Sunday, July 23, 2006

“Ceding” Money to the Gulf States

Wednesday, the Senate agreed to a deal that would share more offshore oil drilling revenues with the Gulf States:

Four states -- Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi -- would receive 37.5 percent of drilling fees from production in newly opened areas under the Senate bill. An additional 12.5 percent would go to a land and water conservation fund, and the remaining 50 percent to federal coffers.

All drilling fees from U.S. offshore oil and gas production currently go to Washington.
The House passed a bill with more generous revenue sharing in it last month:
Under the bill, states -- which currently receive less than 5 percent of oil and gas royalties -- would see their share jump to 50 percent over 10 years. Eventually they could get as much as 75 percent of royalties from drilling.
Before I go on, let me state that I don’t like these bills. They both open up the Gulf for *more* oil drilling. I don’t want to see us drill more oil. I would rather see us use less of the oil we have access to and use it more wisely.

But, I do want Louisiana and the Gulf States to be as compensated for offshore drilling as other states are compensated for onshore drilling – an argument I have made before (please excuse the title). I just want it to be for the offshore drilling that already exists.

However, while I look at these bills and see the Gulf States finally being treated like all the other oil producing states, some lawmakers see the Gulf States getting special treatment.

In the House:
"This is a fiscal nightmare," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass, pointing to a chart showing the billions of dollars that would flow to the Southern states. "This money should remain in the budget for our troops in Iraq, it should remain in the budget for Medicare recipients, it should remain in the budget for the poor children of our country."
In the Senate:
"This is bad fiscal policy for the country," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the energy committee. "It is starting us down the road of ceding to coastal states revenues from off-shore drilling at a time the government needs all the revenues it can get, given the size of the deficit."
So, let me try to process this. If the Gulf States receive the *same share* of money for oil produced off its shores that other states receive for oil produced on their land, the Gulf States would be stealing from the troops in Iraq, stealing from Medicare recipients, stealing from poor children, and stealing from the U.S. Treasury. It would be “a fiscal nightmare” and “bad fiscal policy for the country.” The country would have to “cede” money to the Gulf States at a time when that money is needed to pay off a $2.9 billion deficit.

That hurts. Not only do they say we would be hurting the troops, they accuse us of wanting to take money away from sick senior citizens and poor children. Poor children! Thanks for the support, guys. Oh, and I am sure that if the bill doesn't pass you would definitely use the oil revenue to pay down the deficit - like you've been doing up to this point. Or not.

The Senator from New Mexico is complaining that the Senate plan would divert too much money away from the U.S. Treasury and back to the state where the revenue came from. Maybe he would like to offer up some of New Mexico’s share of oil revenues to help pay down that deficit. After all, they get 50 percent of all revenues produced from onshore drilling on federal lands and then they benefit from another 40 percent that goes to a U.S. Treasury fund for water reclamation projects to be used in the West, which includes New Mexico.

Louisiana doesn’t have that luxury. We don’t have the same revenue sharing breakdown for oil produced off our coast. That’s all we are asking for – the same. Not special treatment. Equal treatment.

But not more drilling, please.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just Any Other Day in New Orleans

That’s what Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. thinks the four days after Katrina were at Memorial Medical Center. Just like any other days.

On any other day in New Orleans, it would be hard to justify four mercy killings in a hospital like Memorial. On any other day, the hospital’s power would be on, and so would the air-conditioner and essential life-sustaining machines. On any other day, diesel trucks carrying fuel for the backup generators wouldn’t be blocked by flood waters. On any other day, the hospital would be fully-staffed and those caring for patients would not be sleep-deprived and on the verge of dehydration.

On any other day, those who were struggling to save their patients’ lives would not have been fearing for their own lives.

*If* the three people arrested for second-degree murder intentionally gave the four patients who died a combination of drugs that resulted in the patients’ deaths, the criminal justice community can not view the incident as if it happened on just any other day in New Orleans. You didn’t have to stay in New Orleans during Katrina to know that.

But the doctor and the two nurses arrested *did* stay. Foti focused on the four lives he thinks they took. How many lives were saved because they were here?

According to the T-P (previous link):

…the four patients were not under Pou's direct care. Instead, the four were patients of LifeCare Hospital as part of its arrangement to run the acute-care unit at Memorial.

"They were not her patients," Simmons said. "These were patients that didn't have doctors."
Where were the patients’ doctors? Do they bear any responsibility for the patients who died because they weren’t there to help?

And where does LifeCare’s responsibility end? Of the 34 people who died at Memorial after the storm, 24 were LifeCare patients. Either LifeCare didn’t evacuate the patients or the patients were too sick to be evacuated. It was most likely the latter because LifeCare was a long-term acute care facility. They took care of complex medical conditions. Therefore, we can assume that LifeCare made a medical decision – not a moral or ethical decision – to leave those patients even though they may die.

One family member’s experience demonstrates this:
“When I left she wasn’t dying,” said McManus, whose mother, Wilda McManus, was staying at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. “If she had been evacuated, she could be here today.”

McManus said her mother was being treated for a blood infection, not a life-threatening illness. McManus also said that when she left her mother Sept. 1 it wasn’t by choice.

“Police told me I had to go,” she said, adding that when she told them no, an officer drew his weapon. “When I told her I was going she screamed.”

***

McManus said her mother was in the facility run by LifeCare Holdings Inc.
A medical decision was made, and then enforced, to *not* evacuate Mrs. McManus. And, yet, Mrs. McManus still died. I am very sorry for her family’s loss, but the medical community disagreed with her daughter’s assertion that if she had been evacuated she would have lived. According to the experts – the people we rely on to make these tough medical decisions on any other day and especially in times of crises – Mrs. McManus would have died no matter what. This is the reality of Katrina.

And on this day that was not just any other day in New Orleans, another medical decision may have been made. If any medical professional intentionally gave a combination of drugs to a patient that resulted in the patient’s death, that too was a medical decision – not an ethical or moral decision. While ethics and morals may have been involved in the process, the ultimate decision would have to be based on medical principles – what can be done medically to help the patient.

Doctors can not sustain life, and certainly quality of life, indefinitely. Once the medical diagnosis was given that a patient would not live through the laborious rescue operation (remember, there were no operating elevators to get up to a helicopter on the roof or down to a boat at the ground, or flood, level), the only medical option was to ease the suffering of a slow, most likely painful death if the patient were left alone in the 100+ degree temperature with no food or water. And a lethal dose of medicine may have been the only thing a good doctor could have done for his or her patient on this day like no other in New Orleans.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Being Anonymous Sucks

I want to be a geek, too.

Now that there is a blogging community in New Orleans, I think I have reached the limits of what blogging anonymously can do for me. We can certainly do more together than any of us (especially me) can do on our own. It seems we all have the same goal: community – both in the blogosphere and the biosphere. And, by uniting our different voices and different ways of achieving that same goal, we *can* achieve it.

But, I can’t participate if I am anonymous. However, I can’t express my opinions with my name connected to them. There is certainly no law against it. But the ethical quandary it would cause in my day job is not fair to the company I work for and to the people I work with.

I am growing tired of being anonymous anyway. If the reader does not know who I am, how can he or she trust me? How can I be held accountable for my views? How does the reader know I am qualified to express an opinion on any topic? I live my life trying to build my credibility up, yet as an anonymous blogger, I have no verifiable credibility.

Also, part of what makes blogging a unique phenomenon is the very fact that the blogger shares their personal thoughts and stories. You learn about the blogger and sometimes identify with him or her – adding meaning to the words. The reader often feels like they know the blogger, even though they have never met or talked to the blogger in person. This would explain the value in being “able to put faces to some bloggers,” as Maitri put it.

The lull in the da po’ blog during June was a consequence of my hitting a wall. My last few posts since then have been sub-par, in my opinion. I am asking more questions than providing answers. That’s not the way I want to roll.

So, stay tuned as I work this out. I might have to pop up somewhere else eponymously. That way, I can pop up at the next Geek Dinner.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Is the Lower 9th on the Road Home?

It has one ally:

Council President Oliver Thomas, who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward, elicited Lee's support for repairing the vast damage Katrina caused to the neighborhood's underground water system and other infrastructure. Thomas bristled at the notion of people writing off the area "because there's nobody there."
According to The Road Home plan, homeowners can use the LRA money to do one of four things [Page 7 of the PDF]:
Repair – incentives to promote rehabilitation;

Rebuild – financial incentives to reconstruct on the same site if repair is infeasible or not economically viable;

Buyout/Relocate – purchase of the home by the program in exchange for an agreement to resettle in Louisiana; or

Sell – voluntary sale of the home with no requirements to resettle or otherwise remain in the community.
But there is also this provision [bottom of Page 7 of PDF]:
During the process of reviewing applications to The Road Home, the LRA shall make available information about the repair, rebuilding and relocation preferences of applicants in order to inform local planning processes. In areas where a high proportion of homeowners are choosing not to invest, state or local authorities may limit access only to Buyout/Relocate and Sell programs. [my emphasis]
So, as Councilman Thomas feared, precisely “because there’s nobody there,” the Lower 9th Ward - or at least parts of the Lower 9th Ward - may be written off the “Repair” or “Rebuild” parts of the plan. If half of the Lower 9th Ward does not rebuild, like the part north of Claiborne, where does that leave the other half? A lot less people means less “investment,” which may mean less resources available to those who can and do want to rebuild.

How does the “choosing not to invest” provision affect other areas with few people returning? If you want to start rebuilding now in areas of Gentilly or the East where few people have returned, do you have to wait to be eligible for the LRA money until people return and “invest”? That would certainly slow down the recovery of those areas if people who were willing to rebuild right now couldn’t because they can’t get approved for The Road Home assistance.

Or, maybe I am reading too much into that provision.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Independent, But Not Sovereign, City-state of New Orleans

We who live here always knew New Orleans was like another country – in a good way. Ten months after Katrina, we are seeing more and more examples that New Orleans is like another country in a bad way:

Diane Graflie has been a missionary in numerous countries. She says conditions in Africa were not as bad as some of those in New Orleans.

Graflie and Robin Owen were volunteers at an Operation Blessing medical clinic. It's one of the few places where residents can still see a doctor. Owen says, "We saw people that had blood pressures of 178 over 110 and they are up walking around and have not had medication since before the storm."
Let’s not disparage all of Africa. The industrialized parts have everything that the major U.S. cities have, things that New Orleans used to have. I think, however, that these missionaries weren’t serving in the industrialized parts of Africa and they aren’t comparing conditions in New Orleans to Johannesburg.

The most un-democratic part of a democracy is the fact that no state, or city, can democratically vote to secede.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

“I think the Colonel is a bit optimistic.”

So says Baton Rouge engineer Gordon Boutwell of the American Society of Civil Engineers at a U.S. House subcommittee briefing on the levees.

The optimistic colonel is Col. Richard Wagenaar of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

“I would build back now,” he [Col. Wagenaar] said. “I think the protection system that is in place now – especially along the canals to protect against surge – is better than it was pre-Katrina.”
Which leads to my biggest problem with the USACE: Objectives vs. Results. The USACE calls their work a success when they achieve their desired objectives. We who live in the real world call their work a success when they achieve the desired results.

The USACE has set their immediate objective (pdf) to rebuild the levee system to pre-Katrina strength or better. (Before I go on, can we all agree that pre-Katrina strength is not a good benchmark?) Compare that to the results we would all like to see: protection that keeps us safe from a major hurricane.

So what do we have *now*?
Col. Richard Wagenaar, commander of the New Orleans District office of the corps, insisted the repairs already completed would be sufficient to protect New Orleans from most storms.
What *will* we have?
Earlier, he outlined additional improvements already under way that would protect the area from the newly estimated effects of the largest storm expected to hit the city once every 100 years.
Today, we are protected from “most storms” and four or five years from now we will be protected from “the largest storm expected to hit the city.” How they know the largest storm to expect is something truly worthy of the powers of Marie Laveau. They are basically gambling that a really big, unexpected hurricane won’t hit here.

Back to the pre-Katrina protection. The levees and floodwalls that failed didn’t necessarily fail at the height of Katrina’s strength. So, at what strength did they fail? At the mid-category 3 level? Weak category 3? Strong category 2? Mid-category 2? Weak category 2? For the New Orleans area, what is pre-Katrina strength?

When the USACE says we are better off now than before Katrina, I don’t really feel any better. I’m not the only one(previous T-P article):
Without armoring of earthen levees and the completion of unfinished parts of the levee system, the repairs don't provide protection from more than a strong Category 2 storm, added Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and leader of Team Louisiana, a group of scientists and engineers reviewing the levee system for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

"A Category 3 storm will still flood the West Bank and New Orleans," van Heerden said.
I understand that van Heerden’s credibility has been questioned. But, he can be the under bet if we accept the USACE as the over bet. Since I’m closer to the better-safe-than-sorry end of the spectrum, I’ll take the under.

Some might say that we can only know if the desired results are achieved when the levee system is tested. I would say that an army of engineers, if not the Army Corps of Engineers, has a bunch of equations saying otherwise. It can be done. We can protect this area from a major hurricane. It just needs to be made an objective by the U.S. government.

As a side note, the USACE apparently can’t even meet the objectives they have set:
Corps misses second deadline

The new floodgates and pumps in the 17th Street Canal won't be functional by Sunday as the Army Corps of Engineers had predicted, and the corps says it can't set a new target date until key players in the project weigh in next week on the agency's latest plan to increase drainage capacity at the site.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Quotable Ashley

Is he ever not quotable?

I've been in Europe for 2 weeks. People ask "What's it like there?" I reply: "You ever seen Hiroshima? Well, Japan rebuilt Hiroshima."
I don’t think Ashley believes Hiroshima was rebuilt in one year, but his analogy is applicable almost one year after our disaster. While the people, through civic organizations, have been hard at work coming up with a rebuilding plan for their neighborhoods and sharing information and ideas with one another, the city and state are just getting on board:
All 73 New Orleans neighborhoods will finally get a chance to produce their own recovery plan by the end of the year, under an agreement announced Wednesday by Mayor Ray Nagin, City Council members and state officials, ending months of political wrangling that confused residents and put future grant requests at risk.
Yes, that says “by the end of the year.”

This is a positive step, but a delayed step. If official plans won’t be presented until the end of the year, then funds to implement the plans won’t come until after that.

So, while many residents started rebuilding as soon as they could get back in 2005, the city and state are looking to begin some time in 2007. I hope they can catch up.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Where to Go?

My kid is not in the New Orleans Public School system. But if he were, I am not exactly sure I would know where to register lil po' boy.

From the July 3 Times-Picayune:

Since November's state takeover, 25 campuses have managed to open, serving 12,500 students. About 30 more schools are preparing to open later this summer for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, expanding the city's total public school capacity to 34,000, although closer to 22,000 are expected.
Here’s a list (pdf) of the schools that are or will be open for this coming school year.

The new NOPS system is a three-headed monster, with schools run by the Recovery School District (the state), Orleans Parish School Board, and by charter. The charter schools are then divided into those that are authorized by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and overseen by the RSD, those that report directly to the BESE, and those authorized by the OPSB. While they will all have their own standards, they must at least teach the LA Comprehensive Curriculum.

The RSD-operated schools are open access on a first-come, first-serve basis. The RSD-chartered schools are also open access, but I assume they create their own selection process.

The other charter schools all have their own selection processes.

On the OPSB website, I can’t tell how their selection process works. The OPSB is only running four schools (non-charter) - two primary/elementary (Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Mary Bethune Elementary) and two high schools (McDonogh 35 and McMain) - so I assume it is open access. However, three of the four seem to be selective. Benjamin Franklin Elementary is an accelerated curriculum and the high schools are college prep.

So, where does my kid apply? If he is an above-average student, and as long as I get my butt in the registration line early, it seems like he would have a good chance of going wherever he wants, a better chance if he is a returning student to the same school.

But, what if he is an average or below-average student and his old school isn’t reopening? With many charter schools and three of the OPSB-run schools being selective, at the very least in this case the student would be limited in his choices. That’s not to say that he won’t wind up in a good school. There are 14 open-access RSD schools, four of them high schools. It just makes the whole process a little harder. And once again, how do you know where to apply? Do you have to visit every charter school to see which one your kid might be able to get into? Do you simply apply to the closest RSD school? Are some better than others? What if your kid doesn’t get in?

According to the RSD Plan (doc):
In 2004–2005, 63 percent of schools in the New Orleans Public School system (NOPS) were deemed academically unacceptable, whereas only 8 percent of schools across Louisiana were academically unacceptable.
Because we were a failing school district, we can assume that many of our students were failing also. Where do they apply?

Lil po’ boy is not a public schooler, so I haven’t made any phone calls to get answers for my questions. But, simply perusing the internet and the local media, it doesn’t seem clear to me that the answers are that easily obtained. So I offer them up to the gods of the blogosphere.

My concern is that, even with all the improvements made, the same kids who didn’t have access to the better schools with better teachers and better resources will continue to not have that access. However, I must admit that whatever system we have today is probably better than anything we had before.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

July 4th for the rest of America. But not in this part of the world. Down here, Independence Day is August 29th.

Only, on August 29th, 2005, we didn’t declare independence from our country, our country declared independence from us.

When the federally built levees broke before they were overtopped and the flood waters came in, somehow it wasn’t America’s problem. It was our problem.

Americans questioned why their money should go to rebuilding New Orleans. All of our past and present sins – corruption, crime, poverty, inadequate public education – were paraded in front of us as if they were unique to us, as if they don’t happen in any other American city.

Americans questioned why we should rebuild New Orleans when there was the potential for another hurricane to hit the area, as if natural disasters like earthquakes, fires, and flooding happen no where else in America.

It is reasonable to expect a city to be prepared to be on its own for three days after a disaster. But ten months? Parts of the city, like the Lower 9th, are still on their own, and people who call themselves Americans are trying to make it there on their own, independent of America.

I am not complaining here. I am just marking a shift in paradigms. I used to think of myself as an American first. Not anymore. I used to have a top-down view of loyalty, but now it’s bottom-up. Instead of country-state-city-neighborhood, it’s now block first, then community, then city, then state, then country – if she accepts me.

I would prefer to live in the city-state of New Orleans, sovereign and independent. Something tells me America wouldn’t mind as long as they can come and visit.