Saturday, March 01, 2008

Powell rides off into the sunset 

WCBF informs us that Gulf Coast Recovery Czar Donald Powell is stepping down. Powell is the man who made this statement:

The federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world.

Unfortunately, that commitment was never kept. The Bush administration worked hard to avoid dealing with the issue of Category 5 flood protection for Louisiana. Instead of making Category 5 protection a firm goal for the region, Bush and Powell told the Army Corps of Engineers to study the issue, to see what the "science dictates". So USACE studied the issue, and was supposed to present their Cat 5 plan for South Louisiana by the end of last year. However, the release of the plan was delayed; delayed past the first of the year, delayed past the SOTU, and now delayed into Spring. Hopefully it will be out soon, so that everyone can see what the "science dictates". But it appears that now, just before the Corps finally presents its plan for the "best levee system in the world", the Bushie who made the strongest commitment to South LA flood protection has decided to go home early. Don Powell needs to head back to Tejas to tend his banks:

Powell did not give a specific reason for the timing of his decision. The executive order that created the office is due to expire in November, three years after it began. Powell's chief of staff, Paul Conway, has been named his interim replacement.

Powell plans to return to Amarillo, Texas, and resume his banking career.

So long, Hoss.

Update: Celcus has much more.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Jindal budget 

When the "next Ronald Reagan" goes to "war" on uncontrolled spending, it is a fearsome thing to behold:

Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a $30.1 billion budget Friday for next year that includes increased state spending, mainly in education, health care and work force training, along with the expectation of more than $100 million in cuts to business taxes.
Though the governor campaigned on ways to cut government spending, Jindal's spending recommendations are larger than the budget approved by lawmakers a year ago, and the state dollar spending would actually grow over the current year by $551 million.
Lawmakers approved a $29.7 billion budget for the 2007-08 current year, but with new pass-through federal recovery aid for housing reconstruction after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it has grown to $34.3 billion.

All of the decrease in Jindal's budget proposal involves the loss of one-time federal hurricane relief aid — not shrinks in state spending. All the jobs cut in the proposal are vacant, according to Jindal financial adviser Ray Stockstill.


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McCain using "Democrat party" slur 

WSJ Washington Wire:

For decades, Republicans have rubbed Democrats the wrong way by dropping the “ic” from the “Democratic Party.” In their telling, it becomes the “Democrat Party,” along with “Democrat Congress,” “Democrat opponents” and the like. [Ed note: "Democrat primary" would be another example.]

The political slur got particular attention in 2006 when President Bush used it regularly on the campaign trail for the midterm elections. In his 2007 State of the Union speech, Bush muddied his gracious congratulations to the opposing party by congratulating the new “Democrat majority,” despite the fact that his prepared text called for him to say “Democratic majority.”

Given McCain’s reputation for reaching across the aisle and his daily pledge to treat Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with respect, Washington Wire was a little surprised to hear McCain using the same language.

“One thing I’m not any good at predicting is the outcome of Democrat elections,” he said Tuesday aboard his bus, dubbed the Straight Talk Express. A day earlier, he had mentioned his “Democrat friends” to a Cleveland-area audience.

Asked aboard his bus about the “ic,” he replied, “I’m sorry, I usually say Democratic. They prefer Democratic, so I try to say Democratic… It offends some members of their party, so I’ll say Democratic if that’s what makes them feel better.”

But his resolve didn’t last long. Later on that same ride, he was talking about his annoyance that Democrats take credit for the improving situation in Iraq. “To say, as Sen. Obama has said, that it’s because of the Democrat majority that we have experienced success in Iraq, that’s just beyond comprehension.”


The usage goes way back, but according to the Columbia Guide to Standard English, Republicans are wrong to use the phrase “Democrat Party.” The guide reports that the phrase was used “with particular virulence” by the late senator Wisconsin Republican Joseph R. McCarthy who “sought by repeatedly calling it the Democrat party to deny it any possible benefit of the suggestion that it might also be democratic.”

In the early 90's Newt Gingrich, GOP pollster Frank Luntz, and Rush Limbaugh renewed McCarthy's slurs, and popularized the use of "Democrat party" among the GOP. They are wrong to use this ungrammatical, partisan phrase, and media figures and government officials who use it should be mocked and publicly corrected.

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"How much of it was just luck"? 

Atrios 2/24/08:

I'd really be interested in knowing how much of what Obama achieved was due to some awesome master plan, and how much of it was just luck combined with a charismatic candidate.

Atrios 2/20/08:

There does seem to be a basic narrative out there that the Obama campaign leaned more heavily on organizing and volunteers than did the Clinton campaign. This seems to be true, but is it?

First, I'd direct Atrios to research Obama's win in Iowa. How'd he do it? Do you think he just got "lucky"? With that crucial, narrative-setting win in Iowa, Obama (basically) knocked out Edwards, and destroyed Clinton's "inevitability" argument. Sure, candidate Obama "stepped it up" in late November/early December with a new speech, and showed that he wouldn't back down during the Iowa debates. But his campaign strategy in Iowa-- running to the left and right of Clinton, bringing in new/young voters-- and his statewide organization efforts were crucial.

Next, I'd direct Atrios to read Chris Cooper's WSJ story describing Obama's campaign in South Carolina. The momentum from the Iowa win was a crucial factor. It proved to the African-American community that Obama could win in "white" states. However, Obama's "bottom-up" organizational efforts in SC enabled him to take maximum advantage of that momentum.

Obama's "dominate the (red state) caucuses" strategy might be another fruitful avenue for inquiry for those who are wrestling with the "degree of luck" question about Obama.

This morning, there's another front page Chris Cooper story in the WSJ about Obama's campaign. It's titled "Obama's Fate in Texas Hinges on Volunteers":

[Obama's] uncharacteristic late start [in Texas] has left the Illinois senator relying to an unusual degree on the groundwork of volunteers such as Ian Davis. The 29-year-old Austin community organizer has been laboring for months with no guidance at all from Obama headquarters. When Sen. Obama's team finally arrived, Mr. Davis handed over laundry baskets stuffed with 20,000 handwritten names of potential volunteers, which Mr. Davis had gathered on his own.
Sen. Clinton's Texas strategy relies on a campaign formula frequently used by front-runners -- one that she has used in other states. Over the past year, she has amassed a whopping 130 endorsements from local politicians. Many of them have pledged their own organizations to her cause.
Clinton allies say they are skeptical that Sen. Obama can organize a grass-roots campaign in such a short period of time.
For the Obama campaign, supporters like Mr. Davis could be the answer.
For the past year, Mr. Davis has been devoting all of his spare time to the Obama campaign. He has organized neighborhood canvasses, literature drops and "visibility campaigns," where volunteers stand on street corners and shake signs at motorists. "Sometimes a lot of people come out, and sometimes it's just the hard core," Mr. Davis says.
As the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire approached, Mr. Davis and thousands of other Texans took advantage of a powerful tool available on the Obama campaign's national Web site, The system, developed in-house and modeled after an effort created in 2004 by the liberal political action group, gives campaign volunteers unsupervised access to names and phones numbers of potential supporters nationwide, which campaigns usually treat as proprietary information.

The idea is to create a virtual national phone bank. Volunteers pick states they want to call. They can place calls from home, from a cellphone in a coffee shop, from anywhere they want. The campaign provides phone scripts tailored for particular states. The Texas script, for example, explains the intricacies of the state's Byzantine nominating process, which begins with an open primary, followed by an evening caucus. Mr. Davis called it "the Texas two-step," and now, so does the campaign.

The unusual system is expected to play to Sen. Obama's strengths.
But there's also a downside: It potentially exposes the campaign to rogue operators. The Obama campaign has been forced to lock out some people who "weren't the best representatives of the campaign," says one campaign official.

Mr. Davis says he likes the system because it "turns the asylum over to the inmates."
The payoff has been apparent. Mr. Davis organized a party at a local bar to watch a Democratic debate held recently in Austin. It drew more than 1,000 people.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Greg said 

Especially the clever title.

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"One more compensating benefit of global warming gone" 

Michael O'Hare seems to think that Jindal's ethics package makes Louisiana's erosion less of a "benefit".

Here's my response: f*ck off!

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News digest 

Afghanistan news from the Baltimore Sun:

New U.S. intelligence assessments cast doubt on the existence of a serial killer who targets the homeless President Bush's recent contention that Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan are "on the run."

In fact, American and NATO troops have been unable to contain an expansion of Taliban insurgents in southern and western Afghanistan, two top U.S. intelligence officers said yesterday. They said the insurgents increasingly are funded, armed, trained and directed by al-Qaida from its sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan.

The director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, described the situation in Afghanistan as "deteriorating," even though U.S. and allied forces have been roughly doubled since 2004, from about 26,000 to nearly 50,000 today.
McConnell said the Taliban is in control of about 10 percent of Afghanistan, with the central government able to control about 30 percent.

Ah, ok. Well, then, what about Iraq? What's the outlook for Turkey's latest "surge" into Iraq?:

In the face of mounting pressure from the American and Iraqi governments, a Turkish envoy in Baghdad said on Wednesday that Turkey would continue military operations in northern Iraq until it was satisfied it had destroyed the bases of Kurdish guerillas. "Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable," said Ahmet Davutoglu, an adviser to the Turkish prime minister, at a Baghdad news conference.

Where have I heard that before? And, in an ironic turn, the U.S. wishes to impose timetables on Turkey's ability to fight the terrorists in Iraq that threaten their homeland:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged Turkish leaders on Wednesday to abandon their invasion of guerrilla-controlled lands in the northernmost reaches of Iraq by mid-March.

But the Turks may not be willing to abide by such artificial timetables:

"Short term is a relative notion," NTV and CNN-Turk television news stations quoted Gen. Yasar Buyukanit as saying. "Sometimes it could be a day, sometimes it could be a year. We have been struggling against terrorism for the past 24 years. We will maintain our struggle against terrorism."

Swell. They've been taking notes during Bush's speeches.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Messaging discipline and skillful answers 


[Radio host Bill Cunningham] repeatedly referred to Obama as Barack Hussein Obama
Before reporters could even ask... McCain addressed the issue, saying he repudiated the comments and has respect for his Democratic opponents. McCain said the use of "Hussein" as a political jab was not appropriate.

"I never met Mr. Cunningham," McCain said, "but I will make sure nothing like that ever happens again."

Ha! Good luck herdin' them cats, Mac.

Oh, and "never", Mac?


Top Republican strategists are working on plans to protect the GOP from charges of racism or sexism in the general election, as they prepare for a presidential campaign against the first ever African-American or female Democratic nominee.

The Republican National Committee has commissioned polling and focus groups to determine the boundaries of attacking a minority or female candidate, according to people involved. The secretive effort underscores the enormous risk senior GOP operatives see for a party often criticized for its insensitivity to minorities in campaigns dating back to the 1960s.

The RNC project is viewed as so sensitive that those involved in the work were reluctant to discuss the findings in detail. But one Republican strategist, who asked that his name be withheld to speak candidly, said the research shows the daunting and delicate task ahead.
Republicans interviewed for this story uniformly believe they will have to be especially careful. Many expect to be held to a higher rhetorical standard than is customary in campaigns, in part because of perceptions of intolerance that still dog the party.

“Fair or unfair, but that’s going to be a reality,” said GOP strategist John Weaver, a longtime confidant of John McCain. “The P.C. [politically correct] police will be out and the standards will be very narrow.”

The McCain camp is only beginning to explore this dilemma, aides said.

Enjoy that exploration, Johnny Mac.

Marc Ambinder:

No less an authority figure than Karl Rove has warned Republican operatives from demagoguing Barack Obama's middle name.

At a closed door meeting of GOP state executive directors in late January, Rove said the safest way to refer to Obama would be to use his honorific, "Sen. Obama."

"The context was, you're not going to stigmatize this guy. You shouldn't underestimate him," one of the executive directors said.

Rove said that the use of "Barack Hussein Obama" would perpetuate the notion that Republicans were bigoted and would hurt the party.

As it was stated in the above Politico article: "undisciplined messaging carries great risk". (Sorta reminds me of this notorious, ill-fated press release from last year's Governor's race.)

It's not all packets of butterscotch, though. McCain and the Goops are boxed in with Obama (and they will make many "undisciplined messaging" mistakes in coming months that will backfire horribly), but that doesn't mean they don't have effective cards to play.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has a pretty good view of the attacks on the horizon.

Daily Howler:

If the RNC gets its way, Obama is going to get “Dukakised” in the coming months. Our guess: In the main, he will not be treated as a liar/flip-flopper/reinventer, as Clinton, Gore and Kerry were treated. Instead, he’ll be treated as an unsettling alien presence, much as Dukakis was played (except more so). The Democratic Party has never nominated a more decent person than Michael Dukakis. But by the time the RNC got through, he was a person with a funny name and olive skin who: 1) “had a problem with the pledge of allegiance;” 2) looked funny riding around in a tank; 3) may have had some sort of mental illness (that was voiced by Reagan himself); 4) was “a card-carrying member of the ACLU;” and 5) had released Willie Horton. Almost surely, similar themes will be voiced against Obama—and yes, there’s material to work with. (The fact that you don’t care about some concern doesn’t mean it isn’t a danger.) In the process, you’re going to hear a lot about Obama’s minister, Jeremiah Wright... that’s where Russert ended up with his questions about Farrakhan. And this is a potential problem in the fall...

Wright has said and done various things that are, for better or worse, substantially out of the mainstream. Personally, we don’t care about these matters, but some other voters most likely will—depending on how these matters are treated. Obama handled Russert’s questions extremely well last night (although Russert didn’t push the Wright angle as hard as others will). But liberals and progressives need to get their own thoughts together about these questions. Unless we don’t care who wins.

Yelling race/race/race has been very effective in this year’s Democratic campaign. A long string of hacks and pander-bears turned the Clintons into slobbering racists; this approach played a significant role in the campaign’s turn-around. But almost surely, that approach will work less well in the general election. When questions are raised about Obama’s (fairly close) relationship with Wright, it won’t be helpful to play the race card. Dems will need more skillful answers—if we want to win.

David at Moldy City has expressed the concern that yelling "race/race/race" will not merely "work less well in the general election", as Somerby says, but that such yelling could backfire spectacularly. In a Moldy City post from January, he laid out his concerns about how the GOP will treat Obama's admitted teenage drug use in the General election, and how yelling "race" will turn off some swing voters. In the comments to that post, David wrote:

My thesis is a simple, most white Americans will admit to some degree of racial prejudice. I also think that most vary between feeling guilty about it and aware of the need to overcome it, to feeling somehow justified and/or to feeling guiltily defensive to feeling angrily defensive about it. Overdone cries of racism will bring out the defensive reaction from people who otherwise try to get beyond their own prejudice.
Racial prejudice in America is the exact opposite of pregnancy -- almost everybody is at least a little bit prejudiced. Let's assume Obama gets the nomination, the election will be decided by people who fall somewhere between the total bigots and the "trying not to be prejudiced." How racial issues are handled will determine who gets that vote. If Republicans cross too many lines, they'll lose. If Democrats claim that Republicans have crossed lines that most people can't see, they'll lose.

While I think that David is right, I think the GOP faces far the greater risks in this department. The media, the historical context, Obama's demeanor... all these things press the scales in favor of Obama. In other words, "equivalent" trespasses will not be treated the same. An instance of clearly going over the line is much worse than an "equivalent" instance of yelling "race" when it doesn't apply. One GOP screw-up on race could cost them the campaign (e.g. "Makaka"). Dems have the benefit of narrative here, and would have to make many "race/race/race" mistakes in order to produce a lethal electoral backlash.

For example, when wingnuts say "Barack HUSSEIN Obama", most fair-minded people know what's going on there. Calling it "race-baiting" isn't a huge overreaction-- it's pretty darn descriptive, in my view. McCain himself has already repudiated such tactics. (And it won't be the last time, either.)

And-- a year after the "Piyush" gambit blew up in the LA Dems' faces-- local wingnuts are pretending to be all bent out of shape about "Hussein" and innocently ask "what, we can't say his middle name now?"

No, you can say the middle name wingers, but you're crossing a line most people can see. Karl Rove understands this.


Fox News:

For the second time in as many days, Sen. John McCain was forced to rebuke members of his own party for over-the-top attacks on Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama.

The presumptive GOP nominee said he disapproves of a Tennessee Republican Party press release that used an infamous photo of Obama in traditional Somali dress, called the Democrat “Barack Hussein Obama,” and alleged that he consulted with anti-Semitic advisers.

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“We’ve got some mental cases out in the community...”

-- Mayor Nagin

"I love my wife... Then why did I hit her?.... I need to change."

-- handmade signs seen on Jefferson Parish highway during Valentine's Day

"I’ve mentioned before that the Republican party is heading toward a civil war, one that could easily be averted simply by hose of us on the Right taking a closer look at who we choose as our leadership. We’ve had control of congress, but with President Bush’s over zealous desire to work with Democrats, even to a self destructive point, our congress to often put winning and party above God, country and Liberty. In some instances, their own families as well.
"The question each of us must ultimately ask ourselves is this, 'Am I compromising too much?'"

-- Avman, at Louisiana Conservative


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School links 

Letting schools crumble.

Demolishing uncrumbled schools.

Master Plans.

#*@*%^#*@*%^!!: Schools Edition


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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Musing Musing's 

Michael at Musing's Musings reflects on the NIU tragedy one week later. I was struck at how some of the phrases he uses to express his feelings will seem very accessible to New Orleanians who read his blog.

There's been a lot of talk about "getting back to normal" on campus. Sometimes it's been about "getting used to the 'new normal.'" I'm sure I'm not the only one in the NIU community that thinks the "new normal" really, truly sucks rocks.
In the meantime, the only truthful and halfway realistic answer any member of the NIU community can give to the oft-repeated question these days of "How are you doing?" is to say that we're coping for right now. I'm OK right now. I may not be five minutes from now, or five hours from now, or five days from now, or five weeks from now. I may be OK now, go all to pieces in an hour, and be OK again 20 minutes after that. Or I may be OK now and for the next five weeks, and then slip into a funk that will last for months. I won't know until I get there when I'm going to be over this thing--if I ever am.

I'm not trying to force any comparisons between NIU's "new normal" and New Orleans' "new normal", nor am I trying to compare "I am ok right now" to "we are not ok"... I hate it when people try to console victims by comparing their current misery to someone else's. However, I'm just noting that Michael's language prompted my mind to leap to those sorts of (unhelpful) connections as I was reading Michael's post. Local readers may have the same experience, and will probably understand what I'm trying to describe.

Take care, Michael. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and the NIU community.

I'd also like to mention the Mighty Favrog (another member of the YRHT blogroll) who lives about a mile away from the Omaha mall where tragic killings took place in December.


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Nagin Editorial 

The latest Louisiana Weekly has a fine editorial responding to Nagin's theatrics:

Although we cheered when we thought he was serious about rooting out corruption at City Hall, we watched in frustration as the mayor and his staff refused to answer a number of questions about reports that refute his self-described role as an outsider and reformer.

For example, many of us want to know why the mayor accepted campaign contributions from past and present companies with business ties to the city's lucrative sanitation contracts. We also want to know why the mayor and his staff have refused to answer questions about former team member Greg Meffert's ties to the businessmen who owned a 53-foot yacht called the Silicon Bayou that the mayor and his lovely wife used to host a thank-you party for his campaign supporters in 2006.

The Nagin administration did very little to convince residents that it is serious about transparent government when the mayor secretly gave some of his top staff members raises and later took those raises away after the media caught wind of them. Questions also remain about why the mayor would tell the media that private companies that were paying the salaries of some members of his recovery team insisted that this information not be made public, only for the public to later discover that these companies attached no such strings to their financial contributions.
Quite frankly, when it comes to dealing with the media, the mayor is his own worst enemy. Rather than pull up and apologize for the many asinine remarks he's made over the years - including the "Chocolate City," NYC "hole in the ground," the boneheaded statement about violent crime keeping "the New Orleans brand" out there and comments about Philadelphia's alleged dirty streets - he chooses instead to dig in and suggest that someone is always picking on him.

He used that victimhood angle to convince displaced residents that The Man was out to get him when it was time for re-election, even though The Man handpicked him and took him from last place to first place in the mayoral race in a flash.

While the mayor has claimed to be concerned about threats from white supremacist organizations, that didn't stop him from marching in solidarity with tens of thousands of others who support the Jena Six in their quest for justice in Jena, Louisiana. He told the media that he needed to be there because he is a national figure, a line he's been using with increasing regularity these days.

Read the whole thing.


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Newell takes Katz to school 

Louisiana Newsmaker is a local half hour politics/current events tv show that airs on the weekends. Host Allan Katz usually interviews three different guests for about five minutes a piece. Actually, saying Katz "interviews" them is probably too charitable, because Katz rarely asks a pointed question. Most of the time he just makes a (fawning) statement, and invites his guests to agree with him. Not a lot of friction occurs on the program. Rarely does anything said on Louisiana Newsmaker actually "make news". It's a friendly little forum.

With that in mind, I did want to print a transcript I made from a Louisiana Newsmaker show that aired several weeks ago, when Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand was the guest. I like Sheriff Normand, and endorsed him, and think he's by far the best person who could conceivably have the job. He'll probably do so for a very long time.

Anyway, Allan Katz began his interview with Normand by posing a long, loaded question-- framed as praise, but premised against N.O.-- and I was quite pleased with Normand's response. Check this out:


AK: Our guest for today is Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. One of the problems that you all have been addressing was the increase in violent crime on the West Bank which really began immediately after Hurricane Katrina. Career criminals from other parishes, most notably New Orleans, seeking new affluent sources of income for themselves found their way to Jefferson Parish, and especially on the West Bank where there was violence, drug deals. These seem to be receding, that wave of crime, and I know it's because of the work that you all are doing. Do you feel like you have a grasp on it yet?

NN: Well, first let me say there are a number of factors that have contributed to it, not only the re-engineering and the relocation of the population. We have some of our own organically grown criminal perpetrators that have been distressed and have decided to take on crime as the way that they were going to earn a living, as well. So it''s not coming from one geographic region or one sector of the community, so to speak. And I think there was a clash of a number of different things that contributed to what was going on on the West Bank, poverty being the cornerstone of most of it.

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Sending out an SOS, message in a blog post... 

Is it too much to ask that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne not say "democrat primary" when he talks to the media about the rules for upcoming primary elections? A few days ago, WWL 870am played a clip of him saying "democrat primary".

The correct term is Democratic primary. You'd think the SOS would know that.

Can't state officials restrain themselves from using partisan terminology when explaining election rules?



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Monday, February 25, 2008

Jindal wants to be GOP convention keynote speaker 

That's what Elliott Stonecipher claimed, today, on Kaare Johnson's Show on WIST 690am.


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Dollar Bill Jefferson's trial postponed again 

T-P columnist Stephanie Grace notes:

If Jefferson's trial had started Monday, as scheduled, it would surely have been wrapped up by the time voters go the polls this fall. Now, it's looking like the criminal investigation could still be alive and well come primary time in September.

And given that Jefferson has shown no inclination to bow to embarrassment, pressure or the reality of reduced clout and step aside, we could well be facing another campaign that's less about New Orleans' recovery and more about Jefferson himself.

[Dr. Phil voice:] Hey, strategic, conservative Jefferson Parish voters, how's that 2006 vote for Dollar Bill workin' out for you?

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No country for bold men? 

There's a puzzling "boldness deficit" when it comes to the Bush administration keeping its stated post-Katrina commitments made concerning poverty and race. This deficit was again on display last week at a conference in Geneva on racism.

First, a quick reminder. President Bush made these statements a couple weeks after Katrina. The first is from his Jackson Square speech and the second is from a speech he made in Washington D.C.:

Our... commitment is this: when communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm... As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.

In this hour of suffering, our nation is also mindful of the work ahead. Through this tragedy great duties have come to our nation.
Americans of every race and religion were touched by this storm; yet some of the greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle -- the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor. And this poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity. As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality.

From a front page article in this week's Louisiana Weekly (not online yet), titled "Rights groups says U.S. failed to address issues of structural racism":

As proceedings on the Bush Administration's compliance of their obligations under International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an international treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994, came to a close on Friday, Feb 22, in Geneva, Switzerland the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) says the U.S. delegation failed completely to address issues of structural racism that persist in the United States.

According to the Human Rights group, representatives from federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the State Department provided only a narrow interpretation of the U.S.'s obligations and unpersuasive rationalizations for its failure to combat both direct and indirect forms of racism when responding to questions posed by the U.N. Committee that monitors compliance under the treaty.
More than 120 activists and experts who traveled to Geneva to monitor the proceedings and hold the U.S. government accountable... were disappointed, but not surprised, by the government's outright denial that disparities that exist in the U.S. today are caused by racial inequalities, and the assertion that the U.S. is meeting its duties under the treaty.

According to USHRN, the U.S. government's report "did not mention the internationally recognized race and poverty related impacts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath."

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Lil' Wayne goes to McMain 

There were plenty of colorful nuggets in Saturday's T-P article by Keith Spera about rapper Lil Wayne's visit to his old high school in New Orleans (links have been added).

At 2 p.m., Eleanor McMain Secondary School's most famous -- and infamous -- former student returned to the campus at the corner of North Claiborne and Nashville avenues.

Trailed by two camera crews and the pungent aroma of pot, he disembarked from his tour bus with the requisite swagger and trappings of hip-hop's hottest m.c.: Hulking security guard, jeweled platinum crucifix, baggy jeans, black Converse sneakers, oversize leather jacket, dreadlocks tumbling past his shoulders, cell phone clamped to an ear.
Rap culture plays an enormous role in [the students'] lives. Classroom conversations touch on hip-hop hype vs. reality and the positive and negative aspects of the language and lifestyle.
Dwayne "Lil Wayne" Carter is living the dream. He grew up in the Hollygrove neighborhood and eastern New Orleans. In the early 1990s, he spent two years at McMain before moving on to Marion Abramson Senior High School.

In seventh grade, he appeared as a Munchkin -- complete with big red nose -- in a McMain production of "The Wiz." (A grainy YouTube clip of Wayne's rambunctious Munchkin has received 225,000 views and sparked lively debate about its authenticity and its effects on his gangsta credibility.)
His reputation is built not on the fleeting fame of a hit single, but on a body of work coupled with an enigmatic, prolific and unpredictable persona.
In his most recent run-in with the law, Wayne's tour bus was stopped Jan. 22 at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint outside Yuma, Ariz. A search yielded marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy. Officials also found a .40-caliber pistol registered to Wayne, who has a concealed weapons permit in Florida. The Yuma County, Ariz., attorney's office filed felony drug and weapons charges.

Given his rap sheet, Wayne is perhaps not an obvious choice to speak to students.
He smiled, strolled into the art room and settled into a green vinyl chair as a wave of excitement rippled through the room. [Ms.] Cook discreetly asked him to hike up his jeans -- students aren't allowed to let their pants sag. He laughed and ignored her.
A student asked if he had envisioned his success.

"You don't start nothing without visualizing yourself at the top," he said. "I encourage you not to -- don't start nothing you don't think will be successful."
His rapping is self-motivated. "My passion is different from other people. Some may do it for girls. I do it for it."
What is his next goal?

"You know who Billy Ray Cyrus is? He did that song 'Achy Breaky Heart.' You know Hannah Montana? That is his daughter. She makes crazy money. I have a daughter . . ."

The room erupted in laughter.
Classmates heckled Julie Nguyen, a senior, when she asked Wayne to the prom. He inquired about the date, then politely declined, explaining that he'd be out of the country.

"He did ask me about the date," Nguyen said later, "so that counts for something."

Being a rapper from New Orleans presented unique challenges, Wayne said. "The hardest part was being taken seriously. They don't get the slang."

Asked to name his favorite song from his repertoire, he glanced around like a mischievous schoolboy, then censored himself: "F the World," he said, bracketing the "F" with air quotes.

Video here:

Lil Wayne's highly anticipated "Carter III" album is due out in April.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Meet" is Nader 

Ralph "more choices, more voices" Nader announced his candidacy for President on Russert's show this morning. That wasn't much of a surprise, of course. What surprised me, though, was how extraordinarily crisp Nader was throughout the interview. He did an outstanding job making his case. Coming in, he had a good idea about which questions would be asked, and he had obviously distilled his best arguments into rich, strong, simple statements: maximum content, minimum words. Efficient and effective. He didn't veer off into tangents. And the only time he seemed to be off his game was when he was plugging his web site (mainly because Nader has never bothered to learn how to really use computers or the internets).

Here's the part of the show that interested me the most, in light of my recent criticisms of Nader-- namely, that he isn't willing to take the political risks necessary to fuel an effective, consequential movement:

MR. RUSSERT: How would you feel, however, if Ralph Nader's presence on the ballot tilted Florida or Ohio to John McCain and McCain became president, and Barack Obama, the first African-American who had been nominated by the Democratic Party--this is hypothetical--did not become a president and people turned to you and said, "Nader, you've done it again"?

MR. NADER: Not a chance. If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form. You think the American people are going to vote for a pro-war John McCain who almost gives an indication that he's the candidate of perpetual war, perpetual intervention overseas? You think they're going to vote for a Republican like McCain, who allies himself with the criminal, recidivistic regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the most multipliable impeachable presidency in American history? Many leading members of the bar, including the former head of the American Bar Association, Michael Greco, absolutely dismayed over the violations of the Constitution, our federal laws, the criminal, illegal war in Iraq and the occupation? There's no way. That's why we have to take this opportunity to have a much broader debate on the issues that relate to the American people, as, as, as a fellow in Long Island said recently, Mr. Sloane, he said, "These parties aren't speaking to me. They're not speaking to my problems, to my family's problems."

MR. RUSSERT: But you do see differences between Barack Obama and John McCain on the war, on tax cuts, on the environment, on a lot of issues?

MR. NADER: Yeah. There are differences, obviously.

Here, Nader is arguing that there is "no chance" that McCain will win. He thinks the Dems will landslide in November, and that his candidacy is mainly about "broadening the debate" on issues that the Dems too often ignore (or fudge).

Nader is basically admitting that he's not in it to win it. He acknowledges that the Dems talk a different game than the Republicans, but Nader thinks he needs to run as a political gadfly in hopes of spurring the Democratic candidate to make his platform more like Nader's (single-payer health care, slash wasteful military spending...etc).

But this is not a new rationale. Nader uses it every four years. It's all about partaking in the "national debate". He's not in it to win, per se, because then he would have to judge himself by his electoral results. It's about influencing the agenda. (Where was he last year when the major candidates were actually putting together their agendas?)

So the question becomes... on what basis does Nader think that his quadrennial presidential campaigns will significantly alter the Democratic candidate's agenda? And how many of Nader's proposals would the Democratic candidate have to adopt to satisfy Ralph, so that he would drop out? 100%? Why does Nader believe that getting 2% of the presidential vote every four years is the most effective way to give "voice" to his issues? Sure, it's his "right" to run... but what has he achieved as a candidate thus far? What does he hope to achieve in 2008? Does he have a political plan for his hopes? He praises and criticizes the tactics of other campaigns, while saying that the American public agree with his agenda... but then why shouldn't Nader have to explain why his own campaigns are always mired below 3% of the vote? How can he so casually dismiss the chance of McCain winning, while not being forced to evaluate his own "chances". (For example, if McCain is as weak as Nader says, and if a Democratic landslide is imminent, why doesn't Nader set a goal of capturing 5%+ of the votes this year? Wouldn't that be something to build on?) Perhaps Nader should spend a little more time analyzing his own tactics. Perhaps he should take some clues from fellow septuagenarian Ron Paul, who figured out creative ways to tap into elements of the American electorate who felt voiceless. The electoral system is heavily rigged, but it's not hopelessly rigged. There are more soft underbellies there than people assume. If you told someone in July of 2004 that a black liberal Democrat with a name that rhymes with "Osama" would be the Presidential favorite in 2008, they would have never believed you.

Unfortunately, it seems that Nader is not willing to take the political risks necessary to creatively exploit these openings in a way that could potentially succeed.

Notwithstanding his solid performance on Meet the Press, I don't think Candidate Nader is the best political vehicle for Citizen Nader's agenda.

Update: Also, in other news, "Deception" has been indicated on the Larry Sinclair lie detector test.


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Socialism for the rich 

After buying Countrywide on the cheap, B of A is suddenly struck with a fantastic bailout idea for themselves and their newly acquired trash:

Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.”

But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion.

A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble.

The proposal warns that up to $739 billion in mortgages are at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting over the next five years and that millions of families could lose their homes.

To prevent that, Bank of America suggested creating a Federal Homeowner Preservation Corporation that would buy up billions of dollars in troubled mortgages at a deep discount, forgive debt above the current market value of the homes and use federal loan guarantees to refinance the borrowers at lower rates.

In the United States, the only respectable form of socialism is socialism for the rich . . .

What would a real economic fix look like?

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