Monday, April 30, 2007

Highlight Text, Ctrl C, Ctrl V

Hey, I can do that:
When the Army Corps of Engineers solicited bids for drainage pumps for New Orleans, it copied the specifications - typos and all - from the catalog of the manufacturer that ultimately won the $32 million contract, a review of documents by The Associated Press found.

The pumps, supplied by Moving Water Industries Corp. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and installed at canals before the start of the 2006 hurricane season, proved to be defective, as the AP reported in March. The matter is under investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
We’ve seen this before:
Two other recent deals where MWI received work as a subcontractor also drew controversy.

In both projects, district officials discounted complaints from MWI rivals, who said they suspected that pump specifications were skewed to favor MWI.

Last year [2001], when the agency [the South Florida Water Management District] put out a thick volume of requirements for a federally funded flood-control project near Miami International Airport, an engineer for Flowserve, a global pump manufacturer, questioned them. He asked why the district would require contractors to use a costly pump with an unconventional type of motor.

"Flowserve pump division . . . will not be able to bid the project, since the specs as written limit the pump suppliers to 1-2 bidders," Flowserve's John Ondrejack wrote.

On May 10, 2001, the water board handed the $3.1-million project to Murphy Construction Co. of Palm Beach, which named MWI as the pump supplier for the job. The payday for MWI: at least $492,655.14, invoices show.

Last month, it happened again. The water board commissioned a $3.5-million flood protection project in Miami-Dade County with some very specific pump requirements.

One potential bidder, Skip Dorton of Tampa-based Custom Pump & Controls, wrote: "The specification, if left the way it reads, will be, in a sense, a sole source specification that no other manufacturer will be able to compete with."

Another complaint came from FPI, a Pompano Beach pump manufacturer, which called some of the requirements gimmicky and a waste of money.

"It is blatantly obvious to us that the specification has been crafted verbatim by and for one favored pump manufacturer," wrote Robert Purcell, FPI's marketing director. "Your engineering staff has done everything but name their favored supplier."

Purcell is the former MWI vice president who blew the whistle on the company in the Nigeria deal, prompting the U.S. Justice Department to intervene.

When he complained, district engineers countered that all the specifications were appropriate. They awarded the contract to Widell Inc. of Fort Lauderdale -- which then hired MWI to supply the pumps.

When Taylor asked his staff why they repeatedly pushed MWI for various projects, he said the reply was, "These are the people we work with all the time."
Emphasis mine.

Now, these are not US Army Corps of Engineers contracts, although one does use federal funds. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, right after Katrina, someone from the USACE got a email from Jeb Bush recommending his old friend David Eller and MWI for the job.

We’ve seen that before.

Interestingly, FEMA did something else we’ve seen before in the Carnival Cruise Lines deal. From Rep. Waxman’s letter to Jeb Bush [PDF]:
The Military Sealift Command took over the issuance of the contracts on September 1 and insisted that the contracts be competitively bid. FEMA, however, specified the contract requirements, which included that each ship have enough berths to house 1,000 or more passengers and be available for delivery by September 10. These requirements effectively excluded all bidders except Carnival Cruise Lines and the operators of the Scotia Prince, a ferry ship docked in North Carolina. Out of 13 proposals submitted to the Military Sealift Command, only two met the requirements: the Carnival proposal involving three Carnival ships and the Scotia Prince proposal. Both proposals were accepted.

Happy National Charter Schools Week!

By proclamation of our President:
My Administration is dedicated to providing parents with more choices so that their children will have the best opportunity to gain the skills necessary to compete and succeed in the global economy. Through the No Child Left Behind Act, we are setting high standards, expanding parents' options, and closing the achievement gap. Charter schools are getting results and helping guide children across the country on the path to a better life.


NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 29 through May 5, 2007, as National Charter Schools Week.
Now here’s your present:
Most New Orleans public school students may be enrolled in charter schools these days, but many charters are avoiding taking special education students, particularly those with profound disabilities, a violation of state and federal law, critics charge.

While Algiers Charter Schools serve a substantial portion of special-needs children, their unique eight-school bloc is an exception. Eleven of 22 east bank charter schools have special-ed populations under 5 percent, according to the latest state data. By comparison, just three of the other 30 schools open in the city on Feb. 1, when the data were collected, had special ed populations of less than 5 percent.


State data also show that most east bank charters have disproportionately fewer special education students with what experts call the most challenging disabilities.

For example, only 59 percent of east bank charters are serving students with mental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, or emotional problems, such as bipolar disorder. By contrast, virtually every other school in the city includes these students; similarly, only 23 percent of non-Algiers charters served autistic students, compared with 53 percent in the Recovery District and more than 75 percent in Algiers and the five run by the local School Board. Charters outside of Algiers served no students with multiple disabilities, such as a learning disability combined with a physical disability, whereas every other system in the city had at least one school serving those students.
So, East Bank charter schools have less special ed students than RSD schools. And, those less special ed students at the East Bank charter schools have less challenging disabilities.

I wonder how that will affect test scores…

I wonder if people will consider this when evaluating the success of the charter schools…

“…we are setting high standards, expanding parents' options, and closing the achievement gap. Charter schools are getting results and helping guide children across the country on the path to a better life.”

The Gulf Coast Embargo

Foreign aid after Katrina refused, misused, or continues to go unused (WaPo):
Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.
Opinion from Dambala:
Katrina exposed this country's dirty little secret...we're not so super. For that, New Orleans must be isolated in this country's collective consciousness as an anomaly.

New Orleans was such an embarrassment that the Bush administration couldn't accept the nearly 1 billion dollars in aid being offered by other countries.
I don’t disagree with this assessment. But I would add that even if it was not seen as an embarrassment to the Bush administration, his State Department was incapable of accepting and using the aid.

This is the result of one-way relations with foreign countries. We are no longer able to participate in the world community as a member. We know how to give, but not receive. We have isolated ourselves and can only “receive” by forcibly taking with our superior military and economic might.

Opinion from Oyster:
We pour hundreds of millions of tax dollars into Iraqi nation-building projects that quickly become inoperable, all in the name of reconstructing a divided country that views us as occupiers, wants us to leave, and thinks its ok to kill our troops.

And then we refuse hundreds of millions of international donations to Americans on the Gulf Coast, who suffered from devastating hurricanes and a Federal Flood.
The Iraq conflict is another example of our one-way relations with the rest of the world. A preemptive attack on a country which could not attack us or our interests, and would not be able to in at least my generation, possibly never. Not much to preempt there. But plenty to take. And that’s what we did.

And, as Oyster points out, it affects us back home. This is most evident when our President will sign a bill if it has $90 billion to be spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he will veto that bill if it also includes another $3.5 billion to be spent on the Gulf Coast for hurricane recovery.

So, the Gulf Coast Embargo stretches from no foreign aid easily entering our borders to no domestic aid easily entering our borders. And it is enforced by that which is stronger than the sword: the President’s pen - which could, with deft swipes, sign off on the supplemental spending bill that will further fund our recovery and also eliminate the 10 percent match that has stalled many a local project along the Gulf Coast.

One aspect of the refused foreign aid aggravates me more than any other:
In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.
Did the Bush administration think that the recovery effort would be wrapped up by October 10, 2005? This demonstrates a lack of comprehension of how long the recovery would take and what would be needed to do what it takes.

Interesting thing about that Canival Cruise Line contract. In February 2006, then ranking minority member Henry Waxman on the Committee of Government Reform wanted an explanation for why a familiar name popped up when the contract was being negotiated:
A top House Democrat released e-mails Tuesday detailing Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in pushing a $236 million federal contract for Carnival Cruise Lines to house Hurricane Katrina victims.

In a letter, Rep. Henry Waxman of California called on Bush to explain his role in the award of the "lucrative contract," which was given to the Florida-based company without a full competitive bid process.


According to Waxman, Bush forwarded to Brown, then the FEMA director, an e-mail from a Carnival advertising executive proposing that the company's ships be used for housing two days after the Aug. 29 storm.

The Carnival official, Ric Cooper, has been a major political donor to the Florida and national Republican parties, including $65,000 to the state GOP in 2002, and $50,00 to the RNC in 2004, Waxman said.

Less than three hours later, Brown replied to Cooper, saying he thought it was a "great idea."

"One of my HQ folks working the housing issue is going to contact you directly," Brown wrote. "If you haven't heard from them by close of business tomorrow, please call me on my cell phone ...Thanks. MDB"
The correspondence was a little more intimate than the AP article demonstrated. That last paragraph from Waxman’s actual letter (PDF), emphasis mine:
Ric, thanks for the note that Jeb sent. I personally think this is a great idea. One of my HQ folks working the housing issue…
Apparently, the Gulf Coast Embargo does not extend to well-connected Florida Republicans.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Guns Don’t Kill People

13-year-olds with guns attempt to kill people:
A 13-year-old boy was booked with attempted murder after he allegedly shot a man in the stomach a week ago, Kenner police said Friday.

The boy, who is not being identified by police because he is a juvenile, also was booked with attempted armed robbery in an incident involving the same victim. A 15-year-old boy was booked with being a principal to attempted second-degree murder.
Both the 13-year-old and the 15-year-old had guns:
Police said that on April 14 the boys approached two men at 8 p.m. on Phoenix Street. Each boy pointed a handgun within inches of the men's faces and demanded money, said James Gallagher, Kenner Police Department spokesman.

The brother of one of the men, standing a short distance away, threw a bottle at the boys and they ran off, police said.

Three hours later, the two boys again approached Phoenix Street, where one of the attempted-robbery victims was standing outside his residence talking with friends. Police said the 13-year-old boy shot him in the stomach, from across the street. The boys then ran away.
The two boys came back to shoot the man. And the 13-year-old allegedly pulled the trigger.

13 and 15. And they both had guns.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Doing What It Takes

On April 16, 2007, the President spoke about the emergency supplemental spending bill that Congress plans to pass and the President plans to veto:
We must give our men and women in uniform the tools and resources they need to prevail. Providing these resources is the responsibility of the United States Congress. And that is why, 70 days ago, I sent Congress an emergency war spending bill that would provide the vital funds our troops urgently need. But instead of approving this funding, Democrats in Congress have spent the past 70 days pushing legislation that would undercut our troops. They passed bills in the House and the Senate that would impose restrictions on our military commanders. They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal from Iraq. And they spend billions of dollars on domestic projects that have nothing to do with the war.
President Bush wants to do what it takes to prevail in Iraq. We all remember another pledge to do what it takes:
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.
It appears that doing what it takes in Iraq is at odds with doing what it takes to rebuild communities and lives on the Gulf Coast.

The President plans to veto the emergency supplemental spending bill in its current form because it will “impose restrictions on our military commanders” and “spend billions of dollars on domestic projects that have nothing to do with the war.”

One of those domestic projects that have nothing to do with the war is a $1.3 billion allocation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make up for a $1.3 billion dollar hole in the levee building funding on the East and West Banks.

To make up for the lack of funding on the West Bank, the USACE proposed to shift money from East Bank projects over to the West Bank, leaving a hole in the East Bank funding:
If approved, the plan has the potential to slow new levee work on the East Bank, where most of New Orleans is situated, and pit the city's residents against those on the West Bank.


The corps says projects on the East Bank will continue and that the levee system is as good now as it was before Katrina. Plans to further improve that system are tied up in technical reviews, according to the corps.
Whether or not the East Bank projects will be slowed by diverting the funds now, at some point the money *will be needed* and will have to be allocated.

The President says the levee funds should not be tied to his “emergency war spending bill,” what I call the emergency supplemental spending bill.

Mary Landrieu, at her committee meeting last week, explained why it *must* be:
We are 1.3 billion short and we can not get this money if it is moved out of the regular appropriations, and I will tell you why.

The total appropriations for the entire United States of America for new construction for the Corps of Engineers is only 1.5 billion. So I most certainly can not be put in the position as the appropriator representing Louisiana to go ask the committee for all the money they have for this levee project. And I’m not going to do it.

So, I need you to take this message back to the President. This money has to come to us through emergency supplemental, it can come in this emergency supplemental or another one. I can not fund this through regular appropriations and he needs to ask for it. And if he doesn’t, we will put it in supplemental.
That’s my transcript from the committee’s video about 58 minutes and 33 seconds in.

In his fiscal year 2008 budget proposal, President Bush asked for $1.523 billion for new construction projects other than specifically allocated projects. Bush didn’t ask for the $1.3 billion needed to fully fund the levee projects already on the books (i.e. “do what it takes”) in his regular budget request. He doesn’t want the $1.3 billion added to the supplemental bill. That means another supplemental bill would have to be passed. And that takes time.

When the President made his budget request the USACE said we have time:
Woodley denied suggestions that "reallocating" the money would put residents at risk. He said designs have to be completed -- -- a process that can take many months -- before pumping stations can be built, levees raised or floodgates erected.
How much time?

My full transcript of Mary Landrieu and Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding Donald Powell at the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery hearing on 4/12/07 talking about President Bush’s commitment to the Gulf Coast, the shifting $1.3 billion, and – strangely enough – the Saints:
MARY LANDRIEU: You say in your testimony, quote, “The President Bush promised a better and stronger hurricane protection system.” This statement seems inconsistent, however, with the administration’s recent request to shift $1.3 billion previously allocated between levee projects instead of authorizing and additional 1.3.


This Congress has put the 1.3 back in the budget. The President says he’s issued a veto threat saying it is neither necessary… and it’s extraneous…uh, it’s not, um… it’s not cost effective.

I know you have to carry the President’s message. But, what would you say if I argued with you that his words are not matching his budget documents?

DONALD POWELL: Senator, let the record also reflect that I am a New Orleans Saints fan. [mumble…laugh]

ML: Do not try to divert… [crosstalk…laughter]


DP: I spend a lot of time briefing the President on the Gulf Coast area. Without question there is no reservation in my mind that he’s committed to building the levee system better and stronger than it has ever been. And there’s no question in my mind that he’s committed to spending the necessary money to protect the people against a one hundred year flood. No question in my mind.

The vehicle… as I understand it, the reason for transferring the 1.3 billion from one supplemental to another supplemental – and I’m not a legislative person and I don’t understand the mechanics of that; but I do understand his commitment – was to make sure that work did not cease, and make sure that work would continue and would not stop because, as I understand it, when Congress appropriates it, it appropriates it for specific issues. The way I describe it, in my simple mind, you’ve got five or six check books. And you can only write a check out of that account for specific areas. So, when that checkbook has a zero balance and this one has money in it, we want to transfer from that checkbook to that checkbook in order for that work to continue.

But, there’s no question in my mind about his commitment. 58.10

ML: You have described the process, but I have to get on the record that that checkbook system only works if you’ve got someone actually filling in when all the checkbooks actually go down to zero with the appropriate amount of money.

Now, if you start of short a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter how much is in each checkbook because at the end you’re still going to be a billion short. And that’s my problem. And that’s our problem.

We are 1.3 billion short and we can not get this money if it is moved out of the regular appropriations, and I will tell you why.

The total appropriations for the entire United States of America for new construction for the Corps of Engineers is only 1.5 billion. So I most certainly can not be put in the position as the appropriator representing Louisiana to go ask the committee for all the money they have for this levee project. And I’m not going to do it.

So, I need you to take this message back to the President. This money has to come to us through emergency supplemental, it can come in this emergency supplemental or another one. I can not fund this through regular appropriations and he needs to ask for it. And if he doesn’t, we will put it in supplemental.

Global Warming Builds Hurricanes Up to Knock Them Down

This is one I haven't heard before:
Study: Global warming may diminish Atlantic hurricane activity


Vecchi and Soden used 18 complex computer climate models to anticipate the effects of warming in the years 2001-2020 and 2018-2100.

Included in the results were an increase in vertical wind shear over the tropical Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans.

Vertical wind shear is a difference in wind speed or direction at different altitudes. When a hurricane encounters vertical wind shear the hurricane can weaken when the heat of rising air dissipates over a larger area.
So, warmer water fuels hurricanes, but can also create more hurricane-weakening wind shear.

We really don't know what's going to happen in the future, do we?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The History of the Pumps

Government issued:
In January 2006, the Corps placed an order for 34 60-inch temporary pumps -- 12 for 17th Street Canal, 12 for London Avenue Canal, and 10 for Orleans Avenue Canal. The new pumps began arriving in New Orleans in late spring, before the 2006 hurricane season.

As soon as the pumps arrived, they were immediately installed by construction crews working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, the contract was modified in early summer to add six more pumps to the 17th Street Canal, bringing the total for all three canals to 40 pumps, with 18 of those for 17th Street.

"We installed the new temporary pumps as fast as we received them," said Mr. Jim St. Germain, a senior project manager in the Hurricane Protection Office. "We had crews working at the outfall canals around the clock; they were even doing some of the work at night, under lights. We were determined to make our pre-hurricane season goal, and we did."

That is not the usual means for manufacturing and installing massive equipment like these pumps. Under normal circumstances, whether for government or private industry, performance tests would be done on the equipment at the factory by the manufacturer before delivery, without observation by the government. Any operational problems would be repaired or adjusted there, and the equipment would be tested and re-tested until it meets performance expectations. When the performance is satisfactory, then the equipment would be installed in its intended location.

That's what happens under normal circumstances.

But following Katrina, the Corps did not have the luxury of working under normal circumstances. To quickly reduce the public risk, Corps personnel were placed at the factory to document manufacturer's tests, resulting in a series of reports regarding the pumps' capabilities.

"When we installed the new pumps, we knew they weren't operating to full effectiveness," said Col. Jeffrey Bedey, Hurricane Protection Office commander. "We had numerous engineering reports which told us that. But if we had done this in the traditional manner, it would have taken four to five years to get the pumps in place. Instead, we put the pumps in at the sites in a matter of months. To reduce the risk to the community for the next hurricane season, we wanted the pumps on the ground. We decided we would work out the final testing on the pumps in place."

It was reported that the new pumps vibrated when first tested at the outfall canals.

"Some of them did, but we did not see failure when the pumps vibrated," Col. Bedey said. "They would not have operated perfectly, but they would have provided pumping if we had needed it in 2006."

Col. Bedey compared the pump situation to an automobile. "When you know your car engine has a problem, you would prefer to repair it rather than drive it. But if you're in an emergency situation, you'll go ahead and drive it and get where you need to be, and then fix it when you can. That's basically what we did with the pumps."
There you go.

Overheard on Local Talk Radio Today

“That’s our God-given right to have guns in this country.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mary Landrieu Asked about the $110 Billion

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery held a hearing last Thursday entitled “GAO’s Analysis of the Gulf Coast Recovery: A Dialogue on Removing Obstacles to the Recovery Effort.”

Mary Landrieu, as Chairwoman of the subcommittee, asked the first question, which she addressed to Stanley Czerwinski, the Director of Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). There’s a link on this page to the video of the entire hearing. Here’s my transcript of Landrieu’s question about 36 minutes and 16 seconds in:
MARY LANDRIEU: You mentioned the $110 billion, and that’s a number that’s thrown around here a lot for different reasons. But, we’ll leave those aside.

I’d like to get just clear for the record. If you could, say, break down the 110 billion as you did in your testimony, but, repeat it, how much has gone for immediate short term, individual assistance, how much for the insurance, which people paid premiums for, although the program came up. And what has been basically the remaining for the rebuilding effort?

You said most of the money has gone for the short term… smaller amount for the long term. And could you be a little more clear about those numbers.

STANLEY CZERWINSKI: Sure thing, Landrieu. Um…

When is comes to disasters, it’s very difficult to come up with precise accounting funds because of the way that it’s budgeted.
Czerwinksi begins his answer by saying it is hard to answer. He goes on to say that about $16 billion has gone to rebuilding through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and a “segment” of the public assistance money has gone to rebuilding. He does not give the exact number of that segment, but says in is not more than the CDBG money.

He starts to address insurance, but Landrieu interrupts him. Here’s my transcript of what is said about 38 minutes in:
MARY LANDRIEU: Well, it’s very important for the country to understand this. So, if you want to present this testimony to the committee in a different way, then you can.

But, it’s very important for us to have on the record of this committee, as much as we can, where this $110 billion has gone to, to date, so we can arrive at whether we’ve spent enough or not spent enough for what it’s going to.
That’s it. That’s really all I’ve been trying to get at all this time. If the Gulf Coast has gotten $110 billion to rebuild, where is it? How can we know if it is enough to rebuild if we don’t know how much has gone to rebuilding?

That’s all I want to know. And, now that we have a Congress controlled by Democrats, it looks like we will finally find out. When Democrats took over Congress, this subcommittee was created, and Mary Landrieu got the chair and the chance to ask the GAO about the $110 billion we’ve heard so much about from the White House.

Chairwoman Landrieu continues:
MARY LANDRIEU: So, I think, for the purposes here, we can say that not much more than 16 billion has gone to the long term recovery. It could be another half of that amount or…

STANLEY CZERWINSKI: That’s probably fair.

ML: …would that be near. I don’t want to lead you here.

SC: That’s probably fair. Rough magnitude.
Money given to the Gulf Coast for long term recovery after the hurricanes: “not much more than $16 billion.”

$110 billion my ass.

Mary Landrieu, Democrat-LA, continues:
ML: We know that 23 billion went to flood… flood. And Chairman Powell, if you have these numbers. 23 billion went to flood. The rest of it basically went to immediate emergency shelter, individual temporary assistance in the direct aftermath of the disaster because of the multitude, millions of people involved in that evacuation, resheltering effort, etc.

Is that accurate?

SC: That’s correct Madam Chair.
Landrieu mentioned the flood insurance payments. Earlier, she mentioned that we paid premiums for that flood insurance.

Finally, someone mentioned that we paid premiums for that flood insurance. Yes, almost $21 billion that goes to paying those flood claims had to be borrowed from the U.S. Treasury (the other $2 billion comes from premiums).

But that $23 billion is not rebuilding money. It is holding-up-the-federal-government’s-side-of-the-contract money:
You can count on your claim being paid in the event of a flood loss because NFIP flood insurance is backed by the Federal government.
You can count on your federal government. But can your federal government count?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Someone Murdered a New Orleanian and Was Caught, Convicted, and Sentenced

In Houston:
Christopher Devon Jackson heard his death sentence Thursday, and wept.


Jackson, 22, was convicted of capital murder two weeks ago for carjacking Eric James Smith and killing him with a sawed-off shotgun as Smith talked on the phone with a 911 operator.


Smith, 34, had come to Houston after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in late August 2005. He was refueling his rented sport utility vehicle at a gas station in the 6700 block of West Airport when Jackson took it at gunpoint before dawn on Dec. 5.
The death sentence is abhorrent. But that’s not why I point this out.

How many convictions have we had in New Orleans for murders that happened after Katrina? We’ve had at least 230 murders in New Orleans since the storm. How many convictions?

How many convictions for *any* murders have we had?

I know it takes a while to get a conviction. The Houston case happened in December 2005, and a conviction came just two weeks ago. We are behind because the courts shut down after Katrina, evidence was lost in the federal flood, and we don’t have the resources to fully investigate murders after the storm.

But it would be nice to have some examples that the criminal justice system is working after the storm when it comes to violent crime. That is, if it is working…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"they would then have to settle"

And we wouldn’t want that:
E-mails sent by officials of an engineering firm that assessed Hurricane Katrina claims suggest that State Farm Insurance Co. wanted engineers to blame damage on flooding so that it could make minimum settlements with policyholders.


In a reply dated Oct. 18, 2005, Down [an engineering firm official] questioned the insurer's motivations and questioned if there was an ethical problem with State Farm telling the firm what to put in reports. He also suggested that on another occasion, State Farm asked the firm to remove information from a report because "they would then have to settle."
And then there’s this from Allstate. Less conclusive, but just as sketchy:
An engineer who testified Tuesday at the trial for a Louisiana couple’s lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Co. said he wrote a report on the plaintiffs’ storm-damaged home without inspecting the property after Hurricane Katrina.


Rogers [the engineer who testified] said he didn’t have any contact with anyone from the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer before he rewrote Neva’s report.

Rogers, who testified Tuesday during the second day of the trial in federal court, said he wrote reports on several hundred Gulf Coast properties after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm without conducting site inspections for more than half of them.

Allstate attorney Judy Barrasso asked Rogers if it’s “perfectly proper” to write a report on a home without inspecting the property.

“It’s common,” said Rogers, who acknowledged, “Ideally, you want to be able to go out there.”
Someone did visit the house:
James Neva, an engineer who inspected the Weisses' Slidell home, initially told the couple that he believed a hurricane-spawned tornado destroyed the house.

But Neva, who worked for Rimkus Consulting Group, later backed away from that conclusion and deferred to another Rimkus engineer who wrote the final report on the Weisses' home. The other engineer, Craig Rogers, concluded that Katrina's storm surge was responsible for the majority of the damage.
Rogers’ conclusion may be correct. It just doesn’t look good when the engineer who visited the house defers to an engineer who didn’t, and the end result is Allstate pays out much less.

New Orleans: the Place to Be for Criminals

Going by the picture painted by our leaders:
"My office is a FEMA trailer," Police Superintendent Warren Riley told three members of Congress who presided over a four-hour hearing on the city's criminal justice system Tuesday at Dillard University.


In 2005, the police force rose to a roster of 1,741, Riley said, but today is short 482 officers while the homicide rate is at pre-Katrina levels while only about half the population has returned.

"As of April 5, 2007, we've lost another 49 officers," said Riley…


"We have one firearms examiner and one fingerprint examiner left," Riley said. The crime lab's backlog includes more than 200 guns and about 2,000 narcotics, all awaiting forensic tests.


"I'm asking for very specific things," Nagin said, ticking off a $17 million request for vehicles and equipment, $4 million to provide jobs for 2,000 young people, and $10 million for substance abuse treatment. "We need immediate help. We just don't have the resources at this time."


Jordan said his office is at its third temporary location since the district's attorney's office building on South White Street flooded after the levees failed. His lawyers work on card tables, he said, and deal with victims and witnesses who fear testifying because, it seems to them, criminals don't stay in jail very long.

"We desperately need additional prosecutors to screen violent crime in particular," Jordan said. "We need funding for a victim and witness program because of the very real fear victims of violent crime have in this city of New Orleans."
A criminal justice system without offices. A police force hemorrhaging officers. A crime lab that can’t keep up with the number of cases. A mayor saying we need immediate help because we don’t have the resources to fight crime. A district attorney saying he needs funding because violent crime witnesses have a “very real fear” of criminals who, it “seems,” don’t stay in jail very long.

What…. Are we trying to recruit criminals?

If we don’t have the resources for the New Orleans we want, we might have to accept the New Orleans we have. While that might seem like common sense to many of you, that’s a pretty big leap for me. Different conclusions can be made from that premise than I have previously made.

When it comes to crime, particularly violent crime, post-Katrina New Orleans can’t cope. And fighting for more funds from an unwilling federal government for various recovery goals might be taking us away from actually recovering.

I am not giving up. The federal government bears much responsibility for the federal flood and slow response after the federal flood. But, Uncle Sam is not going to buy a brand new, shiny New Orleans for us all.

I just need to rethink my strategy a little.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Taking Years Off My Life

I know. I know. He’s Michael Brown. I shouldn’t pay attention to what he has to say. It’s bad for my health.

But I just can’t stop myself and he just keeps opening his mouth:
But Brown also accepted some blame for FEMA's slow response to the disaster, and said he lied about what FEMA was doing in response to the hurricane.

He said it was "meaningless" when he said FEMA was moving more cots, food, blankets and rescuers into the Gulf Coast than it had for any other disaster in the United States because there weren't enough supplies and people to meet the victims' needs and the supplies weren't going where they needed to.

"I should not have lied," he said.

When asked why he lied, Brown said, "People get fired for telling the truth."

He said lying is a "systemic problem" in Washington, but "when it comes to life and death issues, you should really tell the truth."
Is it too late to call the police and have him arrested?

ADDED: The link above does not cite a source for the article. This link cites the AP.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day

My ignorance prevents me from knowing what to make of this:
The city of New Orleans has celebrated a day in honour of Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, in recognition of his distinguished services to humanity.

The New Orleans city council declared April 3 as 'His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day' and the Art of Living founder was presented with the 'key to the city' by Mayor Ray Nagin at a function in the city hall Wednesday, according to a press release.
Apparently, he has an extensive collection of days in his name.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It’s Like When Buffy the Vampire Slayer Was On the Air

I can’t wait for the next episode.

The latest from Fix the Pumps: the pipes are all rusty.

Previous episodes: the pipes are not thick enough; duct tape and other things that should not be on submerged pipes; the Corps wants to test a weak spot on the London Avenue Canal; testing pumps in the dark; and a memo with the title “DEFECTIVE PUMPING EQUIPMENT.”

It would make a great soap opera if it weren't real.

FEMA – New and Old

The New FEMA:
"We're going into the hurricane season as a stronger organization, as a more nimble organization, and as a more forward-leaning organization," David Paulison said at the National Hurricane Conference, vowing that the agency will focus on people instead of bureaucracy.

"We want a FEMA that is much more sensitive, that has a heart," he said.
The Old FEMA:
"Shame on those people if they don't evacuate and put into place plans they have to evacuate. It's bold for someone to go against the mayor and say we need to get out of here. I think the president should have gone on TV and said the same thing," said [Michael] Brown.
The New FEMA:
Paulison, who was confirmed by the Senate last year and did not lead the agency when Katrina struck, said last year's mild hurricane season gave his agency some time to refocus and reorganize. Politics is being taken out of top assignments, he said, as regional directors are hired based on their experience as career staffers.
The Old FEMA:
"People knew what I meant when I wrote those e-mails and I'm not going to take them back. I don't want to," said Brown. "People think I just showed up one day and became FEMA director. I worked my way up."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The History of the Levees

As written by the victors.

In this US Army Corps of Engineers response [PDF] “to speculation and concern about temporary pumps,” the USACE provides a history of the levees. Some of it can be read as “We told you so”:
In 1965, when the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project was originally authorized, it did not require flood protection improvements along the 17th Street, London Avenue or Orleans Avenue Canals. The reason for this was that the proposed barriers at the Rigolets and Chef Passes were intended to keep the design storm surge out of Lake Pontchartrain.
Implication: If the barriers at the passes had been built, the floodwalls at the outfall canals would have held.

Why weren’t the barriers at the passes built? According to the USACE, the environmentalists shut them down:
In response to the 1977 injunction (due to a lawsuit by Save Our Wetlands) challenging the Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement, the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project was re-evaluated. The 1985 Reevaluation Report by the Corps eliminated the Rigolets and Chef Barriers from the project and, instead, recommended higher levees along the southern lakeshore of Lake Pontchartrain.
And the outfall canal levees were then deemed inadequate, leading to the inadequate construction of floodwalls on the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal.

This version of the history of the levees is accurate, but (surprise, surprise) inadequate. It leaves out an interesting detail that the Government Accountability Office included [PDF]in its history:
In fact, Corps staff believe that flooding would have been worse if the original proposed design had been built because the storm surge would likely have gone over the top of the barrier and floodgates, flooded Lake Pontchartain, and gone over the original lower levees planned for the lakefront area as part of the barrier plan.
More official UASCE history [PDF]:
In the mid to late 1980s, the Corps of Engineers recommended the construction of storm surge gates at the London Avenue and Orleans Avenue outfall canals to block the design storm surge from entering the canals.
The gates, of course, are being built now, along with gates at the 17th Street Canal.

Continuing the history lesson:
Ultimately, for the 17th Street Canal, the Corps agreed to and recommended construction of the locally preferred plan which consisted of floodwalls instead of a structure at the mouth of the canal. The Corps agreement was based on the fact that the estimated cost for each alternative was almost equal.

The cost for the gated structures at London Avenue and Orleans Avenue outfall canals was far less expensive than the locally preferred floodwalls. Therefore, the Corps maintained that the additional costs for construction of those floodwalls would have to be paid by the local sponsor. The local sponsor, the Orleans Levee District, did not want to pay those additional costs.

Finally, Congress passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act (EWDAA) of 1992 that directed the Corps of Engineers to construct floodwalls along London Avenue and Orleans Avenue outfall canals, the locally-preferred plan.
Implication: Politicians forced the USACE to build floodwalls on the London Avenue and Orleans Avenue Canals instead of what they wanted to do, build gates, which they are now building.

My opinion: the USACE public relations strategy is “We didn’t build a defective levee system. We were forced by local interests to build a levee system we didn’t want to build, which ultimately failed. We are now building the levee system we had originally planned to build. We hate to say it; but, we told you so.”

Of course, my opinion doesn't get written into the history books.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Than Numbers

April 3, 2007, is 93 days into the year. In that period, New Orleans has seen 53 murders. That’s an average of one murder every 1.75 days. If that average stays the same all year, we will end 2007 with 208 murders. In a population of 223,000, that comes to a murder rate of 93 per 100,000 residents.

I use numbers like that on this blog all the time. I like numbers. Depending on how you look at them, they can tell all kinds of stories.

But, when it comes to murders, these are more than numbers. Look at the average. If it stays the same, 155 more people will die in New Orleans this year.

If something doesn’t change, 155 more people will die a violent death on the streets of New Orleans this year.

The good thing about these numbers (if there is a good thing) is that it is an average. We will not necessarily have a murder every 1.75 days for the rest of the year. We can change that.

The bad thing is anything we change will be too late for 53 people – both good and bad people. And I am not so optimistic that any change will come quickly.

I am also not optimistic that the current leadership *can* change anything. Look at the last 12 months’ murder statistics by quarters, from the NOPD and my count:
39 murders (April – May – June 2006)
53 murders (July – August – September 2006)
53 murders (October – November – December 2006)
48 murders (January – February – March 2007)
193 murders in the last four quarters.

If you include the last two days, the total is 198 murders in the last four quarters plus April 1 and 2, 2007.

When not a lot has changed, why should we expect anything to change?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Mayor Who Wasn’t There

I am sure he had a good reason. And it wasn’t the most important announcement in the world.

But this is the way the story was told:
At a Tuesday morning event kicking off the one-month countdown to Jazzfest, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu cracked jokes and talked up economic development.

City Council President Oliver Thomas second-lined.

Jazzfest producer Quint Davis predicted the best fest ever.

And Mayor Ray Nagin was nowhere to be found.

Nothing unusual there.
Is that fair? Is Nagin the mayor who wasn’t there?

What's Going On?

As of April 1, 2007, there have been 48 murders in New Orleans this year. With 90 days in the year completed, that comes to an average of one murder every 1.875 days – basically, a murder every other day. If that average stays the same all year, we will end 2007 with 194 murders. In a city of 223,000 people, that comes to a murder rate of 87 murders per 100,000 residents.

The NOPD released their 2006 crime statistics. The headline: “Cops say violent crime fell 22%.” The NOPD is comparing 2005 stats, when the city was evacuated for much of the last half of the year, and 2006 stats, when citizens were slowly moving back throughout the year.

NOPD spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse on how Katrina affected the crime stats:
"It is what it is," he said. "We may be able to (attribute) some of the reduction to Katrina."
Yeah, maybe.

In the first quarter of 2005 (Jan-Feb-Mar), there were 65 murders. In the first quarter of 2006, there were 17 murders. Maybe – just maybe – the NOPD can attribute some of that reduction to Katrina.

In the first quarter of 2007, there were 48 murders. Compared to 17 murders last year during the same period, that’s a large increase. I guess, if we think like the NOPD, maybe – just maybe – we can attribute some of that increase to the absence of a Katrina-like event. April fools.

Not an April fool:

January – 17 murders.

February – 13 murders.

March – 18 murders.

03/02/07 – 1 murder, victim died 03/17/07
31) In an unrelated case, a man shot on March 2 near Canal Street and North Claiborne Avenue died Saturday at University Hospital, Gagliano said.

Josh Rodrique was found in the 2000 block of Iberville Street, near North Prieur street, on March 2 shortly before 7 p.m., police said. He had been shot once in the neck, police and the coroner's office said.
03/03/07 – 1 murder
32) Tonight, members of the New Orleans Police Department are investigating the shooting death of a local male, whose identity is being withheld pending notification of family members. The offense occurred shortly before 11:00 p.m., in the 1100 block of North Prieur Street.

According to investigators, First District officers responded to a call of “ shots fired” and, upon their arrival, found the victim lying in the street suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to his head and body. Emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene and pronounced the victim dead.
03/04/07 – 2 murders
33) A lover's spat turned deadly early Sunday in the Lower Garden District when a 43-year-old woman fatally plunged a kitchen knife into her boyfriend's chest, police said.

Yolanda Anderson stabbed her live-in boyfriend shortly after 12:30 a.m. in the 1800 block of Chippewa Street, police said.

Byron Love, 46, was pronounced dead upon arrival at University Hospital, said John Gagliano, chief investigator for the Orleans Parish coroner's office. He died from a stab wound to the chest.

34) A man was shot and killed Sunday night in Central City, New Orleans police said.

The shooting happened about 9:05 p.m. in the 1400 block of Magnolia Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Thalia Street, in the area of the Guste public housing complex.
03/05/07 – 1 murder
35) A security guard at a FEMA trailer park was shot to death Monday in the latest violence to wrack the city still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, police said.

The shooting, around 5:15 a.m., was at a trailer park in Gentilly, a section of the city that flooded during Katrina. A few hours earlier, another man was shot and killed near the Guste public housing complex.
03/09/07 – 1 murder
36) A 25-year-old man identified by relatives as Kevin Pham was shot dead inside his family's house in the 1300 block of N. Lemans Street.
Police responded the the shooting in the Village D'lest neighborhood in eastern New Orleans shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday. The victim died at the scene. His car was in the driveway, still running, with hazard lights on.
03/10/07 – 3 murders
37) A 22-year-old woman was shot to death in Treme early Saturday and her 25-year-old friend wounded in the ankle, according to New Orleans police.
The double shooting took place just after 5 a.m. at the intersection of Gov. Nicholls and North Roman streets while the couple was walking, said New Orleans Police Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse.

38) Around 11 a.m., police received word of a shooting in the 7800 block of Venice Blvd, Narcisse said. Seventh District Officers found the victim lying in the street with gunshot wounds to his head and arm. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

39) The latest murder occurred in Mid-City, near the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and Columbus Street, shortly after 2 p.m., according to Joe Narcisse, an NOPD spokesman. A 23-year-old man was killed at that location. Police found shell casings covering a two block area and an AK-47.
03/18/07 – 1 murder
40) A man shot several times Sunday afternoon in a yard in the 9th Ward died about six hours later at a hospital, the Orleans Parish coroner's office said Monday night.

Sean Robinson, 31, was shot shortly before 4 p.m. in a yard next to a house in the 1200 block of Piety Street, police said.
03/24/07 – 1 murder
41) A New Orleans teenager was killed during a drive-by shooting early Saturday that left three other people wounded, New Orleans police said.
Larry Ramee III, 16, died at North Broad Street and Orleans Avenue from gunshot wounds, chief coroner's investigator John Gagliano said.
03/25/07 – 2 murders, (02/27/07 victim dies)
42) In the other case, Warren Simpson, 22, who recently returned to New Orleans from Houston, was shot along with a second man Sunday about 6 p.m. in the 1500 block of North Roman Street in the 7th Ward.

Simpson was sitting in the passenger side of a car when another man approached and shot Simpson and a man standing nearby.

Simpson got out of the car and ran a few steps before dying between Laharpe and Lapeyrouse streets.

43) Antoine Williams, 17, of New Orleans was found shot to death Sunday about 7 p.m. in a vacant residence in Central City, New Orleans police said.

Police said they were called about a "male down" in a house and found Williams shot in the head at 2510 Freret St. Williams was not supposed to be in the house, which is between Second and Third streets, police said.
03/26/07 – 1 murder
44) A New Orleans man shot in the drive-through of an Algiers fastfood business Monday died Tuesday morning from his wounds, New Orleans Police said.

Terry Despenza, 23, died at local hospital after receiving several gunshot wounds to the body while he waiting at a McDonalds near the intersection of General DeGaulle and Cypress Acres drives.
03/27/07 – 1 murder
45) A 31-year-old New Orleans man was fatally shot late Tuesday night in eastern New Orleans, police said.

A National Guard unit on patrol around 11:10 p.m. discovered a red Dodge Charger in a wooded area in the 7800 block of Paris Road, according to a news release from the New Orleans Police Department.

Inside the vehicle, the guardsmen found a man slumped over with a gunshot wound to the body, police said.
03/28/07 – 1 murder
46) A 32-year-old Algiers man was killed at his home Wednesday afternoon and New Orleans police were questioning a man they believe might have been involved.

Travis Johnson, of 1644 Shirley Drive, died at a hospital after being shot once in the face with a handgun shortly before 11:30 a.m. Capt. D.J. Kirsch, commander of the New Orleans Police Department's Fourth District, said that Johnson was the third homicide in Algiers this year.
03/31/07 – 2 murders
47) A 21-year-old New Orleans man was gunned down overnight in the 6000 block of Chef Menteur Highway, police said.

Seventh District officers found the unidentified man riddled with bullets, including one to the head, inside a blue Chevrolet Tahoe, shortly before 3 a.m. The victim was pronounced dead on the scene.

48) Fourth District officers were called about 7 p.m. to the 1100 block of Horace Street in Algiers, where they found the teenager lying dead on a lawn from gunshot wounds to the body.

Here's a map of the 2007 murders:

What’s going on in that corner of New Orleans East?

I mean, what's going on?

UPDATE: NOLA-dishu's detailed crime maps.