Saturday, August 11, 2007

So dispiriting 

Oliver Thomas was widely respected throughout the neighborhoods, and would've easily become New Orleans' next mayor. I was very much looking forward to that day. Now, I can't tell you how disappointed I was to learn this news:

In the most dramatic development to date in a sprawling probe of corruption in New Orleans city government, longtime City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Oliver Thomas has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to charges of demanding illegal payments from a City Hall vendor and is expected to resign his at-large council seat as early as Monday, sources familiar with the case said Saturday.
Sources said the criminal charges against Thomas involve money he allegedly received from Common Street Ventures, a [Stan "Pampy"] Barre-owned company that held a share of the contract to operate three city-owned parking lots on the downriver end of the French Quarter during Morial's tenure from 1994-2002.

The sources declined to reveal how much money Thomas is alleged to have received from Common Street Ventures or how and how often the payments were made, and would not discuss the specific charges against Thomas. Those details will be spelled out in court documents expected to be released on Monday, the sources said.
In May 2004, [Marc] Morial's successor, Mayor Ray Nagin, awarded a contract to run the three parking lots to a joint venture that included an investor with ties to Thomas.

The Nagin administration signed a management deal for a 50-50 partnership between Standard Parking, a national firm that has operated parking lots in New Orleans for 25 years, and Parking Solutions LLC, whose principals include Keith Pittman, a former aide to Thomas.

The lots are owned by the French Market Corp., a city agency that is run by mayoral appointees, including three City Council members. Thomas has held a seat on the French Market board since 2002. The board approves the management contracts for the parking lots, with input from the mayor's office.
Later in 2004, the Nagin administration awarded a separate contract to the partnership to install and maintain new high-tech parking meters citywide that accept credit cards as well as coins.

It's interesting that a good part of this Times Picayune article is devoted to describing the connections the Nagin administration had to these contracts and companies.

Now that Pampy fingered Oliver Thomas to reduce his own sentence, who will OT "give up" after pleading guilty on Monday?


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Levees Not War has been revamped 

Check it.


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

"It keeps the New Orleans brand out there" 

C. Ray sees the murder rate and is worried... "somewhat". But he encourages us to look at the bright side of the bloodstained sword:

Responding to a TV reporter's question about whether New Orleans' murder rate hurts the city's tourism economy, Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday called the phenomenon a "two-edged sword."

"Do I worry about it? Somewhat. It's not good for us, but it also keeps the New Orleans brand out there, and it keeps people thinking about our needs and what we need to bring this community back. So it is kind of a two-edged sword. Sure it hurts, but we have to keep working everyday to make the city better," Nagin said, according to a transcript of provided by FOX 8.

Splendid. If we had fewer bullet-riddled young men bloodying the streets, the "New Orleans brand" might suffer. People around the country might be less sympathetic to our needs if we had a mayor and police chief who knew how to curtail the highest murder rate in the country.

Prytaniawaterline links to a news story, and notes that "Two brothers who were murdered within twelve hours of each other were suspects in 14 other murders between the two of them." Then Prytaniawaterline asks (rhetorically) "While the community can rest a little easier with these two off the streets, should we?

C.B. Forgotston provides the obvious answer to that query as he discusses the NOPD's reaction to yet another homicide:

Recently, after a murder of a 52-year old engineer who was returning from work to his home New Orleans, NOPD spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse said “I think people can take some comfort in knowing that it was a random act of violence….”

As if random acts of violence are more acceptable than a pattern of violent acts. Nothing about acts of violence should make anyone comfortable.

In sum: we are told to be comforted by random murders, and we are told that the upside to our high murder rate is more exposure for "the New Orleans brand".

The mayor of Newark goes for days without sleep when violent murders occur in his city. He promises that the killers will be found and that the multiple murders will stop.

OUR MAYOR, on the other hand, is only "somewhat" bothered by the violence, and sees a marketing opportunity for our stricken city. As all the helpful Couhig Conservatives and other Nagin-enablers will tell you, OUR MAYOR "understands business". Unlike, say, Mitch Landrieu, Nagin understands that being the murder capital of the U.S. keeps "the New Orleans brand" out there. The mayor claims that murders are thought provoking. Indeed, "they keep people thinking" about New Orleans' many needs.

Update: The Times Picayune article continues:

The mayor's spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said Nagin believes "even one murder is too many" and does not revel in stories about violent crime drawing negative attention to New Orleans.

But Quiett said that because of Katrina, violent crimes in New Orleans are sure to make national headlines. And that offers an opportunity to "force the conversation" about the city's lack of law enforcement resources, she said.

"We have to remind people that our entire criminal justice system is broken down," she said.

Last year, no one in the Nagin administration was "reminding" us about the total breakdown in the criminal justice system. No, they said that despite some upticks, things were under control. Among many other soothing things, the N.O.P.D. told us that New Orleans was one of the "safest cities in the world" and that their crime fighting strategy was "second to none".

Some well meaning organizations contend that "Silence is Violence". Well, not always. For example, I'd love for Mayor Nagin to be silent. Also, if the criminal justice system is truly "broken", then perhaps silence is not violence. Perhaps, if the criminal system is broken, sometimes silence is intelligence.

You know what's tantamount to violence in post Federal Flood New Orleans?

1) Hoping for a demonstrably undisciplined mayor to say and do the right thing.

2) Hoping for a demonstrably ineffective Police Chief to curtail violent crime.

3) Hoping for a demonstrably incompetent D.A. to suddenly become competent.

Red Dog is not silent.

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Trojans for Jindal 

Ryan from The Daily Kingfish wonders why Rep. Bobby Jindal skipped a gubernatorial campaign forum for "pressing Congressional votes", when he didn't in fact cast any meaningful votes while he was in D.C.. (He missed 22 of 23 votes that day, and the vote he did cast was a vote to adjourn for the day.)

Well, there's a simple answer to all that: Jindal was busy waging war! A war on corruption, a war against goverment spending, and a war on incompetence! He's so busy at war, that he doesn't have time to cast meaningful votes, or to explain his position on Iraq, or to competently handle a... bumper sticker controversy:

Under fire from university officials, U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal's campaign agreed Wednesday to stop distributing bumper stickers that use Louisiana State University's famous color scheme and nickname to promote the congressman's run for governor.
A spokeswoman for Jindal, R-Kenner, who says he is waging a "war on incompetence" in government, refused to answer questions about the stickers, or say whether anyone from the campaign contacted the universities or the Saints before the stickers were printed. But Melissa Sellers confirmed in an e-mailed message that the marketing scheme would come to an end, though she stopped short of saying the campaign would stop distributing the stickers it has on hand.

"We are not planning to print any more 'Tigers for Jindal' stickers. We are all out of Saints ones," Sellers wrote.
It's good that Jindal will stop distributing these bumper stickers. One might imagine a rival campaign printing "Trojans for Jindal" stickers in USC colors, or "Bama head coaches for Jindal" in Tide colors. Worse, nasty "Sportsmen for Jindal" bumper stickers might get printed picturing men playing cricket or badminton instead of hunting or fishing.

Unfortunately, it seems that Jindal's enemies will air some negative ads, no matter what "war" he is in the middle of waging. Some of the ads may excerpt portions from the the many religious articles Jindal wrote after he converted from being a self described "anti-Christian" Hindu to Roman Catholicism. [Update: Or perhaps not.] One of Jindal's more sensational essays vividly describes his feelings while he passively observed his best friend being attacked by a demon. Jindal began having chest pains during the episode, and decided not to attack the demon through prayer. Instead, Jindal admitted "conditional defeat" during this bout of spiritual warfare. However, others were unafraid of the demon, and prayed over Jindal's friend until the demon left and she felt "purified". In fact, Jindal allows for the possibility that the group prayer not only cast out the demon, but it may have removed his friend's cancer as well! Jindal writes that afterwards, his friend was no longer afflicted, except for one demonological hiccup. This time, however, Jindal was prepared to fight:

With holy water and blessed crucifixes, I have... given her physical protection from the demons that have only once reappeared, and then for a mere moment. We have resolved the tension in our relationship and I am developing the ability to selflessly care for others.


The Jindal campaign will spin these ads as attacks on Jindal's "Christian faith", and Professor Sadow will prove his ignorance once again and describe them as the most ferocious campaign attacks in the history of American politics.

Even when a conservative Louisiana blogger wrote about Jindal's essay, a local Republican tried to discourage him from discussing Jindal's published remarks. However, in radio interviews, Jindal has freely addressed questions about these published essays, and I don't see why bloggers or other campaigns should be prevented from discussing them either.

Slight edit for clarity after initial publishing.

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City Demolition story on front page of WSJ 

This is an important story that many Nola bloggers have been covering in great depth. (Dangerblond freely provides it here.) The piece mentions the activism of Squandered Heritage's Karen Gadbois, and Karen gets one of those stippled portraits of herself on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

I'm sure Karen could care less about the pic, but one of my life goals is to be immortalized for one day like that. I just know it would look extremely cool.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sacré Bleu!! 

According to OK! magazine, Angelina and Brad are planning to make their primary residence in France, not New Orleans.

Brad and Angie have even decided to purchase an estate in France and make it their primary residence. “They’ve looked at several properties already and are optimistic they’ll soon find the perfect place,” a source tells OK!. Angie may be drawn to France because it was the native country of her late mother, Marcheline Bertrand. As for Brad, who wants to see their children have the continuity of living in one place, a home in France may be the perfect compromise.

I am not OK! with this news. Now there will be all kinds of residency issues when Angelina Jolie runs for Governor.


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Winnebago Warriors 

Bettendorf, Iowa (AP)-- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Wednesday defended his five sons' decision not to enlist in the military, saying they're showing their support for the country by "helping me get elected."
He [said]: "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."

The woman who asked the question, Rachel Griffiths, 41, of Milan, Ill., identified herself as a member of Quad City Progressive Action for the Common Good, as well as the sister of an Army major who had served in Iraq.

"Of course not," Griffiths said when asked if she was satisfied with Romney's answer. "He told me the way his son shows support for our military and our nation is to buy a Winnebago and ride across Iowa and help him get elected."

Back in the day, Mitt eluded "the shit" in Vietnam. As the song goes "Brave as old John Wayne, Winnebago Warrior, A true yankee pioneer..."

One of my favorite bloggers, Henry John Holbo, discusses a very unofficial tabulation of campaign contributions from members of the military to current presidential candidates. Here are the unofficial results:

Ron Paul (24,965)
Barack Obama (22,866)
John McCain (17,425)
Hillary Clinton (10,550)
Bill Richardson (5,325)
Mitt Romney (3,851)
John Edwards (2,504)
Rudy Giuliani (2,320)

Another tabulation is here, and it has different numbers and shows Edwards in fifth. Treat these numbers with a grain of salt, but if the basic trend they show is anywhere close to being accurate, it's clear that donors who serve(d) in the military overwhelmingly support candidates who oppose the War/Occupation in Iraq.



Update: Mitt's campaign now sort of hints that his remarks were taken out of context, which they weren't.

Update 2: See Michael's post for more.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Guess the city 

The largest city in the state suffers from a declining population (currently around 275k), poverty, failing schools (which the state took over) and a serious violent crime problem. Many of the city's remaining citizens are fed up with the current bald, business-oriented Democrat mayor, even though his predecessor was corrupt.

Years ago, a horrendous man-made disaster affected the area. In the aftermath, insurance rates rose, along with uncertainty and frustration. The entire country was impacted in some way. Even so, the rest of America hardly realizes the strategic and economic importance of this city, as it is home to one of the busiest seaports in the country.

Now, however, after a weekend of violent shootings, the national media is reporting that things are coming to a head for the embattled mayor:

NEW[City], Aug. 6 — As a weekend of bloodshed gave way to a day of mourning, the... public battering [was] beginning to take a toll on [the Mayor].... A group of protesters on the steps of City Hall were calling for his resignation, while a large huddle of reporters down the street waited with unanswerable questions about Saturday night’s fatal shooting of three [people].
[The Mayor] finds himself blamed for everything that is wrong with [the state's] largest city... after galloping into City Hall on a promise to change the political climate.... [the Mayor] finds himself at the nadir of his tenure, battling a homicide rate that refuses to yield and a growing tide of public hostility.
It is worth noting that [the Mayor] held his news conference in the Police Department’s operations center, where 32 wireless surveillance cameras, installed two months ago, keep an eye on some of the city’s most lawless neighborhoods. But the new equipment and a strategic overhaul of the department have not reduced the steady drumbeat of killings.
Then there was the [controversial speech].... [What the Mayor] intended as an affectionate tribute... was viewed as disparaging.

For both his enemies and his supporters, the episode seemed to crystallize a widespread sentiment here that [the Mayor]... is not entirely attuned to the culture and sensitivities of his constituents. [The Mayor] has apologized for the speech, but many are still feeling wounded.
[A] small group of protesters... were ostensibly seeking an end to the senseless violence. But despite the placards calling for peace and unity, most at the rally outside City Hall on Monday were demanding the mayor’s ouster.

“He totally disrespects us,” said... a frequent critic of the mayor, screaming into a megaphone.
[The Mayor] has long waved away such critics, saying they are surrogates for his political opponents or that they are seeking City Hall jobs that would buy their quiescence. Many of them, he points out, traffic in outlandish stories about the mayor.

“We have to use this as a pulling together, not a ripping apart,” he said about those using the killings to call for his resignation.

This all sounds eerily similar. Might this be an article about New Orleans and Mayor Nagin?

No, silly. Read the rest and you'll see where the similarities end:

But [the Mayor] has clearly been rattled by the recent violence, and by the rising tide of people expressing disappointment in him. He said on Monday that he had not slept in 48 hours. On Monday morning, he returned to the scene of the shootings to speak to hundreds of children at a summer program at the Mount Vernon School, promising the students that such a brutal crime would not happen again.


Moments before [the Mayor] was to step in front of the cameras, a mayoral aide noticed two middle-aged women and a man sitting silently among the crowd — relatives of... one of the shooting victims. Officials quickly ushered them to a back room to meet [the Mayor], who offered his condolences and promised that the police would stop at nothing to find the killers.
Although [the Mayor's police director] frequently tries to remind the public that shootings are down 80 percent and that every other category of crime has dropped, Newark is just three body bags away from the 63 homicides tallied at this time last year, the highest in a decade.

Instead of losing sleep for days after a brutal violent crime and promising that the killers will be found and no more such crimes will occur... OUR MAYOR forms a consultantocracy to do his job for him while he goes on unannounced fundraising junkets so he can consider running a vanity campaign for Governor rather than running a city that desperately needs safe streets (not to mention cranes in the sky and explosives in the pie).

In case you didn't catch it, New Orleans and Newark have about the same population but Newark has 60 homicides so far this year, while New Orleans has about double that amount.

Update: Already, there's a possible break in the Newark murder case.

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Tighty Whitey Business Briefs 

1. The T-P asks and answers the question: "What's Houston Got That New Orleans Doesn't?" Apparently the answer includes: oil companies, no state income tax, and that gloriously refreshing "favorable business climate" we keep hearing so much about. The comments in the T-P blog are typical. Depressing, irritating, racist and ignorant-- with one or two bright spots.

But, in New Orleans, time goes by slower ... so we got that going for us. That and the whole "total consciousness on our deathbed" thing, which is nice.

2. A & P's twenty-one New Orleans area Sav-A-Center stores are for sale. CityBusiness explores the tantalizing possibility that "a consortium of independent grocers such as Breaux Mart and Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket" may try to buy the stores, (which A & P wants to sell all together). Boy, it would make my day to see Breaux and Zuppardo's pull off an expansion like that.

3. Also, Citybusiness had a story titled "License to Rebuild: Construction permit levels top $1B in Orleans as recovery intensifies" and cites the 4,803 commercial permits the New Orleans Safety and Permits office has issued post-Katrina for work valued at $1.339 billion. Nice.

Some of the permits may be for Al Copeland jr, who plans to rebuild his shuttered New Orleans restaurants on St Charles Ave. The Cheesecake Bistro will open in November, but there's still "no timeline" in place for when the Copeland's eyesore on Napoleon will open. (Not that either location will cease being an eyesore after renovations, but they'll at least be open eyesores.)

4. Here's one ever-growing industry:

[Researchers report that] the United States-— with five percent of the world’s population—- houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40 percent greater than those of our nearest competitors (the Bahamas, Belarus, and Russia). Other industrial democracies, even those with significant crime problems of their own, are much less punitive: our incarceration rate is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, and 12.3 times that of Japan. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.
[the researchers conclude] Incarceration begets more incarceration, and incarceration also begets more crime, which in turn invites more aggressive enforcement, which then re-supplies incarceration...

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Rising Tide 2 

Register today!

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Telling yelling 

You've probably seen Jim Cramer's volcanic rant on CNBC by now. It's emotional enough to interest people who are bored by markets and business TV. Go see it. (Music "Mash Up" to the rant found here, and read the comments in the CR link above and here if you have the time.)

That's not a staged or premeditated Cramer Clown Show, folks. That wasn't done for ratings, nor was it some sort of planned gambit to "move the market". It was an explosion of genuine frustration; primarily at the "armageddon" in the bond markets due to the subprime mortgage meltdown and resulting credit crunch which is hurting Cramer's hedge fund friends who had overleveraged bets on these repackaged mortgages. Cramer wants the Fed to start cutting interest rates, but that won't really help anything but inflation at this point. He's enraged at being trapped by what bankers are desperately telling him off the record, contrasted with the soothing things they say with a calm face during the day on CNBC.

Of course, after Cramer went off and the market dropped another 150 points, conservative Larry Kudlow talked about whether the Democrats were the cause of Wall Street's worries, and then he got OMB Director Rob Portman to deny that there were any embedded problems in the economy, and to declare that the economy is "strong and growing", and that the housing market has definitely "bottomed".

That sort of naive "happy talk" would make me crazy, too. Like Cramer said, "It's a different kind of market" out there right now. But it 's not like we haven't been warned about overlooked risks. Here's some quotes that might be of interest:

Update: Here's the Youtube version:

Warren Buffet, 2004:

The marking errors in the derivatives business have not been symmetrical. Almost invariably, they have favored either the trader eyeing a multimillion-dollar bonus or the CEO wanting to report impressive “earnings” (or both). The bonuses were paid, and the CEO profited from his options. Only much later did shareholders learn that the reported earnings were a sham.

Derivatives can exacerbate trouble that a corporation has run into for completely unrelated reasons. This pile-on effect occurs because many derivatives contracts require that a company suffering a credit downgrade immediately supply collateral to counterparties. It can all become a spiral that can lead to a corporate meltdown.

Derivatives also create a daisy-chain risk that is akin to the risk run by insurers or reinsurers that lay off much of their business with others. History teaches us that a crisis often causes problems to correlate in a manner undreamt of in more tranquil times.
The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal."

Federal Reserve official, 2006:

A top Federal Reserve official warned yesterday that the U.S. financial system is evolving faster than the ability of investors, lenders and regulators to evaluate and manage the risks involved.
"The complexity of many new instruments and the relative immaturity of the various approaches used to measure the risks in those exposures magnify the uncertainty involved," he said.

"The Game" column in WSJ-- July 31, 2007:

Some bankers talk publicly as if the inventory (of Leveraged Buy Out Deals) will vanish after a few weeks of vacation. In private, though, the mood has gone from Nantucket holiday to Bataan Death March. As one top merger banker put it on Friday: "I'm underwater on every single loan on my book." Translation: He's stuck with deteriorating loans that he was supposed to sell to others.

Despite the fallout, both bank and hedge-fund investors are willing to pay upfront money without seeing back-end results. The consequence is a free-rider's paradise, where individuals can stack up the short-term benefits for themselves, while letting the institution bear the brunt of their actions.

The result is a banker getting handsomely rewarded in January for making a loan that blows up in August. The hedge-fund manager, meanwhile, is able to buy up billions in suspect subprime real-estate loans and derivatives, clipping a 2% management fee along the way.

There is a market trade-off to these high rewards. Bad decision-makers can get yanked from their jobs at a moment's notice. But this can have the effect of creating still more incentive to land the big score.

Given the dollar amounts in play, that's getting increasingly possible, says Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates, which advises Wall Street firms about compensation. "The sums are getting bigger and bigger," Mr. Johnson says. "You've got young people doing aggressive things that have never been done before. What if it turns out really badly? It's what keeps CEOs up at night."

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Vitter rumor 

A few weeks ago one of my contacts heard that members of the RNC employed in D.C. were confident that the media was about to break another hooker story on Vitty-cent. This one involved an alleged $200k payoff Vitter made to his "baby mama" in Virginia.

Mark Kleinman has reported that former French Quarter prostitute Wendy Cortez now lives in Alexandria Virginia, with Vitter's child. (Nearly three years ago, Kos said Vitter had a love child, but it wasn't with Cortez.)

Now, obviously the story didn't break as the RNC members expected. Nor has Larry Flynt presented any new information on Vitter, despite claiming numerous New Orleans hookers (including Wendy Cortez) were linked to the Senator. But this particular rumor interested me because

1) The RNC was concerned
2) the $200k in "hush money" was a specific detail and
3) the Virginia angle corroborated what Kleinman has reported.


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