Saturday, June 23, 2007

"One evacuation order from free fall" 

Two years ago, the wise real estate gurus of New Orleans poo-pooed any talk of housing bubbles, and declared that there was "nothing in sight" to curb rising demand and rising housing prices.

Sunday we got a front page news story in the T-P titled "Glut of houses sends prices plummeting". It quotes a successful real estate professional who claims the current "depressed" market is "one evacuation order" away from free fall. Guh! Then the article helpfully reminds us that

As late as January, the National Association of Realtors said the New Orleans area was one of the hottest markets in the United States based on 2006's market performance.

How did our housing market go from "nothing in sight can stop us", to "hot hot hot", to suddenly "depressed" and one evacuation order from free fall? *

I'd like to recommend, once again, Nassim Taleb's Black Swan. It's on my "Get Smart Quick" reading list, and I think it will be very accessible to New Orleanians who understand that it's not the "average" strength of the floodwall that matters, it's the overlooked weak points that can change your life.

* Perhaps one of the reasons for the inventory glut is that New Orleans' professional class is discouraged by Nagin, Blanco and Bush's handling of the "recovery", and they are fed up and leaving (or just not returning). Or perhaps insurance and other costs of living increased too much for them. Or perhaps its the Post-Katrina rise in crime, or the lack of commitment to stronger flood protection.

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Power of Art 

I've enjoyed Simon Schama's Power of Art series recently shown on PBS. For a TV show on fine art, it's done quite well-- insightful, visually thrilling and edited in a way that won't bore the Digital Generation. I recommend it.

The episode on Picasso's Guernica referenced this hideous and symbolic maneuver, which occurred after Colin Powell made his infamous 2003 Iraq presentation at the U.N.. (Read the link.)

In the article, an art critic says "Guernica has become for people around the world visceral, visual evidence of the true nature of war, a perspective very unlike the heroic and optimistic one so often presented by politicians who have never seen war close at hand." Then an Australian Labour MP and U.N. delegation member is also quoted, saying: "There is a profound symbolism in pulling a shroud over this great work of art... For throughout the debate on Iraq ... there has been a remarkable degree of obfuscation, evasion and denial, and never more so than when it comes to the grim realities of military action."

Luckily, our troops will be removed from those "grim realities" in Iraq very soon. At least, that's what they keep telling us.

July 28, 2005:

The top U.S. military leader in Iraq said Wednesday there could be substantial withdrawals of some of the 135,000 U.S. troops in the country as early as next spring.

June 25, 2006

The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

June 22, 2007

The U.S. may be able to reduce combat forces in Iraq by next spring if Iraq's own security forces continue to grow and improve, a senior American commander said Friday.

(H/T to Kagro X at Kos for the links.)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Vitter is in for a Rudy awakening 

The breaking news about Fred Thompson is that he will formally announce his candidacy for President on Tuesday.

That's exciting.

I wonder how Senator Vitty's Presidential pick is doing? What's the latest on Giuliani? It's definitely been a rough week for Team Rudy, but hopefully the worst is over and Giuliani can get back on the offensive, where he's most comfortable.

Oops, maybe not.

Advocates for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy on Friday urged presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani to fire a priest who was suspended from the church and then hired by the ex-mayor's security consulting business. A spokeswoman for Giuliani said the firm had no plans to fire Monsignor Alan Placa.

Placa, a childhood friend of Giuliani's, has defended himself for years over allegations in a 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report that detailed decades-old abuses by priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.

None of the priests were ever prosecuted or even identified because statutes of limitations had expired long before the district attorney's investigation. Days after the report, Placa acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that he was implicated in the grand jury report but he denied that he had ever abused children.

"There's ample evidence showing that Placa consistently protected predators, shrewdly deceived victims, and covered up horrific clergy sex crimes," said a statement from David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP also contends that he abused children.

Placa was suspended from his duties as a priest in June 2002 after the abuse allegations surfaced. A lawyer, he currently works as a consultant for Giuliani Partners.

Placa was unavailable for comment Friday, said company spokeswoman Sunny Mindel. She said Giuliani was standing by his childhood friend.

Indeed, the aforementioned grand jury report stated

that an unidentified "Priest F," which Monsignor Placa said referred to him, made improper advances "again and again and again." The report called him "cautious but relentless in pursuing his victims" and said he had groped schoolboys, hiding his moves behind a newspaper, book or poster.

This sordid story has been lurking under the surface for years, and has yet to erupt. If and when it does, will Vitty continue to stand by Rudy, just as Rudy stands by Placa?

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Couhig endorses son for Legislature 

A highly esteemed Nola blogger sent me a copy of a fundraising letter Rob Couhig sent out to his supporters on behalf of his son, who is going to run against Rep. Cheryl Gray for LA House District 98. Here's how it begins:

Last year, when I ran for Mayor, I was grateful to have your support. Even though I was not elected, I have tried to work everyday to advance the cause of this great city. Along the way, I have had some political victories and experienced great personal frustrations trying to move the city forward. The biggest problem that I see is a lack of leadership in City Hall, Baton Rouge and Washington.

So, a year after endorsing Nagin for mayor, Rob Couhig believes the "biggest problem" to moving forward is "a lack of leadership in City Hall [and B.R. and D.C.]".

And, a year after helping to defeat Moon Landrieu's son, Rob Couhig asks New Orleanians to donate money to his own son's political career.

I see.

This is chutzpah on an Olympian scale. I mean, before Couhig makes any more endorsements, could he at least explain and apologize for his previous one? Last year, Couhig said he endorsed the incompetent laughingstock Ray Nagin because Nagin's philosophy was "closer to his own". Since then, Nagin has travelled extensively, fundraised doggedly, mouthed off stupidly and complained bitterly. He let violent crime skyrocket to international notice, while refusing to replace his ineffective Police Chief. Nagin also hung around with Rep Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson (those paragons of conservative philosophy!), and endorsed disgraced Congressman Dollar Bill Jefferson.*

Rob Couhig helped enable Mayor Nagin's re-election, and now he writes to us about his "great personal frustrations" over the lack of leadership in City Hall. Incredibly, Couhig is using this point about New Orleans' "lack of leadership" to make the case for his son, the aspiring public servant, to whom you should donate. (Here's a tip: one way to avoid the frustrations caused by ineffective leaders is to... not re-elect them! Here's another tip: Four more years of Nagin is NOT better than eight years of Landrieu, because the excruciating repetition of Nagin's mistakes slows time to a crawl. It's like a waiting room or an endless loop. We wake up each morning during a Nagin term, and it's "Groundhell Day" all over again.)

So, after persuading his supporters to re-elect the incompetent laughingstock rather than the competent liberal, Couhig complains about the "leadership" problem in the City and asks his supporters to fund his son's campaign. No apologies, no explanations, no admission of guilt or error. Nothing.

Sorry, but I think that's bug f*ck crazy. Bug. F*ck. Crazy.

Couhig's letter refers to the telephone poll I mentioned on Monday, and says the results of the poll show that his son has an "excellent chance to win" and has "the best prospect of beating the incumbent".

Ok, whatever. I don't know much about Couhig's son, Rob E. Couhig (III?), other than that he has the same name as his father (Rob E. Couhig jr). Couhig says his son is "well educated" and "the hardest worker I know", and that he shares his father's conservative philosophy.

That's fine. Here's what I want to know: Did Rob Couhig III support Nagin's re-election? Did he vote for him, and did he campaign for him with his father? What is his current view of Nagin? If negative, does he think his support for Nagin was a horrible mistake? What is the extent of RCIII's business experience? Also, a commenter from Uptown says lil Couhig "still lives at home with mommy". Is that true?

Before the election, I may wish to place the following sign throughout the Uptown precincts:

Couhig Endorsed Nagin

It won't take much more than that.

Update: This post has been edited for clarity and accuracy.
* If Mitch Landrieu had been elected, and done any one of those things, Louisiana Conservatives would never let him live it down.

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Who let the hellhounds out? 

Two weeks ago, my favorite American Zombie wrote:

I'm gonna make a prediction: the dominoes will start to fall beneath [Rep. William Jefferson].... from family members, to non-profits, to School Board members, and on and on.
I'm building an altar and making a sacrifice to Papa Legba....asking him to open the crossroads and let the hell hounds loose.

Then Wednesday, after commenting on a former School Board president's guilty plea to accepting bribes from Jefferson's brother, "Mose Jeff", Dambala writes:

I paid that sacrifice to Papa Legba 3 days later at the crossroads on Tchoupitoulas and Cadiz...he took it out in blood, skin and bone. This voodoo business isn't for the timid.

What most New Orleanians understand intuitively, Dambala knows specifically-- because of painstaking research into corrupt School Board members and politicians. I've no doubt he would sacrifice his blood, skin and bones to expose the corrupt greedheads who bring this city down*.

It's time for justice to prevail, because there are no "honorable explanations" for sacrificing the children and citizens of New Orleans on an altar of greed.

For those who are interested, there will be a large voodou ceremony tomorrow evening. Richard has the details.

Update: For those who are interested there will be a large Voodoo Fest the weekend before Halloween, headlined by Rage Against the Machine.

* Whether "Papa Legba" had anything to do with Dambala's injuries on Tchoup and Cadiz is a matter of faith, I suppose.)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

These crime quotes practically blog themselves 

The Times Picayune story titled "Epidemic crime killing recovery, senator says" begins like this:

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday brought national attention to New Orleans' tops-in-the-nation murder rate with the panel's chairman calling violent crime the "most serious threat" to the city's post-hurricane recovery.


[New Orleans Police Deputy Chief John Bryson] proclaimed that New Orleans "has been one of the safest cities in the world."

He acknowledged it may not appear so, but said it will "once again" be the safest once the "drug situation" and "economic situation" come under control. NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley is in Norway this week at a conference.

Those stupid Senators!! Can't they see New Orleans is actually on the verge of extreme safety? We just need to get the "drug situation" and the "economic situation" under control, that's all. Once we do that, we'll be laughing like lovers, and safe as shotgun houses, and the like.

For some reason, when I read Chief Riley was in Norway I had a flashback to a very unfortunate conversation I had with my father in law some years ago. I forget why, but shortly after getting married I told him that there was a Norwegian Seaman's Church on Prytania near our apartment. All well and good. But for some reason, I felt the need to be perfectly clear:

"'Seamen' as in, you know, sailors... heh" then I grimaced in embarrassment and shut up.

(As if he thought I meant Norwegian Semen's Church, where they pray to Thor's immaculate ejaculate or something.)

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Here are the new interactive USACE maps. Enjoy them. They illustrate flood protection levels we thought we already had in 2005.

Yet officials like to remind us how much of an improvement this flood protection system is over the one that catastrophically failed during Katrina. So if you trust the Corps, this is what 1 in 100 year storms will do to New Orleans (after repairs are finished in 2011). And if you live an average life span in New Orleans, chances are you'll likely get to see exactly how well these maps correspond to reality. Doesn't a federal commitment to nothing more than WEAK CATEGORY 3 FLOOD PROTECTION make life more interesting?

The New York Times printed a dark blue picture of the 1 in 500 year storm scenario for New Orleans, which basically shows the city totally immersed in 8+ feet of water. But that level of protection for one of America's urban cultural jewels is apparently too expensive, and too undeserved. (The Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, on the other hand, is built to withstand a 1 in 935 year "event".)

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Maybe we should print our own money 

"Crescent Cash" (or whatever) might catch on and help keep the local economy local. And we can seem ever more Euro-Carribean and different. Just don't put Nagin or Jefferson's face on the bills. Use a Fleur de Lis or something.


(via Cunning Realist)

Update: Apologies to Mr Clio who discussed this idea back in February.


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"When they tell you hello, they're lying" 

Da Paper's East Jeff bureau reports:

After more than a year of cascading delays, the Army Corps of Engineers has scuttled plans to install temporary sluice gates to block hurricane storm surges at eight Jefferson Parish drainage pumping stations.

The decision will leave the pump stations without the layer of extra protection for at least two more hurricane seasons while the corps works on permanent barriers against a 100-year storm, a corps official said Tuesday.
"What I've found mostly with the Corps of Engineers is when they tell you hello, they're lying," Councilman Louis Congemi said.

Perhaps Congemi can take some of the "taco trucks" that spoil his fine Parish, and reconfigure them into temporary sluice gates.

What I've mostly found with Councilman Louis Congemi is that when he tells me hello, there's a stunning lack of salsa verde on his breath.

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Former School Board Pres pleads guilty, says she took $100k bribe from "Mose Jeff" 

Today's the T-P's Gordon Russell reports:

Former Orleans Parish School Board president and self-styled corruption fighter Ellenese Brooks-Simms will plead guilty in federal court today to charges that she accepted more than $100,000 in bribes from Mose Jefferson -- the eldest brother of indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson -- in exchange for supporting a multimillion-dollar math curriculum contract, sources close to the case said.
Court documents slated to be filed today will implicate an unnamed businessman as the source of the bribe money in the scheme to land a contract for a local firm that developed a computer-based system to teach math to at-risk students, sources said.

Sources familiar with the case say that businessman is Mose Jefferson, the congressman's brother and chief political strategist, and the firm is JRL Enterprises, which markets the "I CAN Learn" curriculum. The firm paid Mose Jefferson a lobbying fee of at least $500,000, the sources said. Mose Jefferson will not be charged today, the sources said.

Last November, when I argued against William Jefferson's re-election, I asked "How much more 'incredible selfishness' might be uncovered in Jefferson's machine in coming weeks and months?". Apparently, a lot. The T-P has a helpful review:

Mose Jefferson has attracted the attention of federal investigators on at least two previous occasions. This month, in the 16-count indictment handed up against William Jefferson in Virginia, he emerged as a key player who was hired by firms that his brother, the congressman, allegedly helped with trade deals.

Separately, local FBI officials last year announced an investigation of nonprofit organizations with close ties to Mose Jefferson and other family members after he wound up behind the wheel of a $30,000 car that had been donated to the city after Katrina.

The article has more information on Ms. Brooks-Simms, who was thoroughly beaten in the School Board "reform" elections of 2004. It also goes into JRL Enterprises, and the Congressional earmarks it received from Dollar Bill and former GOP Speaker of the House candidate Bill Livingston.

The important thing to know here is that William Jefferson will almost assuredly be in prison in 18 months or so (perhaps with his brother), and his political machine will be totally dismantled. Of course, he will go down swinging, and continue to embarrass and disserve his district up until the time he's convicted.

But I suppose this is the eventuality those "strategic" Jefferson voters were hoping for in December. After all, he was running against a liberal.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Funner and funner 

Rudolph Giuliani's South Carolina campaign chairman has been indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Will Senator David Vitter, Giuliani's Southern Regional Chairman, care to comment on this embarrassment?

Probably not.

But we must never forget that it's Giuliani's "sound judgment" that Vitter finds most attractive. You see, a President Rudy will make good judicial appointments, and surround himself with competent people. Hopefully most of them will not be "maf" or coke dealers.

Three months ago, when I said that "we'll have a lot of fun over [Vitty's] endorsement as Rudy's '08 campaign unfurls", you didn't believe me*.

And now look: our fun meter is "pegged" to the utmost! And I promise you, things are just getting started.

Three years ago Rudy came down to the gret stet and did some lame fundraisers for Vitter's 2004 Senatorial campaign, and now Vitty finds himself obligated to endorse Rudy's presidential effort. He has to tell Louisianans with a straight face that his endorsement was based strictly on Rudy's "leadership" and "judgment".

Tee hee.

* Except for Donnie.

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New Orleans bloggers represent! 

Please take this survey, and help Emily Metzgar with her research on blogs and their affect on state politics. If you read blogs or publish your own, she'd appreciate your input. (It goes quickly, and you don't have to live in Louisiana to participate.)


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Monday, June 18, 2007

Aaiggh! This is how those dreaded political dynasties get started 

A highly esteemed blogger from Uptown informed me that he received a call from a telephone polling firm late last week. At least one of the questions was along the lines of "How would you view it if Rob Couhig's son ran for office?". (I'm not sure which office the poll asked about, but the esteemed blogger lives in Bobby Jindal's Congressional District 1, fwiw.)

During last year's mayoral race, I remember hearing rumors about Couhig's endorsement of the incompetent laughingstock Ray Nagin. The idea was that Couhig endorsed Nagin so that Mitch Landrieu wouldn't become mayor and couldn't rally the dreaded "New Orleans vote" against Rep. Jindal in the 2007 Governor's race (and against whoever opposes Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2008). In return, Jindal would endorse Couhig when he ran for Jindal's vacated House seat.

So I wonder if Couhig's son will run instead, and I wonder if Jindal will endorse him.


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Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, came to New Orleans to help raise some money for local Ronald McDonald House charities. She also presented 4 checks to schools from McDonald's Corporation.

The former wife of Prince Andrew and mother of two princesses signed copies of her children's novel and took pictures with children, fulfilling what she said is her role as global mother for ill and needy children.

"I'm a loudspeaker for whispers," she said.
The duchess also visited parts of the 9th Ward on Saturday morning and met with residents to hear about their struggles to rebuild their homes.

Ferguson vowed to call Gov. Kathleen Blanco to voice her concerns about the sluggish pace of Road Home grants.

I don't know if Duchess Ferguson called the Queen Bee herself, but I do know that she called Blanco's Road Home program and they didn't believe it was really Fergie and hung up on her.



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Perhaps Fema could audit Big Insurance like it does the working poor. 

From USA TODAY's weekend edition "cover story", we learn:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency overpaid victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes by at least $485 million and is struggling to reclaim the money from tens of thousands of people it says shouldn't have been given aid, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
The back-to-back storms triggered $7 billion in aid for rental housing and property replacement. With so much need, it was a "no-brainer" that FEMA should overpay up front, said Donna Dannels, who runs FEMA's Individual Assistance program.

$485 million is a big number, but it represents an overpayment of only 7%. And FEMA is indeed sending out the letters informing flood victims of their excessive benefits.

Occasionally I help out one of my tenants with his FEMA rental assistance forms (he's illiterate). The other day, I had to tell him that the most recent FEMA letter he received stated that he must give back $10k in assistance he received over the past 18 months. "Why?" he asked. "It doesn't say", I replied. Then he commenced to kneel and pray, and I left his room. This man lost everything in the flood, and now washes dishes in a great restaurant in the Quarter. He makes minimum wage, and $10k represents about two-thirds of his yearly income.

Now, let's take a look at a story about FEMA that you WON'T see on the front page of USA TODAY. It concerns potential "authorized overbilling". In her Sunday column, Stephanie Grace ably summarized the issue:

Fearing the scope of the catastrophe might delay getting money into the hands of policy holders, administrators of the National Flood Insurance Program, part of the same Federal Emergency Management Agency that so spectacularly botched the government's response to the storm, removed roadblocks and created expedited procedures to issue flood settlements quickly.

But here's the rub: The new rules relied on the insurance industry to also do the right thing.

That, needless to say, is where things have gone haywire.

Evidence is mounting that many adjusters who settle flood claims on the government's behalf -- but actually work for the private companies that insure against wind damage -- have used their dual roles to jack up the claims against the government flood program while minimizing costs to their own employers.

And they seems to have done so with the Flood Insurance Program's acquiescence, if not blessing.
Some public adjusters who don't work for insurance companies uncovered evidence that Allstate adjusters used two different sets of units costs, containing low prices for materials billed to Allstate and significantly higher costs for items billed to the flood program.

In an unrelated whistleblower lawsuit, a group of ex-insurance adjusters allege that eight major companies systematically shifted repair costs from private insurers to the government. In some cases, they say, the flood program was billed for major repairs to properties that suffered little or no flooding.
The size of the flood payout has been used as an argument not to help rebuild Louisiana.

The Bush administration continues to stubbornly, misleadingly insist that flood settlements be considered recovery aid, as if the money is a handout rather than a benefit that recipients had paid for. If it turns out that the flood numbers include a huge federal subsidy to the big insurance corporations, that makes Bush's attitude all the more offensive.

But let's keep the front-page news focused on FEMA's collections from those lucky welftards who got flooded, and not on FEMA's handouts to big insurance companies during a time of record profits (for them) and unprecedented disaster (for us).

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"All my dreams were just islands in the sky" 

$716 million "jazz district" is "on the brink of collapse":

A year ago, the owner of the New Orleans Hyatt Regency hotel stood shoulder to shoulder with the mayor, the governor and another private investor, all beaming over their plans to create a $716 million, 20-acre "jazz district," including a redesigned 1,100-room hotel, a new City Hall and Civil District Courthouse, a jazz museum, a spacious park and outdoor concert venues.

Now, Laurence Geller feels like he stands alone.

Geller's company, Strategic Hotels & Resorts of Chicago, is the only one spending money on the project -- which appears on the brink of collapse...

Though Mayor Ray Nagin, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other officials trumpeted the jazz district as the cornerstone of a reinvigorated downtown -- Nagin boasted it would be the largest capital project in state history -- Geller said he hasn't spoken to either office in months, and he sees no evidence they've lifted a finger to promote the project or secure government money to finance it.

That is just faboo.

Speaking of $700+ million investments in New Orleans vanishing into the ether, whatever happened to the AFL CIO's Economic Development program for the Gulf Coast? Are we still on schedule to build 5,000 to 10,000 new affordable housing units in New Orleans? We sure could use them right now.

And speaking of good ideas like investments in affordable housing, whatever happened to Nagin's light rail network proposal, which would connect New Orleans (and MSY) to Baton Rouge (and beyond)? It would also assist the city during storm season evacuations.

And speaking of evacuations-- and those who couldn't/wouldn't-- how's the fundraising for the Arc de Federal Flood going? According to UNOP planners the proposed monument will "will transform the selected section of town and will reinforce the notion of New Orleans as the most European of American cities and as the leading city of the Caribbean".

We're New Orleans! Drier than Venice, and richer than Haiti. Aren't we cute?

Seriously, why do the post-storm proposals of a jazz district, a light rail network, and ten thousand more affordable housing units seem like impossible dreams right now?

Much less Category 5 flood protection?

The Governor proclaimed that today is officially Louisiana Recovery Day.

That is just faboo.

Update: Unbeknownst to me, Greg had already wrote nearly the exact same post at Suspect Device. Actually, his post has better links, so definitely check it out if you already haven't.

Title is a lyric from the song "Islands" by the
Suicide Machines.

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