12 September 2003

Opelousas' elite antiterrorism forces hit the big time 

I can't find this story from The Advertiser anywhere online, but I have to relate the details to you. [update: I found the story after a more careful search of their website, go check it out. Please take note of the ridiculous picture.] Keep in mind that Opelousas has less than 25,000 residents. I'll quote somewhat extensively from the print edition; the story is on the front page of the Acadiana section.

A 16-ton armored personnel carrier accidentally rolled into a police car here on Thursday, during a simulated terrorist attack that included a captured and handcuffed "terrorist" portayed by a police officer wearing a middle eastern style headdress.

The scenario played out during a ceremony to commemorate the second anniversary of Sept. 11.

. . .

The tank circled the St. Landry Parish Court House, draped with American flags and filled with member of Opelousas' Police Department's Strike Force.

. . .

Caillier said he wanted the scenario to be realistic, complete with the terrorist saying his final prayers just before the bomb went off.

"A terrorist that has a bomb on him, they'll start hearing the final prayer. Or maybe they won't hear it, but their lips will be moving. I wanted regular citizens to see how hellacious a terrorist attack can be. It even scared me; I wasn't expecting it."

That's my emphasis above. Keep in mind that that city damaged a patrol car to the tune of $1200 so that they could play dress up and blow up a flash bomb in the city attorney's office. The story doesn't include how many residents of Opelousas were on hand to witness this display, but somehow I doubt there were many Muslims in the crowd. Could it have been that hard to simply make the "terrorist" race-neutral. I guess so, the picture in the paper shows a man wearing what looks like Arafat's head garb, and I'm willing to bet that the actor affected an Abdul D. Tentmaker style accent when he said his "final prayers" before setting off the "terrifying" flash bomb.

Maybe these Opelousas officers are training for that trip to Israel since I know the Jewish population in the town is surely huge. Or perhaps the Opelousas strike force is genuinely concerned that suicide bombers will start pouring into their quiet town to disrupt all the politically sensitive diplomatic engagements that occur there, like when Tigue and Tate are having a dispute over their property line and who the pecan tree belongs to.

Anyway, you should remember that Opelousas only a few short years ago had more per-capita teen pregnancies than any other place in the country. There's something strange in the water there; this is only one example of how it affects the town.

Update @ 3:20 pm to include link to story

And maybe we could all start roller-blading to work. . . 

At a candidate forum for city-parish President here in Lafayette Wednesday night, the men running for the office debated the necessity of a city gas use tax for the purpose of funding new roads and repair projects. Joey Durel, Glenn Weber, and Christopher Obafunwa, displaying the collective political courage of a hamster, would neither support nor endorse a new tax; instead they all promised to go the voters in the form of a referendum.

Count on old Floyd Domingue to take a stand, though.

Domingue, a Democrat, said people already pay enough taxes. He proposed more bicycle paths.

They do it in Europe. We're awfully spoiled," Domingue said.

This isn't quite as ridiculous as Obafunwa calling for a moratorium on new businesses in Lafayette to alleviate the city's terrible traffic problems, but it makes me wonder if Floyd Domingue was even born in the twentieth century. I understand that sometimes people just say silly things when they are asked to speak about issues that they may not have given much thought to, but there seem to be a set of people who are just categorically opposed to the further growth of Lafayette. They don't understand that they can't stop the city's population from growing so they just deny that the growth is occurring. This is why it took forty years to build a third bridge over the Vermillion River, and it's the only reason why you have city officials who resist new roads and commercial districts. Anyway, I'd like to see how Domingue envisions the future of Lafayette if he is resistant to even the idea of a tax to support consruction costs on such basic needs as roads.

Krugman looks into his crystal ball 

I'm finishing my second week writing this blog and I haven't linked to a single Paul Krugman column yet. You may ask, is it possible? Is he secretly conservative? Did he start with high ideals about constructing his own original posts but couldn't cut it? Well the long wait is over. When all else fails link to NY Times op-ed page and let the master say all the things you want to but could never put together. Krugman conjures the next two years and sees a very ugly and cynical time for the Bush administration. He says they've already proven that they can get away with shamelessly exploiting the deaths of all those men and women in New York and DC, so why would they stop now?

In fact he suspects it will get worse, here's why:

everything suggests that there are major scandals - involving energy policy, environmental policy, Iraq contracts and cooked intelligence - that would burst into the light of day if the current management lost its grip on power. So these people must win, at any cost.

The result, clearly, will be an ugly, bitter campaign - probably the nastiest of modern American history. Four months ago it seemed that the 2004 campaign would be all slow-mo films of Mr. Bush in his flight suit. But at this point, it's likely to be pictures of Howard Dean or Wesley Clark that morph into Saddam Hussein. And Donald Rumsfeld has already rolled out the stab-in-the-back argument: if you criticize the administration, you're lending aid and comfort to the enemy.

This political ugliness will take its toll on policy, too. The administration's infallibility complex - its inability to admit ever making a mistake - will get even worse. And I disagree with those who think the administration can claim infallibility even while practicing policy flexibility: on major issues, such as taxes or Iraq, any sensible policy would too obviously be an implicit admission that previous policies had failed.

In other words, if you thought the last two years were bad, just wait: it's about to get worse. A lot worse.

[Insert obligatory sarcastic "he's so shrill" here]

11 September 2003

"But we just wanted to build a flux capacitor. . ." 

Via Tapped we learn that ABC news managed to import depleted uranium from Jakarta, Indonesia through the port of Los Angeles. Frankly, I find this news absolutely terrifying. We've all known for some time that our ports were particularly vulnerable due to the very volume of goods that move through them each day, but the frightening aspect of this story is how demonstrably easy it was for ABC to acquire the stuff.

Now it looks like the Justice Department is planning on prosecuting the reporters who did the smuggling, even though shipping depleted uranium is legal with the proper documentation. Obviously ABC didn't fill out the appropriate paperwork, since that would have made their experiment pointless, but the Justice Department seems to want to prosecute anyway. I'm not surprised that John Ashcroft would want to intimidate journalists who might point out the flaws in our nation's defenses against terrorism, but could someone in the White House please begin to address the real problems we have in protecting our ports. They are far and away the most striking vulnerability we have to preventing large scale terrorism.

For a great read and excellent background on the problems with policing the high seas and in turn US ports please read this Atlantic Monthly story by William Langewiesche in last month's issue. Sorry if that's only a description of the story, but it appears that you'll have to buy the magazine or hit your local library to read the story. It is well worth it.

Good news for Blanco in new poll 

I don't know much about Marketing Research and Insight, but the news from their latest poll should please Kathleen Blanco and worry Bobby Jindall about his chances in a runoff against the Lt. Governor. I'm having trouble finding all the numbers online, so I have to rely on the analysis of John Hill in his Advertiser story, which published the results of this poll which was taken over four evenings and concluded this past Saturday night. At the moment Jindal and Blanco are in a statistical dead heat with a comfortable lead over the rest of the field with 21% still undecided. This quote leads me to predict a difficult runoff for Jindal, though:

A significant finding, Kennedy said, is “Blanco is by far the most popular second choice. That means if someone attacks Jindal, Ieyoub, Leach or Ewing that Blanco benefits the most, and, that if Downer or Blossman drops out, Blanco benefits as much as Jindal.”

The key in that quote is that Blanco benefits as much as Jindal if Blossman or Downer drops out. Blossman is the most conservative of the bunch and if half his voters would support a Democrat in the race rather than Jindal, then Jindal should be concerned. Something that will never show up in an exit poll is that this is probably the result of Jindal's race. I find it very hard to believe that those Blossman supporters would vote Blanco over any white candidate as ideologically pure as Jindal. Unfortunately for Jindal, there is absolutely nothing he can do about this. It is a sad commentary on the effect of race in state politics, but that's the way it is.

However, I won't be crying if Blanco cleans up the voters who lose their candidates after the primary, and I'm not at all surprised to see her picking up the votes of the Dems as their second choice. So far this campaign has been very cordial among the Democrats (could be negative campaign fatigue from last fall's Senate race), so Blanco is clearly trying not to offend her opponents or piss of their supporters and she'll be rewarded for that in the runoff. The Republicans have been marred by infighting though, and this could be another reason that Downer and Blossman's voters are willing to jump ship and vote Democratic. See this article in the Times Picayune for that picture.

Update @ 10:53 am for clarity and to correct my own stupidity.

Finally, no more profiles 

Scott Dyer finishes up The Advocate's run of profiles with a pretty good one about Buddy Leach. Some of Leach's populist rhetoric appeals to me, and he seems to be the only one to have a program to actually raise revenue for the state next year, but I don't like the idea of demonizing the oil and gas industry to do it. Leach smartly observes that the state has a budget problem since the only reason it was balanced last year was on the back of a $300 million one time windfall from the federal government. The other candidates haven't substantively addressed this issue yet, so Leach deserves some credit for talking about it.

Leach has a lot of baggage though. He still carries a twenty-five year old vote-buying scandal. Voters don't easily forget this kind of corruption, and it certainly won't disappear into the ether between now and October 4. Go find out more than you wanted to know about Leach. . .

10 September 2003

Dean\Clark 2004? 

I imagine this will be all over the blogs tomorrow morning, so I figure I may as well get my two cents in before everyone under the sun is yapping about it.

The Washington Post is reporting tonight that Howard Dean has asked Wesley Clark to join his campaign with the possibility of getting on the ticket as his running mate. The details of the meeting are a touch mysterious, but the intention of Dean to bring Clark on board is certain. I don't see many reasons for Dean to do this so early in the campaign, except to maybe keep Clark from running for President in the first place. The move seems extremely risky, since if Clark publicly turns him down by beginning his own candidacy, Dean will look like a weak candidate and his own foreign policy shortcomings will be underscored by what will almost definitely appear to be a desperate move to get the retired General on the ticket, as though Dean feels he can't win without him.

According to the quotes in WaPo, the Dean campaign is playing down the meetings, which will be necessary when Clark doesn't immediately join the campaign after he makes his Sept. 19 speech to the University of Iowa (even if he chooses not to run, it is highly unlikely that he will make any endorsement at that point).

Even if this political play by Dean works and Clark joins forces with him, it is still so early in the campaign that carrying a running mate could prove to be much more trouble than it's worth. I can imagine too men who have never commanded a national stage as politicians trying to keep from constantly screwing up. It could be a grand keystone cops routine, except aired on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.

At any rate, I don't see a lot of upside for Dean's wooing of General Clark to be public, so the campaign should do whatever they can to nip this story in the bud. With all that said, I do feel that the two men on the same ticket could be formidable next fall, but I don't see the point of hooking up this early in the game for Dean, unless all the candidates are so desperate to get Clark on their ticket that a bidding war is going on and Dean's is just the first one to go public. Whatever, this will make great fodder for the pundits all day tomorrow when they're not making trite elegies to the fallen men and women of Sept 11, 2001.

Nagin tries his hand at kingmaker 

The Times-Picayune has a good story about the workings behind NOLA mayor Ray Nagin's endorsement of Randy Ewing for governor. Though there is some question about the sincerity of his rhetoric, Ewing has been the only candidate in this race to explicity recognize the importance of New Orleans to the economic development of the state.

Of course, Ewing has been holding pretty steady in the single digits in most polls, so Nagin's endorsement will have to carry a lot of weight to propel the N. LA senator into the runoff. This leaves a lot of potential to weaken Nagin's political standing in the state. I guess only bold moves can get amazing results, though. He also has the added bonus of being able to say that his conscience wouldn't have allowed him to endorse any of the other candidates who have proven to be completely indifferent to the city of New Orleans, but I doubt that will salvage much of his political muscle if he endorses a candidate who doesn't make the runoff.

The story includes a great Earl Long quote that I couldn't stand to leave out of this post: "Be with me in the primary, and you get jobs. Be with me in the runoff, and you get good government."

Jindal profile out, one more to go 

The Advocate profiles Jindal today. We get Leach tomorrow; then I can stop linking to these stories. Hopefully some hard campaign news will fill the vacuum left by these missing profiles, but you never really know what to expect.

This profile is pretty good, but like the last one I read, the author takes for granted that Jindal saved the state health care system. Is the issue too complicated for any reporter (or even another candidate) to approach with any critical analysis? Alas, it probably is. Anyway, the other knock on Jindal (besides his youth and brown skin) is the trouble he had directing the University of Louisiana system. Some universities in the state underwent tremendous financial troubles during Jindal's tenure, and his responses were ineffective. The rest is the typical stuff about his Rhodes scholarship, his work under Foster, etc.

My impression of Jindal is that he is tremendously naive. I've looked for a particular quote, but it's more of a general impression I have of him (maybe it's the fact that I know teenagers who look older than him). I enjoy his passion for the state's future, and while I don't agree with his politics, there is something refreshing about his seemingly honest approach to the problems in our state. I won't vote for him, but I can see why a lot of people in the state support him. Just go read the profile.

09 September 2003

Gov. Riley, you've got a friend in me 

The Governor of Alabama's effort to reform one of the most regressive tax codes in the country went down like the Challenger Shuttle today. The New York Times reports that with 88% of precints reporting opponents of the reform accounted for 68% of the vote. This is really too bad for progressive minded folk in the south. When a Republican who uses appeals to Christian charity and common duty to Alabamans who have arguably the worst tax structure in the country cannot enact a progressive tax code, what hope is there for the rest of us in this part of the country? Here are some of the key quotes,

"We're going to reduce services," [Riley said]. "But once we do — and I hope everyone in the state of Alabama understands this — we have to be very judicious in the cuts we make, because so many people are absolutely dependent on this state for their very existence. We need to make sure that we continue to protect the least among us."

. . .

The referendum drive, which Mr. Riley said had turned state politics into something like "the planet Bizarro," divided his fellow Republicans and pitted Mr. Riley alongside the unlikeliest of bedfellows, the state teachers' union, black lawmakers and the Democratic Party, as well as big-business groups like the Campaign for Alabama.

Mr. Riley's plan ran into an even better-organized coalition of players who had until recently been his strongest supporters, bankers, farmers, small-business owners, timber interests and conservative groups like the Alabama Christian Coalition and Americans for Tax Reform.

I can't imagine why bankers might have opposed him, I wonder about any other reasons he faced opposition from the right, oh yeah, blind partisan politics:

The state's Republican chairman, Marty Connors, said the vote proved that "parties matter" and chided the governor for not seeking the advice of his Republican brethren before cutting a deal with the devil.

"Riley never came to the party leadership to try and figure out the best route to take," Mr. Connors said. "He went to the teachers' union first and said, `How do we fix this?' instead of to his loyalists. You've got to leave the dance with the guy that brung you."

"a deal with the devil"? Apparently to Alabama's Republican chairman, working with the evil Teacher's Union to avoid massive cuts to the state's educational system is making a deal with the devil. Do the voters in Alabama have any idea where the true interests of the Republican party lie after this debacle? I guess 68% of them don't.

Daily Advertiser headline proves my political acumen 

Last night I posted a link to a story about having too many constitutional amendments on the ballot next month and closed with the warning that this constant amending will necessitate a constitutional convention before too long.

Well, it turns out that those advocacy groups speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club yesterday were discussing that very possibility. Here's the most interesting quote from a story in this morning's Daily Advertiser (yes I feel silly for just mentioning how great the Baton Rouge paper is when they didn't include the bit about a constitutional convention in their story on the same Press Club get together):

Although Louisiana has adopted 11 constitutions during the past two centuries, more than any other state, it can be changed one more time for improvements, [Brandt] said.

Erwin said CABL is not opposed to holding a constitutional convention. But he questioned the point of writing a new state charter if voters’ attitudes about their government and elected officials have not changed.

“We still don’t trust. We’re still very cynical as voters.”

My father told me that he remembers voting on as many as forty amendments at a time in the constitution's last incarnation, so we have it pretty good compared to previous generations of LA voters, but this is still a problem that should be addressed in some form or another as soon as possible.

Richard Ieyoub, lawyer extraordinaire 

The Advocate's Scott Dyer produces another good candidate profile for what is far and away the best newspaper in the state. This one deals extensively with the support Ieyoub has engendered from the Louisiana black community, but doesn't pull punches when discussing Ieyoub's questionable financial dealings during his earlier campaigns for office and while representing the state of Louisiana during the tobacco suits of the nineties. It's worth a read, so go take a look.

October 4 ballot to read like Bible 

Voters can expect fifteen amendments along with every candidate for statewide elected office and numerous local elections when they go to the polls next month. The Advocate's capitol bureau editor has the goods on the problems that these proposed constitutional changes can have on voters when they hit the polls. This is a problem because most voters won't have a clue what each amendment proposes or how their passage could affect them.

I have a small quibble with LaPlante's article because he relies too heavily on the two men whose advocacy groups published their respective studies without much balance from legislators who authored these amendment or really any opposing viewpoint, but with that said, I generally agree with the headline of the article. The constant barrage of constitutional amendment with every statewide election is distressing for efficient government in Louisiana.

More and more proposed changes to the constitution are too detailed and should be written as laws, not locked into the state constitution, where they are hard to change in the future, [Brandt] said.
. . .
The increasing number of proposed amendments on the ballot has some voters losing interest, said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.

For instance, about 1.2 million voters cast ballots for U.S. Senate candidates in November, Erwin said.

But about 200,000 fewer cast ballots on a proposed tax swap lower on the ballot, even though it received a lot of publicity and "affected every taxpayer in the state," he said.
. . .
The constitution is now so full of previous, detailed amendments that state leaders sometimes have no choice but to propose more changes, he said.

"Because there's so much detail in the constitution, if you want to fix something … this is the process you have to use," he said

I learned in high school government class that often and easily amended constitutions are very bad for governments. While the process in LA isn't particularly easy since it requires super-majorities in both houses and the consent of the electorate, there is still an amendment problem in the state. The constitution has become so riddled with excruciatingly detailed amendments regarding every issue and special interest group under the sun that every time sweeping legislation becomes necessary for any industry another amendment is necessary. Unfortunately, as this article points out, some of these (though certainly not all) amendments are very important to the future of the state.

Anyway, the story points out this website, which concerned voters should look at to get an idea of what they will be voting on when they hit the polls next October. Keep this in mind, though: everytime a new amendment is passed we get one step closer to being forced to draft a new constitution, which anyone with a nose for history or political science understands is full of problems and nasty partisanship. Anyway, get to know these amendments and do your best to understand all their ramifications, because they have obviously long-standing effects on the ability of the legislation to further govern over the interest of each proposed change.

08 September 2003

Buddy Leach says, "Wave your arms in the air, if you's a true playa" 

The Advertiser included a profile of Buddy Leach in today's edition. I couldn't find it online, so I'm linking to Shreveport's paper, also owned by Gannett. (Yes it bugs me that our Lafayette paper doesn't acknowledge that the author of the profile Mike Hasten isn't actually in their employ, though it appears that the Shreveport Times does.)

Anyway, I found the section about Buddy Leach's youth army providing cds of local artists and campaign messages pretty innovative, though I doubt it will do much good since it sounds like he's only got a few kids around the state doing it. I wonder if he has different cds for different markets, like lots of hip hop and rock for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but mostly country for north Louisiana. Why didn't Mike Hasten let us know in the article? Anyway, I'd love to get my hands on one of those cds, maybe I should call the campaign. . .

Terrible weekend for my teams 

Not only did the Cajuns and Saints lose this weekend, but they also looked like terrible programs. Sadly, the Cajuns' loss came in front of their largest home crowd in nearly eight years. I was there and could not have seen a worse team take the field. I didn't see anything particularly ecouraging from either team, so it looks I could be in for a long football season. Add to that it looks like I'll have a loss in both my fantasy leagues thanks to poor play from running backs Curtis Martin and Ladanian Tomlisson, and I'm not very happy this morning. I still have a small chance at capturing victory in my money league since I have a couple of players in tonight's game, but it's out of my hands now.

I expect to be posting more that the weekend has passed, but only after I figure out some problems I'm having with blogger.

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