Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Serial Killer in 4E or Huge Corporate Profits for Record Companies

Interesting look at the problem. It's been a long time coming. This didn't just happen in a week, or a month, or a year.

Look at this 60 Minutes video called "Stop Snitchin'."

It's not the whole problem by any means, but it sure is part of it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

FEMA and Fluor et al--Smoke and Mirrors

I'm just so sick of this crap, that I'm posting the entire article.

Copyright Associated Press

Updated:2007-04-23 07:23:53
Report Blasts FEMA Over Katrina Contracts
WASHINGTON (April 23) - FEMA exposed taxpayers to significant waste - and possibly violated federal law - by awarding $3.6 billion worth of Hurricane Katrina contracts to companies with poor credit histories and bad paperwork, investigators say.

The new report by the Homeland Security Department's office of inspector general, set to be released later this week, examines the propriety of 36 trailer contracts designated for small and local businesses in the stricken Gulf Coast region following the 2005 storm.

It found a haphazard competitive bidding process in which the winning contract prices were both unreasonably low and high. Moreover, FEMA did not take adequate legal steps to ensure that companies were small and locally operated, resulting in a questionable contract award to a large firm with ties to the Republican Party.

"Based on our analysis, we concluded that FEMA contracting officials exposed the agency to an unacceptable level of risk," according to the report by the office of inspector general Richard Skinner.

The audit was requested by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, following complaints last year by some small business owners that they were unfairly shut out of the contracting process. It is the latest to detail mismanagement in a multibillion-dollar hurricane recovery effort that investigators say has already wasted more than $1 billion.

The report also comes after FEMA acknowledged earlier this month that it would not have a federal plan ready for responding to emergencies before the approaching hurricane season , which begins June 1.

In response, FEMA in the report disagreed that the wide price variations put taxpayers at risk. The agency contended that it was comfortable with bidders' financial viability based in part on past performance. In cases where contract prices appeared unreasonably high, those would be offset with lower payments later on subsequent work orders, FEMA officials said.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina , FEMA handed out lucrative no-bid contracts for cleanup work to large, politically connected firms such as Shaw Group Inc ., Bechtel Group Inc., CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., and Fluor Corp .

Following heavy criticism, FEMA director David Paulison pledged to rebid those large contracts. He ultimately reopened only a portion, awarding 36 contracts which the agency said would be prioritized for small and local businesses.

Among the winners was joint venture PRI-DJI, which received $400 million worth of contracts. DJI stands for Del-Jen Inc., a subsidiary of Fluor, one of the original, no-bid winners which has donated more than $930,000 to mostly GOP candidates since 2000.

"It's not what you know, what your expertise is. I don't even believe it's got much to do with price. It's who you know," contended Ken Edmonds, owner of River Parish RV Inc. in Louisiana, a company of 9 people whose application was rejected.

In the audit, investigators said PRI-DJI was eligible to compete because DJI had partnered with PRI, a minority-owned firm based in San Diego, under a federal mentoring program offered by the Small Business Administration.

However, investigators found that PRI-DJI was given special preference even though it was not registered as a small business and "when neither company had its headquarters in Louisiana or Mississippi nor, in any other way, demonstrated that it had a history of working primarily in the impacted states."

Still, the audit noted the bid by PRI-DJI would likely have been selected anyway - without the special preference - because the price was so low.

Moreover, FEMA did not have formal criteria to determine whether a contractor should be considered local, did not require corroborating paperwork, and watered down requirements under federal law so that a company with only minimal Gulf Coast ties would be given special consideration, according to the audit.

Prices also varied greatly. Some were so high that investigators deemed them unreasonably excessive and wasteful; others were so unreasonably low that taxpayers faced "an unacceptable risk of poor performance."

For example, FEMA:

Accepted bids as low as $74 and as high as $4,720 to completely refurbish used travel trailers. FEMA estimated this service should cost $295 per trailer.

Accepted bids from companies with weak financial statements, incomplete and missing financial documentation, and negative net worth. The Defense Contract Audit Agency determined that at least three bidders presented high financial risks, but FEMA allowed the contracts to go forward.

On the Net:

FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/

Homeland Security Office of Inspector General: http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

I'm just plain disgusted.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Anyone who knows me will term what I write now as predictable. So be it. That Second Amendment devotees will not like it and will leave comments telling me so is also predictable. Oh well.

That the massacre at Virginia Tech was horrendous goes without saying. Thirty two dead, plus the gunman, who, predictably committed suicide. Evidently his behavior was so bizarre that many students and a teacher had been concerned since 2005 that he would commit suicide or do something else. He chose to do something else, something murderous, and take some with him when he went. One 23 year old kid, two guns, thirty three dead. Cho had purchased both guns legally, and both had been purchased in the last few weeks, the first on March 13, the receipt for the second was still in his backpack when he went on his killing spree, $570 bucks or so. The guy who sold him the gun said it was a legal purchase, Cho showed three forms of identification, and that Cho's purchase of a Glock 9mm was "unremarkable."

Again, one guy, two guns, thirty three dead in two hours.

For a couple of weeks, this post at da po' blog had been bugging me. Well written as always, and fact filled-something Da Po' does so well. It stated that as of April 1, here in New Orleans, there had been 48 deaths due to murder. Yes, we've all been talking about the crime here and we have dissected all the reasons for it from poverty and bad education, to drugs and entire empty swaths of a city for criminals to take refuge in, to our police chief and district attorney being unable or unwilling to deal with the problem, to our mayor being a lunatic who seems not to notice. (Oh yeah, and today, because we don't have enough public defenders, according to the news this morning on WWL, perhaps as many as 40 criminals will be released due to lack of representation. They were arrested on charges varying from possession of pot to aggravated rape. We'll see what happens with that. And no, I won't go into the why are we arresting people for possession of pot thing. I'll spare you that.)

The number of murdered people has by now increased as we're well into April. I didn't go look up the number, the body count, for today yet. What bothered me most about that post at da po' blog was that it consisted of lists that began to sound redundant in a most gut wrenching way: Unidentified male, Claiborne Ave., SHOT. Josh Rodrigue, found in street near the 2000 block of Iberville, SHOT IN THE NECK. Victim found lying in the street, MULTIPLE GUN SHOT WOUNDS. Man SHOT and killed in Central City. Security guard at FEMA trailer park, SHOT. A 25 year old man identified as Kevin Pham SHOT to death inside his family's home. A 22 year old woman SHOT to death in Treme, her friend was injured in the ankle. A 23 yr old man SHOT in Mid City, shell casings and an AK47 found in a two block area near the body. Da po' blog goes on listing them all. There was a woman who stabbed her husband and killed him in a domestic dispute, and I'm putting that in here so those who go read da po' blog's post won't pull that out and copy/paste it into the comments here saying, "SEEEEEE!!! It isn't just guns."

Okay, I'll give you that on that one. But I just took 7 deaths and one injury from that post, all had been shot, some multiple times, one possibly with an AK47 (WHAT??? Why are those on the streets?), by probably at least 7 different people. Seven people, 7 guns, 7 dead. Take a look again. Look at the ages of the dead. Many many of them are the same age as the fallen at Virginia Tech. Most of them probably didn't have the same opportunities as the Virginia Tech kids, and they most assuredly weren't found in classrooms. They were found on the streets, in their homes, on some corner, in a car. The kids at Virginia Tech had every reason to believe that they were in a safe place, which makes the massacre there all the more heart-rending. The kids dead in our streets knew they were not in a safe place. That should upset us greatly: our dead kids in the streets grew up in a culture of violence in our country, a culture ruled by the gun, and had no expectation of safety. That should break our collective hearts.

There was an ad or column I saw recently that said something like, "Come buy a piece of dirt in New Orleans." It was about the realty market I believe. I know for a fact it wasn't about buying a cemetery plot.

When Columbine happened those years ago, I found myself appalled by what had happened there, and also appalled that no one had noticed how many kids the same age had been shot dead in the streets of Los Angeles that same day. While the country mourned the babies of Columbine, so full of promise, they didn't mourn the babies of Compton, the ones to whom no promises had been made.

I feel the same way today. Too many guns, too many dead kids, too many lobbyists saying we'll give you money for your campaign if you vote our way.

Wyatt Earp did something that flew in the face of the Constitution. Old Wyatt, the historical one, not the movie one, was a rigid, moralistic old son of a bitch. He had no qualms about hunting down the murderers of his brother. I don't think I would have liked him much one on one. His idea of frontier justice was every bit as brutal as any gang culture today. But he did something very brave in Dodge City, Kansas. (And you thought I was going to talk about the streets turning into the OK Corral, now didn't you?) He set up what he called a "deadline." He got tired of the cowboys coming into town after the cattle had been herded, with paychecks in their pockets, heading for the saloons and the women, each with a couple guns and probably a rifle on their saddle. There were just getting to be too many killings there, so Wyatt put signs up all over the entrances to Dodge City. "DEADLINE," they said, along with instructions to drop off their guns before entering Dodge. They could retrieve them when they left, but if they were caught with a gun on their person within the limits of the city (above the railroad tracks), they would be put in jail, or in some cases, if they drew them they could be shot. A few gave him a hard time about it, but most handed over their handguns and rifles, went and had a good time in Dodge City, then went on their way to the next herd of cattle.

It was gun control within the city limits of Dodge. He didn't go to court to get any laws changed, he didn't have to fight with the behemoth NRA lobby, he just said, NO GUNS IN THIS TOWN.

Since it would appear that the NRA has way too much power in this country, (see this post at CBS News), I don't harbor any fantasies of real gun control in this country. The Brady Bill was gutted, and automatic weapons can still be purchased by just about anyone. We are a country who loves our SUV's at the cost of the environment. We are a country that was born out of gunfire and bloodshed, and many Americans like that. We are a country that mourns our dead children, and wonders why no one noticed a very disturbed 23 year old kid's problems, or why a gun dealer wouldn't wonder why this kid NEEDED a Glock 9mm. We are a country that sends our lucky kids off to good colleges expecting them not to be gunned down in their classrooms.

We are also a country that seems not at all concerned about our unlucky kids being gunned down in the streets, and not by one disturbed kid, but by whole groups of them. Kids who fill their pockets every morning with their cell phone, their iPod, and their Glock, as though their guns were just another accessory.

We need a deadline around New Orleans. We need gun control in this country. We need to get some DNA from the Constitutional framers, clone them and find out if AK47's and Glocks in everyone's hands were really what they were talking about. We need to put a stop to NRA influence. We need gun manufacturers who keep making better and better fingerprint resistant grips to take some responsibility.

I know. All fantasy. But the blood in our classrooms and all over our streets is not fantasy.

It's predictable.
Amazingly the gun lobbies are trying to turn this to their advantage, jumping into the fray by yesterday afternoon with this.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Guest Post: The Gods of Texas

Given some of the comments by Recovery Czar Ed Blakely, and the subsequent fallout in my email the last two days, I thought that this very much needed to be posted. Written by a friend, Louis Pushkin, it reminds us once again that not all of us here, or even those still desperate to get home, are mendicants or buffoons. Pushkin owns a home in NOLA, evacuated, returned for a very short time, then because his partner's corporate employers decided to bail out of NOLA and head to Houston, he has been living in exile, as he calls it, and wants very much to come home. He wants to come home for all the standard reasons that anyone wants to come home, but he and his partner are very much the kind of people that everyone can agree we NEED to come back. (No, I am not getting into the who should and shouldn't come back argument, I merely state that as evidence that not all the brain drain stuff is true of every professional.) He doesn't want to sell his home and move to Covington. He and his partner care very much about the future of New Orleans and want to contribute to the rebuilding process in a more immediate way (they've already been contributing from afar very generously.)

His big fear is that the "Gods of Texas" won't let him come home, and he wrote this piece. I felt it was important that we remember those who are trying to get home, and the sacrifices they made and will continue to make in that quest. I also love the image of him in gaudy cowboy boots with candles burning. I believe he is rethinking the longhorns attached to the grille.

The Gods of Texas

The Gods of Texas are flat-out mean-spirited.

I first noticed that Texas has a way of not letting people leave easily when my husband was able to return home six months ago, and I drove with him to Baton Rouge the weekend before he started his new job. We sat in traffic for EIGHT HOURS between Houston and Beaumont (a trip that usually only takes about an hour and a half). That's a long time to sit and wonder why you're not moving forward. Enough time to start thinking there are dark and malevolent forces at work. Enough time to think about our other friends whose liberation from post-Katrina Texas purgatory was also difficult. Two friends who skidded off the road in a torrential downpour about five miles outside Winnie. Another whose rear axle shattered as she crossed the desert headed to a new life. And then for my husband's exodus, there we were: stuck in traffic worse than the Evacuation, hungry, bladders ready to burst, and burning through the reserve tank of gas at an alarming rate. Clearly, Texas doesn't like to let go. As I contemplated whether I should just pee in a cup and dump it out the window like we did sitting in Contraflow traffic on the Bonnet Carre Spillway early that Sunday morning, I came to a horrifying realization: Texas had given all of these people a really hard time getting out, and they hadn't even done anything to anger the Gods. They always defended Texas when I would go on a tirade about how soulless and uncouth was this place that I had started calling "Helltown" early on.

The least charitable thing any of them had ever said about Texas was when D explained her snap decision to quit her Houston job and move to California by saying, "I knew I had to get out of here when I realized Texas was growing on me – like mold." And she ended up stuck at an AAMCO station in the middle of the desert for three days getting her axle replaced. I have made it my raison d'etre for over a year now to malign and sully the name of this fucking Hell Hole to anyone willing to listen (or just too stunned, drunk, or polite to flee my outbursts). Sitting in that car in the middle of the East Texas flatlands, I began to wonder what special torture the Gods of Texas would have in store for me when I finally tried to escape. I still had to sell the house, find a new job, and move all our household, never mind the actual travel – any one of these endeavors could be the perfect channel for those vindictive deities to serve me a Texas-sized platter of come-uppance.

I didn't put much thought into what I should do about my impending battle with the Cowboy Gods for several months; the date of my emancipation seemed distant enough not to cause worry, and besides, I had Carnival Season to keep me busy (note: I have been able to prove that the Gods of Texas don't impede passage if they know you're coming back in a few days.) After Mardi Gras, we put the house on the market, and miraculously, we received a break-even offer on the house we owned just over a year. There's one thing the Gods of Texas won't hang me up with. I quit my job in HellTown, and have interviews lined up in Louisiana. I don't think the Texas Gods can influence the hiring process once I am across the State line, so that's one more area in which I think I am safe. I have resigned myself to losing all of our furniture in the moving truck to some mishap, but that loss will be insured. I can pack all the irreplaceables in the car with me, just like I did when we evacuated – after Katrina, I know exactly the items I do not want to leave behind ever again.

I am actually really nervous that the Gods seem to be narrowing the scope of their attack. That makes me believe they're going to deliver a quick knockout punch. Running over one of my cats on the way out the driveway, maybe, or the car catching on fire. Very possibly a heart-attack as I drive down I-10.

In an effort to placate the Gods, I have changed my tune lately; I have learned to two-step. I bought some country music CDs. I have eaten beef barbecue. I bought a tall votive candle with the word "TEXAS" painted on it, along with a big Lone Star and tacky, stylized cowboy boots. It has been burning on my bedside table for three days now. Since so many of my worries revolve around my physical liberation and the road leading to it, I decided to make the ultimate show of good faith: I bought a pair of genuine Texas Longhorns to mount on the grille of my car. (How did we ever live before eBay?) I am little troubled, though, at the thought that I might just be digging my own grave. I can just see myself cruising East on that final sweet morning and some hair-line fracture in my less-than-professional mounting job causes the longhorns either to fall onto the raod, puncture a tire, and send me careening into a bayou, or better yet -- fly through the windshield and impale me to my seat.

I confided my plans to a friend last week who approved of my strategy to offer pennance to the Texas Gods, but pointed out that I should also notify the spirits of my beloved Louisiana that another one of their lost children is coming back to the fold, and ask their assistance. I have made a phone call to the 504 area code to get my supernatural prescription. I have burned, buried, written, scattered, eaten and fed all the right things, according to a Louisiana perspective. The last piece of the puzzle is where you all come in. I need you all to think of the people who belong in New Orleans but aren't sitting with you tonight. Remember those who need to move on, but encourage those who want to come home. Celebrate those who make it back.

The Gods of Texas are only scary when you have to face them alone.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I Want Some of What Cheney's On

I rarely post anything about national politics as there are others who do so much better than I, but this was too good to pass up. At the risk of being called the "L" word, (no, not lesbian, not lady--bite your tongue!, not loony--although that sometimes applies), LIBERAL, here's this from WAPO's Dan Froomkin's blog (a good read btw):

It's not a coincidence that Cheney was talking to Limbaugh yesterday. The show has been one of Cheney's favorite venues.

As I wrote in my January 29 column, The Unraveling of Dick Cheney, Cheney is increasingly out of touch with reality. He seems to think that by asserting things that are simply untrue, he can make others believe they are so.

In Limbaughland, he's right.

In Limbaughland, not only were Saddam and Al Qaeda linked but -- more significantly -- liberals hate America. In Limbaughland, Cheney can say a lot simply by failing to disagree with his host's assertions.

Consider a few of yesterday's exchanges.

Limbaugh was complaining to Cheney about how the Democrats seem to be primarily motivated by a desire "to make sure we come home defeated."

Limbaugh: "Can you share with us whether or not you understand their devotion, or their seeming allegiance to the concept of U.S. defeat?"

Cheney: "I can't."

I wrote yesterday about Bush's recess appointment of three controversial officials including Sam Fox, whose nomination to be ambassador to Belgium was opposed by Democrats on account of his 2004 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Limbaugh called Fox "a great American" and praised the White House for making an end-run around Democratic opposition.

Limbaugh: "This is the kind of move that garners a lot of support from the people in the country. This shows the administration willing to engage these people and not allow them to get away with this kind of -- well, my term -- you don't have to accept it -- Stalinist behavior from these people on that committee."

Cheney: "Well, you're dead on, Rush."

The two also chuckled about the White House move.

Limbaugh: "You go on vacation, this is what happens to you."

Cheney: "If you're a Democrat." They both laughed.

Okay, then.

Interesting Flag

Last weekend, we were at the Cabildo and my husband noticed this flag. He knew what it was, the Flag of the Independent Nation of Louisiana.

A little later, we were out with our grandson and my husband wanted to see the old Mssrs Marigny and Almonaster's tombstones in St. Louis Cathedral. So I showed him where they were and we noticed the same flag flying among all the others in the Cathedral.

This flag really was called the Flag of the Independent Nation of Louisiana. It was flown when Louisiana seceded and before it joined the Confederacy. (Once they joined the Confederacy they flew the Confederate flag.) Thus the above flag was only flown for about two months, officially, but is still flown among all the other flags at both the Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral.

Thought it was interesting. Might have to buy one. No doubt Ashley will want one.

Also an interesting idea. Perhaps we could set up some new rules for insurance companies and file charges against them, while we summarily execute pirates. Okay, so I'm really anti-capital punishment, but still, the idea of setting up the gallows on Jackson Square while flying this flag was a cool image. Get the Corps of Engineers out there too, maybe? Just to watch? Lord knows we don't want them constructing the gallows.

Just sayin'.