Sunday, December 31, 2006

Not on the List

AP’s top news stories in 2006:

1. IRAQ
2. U.S. ELECTION
3. NUCLEAR STANDOFFS
4. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
5. SCANDALS IN CONGRESS
6. SADDAM CONVICTED
7. MIDEAST FIGHTING
7. (tie) RUMSFELD RESIGNS
9. AIRLINER PLOT
10. DISASTER IN DARFUR
Honorable mention:
Just missing out on the Top 10 was mounting concern over climate change and global warming, highlighted by the release of Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and alarming new warnings from many scientists.
Yep, the hurricane recovery is not on the list. I guess the AP saw nothing to report there. Does that mean there was no recovery?

Also not on the list, but that’s because no one really reported the significance of it when it was released on June 1, the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) report saying, “The hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only,” which lead to the now retiring head of the USACE saying:
"This is the first time the Corps has had to stand up and say we had a catastrophic failure of one of our projects," says chief engineer Lt. Gen. Carl Strock.
That should have made some list.

AP list as seen on Daily Kos.

UPDATE: The Advocate's list of the top ten Baton Rouge stories:
1. New Orleans rebuilding goes slowly
2. Storms fuel economic growth in BR
3. Property insurance costs increase
4. Doctor, two nurses arrested in N.O. hospital deaths
5. BR man accused of killing five
6. LSU men's and women's basketball teams advance to Final Four
7. Nagin wins re-election
8. Voters OK independent Central school system
9. Jefferson wins, denies wrongdoing
10. Bertman faces questions about program

Behind Schedule

Who, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? No way!

Way:

The Corps is about six months behind schedule in issuing an all-important "risk analysis," a massive body of work that is intended to tell the public how likely New Orleans is to flood again from a big hurricane.

The analysis is supposed to explain in precise detail how well specific sections of the city are protected against hurricanes, using evidence that hurricanes have intensified in recent years. The analysis would produce detailed maps.
I am sure no one’s waiting for that:
The Corps' analysis will play a major role in determining the city's future — including whether more than 200,000 former residents could rebuild abandoned neighborhoods and whether insurers can provide coverage at an affordable rate.
That’s okay. It just affects us little old New Orleanians:
The stakes are high, not only for the integrity of the levees around New Orleans but for similar levees that protect millions of Americans who live along vulnerable coastlines and rivers across the nation. Many were built on the same mucky foundations and with the same flawed engineering assumptions as the notorious failed 17th Street levee in New Orleans.

The suspect levees stretch from Florida's Lake Okeechobee to the rivers of California's Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which has 2,300 miles of levees that protect cities and farmland.

The Corps' investigation is essential to understanding California's situation, said Les Harter, the levee chief at the California Department of Water Resources.

"The floodwalls in New Orleans were 15 years old, and they failed," Harter said. "Our levees are 100 years old. We estimate we have one-half the level of protection that New Orleans had."
Well, at least something has happened in those six months:
Three top-ranking Army Corps of Engineers officials who led the agency's reconstruction work after Hurricane Katrina are stepping down, prompting critics to again question whether the Corps is able to protect the city from future disasters.

The latest retirements include two top civilians and the New Orleans district engineer. They come on the heels of the retirement of the agency's chief, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, who said in August he was leaving his post for "family and personal reasons."

***

Last month, Col. Richard Wagenaar, the New Orleans district's engineer chief who was assigned his post one month before Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, asked the Army to let him retire next summer.

He cited the "mental challenges and physical challenges" of handling the district since Katrina.

***

Dan Hitchings, a 55-year-old civilian who oversaw the agency's reconstruction mission after Katrina, Task Force Hope, said he is retiring at the end of January.

Hitchings said the change in leadership will not diminish the agency's ability to get the job done.

***

The third top engineer to retire is Greg Breerwood, the New Orleans district's 59-year-old deputy district engineer for project management. With 37 years of experience, he is the senior civilian in the district.

Breerwood said the Corps is about to start the next phase of long-term flood and hurricane protection for Louisiana. His last day on the job is Jan. 3.
Hey, where is everybody going?

Just Revenge

Written on the side of the Criminal Courts building on Tulane and Broad is the following quote:

This is a Government of Law not of Men
The statement is overtly sexist, but it is meant to describe the democratic government we have set up here in the U.S.A. (Some would say, then, that the overt sexism is accurate.) This is also supposed to be the democracy we are spreading to the Middle East.

But this morning, I read this NY Times account of Saddam Hussein’s execution with this chilling lead sentence:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 — Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.
It is clear that in the government sanctioned death of Saddam Hussein, men killed the ex-dictator, not law:
His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally repressed two separate uprisings.
Hussein represented Sunni Iraq. The current government is dominated by Shiite Iraq. The sectarian violence in Iraq – the civil war – is, put simply, the Sunni militias versus the Shiite militias.

Hussein’s execution at the hands of a Shiite government, and more intimately by the hands of Shiite men, can be seen as a Shiite victory over the Sunnis in Iraq – hardly a way to bring the two sides together.

And the two sides were at war even at the scene of the execution:
The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr. Hussein. “Peace be upon Mohammed and his holy family.”

Two guards added, “Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.”

Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their direction.

They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, whom many believe Mr. Hussein ordered murdered.

“Moktada?” he spat out, mixing sarcasm and disbelief.
As Hussein is the symbol of Sunni Iraq, Moktada al-Sadr is the symbol of Shiite Iraq. The guards were obviously supporters of Moktada al-Sadr, therefore Shiite.

The inappropriate wordplay continued:
Mr. Rubaie [Iraq’s national security adviser], standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Hussein, asked him about the killing of the elder Mr. Sadr.

They were standing so close to each other that others could not hear the exchange.

One of the guards, though, became angry. “You have destroyed us,” the masked man yelled. “You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution.”

Mr. Hussein was scornful: “I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persians and Americans.”

The guard cursed him. “God damn you.”

Mr. Hussein replied, “God damn you.”
In a government of law, not of men, the guard present at an execution does not curse the condemned.

Michigan professor Juan Cole has more at Salon.com:
One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.

***

Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy. Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982.

***

When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

***

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.
I will never agree with a state sanctioned execution. But this one is certainly consistent with the United States’ current foreign policy. You’re either with us, or against us. And if you are our enemy, and we can find you, we’ll kill you.

This is the foreign policy of the weak. Only the weak must kill all their enemies to claim victory. The strong do not fear the mere existence of their enemies. The strong are confident in their decisions and are not worried about any challenge their enemies may mount.

I believe the United States is strong. I believe Americans can be strong. We do not have to rule the world to be the leaders of the world. The strong are merciful precisely because they are strong. The weak can never show mercy because of fear.

We should have shown mercy with Hussein. The United States should have lobbied for Hussein to not be executed, but to spend his life in prison. In a country torn in half by sectarian violence, a show of mercy would have been the right message to send, not another merciless killing.

Yes, I know. Hussein showed no mercy to the thousands of people he ordered killed. This is true. But Hussein was weak. He could show no mercy. The life he saved might have come back to kill him one day and he feared this.

If we are strong, we should not fear a living, breathing Saddam Hussein. But it is too late to be merciful. Hussein is dead. Was it justice? Or, just revenge?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The D.A. and the NOPD Working Hand in Hand

Make that fist to fist.

The D.A. announces indictments in the Danziger Bridge shootings on Wednesday. Seven NOPD officers are indicted on first-degree, attempted first-degree, and/or attempted second-degree murder. The D.A. adds this to his announcement:

"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.
Superintendent Warren Riley hears this and the next day responds:
Riley called Jordan's comments "highly unprofessional, highly prejudicial and highly undignified."

"We want justice first and foremost ... but for the district attorney to try and prejudice the community against these officers before all the evidence is heard is really, I think, a sad day for the city."
So, the D.A. is saying “our police officers” are acting like “rabid dogs” and Riley is calling the D.A. “highly unprofessional” and that the D.A.’s actions are a “sad day for the city.”

Just another week in the NOLA criminal justice system.

This is how it is supposed to work. The NOPD arrests the bad guy. The D.A. tries to put the bad guy in jail. The courts make sure the bad guy really is the bad guy and not the wrong guy.

Can that system work when two of the three parts can’t seem to get along?

Meanwhile, in Gotham City:
Two New Orleans men were killed in separate shootings Thursday, including a prominent New Orleans musician slain while driving through Mid-City with his wife and two children, a police spokesman said.

Dinerral Shavers, 25, died from a gunshot to the back of his head at about 5:30 p.m. while behind the wheel of his black Chevrolet Malibu in the 2200 block of Dumaine Street, police said.
And on Friday:
A 17-year-old boy who was feuding with the 15-year-old stepson of a New Orleans musician was arrested Friday in the shooting death of the musician inside the family car on Thursday, police said.

David Bonds, 17, is accused of fatally shooting Dinerral Shavers, 25, a snare drummer for the Hot 8 Brass Band and a band teacher at L.E. Rabouin High School.
Now, the “rabid dogs” of the NOPD turn David Bonds’ case over to the “highly unprofessional” D.A. with hopes of a conviction.

My question: Will our criminal justice system work in this case? If it fails, who will it fail for? Dinerral Shavers? David Bonds? Both?

If it fails for one of us – any one of us – it fails for all of us.

Where's Batman when you need him?

Repopulate Downtown

American Zombie recounts a “depressing rumor” which outlines a scenario in which major downtown hotels leave New Orleans:

Imagine a Canal Street with two to three towering empty buildings...no lights, no people...nada...just dead, monolithic, hulls. Combined with our inability to get adequate flights into the city, it could be a 1-2 knockout punch to our convention industry: no way to get here and nowhere to stay when they do get here. We've already lost one major convention (Microsoft) due to the lack of flights...I think that single issue could set off a chain reaction into oblivion.
As I am not a fan of the tourism industry, this doesn’t really depress me. If these “dead, monolithic, hulls” were bought by HANO/HUD and redeveloped as mixed income (meaning a fair amount of low income) apartments for rent or purchase, our housing problem would be solved. Canal Street would blossom as a retail center because all the new residents would need services, like places to buy groceries, wash clothes, buy things for the house, buy parts for the car, etc. Tourism service jobs would be replaced by retail jobs and people would be able to live close to where they worked. Restaurants would stay in business because residents like to eat out, too, though they won’t be able to charge tourist prices.

Repopulate downtown. It would solve the lack of housing and it would promote development in a section of the city that’s high and dry.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Major Wisdom

From Minor Wisdom:

Each of us may be wiser today than we were yesterday, but that may only mean that we're slightly less of an idiot today than we were yesterday. In any event, there's a good chance we'll be wiser tomorrow than we are today. So next time we have the urge to fire off a correction to someone else's opinion, let's consider waiting until tomorrow, and thinking about it in the meantime.
Take that into account when responding to Maxim's latest list of the Worst Sports Arenas. Look who's #10:
10. Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Even before Katrina, the place came across as drab and soulless as a long-abandoned warehouse. Great symbol of New Orleans' resilience, lousy place to see a game.
I'll give you drab. But soulless?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

La. Representative U.S. 2nd Congressional District Election

Overall stats:

62,106 people voted.
26,985 (43.4%) for Karen Carter.
35,121 (56.6%) for William Jefferson.
Jefferson Parish stats:
16,901 people voted.
4,967 (29.4%) for Karen Carter.
11,934 (70.6%) for William Jefferson.
Orleans Parish stats:
45,205 people voted.
22,018 (48.7%) for Karen Carter.
23,187 (51.3%) for William Jefferson.
Looking at those numbers, we can make various conclusions. But, we CANNOT make ANY conclusions about the motive of individual voters. However, a lot of people are making a few conclusions about the motives of Jefferson Parish voters.

Mr. Clio, from World Class N.O.:
I would like America to know that Congressman William Jefferson, while under investigation for corruption, took 70 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish (the Westbank portion of his district). That suburban vote (which looks demographically a lot like Houston or Atlanta)--not the city of New Orleans--is what put Congressman Jefferson back in D.C. for another term. THANKS WESTBANK! THANKS HARRY LEE!
Wet Bank Guide:
If you voted for Dollar Bill or stayed home and let him be re-elected; if you voted Republican in the past and acquiesce in (if not endorse) the sort of politics that left him unindicted on the odd chance he might be re-elected to provide some future political advantage or a West Banker who helped send a future felon back in our name on the odd chance you might do better next time, don't be putting on your Bush jersey tomorrow. You don't deserve to wear it. If you want to be part of team New Orleans, then you damned well better start acting like it.
Moldy City:
I heard some Jefferson Parish official say something about electing somebody from Jefferson next time; apparently, they want both of the Jefferson/Orleans seats. With people on the east bank of Jefferson thinking in terms of Jefferson/Orleans, and people on the west bank of both parishes thinking East Bank/West Bank, it could happen. Anyone but Shepherd.
People Get Ready:
Meanwhile, it’s disheartening for us in Orleans Parish, who have been working so hard to cleanse Louisiana of its stain of corruption, that white Jefferson Parish voters cynically voted for the crook thinking that he’d be indicted, and they’d then be given an opportunity to elect someone who more closely resembles voters in white-flight Jefferson Parish.

***

How incredibly ironic it is that, for all of the criticism we get in New Orleans for corruption, it’s actually Republican voters in Jefferson Parish who are voting against Louisiana’s best interests. Is cynicism a “conservative” value? What do those people tell their children about how they voted?

Jefferson Parish is making a lot of money on New Orleans’ problems — all the big box hardware retailers in Jefferson are booking record sales, and record tax receipts (and … ahem … Sheriff Harry Lee, who had his little tantrum over Karen Carter’s candidacy, is the official Jefferson Parish tax collector). It’s really a shame, then, that Jefferson Parish wouldn’t be working harder to help New Orleans, and cooperate in political decisions that benefit the region and the state, not political parties and personal vendettas.

***

I only hope the rest of the country won’t punish New Orleans for the political errors of politicians elected by the bastard political coalition of white Republican racists, and distrustful blacks who vote loyalty more than their consciences.
Your Right Hand Thief:
Unfortunately, Jefferson Parish was also involved. And they thought it was important to elect the crook, because otherwise dehydrated disaster victims might storm across the bridge to loot food and water and wine coolers from Greatna's precious bedroom communities.

***

So da "Best Bank" elects a legislator who supposedly understands "their side of the river" to a Congress where he will be an ineffectual outsider. In doing so, they reinforce the national impression that New Orleans is too stupid to self-govern, and utterly hopeless.
Cliff’s Crib:
The most important thing is that the numbers from this election prove why this area will always be a joke. Look at the numbers from Jefferson Parish. I know the people in Jefferson Parish don't like the fact that they look racist to the rest of the country after the Spike Lee movie. They may not be racist as much as they are stupid.

***

Basically, the people of Jefferson sold the city out for a personal vendetta. Jefferson and Nagin together is like political suicide for the most part. They don't care what Jefferson does in DC because most of their houses are dry and their families are not split. Their side of the levee didn't fall. This is why the people that live in the New Orleans city limits cannot be tricked into buying into that regional approach bullshit. The regional approach is going to end up just like the levee system, public schools and every other thing. In the end the people living in the city will get the short end of the stick.
First, let’s talk numbers. Only 16,901 people voted in Jefferson Parish out of 62,106 overall. That’s 27.2% of the all voters in the election. 11,934 Jeffersonians voted for Jefferson. While that is 70.6% of the Jefferson Parish vote, it is only 19.2% of the overall vote. In a runoff, you can’t get elected with 19.2% of the vote. Therefore, to say Jefferson Parish elected William Jefferson is wrong. He got the bulk of his votes from New Orleans.

Yes, the percentages were close in New Orleans. But William Jefferson won there. If he had won in Jefferson Parish by the same margin, he still would have won the election.

Second, Louisiana’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District is not only made up of New Orleans. Jefferson Parish voters will, and it is their right to, vote in their interests. Karen Carter did not appeal to Jefferson Parish voters *at all*, much less as the lesser of two evils, which JP President Aaron Broussard pointed out:
Broussard said the congressman won overwhelmingly in suburban precincts because "Karen Carter was a stranger to Jefferson Parish." Even Shepherd, whose state Senate district covers parts of downtown New Orleans in addition to most of Jefferson Parish's West Bank, enjoyed some crossover appeal.
We can not and never will know the motives of Jefferson Parish voters. But, I think it is logically wrong to conclude that it means the people of Jefferson Parish don’t want to be on “team New Orleans.” Karen Carter may have been the best candidate for New Orleans. But, I think it is obvious that she wasn't the best for JP.

Third, Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District is gerrymandered to include districts in both parishes which would tend to vote for an African-American candidate. While racism could explain why a “bastard political coalition of white Republican racists” would stay home and not vote at all, I don’t think it explains why those who did vote voted heavily for Jefferson.

Fourth, I don’t believe that Jefferson Parish voters went to the polls believing they could install one of their own in the seat in a second-chance election after the (in my opinion, not-so) inevitable indictment of William Jefferson. Given that there are so many more New Orleans voters than Jefferson Parish voters in the district, I can’t see how a Jeffersonian could win without broad crossover popularity, in which case everyone would like that candidate and not have a problem that he or she is from JP.

Fifth, not everyone thought that Karen Carter was the better candidate for New Orleans. This is why we have elections. A person is not stupid because they don’t vote for the candidate you support. They may be stupid because they believe stupid things that lead them to vote for their candidate. But you can not use the evidence of who they voted for to label them stupid.

Adrastos, as always, has a good read on why Carter lost:
The biggest mistakes the Carter camp made were fueled by overconfidence. It was a *terrible* mistake to refuse to appear on TV with Dollar Bill unless he was in the studio with Princess BOLD. Dollar Bill was willing to appear via satellite from Washington but Carter's handlers denounced that as an attemp to control how he was presented. Yo, Ms, Carter, you were the challenger, you were not well known; ANY appearance with the incumbent put you on an equal footing. The reason for this monumental cockup seems to be the Carter people's belief that victory was inevitable. That led them to act as if she were the incumbent instead of an unknown and untested challenger.
Could it be that Carter discounted the JP vote because she thought she would get a higher percentage of the more populous New Orleans vote? It’s not a bad strategy because almost three times more people voted in New Orleans than JP. If that was her strategy, then she did not get enough *New Orleans* votes. That turns things around a little.

After saying all that, I don’t think Jefferson Parish is doing enough to help New Orleans recover. JP is in a unique position to be a positive force in the recovery of NOLA. New Orleans is geographically isolated from St. Tammany. St. Bernard and Plaquemines are in the midst of their recoveries which, by scale, are worse than New Orleans. But Jefferson Parish is right there, watching and, for some reason, waiting. A JP-NOLA combo would be a juggernaut.

I respect all the bloggers I referenced above. They are on my blogroll because I admire them and have learned from them. Please do not take this disagreement with you as a personal attack. I am not calling anyone out.

I just think blaming Jefferson Parish for William Jefferson’s election and then piling on everything else you don’t like about the parish is a distraction from the goal of recovery… and not a good distraction like the Saints.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Legend of Michael Brown

Every time he speaks, the legend grows:

Brown faulted those New Orleans residents who failed to have their own hurricane plan, believing it was the government’s duty to keep them safe.

“The government cannot save you,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from this culture of dependency and go to a culture of preparedness in this country … Every one of us has things we can do in our lives and our businesses to be better prepared.”
And grows…
He criticized Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for pointing the finger of blame at each other instead of working together to solve the problem.

“I felt like strangling them both,” he said. “I probably should have … In Katrina, I was never able to establish a unified command structure because Louisiana was so dysfunctional and so overwhelmed.”
In fact, the legend has grown to such proportions that Michael Brown himself must refer to the Michael Brown of Katrina in the third person:
After Katrina struck, Brown said, the White House was more interested in political damage control than in actual damage control in New Orleans.

“One of the biggest mistakes Mike Brown made during Katrina was not crumpling up the White House talking points and saying ‘Folks, here’s the truth,’” he said.
This Mike Brown he speaks of. He is a legend in this part of the world.

It Ain’t What You Say, It’s What You Do

But I like what Ed Blakely is saying:

"The city needs a modern infrastructure, and you have to build something better," Blakely added. "New Orleans needs a modern economy, a new economic base, because you can't live on tourism alone."

***

"First we have to bring back the infrastructure -- across the entire city," he said. "We need sewer lines, streets, street lights, traffic lights. ... Power is still out in some quarters. All of that has to be put back before you can begin to put up houses."

***

Blakely said his office will develop a master plan for the city, which currently is home to about 200,000 residents but that he envisions may one day include up to a half-million people. His work will focus on rebuilding the city's core, and he said a bill before Congress would provide funding to modernize the levee system in the Gulf Coast region to avert another such disaster.

"We are very far behind the Japanese and the Dutch in putting in the types of flood-control systems that we need down here," he added.
I have always liked the idea of rebuilding from the center out so that the city doesn’t spread its diminished resources too thin. However, that would only work if two things happen: (1) the city must guarantee that every neighborhood will be rebuilt, and, (2) the city must provide affordable, temporary housing in the “core” to all displaced residents who want to return.

Without a guarantee that every neighborhood will be rebuilt, the patchwork rebuilding would have to occur so that neighborhoods could prove their viability. And, affordable, temporary housing in the “core” would allow residents from the more heavily flooded areas to live in a functioning part of the city while the infrastructure in their neighborhoods, and ultimately, their homes are rebuilt. When they move back to their homes, they would leave behind an invigorated “core” ready for new people to move in. A thriving “core” combined with newly rebuilt neighborhoods with sound infrastructure would allow New Orleans to transcend its World Class status.

Oh, yeah, and the levee thing is important, too.

So That’s Why My Internet was Slow Today

Mayor Nagin to USA Today:

"There is (federal) money out in cyberspace, there is money in the mail … but very little of that money has made it to our local governments and our citizens."
Dammit. All that federal money in cyberspace is clogging up the tubes. Get it out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Don’t Pick on FEMA

FEMA Director R. David Paulison says it’s not easy being FEMA. You think you know. But you have no idea:

I believe many Americans have little awareness of:

- FEMA’s size, which is about the size of many high schools—or 2500 full time employees;
- FEMA’s mission, which is to help America mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters;
- FEMA’s reliance upon partners—be it the States, the Department of Defense, or others in the federal, state or private sector—to accomplish nearly all that we do, and
- Citizens’ personal roles and responsibilities, along with state and local jurisdictions, in the emergency management process.

Now, part of this is our fault. We in FEMA simply haven’t done as good a job as we should explaining our roles and responsibilities, managing expectations and communicating the urgent need for personal preparedness. Although FEMA can—and will do a better job of framing our respective roles and responsibilities within an emergency management context, I want to make it crystal clear that every American has a part to play in achieving national preparedness.
You see, FEMA is the little guy. They just didn’t do a good job letting you know about how little they were. They’re like a high school… a high school that can be allocated millions of dollars by Congress and can “rely on” the Department of Defense to accomplish its mission. Didn’t your high school have those kinds of resources? (Okay, okay, maybe my alma mater did.)

Paulison gave the above speech to the National Press Club last week. He was talking about the “New FEMA.” It seems he wanted to make us aware that FEMA’s mission isn’t to actually do anything. They just “help America” do things. That way, because FEMA doesn’t actually do anything, they aren’t responsible when things aren’t done right. So who, according to Paulison, is responsible?

You are:

Any American who fails to prepare for potential disasters not only places the lives of their loved ones in jeopardy, he or she also may put the lives of first responders at risk and contribute to a more difficult response. The extent to which any one of us is victimized by disaster is determined, at least in part, by how well—or how poorly—we personally prepare ourselves and our loved ones for disaster.
Only you can prevent a failed response to a natural disaster. So be prepared.

Be prepared, because you never know when $1 billion will go to the wrong people:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments that it distributed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by congressional investigators says.

At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says.
Be prepared, because the *right* people might stop getting help and not know why:
FEMA has to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing assistance, a federal judge ruled yesterday [Nov 29].

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that the agency also had to improve an appeals process that evacuees had long said was confusing, contradictory and amounted to an arbitrary denial of help.

***

The judge said that the lack of clarity deprived evacuees of their rights of due process, pointing out that the agency had conceded that thousands of families had been incorrectly ruled ineligible.
Be prepared, because FEMA may fight for their right to not give housing assistance to eligible families:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that it will appeal a judge's order that the agency resume housing assistance and make retroactive payments to thousands of hurricane evacuees.

The appeal notice came just hours after lawyers for evacuees asked a federal judge in Washington to order FEMA to provide a plan for compliance with the Nov. 29 order. FEMA's notice did not specify grounds for the appeal.
Be prepared, because the director of FEMA, addressing the court ruling, might say something like this:
"No good deed goes unpunished," Paulison said, adding that FEMA helped more people than it ever has despite overwhelmed systems, huge work volumes and pressure to fight victim fraud. "We felt like we did a good job."

He added: "We have to resist the call for additional investigations unless they're based on new evidence and allegations. Rather than conduct additional studies, inquiries, analysis that look backward and tell us what we really already know, we should continue to focus on correcting the problems."
Be prepared, because FEMA’s “good deed” may keep you from coming home:
By summer, four out of five recertification requests were denied, said Heather Godwin, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Advocates and court records show that FEMA refused, against agency rules, to give aid to more than one member of a family, even if they were separated across the country; that the agency concluded erroneously that many homes were not severely damaged by the storms; and that FEMA relied on computer systems that were unable to keep track of applicants' documents and were plagued by overloaded workers' data-entry errors.

Other bureaucratic measures, designed to combat abuse, required applicants to provide written documentation of pre-storm housing payments, which was unavailable to some evacuees, or to meet inspectors even if they were living miles away.

***

Liberal analysts also cite other indicators that aid cutoffs are leading to de facto relocation decisions as poor families, unable to get back to New Orleans, begin to seek local aid where they are. In Austin, the wait list for public housing has grown from 8,200 to 10,000 families, Godwin said.
Be prepared, because your state might not be able to question how FEMA spent recovery money:
Who should pay for the federal government’s mistakes in handing out disaster aid to the wrong people? Not Louisiana, say state officials, who have gone to court to try to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from collecting about $60 million from the state

The federal government has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that Louisiana cannot refuse to pay charges it disagrees with — even when the charges are the result of fraudulent claims — and that the state has no right to audit FEMA’s spending. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in Federal District Court in Baton Rouge.
Be prepared, and heed the word of FEMA:
So, what does personal preparation mean? This means having a plan, understanding that plan, and exercising that plan; and, It also means having adequate homeowners and flood insurance to recover after disasters strike. America must continue to develop a culture of preparedness.
Yes, have a personal plan, understand that plan, and exercise that plan when the US Army Corps of Engineers comes to your town and builds a levee system “in name only.”

Yes, we do need to “develop a culture of preparedness” now that we know our government is not prepared.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Better Late Than Never?

Let the recovery begin!

More than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin is ready to open a city office to direct New Orleans' recovery, with a leading regional planner and disaster recovery expert in charge.

***

Nagin said in a recent interview a recovery director previously didn't make sense because "I couldn't really communicate to the person their authority, how the money was flowing, how (the recovery) would be set up. All that clarity is in place (now)."

The city has made strides, Nagin said. "I just need somebody to take me to the next level."
Ed Blakely is Nagin’s choice for recovery director. From what I’ve read about Blakely on the internet, he is as good a choice as any other person not from the New Orleans area.

He penned this online opinion a couple of weeks after Katrina hit:
There is little doubt that the “essential” New Orleans will be rebuilt and probably resettled. More than one third of the residents will not return for a host of reasons, including the traumas of the incident. But most will return. The best way to cater for this is to rebuild the city section by section, so large numbers can come back and resurrect their neighbourhoods again.

In this process each neighbourhood should be rebuilt with locals taking part, including working with one another, to help rebuild their homes and parks. My experience is that this process binds neighbours back to the neighbourhood. Therefore we should avoid contractors doing all the work.

Physical inputs and planning designs from the community - and even from the children - are therapeutic and make the community a community again. The communities we rebuilt in Los Angeles and Oakland are stronger today than they were before the events.
Reading that opinion piece, he seems to understand what “community” is – although, he might have to unlearn a few myths:
Obviously, the central business core will need to be rebuilt too. It should be rebuilt around some form of New Bourbon Street, just like San Francisco created New Montgomery Street after the 1908 fires that destroyed the entire city.
The “old” Bourbon Street is still there, and I don’t see a lot of business taking place there. Lots of businesses, but not a lot of business. You know what I mean.

I’m not sure, though, that Blakely will be able to do anything:
Blakely said he knows from past experiences that "leadership makes all the difference." In New Orleans, he said, the recovery has been bogged down by the number of bureaucracies and people involved and by the lack of a modern, citywide master plan.
What does that say about Nagin? If we accept that “leadership makes all the difference” and that “the recovery has been bogged down,” then shouldn’t we assume that Nagin up to this point has been a poor leader? Conversely, if the recovery’s slow pace is due to “the bureaucracies and people involved” and not Nagin, then shouldn’t we assume that Nagin is powerless to the forces around him and, in fact, the leader of nothing when it comes to the recovery?

By the future recovery director’s own admission, he is either dealing with an ineffective leader or an impotent one. Let the recovery begin!

“Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?”

Seriously. I wish there was an alternative to 870 AM in the morning.

I could just turn the radio off. But, I want to here the local news updates at the top and bottom of the hour.

The discussion topic for the second hour of Spud’s show today was Keith Ellison’s choice to use a Koran to be sworn in to Congress. He went to a commercial break saying “Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?”

Hmm… the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

Hmm… being Muslim. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

What a stupid question. How about we analyze the un-American, anti-Constitutional reaction to Ellison’s attempt to freely practice his religion? That’s what I want my AM talk show to discuss. The erosion of the rights granted by the Constitution affects both liberal and conservative Americans.

I suppose the next topic will be: What version of the Bible should Congressmembers use to be sworn in?

A caller reminded Spud of the 1st Amendment, quoted above, and the more relevant section of the Constitution, Article VI:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Hmm… the Constitution. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

Friday, December 01, 2006

T’was the Night before the Budget Vote

That’s plenty of time to review $33 million in sanitation contracts for the first time, right?

On the eve of the New Orleans City Council's vote today on the 2007 budget -- which will include $33 million for three new trash-collection deals -- top officials for Mayor Ray Nagin delivered long-awaited final versions of two of the contracts and announced the winner of a third trash pickup deal in the French Quarter.

***

Moreover, sanitation Director Veronica White made clear that the council's options -- despite its power of the purse over Nagin's proposed budget -- were severely limited, given that the deals are slated to begin Jan. 2.

"What would you do at this late date if we should not approve this?" Midura asked.

"What would be the alternative? There would be no garbage pickup," White said. "That would be the alternative."
It’s C. Ray or the highway.

Why are the details of the contracts being released the day before the Council must vote on them?
It is not clear, however, why the city did not disclose the contracts sooner, despite numerous inquiries in person and in writing. The public records law generally requires public entities to provide public documents "immediately," or within, at most, three days. Mayoral spokeswoman Ceeon Quieet said Thursday that she did not receive such inquiries after Nov. 13.
Oh, I see. There were “numerous inquiries” before November 13, but none after November 13. That’s why no one got to see the contracts before yesterday, not even Councilwoman Midura, a member of the budget committee that “monitors contracts for collection and disposal.”

From the T-P article:
With the contracts in her hand, Midura pressed Wilde on why the city attorney's office, which provides legal counsel to the mayor as well as the council, refused to clue her in over the past six weeks to the bulk of the agreements' content. Instead, she said, they responded to her repeated requests for draft versions of the contracts -- in whole or in part -- with dubious explanations, including the assertion that the public records law specifically exempts lawyers' work product.
What does that say for Nagin’s pledge of “transparent spending policies”? Moldy City clues us in.

Also from the T-P article, the true litterbugs are the rats:
"Hiring a bunch of people to go around and pick up manually, you're defeating your purpose," she [sanitation Director Veronica White] said, noting that uniform carts with lids that are part of the new deals will stop rodents from tearing through plastic bags, which she called a major factor in loose litter.
Some of us are worried about a different type of rats.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Making More Connections

The President thinks our allies are not spending enough money on war:

President Bush's agenda at a NATO summit this week will include pressing alliance members to increase defense spending. Aides say many U.S. allies are ill-equipped for modern military operations.

The defense outlays of some NATO partners are less than half those of the United States as a percentage of gross domestic product.
I wonder how our allies are spending all that money that the President thinks would be better used to create more modern ways to kill people.

Oh, that's how.

Infrastructure is for cut-and-run cowards.

(previous post: Making Connections)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Making Connections

In his radio address to the nation Saturday, President Bush mentioned the wars overseas and the hurricane recovery separately:

Americans believe that every person has the right to live, work, and worship in freedom. And we're thankful to the men and women of our Nation's armed forces who risk their lives to protect those rights. This Thanksgiving, we are mindful that many of our finest citizens are spending the holiday far from their homes and loved ones, and we know that their service makes it possible for us to live in freedom.

***

During this holiday season, we also think of those still working to recover from the devastating hurricanes that struck our Nation last year. We are grateful to the armies of compassion who rallied to bring food, water, and hope to those who had lost everything, and we renew our commitment to help those who are still suffering and to rebuild our Nation's Gulf Coast.
On Friday, while gutting a veteran’s house with the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, an AWOL American soldier mentioned the wars and the recovery but made some connections:
"There are so many engineering units of the U.S. military - they should be here and not Iraq," Pte. Kyle Snyder, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said Friday.
Instead of flexing our military muscle to destroy buildings and lives in other parts of the world, we could be using that muscle to rebuild cities and lives in this part of the world.

A better world will not come by pointing the barrel of gun at it and commanding it to be better. You have to put the guns down and get in there and work on it.

The President said it himself at the end of his radio address:
Thanksgiving reminds us that the true strength of our Nation is the compassion and decency of our people. And as we count our blessings, we remember that those blessings are meant to be shared. I encourage all Americans to look for a way to help those in need -- from tutoring a child, to working in a shelter, to giving a hand to a neighbor. I thank all those Americans who volunteer this season, and Laura and I wish every American a safe and happy holiday.
So, this Thanksgiving I give thanks to Kyle Snyder for putting his muscle where his guns are not. If that makes me un-American, then so be it. My only response to such an accusation would be: I was born in New Orleans.

Take from that what you will.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This is Not a Prediction

But I think Jefferson will beat Carter in the runoff.

I came to this non-prediction after Derrick Shepherd’s endorsement of Jefferson and after looking at two maps: the 2nd Congressional District Primary results and the New Orleans Mayoral Runoff [PDF] results.

In Orleans Parish, the precincts Jefferson won are almost the same as the ones Nagin won. Karen Carter and Lavigne split most of Landrieu’s precincts, with Troy Carter and Shepherd in there somewhere.

Nagin supported Jefferson. While I do not think Mitch Landrieu supported any one candidate in the congressional primary, Karen Carter has supported Landrieu in the past. So, my read for Orleans Parish is that Jefferson versus Carter is Nagin voters versus Landrieu voters. Nagin won in New Orleans and I think Jefferson will, too.

Which leaves the Jefferson Parish precincts. Another look at the primary map shows Shepherd winning most of the JP precincts, especially on the West Bank. Jefferson and Lavigne won the rest. Karen Carter won none of the JP precincts.

Shepherd endorsed Jefferson. That doesn’t mean all of Shepherd’s JP votes will go to Jefferson. But, Jefferson doesn’t really need all of them. He already has a lot of support in Jefferson Parish, based on his winning a few precincts.

My conclusion: Bill Jefferson wins Orleans Parish because the Nagin voters will vote for him and he wins Jefferson Parish because enough Shepherd voters will vote for him. Winning both parishes, obviously, Jefferson will win re-election.

This is not a prediction. I am not good at predictions. This is more like a “best guess.”

Of course, you don’t win a Congressional election by precincts, but by individual votes. And, although most analyses of this election I have read say the race of the individual voters doesn’t matter, I disagree. Race always matters.

In the precincts that were 50 to 75 percent African-American, Jefferson only won a couple of percentage points of voters more than Karen Carter, but still the most. In the precincts that are more than 75 percent African-American, Jefferson almost won a majority of the votes with 49.5 percent.

To me – and I am no expert, I am just reading the numbers available to me – that indicates African-American voters, more than not, tend to vote for Jefferson. In Jefferson Parish, Bill Jefferson only needs African-American voters, more than not, to vote for him and he wins. I think he will get that vote.

The “whiter” sections of Jefferson Parish in Kenner, Metairie, Gretna, and Terrytown have been gerrymandered to be in Bobby Jindal’s district. It’s funny how the 1st Congressional District goes from the north shore, jumping over the Lake through parts of Kenner, all of Metairie, through a small section of Uptown New Orleans, jumping over the river and sticking close to the river in Westwego, Marrero, and Harvey, dipping south through parts of Gretna and just the middle of Terrytown. Funny how that goes.

Assuming that the trend of African-American precincts going to Jefferson equates to a tendency for African-Americans to vote for Bill Jefferson, and also assuming a similar turnout in Orleans Parish as the Mayoral race, then I believe Orleans Parish’s overwhelming African-American majority will make up for the underwhelming white majority due to gerrymandering in Jefferson Parish which would give Bill Jefferson a whole lot of African-American votes and enough non-African-American votes to win.

Having said that, I do not believe African-American voters will vote for Jefferson because of any genetic reasons. That would be stupid and quite racist. I have never bought into the “people vote for people who look like them” idea. I think people vote for people who, at least in public, *act* like them. We vote for the candidate we most identify with. Often, that candidate looks like us, but not necessarily.

Also, this race has two African-American candidates in the runoff, so to say African-American voters will vote for the African-American candidate means nothing. Karen Carter seems to be getting more “white” endorsements (Boysie Bollinger and Joe Canizaro aren't on the endorsement page but are mentioned on another page on her website). But this has nothing to do with the color of her skin and everything to do with her political philosophy or the fact that those endorsing her identify more with her than with Jefferson.

Sure, there are some holes in my analysis. For example, many African-Americans didn’t vote for either Jefferson or Carter. Who will they vote for? But that’s where my assumptions come in. Plus, remember, I am no expert. Agree with my analysis at your own risk.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Federal Money Watch

FEMA press release:

More than $30.1 billion in federal funds have been obligated for Louisiana residents in Individual and Public Assistance programs, National Flood Insurance claims and SBA housing money as the state continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
How FEMA arrives at that number:
$5.2 billion – Individual and household assistance
+
$4.2 billion – Public assistance
+
$6.7 billion – SBA loans
+
$14 billion – Flood insurance claims
=
$30.1 billion
That’s a lot of money. I am not complaining. But that $30.1 billion number doesn’t accurately portray the federal government’s investment in the Louisiana from those four programs.

The $14 billion in flood insurance claims is not exactly recovery assistance because the government is required to pay that whether there is a disaster or not, a topic I have covered before. It certainly helps, though. It would also help if the private insurance companies would pay up, too.

The $6.7 billion in SBA loans are assistance, but we have to pay those back – with interest (thankfully, low interest). And they might interfere with the assistance we don’t have to pay back:
Separately, the recovery authority unanimously asked the Small Business Administration on Monday to stop demanding that homeowners or small businesses pay off their SBA loans when they get other forms of federal storm relief.
Just to keep things in perspective, the amount of money coming from those four programs listed in FEMA’s press release that the federal government is not *required to pay* or that is not money that recipients *have to pay back* is $9.4 billion.

Once again, I am not complaining about totals. I am not saying they should be higher or lower. I only want to keep in perspective how much federal money we are receiving in our recovery and what those numbers mean.

In the case of the LRA, Congress allocated $7.5 billion for the Road Home program. That money is now in the state’s hands. The federal government can brag about that allocation. The state, however, can’t:
Kopplin said the program has received and processed 80,000 applications, and 20,000 appointments have been held — resulting in more than 1,700 awards averaging $68,000.

But only 22 checks have been received by residents to date.
Only 22 checks. And those checks don’t always go straight to the homeowner.

For homeowners who are rebuilding their houses, their LRA money is managed through “disbursement accounts” (word doc). The check only goes into the homeowner’s personal account if he or she has already spent his or her own money to make the repairs. If the homeowner is buying a new house, the homeowner receives the money at the time of closing – so it never really goes into the homeowner’s account but into the seller’s pocket.

My point: We are not swimming around in 100 dollar bills down here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Katrina on Their Minds

Apparently, voters outside of the Gulf Coast consider Katrina an election year issue:

Katrina -- or more specifically, how the government reacted to the disaster -- is an issue in some congressional races far removed from the Gulf Coast, popping up during candidate debates and in political ads. It could make the difference in close races as Democrats try to capture a majority in Congress.

***

"But Katrina was a long time ago," Munger said of the August 2005 storm. "People have an electoral attention span of about 9 months."

Still, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., says she is asked often about the status of recovery efforts as she campaigns for Democratic candidates outside her home region. "It's still very much on the minds of rank and file voters, and that's very encouraging to me," Landrieu said.
That *is* encouraging. This is not:
Some Republicans, like Kuhl in New York, are raising Katrina as an example of how the GOP Congress responded to tragedies by quickly appropriating more than $100 billion in assistance.
Once again, I refer to the Government Accountability Office:
To date, Congress has appropriated approximately $88 billion of federal support through emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies for hurricane disaster relief and recovery efforts related to the 2005 hurricanes.
The “more than $100 billion” number has become so accepted that politicians are using it to get elected. It seems to me that $88 billion is still a big number. Why not use that number – the real number – in political campaigns?

And don’t forget that as of August 2006, one year after Katrina, only half of the money that was appropriated had gotten “into the hands.”

Run on that.

Why Is Michael Brown Still Talking?

He already had his chance:

Michael Brown was trying to explain the scope of the disaster facing New Orleans to President Bush when Bush cut the discussion short to meet with the press.

That’s when Bush uttered the famous quote — “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” — that caused Brown to pale.

“You just said I was doing a heck of a job, when I know things are going to heck in a handbasket,” Brown recalled thinking. “It’s a nickname he gave me a long, long time ago when I first met him.”

***

Brown blames himself for not speaking up when he saw how dysfunctional the state and local governments were in the face of disaster.

“I should have talked about how things weren’t working in Louisiana,” Brown said. “It would have been the right thing to do.”
In fact, he had been holding something back for a while before the storm:
Before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 25, 2005, Brown said he was ready to quit his position at FEMA because Congress and the administration would not plan for such disasters.

He planned to resign as chief of FEMA on the day after Labor Day 2005, he said.

“I didn’t leave soon enough,” Brown said.
I can’t argue there.

Kerry Called Bush Stupid

Not the troops. Keith Olbermann elaborates:

Sen. Kerry, as you well know, spoke at a college in Southern California. With bitter humor he told the students that he had been in Texas the day before, that President Bush used to live in that state, but that now he lives in the state of denial.

He said the trip had reminded him about the value of education — that “if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you can get stuck in Iraq.”

The senator, in essence, called Mr. Bush stupid.

The context was unmistakable: Texas; the state of denial; stuck in Iraq. No interpretation required.

And Mr. Bush and his minions responded by appearing to be too stupid to realize that they had been called stupid.

They demanded Kerry apologize to the troops in Iraq.

And so he now has.
If the troops don’t already feel like pawns in a deadly political game, I don’t know how they can come to any other conclusion today. The President and his political pals inserted the troops into the campaign trail, not for any direct benefit for the troops, but for the benefit of their Republican friends who were trying to get elected. After all, neither Bush nor Kerry is on any ballot.

Bush claimed to be defending the troops from defamation, even when no defamation had occurred. In doing so, he defamed a former soldier.

I would expect our Sen. David Vitter to seize an opportunity to bash a Democrat. But Sen. Mary Landrieu disappointed me. Both were quick to defend the troops, but not the truth. I can only conclude that the truth would benefit neither.

If Bush is surprised to hear that Kerry was actually calling him stupid, he may consider suing Kerry for defamation. However, he must be careful. In cases of defamation, truth is an absolute defense. A statement can not be defamatory if it is true.

The media has also proved itself to be a willing pawn in the President’s game. Until Kerry did apologize, the media had no problem asking him why he would not apologize for something he did not say. Instead of spreading the truth, the media spread every demand for Kerry to apologize, not to Bush, but to the troops.

Bush didn’t get it. The press didn’t get it. Louisiana’s senators didn’t get it. It’s no wonder we are stuck in Iraq.

Who is going to apologize to us?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Katrina Crime in San Antonio

A good article from San Antonio’s Express-News investigating the relationship between Katrina evacuees and that city’s post-Katrina crime.

Their city officials have been less apt to blame higher crime numbers on Katrina evacuees and offer up a reason why Houston officials are playing up the Myth of the Katrina Criminal:

Houston's attempt to peg a statistical correlation of higher crime rates to the arrival of evacuees has brought in millions of dollars to help pay its police and fire bills. But that city's correlation — and the Express-News' attempt to replicate Houston's analysis — is open to debate.

***

In Houston, which also received five times as many evacuees as San Antonio, the statistical impact is not much greater because its population is three times the Alamo City's size.

After tracing murders and noting leaps in other violent crime near resettlement areas, the administration of Houston Mayor Bill White has aggressively pursued more than $30 million in federal money for public safety costs. The money has gone to pay police and fire overtime and for five new police academy training classes.

***

Houston has claimed the evacuee link wholeheartedly, with some success. Houston won an $18 million Department of Justice grant after White lobbied Houston's congressional delegation.

"My opinion is it never hurts to ask," said Gary E. Gray, assistant director for Houston's finance department. "If you don't ask what's possible, nothing's going to happen."
The Myth of the Katrina Criminal is worth millions of dollars to Houston.

The San Antonio article seems to imply that there *is* a link – officials simply haven’t looked hard enough or in the right places. But the best evidence the authors can uncover from the experts, officials, or community members they interviewed is that the rise in crime at the same time Katrina evacuees arrived is an unlikely “coincidence.” That’s not much proof.

One Texas criminologist offers up the most likely explanation for the rise in crime that can be supported by the facts:
"I think saying that [Katrina evacuees are causing more crime in the cities they go to] comes pretty close to demonizing people who were evacuated. All you can say is that's interesting, that went up," said Dr. Michael J. Gilbert, associate professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio criminal justice department and Mayor Phil Hardberger's appointee to a local crime commission.

"While that's perfectly rational thinking, it may be misleading in terms of what this data may actually mean. I think they're (city of Houston) trying to make the best case they can to get money when it's not defensible."

He and other experts say the coincidence that a sudden spike in major crime occurred with the arrival of evacuees might easily be explained by population increases, shifts in police tactics or changing drug trade dynamics.
In other words, the criminals already in the cities where evacuees went suddenly had more people to commit crimes on, sell drugs to, rob, kill, or whatever. With more criminal activity, police targeted those areas with special task forces, rooting out more criminals, making more arrests, which resulted in even higher crime numbers – all the things that good myths are made of.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Katrina Deaths "well in excess of 2,000"

Not all of the victims of Katrina have the date August 29th, 2005, on their death certificate:

For now the official Hurricane Katrina death toll stands at 1,697.

But Columbia University geophysicist and earth scientist John Mutter believes the number is "well in excess of 2,000.''

That's because Mutter isn't just counting people who drowned in Katrina's waters or were crushed because of the storm's powerful winds.

Mutter's count also would include the despondent evacuee who committed suicide, the suspected looter fatally shot, and the dialysis patient who died because the storm interrupted treatment.
Why count those deaths?
"I think we understand the financial losses better than the human losses and I think that's outrageous," said Mutter, who is deputy director of The Earth Institute at Columbia. "We should measure tragedy in human terms not financial terms."
We should also measure our rebuilding progress in terms of people, not finances. People, not buildings. People, not profit. People, not politics.

If not for people, why should we rebuild?

Louisiana’s Legal Bills

I’m not complaining, but, damn, lawyers sure do make a lot of money:

The state’s legal bills so far total more than $500,000 in the battle against the federal government over offshore oil and natural gas exploration.

***

Attorneys at Van Ness Feldman offered their legal expertise to the state at a reduced rate.

The firm’s top-shelf attorneys agreed to be paid $340 an hour instead of their normal rate of $475 an hour.
Do you have to make that much to be happy?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Chris Roberts

For a point of reference, a “dumping ground” is a place where you throw something undesirable, like trash:

Councilman Chris Roberts, who sponsored the resolution passed last week, said 88 percent of Jefferson’s 1,800 Section 8 vouchers are on the parish’s west bank and accused the federal government of “using the west bank as a dumping ground.”
Last week, public housing dwellers were either “ignorant or lazy.” This week they are like trash.

And, furthering the Myth of the Katrina Criminals right here at home, people living on Section 8 vouchers are also, apparently, the source of all crime:
“This area has more than its fair share of subsidized government housing,” Roberts said, adding the west bank — largely unflooded after Katrina — has seen a “spike in crime” since the storm.

“The crime problem is on the west bank.”
In other public housing news, a group is suing HANO saying the agency is “purposely stalling the redevelopment process in order to prevent poor families from returning” to damaged public housing developments.

HANO won’t reopen the developments just yet because they plan to revamp them. But HUD, also being sued, says there is no plan:
"HUD has no plan, your honor," said attorney Daniel Riess, who represents the government agency.

That statement drew a double take from U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle.

"You're saying the court has no authority to review until the whole plan is given to HUD?" Lemelle asked. "Has there been any effort (by HUD) to approach members of Congress to speed up the process given the horrible impact of Hurricane Katrina on public housing?"

"I'm not aware of any approach HUD has made," Reiss replied.

"You think it's time to do that?" Lemelle shot back. "Congress has acted already in other areas."
Although HUD’s attorney said there is no plan, HUD released a statement in June that seemed to lay out a plan for the closed public housing developments:
HUD will also use a mix of federal public housing funding HANO receives annually, as well as bond funds and Low Income Housing Tax Credits to redevelop C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte and St. Bernard, which endured moderate to severe damage. The units will be demolished to make way for a mixture of public housing, affordable rental housing and single-family homes.
If there is a plan to demolish the homes, then HANO can not let the residents move back in. If there is *no* plan to demolish the homes, then HANO *can* let the residents move back in. Either way, more than a year later, shouldn’t there be a plan?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Myth of the Katrina Criminals

I am not sold on the idea that 100,000 or so displaced Louisianians in Houston are to blame for that city’s crime problems.

Yes, homicides are up in Houston:

As of Oct. 16, the city had recorded 316 homicides, up 25 percent from the 252 slayings at this time last year. The Houston Police Department said an uptick in homicides by Hurricane Katrina evacuees has contributed to that increase.

"We recognize that the homicide rate is up as far as raw numbers and as well as percentages relative to the population," said Capt. Dwayne Ready. "We also recognize that Katrina evacuees continue to have an impact on the murder rate."
But overall crime is down in Houston:
Per capita crime, defined as the number of crimes per 100,000 residents, has decreased in the city, with the violent crime rate down 3 percent this year.
And crime is down in the surrounding areas:
Houston-area suburbs saw crime rates drop in five of six counties last year, according to the latest statistics released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

***

The types of crimes counted in the report are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft.
The first article cites 65 murders this year “classified as Katrina-related, meaning either the victim, suspect or both evacuated to Houston after Katrina.” I fail to see how being killed in another city contributes to the crime problem there. What I am more interested in is the exact number of how many suspects in those murders were Katrina evacuees or how many of the Katrina evacuee victims were involved in illegal activities when they were killed.

Even if all the Louisianians involved in the “Katrina-related” murders were criminals, I still fail to see how an entire population can be considered criminals for the crimes committed by the actual criminals among them. That’s exactly what some Houston residents were saying back in August when they were asking for “the New Orleans residents to go home.”

Those same residents are still spreading the Myth of the Katrina Criminal:
Another tenant, who broke his lease and left because of problems he blames on the Katrina evacuees, such as vandalism and drug activity, so feared for his family's safety while living at the complex that he considered buying a gun.

"It was the worst several months of my life, actually, living there," said Chris Ostapowicz, who started a Web page called "The Crap At Lakeside."


***

"I know what it was like before (the evacuees arrived) and I know what it was like after. And it's dramatically different," said Walnut Bend resident Brenda Mueller, whose property abuts the apartment complex. "It's gotten to the point that I'm afraid to let my child play in the backyard now."

Her neighbor Ken Chance said he is planning to sell his home of 29 years though he has not experienced any violent crime firsthand.

"I truly believe it's just a matter of time before we start experiencing the break-ins," Chance said.

While crime at the apartments has always been cyclical, Rench said, "I truly am concerned it could get worse very easily and very quickly."
These residents share the perception that the displaced Louisianians are causing a rise in criminal activity. They long for the good old days before “they” came, back when their neighborhood was safer.

Or was it?
Their concerns are not without some foundation. Houston Police Department statistics show the frequency of crime at 10950 Briar Forest — and the number of times police have been called there — increased in the year after the storm.

But it was not as if those numbers soared to unprecedented levels. Rather, they virtually equaled statistics recorded two years earlier — well before Hurricane Katrina struck.
So, overall crime is down in Houston and virtually the same as two years ago in one specific neighborhood that was very vocal about their fear of the displaced Louisianians among them. The overall crime numbers don’t seem to support the Myth of the Katrina Criminal.

But what about those higher homicide numbers? Well, I’ve got an alternative explanation for the rise in murders. More people are being murdered in Houston because there are more people for Houston drug dealers to murder:
A Houston man described by police as "a new breed of killer" is charged or suspected in at least seven homicides in 11 weeks stemming from a war between entrenched Houston drug dealers and their newly arrived rivals from New Orleans.

***

Investigators say that Williams' killing spree began June 16, only 23 days after his release from prison, where he had served nearly two years on a drug conviction. By Sept. 1, police say, Williams had shot at least eight people, killing seven, all but one within the same two blocks of northwest Houston.
I also suspect that some of the murders here in New Orleans may be attributed to new, more sophisticated and more deadly techniques that local drug dealers learned after making new alliances with bigger, more organized dealers in some of the larger cities, like Houston, that they evacuated to.

But that’s just speculation at this point. I’m not ready to say THANKS HOUSTON for deadlier drug dealers just yet.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ignorant or Lazy

Are those my only choices?

[Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris] Roberts hasn't held back when characterizing Section 8 tenants as leaches on society.

***

"With the number of jobs out there, nobody should be on public housing unless you're ignorant or lazy," he said after Wednesday's meeting, before clarifying that he is sympathetic to people who cannot work because of disabilities.
That’s a ridiculous statement, especially after Katrina and the floods. With the public housing stock depleted in New Orleans and rising rents all around, those who relied on public housing before the storm can’t afford to come back to New Orleans. And, according to Roberts and the Jefferson Parish Council, they aren’t welcome next door:
At the request of a West Bank councilman who said low-income housing invites crime, the Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday backed his opposition in Gretna and Terrytown to developers' applications for federal tax credits designed to replenish the storm-ravaged region's housing stock.

Councilman Chris Roberts sponsored the resolution telling the Louisiana Recovery Authority that the parish government objects to any applications for tax credits to build apartment complexes or single-family homes in Gretna and Terrytown.
Yes, I am sure statistics say that crime is higher in areas of concentrated low-income housing. But it is wrong to say that low-income housing causes higher crime. The social ills that caused the need for concentrated areas of low-income housing are also to blame for the crime that goes along with them. You can’t eliminate crime by eliminating low-income housing. Try fair education and workers’ rights to achieve that end.

Mr. Roberts should also realize that many people living in public housing did have jobs. However, if you are (a) a single parent (b) with a family to support (c) and a substandard public education (d) which failed to give you the knowledge and skills required to enter the competitive job market (e) and you have a working-poor-wage job in the highly touted tourism industry (f) and have high transportation costs because you can’t afford to live near downtown where you work (g) not to mention child care costs because you have to work evenings, even with that job you would still be eligible for public housing and the lower rent would certainly help.

Living in public housing does not mean you are ignorant and lazy.

Now I am going to talk about race.

Jack Stumpf, who is “a prominent West Bank landowner” and has used tax credits before to build single-family homes in Gretna, told the T-P this:
"I would say now we're just getting a disproportionate share of the lower-income families than we had before," he said. "It's changing the whole complexion of the area."
Stumpf probably did not use “complexion” to mean “the natural color, texture, and appearance of the skin.” But, I think Roberts had a particular complexion in mind when he asked for the resolution to be passed:
"You would be having folks in Orleans Parish who lived in public housing complexes into Jefferson Parish. That's just not something I'm interested in."
Public housing developments in New Orleans were mostly filled with African-Americans. The “folks” Roberts is talking about are almost exclusively black folks.

Only 20 percent of the units in New Orleans’ public housing developments have reopened. Around 1,000 units are open out of 5,000 before Katrina. Those 4,000 families left without their previous homes are a specific population of mostly African-Americans that don’t have a place to return in New Orleans, and HANO has made it clear that’s fine with them:
"To the extent that there are no alternative accommodations available in New Orleans, HANO certainly has no duty to provide plaintiffs with housing in New Orleans," attorney Rachel Wisdom wrote on behalf of HANO and its administrators, HUD officials Donald Babers and William Thorson.

"It is an unfortunate result of the hurricane that many people who would like to live in New Orleans simply cannot do so at the present time," wrote Wisdom, of the New Orleans firm Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann, LLC. "Plaintiffs have been provided with housing vouchers to use anywhere they want, whether in New Orleans, as some have done, or in nearby Louisiana communities or those out of state."
Even with the vouchers, this specific population would be shut out by resolutions limiting or banning new low-income housing in surrounding parishes.

Another important point to remember is that the black population of New Orleans was disproportionately affected by the floods. I have broken it down before thusly:
Seventy-five percent of the African-American residents in New Orleans was affected by Katrina’s floods while only half of New Orleans’ white residents was affected. With a population breakdown of 67% African-American and 27% white in pre-Katrina New Orleans, that means more than 240,000 African-Americans were effected compared to around 64,000 whites. Therefore, while there are 2.5 times more black than white residents in New Orleans, 3.75 times more black residents were affected by the storm.
One would expect more African-Americans to be affected by the floods because there are more African-Americans in New Orleans. My point is that not only a higher number of African-Americans were flooded out, a higher percentage of the total black population was affected. That makes it disproportionate.

So, disproportionately more African-Americans are trying to move back to an area that has a housing shortage and higher prices for available housing. While this is not racist, it only accentuates the problems African-Americans are having moving back, which is reflected by recent population numbers [PDF] that say the white population is at 60 percent of what it was before Katrina but the black population is at 27 percent of the pre-Katrina population.

What *is* racist is the passing of resolutions and ordinances that make it even harder for African-Americans to return. I am not talking individual racism. I am talking about institutional racism – actions by an institution that, no matter what their original intent, have an end result that is racist.

The resolution passed by the Jefferson Parish Council along with the ordinance passed by the St. Bernard Council making it harder for non-white people to rent in St. Bernard combined with a disproportionately higher number of African-Americans trying to move back to the area as well as a disproportionately higher number of African-Americans displaced by public housing development closures would have an end result making it harder for African-Americans to move back to the New Orleans area.

It doesn’t matter what the intentions of the councils were when they voted. The end result affects one race disproportionately more than another. That is racism.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Take Cover

According to Nagin: "We may be getting ready to explode."

Nagin otherwise sounded a largely upbeat tone during his speech, noting that 97 percent of the city’s medium and large companies have returned and 120,000 city building permits have been issued since Katrina (he said that is the number of permits that normally would be issued over a 7- to 8-year span) with a value of $3.5 billion. There is another $3 billion to $4 billion of ongoing commercial development in the city now with much more to come, he added.
Concerning the permits, 120,000 being issued is a positive marker. However, Nagin’s 7-to-8 year span analogy doesn’t mean the recovery is going 7 to 8 times faster than normal. That just means that the hurricane and floods caused in three days the amount damage that would normally occur in 7 to 8 years.

I am not trying to Nagin-hate here. But Nagin made a few comments I don’t get at a luncheon yesterday, like his population numbers for New Orleans that are at odds with state numbers:
Nagin said he believes the parish’s population, which topped 460,000 pre-Katrina, is closer to 250,000 today and headed toward 274,000 by January.

***

“I don’t know where that came from,’’ he said of the state’s estimate of 187,525 Orleans residents. “Don’t ask me why the state would come out with a report like that.’’
What, this report?
Known officially as the 2006 Louisiana Health and Population Survey, the project employs a standard U.S. Census Bureau method for conducting population estimates, with modifications made to these methods to account for the effects of the 2005 hurricane season.

"The survey methodology was developed with advice from technical experts on population surveys at the CDC and the Census Bureau," said David Bowman, lead researcher with the LRA. "This allows us to make precise, valid comparisons between these results and those from previous Census reports."
Right, why should we trust the Census Bureau’s methods?

Yes, the state is dragging its feet when it comes to handing out the LRA money. But, this statement by Nagin is just as damning of himself as it is of the state:
“Anybody got a Road Home check in here?” he asked sarcastically, but no one in the audience of nearly 150 people raised a hand. “I’m searching for one, just one.”

“I’ve tried everything under the sun to accelerate the LRA money. We’ve done everything. I don’t know,’’ the mayor said.
It sounds like he’s giving up, like there’s nothing he – as mayor of the city – can do to make the process faster and better. Is that how a leader should approach a problem?

And he had a message for the press, being that it was a press-sponsored luncheon:
“We’re at a very fragile time as a city. Residents are stressed out. They’re looking for hope,’’ he said. “Help us to get people to see possibilities instead of what is not going right. I’m asking you to be accurate, but if it can tip on the positive side, do it.’’
We all see the “possibilities.” But it’s “what is not going right” that is standing in the way of achieving what is possible. We don’t need the press to be a cheerleader. We need them to be a bulldog.

What I think he meant to say was, “Hey, press. Don’t scare away the tourists.”

On his endorsing Jefferson:
“I went through a very tough re-election cycle. There were few people who helped me. William Jefferson was one of them,’’ he said. “I don’t know about the legal stuff. I don’t know if he’s going to make it at the end of the day.’’
That’s a good reason as a citizen to still vote for him. But, as a representative of the city, that is not a good reason to endorse him.

On the French Quarter:
“It is looking a little rough right now,’’ Nagin said. “The homeless population is doing it. It’s also been described as the Super Bowl of prostitution.’’

The mayor said the police department is preparing a “blitz’’ to “clear out some of what I just talked about.’’
I would assume that the police are planning a “blitz” to clear out the homeless and prostitutes in the Quarter instead of blitz in the city’s hot spots to clear out violent criminals and drug dealers because, well, bums and hookers don’t shoot back.

Anyway, there’s more in the article about being “a little disappointed’’ in the schools and about the “substantial progress’’ we’re making with our infrastructure. Go read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Problem in a Nutshell

In the recovery after the hurricanes, one aspect of the federal government’s incompetence has bitten local officials in the butt many times. The following example of a federally initiated posterior chomping happened in Mississippi, but could and has happened all along the Gulf Coast.

And surprise, surprise. It involves FEMA:

Then there is a bill Rose says FEMA still owes the city for having its sewage system smoke-tested after the hurricane. The system was clogged in some places and broken in others by storm waters, and the city proposed having smoke injected to locate serious leaks.

A FEMA official who was running things in Harrison County after the hurricane approved the idea, Rose said. That official is now gone.

The city had the testing done, paid $31,000 for the work and then asked FEMA for reimbursement.

"Now they say they're not going to pay for it," Rose said.
On more than one occasion, I have heard local officials complain that FEMA promised to fund a project, then new FEMA officials took over and decided they wouldn’t fund it. The work had already happened, though, and local officials had to either pay for it from their depleted bank accounts or waste time and resources fighting with the federal government to *do what it said it would do.*

You can’t solve an equation when the givens keep changing. When the federal government says it will do something, local officials plan accordingly. When the federal government doesn’t do what it says it will do, the local officials’ plans fail accordingly.

The Gulf States affected by the storms and floods are asking for a lot. But at this point in the recovery, we are not asking for handouts. We are asking for the federal government to do what it said it would do.

Around the anniversary of Katrina, federal officials were fond of reminding the American people of all the funding they said was coming to the Gulf Coast. Of course, we then learned that less than half of the money they said was coming had actually arrived.

It ain’t what you say. It’s what you do. (At least, that’s what I tell lil po’ boy.)

The President came down here
a year and a month ago and said:
And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.
And we planned accordingly. But it’s going to take a little more and take a little longer for us to rebuild our communities and our lives. And it will take the federal government doing what it says it will do for us to do what we need to do.