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10.12.05

Is Blanco trying to hide something from Congress?

I guess Louisiana has its own mini-version of the 18-minute gap with Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration’s initial refusal to fully comply with Congress’ request of official communications, in both what was and was not provided. Congress asked for communications from the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. But her response leaves out almost all e-mail from her, and in parts redacts other material.

Both the Attorney General’s office and Blanco staffers took a black pen (clumsily at time) to some of the content. Since some of the choices made in this regard seem odd (intended to exclude non-official or personal items), it raises questions about the applicability of the content from Blanco’s own communications that did not appear, whether the excluded materials really did not have anything to do with her response. What has appeared to date already has made Blanco look confused, with more of her attention paid to image than to helpful actions.

The administration’s excuse takes a page out of the former Pres. Bill Clinton playbook about defining “is.” Blanco spinmeister/Communication Director Bob Mann argues that the order applied only to personal devices of others that are not covered by Congress' request. (Which, with the redacting, seems odd that so much time and resources would be put into this when there is so much other pressing business on Blanco’s agenda, like bringing the state back.)

8.12.05

Some Louisiana elected officials get it, others don't

Louisiana elected officials must understand that if the country is to give a huge donation to help the state’s shattered coastal areas rebuild, that the state doesn’t make itself look irresponsible. Some apparently get this, and some don’t.

THEY GET IT: Reps. Jim McCrery and William Jefferson (even as he remains under a legal cloud) scored their second recovery-related bill. It makes sensible requests designed to promote economic recovery and government capacity-rebuilding. It was done with little publicity but with maximal results.

SHE DOESN’T: By contrast, Sen. Mary Landrieu put her name on a bill that is tantamount to post-disaster looting, and now runs around screaming about how she’s going to be a Grinch stealing the Senate’s Christmas if she doesn’t get her stiff demands (for example, not just restoration, but dramatic improvement of levees, even as it is way too early to resolve that argument). That’s really going to win friends and influence enemies, and is just another reason why she is headed to political oblivion.

THEY GET IT: It seems that the Jefferson Parish Council has seen the light regarding the creation of a regional governance boards for levees. Using as a starting point previously failed legislation, some of its members now support a regional board of qualified appointees would make region-wide decisions while leaving existing districts to implement. In part it was Jefferson’s opposition in the last special session that prevented the bill from passing.

(Although they do have a problem with their request that tax monies raised in Jefferson stay with Jefferson projects. That defeats the purpose of having a regional strategy, even if what they do support removes more politics from the process.)

HE DOESN’T: Secretary of State Al Ater continues to generate the appearance of partisanship in performing his duties, by continuing to insist that New Orleans and now statewide elections be delayed several months because of perceived logistical and monetary problems. By arguing there should be a delay of the April statewide election for two constitutional issues, he attempts to blunt criticism that New Orleans elections could be held the same day.

But Ater admits the necessary machines are on order, and surely five months is enough time to get them here and scare up enough poll commissioners in Orleans to operate them (and an ex-Secretary of State and former jailbird says it can be done in February). Even if cost is a consideration, with Ater claiming the federal government is slow to reimburse him, there still is that five months and the reimbursement could come at any time,

Worse, Ater wants to blow a portion of funds that would be set aside for an election on an unprecedented voter outreach effort. In America, states put the burden of registering to vote and carrying it out, in person or absentee, on the individual. Why are people any less competent to perform these tasks just because they got chased around by a natural disaster? This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and again brings up the specter that Ater is more interested in trying to influence the results of the election than in impartially conducting them.

THEY DO AND DON”T GET IT: Most of the members Northeast Louisiana’s legislative delegation think small, judging the recent special session as successful. It largely was, but had such a limited agenda and execution that when you aim that low, it’s hard to miss. Only Sen. Robert Barham and Rep. Kay Katz seemed to understand that bigger issues are at stake. We can only hope by the time of the next special session, projected next month, that this big-picture thinking among all legislators will be spreading faster than water through an Orleans levee breach.

7.12.05

Katrina "racism" testimony further erodes nation's good will

The victim mentality of New Orleans was on full display, aided and abetted by race hustlers, at Congressional hearings about response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, giving the rest of the country yet another reason not to care about what happens to Louisiana.

This mentality, that somehow some insidious force beyond the individual’s control causes misery in his life and keeps him in a disadvantaged position in society, is a major reason why Louisiana in general, and New Orleans in particular, are among the poorest areas in the country. Ordinarily, the fruit of this attitude, that a person’s inability to make much of himself in life is not his fault but some “others,” could be seen encapsulated in the Orleans Parish School District, where learning was sacrificed on the altar of inefficiency and politics, few demands were made in learning, and many students and their families did little to change this situation or take control of their educational futures. As a result, it was perhaps the worst school district in America.

But with recent state activity to put education in the hands of those who actually mean it with the near-dismemberment of the district, now the best example of this attitude comes in hearings in front of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the Committee has tackled serious matters previously, allowing self-styled “representatives” of New Orleans evacuees to testify was a sop thrown to the few Democrats on the committee.

Most House Democrats wanted to boycott the enterprise, saying they wanted a federal government-wide investigation, not just that of the House. This is because they knew that, since the Republicans control the House, that in the course of the investigation there would be no shielding to public view of New Orleans as a poster child for the failed liberal policies of the Democrats, where generally policy decisions made by Louisiana but specifically by New Orleans would illustrate the destruction liberal Democrats have visited upon, in particular, our most disadvantaged citizens.

Victimization is a big part of this ideology. We saw it with how the Gov. Kathleen Blanco administration handled the matter of getting troops and buses into New Orleans, depending on others to do it for them, flailing about waiting for help to show up. We saw it in the response in New Orleans, where Mayor Ray Nagin failed to implement plans, instead stalking around complaining he wasn’t getting help. In larger terms, politicians such as these are the product of an electorate that itself is less willing than others to do the things it needs – demand better education, access that better education, stop expecting government to take care of them – than those in other parts of the country. Liberalism excuses these attitudes, saying they’re not people’s fault, and it’s a snake oil that Democrats still try to peddle frequently.

Thus, we get the pathological need to ascribe unfortunate situations to some sinister motive beyond the person’s control, despite no evidence to back it up. In this instance, it’s the idea that “racism” had something to do with rescue operations. Note that for this charge to be credible it would have to be demonstrated that most rescuers (many who were black) were irredeemably racist in attitude and action and/or it was government policy to promote this behavior among them. Since no such evidence exists, only the most exaggerated, wildest accusations can be brought forward to support this claim.

Democrat leaders shied away from participation in this committee’s investigations because they wanted to avoid this welfare-state mentality on parade, of a party that conjures up imaginary impediments of institutionalized racism instead of seriously debating issues, even as they believe it. These beliefs are losers at the ballot box because the American people are smart enough to see that this is not reality.

But one of the party’s genuine kooks didn’t get, or ignored, the message. The main instigator behind this portion of the hearings, the nutty, racist Rep. Cynthia McKinney, eloquently stated from their start, “And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed [sic] by the Katrina survivors.”

She was followed by, in the main, people who make their living off of crying racism and “community activists” who could offer no hard proof any crazy assertions they made when challenged other than “says you.” Perhaps the most famous comment was the incredulous comparing of the evacuee situation to the Holocaust, but maybe more indicative of the mindset and credibility of the professional complainers is another (again, eloquent) remark made by one them: “It was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was [sic] black.”

So, let me get this straight, in a city that mostly is black already, run mostly by black politicians who planned and supervised the (non)evacuation, where a large portion of the flooding occurred in an area of the city where almost all of the residents were black, where because of income differentials blacks disproportionately had reduced private means of evacuation, then the fact that mostly blacks needed rescuing is a sign of racism? Maybe it’s because I didn’t graduate from the typical Orleans Parish public school, but I can’t follow that logic at all.

And neither will the rest of the nation as it debates what kind of assistance the state will receive, and it won’t be too willing to send much to an environment where such moronic attitudes flourish. It doesn’t matter the expressed views aren’t held by all, unlikely even a majority, of Louisianans, but it is things like this or trying to cover incompetency in execution or refusal to reform themselves or relief-money looting whichmake indelible impressions in the minds of the country. Is there any place in America whose people, from its top officials on down, do a better job of shooting themselves in their own feet?

6.12.05

How long will Blanco, Legislature remain this clueless?

So how clueless is Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc? Enough apparently to continue in denial of what his boss Gov. Kathleen Blanco needs to do, in exercising her own powers and to prod the Legislature, to ensure the state’s adequate recovery from the recent hurricane disasters.

In a presentation, LeBlanc gave remarks that show his view decidedly is out of touch with reality. While it may be true that the state did take the first step towards recovery with the special session, calling it any more than a baby step would be a gross mischaracterization. Orleans Parish schools and building code reforms were handled adequately, but these are changes that will take years to manifest. Actions dealing with the immediate term paled in significance, if not making the situation worse. The budget was cut – but not restructured as it must be. The only levee board reform was cosmetic. The same goes for ethics reforms. State financial stability concerning its “rainy day fund” and its electoral honesty were altered for the worse by legislation. The session, called and determined in content by Blanco, may have been a mild success – but it’s hard to aim so low and still miss.

Thus, it is high comedy when LeBlanc suggested that it was now up to the federal government to respond in terms of assistance. Respond to what? How have things significantly changed, as a result of the session, relative to the political and fiscal structure of the state that would give government donors of money any confidence that they are making a wise investment in the state’s comeback?

5.12.05

Patience: world doesn't revolve around Louisiana flood control

It seemed to bother a number of commentators in Louisiana that when the federal government’s point man for recovery efforts Donald Powell visited the state last week, he would not give definite assurances that the federal government would pump in huge sums of money to the state to provide for things such as stronger levees and coastal restoration, as preventive measures against future hurricanes’ effects. This shouldn’t.

The state has to get over the attitude that somehow its residents have a divine right to live wherever they choose while somebody else pays huge sums to try to safeguard them against all but the most improbable flooding scenarios. It would be one thing if state or local governments taxed these citizens to provide this service, but in reality only a fraction of these costs are not covered by the federal government and the nation’s taxpayers.

In fact, there’s just one compelling reason why the federal government should pay anything at all – south Louisiana does provide service to the rest of the country, through its port facilities, petroleum production, aquaculture, and agriculture. It’s clear everybody is better off with it protected than without.

But the larger question is whether what amount of protection is cost effective. There’s widespread agreement that, at the very least, levees should be rebuilt (correctly) to withstand a Category 3 storm. However, going beyond that will be incredibly expensive and, perhaps, ultimately futile.

To begin, at a minimum of $32 billion and decades of construction, levees that would withstand a Category 5 storm could be built. (Note that this probably would increase substantially, especially if done right, the roughly $30 million a year spent by the federal government on maintenance of Louisiana flood control measures – the state accounts for about 20 percent of all Army Corps of Engineers projects – and that the federal government already pumps in funds for Louisiana coastal restoration, $65 million scheduled for 2006.) Yet experts point out that a hurricane of this force may occur only once every 500 years, so there is a question of whether that much protection really is worth all the money spent.

Then there’s the question of whether all levels of government can be counted on actually to do proper maintenance. The latest disturbing report is that federal, state, and local authorities performed negligent, cursory inspections of levees, and it’s been known for some time that local agencies demonstrated poor alertness and execution in detecting potential problems. And, of course, there’s the issue of how politically serious is the state in providing flood protection; nobody wants to throw money away on shoddy performance and politics as usual.

Finally, all of this may end up a moot point given the geology and geography of the Mississippi delta region may well be changing. One scientist, even if many other scientists dispute his findings, argues New Orleans is sinking through coastal erosion. But another has supported this argument in a different way, arguing that it’s subsidence through a warping of the Earth’s surface that will have a similar effect, mooting costal restoration efforts and forcing ever-higher levees to be built. Were this scenario to come true, costs could be astronomically higher than initially conceived.

So when federal officials balk at immediately promising everything to Louisiana on this issue, we must understand this behavior reflects prudence and reflection. As immediate and important as the issue may be to residents affected by Katrina and Rita, and even state taxpayers, there must be reasonable cost-benefit analyses which will require much time and information. As it is, what has been promised should be more than enough to encourage all but the most risk-averse individuals to rebuild. And what those whose lives will be affected by the decisions must remember is, in the end, they are recipients of either a huge gift or an insanely huge gift, so a little patience might be in order.

4.12.05

Blanco's Katrina documents show her fumbling, spin control

Iblamefema Gov. Kathleen Blanco, forced by Congress, let more light shine on her administration’s mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina situation, and at the same time gave public view to her attempts to deflect criticism of it.

It’s not surprising that the documents were released late Friday – this is a standard trick by officials to minimize the damage that troubling revelations about them can create by sending them out at the least attentive point in the new cycle. And these materials paint an unflattering picture of the Blanco Administration’s response to the disaster.

The confusion would seem to be evident. The most important document that could be sent, Blanco’s request for federal assistance, she asserts was sent by mail which the White House says it never received. I know Katrina caused problems even in Baton Rouge, but wasn’t there a working FAX machine on the state capitol’s fourth floor on Sep. 2? Or a computer with Internet access? Reading this brings to mind the old excuse when a debt isn’t dealt with in a timely fashion: “the check’s in the mail ….”

And, being that it was known by nightfall of Aug. 29 that New Orleans was flooding, why wasn’t it until Aug. 31 that anybody seemed concerned enough to start commandeering buses? If Blanco and others around the state complain that federal officials should have known what was going on through television reports, why didn’t she know New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and failed to fully implement his own vague evacuation plan and started the process much sooner?

In fact, the only document released that shows Blanco seemed to be on top of things was a timeline based on her own personal recollections, with little evidence to back up its claims. By contrast, much evidence points to an administration that seemed as preoccupied with trying to control public perceptions as it did with dealing with the disaster, even as the disaster continued to unfold.

(Particularly interesting in all of this is that the administration was practicing what it preached concerning news control. No long before Katrina struck, operative Bob Mann was discussing how Blanco’s team should try to manipulate the news through the Internet.)

Given that the public already has formed largely negative impressions of Blanco’s performance, it’s unlikely the lame defense contained in this information will alter much, if at all, the battle of public opinion that Blanco is losing and that will cast a shadow over the remainder of her, likely only, term in office.