Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mayor Morial Day

You see, I was born in 1975, when Moon Landrieu was mayor. But the first mayor I can remember was Dutch.

This early awareness of who was mayor, and a tendency for me to misuse terms as a wee child, led to a grand juxtaposition of terms. The unofficial beginning of summer in my mind was not Memorial Day, but “Mayor Morial” Day. My mother eventually set me straight.

I do hope the Bayou Boogaloo becomes an annual “Mayor Morial” Day Weekend event. I had a great time. Da po’ wife and I stopped by the Dirty Coast table while we were there and I finally got a shirt. I believe the Humid One himself sold it to me. Apparently, I am extra-large now. Moving on up.

Much props to Mid-City.

Speaking of Morials, I saw Michelle Miller reporting on CBS Evening News at 5pm. Her report was about how Allstate is dropping customers in coastal states, including New York.

Happy Mayor Morial Day.

Monday, May 22, 2006

We Have a Battle Cry

Thanks to UC-Berkeley's Ray Seed:

"These catastrophic failures did not have to occur, and they should never be allowed to occur again."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Long Live the Chocolate City

Was this election about race? Did Nagin receive an estimated 80% of the black vote because he is black?

Tough questions. It is very convenient if you were a Landrieu supporter to blame race for his loss. But no one can know that with certainty.

However, if it was about race, it wasn’t about individual racism. The majority African-American precincts did not vote against Landrieu because they don’t like white people. They didn’t vote against an *individual* who they thought could not represent them. They voted against an *institution* – symbolized by a white face – that has never represented them.

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. [EDIT - thanks to Jim in comments]

No, a hurricane is not racist. But the institutional policies that led to the segregation we see in New Orleans were racist. And the segregation we see in New Orleans led to the disparate numbers of blacks affected by the storm.

Remember how New Orleans became a Chocolate City. Chocolate wasn’t added. The Vanilla left. And African-Americans do not share the same majority in the surrounding parishes:

Jefferson – 23% black
St. Bernard – 8% black
Plaquemines – 23% black
St. Tammany – 10% black
After the floods, almost all of Chocolate City’s residents were forced to leave. New Orleans’ population percentages today are a result of the Chocolate leaving and only the Vanilla coming back.

If this election was about race, it was about racial preservation. The existence of an African-American culture in New Orleans is endangered. Not just African-American political power.

I felt Landrieu was the better administrator of the two candidates, better suited to control the everyday activities of a municipal government. But, if we really want all New Orleanians to return, then reelecting Nagin sends that message.

What’s the message? At the end of the day, New Orleans will be a Chocolate City. And that’s a good thing.

At least, it’s a good thing if a bigger piece of the democratic pie is divided amongst all residents. Greater numbers in a democracy should translate into greater advantages. Instead, as we see in this comparison of the 90% majority African-American Lower 9th Ward with the rest of the city, state, and country, neither advantages nor equality exist in various social categories for many of our black residents.

This is Nagin’s charge. The residents will return. But to what?

I don’t like Nagin’s style. I didn’t like his victory speech. I don’t like his visibly cavalier nature as he performs his duties as mayor. Behind closed doors, he might act differently. But I do not have x-ray vision and therefore can not see that. And I have not seen the results of a talented behind-closed-doors negotiator. I do look around and see a lot that hasn’t been done, however.

Despite my dislikes, I think Nagin’s reelection at the very least sends a positive message to displaced black New Orleanians that they are welcomed back. And we need everyone back to bring New Orleans back. It is the residents who will rebuild the neighborhoods, not the mayor.

Long live the Chocolate City. Long live New Orleans.

Oh No He Didn’t

According to Nagin, he did:

The president called to congratulate Nagin and said he would rather finish rebuilding with the mayor because the two men had weathered Hurricane Katrina together, Nagin told fellow parishioners at St. Peter Claver Church.
Bush must have been referring to weathering low approval numbers after the storm.

Whatever.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

An Understatement

Headline in today’s T-P:

HISTORIC VOTE: Winner will guide the city through post-Katrina landscape
Yes, this is a historic vote. But, every vote in the last 25 years has been a historic vote. Every vote elected a politician who failed to prepare us for Katrina. Every mayor, councilperson, sheriff, representative, senator, and governor helped write a history lesson we would all rather not have to learn. Every election that brought us to this one was as important if not more important than this one.

Democracy only works when the people participate. New Orleans will elect a mayor. Not a god. Placing your vote must be seen as merely the first act of your civic duty post-Katrina, not as the closing act. Neighborhoods don’t rebuild themselves, and we will need to see civic involvement like New Orleans has never seen before for the city to be reclaimed by her people.

I think it’s coming. I really do. We know now that we have only ourselves to rely on.

Remember how it was right after the floods? Remember how we relied on people we didn’t know? Remember how you suddenly learned all your neighbors’ names? Remember how you found comfort in a stranger’s shared experiences? We are not strangers anymore. We are from New Orleans. We are family. It’s in our blood.

Everything did not lead up to today. Today is not the end. It is the start. Tomorrow will come, and we must be ready. Every day in New Orleans is a historic day. Every action in New Orleans is a historic action.

And by our actions, we write the mythology of the future. If we work together, our tale will not be one of hubris, one of humans aspiring to be gods. It will be one of humans being human. One of compassion.

Before the floods, I had forgotten what compassion was. After the floods, among all that was lost, I found compassion again. Compassion lives in New Orleans. I also found it doesn’t live in Washington, D.C.

New Orleans will not be rebuilt by who is elected today, but by the residents who live here. Our elected officials give us the tools, and some tools are better than others. But we do the work.

Congratulations to whoever wins today.

Now, get to work.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Populist or Political Savvy

That’s how the NY Times presents the choice New Orleanians have this Saturday. Adam Nossiter profiled both candidates.

Nagin: After the Storm Comes a Populist Chord

Landrieu: New Orleans Mayor's Rival Stresses His Political Savvy
How does this help New Orleans voters? It doesn’t. But it does frame the way the rest of the country views this election.

Many of us here worry about “the message” that this election will send to the rest of the country. Interpretation of “the message” relies completely on how the country views Nagin because, besides knowing Landrieu is white, I don’t think the rest of the country has formed an opinion on Landrieu. If the country sees Nagin as a joke, then they will ridicule New Orleans for reelecting a joke.

However, if we reelect a “populist” in the country’s eye, New Orleans’ image might not dip so far into the mud. In fact, if the country sees a once majority African-American city elect a white, affluent, politically connected candidate over a “populist” black candidate who gains his populist title because he is overwhelmingly more popular among black voters who have been overwhelmingly more effected by the flooding, then New Orleans’ image might actually take a hit. For years to come, minority leaders will say, “You saw what happened in New Orleans” as an example of an opportunistic power grab by wealthy whites. First, black faces were bused out of the city after the storm. Then black faces were kicked out of City Hall.

I am not saying that’s the way it is. I’m saying that’s the way it could be perceived, especially if the national media picks up on that theme.

I am also not saying that Nagin should win. Given what happened after the storm, I don’t see how any incumbent can be reelected.

Landrieu has claimed he is the better choice to send the right message to the rest of the country. I am just pointing out that he is not necessarily in control of what message is sent.

Who cares what anybody else thinks anyway?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why Would You Defeat This Bill?

House Bill 853:

The House defeated a bill that would have banned all job discrimination in state agencies, including actions based on sexual orientation.

***

The bill would have prohibited the state, its departments, offices, commissions and boards from discriminating or harassing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation or disabilities. LaFonta said the major point of the bill was to focus on job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Who would be against this bill?

Thanks to the internets, I now know:
Opposition to the bill came from ministers, a personnel management group and pro-family interests.

“It codifies into law immoral activity,” said the Rev. Bill Shanks, minister of the New Covenant Fellowship in the New Orleans area. “It gives the presumption, because it’s law, that this activity is correct.”
“This activity.” [I decided against a graphic hyperlink for this phrase. I am sure that you all know where to find one yourself.]

The NY Times Profiles Nagin

The keepin' it real candidate:

His style baffles outsiders, but within New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin's exclamations and expletives, his "doggones" and dropped g's, are instantly accessible.

***

Unlike in the scandal-plagued administrations of his predecessors, Marc Morial and Sidney Barthelemy, the odor of favoritism, patronage, and sweetheart contracts has been largely absent from City Hall for four years. Mr. Nagin, who was a largely unknown cable television executive at the time, came into office promising to be an amateur in a city where politics has been practiced as a refined and Machiavellian art.

That amateur's guise is still novel enough here, and credible enough in the case of Mr. Nagin, to serve as the central plank in a mysterious re-election effort that involves little in the way of money, advertising or campaign organization.
Nagin’s laid back attitude during this election reminds me of a song of my youth:

[Parental Warning: Explicit Lyrics]

Intro by Da Po’ Boy:

Here's a lil mayor, tall in size
An amateur guise is his only disguise
Built like a tank yet hard to hit
City Hall and Eazy Ray cold runnin shit

Eazy Ray rocks the mic:

Well I'm Eazy Ray the one they're talkin about
Katrina tried to roll the dice and just crapped out
Police tried to roll, so it's time to go
I creeped away real slow and jumped in the six-fo'
Wit the "Diamond in the back, sun-roof top"
Diggin the scene with the Nagin lean
Cause I'm the Ray, I don't slang or bang
I just smoke motherfuckers like it ain't no thang
And all you Landrieus, you know I'm talkin to you
"We want to fuck you Ray!" I want to fuck you too
Cause you see, I don't really take no shit
[So let me tell you motherfuckers who you're fuckin with]
Cause I'm the type of mayor that's built to last
If you Fuck wit me, I'll put my foot in your ass
I don't give a fuck, cause I keep bailin
Yo, what the fuck are they yellin?

Chorus:

Nagin, Nagin! That's what they're yellin
"It's not about a salary, it's all about reality" - KRS One
Nagin, Nagin! That's what they're yellin
"He'll fuck up you and yours, and anything that gets in his way"
NWA – Nagin with Attitude.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No Title Good Enough

Chris Matthews (as seen on World Class):

“Nobody out there thinks the problems are with the levees,” Matthews asserted, but rather with corrupt local officials.
Huh?

What?

Who?

Huh?

What the fuck?

AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRHHHHGGGG!

[Proceeds to jump out window. Lands safely. Realizes he lives in one-story house. Proceeds to look for two-story or higher window.]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Michael Grunwald Gets It

The Washington Post reporter wrote an opinion piece today:

Last month, the Corps commander acknowledged that his agency's "design failure" led to the floodwall collapses that drowned New Orleans. So why isn't everyone asking questions about the Corps and its patrons in Congress?

Somehow, America has concluded that the scandal of Katrina was the government's response to the disaster, not the government's contribution to the disaster. The Corps has eluded the public's outrage -- even though a useless Corps shipping canal intensified Katrina's surge, even though poorly designed Corps floodwalls collapsed just a few feet from an unnecessary $750 million Corps navigation project , even though the Corps had promoted development in dangerously low-lying New Orleans floodplains and had helped destroy the vast marshes that once provided the city's natural flood protection.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's failures didn't inundate a city, kill 1,000 residents and inflict $100 billion in damages. Yet FEMA is justifiably disgraced, while Congress keeps giving the Corps more money and more power. A new 185-point Senate report on what went wrong during Katrina waits until point No. 65 to mention the Corps "design and construction deficiencies" that left New Orleans underwater. Meanwhile, a new multibillion-dollar potpourri of Corps projects is nearing approval on Capitol Hill.
The piece includes hyperlinks supporting his opinions.

Although my posts on this blog are frequently unfavorable of the USACE, I do not dislike the Corps. I have the utmost faith in the Army. When the Army, or any of our armed forces, is given a mission, they accomplish it. They succeed. If the Army were building our hurricane protection system, I would sleep soundly at night.

They aren’t. These companies are building our levees. Private companies. The USACE is, therefore, only a conduit for millions of public dollars to go to the private sector:
It got its start as an engineering regiment during the Revolutionary War, building fortifications at Bunker Hill. It is still run by Army officers, and it still oversees military projects such as the reconstruction of Iraq. But most of its 35,000 employees are now civilians working on civilian projects -- deepening ports; replenishing beaches; draining wetlands for agriculture and development; and taming rivers for barge traffic, flood control and hydropower. Officially the Corps is a Pentagon agency, but it functions like a congressional preserve; its civil works budget consists almost entirely of earmarks requested by individual members of Congress and endorsed by the Corps.
Most of the companies building our levees are local, but they wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t work for a profit. At the end of the day, their motive is money, not the public good. They wish to fulfill the obligations of their contracts and get paid. If the contract calls for them to build a floodwall on substandard soils, that’s what they will do. If the contract is for them to build to pre-Katrina design specifications when those were obviously not good enough, that’s what they will do.

And, when the city floods again, who will be held accountable? The USACE didn’t build the levees. You can’t throw a company in jail. How can we expect to stop making mistakes when no one is held accountable for the mistakes already made?

Even though civilians are doing the work, the Army is the public face of the projects. And, as Grunwald points out, the Corps, like any good soldier, is not in a position to question its orders:
Even Prather, the agency's public representative on the Hill, complained in that private e-mail that the Corps has sacrificed its credibility by defending its indefensible projects -- he called them "swine" -- just as the Catholic Church defended its wayward priests.

"We have no strategy for saving ourselves," he wrote. "Someone needs to be supervising the Corps."
I don’t want to be the victim of another “indefensible” project. Given the latest news coming from the USACE about the floodgates, I am not getting my hopes up.

UPDATE: John Barry had an opinion piece in the WaPo also and Grunwald had an online discussion about his piece.

Flooding Timeline

Scary.

And how did all that water get in?

Researchers now say as many as 30 breaches in the system accounted for 84 percent of the metro area flooding.
I’m not surprised. Are you?

Dan Hitchings, civilian head of USACE Task Force Guardian, might be surprised. He was alerting us of another surprise a few weeks ago:
"The breaches just made it worse," Hitchings told the House Transportation Committee in a special hearing Monday. Setting the breaches aside, "We will all be surprised at how much water still came into the system."
Hitchings characterized the breaches as *not* a major source of the flooding. Researchers in this Times-Picayune article say the breaches were *the* major source of flooding.

Surprised? Not really.

Friday, May 12, 2006

What Is the Government Doing?

President Bush made a statement about the USA Today story claiming that the NSA is keeping a database of phone call records of tens of thousands of Americans:

I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.
When the President addresses the nation, in my opinion, his words should be held to the standard as if he were under oath. So, allow me to be picky.
First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.
This describes “international activities.” We Americans who do not want our rights violated are interested in our government's “domestic activities.”
Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.
This is an admission that they are listening to domestic calls. If court approval is required, then evidence must be presented to a court. Evidence must be collected. Therefore, before the NSA can get a court order to listen to a domestic phone call, they must spy on Americans to gather the required evidence. The NSA is spying on Americans.

No agency is right 100% of the time. So, we can assume that they have spied on innocent Americans. They may not have listened to innocent American’s phone calls because they did not find enough (or any) evidence of wrongdoing to allow them to get permission to listen. But, in order to determine that no court order was needed, some spying must have occurred.
Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.
Question for the White House Press Corps: “Mr. President, are there any intelligence activities that have gone on or are going on without your authorization?” If he answers “no,” then we can assume that everything the NSA does has his approval. Therefore, he is okay with the NSA spying on innocent Americans. If he answers “yes,” that’s a huge story in itself.
Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.
Bush said in his statement “Al Qaeda is our enemy” and “I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” and “We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Given these statements, we can assume that Americans “with known links to al Qaeda” are “our enemy” and are not members of the “millions of innocent Americans.” We can also assume that these Americans are not “ordinary Americans” and their privacy is not “fiercely protected in all our activities.” We can also assume that if you are falsely suspected of being one of these Americans you will be spied on.

Here is a thought experiment. Let’s say Joe is an American. He believes that his country is off the right path. He is deeply religious and thinks his country and fellow citizens need to follow more closely the teachings of his God.

His god is Allah. He listens to Al Qaeda and likes what he hears. He believes in their core values. He wants his country to follow those core values, or be destroyed.

But, before he goes and learns how to fly a plane, he decides to change the country by working within its laws. He runs for political office.

Where he lives there are many people who agree with him and are politically active. Joe is elected mayor of his small city. After a few years and some vigorous campaigning, he puts together a group of supporters that gets him elected to the governorship. The whole time he has not made it a secret that he agrees with a lot of what Al Qaeda says. But, he has done nothing illegal and was democratically elected to the governorship of his state.

Joe is a religious fundamentalist and attempts to pass laws that agree with his fundamentalism. While extreme to many Americans outside his state, all these laws are passed through his state’s legislative process and affirmed by the judicial branch of both his state and the country.

Though it was considered improbable by many Americans, one day Joe is elected President of the United States of America. He takes this as a sign from his God that Allah’s work should be done by America. He desires to use America’s might to smite those leaders and organizations he deems evil or contrary to Allah’s teachings. He feels he can circumvent the Constitution to achieve the goals of a higher power, his God.

Should he be allowed to do this?

This is a thought experiment. It is only meant to make you think. Don’t take it as a comment on the moral worth of any religion or as an analogy to any current world leader. This is not the point. Thinking is the point.

I am an American and I am afraid that my government does not want me to think. And if I do, I am afraid that they are listening. If they are, right now I am thinking…

…that listening to me thinking sucks.

Make It Go Away

$85 billion is back, on nola.com no less:

In the months since the Aug. 29 storm, the government has appropriated some $85 billion for Katrina rebuilding, and the Senate last week approved an additional $28 billion. Of the $85 billion, agencies have awarded about 6,665 contracts worth $9.7 billion.
This passage came from an Associated Press article that was reprinted all over the country. But nola.com and the Times-Picayune should know better. They have refuted this number themselves.

None of the reprinted versions I have seen have explained the entire breakdown and how the “appropriated” money for “rebuilding” includes money to be used to pay flood insurance claims.

Another curious point: $85 billion is an old number. As of today, $67 billion (sometimes rounded up to $68 billion) in non-insurance related money has been approved by Congress. Before March 2006, the National Flood Insurance Program was authorized by Congress to borrow up to $18.5 billion to pay flood claims. $67 billion + $18 billion (rounded numbers) gave the often spun number of $85 billion.

In March, though, the NFIP borrowing limit was raised to $20.8 billion. So, the correctly spun number should be $88 billion ($67 billion + $21 billion).

Could it be that the A.P. doesn’t understand the origin of the number they are using to such a degree that they are actually using the incorrectly spun total? Either that or my math is wrong. The Washington Post and (to a lesser extent) the Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding agree with my numbers.

Thank you again, national media, for making the world think we are getting way more than we really are while we are actually getting less than what we really need.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Temporary Victory

In the battle over the New Orleans East landfill:

Mayor Ray Nagin agreed Wednesday to close a controversial construction and demolition landfill in eastern New Orleans for 72 business hours to give environmental and community groups a chance to test the debris that has been dumped there and determine whether it poses hazards to nearby residents as well as to the adjacent Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

More importantly, in the view of landfill opponents, Nagin promised to close the site if testing shows it to be "harmful" to nearby communities.
Good for the residents of Village de l’Est.

If the landfill is found to be “harmful” to the residents, there needs to be an investigation into why adequate environmental testing wasn’t done before opening the landfill. It is criminal for a mayor to endanger the health of his own citizens in the name of expediency.

The timing of Nagin’s compromise, though, is questionable:
Nagin's announcement Wednesday came a day after a state Senate committee approved a bill that could force landfills approved under emergency rules to close, if it is determined that the state has sufficient landfill capacity for the debris generated by Katrina.
That would be SB718:
Proposed law provides that if it is determined that sufficient capacity currently exists to accept construction and demolition debris pursuant to the provisions of proposed law, unless a written parish waste plan is adopted by the respective governing authority and approved by the chief executive officer of each affected parish wherein the continued use of such landfill is deemed appropriate, then any landfill currently operating under an administrative order or by any declaration of emergency or otherwise will be closed within 30 days of the effective date of proposed law.
Basically, this proposed law says if there is already space for waste elsewhere in other parishes, all emergency landfills must close, unless the parishes say they don't want the waste.

There are also two other state bills that, if passed, would close the site – one not permitting landfills in New Orleans East and the other not permitting landfills in parishes with a population of over 475,000 in the last census, which includes New Orleans.

This landfill has a high probability of being closed by the state. Nagin can only gather favorable PR before the election by calling for a 72-operating-hour halt to perform environmental safety tests. If the tests say the landfill is safe, then he looks like he cared enough to have them performed. If the tests say the landfill is harmful, then he closes it even though the state probably would have closed it eventually anyway.

However, don’t expect him to win over any of the Village de l’Est votes. According to Google maps, the landfill sits about two miles by car from the nearest residents and next to a canal that runs through the nearest neighborhood. Community leaders say that the nearest residents actually live less than a mile away. And if the tests say the landfill is safe, the residents still have to deal with a landfill close to their homes. If the tests say the landfill is harmful, then they must question why any mayor would endanger the health of his own residents by using temporary emergency powers to sidestep rules set in place to protect those residents.

Even if the landfill turns out to be “safe,” one must still question the rationale of dumping waste so close to a community that is struggling but succeeding to rebuild after already being dumped on once by Katrina.

Check out the “help stop the NOLA East Landfill” blog for more info.

UPDATE via adrastos:

More temporary than I thought.
Members of a New Orleans East community who had protested a landfill on Chef Menteur were outraged Thursday when they saw debris still being dumped at the site, a day after Mayor Ray Nagin promised to temporarily shut it down.
I now do not like this man.

“Choose Life. Your Mother Did.”

You might see this bumper sticker (along with many others) while out and about in New Orleans. Most likely, the driver of the vehicle displaying this presumptuous assertion about my mother or any reader’s mother is anti-abortion and a supporter of overturning Roe v. Wade.

What I find ironic is that if this person had had his or her way, my mother would not have had a choice. No woman would have a choice. The very terminology this person uses to support his or her argument – the idea that I exist solely due to a choice that my mother made and therefore it is the correct choice – would not exist in the world he or she would like to live in.

The corresponding bumper sticker in the Roe-v.-Wade-less world would be:

“Birth. Your Mother Had No Other Choice.”
And that world could start here. No doubt in an attempt to make a run to overturn Roe v. Wade, Louisiana legislators in the House and Senate have introduced bills that would either ban all abortions or make an exception for the life of the mother. While these would not go into effect until Roe v. Wade was overturned, another bill addressing fetal pain has been proposed to make abortions more difficult today:
A House committee advanced legislation Wednesday aimed at getting pregnant women to ditch thoughts of having an abortion.

Doctors would have to inform a woman of the potential pain a fetus could experience in an abortion under a rewritten House Bill 582 by Rep. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River.
It was rewritten because the original bill “required the fetus to be anesthetized by the physician performing the abortion for the purpose of preventing fetal pain.”

Bluey, the Body Rights Thingamabob, would not be pleased. Nor would the authors of certain peer-reviewed scientific research, like in JAMA:
Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.
Or BMJ:
Although still immature, the neural circuitry necessary for processing pain can be considered complete by 26 weeks' gestation, he explains. However, pain experience requires not only development of the brain but also development of the mind to accommodate the subjectivity of pain.

Development of the mind only occurs outside the womb, through the actions of the infant and interactions with primary caregivers.

So, not only is the biological development to support pain experience ongoing, but the environment after birth, so necessary to the development of pain experience, is also yet to occur, he says. As such, fetuses cannot experience pain.
I shall let Bluey and the scientists do the talking for me, except to say that abortion is good.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On This Episode of USACE vs. Southeastern Louisiana

TITLE:

The Evolving “Factor of Safety.”

THE CAST:

Reed Mosher – US Army Corps of Engineers researcher
Bob Bea – engineering professor, University of California-Berkeley
J. David Rogers – engineering professor, University of Missouri-Rolla

THE PLOT:

A major city in the United States is flooded when poorly engineered levees fail after a major hurricane passes close to, but not directly hitting, the city. The agency that designed and built these levees, the USACE, tries foolishly to absolve itself from blame by claiming that the levees were built properly but the hurricane was just too strong. They say the failure was unforeseeable.

But the JLE, Justice League of Engineers, comes to the defense of the city’s residents to say, “This is not so! The levees should have held. The people of this fare city have been wronged!” This is the story of their continuing struggle to get the USACE (a.k.a. the Legion of Doomed Levees) to admit they were wrong and pay for their transgressions.

In last week’s episode, the JLE pointed out that the west side, or Metairie side, of the 17th Street Canal floodwall was in danger of “incipient failure” had it not been for the *actual failure* of the east side flooding New Orleans and parts of Jefferson Parish.

In this week’s episode, the USACE defends itself:

Mosher doesn’t agree with Bea and Rogers that a breach in the west floodwall was imminent, but he does affirm the inadequacy of the floodwalls’ “factor of safety,” which is a numerical value used to dictate how much over-building is needed to offset risky situations like poor soils.

Design standards for both floodwalls south of Hammond Highway Bridge was supposed to be 1.3. Bea and Rogers say their calculations indicate that the factor of safety at the west floodwall at the time the east wall collapsed was 1. Mosher, who said failure occurs at 1 or less, sets it at between 1.1 and 1.2.
So says the Legion of Doomed Levees. They admit that the factor of safety *was not as high as it should have been,* but set the factor *barely above* where failure occurs.

See? It wasn’t the USACE’s fault! They may build crappy levees, but they don’t build crappy levees that fail.

Take that, residents of Southeastern Louisiana! [Evil laugh]

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Helping Those Who Don’t Help Themselves

The $109 billion emergency spending bill that contains the $4.2 billion dollars in CDBG money that Louisiana needs to implement its housing plan ballooned when it got to the Senate. One of the add-ons:

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has added language to the fiscal 2006 emergency supplemental to require the Navy to pay for up to $500 million that shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Corp. could lose as a result of post-Katrina contracting delays.

***

Payments to Northrop could range anywhere from $150 million to the full $500 million out of up to $2.7 billion in appropriated funds for Katrina-related damage, depending on the outcome of negotiations. That could defer necessary Navy expenditures for a year or more.
Trent Lott, Mississippi’s other Republican Senator, is predicting the payout will be on the low end:
Lott says $140 million would be provided by the Navy to Northrop Grumman. He said the money would compensate the shipbuilder for uninsured hurricane-related costs, some of which are still in negotiation with insurers.
Ah, the insurers:
Northrop already has received $500 million in insurance coverage to pay for facilities damage, but is suing its insurer, Factory Mutual Insurance Co., for another $500 million for costs resulting from delays at its major shipyards at Ingalls, Miss., and Avondale, La.
While Northrop Grumman is waiting for insurance money that might not come, it wants the government to advance the money they would like to receive. Of course, they will pay back whatever they get in insurance payments and, presumably, keep the rest if they get less than $500 million from their insurance company.

They must really be hurting if they need this quick infusion of cash to keep them going. Or not:
In 2004, Northrop Grumman's part-time board of directors paid themselves $81,555 in cash and stock for their duties overseeing the country's third-largest defense contractor.

They doubled that to $165,060 last year.

This year, they'll increase their pay by more than 20 percent to at least $200,000. Over a two-year stretch, that's a 147 percent increase to their basic annual compensation.
I am sure they worked hard for that raise. How much they worked for it, we don’t know:
But a study by The Corporate Library found that the average director at publicly traded companies around the country spent 191 hours a year - or about 3.7 hours a week - on their board duties in 2005. That's up from 155 hours a year - or about 3 hours a week - two years ago.

If Northrop's independent board members spent 3.7 hours a week on their director duties in 2005, their $165,060 average compensation translates into $864 an hour. The $200,000 minimum director pay this year would translate into $1,047 an hour.
Northrop Grumman’s earnings are down this quarter, but they don’t seem too worried:
"Overall we had another very solid quarter, and we are on track to achieve our fourth consecutive year now of double-digit earnings growth," chief executive Ron Sugar said during a conference call with analysts.
I don’t think Northrop Grumman deserves this money. Normally, I would not care if they got it or not. But, this time, Louisiana’s recovery is depending on this bill passing and not getting vetoed, as the President has threatened to do if the overall spending isn’t lowered. And some people are pointing to Northrop Grumman’s money grab as a reason to veto:
Memo to Bush: Veto this porker

***

The White House and the Navy both opposed the measure, which might have passed the Senate only because the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to whom other senators always want to be able to turn for a pork-barrel favor, is from - you guessed it - Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran.

Bailing out the company in this way is a bad precedent. Business owners ought not be given the idea that they can count on the government, instead of carefully selected insurance, for disaster losses.

The president threatened a veto if the “emergency” spending bill exceeded $94 billion. As approved by the Senate (by a 71-21 vote) it stood at $109 billion. House Republican leaders are vowing to hold the line on spending. (Their earlier version of the bill was $17 billion less than the current Senate version.) The nation - and their own president - are depending on them.

And Bush - to preserve his own shaky credentials for fiscal prudence - should get that veto pen ready.
Put. The pen. Down.

Even if the House doesn’t cut the pork, we in Louisiana need this bill to pass. Maybe Bush can focus his newly found fiscal responsibility in other areas:
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a $517.7 billion 2007 defense authorization bill, including $50 billion for war operations, the panel said in a press release.
Make levees, not war.

SNL Predicts Landrieu Win

Paraphrasing from Weekend Update:

Mayor Ray Nagin announced his new evacuation plan for New Orleans.

He will be taking a bus… to Chicago… after he loses re-election.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Washington Post Reports Correct Hurricane Spending Numbers

Hooray for them!

Appropriations for last year's hurricanes would now total about $96 billion.
That squares with my numbers (although they have changed a little since that post). So, don’t let any pundit or news outlet get away with saying “over $100 billion” unless you didn’t plan on receiving money for your flood insurance.

If you still think flood insurance claim payments should be included as “hurricane relief” because it all comes from the U.S. Treasury, I ask you to read FEMA’s top ten reasons to buy flood insurance, specifically reason number eight:
You can depend on being reimbursed for flood damages because NFIP flood insurance is backed by the federal government, even if the President does not declare a federal disaster.
Flood insurance is guaranteed. It is coming to you whether or not any “hurricane relief” or any special bill is passed by Congress. It is no more than what you are due if you have flood insurance. And, believe me, if you are undercovered, they surely don't give you any more than what you are due.

D.O.A.

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert:

“As it’s currently drafted, the Senate’s $109 billion emergency spending bill is dead on arrival in the House. President Bush requested $92 billion for the War on Terror and some hurricane spending. The House used fiscal restraint, but now the Senate wants to come to the table with a tab that’s $17 billion over budget. The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers.”
The “spending spree” that Hastert speaks of, is it global war spending? After all, that’s where $66 billion of the emergency spending is going and where a lot has already gone:
The new funds would bring total spending on war-related costs since the September 2001 attacks to roughly $430 billion, according to calculations by the Congressional Research Service.
Alas, no. He is talking about spending *other than what the President wants.* And Bush won’t have any of that:
Q And if that number that it comes back in is over $94.5 billion, no question it will be vetoed?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear he would veto legislation that goes above and beyond what he called for. And also members of both the Senate and House have expressed that they will sustain that veto and that they have enough votes to sustain such a veto.
For Gulf Coast residents, the hurricane money is in both the President’s leaner bill and the Senate’s fatter bill. So, more aid is on the way. Eventually.

But, eventually is not good news for Louisiana residents. Mississippi and Alabama have come up with a plan, which was approved, and have gotten their community development block grants to rebuild their communities. We in Louisiana have not because our plan (for better or for worse) relies on $4.2 billion that is buried in this spending bill that Congress is battering back and forth and the President is threatening to veto. As Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Schoolhouse Rock have told us, the legislative process can take a while.

If the money doesn’t come through, Governor Blanco says she won’t go through with the plan we do have, even though there is a backup:
If the state doesn't get the additional cash, the plan would lower the amount of maximum assistance to half what homeowners would be able to receive under a fully funded program. But Blanco has said that without the $4.2 billion, she will scrap the plans and start over.
Starting over could take a while, too. It has taken us eight months to come up with this plan and get it moving through our state legislature. Another long delay to come up with a new plan using less money could chase away residents who want to rebuild but need help.

We are running out of money. And we are running out of time. The political process is not helping us with either.

In the case of New Orleans, the city was not D.O.A. after Katrina. But, our recovery is M.I.A., a prisoner of a war that is sucking the funds from the U.S. Treasury, leaving a great American city to fight for the leftovers. And leftovers don’t build homes or levees.

I’m About to Go All Emeril on Yo’ Ass

Via Blagueur, I like what I see:

Blanco put the U.S. Minerals Management Service on notice in late January that she may block impending lease sales in federal waters unless Louisiana gets a share of the federal royalties generated by oil and gas production in the Gulf.

***

Blanco said she wants the state to get half of that big pie, or $2.5 billion to $3 billion annually—money that will secure the nation’s domestic energy supply and provide critical coastal protection.
That’s great. But, as the title promised, let me kick it up a notch.

As I’ve posted before, some oil-producing states that already get 50 percent wind up getting a lot more:
Distribution of revenues associated with onshore federal lands is split 50-40-10, with 50 percent of the money going directly to the state within which the specific lease was located. Forty percent is sent to the Reclamation Fund of the U.S. Treasury. This special account finances the Bureau of Reclamation's water projects in 17 western states. The remaining 10 percent goes to the Treasury's General Fund.

One exception, Alaska, gets a 90-percent share of the revenues. The remainder goes to the U.S. Treasury.
Onshore oil-producing states get 50 percent of revenues produced on federal lands. Then, if they are one the 17 states that relies on the Bureau of Reclamation to fund water projects, *they get another 40 percent* collectively so they can have water. Basically, the western states get *90 percent* of the oil revenues produced on their lands in some way. Alaska gets 90 percent outright.

Here’s the kicked-up notch: Louisiana, and all of the offshore oil-producing states, should ask for 50 percent of the revenues to use as we see fit. Then, we should ask for another 40 percent to go to a Coastal Restoration Fund that can be used by the Department of the Interior to fund wetlands restoration in states along the coast.

Just as those 17 states that get an extra 40 percent could not survive without their water, we can not survive without our wetlands. While it is an improvement and probably all we can get, a 50-50 split is not *fair.* What is fair is a 50-40-10 split just like the onshore oil-producing states.

Bam!

UPDATE: Schroeder sees more support for oil royalties.

UPDATE 2: Jindal and Melancon are pimping a bill that would give Louisiana 75 percent. I'll take that.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I Am Not in a Prayerful or Hopeful Mood

At least when it comes to being prepared for this year’s hurricane season.

Therefore, I don’t want to hear this:

Q Yes, sir, regarding FEMA, do you think that they're prepared for the season? And is there any way to measure that at this point?

***

[THE PRESIDENT:] It's going to be interesting -- let's pray -- first of all, pray there's no hurricanes. That would be, like, step one.
Or this:
"I think everyone this season is concerned about the capability of the National Guard and what we have," said Capt. Matt Handley, a spokesman for the National Guard of North Carolina. "We'll be ready, but hopefully we'll have a slow (hurricane) season."
That last quote is responding to this:
The National Guard heads into the 2006 hurricane season with more troops at home than last year but with less equipment to handle emergencies.

***

In Louisiana, about 100 of the Guard's high-water vehicles remain abroad -- even as the state continues to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Coastal North Carolina is missing nearly half its Humvee fleet, and Guard officials there said shortages have forced the state to pool equipment from different units into one pot of hurricane supplies. Vehicles are particularly crucial to hurricane response because they are often the only way to ferry ice and water through devastated areas.
Our national guard has this to say:
In Louisiana, a spokesman for the state National Guard said they have enough high-water vehicles and Humvees to handle "your typical storm." Anything worse, though, and Louisiana officials would be picking up the phones. "Even if we had every vehicle back, if we had another (Hurricane) Katrina, we would need help from other states," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, the deputy chief of staff for the Louisiana National Guard.
“Your typical storm” sounds a lot like "standard project hurricane," which was the hurricane strength that the US Army Corps of Engineers built the levees to withstand. That didn’t work too well.

Can some leader please stand up and fight for hurricane protection for the coast? Anyone? We are the freaking United States of America. Why are we are planning for disasters half-ass? The leader doesn’t have to come from the national level. It can be somebody right here at home.

Instead, we are praying for no hurricanes or for a slow hurricane season.

Guess what. There will be no “typical storms” this year for southeastern Louisiana. With tens of thousands of trailer dwellers, with an inadequate and still under-construction levee system, with a disappearing coast, with a stressed out population, with a cash strapped city and state, every storm will have the potential to be a Katrina. Or worse.

If praying and hoping is part of our hurricane plan, we better have a heckuva backup plan.

Alabama Has a Plan

And they got their CDBG money:

Alabama's plan to spend $74.4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to rebuild homes and communities and help create job opportunities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been approved, HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson announced Monday.
I’m just saying...

Two Things Here

NOAA:

The region of the tropical Atlantic where many hurricanes originate has warmed by several tenths of a degree Celsius over the 20th century, and new climate model simulations suggest that human activity, such as increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, may contribute significantly to this warming.
First thing, crap.

Second thing, because the administration has censored federal agencies in the past when it came to climate change, it’s good to see a federal report tagging human activity as a significant contributor to global warming:
Simulations of global trends and trends in several other specific regions also produced more realistic results when anthropogenic forcing was included in addition to natural effects. An example is the Indian Ocean and western tropical Pacific, where a regional warming trend has emerged particularly clearly during the past half century. These conclusions support similar findings from earlier studies.
I like that “more realistic results” are observed when the scientists factor in human activity. Science must be reality-based.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy Loyalty Day

Show your loyalty to our President by repeating after Stephen Colbert:

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.
Coincidentally, today is also Mission Accomplished Day.