that would inevitably feed into higher prices. Compensation had surged 12.6% in the first quarter, but that was explained away at the time as a one-time payout of bonuses and stock options to a relatively small group of high-paid executives, many of them on Wall Street.

When the compensation surge repeated in the second quarter, policymakers began to worry that raises were showing up in weekly paychecks as well. That set off some alarm bells at the Fed. A recurring and widespread rise in wages is more inflationary than a one-time bonus given to a selected few.

Compensation up 1.4%, not 7.4% But the new data show that, instead of growing at a 7.4% annual rate in the second quarter, employee compensation actually grew just 1.4%. The revisions were reported by the BEA on Wednesday as part of its revision to gross domestic product data, based on updated BLS figures from tax records. Third-quarter compensation was also revised slightly lower.

Unit labor costs should see a "very marked downward revision" next week, said Steven Wieting, an economist for Citigroup Global Markets.
"At a stroke, therefore, fears of surging unit labor costs boosting inflation, cited by Mr. Bernanke yesterday, should be greatly reduced," wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. "You'd have thunk someone at the BEA could have called him..."

Those huge revisions will serve to "erode the market's confidence in this traditionally important indicator," Goldman Sachs economists said in an email. The productivity and unit labor costs data have always been volatile and subject to large revisions. But a new source of uncertainty has crept into the data recently with the growth of nontraditional compensation, such as bonuses and stock options, that go to a small group of people but which are large enough to make an impact on the aggregate income.

While the government can track regular wages fairly well in close to real time, the exotic forms of compensation only appear with a lag, after tax records can be consulted. That leads to big revisions and more uncertainty about whether the figures can be trusted when it matters.

Two explanations Economists had two possible explanations for the one-quarter surge in compensation; neither of them bode well for growth going forward.

The first-quarter's gains were likely "driven by the exercise of stock options and possibly bonuses," according to economists at Goldman Sachs. However, the government statisticians had been assuming that the gains were ongoing. Many analysts have been counting on the gains to provide support for continued robust consumer spending even as the housing busts melted away some of their wealth.

The new data, however, show that real disposable incomes fell in the second quarter by 1.5%, rather than rising by 1.7%.

Consumers didn't earn the money they spent in the second quarter, they borrowed it. The personal savings rate dipped to negative 1.4%, the lowest since the Great Depression, except for the negative 1.5% seen in the fourth quarter of last year after Hurricane Katrina. The savings rate improved only marginally in the third quarter to negative 1.3%.

The other possible explanation tentatively advanced by Maury Harris, chief economist for UBS, is that job growth has been slower than we think.
The revision "raises the possibility that payrolls have been overcounted since March after being undercounted earlier (i.e., fewer workers, not just income per worker)," Harris said.

In other words, some of the big gains in the first-quarter did show up in weekly paychecks, but some of those jobs have now disappeared, something that won't be apparent until early February when the BLS finalizes its benchmark revision to nonfarm payrolls.

So, the robust economy that the Administration crows about might've been artificially goosed by stock options, or inflated job growth data (that was already mediocre by historical standards), while the majority of folks continue to borrow from rapidly decelerating assets (like their homes) to pay for ongoing expenses.

If this is indeed the case, how long do you think it can continue? What will happen when it stops?

Update: I adore Barry Ritholtz's Big Picture. Concerning today's mixed retail numbers he says:

If you want a clue as to what is really going on, try this compare and contrast:

Wal-Mart Trips as It Changes a Bit Too Fast

Tiffany Profit Increases 23%

Also, Matthew Fleischer flags a NYT piece by Ben Stein which seems full of economic "common sense" until you make Stein's point (that we need to raise taxes on the rich) to any "common sense" conservative. For example:

Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don't pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.
Another argument was that raising taxes actually lowers total revenue, and that only cutting taxes stimulates federal revenue. This is supposedly proved by the history of tax receipts since my friend George W. Bush became president.

In fact, the federal government collected roughly $1.004 trillion in income taxes from individuals in fiscal 2000, the last full year of President Bill Clinton's merry rule. It fell to a low of $794 billion in 2003 after Mr. Bush's tax cuts (but not, you understand, because of them, his supporters like to say). Only by the end of fiscal 2006 did income tax revenue surpass the $1 trillion level again. [Oy: and adjusting for inflation we are still under that level.]

By this time, we Republicans had added a mere $2.7 trillion to the national debt. So much for tax cuts adding to revenue.

"So much for tax cuts adding to revenue" ... and yet, that's the central insight of the supply-side fantasists! When the "conservatives" who run the country preach the value of supply-side free lunches and evangelize about spreading democracy at gunpoint... etc, you know you're in for a world of hurt. That is, unless you're a perma-denialist. Then it's the liberals and the media who are the problem (as always).

More underwhelming economic data at Calculated Risk.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Netroots successfully raising money for Carter 

Da Paper informs us:

Aided by a slew of donations from around the country and facing a wounded opponent, Karen Carter handily topped Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, in fund-raising as the two candidates head into the final stretch before the 2nd Congressional District runoff Dec. 9.

Carter, a Democratic state representative from New Orleans, raised $320,741 in a month, compared with $72,485 for Jefferson, the eight-term incumbent whose political fortunes -- and fund-raising ability -- have been dampened by a federal bribery investigation.
A substantial chunk of Carter's donations -- $23,209 -- came from ACT Blue, an Internet-based service that bills itself as "an online clearinghouse for Democratic action." Both Carter and Jefferson were featured on the group's Web site, but it was Carter who appeared to get the lion's share of support from the online donors in other states.

Through MyDD, Daily Kos and Americablog, over $30k has been raised (to date) for Karen Carter's campaign. That's an impressive chunk of change, especially in a close election, and I'm grateful for the netroots' efforts to oust Dollar Bill. I have a good feeling that they will be part of a winning effort.

MyDD's Tim Tagaris has posted a new report, which includes video of Carter's latest TV ad attacking Jefferson as a corrupt hypocrite.

Update: However, as of Nov 19th, Jefferson still led in terms of "cash on hand" ($177k to $58k).

Hat tip to the Dead Pelican.
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Enjoy a Cool Brees with us on X-mas Eve 

Dangerblond has given up on TV, and is nearly ready to give up on men as well.

Now, admittedly, while both TV and men often seem rather vapid and hopeless most days, there are some exceptions.

In terms of quality TV, I'm reminded of Saints games and A & E's "Intervention" show*. And I can help Dangerblond with the Saints game part. Check it:

How about I invite you all to the Oyster Manor for a Christmas Eve Saints Game TV Party? It's a noon time game against the Giants, and we can have a mini-reveillon feast and drinks and good cheer! Plus, my friend Ratboy is expected to be down from Chicago, and he's a big red-headed Saints fan who is always a lotta fun. (Email me if you need directions. For those who can't make it: don't worry. Ratboy will be down again when I host the Burt Reynolds Movie/Costume party this Spring. So stay tuned.)

Now, I can't promise the scene will be as raucous as the legendary summertime soccer party, but you're all invited to my place to watch the Saints/Giants game on my large idiot box, and we'll see what transpires.

In terms of the hopelessness of the male gender, I suppose Subcomandante Marcos is an interesting exception to the rule. Perhaps in the long run it doesn't matter. Like Renton says in Trainspotting: "One thousand years from now there'll be no guys and no girls, just wankers... we're heterosexual by default, not by decision. It's just a question of who you fancy. It's all about aesthetics and it's f-ck-all to do with morality."


* Oh my goodness what a human trainwreck "Intervention" is. It's a reality show that follows addicts and the friends and family who try to "intervene" to get them help. For example, here's the description of the next episode: "Parents and friends intervene to save Alissa, a compulsive gambler who has lost more than $30,000 on 25-cent slots. Meanwhile her boyfriend juggles three jobs just to make ends meet for them. Then we meet Brian, whose crystal meth habit feeds his sex addiction and sends him trolling the streets for new partners every day."

I've only seen one episode of "Intervention", but it was riveting stuff. I watched it with the same mindset I have when I read Plato or one of the Nazarene's parables. I try to see the similarities, not the differences, between myself and the addicts on "Intervention" (or between myself and Socrates' interlocuters or Jesus' inquiring "young rich man"... etc.). Ask yourself: What is the truth you don't want to hear? What sort of games or substances or psychodynamics are continually limiting your goals and relationships? What sort of habits and worries have you become "wedded" to? What's the good advice that you're too fearful to take? To the extent that they are not part of the problem, how can your friends and family help you overcome (or at least transfer) destructive "addictions"? What is required to change yourself for the better? To which new principles must you consecrate?

These are the central questions I've pondered in recent years as I've engaged in dead-end behaviors that were obvious enough to friends and family but which I found the energy and ingenuity to rationalize away.

And yet, despite failures, I've overcome enough limiting behavior to know that I can do more. Far more. You can too. Like Fritz says:

... your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be.
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Please oh please run for President, Mr. Newt 

Newt Gingrich sounds the alarm: "We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade."

Scout responds with a photo.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Property assessments rise, tax rates fall 

Imagine that:

Thanks to an increase in assessments and greater success in collecting taxes, the increases in property tax rates that two key Orleans Parish government agencies imposed after Hurricane Katrina will be largely rolled back in 2007.

The Board of Liquidation, City Debt, the agency that oversees the city's bonded indebtedness, voted unanimously last week to cut the millage rate the city imposes to pay off its general obligation bonds from 38.2 mills this year to 31.7 mills in 2007, a reduction of 17 percent.

The Orleans Parish School Board voted recently to reduce its 2007 millage from 58.55 mills to 52.9 mills, a cut of nearly 10 percent.
After the homestead exemption is figured in, the owner of a house valued at $200,000 and assessed at $20,000 will pay about $2,260 in citywide taxes next year, or about $150 less than in 2006. The owner of a house valued at $100,000 will pay about $515, or $30 less than this year.

To be sure, these are baby-steps. But more accurate assessments and lower millages is the trend we want. Unfortunately, this progress will be slowed (and skewed) because the city only has one reform-minded assessor until consolidation occurs in 2010. But it's in a big, important district (the 6th). So, spread the word: property tax rates are falling in New Orleans.
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The film every New Orleanian should see 

A new documentary entitled "Left Behind" tells the story of New Orleans Public Schools. I expect it to be brutal and truthful.

Dambala has more information on where and when you can view it.
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Hot beef injection 

Greg's having major surgery today to become part cow. Wish him well.
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One last GOP insult to LA? Will the Dems follow suit? 

Think Progress reports:

Even though the Do-Nothing 109th Congress has passed just two out of 11 spending bills, it has decided to put off the remaining nine until the new year, "dumping almost a half-trillion dollars of spending bills on the incoming Democratic majority."

That's a nice farewell to the few conservatives who still believe this GOP Congress is a a frugal steward of tax dollars: adjourning early and passing along hundreds of billions in spending for the new Democratic Congress to "handle". What total, complete frauds these guys were! Certainly the worst Congress since Teapot Dome, and arguably the worst ever.

Think Progress also passes along this alarming observation:

By skipping the spending bills, Roll Call notes that the House will be able to close up shop by Dec. 8, with the Senate staying a few days later to consider Robert Gates's nomination. Congress is currently adjourned until Dec. 4, meaning the 109th Congress may be at work for just four days before breaking again.

Four days? Does anyone else get the bad feeling that this lazy, slack-ass Congress won't find time to schedule a House vote to pass the Domenici/Landrieu oil royalty-sharing bill? After all, they promised Rep. Jindal they'd vote on it. Surely they wouldn't double-cross Jindal (and Louisiana) right before "Bobby" launches his gubernatorial campaign? Surely.

If such a travesty occurs, I sense that White House stooge Rep. Richard Pombo will have been behind it. (That's just a totally uninformed guess, but I thought I'd record it here just in case.)

If Louisiana gets shafted (again), then the ball would be in the Democrats' court. Previously, key House Democrats have made substantial campaign promises:

Bills to help Katrina-stricken Gulf Coast residents by streamlining the insurance-claims process, making more affordable housing available, restoring coastal wetlands and giving states a bigger share of royalties on oil and gas produced off their coastlines will be among the first measures to be proposed if the Democrats take control of Congress in the November elections, members of that party's House caucus said Wednesday in New Orleans.

"Within the first 100 hours of the new Congress, you will see those things introduced," Caucus Chairman James Clyburn of South Carolina said at a news conference.
The briefing came at the end of a three-day trip that 25 House Democrats -- including their leader, Nancy Pelosi of California -- made at their own expense on the first anniversary of Katrina's assault to inspect the damage the storm inflicted on Louisiana and Mississippi.

"We were on hallowed ground, where people have lost their homes and their hearts," Pelosi said at a caucus breakfast. "This visit has convinced us that we need to do more."

Yet, none of these crucial initiatives were part of the Dems first "100 hours" agenda.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Anti-racist Rogers 

The Dead Pelican (11/23/06) brings attention to a lame State Democratic Party press release about how Jindal is sort of praying about running for governor just after being re-elected to the U.S House of Reps. Let's vivisect Chad Rogers' DP commentary, shall we?

For A Little Clarity...
November 23, 2006

A recent press release by the Louisiana Democratic Party (regarding Bobby Jindal) manages to accomplish something that is rare in the craft of writing. That is, it manages to win praise from racists and anti-Christians, while leaving wiggle room to deny that they said anything that's racist or anti-Christian.

Ok. First, can we have examples of the "racists" and "anti-Christians" who have praised this release? I'd love to see that list. Second, Chad writes as if this were his first encounter with the "politics of implication". Now, isn't that cute? Surely a political blogger from Louisiana could not be so dumb as to think that carefully worded (yet plausibly deniable) "implication" attacks are "rare" in campaign writing.

Remember that this criticism is coming from the same blogger who made the following sly association when he explained why he would've voted for Nagin over Mitch Landrieu in the N.O. mayoral race:

[The Landrieus] embody the kind of political incest that is reminiscent of the days when the Long family ran this state. Mitch Landrieu served for 16 years in the Louisiana legislature. Moon Landrieu once served as New Orleans' mayor, a city that is now one of nation's most dangerous.

Mitch's father Moon was mayor of New Orleans from 1970-1978. But Rogers uses that fact as a reason to re-elect Mayor Nagin who promised to retain an ineffective police chief who hasn't stopped increasing crime in a half-populated city. Along with Chad Rogers (and Rob Couhig), Rep. "Dollar" Bill Jefferson also preferred Mayor Nagin to Mitch Landrieu. And now, Mayor Nagin is doing whatever he can to assist in Jefferson's re-election. I wonder if we'll hear Chad make the same arguments against Jefferson's opponent, Karen Carter, that he made against Landrieu? They are there, aren't they? Carter comes from a political family, allied to a political organization (BOLD) that has been in existence since the late sixties. Since that time, New Orleans has become a very dangerous city, thus, whatever BOLD and Carter's family have been doing in recent decades hasn't worked. Right? Let's repudiate the "Politics of the Past", right?

Anyway, the DP commentary continues:

When they continually refer to Bobby Jindal as "Piyush," (his Indian name) they go out of their way to remind people that he's Asian, but stop just short of calling him "Indian."

Piyush is reportedly Jindal's official, legal name. ("Bobby" is what he's called himself since watching the Brady Bunch at age four.) And Bobby Jindal is not "Asian" (whatever the hell that unhelpful category could mean) as Rogers asserts, he's American. Jindal was born in America, and he was raised in America. I haven't seen Jindal explicitly self-identify as an "Indian-American" or an "Asian-American", but, either way, he is just as "American" as Mr. Rogers. (Probably more so, actually, because Jindal's relentless optimism is more aligned with the national character than is Rogers' perpetual pessimism.)

Why do State Democrats feel that it is necessary to emphasize "Piyush's" first name when his last name is also "Asian-Indian"? Well, because, unlike "Bobby", the name "Piyush" sounds ethnic and weird (to some), and is hard to pronounce. It is unfamiliar and non-Southern, and unappealing to the provincial Northern Louisiana voters who elected Kathleen Blanco in the first place. All of them know a "Bobby" that they can trust, but almost none of them know a "Piyush".
Was the Dem Press Release aimed, in part, at activating these "provincialisms"? Absolutely. Is that a sly, heinous tactic? Absolutely. (Btw, I anticipated this sort of maneuver two months ago.)

Would any of these provincial N. Louisianan voters ever have read the Dem Press Release? No. But will they hear about this as a "campaign issue" if underground media such as the Dead Pelican help midwife this story into the mainstream press? Quite possibly. Does that help or hurt Jindal? Probably hurts him, if the issue becomes whether saying his legal name is "racist" or not. Then EVERYONE starts talking about "Piyush", and asking: is that his real name? why did he change it? what's the big deal here? I hate all this political correctness b.s... etc..

Moreover, they headline their press release with the title "THOUGH SHALT GO FORTH AND SEEK CONTRIBUTIONS." This sounds an awful lot like one of the ten commandments. But so what? It's not like they said that Christians are greedy.

The issue they are attempting to raise is Jindal's hypocrisy, not "Christians are greedy". Rogers knows this, but he pretends not to.

And here's my favorite quote of all: "Jindal has finally admitted to a partial divine revelation that he wants to be governor."

People who pray about things aren't crazy. The press release didn't say that, and if you got that impression, then it's probably just your active imagination.

How can Rogers' misread this infantile Press Release? They weren't mocking prayer, they were mocking Jindal for praying about a decision they believe he has already made. Indeed, they say: "Instead of Piyush praying for a decision to run for governor which everyone knows he's made; he ought to pray for humility and maybe even a conscience." That's an endorsement of prayer, but Rogers sarcastically reacts as if they said something else (that people who pray are crazy). The arguments and subtexts are clear enough, but Rogers thinks it's necessary to alter and simplify them further. Why?

Which brings me to an earlier news item that I posted about the release. For some reason, people thought that I accused the Dems of being racists and anti-Christian. You may still think I'm doing it in this rant.

That simply isn't true; I'm just writing like the talented scribe who wrote the Democratic press release.

Wasn't Rogers' an English instructor at one time? Clearly, the "talented scribe" Rogers emulates is NOT "talented" at all. It was an awful, poorly written press release. Laughable, really. But this fact sucks all the "punch" from Rogers' conclusion, where he tries to play the same game, and denies having implied anything about Democrats.

Those of you non-racist, Christian people who don't happen to like Mr. Jindal should go back and read everything that I've written on the subject.

I haven't accused anybody of anything. I said that (in the opinion of some of my readers) the press release carried "ethnic and racial overtones"-- but I didn't call anyone a racist. I said that the release "seemed to" mock Jindal's faith, but I didn't accuse anyone of being anti-Christian.

I would estimate that about 50% of the time Rogers (purposefully?) either alters or mischaracterizes the quotes he uses in his Rants (See here, here and here for some recent examples.) He says that he didn't "accuse anybody of anything". But when you actually read what Rogers said, you'll notice that the title of his piece is "DEMS SLAM JINDAL WITH ETHNIC REFERENCES, RELIGIOUS MOCKING". That's a direct, unqualified statement about the Dems making "ethnic references" and "religious mocking".

In other words, I'm trying to write like the Democratic press office. It's a difficult approach to writing, one that involves careful rhetorical gymnastics that may cause some of Jindal's detractors to become very angry with me-- even though they clearly have no reason to be.

No, Jindal's detractors will not be "very angry" at all. First, they will laugh at the purported "subtexts" Rogers finds in the release. Then, some of the detractors will be jumping for joy that Rogers is trying to make an issue out of this (potent) non-issue. The smart, amoral strategists will celebrate Rogers' work as a "useful idiot", and hope he continues tracking this "story".

Then, yesterday, in an unbelievable display of chutzpah, Rogers proclaims that repudiating Longite populism is the overriding issue for a state stricken by catastrophe. He writes:

The usual suspects within the punditocracy are giddy with anticipation. They're itching for the bread and circuses that are typical of a Louisiana governor's race.

The ordinary citizen should not concern himself with such vaudeville. Not this time. The people should have one single-minded goal: repudiating the legacy of Huey P. Long and his toxic brand of populism that has infected this state since he became governor.

After inventing and/or spreading unretracted lies about Mitch Landrieu wearing make-up (and about the DNC) apparently NOW it's the time to not worry about "vaudeville". Oh, I see: when New Orleans had to choose a mayor this summer, "vaudeville" and "makeup" were fine concerns for Rogers to pursue... because, obviously, New Orleans didn't have more important things to worry about.... But now, a year out from the gubernatorial elections, we have a mission to repudiate.... LONG?!

It's amazing and baffling to see a Louisianan who NEVER discusses flood control or coastal wetlands restoration assert that the "ultimate starting point in fighting back to reclaim our state" is to support "anti-populists". Rogers thinks that voting for someone other than Blanco or Foster Campbell will "determine our destiny for years to come". Did electing Governor "Big Daddy" Foster exorcise the ghost of Huey?

Mr. Rogers: You know what will really ultimately "determine our destiny", NO MATTER WHO occupies the governor's office?

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"Rabbits are the bunniest" 

I dropped Pearlgirl off at her preschool and one of her Noggin kids show songs was still rattling around my head. It's a catchy ditty by Moose A. Moose called "Everywhere I Go", which includes the lyrics "Jokes are the funniest, rabbits are the bunniest... everywhere I go."

That "rabbits are the bunniest" line, especially after a Saints win is... an infectious groove.

Anyhow, driving in glorious Uptown, humming with carefree abandon, I felt a large winged insect fly into my hair. While swatting at it with one hand, I lowered the driver's side windows with the other. (I suppose my knee supported the steering wheel, but I can't recall.) So I thwacked the flying insect towards the open window, but it bounced off my seatbelt and landed on my mouth, walking around my lips, buzzing its loud wings. Fthwhzzzpmmmarghhzzthwippit! Whatever it was, it was a big one! Panicked, I swatted the creature off my face and it landed on the steering wheel. There, I finally got to inspect the troublemaker. It appeared to be a huge wasp that was connected to a much smaller "mate", and one of them had a huge sack on its tail that was excreting disgusting globules of yellow pus. I grabbed a paper towel from the backseat and scooped the gooey insects into my covered hand and squeezed hard. And I kept the crumpled towel in my fist for several blocks until I saw a trash receptacle where I could throw it all away. Before I did, I was tempted to open the paper towel for one last inspection, but I was too grossed out.

Now, a half hour later, my top lip feels kinda weird.

How was your morning?

Speaking of wayward hornets...
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