Monday, February 28, 2005

The Cost of Corruption Redux...

AP reports, via T-P, that the city of New Orleans has wound up paying 62 percent more for new parking meters than it would have paid for similar meters proposed by another company, according to bid documents.

The contract went to a 50-50 joint venture between the local, black-owned Parking Solutions LLC and the national company Standard Parking. The contract was awarded at a time when Mayor Ray Nagin was under pressure to do more business with minority firms.

But the winning firm's proposal didn't include enough meters to cover the city's 3,901 parking spaces, a requirement that at least one other bidder met. As a result the city is paying $557 per space per year, instead of the $343-per-space quote offered by Reino Parking Systems.

The bid documents were reviewed by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

The city chose to treat the contract award as a professional service, meaning the job did not have to go to the lowest bidder. WorldWide Parking, one of the losing bidders, has challenged that decision in court, where the case is still pending.

The joint venture wound up being scored second among bidders for the contract. Reino received the top bid from a city committee that rated the proposals.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Cost of Corruption…

Frank Donze of T-P reports that the Regional Transit Authority has offered a $650,000 cash settlement to Glenn Haydel, the politically connected, former management consultant whose contract was terminated in 2003 amid allegations that he had bilked the agency out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You may remember that we focused on the “politically connected” label as meaning hold on to your wallet and that is certainly the case here. Victor Franckiewicz, the RTA's lead attorney on the case, said Thursday that both sides are "closing in on a deal."

Scott Yount, Haydel's attorney, agreed that a settlement is imminent. "We've reached agreement on most of the major issues," he said. "We have a little fine tuning to do and hope to have everything resolved in the next few days."

But the RTA board made it clear in the resolution offering the payment that it still believes there were serious problems with Haydel's performance. An investigation of "management practices, decisions, procurements and billing practices" on Haydel's watch "that the RTA board did not approve" were "abusive and repugnant to the public interest," the resolution said.

The cash offer, which Haydel has not yet accepted, is designed to bring an end to a bitter, expensive legal battle that already has cost the RTA more than $400,000 in attorneys' fees. An ongoing federal probe of Haydel's business dealings with the RTA, however, would be unaffected by the settlement.

So the tab is over a million dollars for this legal battle, not counting the cost of the abuse of the public weal when Haydel was writing his own ticket. Just hours after Haydel rejected the RTA's initial settlement offer on the trial's first day, the transit agency upped the stakes in the legal battle, slapping Haydel with a lawsuit alleging that he bilked the agency out of hundreds of thousands of dollars during a 10-year period.

Under the deal, Haydel also would liquidate his firm, Metro New Orleans Transit Inc., and agree to never again do business with the RTA.

RTA Chairman James Reiss Jr., who has been slapped with a defamation suit by Haydel, said the decision to pay his accuser was a difficult one.

"But I know this is the right thing to do," said Reiss, an appointee of Mayor Ray Nagin. "Would I have preferred a different outcome? Obviously, yes. But in the best interests of this agency and the people we serve, we've got to put this behind us."

Reiss said RTA lawyers have told board members that no matter how the district court ruled, the litigation was destined to run its full course to the state Supreme Court and drag on for another two to three years. Under that scenario, Reiss said, the RTA was facing the likelihood of an additional $1.5 million to $2 million in legal fees. "And we couldn't allow that to happen," he said.

Reiss said the sting of paying Haydel $650,000 will be mitigated somewhat by two factors: The more than $2 million the RTA has saved in management fees since he tore up Metro's five-year $3.7 million contract in December 2002 and found RTA employees to handle much of the work the firm was paying subcontractors; and the $700,000 the agency has saved since he fired six top administrators hired on Haydel's watch at salaries of more than $100,000 each.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Louisiana ethics board knows its limits…

Doug Simpson of AP reports that the Louisiana's ethics board tightened its rules for lobbyists seeking to influence members of the state's executive branch. This covers about 72,000 workers in departments such as Corrections and Agriculture and the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor.

The board decided Friday not to approve a proposed rule that would have barred lobbyists from wining and dining the spouses of such officials, or from giving the spouses tickets to sports events. State lawmakers have made it "painfully clear" they do not want such a restriction, board lawyer Gray Sexton said.

I would suggest that it is the taxpayers who are in pain. Why do our leges consider having the check picked up by lobbyists an entitlement? Why are our ethics officials so reluctant to do something that the leges might not like?

The new rules follow the Legislature's passage last year of a law requiring lobbyists to report any expenditure they make on a public official if it totals $50 or more in any one instance or $250 or more in a six-month period. Those who lobby lawmakers already were under the same requirement.

The law covers lobbyists who are paid to influence any elected official in state government, appointed members of any of the numerous state boards and commissions that have a majority of gubernatorial appointees, plus employees of those agencies.

The board's meeting Friday was to enact rules to monitor lobbyists, who face new requirements for registering and reporting their activity with the state. One rule applies to parties thrown by lobbyists, if more than 25 members of the executive branch attend. The lobbyist must report to the board how much money was spent on food and drink for those officials, the party's location and other details.

Board of Ethics Chairman Henry C. Perret Jr. said the rules will expand the public's knowledge of lobbyists' actions. "The people of Louisiana are going to learn some things they didn't know, and I think that's good," he said.


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Friday, February 25, 2005

This Week’s Scandal…

Paul Murphy of New Orleans’ ABC26 News reports on their web site that “The fix is out at New Orleans Traffic Court. Federal prosecutors announced the indictment of three city workers accused in a ticket-fixing scheme at the courthouse.”

Federal agents say corruption there costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. They call the new round of charges a promising break in what they call a long history of wrongdoing at the courthouse.

"We've had information and I spoke with the staff this morning, for the last 15 years that there have been problems with alleged innuendo at the traffic court regarding the fixing of tickets," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Lou Reigel.

So far, the charges and the accused are rather small time by Louisiana standards. James W. Lee, the former supervisor of community service for both the criminal district and traffic courts in New Orleans is accused of taking a bribe to dismiss a traffic court case. Grounds Patrol Officer Bobby Grant is also accused of accepting money to fix a ticket. Mickey Torregano, a judge's secretary in Section "D" is accused of knowing about fixed tickets but failing to report them.

Federal agents say they caught the ticket fixing on tape. They used undercover audio and video along with cooperating witnesses to make the case.

"There were multiple transactions as part of the undercover operation, but the individuals have only been charged with one particular incident," said Reigel.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten says the investigation is continuing and there will likely be more indictments in the ticket fixing scandal. Letten won't confirm or deny whether any judges were involved in the alleged wrongdoing.

Speaking to reporters, Letten asked, "You've asked are there judges involved?" "I mean, number one, we can't say, we can't speculate about this and we don't want to cause any speculation about who's involved."

FBI Special Agent in Charge Lou Reigel says the city should conduct a top to bottom audit at traffic court. He says it's obvious, the system of checks and balances there isn't working.

Last month a grand jury indicted former Assistant City Attorney Edwin E. Burks and Court Clerk Bernetta J. Claiborne in that same investigation.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sin tax…

Ed Anderson, of T-P’s Capital bureau reports on Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco’s intention to look into the possibility of increasing "sin taxes" on tobacco, liquor and gambling to generate as much as $120 million to provide teacher pay raises of $1,000 to $2,000.

"We are looking at what our options are," Blanco said. " 'Substantial' is a minimum of $1,000. We will do what we can afford. I'd like it to be a little bit more" than $1,000. She did not rule out a $2,000 pay raise, an amount the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has been pushing as a minimum. She said the administration also wants to consider stepped raises to bring teachers to the regional average in the next few years.

"We are internally debating exactly which taxes we might be asking for, which revenue sources we might be asking for, but we certainly are looking at a cigarette tax, and perhaps some gambling taxes adjusted, and perhaps even alcohol" tax increases, Blanco said. She said the administration is exploring taxing all gambling forms at the same level, instead of the staggered rates now in effect. Blanco did not say what the uniform level might be.

Blanco said teachers deserve a raise, despite a looming $400 million shortfall in the state health budget. "We still have a responsibility to provide additional revenues for our teachers," she said. Blanco is expected to push the pay raise plan at the legislative session that opens April 25.

State education department officials said the average teacher pay this year in Louisiana pubic schools is expected to be $38,700, compared with the projected regional average of $42,600. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said the national average is about $10,000 higher than in Louisiana.

Monaghan and Carol Davis, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said they are encouraged that Blanco is publicly talking about a teacher pay raise. "The governor is acknowledging there is a need for revenues," Davis said. "What is being discussed are the sin taxes. . . . This is a good place to start, but this is not the answer. . . . This is OK as step one."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Nagin in the News…

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, normally a lower-profile mayor than we are used to, has been getting a lot of news coverage lately. Unfortunately for Nagin, he would have rathered flying below radar last week than in the positions he found himself.

In the long-running dispute over back pay between the Mayor and the fire fighters, Civil Court Judge Kern Reese ordered both parties back to the bargaining table. This action averted, for now, a $10 million-plus judgment against City Hall that could force widespread layoffs, including dozens of firefighters.

For his part, Nagin made a personal appeal via e-mail to individual firefighters, imploring them to buck their union leaders and strike a deal with his administration. Nagin said in the message that he would be forced to lay off as many as 1,000 city workers, including 180 to 200 firefighters.

The T-P had fun with the story of the rejected pay raises :

“Either Mayor Ray Nagin employs the most selfless executives this side of a monastery, or the mayor is auditioning for a future career as a comic. He has to be going for laughs to say he offered salary increases to each of the 10 people on his executive team and that each person separately -- and without prompting -- concluded that he or she already makes enough money.

The more likely story is that the mayor or one of his top aides asked his staff to relinquish the extra money after The Times-Picayune got a tip that he had awarded the raises in secret. The explanation his press secretary presented -- that each of the executives turned down extra money like so many plates of Brussels sprouts -- just isn't to be believed.”

Nagin’s other time on the front page probably showed more about the inflated self-importance of the City Council than any failing on the Mayor’s part. This is not to say that the Mayor acted judiciously in the matter.

It was all about when in the process of striking a deal, this time to authorize a fiber-optics network in the Central Business District, the Mayor should have “reached out” to the Council. Even within the Council, there was some posturing about some of its members being included before others.

Get over it!


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Just in from India…

Today’s news source is the Indo-Asian News Service, by way of Kerala, India and the New Orleans Sun. The subject is Indian American Nial Patel, 25, who works for recently elected Representative Bobby Jindal, also of Indian descent. Jindal has another Indian Americans in a key staff position, Sapna Delacourt is legislative director and counsel in his Washington office.

Patel says he absolutely "loves" public service. He looks after Metairie, on the western side of Greater New Orleans, for Jindal, making sure the freshman congressman maintains his links with the people who sent him to the House of Representatives.

"I represent Bobby to his constituents in the First District of Louisiana. I act as a liaison between constituents and various federal agencies. I love public service and I cannot think of anything more pleasing than being able to help people better their lives and understanding government," Patel told IANS.

Patel was born in Toronto, Canada, but moved to New Orleans at age 1. His father Ashok Patel, an engineer who has worked for the US space agency NASA and now a businessman, is from Gujarat and his mother Gita is from Kisumu, Kenya. A graduate of Louisiana State University, Nial studied economics and political science, and later earned a graduate degree in economic public policy.

He began working for Jindal as a volunteer on the gubernatorial campaign.

"I love politics, but was never active until I saw that I could play a role in something I really believed. I did everything from answering phones to organizing volunteers to helping research for policy papers and debates. I was pinned down from project to project and was used to help all aspects of the campaign," Patel said.

"I consider myself a Louisiana political operative and hope to help build the Republican Party in the state by true leadership, educating the voters and hard work," said Patel, a claim Jindal takes seriously. He considers Jindal "an excellent role model" and admires his devotion to public service. "It comes straight from the heart," he said.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Climate of Change…

An article in T-P recently told of Maura Donahue preparing to take office at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In June, Maura will become the first woman, the first Louisianian and the first small-business operator to chair the U.S. Chamber. She is president of DonahueFavret Holding Corp. and vice president of the Mandeville-based DonahueFavret Contractors Inc., a company her husband, Jack, founded in 1979.

Maura is said to be in training for a yearlong journey as head of an organization she termed the "voice of the business community." She currently serves on the boards of GNO Inc., the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Foundation and Resource Bank. Donahue also has served on the board of Louisiana's Republican State Central Committee and was chairwoman of the board of the St. Tammany Parish Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber represents 3 million businesses, including Fortune 500 firms and one-person operations. Most in that community, about 96 percent, are small businesses, with 100 or fewer employees. Donahue said she will focus much of her one-year term assisting them. "The agenda for all business is in sync with small businesses," she said.

She plans to tackle three main issues during her term: health care, legal changes and tax policies. As a small-business operator, she said it's a no-brainer that health care is at the top of the list. "We are in crisis mode," she said. Donahue said her company, like others, has seen double-digit increases in health care costs for its 60 employees and is eager to find ways to bring those costs down.

Maura also plans to use her new position to "talk about Louisiana and the changes Louisiana is going through." We are proud to have her as our spokesperson.

Give us your view on the changes Louisiana is going through. And, while you’re at it, tell us how you think Governor Blanco is doing.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Is there a Mayor’s race going on?

With just less than a year to go before the 2006 mayoral primary, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has $855,000 in the bank, according to campaign disclosure reports posted recently. T-P reports that political observers say the mayor's war chest, including $786,000 raised last year, is large enough to discourage potential challengers, but not large enough to assure Nagin of a cakewalk next year.

Incumbent mayors tend to enjoy distinct advantages when it comes to winning re-election. In fact, an incumbent New Orleans mayor has not lost a bid for re-election since 1946, when Robert Maestri was defeated by Chep Morrison. Maestri had already been in office 10 years at the time. Since the passage of the 1954 city charter, mayors have been limited to two consecutive terms in office.

Unseating an incumbent mayor is "extremely difficult unless the mayor is an obvious failure and there's a major decline in the city," said University of New Orleans professor of political science Susan Howell. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am quoting my wife here.) "The whole system is geared to re-elect the mayor, because everyone who has a contract at City Hall is beholden to the mayor," Howell said. "It's to their advantage that the mayor is re-elected."

Nagin's list of contributors shows that the old system is alive and well. The 498 people and firms that gave to his campaign in 2004 include dozens of companies that do business with City Hall, ranging from trash haulers to engineering, legal, insurance and construction firms.

Nagin has said he expects to have serious challengers, but so far, only two candidates have come forward: activist and former state Rep. Leo Watermeier and WWNO-FM announcer James Arey. Handicappers see both as longshots. Whether bigger names jump into the race remains to be seen, but they had better get it started.

What do you see happening?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse...

Coleman Warner reports in T-P about a U.S. Department of Education report that harshly criticizes Orleans Public Schools management..

"Our audit disclosed a significant lack of management controls, which adversely affected Orleans Parish's ability to administer Title I funds," said the Nov. 15 report by the department's office of inspector general.

"Specifically, we concluded that Orleans Parish needs to improve its management controls related to the maintenance and retention of payroll, personnel, and financial records, reviews and approval of transactions charged to Title I, and using competitive bidding practices for significant equipment purchases."

These were not isolated incidents but seemed to indicate decades of incompetence and/or corruption. Let's hope that Superintendent Amato is putting the right people in place to clean up their act..

In that vein, T-P opens the file on Sean O'Keefe's tenure as chancellor of Louisiana State University, Just days before he is to begin his new job, O'Keefe is facing questions about a report that he is being investigated for his use of government airplanes and for allegedly playing "fast and loose" with travel budgets during his three-year tenure as the top administrator at NASA.

The Associated Press quoted anonymous senior NASA officials Thursday as saying that O'Keefe's actions are being probed by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The focus is not fraud, but waste, one NASA official said, characterizing what he said were practices by O'Keefe, who was tapped in December for the LSU job. His final day with NASA was Feb. 11; he is scheduled to begin work Monday on the Baton Rouge campus.

With a little luck, maybe it's just waste.

Ed Anderson of T-P tells us that state officials hope to use a new hotline and a public education campaign to encourage residents to report fraud in government, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

A key element of the $20,000 "Stamp Out Fraud" drive, devised by the state Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation, is the toll-free hotline -- 1-866-Fraud05 -- for reporting suspected fraudulent activities such as inflated insurance claims, theft of food stamps and bogus bill claims from Medicaid providers.

"We are talking about fraud that costs Louisiana citizens millions of dollars, fraud we cannot afford," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the new program. "It increases the cost of government. . . . This will make Louisiana better and more effective stewards of our taxpayers' money."

Is our state doing better, finally reaching a high enough level of vigilance to prevent abuses of taxpayers' money? You tell me. I'd like to hear from you.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, February 18, 2005

Voters Speak Out...

Today, we turn over our column to a guest on a mission.

My name is Seth Spores; I am one of the three editors and co-founders of College Tree Publishing. We contacted hundreds of university and college conservative and liberal groups, political science departments, and university news papers and requested essay submissions from people in the 17 to 25 year old age group on political and social issues. The end result was What We Think: Young Voters Speak Out, which was put out nationally in late October. The book was meant to be a running forum for political expression of America's youngest voting demographic, and in that regard has been a success. Since the book was published in October, the book has already received national press on CNN, MSNBC, an hour long special on CSPAN-Book TV and has been nominated for the Franklin Award.

We are a non-partisan company possessing a Republican, Democrat and Libertarian leaning editor, trying to give fair and equal voice to all ideologies present among college age youth. We are currently accepting submissions for our next two books, What We Think 2 and What We Think About God and looking to increase the number of well written pieces. Our goal is to receive 10,000 submissions from now through summer, and to publish the top 200 to 300 in late third quarter.

I am contacting many blogs and other forms of media not necessarily connected to Universities, in hopes of reaching a wider base of essayists. We would like to know if you would run a short story on your blog, stating that we are requesting submissions for national publication. All authors are given full credit for their work, a short bio is dedicated to them in the back of the books, and we've been arranging book signings and talks across the country for authors in our current edition so these young authors get the credit and visibility they deserve.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or requests for more information,
Seth Charles Guy Spores
Editor and Co-Founder of College Tree Publishing
509-483-4079 (Office)


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, February 17, 2005

All the news…

Angus Lind writes for the T-P, and I thought you might enjoy some of his comments on slogans and mottoes chosen by newspapers.

“Slogans and mottoes were once standard equipment with dailies and weeklies, even after a fast-moving, plague-like attrition rate eliminated thousands of newspapers.”

Perhaps the best known is that of The New York Times: "All the News That's Fit to Print." Many prefer its satirical spinoff, "All the News That Fits We Print." Other colorful ones include The Atlanta Journal: "Covers Dixie Like the Dew," and the Chicago Tribune's unabashedly boastful, "World's Greatest Newspaper."

In Louisiana, The Times-Picayune touted itself as "Serving America's International Gateway Since 1837." And the New Orleans States-Item, in the 1970s, for whatever reason, billed itself as "The Lively One, With a Mind of Its Own." In Alexandria, the Weekly Town Talk called itself "A Fearless and Wide-Awake Democratic Newspaper."

Ranging outside our state, there are gems to be found. The Aspen Daily News, for example says: "If You Don't Want It Printed, Don't Let It Happen." The Mason Valley (Nev.) News declares itself: "The Only Newspaper in the World That Gives a Damn About Yerington." Turns out that several newspapers use this one, just simply insert the appropriate town name.

The Talledega (Ala.) Daily Home's motto is "Hometown Folks Serving Hometown Folks for Over 20 Years (Also Serving Sylacauga and Pell City)." In Kilgore, Texas, the Kilgore News Herald's slogans are "America's No. 1 Small City" and "Capital of the East Texas Oil Field."

The McKenzie (Tenn.) Banner proudly bills itself as "Your GOOD NEWSpaper!" There have been countless spoofs of newspapers through the years but there was one whose motto was "No News Is Good News."

Lind found these on an online list of mottoes maintained by Larry Lorenz, Professor of Journalism at Loyola University (New Orleans).


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Concern over identity theft

One-fourth of online shoppers have reduced their purchases in the past year as concerns over identity theft have risen, according to a survey released recently.

Dawn Kawamoto in CNET reports that increased reluctance to shop online comes as Americans become more aware of the possible risks, the consumer study by RSA Security indicated. Some 61 percent of respondents said they feel more informed about identity theft issues, and 23 percent noted they feel more vulnerable than they did a year ago.

"Clearly, there's a lot of work to be done if businesses want to build more online trust with consumers," John Worrall, vice president of worldwide marketing at RSA Security, said in a statement. "While awareness of threats remains high, consumer confidence in dealing with those threats is low."

The third annual study asked more than 1,000 U.S. consumers about how their attitudes to identity theft, computer attacks and other security issues had changed over the past two years. The results were released to coincide with the annual RSA security conference, which gets under way in San Francisco this week.

Financial institutions, which hope to move more customers to online banking as a means to cut their operational costs, continue to face resistance. Twenty-one percent of consumers refuse to use online banking, the survey found.

Banks have been particular targets of the rapid rise in phishing attacks, as attackers find that money can be made by luring victims into handing over sensitive information such as social security numbers and bank account details.

The survey found that more than half of respondents felt traditional user IDs and passwords do not provide adequate security. Despite this, people also said they have not changed their approach to password use. Two out of three Web users said they use fewer than five passwords for all access to electronic information. Of the total, 15 percent said they use a single password. Those results have not changed from last year, RSA said.

The majority of consumers, nearly 70 percent, felt the online merchants they do business with are falling short on protecting their personal information.

Another report, released jointly by the Business Software Alliance and the Information Systems Security Association on Monday, found that companies are increasingly sending the responsibility of overseeing security to the executive suite.

Forty-four percent of businesses surveyed last year said their senior management is responsible for security, up from 39 percent in 2003.

But the number of security professionals who believe a major cyberattack will occur in the next 12 months has declined over the past year, the report said. The figure has dropped to 59 percent last year, from 65 percent in 2003.

"This survey demonstrates that awareness and action are replacing fear," Robert Holleyman, BSA's chief executive, said in a statement.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What's all the fuss about blogging?

Following are observations on this exciting new communications medium by ZDNet Editor Dan Farber in a recent Tech Update.

What's all the fuss about blogging? It looks and smells mostly like writing, self-expression conveyed in a chronological format that invites comments and the inclusion of a variety of media types and links, similar to a Web page or e-newsletter. In fact, blogs (weB LOG) provide a way for non-programmers or HTML jockeys to present their writings, ramblings, diaries, rants, marketing spiel, political advocacy, research or whatever online communication with simple, yet increasingly powerful tools.

Are blog tools and the art of blogging revolutionary? No, but they are clearly superior to antecedent tools for online expression. Radio Userland, TypePad, Moveable Type and Blogger, among others, continue to innovate with new features and presentation capabilities.

Many blogging advocates believe that blogs are the most significant democratizing force since the rise of the Internet itself. Who needs the New York Times if you have access to a mass of literate, informed bloggers. Combine blogs with social networks and presence services (such as instant messaging and global positioning), and you have a new person-to-person, information-sharing connection fabric.

Veteran blogger Glenn Reynolds, describes blogging as "universal publishing."

"Modern technology -- especially the combination of easy Web publishing, cheap Web hosting, and rapidly spreading access to broadband Internet -- means that a single individual can compete with Big Media organizations on a surprisingly equal footing, if he or she picks the area carefully,"Reynolds wrote.

If individual blogs compete with established media outlets, so much the better. But, it's less about competition, and more about harnessing the content of blogs as a complement to established media and communications outlets. In fact, the more forward thinking media companies and corporations are integrating internal as well as external blogs into their mix as a way to leverage the immediacy and depth of the blogging world.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, February 14, 2005

How do you vote?

The Advocate reports that the Secretary of State's Office is getting a lot of complaints from voting machine vendors who didn't make the cut to compete for a $47 million contract. Secretary of State Fox McKeithen said he can understand why because of the money involved, but he's confident that any appeals won't be successful.

"Three or four of them have called in here and claimed that they did meet the certification requirements or have claimed they can meet the certification requirements," McKeithen said Friday. "I tell them, 'That's fine and wonderful, but you didn't.'"

Only three of eight voting machine vendors made the cut, meeting both state and federal requirements. They are Advanced Voting Solutions, Elections System and Software and Sequoia Voting System. Companies excluded after state reviews are Diebold Elections Systems, Accupoll, Populex, Hart Intercivic and Liberty Elections System.

Louisiana must replace about 5,000 old lever-style voting machines that do not meet federal regulations by the federal elections in 2006. The federal government is providing the money and requests for proposals will go out near the end of March.

McKeithen said the state had 106 specific criteria it was looking for in voting machines. The companies knew at least a month ago about those criteria, he said. "They were well aware of what we wanted and what we were going to insist on."

The Advocate cite McKeithen as saying that the certification process was handled by a special team that included people involved in machine programming and testing as well as representatives of the parish registrars of voters and clerks of court, who handle elections. He added that some companies are claiming that answers to questions raised on machine capabilities were misunderstood by the certification team.

"We went to the trouble of videotaping the sessions, and we have a court reporter transcribing them where we both can look at it," he said. "If we made a mistake, we'll correct it. But even if we find one, there were multiple problems."

And you solved them how?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, February 13, 2005

No More Freebies for Lawmakers?

Following up a story we reported on earlier, a Baton Rouge Senator wants to abolish the ability of lobbyists to give legislators free tickets to sporting events. WAFB reports that “This comes after an editorial criticizing the practice by WAFB and a blistering report from the government watchdog group PAR. The issue has been brought up before, but recently New Orleans area Representative Charles Lancaster publicly said that the one-hundred-dollar limit imposed on gifts from lobbyists was just too low. Lancaster says ticket prices have risen so much since that limit was enforced, that the seats legislators can get for free just aren't good enough.

Republican State Senator Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge has prefiled a bill for the upcoming regular session repealing the section of law that exempts sporting event tickets under $100 from the "things of value" legislators are prohibited from accepting from lobbyists. Dardenne said, "In the wake of recent discussion about raising the maximum amount of acceptable ticket values, I think it’s preferable to repeal this special perk for legislators all together. It’s appropriate in the context of education to be supportive of the No Child Left Behind Act, but in terms of attendance at athletic events, we certainly don’t need a No Legislator Left Behind Act."

The bill Senator Dardenne is filing for the 2005 session is a duplicate of one he filed last year. The 2004 version of the bill passed Senate committee, but died on the Senate floor. The 2005 Regular Session begins April 25. Since this will be a fiscal session, Senator Dardenne must use one of his five allotted non-fiscal bills on this issue.”

We will see if the full Senate gets how unseemly this is, their expectation of the best of everything on the nickel of lobbyists. They will squeal that they can’t be bought for a mere $100 game ticket, well let us remove the temptation. What do you think?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Today I wanted to bring to your attention, if you haven’t already discovered it on your own, one of my favorite sites in the “blogosphere.” Blogcritics describes itself as “a sinister cabal of superior bloggers on music, books, film, popular culture, technology, and politics.”

I particularly enjoyed yesterday’s post by the Blogcritic of the day, Dave Nalle. Dave brings you “Tasty thoughts from the elitist pig.” Here is a sample:

“Last night I was listening to The Daily Show and John Stewart had on former New Jersey governor and Secretary of the EPA Christie Todd Whitman. It seems she has a new book out bemoaning the dire straits which face the Republican party…

(Whitman) points out that the traditional focus of the Republican Party has been on less government, stronger national security, lower taxes combined with spending restraints, and job creation in the private sector. I'd add a few things to that - like individual liberty and free trade - but she's basically on the right track. The party she describes is the one I grew up with, and the one which is still represented by people like Whitman, Colin Powell, Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arlen Specter and George Pataki, all of whom are coming under a lot of fire from the newly arrived extreme social conservative elements in the party.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I post quite a bit at the cabal. My contact at Blogcritics is Eric Olsen, who is also a prolific writer, and active commenter on other people’s posts. I am amazed at Eric’s span of interests, as he has lately written on the subjects of Courtney Love’s plea bargain and Beyonce’s role in the Oscar-cast, to “Dr. Dean and the Democratic Machine.” His quirky and witty comments are often the highlight of a site visit.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Royals…

Slate magazine’s Inigo Thomas writes of Prince Charles in an article subtitled ”Why Britons are passionately two-minded about his upcoming marriage.”

"I am pleased," said Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, in reply to a reporter's question about the news that Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, is engaged and will marry Camilla Parker-Bowles in a civil ceremony at Windsor Castle at the beginning of April. "I am very, very pleased," said Nicholas Soames, a Conservative party member of Parliament and a Churchill grandson. "I am delighted," said Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"We're absolutely delighted," said Charles, of himself and his wife-to-be. Thomas reports that the sons of Charles say they are "very happy" with the news (the children of Camilla have yet to speak publicly). Queen Elizabeth and her consort-husband, Prince Philip, are as well.

The largest group of respondents to a BBC poll on the issue, around 40 percent, tended toward "who cares?" according to Thomas, while another two percent expressed "indifference" to the marriage. She adds that the “oddly precise distinction between the groups—the non-caring and the indifferent—itself points to a curious characteristic of British public life.”

“Britons are of divided opinion about Britain, its gorgeous climate, ever-harmonious social classes, and especially about its monarchy. Some like the institution, some hate it, and many leaven their loathing with some liking and vice versa. Two-mindedness, in Britain, can take the form of passion. Now that there's the figment of another royal wedding on the horizon—this one more à la mode than its predecessors, a marriage between two divorcees, five children between them, the soon-to-be husband godfather to one of his about-to-be stepchildren—Britons can't help but be entirely and internally divided about its virtue and significance.”

Pardon my perspective Brits, but I approach a lot of stories by wondering what it means to the good old USA. First, do we care about the British monarchy? The U.S. tabloids sure think we do, but they also think stories of Elvis sightings sell newspapers. Why do we care more than the British seem to? What is our domestic version of royalty? Celebs? Politicians?

I am full of questions, looking to you for some answers.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Number One Fear...

At least where public restrooms are concerned, PRWeb tells us that touching the door to exit the restroom is our biggest fear related to using public facilities. Then in their PR flack kind of way they are pleased to announce that the problem has been solved by their client. But first, some reputable firm data:

According to Kimberly-Clark over 55% of the people surveyed feared the door handles in Public Restrooms. Now thanks to ASC Hygiene the problem has been resolved with Germ Free Door Handles.

The technique, if you must know, is that “ASC Hygiene BioGuard is employing AgION Technologies silver ion based antimicrobial science to produce a new protective finish for door pulls and plates that minimizes bacterial growth on the surface of the finished product. BioGuard is now available on ASC door pulls, push bars, and protection plates.”

Then, to assure us that our other fears are being addressed, they invite us to “learn more about Touch Free Hygiene such as Self Cleaning Toilet Seats and Touch Free Restrooms.”

Leaving the restroom for a second, The School for Champions tells us that “There are two major types of fear in humans. One is the fear of physical harm. The other is the fear of looking foolish in the eyes of your peers and being ridiculed because of it.”

While I was on the subject, I also found out what is bugging Olivia Olsen, a 72 year-old accountant from Koppom, Sweden:

“I hesitate to admit this, but my greatest fear has always been water, water of all kinds, but particularly the open sea. So great is my fear of water that I bathe only once a week, and only in the form of a brief shower, never in the bathtub. I wear a heavy perfume to disguise my body odor.”

This has been another random trip along the information highway. Thanks to Google, we can see whose opinions on their greatest fear do best in a search engine.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Day After…

Word is in from the “Crimson White Online, serving the University of Alabama since 1894.” Well, I assume the online version came on a little later than that.

Chris Otts, News Director of the CW, is “sorry to crush your dreams, but Mardi Gras is not exactly a Girls Gone Wild commercial, at least not to us locals.” So he goes to U of A, but he’s from N.O.

That’s a great perspective, a local coming in with some out-of-town expectations. He gives us some idea of how collegians view this excursion:

“So you want to come down here to see the insane party you've always heard about, right? You're psyched: You've got your beer packed up, maybe you're bringing some old beads you found in your aunt's attic, and most of all, you're sure not to forget your camera. You want to ensure you'll remember all the flashing boobs you're bound to see as you hang drunk off the balcony of a strip club in the French Quarter and holler at the cross-dressers who walk by on Bourbon Street.”

So here is Chris’ dose of reality “Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras is so packed you can hardly walk, most of the those cross-dressers are tourists from Ohio or Montana and that for every hot girl who shows you her boobs, there are probably 10 whose boobs you really (really) don't want to see… People are drinking everywhere, and some are totally trashed.”

Did he say something about “boobs?” Can you do that in a college newspaper? Apparently so. He admits that his schoolmates that are not N.O. natives seemed to feel it was worth the trip. I don’t think he interviewed any females.

We thank Chris for adding the Crimson White to our list of thoroughly impeachable sources on which these musings depend. What’s your opinion?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Let the good times roll…

Since we are based in New Orleans, today’s musings should probably relate to Mardi Gras. Based on the reactions I get when I tell people where I am from, it seems that the city and the holiday are one in the minds of many people.

Sure, I could tell you about all the interesting lore, about Kings’ Night and king cake, the “super krewes” and the wild weekend leading to MG day. But you could “Google” enough information to know more about it than I do. You are probably saying about now that you won’t do any research, but since I have your attention, you might be interested if I wanted to tell you more about it.

I could also give you a scrooge-like view of the proceedings, about the horrible traffic jams for ten days and nights. Many here might also decry the drinking and debauchery that goes on. I am against drinking to excess, but generally take a softer stand on debauchery.

Like many from our fair city and environs, my wife and son view the holiday as a chance to get in some skiing in the Rockies. In parts of Colorado and Utah, Louisianians often outnumber the locals, and manage to create a carnival atmosphere of a manageable scale.

So, after having enjoyed, on various levels, over 50 of these holidays, I am hard-pressed to come up with some new way of looking at the “true meaning” of Mardi Gras. So I won’t even try.

It is nice, though, to be from a city that people consider “cool.” What’s your view on Mardi Gras, or how cool your town is?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Monday, February 07, 2005

Read my lips...

The only national political convention that I have attended was the 1988 Republican gathering in New Orleans. Here is a paragraph from Bush 41's acceptance speech at that convention that is beginning to haunt Bush 43:

"I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And The Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and all I can say to them is 'Read my lips: No new taxes.'"

Bush 43, answering a question about Social Security reform recently, said:

"We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem."

Since his State of the Union address, "read my lips," or some variant of it, has been used in a lot of blogs and columns. In a recent Slate magazine article, titled "Read his lips," Timothy Noah analyzed the President's options on payroll taxes:

"There are two ways to raise the payroll tax. You can raise the tax rate, or you can expand the pool of money that gets taxed. Bush probably tells himself that he's keeping his promise not to raise payroll taxes because he still refuses to consider increasing the payroll tax rate above its present level of 12.4 percent. But the Bush White House is clearly sending out signals that it is willing to expand the pool of payroll-taxable income by raising the current cap above $90,000. If that happens, people will pay more money in payroll taxes. I don't see how you avoid calling that a payroll-tax increase."

He seems to assume that everybody makes over $90k a year. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Jackie Calmes reinforces Noah's point:

"Mr. Bush has ruled out raising payroll taxes. But many Republicans in Congress say that while Mr. Bush is dead-set against raising the 12.4% payroll-tax rate, the administration has left the door open to raising the cap on the amount of wages taxed, now set at $90,000. Repealing the cap altogether—as with Medicare's smaller payroll tax—would close Social Security's projected 75-year funding gap."

Speaking of Social Security, I am glad I am over 55; the rest of you will see some change in SS benefits, and I doubt that it will be for the better. Let us know what you think.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, February 06, 2005

How can we be losing to these guys?...

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.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Of Watchdogs and their Leashes…

The Advocate reports that a top adviser to Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that the search for a new state inspector general has been winnowed to about a dozen candidates, and that three have been selected for interviews.

Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin said the governor plans to move quickly to hire a replacement for Bill Lynch, who died Feb. 15, 2004. Lynch was the state's first, and so far only, inspector general, taking office when the job was created in 1988 by then-Gov. Buddy Roemer.

The Advocate describes the inspector general position as being charged with probing corruption in the executive branch of government, eliminating waste and finding efficiencies in government. The governor must approve the inspector general's findings before the reports are made public.

Meanwhile, Gray Sexton, executive director of the State Ethics Administration, suggests that Louisiana's Code of Ethics really is not about ethics, and the board that enforces it doesn't really rule on whether something is ethical. Sexton would rather call the Code "conflict of interest legislation."

"The Ethics Board does not decide what's ethical or unethical" or deal with "metaphysical ethics," he said. Instead, it decides whether someone has violated what the Legislature has described in the 35 pages of legislation that is called the Code of Ethics.

Did he say “metaphysical?” Do we have to go that deep to root out Louisiana’s particular brand of corruptibility?

Sexton, speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, said the Legislature over the years has created nearly 100 exceptions, one might say “loopholes,” in the Code that defines conflicts of interest for state officials, both elected and non-elected. When lawmakers create an exception, Sexton feels that it undermines the equal application of the law.

The Ethics Board has about 1,500 pages in its monthly agendas, so "business is good," he said. "But I'm not sure that is good" because it means so many people are stepping over what he calls "bright lines" drawn by the Legislature. "Some prohibitions deal with the appearance of impropriety, rather than actual improprieties," Sexton said.

I guess I am encouraged. How about you?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Friday, February 04, 2005

Say it ain’t so, Popeye…

Well, I am swearing off Popeye’s chicken because its former owner, Al Copeland, is said to have tried to “strong arm” a judge. At least that’s the word from ex-Judge Ronald Bodenheimer, who is serving federal time for crimes committed while a jurist. T-P reports that Bodenheimer, in a sworn deposition last week, directly implicated Al Copeland in the criminal conspiracy to rig Copeland's child-custody case.

Speaking of "strong arm," have you seen the TV commercial where the lawyer names himself "The Strong Arm?" Am I the only one who is negatively impressed? And, I know Al doesn’t own Popeye’s any more, but he makes a nice living selling seasoning to them.

Bodenheimer says that Al, a multimillionaire businessman, asked at a private meeting to "make sure he did not lose custody of his son," according to newly released court records. "Telling me that, you know, 'We supported you because you were the kind of guy who would do the right thing. And the right thing is to keep me and Alex together,'" Bodenheimer said. "What he let me know was that if I didn't do his right thing, that yes, I would probably have a candidate run against me."

Is that it? That rates a front page story with pictures of both principals? Was Bodenheimer that insecure about re-election that he would commit a federal crime to keep Al from putting up some unknown political opposition?

Copeland remains a subject of the investigation, prosecutors say, but has not been charged with a crime. His attorney, Jack Martzell, said Thursday that Bodenheimer's statements in the deposition are those of "a corrupt, jailed ex-judge," upset because Copeland would not pay Bodenheimer's legal bills. Bodenheimer is serving 46 months in federal prison for his involvement in the Copeland conspiracy and other crimes.

Will Popeye’s feel the effects of my boycott? Let me know what you thing about this tempest.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Short on Fans in Louisiana...

T-P reports that Howard Dean, the front-runner to become the next chairman of the Democratic Party, may be "short on fans in Louisiana." They characterize the comments of the three Democratic members of Louisiana's congressional delegation as suggesting that Dean will have a hard time increasing party support in states that supported George W. Bush for president because of his liberal image.

"Sen. Mary Landrieu and Reps. William Jefferson and Charlie Melancon said they would prefer the party choose one of Dean's three remaining challengers, although that seems increasingly unlikely."

Chris Suellentrop of Slate contends that the importance of the DNC (Democratic National Committee) Chair has been vastly overstated.

"Dean would exert far less influence over the future of the Democratic Party as its titular head than he would as a 2008 presidential candidate. Ed Rendell was so frustrated with his job as DNC chairman during Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign that he complained to the New Republic, 'I basically take orders from 27-year-old guys in Nashville who have virtually no real-life experience. All they've done is been political consultants living in an artificial world, and basically their opinion counts more than mine.' That's the cry of the DNC chair, Washington's political eunuch."

Chris Suellentrop came to our attention in another Slate article entitled "Harry Reid Is Not Boring," suggesting that "Reid may not be the most colorful figure in Washington, but his career is far more interesting than that of the average senator. In politics, Nevada is the next best thing to Louisiana."

So Louisiana, quite gratuitously, sets the standard for "colorful" politics, and colorful, I feel certain, is used as a code word for corrupt. People of Louisiana, let's protest! Let's write letters to the editors of the many political observers who denigrate our fine state.

I think our last three insurance commissioners are all out of jail by now, and only one ex-Governor is still in. Well, maybe we should learn to live with the tag, it would be easier than trying to make a case that it's not true. And, we are sort of proud of our state being "the best thing" to political journalists.

Write me with any material to help in this ongoing debate.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State Government Report Card...

Thanks to Bayou Buzz for pointing out the latest rankings of the Government Performance Project (see Louisiana was graded "B" as a composite of four items measuring the quality of state management. The first paragraph of the state's report provides a nice overview:

"Louisiana is a fascinating study in contrasts. It has more people living in poverty than almost any other state, but money is coming into the treasury at an unusually rapid rate, thanks to booming oil and natural gas prices. The state faces a $596 million shortfall in revenues to cover ongoing expenditures over the next two fiscal years, even as it holds a remarkable $3 billion in various trust funds. Amid some glaring management weaknesses, it boasts one of the strongest and best-institutionalized systems of performance-based budgeting and program evaluation in the country."

The story contains some numbers that are useful for tossing into political discussions. For instance we are 22nd in the nation in population (4,468,976), but 43rd in per capita income ($26,100). Our legislature is about two-thirds Democrat, and term-limited to 12 years.

The report's harshest criticism was of Louisiana’s attitude toward keeping up its infrastructure, termed "determinedly negligent." Estimates are that there is a maintenance backlog of almost $2.3 billion for state buildings. There, the stereotype kicks in:

"There’s a long-standing state tradition of spending infrastructure dollars based on benefits in the voting booth, not the roadway." One legislative fiscal officer admits "It’s completely political... Decisions are not ever based on economics."

All in all, the article provides a pretty favorable outlook of our state government in action. What are your thoughts on the subject?


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Where y@…

I got an e-mail from Ray Tomlinson today. Well, at least I am on his rather long mailing list with the other denizens of Aesop’s Bagels in Lexington, MA. On my last trip to visit friends in Cambridge, I met Ray at Aesop’s during one of the group’s occasional meetings there.

For those of you who don’t know Ray, following is a story from the Rensselaer Alumni magazine bragging on this member of the class of 1963:

“Ray Tomlinson '63 received the George R. Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award from the American Computer Museum on April 28, 2000, almost 30 years after he wrote what has been called the “killer application” of the Internet. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, were honored at the same time.”

A "killer application" is software that is so useful, people will buy a computer just to have it. For the personal computer, the killer app was the spread sheet; for the Internet, many consider it to be e-mail. Let us review a little history to put this in perspective.

In 1957, with the launch of Sputnik I, the USSR seized the lead in the cold war battle for technological superiority. Almost immediately the Department of Defense formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to serve as a premier high-tech think tank to coordinate and subcontract research at universities and laboratories across the country.

Advanced computing became an early ARPA priority, along with finding a way to link the far-flung network of ARPA researchers. The network would be called ARPANET, the predecessor of what we know today as the Internet. Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm, worked under contract on the project.

In the fall of 1971 Ray Tomlinson was making improvements to a mail program that let programmers and researchers leave messages for each other on an ARPANET computer at BBN. Like all the message programs of the day, this one worked on a single machine. It occurred to Tomlinson that the message program might be merged with another program developed for transferring files among the far-flung ARPANET computers.But, if messages were intended for more than one location, there had to be a way to distinguish between local and network mail.

Tomlinson hit on the @ sign “to indicate that the user was 'at' some other host,” he says. “When I was satisfied the program worked, I sent a message to the rest of my group explaining how to use it. The first network e-mail announced its own existence.”

Ray’s idea causes him to often be referred to as the “inventor” of the @ sign. He clears that up on his personal home page.

So, is knowing Ray as noteworthy as, say, knowing Brad Pitt? I think so. What do you think?


jbv's Competitive Edge