Saturday, September 27, 2008

"This is what we call the Muppet Show" 


Unbeknownst to the New Orleans City Council and the public, a company with close ties to the Mayor's Office of Technology has been paid nearly $3 million this year to maintain and improve the city's system of crime surveillance cameras, a price tag substantially higher than the cost of the cameras.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head, the only member of the council at the committee meeting, wrote a letter Thursday to Mayor Ray Nagin complaining about the hidden deal with Ciber Inc., which she said had no contract for such work.
"To be honest, I feel like there has been a shell game played with funds utilized by the technology department, " Head's letter reads.

[Inspector General Robert] Cerasoli, who has been preparing a report on crime cameras, has also gotten something less than the full story.

Before Monday's meeting, he wrote Head a letter about his preliminary findings. The letter makes clear that his office was unaware of Ciber's camera maintenance deal, despite having asked for every shred of paper related to crime cameras.
For several years, Ciber held the city's main technology contract, much of which was in turn subcontracted to Imagine Software. That company's principals were all once private-sector employees of Greg Meffert, Nagin's first chief technology officer.

Councilmember Stacy Head deserves a lot of credit. Kudos.

I'm sure the American Zombie will have some informed commentary on Muppet Meffert and the crime camera scam. There is perhaps a way the city can recoup the monies that have been wasted on these service contracts. If we can purchase Muppet for what he's worth, and sell him for what he thinks he's worth... like, dude, we could make a mint.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Beyond the Palindrone 

Observations about Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin:

1. She needed notes to look this incomprehensible?

2. Palin characterizes the diplomatic position of Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Colin Powell as "beyond naive". Kissinger, Baker and Powell are many things-- many, many things-- but they're not "naive".

3. Recent quotes:

"[Gov. Sarah Palin] knows more about energy than probably anyone in the United States of America." --John McCain, ABC interview, Sept. 11, 2008.

"My job has been to oversee nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas." --Gov. Sarah Palin, Campaign event in Golden, Colorado, Sept. 15, 2008

Wrong. False.

Didn't McCain learn anything during his visits to America's Energy coast? Tejas and Louisiana account for about a quarter of domestic energy production. They are the real producers of American energy. Alaska accounts for 3.5%. When it comes to energy, Kentucky outproduces Alaska. And it appears Alaska's relatively small energy output will continue to shrink in the short term:

Oil production has fallen sharply in Alaska during [Palin's] governorship. The state's share of total U.S. oil production fell from 18 percent in 2005 to 13 percent this year, according to the EIA.

4. Then, when Palin tackles a question I've been wondering about for some time, the results are bewildering:

“Oil and coal? Of course, it’s a fungible commodity and they don’t flag, you know, the molecules, where it’s going and where it’s not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first... So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it’s Americans that get stuck to holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It’s got to flow into our domestic markets first.

Who knows what the hell that means, but it sounds like she wants Congress to impose trade restrictions on domestic energy. (*Mordant chortle*) I'd LOVE to hear her delineate in granular detail the protectionist measures she thinks might be necessary.


Alaska producers can continue shipping gas to Asia after DOE last week approved an extension of the export license for the Kenai liquefied natural gas plant owned by ConocoPhillips and Marathon. The companies will be allowed to export up to 98.1 Bcf to Japan and other Pacific Rim countries over a two-year period through March 31, 2011. […] The application came under fire from local end-users, including gas distribution companies Enstar and the Chugach Electric Association, as well as fertilizer maker Agrium, all of which claimed the exports would exacerbate the problem of declining gas reserves in south-central Alaska. Agrium permanently closed its plant near Kenai due to an inability to find enough local supply for the facility that used 53 Bcf/year. In January, ConocoPhillips and Marathon reached a deal in which they agreed to step up development in the Cook Inlet region in return for the state’s support of the export license extension. The producers also agreed to divert gas from the LNG plant as needed to meet the peak winter supply needs of the local utilities. […] Alaska Governor Sarah Palin welcomed the DOE approval. “In these times of economic uncertainty, this is great news for the state and its residents. This extension will secure a future for the LNG operation and is another step toward ensuring energy supplies and energy security for Alaska,” the Republican governor said. [Source: Platts Inside FERC, 6/9/08]

I'd wager that the band Information Society has a more coherent view of energy than Sarah Palin. And I'd wager that Maitri, Clay and Nick have forgotten more about energy than she'll ever know.

5. Palin's contention that Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her foreign policy experience is laughable. She says Russian planes might fly over Alaska, and therefore... what exactly? Are they going to drop a metric ton of statecraft on her, because otherwise I don't see how one thing follows from the other.

Put it another way: Nazi submarines attacked the Louisiana coast during World War II. Did that qualify Gov. Earl Long* to be President?

While Governor, she hasn't taken advantage of her state's proximity to Russia to build ties to her Russian neighbor. I daresay Sen. David Vitter has closer ties to high level Russians than does Palin.

Honestly, though, her fallacious "proximity to Russia" argument doesn't worry me as much as her apparent belief that "we live near the end times, so who the hell cares".

* I realize Long wasn't Governor during [America's direct involvement] in WWII, but just play along.

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Too many breakfast foods are yellowish 

Just sayin'.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

"And has even learned how to do Louisiana’s job of protecting that state from hurricanes" 

Get a load of this quote from Northwestern Prof. Steven G. Calabresi, co-founder of The Federalist Society, and former Reagan/Bush administration true believer. Here's his answer to a question from a recent interview. Big thanks to blogenfreude at Agitprop for finding this:

Q: Is distrust or disbelief or lack of confidence in the administration complicating the bailout issue? Do you trust the administration?

A: This Administration deserves to be trusted because it has kept us safe from terrorist attack since 9/11, has fought and won two wars, has presided over eight years of economic growth, has appointed two stellar justices to the Supreme Court, and has even learned how to do Louisiana’s job of protecting that state from hurricanes. The day will come, and not before long, when Americans will wish that George Bush was still president.


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A while back, when the truck testes fad was sweeping the nation, I decided to dangle some "truck ovaries" from my trailer hitch, in order to show my solidarity with my oppressed feminist sisters. I'm an enlightened male that way.

Anyhoo, now it looks like I'm going to have to remove the ovaries from my vehicle, because I'm worried people will think I'm supporting State Rep. John LaBruzzo's new idea:

State Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, fears Louisiana may be headed toward an economic crisis if the percentage of people dependent on the government is not decreased.

His solution: pay impoverished women $1,000 to have their tubes tied so they will stop having babies they can’t afford.

The idea came to LaBruzzo after hurricanes Katrina and Gustav when the state was forced to evacuate, shelter and care for tens of thousands of people.

"I realized that all these people were in Louisiana's care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state," LaBruzzo said. "I said, 'I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.'"

Actually, I shouldn't say it's a "new" idea. As Jeffrey reminds us, one of LaBruzzo's predecessors had a similar notion.

Celcus reviews the reaction from the nolablogosphere. ThinkProgress picks it up here.

oyster's top 3 favorite feminist writers:

1. bell hooks (just about anything she writes is on my "Get Smart Quick" reading list)

2. Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex)

3. Nancy Chodorow (Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sliver by the Hudson River 

From a Sept 15th Wall Street Journal editorial:

With Lehman Brothers probably on the road to liquidation, and Merrill Lynch to be acquired by Bank of America, we are getting a Category 5 test of our financial levees.

Hmm, I see that.

How perilous this test must be for Wall Street! Hope no one dies. Hope someone can provide a quick trillion bucks to reinflate the sacred free market so that stock prices won't go down too fast in an election year.... otherwise life might get pretty rough for y'all.

Still, it must be nice to know that the U.S. government is there to "do what it takes" to protect Wall St., should it fail its Category 5 "test".

South Louisiana wants Category Five levees, of course, but the Bush Administration will only commit to a study.

H/T jkas

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Ike likes Cedric for Congress 

Back in July I noted a possible connection between the state Rep. Cedric Richmond campaign's mailing address and Attorney Ike Spears' law firm. Apparently the connection between Cedric Richmond and Ike Spears is well known and well established, as yesterday's T-P story illustrates:

A federal judge has agreed with a contention by the U.S. attorney's office that lawyer Ike Spears cannot fairly represent 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson and her brother Mose in their upcoming trial on fraud charges.

The reason? Spears' "loyalty is divided," as prosecutors put it, between the Jeffersons and their sister, Brenda Foster, a former Spears client who is expected to testify for the government.

The feds just as easily could have been talking about the 2nd District congressional race, where the Jeffersons' brother, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, faces six challengers in the Oct. 4 Democratic primary.

Among them: state Rep. Cedric Richmond, who describes Spears as his mentor. Both have degrees from Morehouse College and law degrees from Tulane University.

Spears is enthusiastically backing Richmond this year, though he notes that he hasn't given him any money.
Richmond said Spears' support for him in the race shows "the need for change, the fact that more and more people are recognizing that the congressman has had his run. This race is truly bigger than Bill Jefferson."

Many have endorsed Cedric Richmond for U.S. Congress. I'm not yet sold. The close Ike Spears connection certainly gives me pause.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blogging at First Draft today 

Here's a boring post on supply side voodoo.

And, sadly, this might be a prank.
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Why does McCain hate Louisiana sugar? 

From Sen. John McCain's conversation on 60 Minutes with CBS' Scott Pelley:

Pelley: What are you gonna cut [from the budget]?

McCain: I think we'll frankly, you can eliminate so many agencies of government that are outmoded. Obviously I would scrub defense spending. Obviously we would look at every institution of government. I would stop these protectionist tariffs. I would stop subsidizing sugar.

I actually agree with McCain that we should stop subsidizing sugar. (Pointing to sugar subsidies as a top way to balance the budget is pure folly, of course, but let's not go there. Also, let's not go into my "Free trade" sympathies. That's a long discussion for another time.)

However, we should remember that Governor Jindal campaigned for his current office by praising the gargantuan Farm Bill. During Jindal's "war on spending" campaign, he said the Farm Bill was one of the most important pieces of legislation in 2007. He voted for it (sort of), and brought up the specter of food shortages when he said:

Many people think food magically appears at the grocery store. In reality, we must continue to help our farmers and ranchers in order to ensure that the aisles at our grocery stores remain full, and maintaining the Farm Bill is a very important step in that process.

So what does Gov. Jindal think of McCain's idea of removing the federal "safety net" from Louisiana's farmers? More importantly, what do Louisiana farmers think of it? Someone should inform them about McCain's priorities.

Big Thanks to maringouin at Mosquito Coast for catching this.

Update: The T-P has a story on this, and notes that Obama is skeptical of sugar subsidies as well.

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A hearty "Amen" goes out... 

1) To Economist Dean Baker:

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is telling Congress that if it doesn't give him a $700 billion blank check the financial system is going to collapse.
At every point along the way, Secretary Paulson has failed to see the extent of the crisis resulting from the collapse of the housing bubble. This raises serious questions about his judgment. Reporters should be discussing Paulson't track record in the context of this bailout proposal.

You can't spend two years saying the housing market is bottoming, and saying the associated housing credit risks are contained, and then suddenly have a meeting with Congressional leaders and tell them that you need $700 billion immediately or else the country's entire financial system will melt down due to this housing/credit crisis. You can't do that. Or maybe you can, but it's bullshit.

2) To Prof James Livingston, author of "Origins of the Federal Reserve System". His recent post is a speech he offers to Obama. It's a gem, and should be read in full. Seriously. Here's a small taste:

[Consumers] kept leading the way to growth in the last eight years-- according to both Alan Greenspan and Martin Wolf, two leading free market economists, corporations have abstained from investing their increased profits since 2001-- but to do so, consumers had to go deeper and deeper into debt. When their real incomes were not enough to repay their mounting debts, including their adjustable mortgages and equity loans, the limit of demand in housing was reached, and the bubble began leaking air. .

Meanwhile, investment banks were awash in money made available by the Bush tax cuts. Instead of moving the money into the stock market (where the debacle still hurt), or investing it in expanded productive capacity (but where, and how?), they cashed in on the housing boom by "bundling" residential mortgages and selling them to fund managers and commercial banks as safe investment vehicles--or by creating hedge funds that would be "off the books" except for a credit line from the originating bank.

The perfect financial storm was produced by this intersection of Wall Street and Main Street. At the very moment that demand for housing could not be increased or even sustained because consumers could not go any deeper into debt, the largest banks and insurance companies had bet their bottom lines on that demand and its consequence, rising home prices. Their assets were no longer "priced to market"--or rather the housing market was now driving home prices down, and so financial institutions of every kind and at every level were left holding assets that could not be liquidated except at a loss. The same goes for those stealthy hedge funds, half of which will go under by next summer.

3. Also to columnist Michael Kinsley, who crunches some numbers and finds an interesting, abiding correlation:

The figures below are all from the annual Economic Report of the President, and the analysis is primitive. Nevertheless, what these numbers show almost beyond doubt is that Democrats are better at virtually every economic task that is important to Republicans.

Click here for the statistics. Again, these numbers show correlation, not causation. However, Democrats should make everyone aware of such correlations. When the quadrennial discussion of "Which party is better for the economy?" arises, Democratic talking heads should hammer these points home. Four years ago, Kinsley did some similar number crunching which I discussed here. Remember kids, trend is your friend. And it's your money.

H/T to Mark at Levees Not War for the link.


4) Update: Singularity brings us Stirling Newberry's recent insight. Newberry says that Paulson's rhetoric shows that this is a constitutional/political crisis more than a financial one. And Obama opposes the principles of the Paulson plan. Good!

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Belated Quote of the weak 

This quote/rant from late August got lost in the hurricane shuffle. I've recycled it for your (dis)pleasure:

"No, he's not [qualified to be President]. He's -- it's -- to me, it is striking how unqualified Obama is and how this whole thing came about with, within the Democrat Party. I think it really goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy."

-- Radio host Rush Limbaugh explaining how Obama's nomination is due to liberal affirmative action

[Because... if there's one word "black guys" never hear from white folk, it's the word "No". White people just don't have "the guts" to say "No" to black folk, and that sort of white cowardice emboldens blacks. Since blacks never really hear "No" directed at them, they feel free to accrue more and more power. Maybe sixty years ago white people had the "guts" to say "No" to blacks, but then national liberalism took over, and a new Post-Modern Black America was built on an infinite cascade of "Yes Yes Yesses" from gutless white people.

Rush understands why they run all over us-- because we're too politically correct to manage these uppity people of color, who keep demanding more and more and more. For example, Harvard University is inundated with black guys who get everything they ask for without any static. Hard-working doughy white guys, on the other hand, get bumped out of Harvard and have to attend Southeast Missouri State. Then they flunk out after two semesters because they are so depressed at how easy life can be... for some people.

Another example is the U.S. Senate-- freakin' crawling with black guys! When's the last time you turned on C-Span and heard someone tell a black Senator "No"? I rest my case. And now Obama's political ascendance means even more black guys (and gals) will hold positions of power. Think about that, white America. Soon, all the top political leaders will look different than you and me. Then how would you feel when black people have a hammerlock on all the top political offices? And it's all because too many white liberals couldn't say "No" to inexperienced Obama.

Still don't believe me? Think I'm being alarmist? Well, some of my best friends know people who are black, and here's what they tell me: black folk are laughing at us, behind our backs, because they think we're such pushovers. They even call us "The Gutless Yes-Men", because we don't have the courage to tell them "No".]

Note: "Wait" is often "No" on the lay-away plan. But Blacks never hear that one, either.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gobble Gobble 

Here are a couple passages from a recent essay by Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, which seems like pertinent reading these days:

My classical metaphor: A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days— every [day] confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare "with increased statistical significance". On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.
Now let me tell you what worries me. Imagine that the Turkey can be the most powerful man in world economics, managing our economic fates. How? A then-Princeton economist called Ben Bernanke made a pronouncement in late 2004 about the "new moderation" in economic life: the world getting more and more stable—before becoming the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Yet the system was getting riskier and riskier as we were turkey-style sitting on more and more barrels of dynamite—and Prof. Bernanke's predecessor the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was systematically increasing the hidden risks in the system, making us all more vulnerable to blowups.

In this YRHT post from last year, I mentioned that Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan* is on my "Get Smart Quick" reading list. This is a "list" that I haven't yet officially compiled for widespread distribution, but I'm sure Friedrich Nietzsche's Gay Science would be on it-- specifically passage 110, Origin of knowledge.

* and/or Fooled by Randomness, Taleb's other book

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