Monday, January 31, 2005

Power and Politics…

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has been married for 39 years to Raymond Blanco, or “Coach” as he is known to friends. Bayou Buzz reports that “His role in her political life was debated in her 2003 race for governor. The state’s last Governor, Mike Foster, claimed that Coach Blanco ‘would be the most powerful man in the state’ if Kathleen Blanco won.”

We found several media references to this quote that related to the Coach’s recent transportation choices. John Maginnis put his junket in perspective: “When the governor's husband flew to a football game on a Shaw Group jet along with officials of a Japanese company considering building a plant in Louisiana, it was no scandal but only an eyebrow-raiser compared to escapades of past Governor's Mansion residents.”

Coach’s benefactor on this trip, Shaw Group, is headed by CEO Jim Bernhard, of whom Maginnis said “if we're taking nominations for ‘most powerful man in Louisiana,’ Bernhard would get his share of votes… One needed only to read about the Mansion reception the governor held to introduce Bernhard to members of the Democratic State Central Committee or to see her seated next to him when he was elected as its new state chairman.” Running a Fortune 500 company can’t hurt his reputation either.

Our fellow political watchdog C.B. Forgotston suggests another candidate, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom. As is often the Louisiana way, Odom awaits trial on a variety of charges, ranging from bribery to obstruction of justice.

Despite his indictment, Odom was re-elected as Agriculture Commissioner with only marginal opposition. The T-P reports that Odom controls a $12 million “slush fund” coming from gambling operations in the state. He was on his way to using the money to build an $85 million sugar cane syrup mill, when the Governor spoke up, getting the State Bond Commission to back off the project until a feasibility study can be completed. The project appeared to have overwhelming support from the Bond Commission until the Governor asserted herself.

Looks like the most powerful man in Louisiana, whoever he is, is still just in second place overall.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

New Orleans a shoppers' destination?...

New Orleans is a shopper’s destination for Jil Mcintosh, as we read in this morning’s Toronto Star. She is particularly taken by the city’s Deep South and French influences, and reminds us that there is “more to Big Easy than Mardi Gras.”

Jil has rather eclectic tastes: “This is a party town, but it's also a shopper's paradise, whether you fancy $50,000 antique armoires or a 50-cent string of beads. I visit the city each year, and always find new items that simply don't exist anywhere else.”

She recognizes the existence of a “fair share of malls,” but stresses that “the best on-foot shopping is in the French Quarter, and further west on Magazine St.” She makes a couple of discoveries of which we locals might not be sufficiently appreciative. One “must see” is the Dutch Alley Artists' Co-Op (912 N. Peters St.), a showcase of works by local artists. A “premier store is Fleur de Paris (712 and 717 Royal), offering handmade dresses that are more confection than clothing, and an exceptional selection of hats.”

She finds some of our customs a bit quaint. “New Orleans goes wild at Mardi Gras, but this is the Deep South, with all its conventions. That includes such events as debutante balls (the local newspaper's society column still reports them) and the clothes one needs to attend them… Even in the age of email, Southerners write letters; the thank-you note is all but taught to children at birth.”

She also finds that New Orleans is dog-friendly, as indicated by “the popular Barkus parade... featuring hundreds of dressed-up dogs.” But don’t get her started on hot sauces, “Most hot sauces in souvenir shops depend on their novelty labels and aren't worth eating.”

Is this the New Orleans you know? Any suggestions for Jil?

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Los Angeles Saints?...

Remember you heard it here first. The rumor is spreading that owner Tom Benson has agreed to sell the Saints to an investment group in L.A. (that’s Los Angeles, not Louisiana). Benson was said to be livid about stories that he used state money, intended to subsidize the team, to subsidize his lavish lifestyle instead. The purchase of particular interest was Benson’s new 122-foot yacht, valued between $12 million and $20 million.

T-P reports that records show that “Benson Football, which three years ago signed a landmark deal with the state that promises the Saints $186.5 million in inducements over 10 years, owns what was ranked as the 190th largest yacht in America when it was completed in 2002. It's unclear who paid for the boat…”

The team’s official attempt at misdirection came from spokesman Greg Bensel, who released a written statement that: “The real issue before us is not what Mr. Benson can afford, but whether the Saints will remain in New Orleans and be economically successful in this small NFL market against teams from much larger cities, such as the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots who are playing in Super Bowl XXXIX.”

“The issue is whether the Saints will continue to have sufficient stadium revenues to remain competitive on the field within the NFL system and in a very tough NFL environment where 20 new or vastly renovated stadiums have been built through public-private partnerships in the last 13 years,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said the team should open its financial books to scrutiny as team and state officials try to negotiate a long-term agreement to keep the Saints in the city. The Saints have long refused to do that or discuss the team's profits. Blanco was reported to be “very surprised” to learn that Benson Football, controlling partner of New Orleans' NFL franchise, owns a yacht, according to a spokeswoman.

Did he say remain competitive? Let us know what you think about these developments.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Boomers are Now YAPS...

(PRWEB) 50 plus Online Magazine re-defines a demographic: Yesterday's boomers are today's YAPS. Y.A.P.S.: Youthful, Active, Pre-Seniors.

The media called them baby boomers. Today that term is archaic. "The term "baby boomers" described who they were, not who they are today," says Gary Geyer, "so we re-named them to more accurately describe them." Geyer is founder, editor and publisher of 50plus Online Magazine as well as President and Creative Director of Alive & Kicking Advertising, a marketing company that specializes in the 50+ market.

"YAPS fall into the age spectrum of about 50-65, give or take a few years in either direction," adds Geyer. "Generally speaking, YAPS are over 50 and therefore considered part of the "mature market"."

Most YAPS don't think of themselves as seniors and they probably would not even like to be referred to as "Pre-Seniors." YAPS are not like their parents (who actually are seniors). YAPS are youthful in appearance and attitude. They try to stay active, exercise, watch their diet, eat healthier than those half their age, still listen to rock 'n roll, are fashion conscious, get nipped and tucked and have romantic inclinations.

YAPS lead active sex lives, are prominent in the work force, are politically motivated, surf and shop the internet, play video games, go to the movies, take vacations, frequent restaurants, travel, buy luxury items (more than any other demographic) including new cars, boats and houses, provide for their children, their grandchildren and today more than ever, take care of their aging parents.

"When you consider that the 'YAPPIE' population increases every 7 seconds, the mind boggles at this virtually untapped market. YAPS will spend upward of three trillion dollars in 2005 on anything and everything that prolongs their (forgive me) yapiness," says Geyer

Who were the baby boomers?

To refresh your memory, a third of the US population --- 76 million --- was born between 1946 and 1964. They were called baby boomers.

With them came a revolution affecting just about everything. New industries sprung up by the thousands to service the hoard. Shoes, cameras, band-aids, tricycles and toys of every kind (think Hula-hoops, Slinkies and Davy Crocket hats.) This population explosion resulted in thousands of new homes being built around the country and the birth of the suburbs. When boomers ate food, the snack, restaurant and supermarket industries emerged. They needed doctors and healthcare systems were created. They bought clothes and the fashion industry exploded. To put it mildly, they changed everything.

Let me know what you think about being a Yappie, or not being one.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Around the Blogosphere...

On an item we reported on recently, PoliticsLA quotes the Public Affairs Research Council in a news item titled "PAR Says Don't Weaken Ethics Laws:"

"Rising ticket prices have prompted some legislators to complain about ethics laws that prohibit them from receiving tickets to sporting and cultural events valued above $100 per event (or $500 a year per donor). They complain that the current threshold prevents elected officials from receiving tickets to any but the cheapest seats. Such complaints are totally out of bounds, and no move to relax existing ethics laws should be made."

Gambit Weekly compares the current Governor to her immediate successor:

"The most notable change is in the area of economic development, which is Louisiana's most pressing need. Mike Foster wouldn't leave the Governor's Mansion (or the duck blind) for anything, except maybe to ride his motorcycle or to attend law school classes. He took the classical economic theory of laissez-faire to its most illogical extreme, and Louisiana suffered for it. Edwin Edwards' idea of economic development was finding ways to shake down casinos for himself, his family and his friends.

Compared to them, Blanco is a breath of fresh air. She has already lured several large companies to Louisiana, and she clearly is willing to travel anywhere to sell the virtues of doing business in this state. Her legislative push last year for tighter ethical standards was not as ambitious as some had hoped it would be, but at least it passed. Blanco also sends clear signals that she wants to abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law."

Jeff Sadow, In his Between the Lines blog, gives a Shreveport perspective on the Saints:

"The fact is, as the governor has said, the Saints may have become a luxury the state can't afford. New Orleans is one of the smallest television markets in the NFL but let's let economics rule here. If we consider the state the Saints' market (and a number of Dallas Cowboy fans in northwest Louisiana would beg to differ), it might not be big enough to sustain them. Let them go to greener pastures if they feel they can; I won't root against them and I'd rather see the dollars spent on something like long-term health care."

Stay with us --- we'll tell you when others say interesting things.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ethics, Front and Center...

Two of today’s headlines at the New Orleans Channel were focused on ethics in state government, while another related to a charge of unethical behavior against city officials.

In a story titled "Crime Commission Opens Hot Line in Baton Rouge," NOC reports on the Metropolitan Crime Commission expanding its territory in the war on corruption, setting up a corruption tips hot line in support of the FBI corruption squad recently assigned to Baton Rouge.

"What we're trying to do is make the public in Baton Rouge aware of what the public in New Orleans has known for 53 years -- that we don't have to take it anymore," said crime commission director Rafael Goyeneche. "From 8:30 this morning until mid-morning today, we've had about a dozen to 15 phone calls out of the Baton Rouge area alone."

Goyeneche said the hotline is all about making Louisiana a better place to live or to relocate. "Often, businesses outside of Louisiana say they don't want to come to Louisiana because of the 'corruption tax,'" Goyeneche said. "Well, the crime commission is one way of repealing that tax."

Another story asserted that Governor Kathleen Blanco is “under pressure” to appoint ethics board members, facing an early March deadline to appoint three members to the eleven-member Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Blanco says she's looking for people with a lot of integrity and common sense about how people should behave and how it applies to the law. Apparently such people are hard to find in Louisiana.

The New Orleans story relates to a discrimination lawsuit involving Mayor Ray Nagin and four of his top aides. The Mayor’s office said yesterday that the city has no intention of settling the case out of court.

The lawsuit was filed by former Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson Butler, who now is the Orleans Parish clerk of court. Butler claims she was subjected to a hostile work environment while serving under Nagin, mainly because she was female.

Do these stories collectively say anything about Louisiana’s efforts to raise the ethical bar for public officials? Let us know your view.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Civic Space Race...

From Bloomberg comes what their analyst, Joe Mysak, calls "The Report Wall Street Doesn't Want You to Read," and some New Orleans business and political leaders may not like the message either. Mysak's conclusion from the report under discussion is that U.S. cities should stop the convention center "space race."

Mysak characterizes convention centers as expensive, money-losing propositions, even before you count the costs and debt. The reason he says that Wall Street doesn�t want you to read the report is that they make millions of dollars underwriting bonds for convention centers and convention center hotels, and don't want states and localities to stop betting on the future success of the convention business.

The basis for the discussion is a 35-page research brief prepared for the Brookings Institution, released this week, called "Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy." The research was conducted by Heywood Sanders, a professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who has spent almost a quarter century studying convention centers and their economic impact.

Public spending for convention centers has doubled over the past decade, to almost $2.5 billion a year. Exhibit space has increased 50 percent since 1990, to 61 million square feet in 2003. And 44 cities have plans for expansion or new centers in the hopes of increasing jobs, tourism and tax revenue.

This is occurring while the convention business is shrinking, and was doing so well before September 11, 2001. The business is contracting as a result of industry consolidation, reductions in business travel, and alternative ways of conveying information, says Sanders.

Mysak concludes that it may be time to change the way we think about cities and why they work, or don't. Has "public sector entrepreneurship" with its emphasis on taxing, spending and building really delivered? Maybe cities should halt their convention center space race and invest in things like infrastructure and basic services.

Let me know your thoughts on this issue.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Sexual Preference...

Does it seem to you that there have been a lot of sexually-oriented issues in the news lately? T-P on Thursday alone had three among its headlines:

State ban on gay marriage upheld

Louisiana's constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of "one man and one woman" was correctly written by lawmakers and properly cast into law by voters, a unanimous state Supreme Court said Wednesday. But the amendment does not erode the rights of any unmarried couple to own property, enter into power-of-attorney contracts or craft wills, the court noted.

Both sides of the gay marriage debate claimed victory. Amendment supporters such as the Louisiana Family Forum cheered the ruling, saying the provision is about "protecting children from bad public policy." Opponents of the amendment view the high court's ruling as limiting an amendment that could have been worse for gay couples.

Judges: Sodomy ruling doesn't void oral sex law

A woman accused of soliciting oral sex cannot use the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling that struck down a Texas sodomy law on privacy grounds to escape prosecution, the Louisiana Supreme Court said Wednesday.

Tina Thomas tried to sell oral sex to an undercover police officer April 10, 1995, in Jefferson Parish, prosecutors say. Louisiana law calls such an act a crime against nature and makes it a felony that carries up to five years in prison. By contrast, someone accused of offering sexual intercourse for cash is charged with prostitution, a misdemeanor.

Thomas argued that the state's crime against nature law discriminates unfairly and violates the right to privacy. Judge Kernan Hand of the 24th Judicial District Court agreed and tossed out the charge. Hand was wrong in applying the decision to the case of an alleged prostitute, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled, because the landmark ruling does not affect prostitution or public sexual conduct.

Council bans adult stores, tattoo parlors

Saying they want to preserve the quality of life in St. Bernard Parish, the Parish Council on Tuesday put a 180-day moratorium on permits for tattoo and body-piercing parlors, as well as adult bookstores, massage parlors, motels offering hourly rates and establishments that provide live adult entertainment. The council's action mirrors a temporary ban instituted by the New Orleans City Council last year.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Orleans schools may lose unclaimed federal dollars...

We quote the T-P, the subject being the ability of our elected officials and their designees to run our school system. What's your take on this?

"New Orleans public school officials did not claim more than $32 million in approved federal and state grants last fiscal year, and time has run out on making late claims on some of the money, state officials told new School Board members Wednesday.

Board members appeared stunned by the report provided by Marlyn Langley, a state Education Department deputy superintendent. The figure represents about 10 percent of the $319 million available in nonschool-lunch grant money.

Meeting with five of the seven School Board members in an education wing of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, Langley used a chart showing losses, and threatened losses, in grant money from the fiscal year that ended June 30 to illustrate the daunting nature of fiscal problems facing the system.

A team of outside consultants recently examined the internal troubles, and Superintendent Tony Amato has promised a flurry of measures in the next two years to fix them.

"You basically do not have a controlled environment," Langley said. State grants can no longer be claimed, but the district has a shot at still claiming part of the approved federal money, if documentation on spending is assembled, she said. Langley's report did not detail what part of the $32 million still is available. (A later report by T-P indicated that some funds had been requested and not spent, and that others could be applied for late).

Langley also reminded the board that federal officials, following an audit of the past three years, are questioning $71 million in school district spending on Title I programs, which provide services to low-income children. State officials are trying to assemble documents to substitute for records the school district couldn't provide, and the district faces the prospect of having to repay money that can't be accounted for, she said."

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Raising the Ceiling...

The article excerpted below was forwarded to us by C.B. Forgotston, who is a particularly vigilant and insightful observer of the Louisiana legislature. In an e-mail alert sent out recently, "Shakedown limits need to be raised," he introduces the article as illustrating "what has to be one of the most outrageous examples of how out of touch with reality are our leges."

"The leges want to raise the limits on how much they can be given by lobbyists and other people doing business with them. Remember there are no limits on gifts from anyone UNLESS THEY HAVE AN INTEREST BEFORE THE LEGES."

From the (Baton Rouge) Advocate, January 20, 2005, "Legislators want ceiling raised on gifts to them," by MARSHA SHULER.

"Inflation is interfering with legislators and other elected officials treated to sporting events by lobbyists, the chief of a House ethics panel complained Wednesday. State law allows lobbyists to buy tickets for elected officials to attend sporting or cultural events -- up to $100 per occasion.That limit, set 12 years ago, is too low, said Rep. Charles Lancaster, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lancaster said the $100 maximum prevents him from attending LSU and Saints football games or Hornets basketball games as a guest of lobbyists because better seats cost more than that.

Ethics laws generally prohibit elected officials from taking gifts from people they deal with, such as lobbyists who seek to pass or kill proposed laws for special interests. The allowance for tickets is a limited exception to that law. Last year, the Louisiana Board of Ethics recommended ending the exception. But that proposal to stop the free-ticket perks went nowhere in the Legislature."

Let us know if you think the leges are being asked to endure unfair hardship. Thanks for the "heads-up" CB.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Falling through the Cracks...

The post of Louisiana inspector general, the public official responsible for uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse in state operations, has been vacant for nearly a year. Meanwhile, there is a committee planning to interview applicants, of which there have been about 20. Louisiana's first and only inspector general, Bill Lynch, died February 15, 2004.

Governor Kathleen Blanco says that she has no intention of abolishing the inspector general's office but wanted to determine whether the scope of the position needed to be changed. She said she didn't want the inspector general to duplicate the role of the legislative auditor, the top investigator hired by the Legislature to review the financial books of state and local government agencies in Louisiana.

In any case, the last thing Louisiana needs is to weaken its oversight of the legitimacy and efficiency of state government

And, on the subject of efficiency, botched paperwork allowed an accused murderer two days of freedom from the Orleans Parish Prison. Wilton Carraby, 21, accused of a murder in May 2004, was re-arrested by police after being released from the prison when the Criminal Sheriff's Office said it didn't have the paperwork necessary to keep him behind bars.

The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office said it was not notified of the indictment until Wednesday, two days after he was released. William Hunter, chief deputy to Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, said Carraby was arrested May 28 and booked with murder and other offenses. But on July 29, the district attorney's office notified the Sheriff's Office that the murder charge had been refused, Hunter said.

T-P reports that Leatrice Dupre, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Eddie Jordan, said the district attorney's office refused the charge in July because a witness refused to cooperate. But a couple of days later the witness had a change of heart, and Carraby and Ray Arizi, who is still at large, were indicted Aug. 5 on a charge of first-degree murder, she said.

Carraby was held on other charges until Monday and then released. On Wednesday, relatives of murder victim Purnell Brown told police and the district attorney's office they had seen Carraby on the street, leading to Carraby's re-arrest.

Dupre said the district attorney's office will look into the matter and work with the clerk's office to determine where the problem occurred. "We are going to work with other agencies to see where the breakdown was," Hunter said.

It's a good thing Carraby stayed nearby and visible. You can't always expect that of accused murderers.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Observations of a Watchdog...

In a show of pluck, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin limped through Monday's Martin Luther King march, despite what proved later to be a broken ankle. Rumor has it that this demonstration of toughness caused several prospective mayoral candidates to re-think their plans for opposing Nagin next year.

In an unrelated development, New Orleans business executive Gilbert Jackson is among six people charged as racketeers in a wide-ranging indictment unsealed Tuesday in Cleveland that describes a pattern of corruption and bribery that involves that city, Houston, and New Orleans. We will have a better idea of Jackson's role when the expected wiretap evidence is presented.

T-P reports that "the case rubs up against the ongoing probe of contracts awarded during former Mayor Marc Morial's administration that is being led by local acting U.S. Attorney Jim Letten." Jackson was close to Morial and others among the former mayor's confidants, and was recently arraigned on separate federal charges of income tax evasion.

Jackson's attorney, Robert Jenkins, has said his client is innocent of the tax charges, and Jenkins said Tuesday that Jackson is innocent of the new charges as well. "I can assure you that Mr. Jackson is not guilty of any of these allegations, and we're prepared to fight them vigorously," Jenkins said. Still, Jackson is probably in trouble with his employer, national engineering firm Camp Dresser & McKee, for moonlighting as a consultant (against company rules) while cashing in on his contacts at City Hall.

The juiciest of the possibilities of this case centers on an unnamed official in Morial's administration who, it alleges, accepted a $2,500 bribe and was looking for more. But here's the part that gives New Orleans corruption a bad name --- the contract was not awarded to the group Jackson represented. Another alleged co-conspirator, in fact, questioned "whether continued payments to Gilbert Jackson were economically justified."

This sounds a lot more like "the gang who couldn't shoot straight" than it does like "all the king's men." We have come to expect more of our alleged perpetrators.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Like a business...

T-P reported that, as part of a no-bid deal with a local advertising company that enjoys close ties to the Nagin administration, the city of New Orleans paid $450,000 for garbage cans similar to those that competing businesses routinely provide for free. Let's add "close ties to the administration" to "politically connected" from an earlier report as indicators that we taxpayers have been had.

"Representatives of at least three companies that sell advertising on trash cans like those now dotting the streets of New Orleans say they would have been eager to provide the cans at no cost in exchange for the right to sell the ads that go in panels on the four-sided bins. To boot, two of the three said they also would have given the city a bigger piece of the ad revenue than the 15 percent the city is getting from the company that got the deal, Niche Marketing USA."

The N.O. Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, on their member page, lists Niche as the contact for member information. That page seems more like an ad for Niche than for anything related to a CVB site. Unanswered questions on the page also give it a very amateurish look. Niche, at one time had a site called "JazzyCans" but it came up "cannot be found" for me today.

Nagin ran for Mayor on a "run the city like a business" campaign. The no-bid deal with Niche certainly doesn't pass that test. Let us know of other situations where this measure can be applied.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pajamas and the Meanstream...

William Safire yesterday published an article entitled "The Depressed Press," beginning with the contention that "America's quality media are now wading through the Slough of Despond. Our self-flagellation, handwringing and narcissism threaten our mission to act as counterweight to government power."

One of the challenges that he alludes to is that from bloggers, while observing that "The 'platform' - print, TV, Internet, telepathy, whatever - will change, but the public hunger for reliable information will grow." How reliable are blogs in your experience? Are there any that you could recommend?

Safire suggests that "Blogs will compete with op-ed columns for 'views you can use,' and the best will morph out of the pajama game to deliver serious analysis and fresh information, someday prospering with ads and subscriptions." The prospect of profit, he says "will bring bloggers in from the meanstream to the mainstream center of comment and local news coverage."

Seeing Safire's reference to "pajama game" led to some Googling, where I found that the American Dialect Society chose "pajamahadeen" as the most creative word of 2004, defining it as "bloggers who challenge and fact-check traditional media." Apparently, the term "bloggers" has enough acceptance to be used in a definition, and I assume that is also true of the term "Googling."

An added bonus of my search was finding out the Society's word of the year, more accurately phrases, is: "red state, blue state, purple state: together, a representation of the American political map."

Google also found references to the term "meanstream," generally referring to the media but it also seems to relate to a radio channel and a music group.

Let us know of any word usages you find particularly interesting.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Remembering Martin Luther King...

ABC-26 reports on a New Orleans minister commemorating Dr. King yesterday with a service that delivered a message of justice and peace. The justice refers to the death of college student Levon Jones; Jones died on Bourbon Street after a fight with bouncers from Club Razzoo. "Rev. Norwood Thompson, head of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is calling for local people in the community to boycott Club Razzoo. He said they should close their doors, at least until the investigation into Jones' death is complete."

"If folks cannot respect us then they don't need to respect our dollars and our funds." Thompson says. "We need to spend our money where people are going to respect us."The SCLC is calling for locals to join in the boycott, but if necessary, they may ask for a larger boycott that could affect big events like Bayou Classic and the Essence Festival.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that a woman arrested while trying to integrate a public swimming pool in 1963 will be pardoned by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Blanco said she will grant the pardon for Betty Claiborne, 62, today as part of ceremonies honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Claiborne, then a 20-year-old college student, was arrested with four others on July 23, 1963, at the City Park pool, a social hub for the white community. The pardon is necessary in order for her to continue her position as chaplain at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, which she could not with a police record.

"I thought that it would speak to the way Louisiana has changed, and it also speaks to certain injustices of the past," Blanco said Friday.

AP calls Angola "the nation's bloodiest prison" while reporting on Wilbert Rideau's release after 44 years behind bars. Life magazine once called him "the most rehabilitated inmate in America."

Rideau, who is black, was convicted three times by all-white juries. He walked free Saturday when a racially mixed jury found him guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter, for which his time served was more than sufficient.

"It offers hope to the black community. It's a new day," said the Rev. J.L. Franklin of Lake Charles, who has led a minister's group that has pushed for years for Rideau's release.

Let us know how you remember Dr. King.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Corruption, Incompetence, Stupidity ...

We like to consider ourselves at the front lines of the war on corruption, incompetence, and stupidity. For simplicity, we will refer to the outstanding examples of these traits that we choose to highlight in this column as CIS "awards." We are open to nominations.

One of our staunchest allies in this struggle is C.B. Forgotston. CB maintains a web site titled Louisiana Politics Forgotston Style, www.forgotston.com, which I urge you to check out when you are finished reading this. CB keeps close track of our state legislators (calling them "leges"), and made a recent post to his site that gives you a sense of from where he is coming:

"I am a native-born, lifelong, resident of LA who is fed up with being fed up and is not taking it anymore. This website is not intended as daily source of news nor objectivity. If you are an elected official, especially a member of the LA legislature, you will hate this site. If you are happy with the status quo in LA the site will be of no value. If you think we can do better in LA then this may be the place for you. It is, hopefully, a way that one, who so desires, can become educated about the performance (or nonperformance) of their elected officials, so that informed decisions can be made at election time. In addition to objective (voting records) criteria you will find points of view not necessarily found elsewhere."

CB calls himself the "mullet scribe," defining mullets as "ordinary citizens who under a representative form of democracy are represented by leges." The opposite of mullets he calls "redfish," i.e., the elite, politicians or anyone who is "better" than the lowly mullet. He also has a guest column with the musings of the "Piney Woods Oracle."

Luckily (?), we have plenty material to work with, but always welcome your suggestions.

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Adding to our Watch List...

Today�s political story, courtesy of the T-P, has a provocative lead-in: "BATON ROUGE -- Largely unknown to the general public a little more than a year ago, Shaw Group Inc. founder and Chairman Jim Bernhard Jr. has suddenly become a major force in Louisiana politics, stirring both praise and controversy in his rise to the head of the state Democratic Party."

Bernhard�s Fortune 500 company is a worldwide industrial construction and engineering company with 18,000 employees and more than $3 billion in annual revenue. While Bernhard heads the Dems, the Shaw Group is one of the largest contributors to the Louisiana Republican Party, according to party Chairman Roger Villere who adds that two top Shaw executives are active GOP members.

The source of the controversy relates to Bernhard�s connections, especially his relationship with Gov. Kathleen Blanco, at a time when his company is interested in winning some of Louisiana's multibillion-dollar coastal restoration work and other contracts in the state. Bernhard dismisses complaints that he is using his political influence to win contracts for his company, saying that they are untrue and wildly overstate Shaw's reliance on a single state for business.

We will add Bernhard to our watch list, and start out by giving him the benefit of any doubt.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference denounced the killing of a Georgia college student outside a French Quarter nightclub, saying racism is to blame.

At a press conference yesterday Dr. Charles Steele, President of the SCLC, said that �Racism is alive and well in New Orleans,� referring to the death of Levon Jones as nothing short of murder. In addition to condemning employees of the nightclub, Steele questioned the actions of police who responded to the call that night. We will report back to you when the police announce the results of their investigation of the incident.

Meanwhile, we would welcome feedback on these issues.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

Business as Usual...

The New Orleans City Council has decided that it is time to rewrite the chapter of the city code dealing with regulation of taxicabs and other types of for-hire ground transportation. Their objective is to bring greater clarity and order to Chapter 162, which, reports the T-P, many people in the transportation industry say is rife with contradictions, omissions and confusion.

So far, so good. Now comes the business as usual part. Although it has no experience in the field of transportation regulation, the "politically connected" law firm of Bryan & Jupiter is in line to get the lucrative contract. Learn to like the phrase "politically connected," because you'll see and hear it a lot in the local media.

The council's Ground Transportation Committee approved the firm's selection Wednesday with no discussion. The full council is expected to ratify the firm's choice without difficulty.

The motion to hire Bryan & Jupiter was made by Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, chairwoman of the committee and, coincidentally (?), a political ally of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, former law partner of Trevor Bryan. Bryan co-owns his firm with Clare Jupiter.

You may remember B&J for their representation of the previous School Board majority in a number of futile, dilatory and punitive legal actions against Superintendent Anthony Amato that I am sure cost the financially-strapped school system a tidy sum. That the law firm advised the Board to pursue these actions seems to me to be exploitative.

But B&J probably needs the work. The T-P reports that Amato mailed and faxed the law firm a notification letter on Jan. 4, six days before the new board members were sworn in. "Pursuant to a conference held with incoming Orleans Parish School Board members, this letter notifies you that of January 10, 2005, your law firm should cease and desist all legal billing" to the board, the letter said.

Let me know what you think.

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Of Call-Up and Trackback...

WWL-TV brought news cameras to the ceremony in Belle Chasse honoring six Louisiana guardsmen killed in the line of duty, making news themselves. It is generally against Pentagon policy to allow flag draped coffins to be shown but, in this case, the families' insistence prevailed.

Public attention to, and questioning of, how heavily the U.S. military has begun to rely on national guardsmen is intensifying. Senator David Vitter says Louisiana probably has the highest number of guardsmen and reservists in Iraq per capita. Further, he said that reservists and guardsmen make up 42% of the 135,000 American soldiers now serving in Iraq, and that number could increase to 50% by the spring.

As a former "citizen soldier" myself, I understand that guardsmen and reservists knew the possibility of call-up when they signed on, but at the same time disagree with the Pentagon's "promoting" them to a significant proportion of frontline troops. I was called up, for about three weeks as I remember, during the Cuban missile crisis, and helped scramble fighter jets out of Belle Chasse on reconnaisance missions.

Let me know what you think of the direction of U.S. activities in Iraq.

On a business note, the Jefferson Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the relocation of a riverboat casino from Lake Charles to Elmwood, near the Huey P. Long bridge. The Isle of Capri is now unlikely to proceed with their application pending with the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. Jefferson Parish can hardly be considered anti-gambling; perhaps the Isle's plan put them a little too close to our friends at the Treasure Chest.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. The comment feature makes it a little easier, I think, for you to weigh in on an article. I don't quite understand trackback yet, but will fill you in when I do.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Teacher's Pay...

Louisiana remains in the bottom five states for average teacher salary -- $37,116 in the 2002-03 school year, the latest data available. For comparison, AP reports that the Southern average was $40,847, and the national average was $45,891, according to statistics from the Southern Regional Education Board. The state would need about $250 million a year more to hit the Southern average.

Governor Kathleen Blanco said she wants to come up with a way to increase teacher salaries, and House Speaker Joe Salter is looking for sources of funding, and allows for the possibility of tax increases. You may remember that former Governor Foster took no salary from the state because he made it contingent on getting teacher pay to the Southern average, an objective that he could not accomplish. Let's do it this time!

One teacher's aide decided to take a pay raise into her own hands. She took fraudulent travel reimbursements as part of a kickback scheme that cheated the New Orleans public school system of more than $70,000. She pleaded guilty along with a former accountant who took kickbacks from the aide and others in exchange for doling out fake travel reimbursements and fraudulent stipend payments.

Would that an honest form of this degree of creativity and administrative skill were prevalent at higher levels.

What is your recommendation on teacher pay?

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

More to come...

Two stories in the news yesterday served as teasers for some interesting stories to come.

Governor Kathleen Blanco said she will ask the Saints to agree to a reduction in payments that the state makes to the team, and that she expects the Saints will help pay for the $168 million Superdome renovation. Blanco said the bulk of revenue should come from the area and not from the state's general fund. This should go down well with New Orleans area officials.

The key words are "will ask" and "should." Benson has been a tough negotiator in the past, and it will seriously test the determination of the Governor toward what she calls "a realistic renegotiation."

Yesyerday also saw the official swearing-in of the 2005 Orleans Parish School Board. They are enthusiastically calling the Superintendent and themselves "the team of eight." Last year's school board often clashed both publicly and privately, and several outgoing members were critical of schools Superintendent Anthony Amato. We are anxious to watch the team's progress.

Let us know what you expect to happen next on these stories.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Sad day on the news beat...

Seven National Guardsmen were killed when a bomb destroyed their Bradley Fighting Vehicle during an evening patrol in Taji, outside Baghdad. Six of the Guardsmen were from southeast Louisiana, a seventh from New York. The T-P reports that it was the deadliest day for a single National Guard unit in the Iraq war.

The life of the New Yorker is no less precious, but there is an added poignancy when such sadness is visited upon our neighbors. The price is too great, it is time to start bringing our troops home!

Bernard "Buddy" Diliberto, the colorful sports commentator for WWL radio, has died at age 73 of an apparent heart attack. Buddy spent over 50 years covering the New Orleans sports scene, first in the newspaper, then on television and finally on radio. He will most be remembered for being the original "baghead," going on the air with a brown paper bag over his head in the midst of a 1-15 Saints season in 1980.

Also in the world of sports, Jim Haslett has been told by New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson that he will return for a sixth season as coach. He may hang in long enough to coach the Los Angeles Saints.

Stay in touch.

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Civic Pride...

Men's Fitness magazine, in its February issue, has named Seattle the fittest city in the United States. Competitors for the title included Honolulu, Colorado Springs, San Francisco and Denver.

In its admittedly nonscientific Seventh Annual Fattest and Fittest Cities Report, the magazine compares 50 cities by weighing 14 factors, including fast food restaurants per capita, TV watching, air quality, and parks. In Seattle, for example, sporting goods stores and gyms outnumber fast food joints -- a key statistic.

Houston was named the fattest city for the fourth time in five years, followed by Philadelphia, Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, and Dallas. New Orleans rated seventh, up from twenty-second last year.

OK, New Orleans, how can we be losing to these guys? At this rate of climb in the ratings, we should capture the title next year. Everyone can step up their TV watching, and developers need to speed up the construction of all the fast-food places on the drawing boards. It's a matter of civic pride.

Let me know what you'll be doing to advance the cause.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Three nepotism stories in one day!...

State Sen. Lambert Boissiere Jr., of New Orleans, confirms that he intends to run for what AP calls the "obscure" 1st City constable post vacated this week by his son, Lambert Boissiere III. There is little doubt that LBIII won the position initially on LBjr's coattails, and now it is coming full circle.

The elder Boissiere gave two primary reasons for pursuing the constable position, less work and more pay. Not too impressive, but he will win in a walk anyway. As constable, the primary job is to evict tenants who don't pay their rent. The office also carries out orders of 1st City Court, which handles small claims up to $2,500 and other disputes up to $20,000.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Insurance shut down the insurance business of an aunt of former Mayor Marc Morial, Lillian Smith Haydel. Haydel pleaded guilty last year in a conspiracy involving kickbacks paid to an insurance manager for the Orleans Parish School Board, and is awaiting sentencing in that case, which grew out of an ongoing federal probe of the Orleans Parish school system.

Also going on are attempts to reach a settlement in the bitter, two-year contract dispute between the Regional Transit Authority and Glenn Haydel, an uncle of former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. The RTA portrays this Haydel as a political opportunist who did little or nothing in exchange for portions of the $7 million he and subcontractors collected during the past decade.

How are we doing in fighting corruption? Give us your comments.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Newsmakers...

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco made the news on two fronts yesterday. One was the state's proposal for a new financial deal with the New Orleans Saints and a $168 million renovation of the Superdome. This should be roughed out and ready to submit to team owner Tom Benson in the next 10 days, aides to the governor said Wednesday.

The Gov. is showing a bit more determination to strike a deal favorable to the state than ex-Gov. Foster ever did. How does the "Los Angeles Saints sound?" Would we really miss them? I think that area legislators are more concerned about how the move might reflect on the city than they are about financial fair-play. More to come.

The Gov. made the news on the "corruption watch" also. Seems that her husband flew to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday aboard the Shaw Group Inc.'s private jet. Shaw officials were also entertaining an executive of a major chemical firm at the time, in hopes of landing a lucrative contract to build a new plant in Louisiana.

This is barely big enough to be worth noting, and should not dent her reputation for thoroughly ethical conduct of the office. To her credit, the governor wishes her husband had not made the trip because of the possible appearance of favoritism toward Shaw, Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said.

Let me hear your opinion on these issues.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Some good news for a change...

The AP reports that Louisiana tops the nation in its program to improve teacher quality and is second only to New York in its accountability standards for schools, according to Education Week magazine in its annual rankings released today. The news is not all good, however, due to a continued poor showing in the Education Week category of "school climate" which entails school size, class size, safety, parental involvement, attendance and dropouts. Louisiana improved from a "D" last year to a "D+" in the current rankings.

Still, it seems safe to say that the state education establishment is moving in the right direction. The obstacles seem related to budget, and a lack of parental cooperation only partly under the control of educators.

In another case of good/bad news, a former New Orleans water official reported to prison for scheming to rig a contract renewal to run the city's two wastewater-treatment plants. Anti-corruption efforts in the state are going well, but then they seem to have so much to work with.

In the category of stupid copyright violators, AP reports that artist George Rodrigue, whose "Blue Dog" launched him to fame and riches, is suing the owner of a New Orleans gallery and two artists for allegedly violating his copyright with an image of a blue dog slumped inside a martini glass. Couldn't they think of another color for the dog?

Let us hear from you on what in the news is catching your eye.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The state of blogging...

"By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture. Two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November established new contours for the blogosphere: 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of internet users; 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online; and 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs. Still, 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is." View PDF of Report

Good sources of information about about RSS aggregators and XML readers are easy to find. We have an RSS feed at the bottom of this column, "Louisiana Headline Links --- Source: New Orleans Sun." You can also see how this blog is distributed as an RSS feed by going to http://www.jbv.com/whatsnew.

This is an exciting new medium, and we're testing the limits. Let me know how you feel about an occasional post concerning the technology underlying this communication method.

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Monday, January 03, 2005

A Little Off Topic...

How 'bout dem Saints? The Saints took care of business yesterday, but the odds were a little too long for them to make the playoffs. Some say the fortunes of the team affect the civic mood. If so, this could explain many of the city's recent problems.

I missed the game because we are on the road, and the Cincinnati media chose to show the Bengals instead. We visited the new Freedom Center in the city, while staying in the exurbs of nearby Indiana.

It's a nice place to visit, but give me the urban life. The attractions of Dillsboro, Aurora, and Versailles, IN are consumed rather quickly. Still, it is nice to see this slice of Americana occasionally.

What's your favorite place to visit?

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

How did you ring in the new year?...

Headlines (from T-P) of stories I would rather not read:

Seven ring in new year with gun arrests
No cause released in death of tourist
City ends 2004 on grim note
Story lead that makes an earlier story seem even worse:

As lead consultant to the Regional Transit Authority, former Mayor Marc Morial's uncle Glenn Haydel steered insurance brokering deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to his future wife and, after their marriage, to her business partner.
I can't add anything. Let me know how you feel about these stories.

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Of Parking and Patronage...

The city of New Orleans has again awarded a contract for high-tech parking meters with high expectations of resulting revenues. This is happening just four months after making the final $400,000 payment on the last such contract to WorldWide Parking Inc., a Maryland company.

WorldWide was low bidder on the new project, but without a local partner they did not have a chance. The project was awarded to a 50-50 partnership between Standard Parking, a national firm that has operated parking lots in New Orleans for 25 years, and Parking Solutions LLC, a local minority-owned company with political ties to City Hall.

Mayor Ray Nagin selected the local partnership over the low bidder, citing technological factors and the 50 percent minority participation. Nagin took the position that the lowest-bid criterion was inapplicable because the contract is for a professional service.

Did the old meters become obsolete as soon as the old contract was paid out, or was it simply perceived as an opportunity to award a lucrative deal to some friends? Do you think the deal could have withstood an objective financial analysis? Let me hear from you.

On a subject we reported on earlier, the Times-Picayune reported:

A day after the New Orleans City Council tried to grab the credit for keeping the Louisiana SPCA on the job next year, Mayor Ray Nagin tried to wrest it back Thursday, announcing an "agreement in principle" for the agency to continue providing animal-control services for as long as five years.
After some political brinksmanship, the SPCA got what they had asked for all along. Was it worth the exercise by our officials just to see who deserves credit? Let me know your opinion.

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