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?