Friday, July 27, 2007

Where'd "moral" come from? 

Curiously, the T-P's Bruce Alpert adds an inaccurate word in his story about a short-lived misunderstanding between Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. David Vitter:

Vitter, who in 1998 wrote that there had to be consequences for the infidelity of President Clinton, admitted July 9 to "a very serious moral sin" after his telephone number appeared on a Washington, D.C., escort service list dating back to his days in the House of Representatives.

Vitter has made three statments about his link to the D.C. Madam, and at no time did he use the redundant phrase "moral sin". On July 9, he apologized and described the matter as "a very serious sin". In an email to his supporters, he used the same quote. Then on July 17 Vitter vaguely apologized for "these actions from my past".

(By the way, I'm going to take this opportunity to apologize for all the "actions from my past" which may have disappointed you. There, I did it. I feel so liberated now.)

This "moral" thing isn't a big deal, but for those who have followed the story closely, it is jarring to read some new word included in Vitter's "admission". He'll be parsing his vague statements sooner than later, I believe, so it's important to keep them perfectly accurate.

You'd think the T-P would be more careful when handling Vitter's exquisitely vague words after they quickly corrected an unsupported (but reasonable) inference they made last Friday about which "New Orleans stories" Vitter was disputing.

Remember, Vitter never specified what the "serious sin" was. We cannot rule out the possibility that he was apologizing for a serious aesthetic sin.

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Silly boy, ya self destroyer 

Well I fell asleep, then I woke feelin’ kinda’ queer
Lola looked at me and said, ooh you look so weird.
She said, man, there’s really something wrong with you.
One day you’re gonna’ self-destruct.
You’re up, you’re down, I can’t work you out
You get a good thing goin’ then you blow yourself out.

Silly boy ya’ self-destroyer. silly boy ya’ self-destroyer

-- "Destroyer" by the Kinks

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Fires are burning in New Orleans, and not just self-destructive ones, either. Beyond the simmering fires Senator Vitter is trying to ignore, there's a fire in the District Attorney's office:

For the second time since they first brought the case three years ago, Orleans Parish prosecutors Thursday dismissed all charges against a man accused of robbing and shooting rock 'n' roll legend Ray Davies in the Faubourg Marigny.
...
District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office said charges were dropped because Davies, of London, who emerged during the 1960s British Invasion as the frontman for The Kinks, didn't appear Thursday for trial.

Prosecutors sent word of the trial to Davies only a few days ago, asking him to come testify, according to the rock musician. [The trial date was set in May.]

We've been here before. 130 years ago, after a deadly yellow fever epidemic, New Orleans' greatest journalist used "fiery" images to describe the condition of the city:

Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.

What are "sackcloth and ashes", anyway?

Sackcloth was most often made of coarse, black goat's hair. As its name indicates, it was used for sacks, but was also customarily worn by mourners, or as a sign of deep repentance and humility. Ashes were often included as a further symbol of personal abhorrence and chagrin.

"Deep repentance and humility"... "symbol of personal abhorrence and chagrin"... that's interesting.

And speaking of the state of Ohio...

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Update: Adrastos has more.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

You're approved for disappointment 

NYT:

The Small Business Administration, which runs the federal government’s largest program to help disaster victims rebuild their houses, improperly canceled thousands of loans it had promised homeowners along the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricanes, a government audit has found.

The agency canceled nearly 8,000 loans without calling the borrowers or mailing them a notice, according to the audit by the agency’s inspector general.


In the months after the storm, the SBA helped Louisiana by denying 90% of small business loan applications. Then, two SBA advisors lied to me about a tax law matter, and recommended that I suspend my application. Then the Bushies wanted the SBA to raise interest rates on disaster loans, and now an audit reveals that the SBA improperly cancelled thousands of loans.

Heckuva job, guys. Heckuva job.

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Update: Speaking of bad loans and disappointing results...

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The reason you're leaving 

There's a USA TODAY article on the softening New Orleans housing market:

Insurance rates, which have as much as tripled since Katrina, are deflating sales... The costlier the homes, the thicker the [inventory] glut.
...
"Professionals are moving away, and we're not adding the same jobs back," says Ivan Miestchovich, director of the University of New Orleans' Center for Economic Development and Real Estate Market Data Center.
...
Some who have held out until now have finally decided to leave, concerned that the region's prospects for a full recovery are dimming as time passes. In the New Orleans area, about a third of residents are considering leaving in the next two years, according to a March 2007 poll by the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center. That's virtually unchanged from the center's survey five months earlier.

Residents mentioned frustration with city government as a key reason why they'd leave. For the first time in 20 years, complaints about city government rival gripes about crime, the center's research shows.

Rodney Montz, an advertising executive, is among those thinking of leaving. Montz, 44, says he's tired of seeing vacant tracts of land marring the landscape and residents still waiting for state grants to arrive before they can rebuild.
...
One nagging concern that has kept Montz here — at least for now — is fear that he won't be able to fetch a decent price for his 2,700-square-foot house, which he spent four years renovating himself. A real estate agent has suggested that he put it on the market for $675,000 — about 20% less than what he was told his house was worth a year ago.
...
In the fourth quarter of 2005, displaced residents bid up median prices by 27% in the New Orleans area, the NAR says. But as sellers have increasingly outnumbered buyers, prices have been depressed for months.


Here's a photo of Mr. Montz which accompanied the USA TODAY article (it was taken by Eileen Blass).



Why in hell would he wear a t-shirt with the word "Nagin" on it? For all I know, it may say "incompetent laughingstock" on the back-- I'm unfamiliar with that particular design-- but even so, was any thought given to how that shirt might look in a national publication? (I gotta assume so. After all, his business is advertising.) Is it possible that Montz is an actual Nagin supporter, even as he considers leaving New Orleans, and even as he is concerned that his "dry zip" property (which probably appreciated 27% immediately after the flood) is now down 20% from its inflated peak?

I'm puzzled by guys who are considering leaving New Orleans, but wear "Nagin" shirts for national news stories. Was the "Allstate" shirt in the wash?

Unlike the infectious subprime/Alt A meltdown plaguing the rest of the country, the New Orleans housing market is primarily suffering from skyrocketing insurance costs, and brutal governmental incompetence at all levels:

local-- Nagin's inability to reduce crime and manage City Hall bureaucracy.

state-- Blanco's excruciating Road Home fiasco.

federal-- no commitment to a reasonable level of flood protection or wetlands restoration; too much red tape tying up recovery monies.

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Update: Commenter says that the Fleur de Lis on Montz's shirt makes an "F", and should be read as "F--- Nagin". That's cute... but way too much of an inside joke, and far too prone to misinterpretation by a national audience.
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Update #2: Ashley enumerates the reasons he's staying.
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Update #3: Mr. Montz, co-publisher of the New Orleans Levee, responds in the comments.
* (ignore the video)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Didn't want to go there... 

But can't resist the urge to link.

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Harry Lee and the Chamber of Secrets 

Here are excerpts from three recent news reports summarizing a portion of Sen Vitter's political career in light of his newly-disclosed links to the D.C. Madam. For our money, Carrie Budoff's piece in the Politico is the best. However, each article has a detailed nugget or two that is worth highlighting and preserving. Please pardon the repetition while you read carefully:

ABC:


There were whispers about Vitter having an affair with a prostitute around the time he was contemplating a gubernatorial run in 2002, but nothing ever was reported in the mainstream media.

In May 2002, he opted out of that race
, announcing that he and Wendy had entered counseling because of the "cumulative stress from working in a high-pressure job, living in two cities, building a house, raising four young kids including a newborn, having our campaign activities based at home and traveling the state considering a run for governor."

But the next year, after Sen. John Breaux, D-La., announced in 2003 that he wouldn't seek re-election, Vitter within days announced he would run to succeed him, and the national GOP did everything it could to clear the way for the man who said he represented "mainstream Louisiana values."


Wapo:


Vitter sought to continue his quick political rise by running for governor in 2003, but he dropped from that race citing family problems. At the time, he denied his decision had anything to do with rumors about his frequenting of Louisiana bordellos. "My wife and I have been in counseling for a few months now," Vitter told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser in May 2002. "Running for governor requires a lot of travel, fund-raising and pressure. We've decided to put family first."

But one year later when Sen. John Breaux (D) decided not to seek reelection in 2004, Vitter quickly jumped into the race. The rumors that had dogged him during his short bid for governor didn't reemerge, and Vitter won easily -- becoming the first Republican to be elected to the Senate from Louisiana since Reconstruction.


Politico


Vitter briefly considered a run for governor but bowed out in May 2002, citing strains on his marriage. He announced that he and his wife had entered counseling.

"This wasn't in response to any dramatic issue or event, but to the cumulative stress from working in a high-pressure job, living in two cities, building a house, raising four young kids including a newborn, having our campaign activities based at home and traveling the state considering running for governor,” Vitter said in the 2002 statement.

A week after the announcement, Vitter was forced to publicly address allegations that he had visited a New Orleans bordello, according to the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La. He denied the charge, calling it “a rumor and attack campaign” led by enemies to destroy his character and name.

In the run-up to his Senate campaign in 2004, Vitter was confronted again, this time on a talk radio show. And once again he called the allegations, circulated by political opponents, "absolutely and completely untrue."


It's interesting to note that David Vitter's May 2002 announcement that he would not run for Governor occurred just when rumors and allegations about his affairs with prostitutes were being aired. The above reports make it seem as if Vitter was being proactive by announcing that he wouldn't run for Governor; he thereby shrewdly allowed the bubbling rumors to die down, and they never returned with much force during his Senatorial campaign. This characterization of Vitter being "proactive" is reminiscent of the initial reports when Vitter first disclosed his links to the D.C. Madam. Initially, Vitter's short vague confession looked like a preemptive move-- at least until Time and Hustler revealed that their calls had prompted Vitter's statement. Similarly, perhaps Vitter's decision to drop out of the Governor's race in 2002 only appears "preemptive". Was it really a farsighted move for him to drop out, or was that decision prompted by something else? Was there a much more specific and pointed reason that forced Vitter's hand? In short, did Vitty get "hustled" by knowledgable enemies in 2002, as well as 2007?

My memory about the events in 2002 was jogged while reviewing James Gill's T-P column from 7/11, which discusses how Vitter's enemies are enjoying his current discomfort. One of those enemies is Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee:

Lee has been waiting for this moment for years, and has indeed more than once threatened to reveal dark secrets about Vitter, although never following through. Lee pulled back at the last minute, for instance, after threatening to expose Vitter for nameless sins when he first ran for Bob Livingston's old U.S. House seat in 1999.

Didn't Harry Lee also threaten to "reveal dark secrets about Vitter" again in 2002? If memory serves, didn't Lee either schedule or threaten to schedule a press conference in May of 2002, just prior to Vitter's announcement that he would "put family first" and opt out of the Governor's race? Like the calls from Hustler and Time magazine, did Sheriff Lee have something to do with Vitter's decision in 2002? Actual reporting and commentary on this is scant, so please feel free to send any confirmations or refutations about this recollection in the comments or to YRHT contact email.

Assuming Lee did again threaten "to reveal dark secrets" about Vitter in 2002, do you think he would he have done so without having solid evidence? Would he just bluff, and make some cryptic but vague remarks about Vitter's "moral fitness", OR did the Sheriff have "proof" in his backpocket about Vitter's "nameless sins"? Did Lee even know about Vitter's "New Orleans stories", or perhaps did Lee know about a different "Metairie story" that took place under his own jurisdiction? And if Lee did have solid evidence, why did he back down at the last minute in 1999 when Vitter ran against David Treen for U.S. Rep? And why didn't Lee make threats in 2004, when the GOP cleared the way for Vitter's Senatorial campaign?

Vitter is practically daring the press to find "hard evidence" of him whoring in New Orleans. The conventional wisdom is that Sen. Vitter will survive unless some evidence beyond the testimony of hookers is revealed. One wonders: what evidence, if any, is Harry Lee sitting on-- and why?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Eddie Jordan remains 

I haven't been able to comment on the controversy about D.A. Eddie Jordan's ineffectiveness, which came to a head during the Vitter scandal. I found the discussion in the local blogosphere highly illuminating, and would recommend the following posts.

First, Brian describes his "Defeated" feeling, after some professional shit-stirrers came to Jordan's public defense last week.

Here is David's take on a local columist's reaction to a mistake Councilwoman Midura made while calling for Jordan's resignation.

And here's Celsus' "contrarian" response.

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I'll add these related points:

As we know, the D.A.'s office is only partially responsible for the city's ineffective criminal justice system. The Mayor and Superintendant Riley deserve a lot of blame also.

For example, according to this week's Gambit (pg 18), the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission says that "The number one reason for the explosion in crime is the lack of a crime lab-- that's not the DA's fault". The Gambit states: "Construction on the new facility on the UNO Lakefront campus has stalled because contractors want to be paid quarterly, and the process is bottled up at City Hall, [the MCC president] says".

I blame Nagin for sticking with Superintendant Riley, even after New Orleans became a murder capital and residents took to the streets in protest. After Riley proudly declared in November that "Our crime strategy is second to none in this city", he was recently forced to gladly accept a "reform plan" for his department produced by a consulting company that had evaluated the crime strategies in other cities.

Still, the new plan was disappointing. This is how the Times Picayune editorial characterized it:

The report... does include specific recommendations. But some of them could have been put together by a casual observer of the department. And some are so simplistic that you have to wonder why on earth the department isn't already doing them.

There is no discussion of the department's weaknesses, which presumably led to the recommendations. The report lacks context, which is sorely needed. Superintendent Riley said the report is a "road map to a more professional police department." But even that is gauzy language.

What does he mean? That officers will know how to write usable reports, will understand evidence-gathering techniques and will turn in completed reports on time to prosecutors? Does it mean they will show up for court? Will they treat residents with respect?
...
The report indicates that more training is needed at essentially every level of the department, which no doubt is true. An unflinching assessment of the general skills of the force would have been more useful for the department and the public. Perhaps the department got that sort of detailed analysis, but nothing like that made it into the report.

Contrast this approach with former Police Superintendent Richard Pennington, who took a highly detailed consultant's report and made dramatic reforms to the department in 1996. He also promised that he would cut the city's out-of-control murder rate in half by 2000, or resign.

He didn't have to step down in 2000 because he succeeded.

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Quotes from "Ringside Politics" 

Here is a link to a video of Jeff Crouere's Ringside Politics TV show that aired this weekend. Journalist Chris Tidmore, Republican Vincent Bruno and Vinny Mosca (the Canal St. Madam's lawyer) were all guests. Bruno and Tidmore reviewed the history of the Wendy Cortez angle to the L'affaire Vitter.


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Update: Here are particular portions of the video that I wanted to transcribe and save in print. (I believe this is accurate, but make no guarantees.) :


Crouere: ...Should [Vitter] resign?

Tidmore: I think at this point, yes... one of the things that's going on with David Vitter is this wasn't a one-time indiscretion. Most people could forgive that. This, and I can guarantee having interviewed Wendy Cortez, been backed up by the Times Picayune and their allegations now-- is that this is a pattern of behavior we have seen over the years, over and over, and at the time that David Vitter denied, used very colorful metaphors... to me privately to deny that this had happened, he was actually seeing the D.C. Madam. So I think that goes over the limit and it's tarnishing Louisiana's reputation nationally.

Crouere: Basically he said the New Orleans stories are not true.... Without any more concrete evidence linking him to any of these New Orleans prostitutes, the story ends, doesn't it Chris?

Tidmore: Unless something more comes out.... I want to tell you that the Times Picayune reported only a very small percentage of the information they had. And Politically, I couldn't understand Mr. Vitter's justification to say 'I'm sorry for Washington but nothing happened in New Orleans' because, effectively Jeff, he threw the gauntlet down to the press, and if there is anything else out there, it's coming out.

In the next segment of the show featured the Canal Street Madam's lawyer, Vinny Mosca.


Mosca: I never had any knowledge of [Vitter] visiting the Canal St. brothel. Jeanette [Maier] did tell me, that, later, after I said what I said that 'You know Vinny, he was a customer of mine in the early nineties.' I said 'Well, Jeanette, I wouldn't have any knowledge of that. The only thing I can represent is what I knew at the time the investigation was going on'.

...

Crouere: Has this exposure from the Vitter case helped her or hurt her [Maier]?

Mosca: Depends who you talk to. You know, If you talk to Jeanette, she's trying to help him [Vitter].

Crouere: The Times Picayune ran a story about .... Wendy Cortez, linking her to David Vitter. Did she ever work with Jeanette in the Canal Street brothel?

Mosca: ....Wendy Cortez was an independent individual.... Now, Jeanette believes she worked for her at some point in time. But I notice in the newspaper that Jeanette said that wasn't Wendy's picture that was in the paper. And then later Jeanette indicated to me 'no it really was her picture', but she didn't want ...to say it was her because she wanted to protect her. Then she got a phone call from somebody who said "That's not Wendy [Cortez]"....

Crouere: So there's confusion?

Mosca: There's confusion everywhere.

It's interesting that Tidmore says that "a very small percentage" of what the T-P knows has been reported. Also, it's interesting that Jeanette believed Wendy Cortez worked for her at one point, but then, in an effort to "protect" her, said that the T-P's picture of Wendy Cortez was not the Wendy Cortez that worked for her. And then, someone presumably "in the know" called Jeanette and told her that she was actually correct when she said that wasn't the Wendy Cortez that worked for her and was linked to Vitter.

So this is still a very puzzling aspect of the story. But the key thing to note is that Maier will perhaps shade the truth (as she believes it) when she is protecting someone. In Maier's mind, apparently, Cortez worked for her at one point. But Maier didn't want to identify the photo of Cortez which the T-P showed her, because she wanted to protect Cortez.

Similarly, Maier thought she was defending David Vitter in the Times Picayune story when she linked him to her Canal St. brothel. In that story, she claimed Vitter was a "good man". According to her lawyer she said Vitter was a patron of the brothel in the early nineties, which roughly conforms to what she told CNN on 7/11:

[CNN]: Jeanette Maier says she first met Vitter in New Orleans back in the late '80s or early '90s. She can't remember. Maier spent much of Tuesday talking with various media outlets about this story. We have no proof of her allegations, only Maier's word.

MAIER: "So I had girls that worked, and girls come back and say, you know, that they had partied and they were with David. Like I gave a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I was always taught not to -- hey, the least I know the better off I am."

So, was Maier also trying to "protect" Vitter when she seemed to volunteer to the Times Picayune that Vitter "was not a freak. He was not into anything unusual or kinky or weird"?

In Chris Tidmore's view, Vitter has "thrown down the gauntlet" to the press. Jeff Crouere believes the story will die unless "concrete evidence" is produced. So, by saying the "New Orleans stories" are "not true", Vitter is practically challenging the media to expose the incriminating details of his past acts with prostitutes. This opens the door for more pain and embarrassment all around. I wonder what Vitter's defense will be after Flynt inevitably starts airing specific details of Vitter's past actions. "If the diaper doesn't fit, you must acquit"?

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