Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Freedom of Movement

You know those Constitutional rights you thought you had? You know, the ones that say escaping a disaster area on foot in an attempt to save your life and the lives of others with you is perfectly legal?

Yeah, Think again.

According to this ruling, if you try to walk out of a disaster area and the police don't wan't you to go through there, they can shoot at you.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It Can't Just Be About Football

Last night, the New Orleans Saints played the Atlanta Falcons in Monday night football. These are two teams in the playoffs, with legitimate chances to make the Super Bowl this year. They have quarterbacks who are or who have the chance to be legends in their respective cities and the league. Both have highlight reel making defenses, and both feature intriguing styles of play. The teams are divisional and sectional rivals, one with an intense, traditionally passionate fanbase and the other with an intense, passionate fanbase for college football that is switching gears to root for the local NFL franchise.

After last night's game, the Saints and Falcons have played twice, are 1 - 1 against each other for 2010, and post a combined score of 41-41. They have a chance to meet again in the NFC Championship game in several weeks. Rivalries, especially in the pros, don't often see better years than this one. (Especially a rivalry where one team owns a 8-2 regular season record over the other since 2006.)

In short, there is an awful lot of compelling topics surrounding this rivalry. But because the game involves the team from New Orleans, you just know it is going to be about more than the sport.

And of course, this year's "Finishing what Katrina Started" head-slapper comes from Falcons fans.

This is a terrible reflection on the many, many fine Falcons fans I know, who were Dirty Birds long, long, long before Matty Ice & Co started posting back-to-back winning seasons and Super Bowl aspirations. Some of my best memories are of watching the small television in the Burntstone Brewhouse as the Falcons defeated Minnesota and then played in their first Super Bowl; or watching the valiant NFC Championship game effort against Philadelphia from the Gnat's Landing porch on St. Simons Island. But, like all sports teams, some fans take it beyond the ribbing of good natured rivals and into the realm of the very, very personal.

As Cliff so rightly states, Katrina is off limits when trash talking. This is sports, people. Sports. I know it is important. I know it can be emotional. I know it is sometimes used as a metaphor for larger issues.

But "Hating America's Team After Hurricane Katrina" qualifies as Katrina-based smack talk. Expounding that point ("Yes, We're Still the Bad Guys In This Story") also qualifies as Katrina-based smack talk.

You'll notice that both posts have been deleted. Maybe someone at SB Nation figured out this was off-limits troll baiting (and after years of following SB Nation college football sites, I can believe that). Maybe some folks just want to hide their opinions, as if they didn't think New Orleanians had access to the internet. These are the kinds of things that get written or said when you don't think anyone who disagrees with you will read what you wrote or hear what you said.

Saints fans believe "it's OK to tack on the suffering of thousands and the devastation of decades to enhance the luster of your football title, but if someone else derides you for it, claim ownership of the tragedy and whine like hell," Godfrey writes. "This logic is ludicrous and almost insulting, but it's the brush Saints Nation has decided to paint their team with.

"If the Atlanta Falcons somehow capture a world title this season, my first order of business will be to take to the Internet and post a sobbing YouTube monologue that declares, 'I NEVER THOUGHT WE'D BOUNCE BACK FROM GENERAL SHERMAN. TONIGHT THIS CITY ROSE UP. WE'RE HEALED!'

"That's what I've learned from the New Orleans Saints - that any professional sports championship can be made to count even more if you've got a great, largely unrelated local tragedy to position it against.
"


That is disgusting. It is a shame some folks out there in "real America" are still not over the fact that New Orleans was flooded in a tragedy made worse by an ineffective government. It is a shame the city hasn't fully recovered, even five years later. I guarantee there are more folks in New Orleans unhappy with that fact than folks in in Atlanta.

It is a shame that some folks can't accept that tragedy happens in this country and that you're going to hear about it as long as the graves are still fresh, and the wounds are still visible. (We're still dealing with legislation for the September 11 Rescue Heroes, after all.) As a matter of fact, as far as defining American tragedies are concerned, most Americans haven't really heard word fucking one about New Orleans, Katrina, the Federal Flood and what passes for recovery. Posts like these, if they weren't hastily deleted, are simply evidence of that fact.

And these authors think they can play the "media victim" because occasionally a news organization will investigate some small part of what happened (and still happens) in New Orleans when doing background research for a sports story. When you're reporting on a team from New Orleans, and you talk to people who live in New Orleans, and you travel to New Orleans to watch and write about football games, you may run into a few stories about the storm, the flood and the recovery. They're kind of a big fucking deal down in New Orleans.

But, there is a disgusting cultural undercurrent in this country that likes to blame the victim. There is a ridiculous cultural undercurrent in this country that must draw lines in the sand and list everything in terms of "good guys vs. bad guys," even in sports. I can understand how Atlanta would be sensitive to the "bad guy" brush, after their former franchise quarterback was convicted of morally repugnant felonious behavior and spent time in prison.

It is a shame that it is spoiling a fine rivalry, during the best year of the rivalry.

Update: Of course, Jeffrey wrote about this yesterday.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Credibility Gap Continues

I hope, as these next two years begin, that folks remember the insanity offered by the likes of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, John Kyl, John McCain, John Bolton, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and all the other two-bit destroy-Obama-at-the-expense-of-American-national-security crowd regarding the New START treaty.

They were a veritable nest of Chicken-Littles, predicting a falling sky.

And the Senate responded by passing the legislation 71 to 26.

We should always keep in mind that, when it came to real national security - not the fantasy land stuff that you can talk about on the radio - that crew of hacks put politics before policy.

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The Mess

Combine government over-reliance on contractors, kickbacks from contractors to politicians to ensure said over-reliance, and the fact that few individuals pay attention to what is actually going on in their local governments and how it affects their lives and finances.

What do you get? This.

If you're ever wondering why our national, state and local governments never seem to get much return on investment for our tax dollars they are "investing" in contracted services, there are rather simple reasons.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Race Card vs. the Crying Racism Card

Oh, Haley Barbour stepped in the briar patch this week. And because our politics are what they are, who knows if it was planned or if it was a candid assessment of one man's perspective on history? All we can do is examine the resulting sound and fury, and figure out what that says about our culture today.

Just to define the terms, since they are close in definition and closely linked,

Race Card - a false accusation of racism to further political goals, usually used to describe an individual or an organization as racist.

Crying Racism Card - a false accusation that an individual or an organization is the victim of someone else playing the Race Card.


Here is why the distinction is important, politically speaking. That's something we've seen for a while now in our national discourse.

Though Barbour has issued the mandatory and obligatory retraction, and it sounds as genuine as it can, he still got his name in the news cycle and will be talked about on right-wing blogs and talk radio as a victim of hypersensitive left-wingery.

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The Kamikaze Congress

Yes, this last Congress got a lot of stuff done. But at what cost? If your signature accomplishments are all repealed and overturned in the decade after you passed them, did you actually accomplish anything?

This will be the question as the Democratic Party starts waking up to the fact that they have now legislated themselves into Permanent Poltical Minority status. Every stumbling policy acheivement that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid orchestrated will be dismantled before they even retire from their seats.

How?

Because, looking at the combination numbers of the Census and the November 2 elections, the Democrats are basically finished as a national party for the next decade.

While "what you do while you're in power" is very, very important from a policy perspective, you have to depend on the politics of the situation to protect your accomplishments and further your goals. Pelosi and Reid may have owned the policy, but they let their opponents own the politics.

Years ago, Karl Rove discussed ways he could acheive a permanent Republican majority in Washington. While he looked to have been soundly defeated in 2006 and 2008, he's got to be smiling when he looks over the reapportionment plans.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trivial Crimes

Live by the jury, die by the jury. As Americans, for good or ill, we don't just make policy at the ballot box.

Whenever a jury turns loose an alleged murderer, I never blame the jury - I blame the prosecutor. I blame the lack of trust in the criminal justice system and the police. But most of the time the case gets made, even on circumstancial evidence. I'd wager far more juries convict people than turn them loose, even if our popular culture makes it seem the other way around.

Back in the day, juries were compromised, and routinely fixed by the laws of the time. Minorities could not get a fair trial with an all white jury and the prejudice of the day. It was problematic when juries would throw out the facts and decide cases based on prevailing racial attitudes. (#KilledMockingbirds)

But sometimes, a jury's behavior might surprise you. Like the time that jury in Montana refused to even hear a prosecutor's case because of the small amount of marijuana involved in the defendant's arrest.

By not even hearing the case, they didn't hear about the defendant's full criminal history. But he wasn't on trial for his prior deeds, he was on trial for a 1/16 ounce of controlled substance. Hearing the charges, the jury didn't see fit to waste their time on the matter, leaving a stunned prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge even as they voted themselves out of the courtroom en masse.

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The Beginnings of a Spine?

Could this be evidence that the Democrats and Really Real Republicans are finally getting tired of the nonsense?

One can only hope.

Here's the As Seen on Reality Television Half-Term Governess Herself, telling us that the Democrats, Republicans and Foreign Service officials who have designed our foreign policy for decades are all ready to sell us down the river to Russia.

She really is Ray Nagin with hair.

Palin/Nagin 2012 - Chocolate Moose Party, Baby!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

"Fox Propaganda and Cultural Panic"

Andrew Sullivan takes a look at our Tory President.

The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.


Let me be clear, I cannot stand the fact that this President refuses to engage the demonstrable insanity being pushed by the right-wing on the national stage. In an attempt to prove how centrist and pragmatic he is, lets them say whatever they want about him, his party and his supporters. On Saturday, I listened to a Rush Limbaugh rebroadcast as he sputtered incoherently about how the "Democratic Party is trying to destroy America" and how Obama isn't in the center, he's moving away from a "straight line to Marxism." If you listened only to Fox News and Clear Channel radio, I can understand why you'd think incredibly badly of the President.

Yet Obama continues trying to work with the other side, despite their obstruction and non-participation, not to mention their often referenced goals to destroy him. The crazy thing is, while there are infuriating political consequences for doing so, he seems to expect them. He makes political chicken salad out of political chicken shit like it was all part of a plan from the beginning.

It is difficult to argue with results.

To be sure, I wasn't in with the left-wing version of Obama. He was never going to end Bush-era surveillance, dismantle the security-state, end the War on Drugs or turn our economy green in a fortnight. He was not going to immediately pull all the troops out of Afganistan and Iraq or put individuals from the former administration on trial for war crimes. He was never going to outlaw the use of oil in everyday America.

I didn't expect him to flap his arms and fly to the moon, either. To me, there is no disappointment that he didn't do those things, because no one could realistically expect him to do so.

But there are plenty of things he said he was going to do, and got done. A lot of them aren't the best solutions in the world (Health Care, the Stimulus, the Tax Deal), especially politically speaking, but you aren't going to get better solutions than these, considering the group of folks in the legislature. Obama was dealt a hand of cards with Pelosi, Reid, McConnell and Boehner. They're all partisans first, but the former do so with no recognition of national political ramifications while said ramifications are the sole focus of the latter. (We saw how that worked out in November.) That this country got any policy out of them whatsoever is an incredible accomplishment. That this Congress continued working with the President into the lame duck session is nearly historic.

Nonetheless, that's a whole lot of CENTER-left policy objectives accomplished in 2 years. You damn sure weren't going to get anywhere close to that with a Bush presidency, a McCain presidency or a Palin presidency. You damn sure weren't going to get those policies out of a hard-core leftist President, either, even if you found one who was electable.

And then there were several things he didn't do that are notable in comparison to the previous 8 years of executive buffoonery - policy that would likely have continued under a McCain/Palin administration, based on their stated behaviors. First and foremost, while he may never prosecute the responsible parties, we have every indication that the torture regime of the Bush administration has ended.

When the Green Revolution began in Iran (where it quietly continues), McCain wanted the United States to "support" the revolutionaries by....saying we support the revolutionaries and that America "stands" behind them. I guess he means about 7,000 miles behind them, because there was f*** all we could have done in a material way. And despite the fact that most folks on the right wing think that American "support" of that nature always and everywhere inspires pro-democracy revolutionaries, that isn't the case in Iran - where the United States has actually participated in overthrowing a democratic revolution which directly contributed to the rise of their current oppressive government. Obama, wisely, just stayed quiet on the issue, and kept engaged in a realpolitik foreign policy with the Islamic Republic. No one has to attack them if they crumble or reform from the inside.

Other examples? Does anyone remember the Orwellian "color code" for the nebulous national threat level? Remember how freely the Bush administration would trot it out to scare the crap out of everyone before elections, travel holidays and expansions of the security state? How many times have we seen that nonsense since Obama took office?

Presented the options, none of these policies would have been touched by a McCain/Palin presidency. Even a McCain/Palin presidency would have been forced to make similarly unpopular decisions regarding bailouts and stimulii. I don't see the McCain/Palin administration taking the genuine risk of economic collapse that would have come by just handing out more tax subsidies as a remedy for what ails our economy.

What does all that mean? It means my biggest complaint about the Obama Presidency remains the political angle - and that is just as much the fault of Pelosi and Reid. Losing that big in November to nothing more than a savvy, irrational and fear-centered marketing campaign is ridiculous for a Democratic Party that has been delivering on campaign promises, extracting ourselves from strategic neoconservative boondoggles abroad, and resurrecting a failed economy. Losing the hundreds of state legislative seats on the eve of a Census reapportionment threatens to create a permanent Democratic minority for the next decade.

We'll find out how we really feel about Obama's policy accomplishments when that unassailable GOTP majority, and their absolute rejection of reality, makes a run at overturning every one of them, and returning us to the utter failure that was the Bush Era.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Selling the Drama

Y'all remember how, after a disaster, there's always complaints about some unscrupulous relief agency or another using sympathy for the disaster to collect donations for other projects? Doesn't it piss you off?

Y'all also remember how, after the flood in New Orleans, a lot of complaints nationwide were made about New Orleanians wasting all the Billions they'd got for disaster relief? Didn't that piss you off too? (For different reasons, as Americans wondered why it cost so many Billions, and New Orleanians wondered "what Fing Billions are y'all talkin' about?")

Well, put those two rememberances together when you think about how a whole lot of relief tax credits marketed (or stigmatized) as "New Orleans' recovery" ended up going elsewhere. Only 3% of the $7.8 Billion in Louisiana GO Zone tax credits ended up in New Orleans.

Now, I ain't got a problem with the rest of Louisiana taking advantage of tax credits and subsidies for some capital improvements. This state suffers while other states and the Federal government make money off her resources. A lot of other places got hit by the direct or secondary impact of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and a lot of places had to deal with the fallout of the flood in New Orleans.

But 3%? Seriously? I guess that answers the reactionary and infuriating question "why should we spend our tax dollars rebuilding a city below sea level?" with the true answer "you ain't, really."

And I guess this is one of the answers to Dante's questions in an earlier comment thread. The proof that the 'richer you are, the more proportionately you benefit from the system' is in the puddin':

The GO Zone bond program’s limited success in New Orleans is largely a function of market forces, state officials from outside of the city say. Before the national economy tanked and the credit market dried up, banks could make a healthy return on the tax-free bonds. Even then, however, the businesses that qualified for the bonds must meet the bank’s investment standards, something tough for companies attempting a project in high-risk New Orleans.

“If you didn’t have the money you couldn’t qualify to get the money,” State Bond Commission Director Whitman J. Kling said in an interview Wednesday.


Yeah, I added that emphasis. Expect to see that quote a few more times on this website, as one of my main theories on life is that our system is specifically set up to benefit and subsidize the well-off at proportionately greater levels than your average middle class worker. But I digress...

Coupled with the Stafford Act, where local entities - some which were facing more than total losses - had to match certain financial benchmarks to qualify for disaster aid funds, the recovery of New Orleans is still going on in fits and spurts, 5 years after the storm. If you have to have money to qualify for recovery money, that's a tricky system.

At the same time, the multi-billion dollar price tag is being politically marketed as a government waste-of-tax-dollars boondoggle, as "$7.9 Billion was spent on a city-below-sea-level, and look at the fat nothing they've done with that opportunity."

And don't act like that ain't the narrative, we've been hearing it since before Katrina's outflow bands had completely cleared the Florida coast.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The "Center's" Fault

Usually, I expect to see attacks on "centrism" and "moderation" from the left. They don't like the fact that we can't move society to their utopian vision all at once, and they blame us for keeping it from happening.

The right is usually more subtle (counterintuitively enough), moving the goalposts so that "centrism" and "moderation" have now come to mean "baby-killing, terrorist-sympathising, homosexual-agenda style sharia Kenyan anti-colonialism" or whatever, or by taking a consensus idea like "small businesses are important" or "apple pie is delicious" and saying the left is out to destroy that whatever it is because they hate everything good about America.

But I've rarely seen dedicated attacks on centrism from those aspiring to represent reasonable conservatism. Deconstructing Christopher Hitchens' blistering excoriation of Tea Party ideology, Ross Douhat says:

[D]o you know what else has often led to folly, disaster, violence and human misery? The “moderation” and “centrism” of the Western governing class.


He then lists these items as examples of "moderation and centrism in the Western governing class:"

1. The war in Afganistan.
2. The war in Iraq.
3. Medicare Part D.
4. Health Care Reform.
5. The Euro.
6. The Real Estate bubble.
7. The Bailouts.
8. The TSA & Current American Security State.
9. The Obama Tax Deal.

So, basically, everything currently viewed by a significant group of Americans as unpopular is not a product of American political extremes. I would consider this historical revisionism if it wasn't so baldly laughable.

Let's run down the list, shall we?

1. Al Queda operatives attacked us, and we went after them in Afganistan. As we should have done. The initial strategy, employed for nearly six years of war, was constructed by Donald Rumsfeld, an unabashed and now discredited neoconservative who hardly qualifies as anything approaching centrism or moderation.

2. The Iraq War. A dubious foray into faulty intelligence, preemptive war, misadventure and nation building, this was also the brain-child of neoconservatives like Donald Rumsfeld and VP Dick Cheney. Sold alternately as a vengeance response to the September 11th attacks, an search for WMD's, a strike against an imminent threat or just a chance to spread "freedom" around the globe, Democrats in Washington stupidly voted for this war because they were scared what the GOP would say about them in the media if they didn't.

3. Medicare Part D. An insufficient correction to badly administered programs, this is what happens when you attempt to address a problem without actually fixing said problem because doing so would leave you politically vulnerable to elements on the extremes demagouging the issue. Contrary to popular belief, centrism and moderation are not about punting on the hard choices, though they are often confused for that.

4. Health Care Reform. An insufficient correction to suicidally administered systems, this is what happens when you attempt to actually fix a problem with a centrist or moderate solution and then leave yourself politically vulnerable to elements on the extremes to proceed to demagouge the issue. While you expected more political support (that's why you were using a centrist framework, after all) the virulence of the opposition encouraged you to make significant changes to the already insufficient correction that keep it from actually fixing the problem.

5. The Euro is a very centrist idea. Europe wanted to simplify their economic relationships. The economy changed for the worse (because of economic extremists) and that simplification became a liability.

6. The Real Estate Bubble is what happens when economic extremists looking to maufacture Monopoly money legally inadvertently change the economy for the worse.

7. The Bailouts were required from keeping the American, and world, economy from collapsing due to the trillions of dollars in Monopoly money created by item 6. Another insufficient correction to a problem we shouldn't have had in the first place, the bailouts were a highly unpopular decision that had to be made. While saying "no" would have been chathartic, the risk of worldwide economic collapse was too great. I have no problem with this being labeled "centrist" or "moderate," but I have a problem with it being demagouged on the extremes, especially from the right, who had too big a hand in causing the problem the bailouts were intended to correct.

8. The TSA & Current American Security State. Really? This is only howlingly considered a centrist or moderate creation. For 8 years, this apparatus expanded under a right-wing Republican President, cheerled by right-wing punditry, and supported by media scaring the shit out of an already fearful America. For 8 years, we heard only that opposition to the expansion of this apparatus was akin to liberal support of terrorism and hatred for America.

9. The Obama Tax Deal is more bipartisan than centrist or moderate, but it comes close. While an acceptance of political realities put into place over the last 2 years (its main claim to centrism), it represents a "punt" on the difficult decisions that have to be made (bipartisan).

In total, however, that's 5 - 4 in favor of extremists owning these policies, with extremists directly scuttling the former centrist policies (the Euro, Health Care) and extremists directly creating the need for the latter centrist policy (the Bailouts and Obama Tax Deal). Extremists, on both sides and encouraged by their specific media, are causing too many of our problems.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Critical Systems Failure

Do you remember Y2K? This is what they were talking about.

Do you want to know how important your local government is to your continued freedom and economic liberty? Let's start with this: "the respect for title, proper documentation, contract law and private property rights are the underlying reason capitalism works in Western nations". That was said in relation to the massive foreclosure fraud being perpetrated across America in respect to our national banking institutions. That seemed to be the greatest threat to property rights last month.

But it relates to local affairs as well, as local authorities are usually the entities charged in keeping track of and ensuring title, proper documentation, contract law and property rights. Basically, local governments, through recordkeeping duties and the courts, keep capitalism working in Western nations.

So what happens when something goes terribly wrong, and all of this is thrown into disarray? We're about to find out, as the American Zombie investigates the massive and critical infrastructure failure in New Orleans.

Read and watch. The abstract? City property records vanish. Gone. Hard copies exist, but there are hundreds of thousands of them. They are not arranged in order (like an "unalphabetized dictionary"), because they were indexed on the computer. This index has also vanished. None of your backups survived. Reliance on computers to organize and record this data has failed, and you are thrown back into the dark ages of record keeping.

Every sort of civic transaction requiring real estate value or title to property grinds to a halt. Meanwhile, the government offices responsible for these records, and their computerized index, have never considered a critical systems failure of this nature a possibility, so they are unsure how to react.

And then...

Well, that's what we're waking up to realize this week in New Orleans, as the great common law consensus system that supports our fragile economy continues shrieking to a halt, and all corners of the community are affected in one way or another.

Stay tuned, indeed.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Government Kills Commerce

Two examples from New Orleans.

In one case, we have planned government subsidization of a single private development actually keeping all economic development out of New Orleans East.

In another case, we have the byzantine maze of city permits and contracts stifling a burgeoning and dynamic homegrown industry.

In the first case, city government wants to help direct development to an underserved community. They promise tax breaks and public investment in a private enterprise. A successful deal would bring jobs and businesses to a specific area, but an incredible return on investment will be seen by the primary developers. Those developers will be insulated from market factors by the city and state governments' subsidization. Those developers' competition will have a weaker hand, and are less likely to invest in that area, because they do not have the same insulation from market disadvantages.

(Though I'm sure they qualify for continuation of the Bush tax cuts, as they existentially "create jobs"....)

Knowing the government will be willing to offer more robust insulation the longer the citizens of the area go unserved, the developer is free to postpone and renegotiate deals for the property for as long as they choose. It is only natural to get the most out of a deal as possible, and there is no reason to factor in the needs or desires of others. The developer owns the most valuable property - the property where the government would like development to happen - so they set the terms of the negotiation. Competition will wait on this deal before moving.

In this instance, government behavior stifles competition, freezes out economic development, and subsidizes one private enterprise with tax dollars collected from citizens who may not patronize this private enterprise AND this private enterprise's competitors. That is not the way a free-market behaves.

The second case is how well intentioned government regulation can stifle economic dynamism and the creation of new industries. Part of this is unintended consequences and part of this is a cover charge for access.

Food trucks make sense in New Orleans. You have an all-night city with a lack of all-night eateries, high cost of property, high walkability, a high number of ad hoc neighborhood festivals and events, a high number of spontaneous events, and a local population with intricate palates. Food trucks are the very definition of the "movable feast" that means so much to New Orleanians. They create commerce and jobs and sales tax with a kind of flexibility necessary to maximize return on investment in a economically and geographically risky city with a dynamic event calendar.

They are nothing short of a win-win-win scenario, but city ordinances are set up and enforced to keep this industry from developing. While operators are free to pay the city for the required permits to operate, they recieve hassle on the enforcement end.

Now, I understand the need for health codes and parking ordinances as much as the next guy - I just wonder why the rules aren't clearly stated when you apply for a mobile food vendor permit. I wonder why enforcement personnel are able to ticket and shut down operations at whim, even if permits have been acquired. I wonder how much of this enforcement originates with fixed-location restaurants unhappy with mobile "competition" (even though they are usually not competing for the same clientele). I wonder how a 1972 law can remain on the books keeping food vendors from our two most high-density neighborhoods.

(Full disclosure - I had an unhappy run-in with "carnival season food vendor inspectors" one year. Despite all three appropriate permits -and- despite setting up on the property where the fixed restaurant is located, the place recieved three or four seperate visits by varied and nebulous enforcement personnel and constabulary authorities who obviously wanted to shut the place down. On the final visit, they were able to cite a yet unheard of fourth permit requirement to justify shutting down the sale of food. I leant a hand as my friends who worked at the place moved the operation inside the physical building of the restaurant - a whole 20 feet away.)

In the second instance, government behavior stifles innovation, adds uncertainty and risk to new enterprises, thus slowing economic development, artificially limits commerce and does not get maximum utility out of civic and cultural infrastructure. That is also NOT how a free market behaves.

We hear a lot about how the Federal government limits our nation's economic liberty or is 'usurping power' or whatever. But the point I make, again and again, is that the governments that control most of your life and taxes - and are the ones you can exert the most control over - are the ones much closer to you than the government in Washington, D.C.

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The Onward March of Democratic Socialism

That's what you'd think of the Obama tax deal if you listened to Rush Limbaugh. You know the tax deal? The one that preserves the American subsidy for the richest people while stagnating the most dynamic economy in the world for the last decade? The cornerstone of the failed economic policies of the last Republican President? Yeah, that one. Though Rush says Obama just wants to pass the tax deal to see it fail over the next two years. As if the damn policy had worked for the last 10.

You know, I'd love to concentrate on the many court cases and political hyperbolies that continue to surround the Health Care Bill, but this Obama tax deal, as a piece of legislation, has incurred by far the most fascinating reactions from partisans on either side.

Krauthammer, flustered with this deal as well, calls it Stimulus II, and seemed to rail against it, and chiding GOP support for it because it gave away the store to Obama. Though Rush Limbaugh believes it gives away the store, it isn't as big a stimulus as Krauthammer makes it out to be. (Damn it is difficult to keep up...) Because no one can agree with President Obama on legislation, and still be sufficiently right-wing to qualify for the "conservative" label in America these days.

Of course, I think Krauthammer and Rush are right to be ticked-off: the President got more out of this tax deal than he had any right to expect. The GOTP, after two years of lunatic political marketing, got into office and started behaving as if reality should be a factor in decision-making. That's got to throw some true-believers (like Krauty and El Rushbo) for whom reality is optional, for the ideological loop.

The craziest thing about the whole tax deal? The folks who Rush and Kraut consider Democratic Socialists (or worse) hate the tax deal worse than they do. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in a pseudo-filibuster, and voted against the bill in the Senate this evening. He was joined by 5 members of the GOP caucus, and 9 Democrats.

I can understand a Democrat not liking extending Bush's failed economic policies. That's got to sting a little, when you have two years to get something done, and fail to do so because your leadership doesn't own a calendar. But when you get your fanny paddled as hard as they did in November, you have to accept a change in the political climate. I think a lot of Democrats are being ridiculous for going against it as hard as they are. It is literally killing their credibility with independents in the center to act this way. Which is actually pretty fascinating, from an objective point of view, because this is an almost perfect example of how the GOTP kicks Democratic ass on narrative and national conversation, without having to do much heavy lifting.

Despite all the vitriol from the extreme right-wing, you'll only hear about how much Democrats hate this bill. It doesn't matter how much I agree with Brook's column there, look at where his focus is.

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.


That's how "conservative" marketing works, folks. If all the GOTP think something's bad, the Democrats are intractable liberals who are to blame. If there is a split like this between the GOP and the TP on a policy, then it is the intractable liberals within the Democratic Party who are to blame. Please pay no attention to the reality bending insanity on the right - pay attention instead to our current pragmatic, centrist Democratic President aggreeing publicly with our former pragmatic, centrist Democratic President, and how the "bad" Democrats are acting.

Not one word about how the right-wing and their commentariat are angry, or why. To be sure, there are a few exceptions, but even that downplays the split on the right as "pockets of resistance."

Pockets of resistance to a tax deal with overwhelming bipartisan support.

By doing this, the right pleases its base with some red meat (though just outside the view of Joe Public) and passes its policy legislation, kneecaps what should be a huge victory by the Democratic President (whom they despise) and further promote the "liberal is a dirty word they want to raise your taxes" narrative all at the same time.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Invisible City

(Note: I was inspired to write this post after reading Cliff's neighborhood wish list over the weekend. Of course, I forgot to mention that on the first edition of this post. Luckily, Leigh reminded me.)

New Orleans East has 71,000 residents, according to current figures, and only has one* grocery store. The next closest I know about is the Winn-Dixie just west of the Danziger Bridge in Gentilly. (For my Georgia readers, that would be like having to drive from St. Simons Island to Brunswick; or from East Athens to Epps Bridge - every time you wanted to pick up food.)

On the occasions in which I drive through the East, the business corridors on the major thoroughfares look like they're stuck somewhere between 8 Mile and 28 Days Later. Back when I worked for the RSD, we did a lot of training sessions at Sarah T. Reed High School, and the view of the area on the commute was less than flattering. Hearing the news this weekend that 71,000 people live there comes as a jaw-dropping, knock-down shock.

That's nearly the non-student population of Athens, Georgia.

Despite the fact that the area would be the sixth largest city in the state of Louisiana, with a median income higher than the rest of Orleans Parish, commercial investment has been very, very slow. No one seems able, or willing to tell residents why. The "big" investors are all public/private initiatives that have yet to get off the ground, and not many "small" businesses have flocked to the area to get a foothold.

There are a host of reasons why:

From a geographic standpoint, the area is prone to catastrophic flooding during tropical storm events, and anywhere near the coast this close to a disaster the scale of Katrina or a scare the scale of Gustav is going to take that into consideration when looking to invest. This is especially true the smaller the business (and the more at stake). While it isn't OK for a Rouses' or a national retailer to lose a location to catastrophic flooding, they can still usually take the hit; they'll continue making revenue from other, unaffected locations while they wait for the insurance company to settle. They know the insurance company isn't going to dick them around as much, because of the scale of business. This is why McDonald's, IHOP, Waffle House and car dealerships all have locations in New Orleans East - those are low risk locations for those businesses, based on scale alone.

But to a local outfit that may only have 3 or 4 locations, with almost all of their investment prone to flood threat in one way or another, that represents a killing risk. That location represents a huge percentage of their business that cannot be lost. Their small size means insurance companies are more likely to stall payments, and they likely don't have enough other locations to offset the loss. Especially local units in the New Orleans area, where - if New Orleans East floods - likely represents a major situation to all area units. Simply put, the amount of money (reward) they could make by catering to the significant NO East population does not offset the substantial risk they take by opening up a location there.

Next up, businesses have to factor in clientle demographics, and I'm not even talking about skin color. This is all about green. NO East is a drive-first, in-boundary suburb of New Orleans. The majority money-earners are expected to drive into New Orleans for work, while there will be a high number of contractors doing repair work in the area during the day. No tourist or entertainment options exist in the East, so - as with most suburban communities - people are predicted to stay home or to drive somewhere else.

Now, the entertainment/tourist option is a Catch-22 for the East while the same is a multiplier for the rest of the parish and region. Attractions like Magazine Street, Frenchman, the French Quarter, and Lakeview Mall all bleed commerce from the East, while giving little back in the way of return visitors. Also, the sheer number of out-of-town visitors bolster many of these locales while ignoring the East. Of course, this commerce ignores the East because there is not current commerce in the East. There's really very little the East can do to combat that economic reality.

The fact that it is a drive-first option also puts economic constraints on the area. Drive-first commerce begets strips and malls, snarling traffic and constantly changing. Usually, the appeal to put a business in a strip or a mall is the low cost/overhead for doing so, and the high traffic the area is expected to experience. That's why suburban economic development is in constant motion - there aren't a lot of long-term investments in a constantly changing economic structure. Drive-first also requires more monied developers to build the infrastructure with guarantees of government subsidization. This situation also works against the East right now, because what infrastructure improvement projects the city is working on are all going at once, and it is no secret (no matter what politics say) that there are higher priorities than New Orleans East.

When your area's development is effectively at the mercy of developers, city and state governments, and your area is neither a political nor economic prioritiy for the developers or the government, you're going to be waiting on them. Major developers are going to wait until the government subsidizes their major developments, and since they own the title - no one else can develop the areas zoned for major developments. Since the government refuses to declare the property "blight" or assess property values with a penalty for the plot not being in-commerce, the owners can sit and wait on their derelict land until the government money starts to flow into their pockets. Need proof? Look at the negotiation over the hospital - the other major NO East development - how has that been working out for the city and the population?

Add to that the fact that the government's main hospital priority is in Lower Mid-City, coupled with a budget crisis, and you have yourselves a problem. Really, you have yourself a literal raft of problems, all holding back your local economic development.

And this raft of problems rolls in long before the criminal, educational, racial or conspiratorial reasons for lack of economic development - though all of those play a major role in keeping things the way they are, as they keep perceptions and realities that need to change from changing.

* - Earlier, I wrote that NO East didn't have any grocery stores, but Alli says there is one, so I'll trust her on that. That's still ONE grocery store for 71,000 people. The place where I grew up had no less than three grocery stores, for only 12,000 people.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bad Situation Getting Worse

Georgia is ready to go. Louisiana's governor has asked to arm volunteer companies. That's all we need. "Volunteer" platoons of men running around Baton Rouge and New Orleans at night with guns, and secession fever on the mind. Who thinks this is a good idea?

Reasonable men I have known my whole life as conservative and humble have turned into gun-wearing, torch-waving lunatics.

A lot of folks up North seem to think this thing can be stopped. I did too, not so long ago. Some of them want to send Millard Filmore to argue for peace.

I hate to break it to y'all up in New Jersey and New York - the South isn't listening anymore. I hate to admit to myself that we haven't been listening for a long, long time.

This is how it feels, watching a nation that you loved die before your eyes, and with absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Krauthammer Gets It

With the exception of paragraph 9 (the ol' boy just couldn't let his entire op-ed be about the real world), Krauty appears as dumbfounded by the political calculus of the various reactions to the tax deal as I am.

Though, I did hear his name mentioned on Limbaugh this afternoon. I can't even describe how unhinged Rush sounded today about the tax deal and the GOP. AND YET, the focus is all on how the Democrats hate the deal because they hate America, and the GOTP folks hate it because it is secretly Stimulus II, a liberal program that the Democrats secretly want but won't vote for because they hate America. Sputter, sputter.

Radio was impossible to follow. Luckily, Krauty spells it out in words, even if he has to use a disbelieving voice that has to give respect where respect is due.

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The Tea Party According to Hitchens

Yup. There isn't a single comment I can make that would add to the value of this.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Verdict

One of the most gruesome situations in American law enforcement history is now in the case file. It isn't over, by any stretch of the imagination, as appeals are to be filed. The Danziger case still looms over the city as well.

Though, this is why we have Federal Civil Rights laws, just in case anyone needed a reminder. The state may not have been able, or willing, to take this case this far.

Looking at the whole tragic mess, there is zero good that comes out of this. At least there is some justice, deferred these many years. A man's life is over; his family was left with a desecrated body and lies about how it had occurred; three officers of the law have been convicted of unimaginable crimes; the two acquitted officers will have shadows forever following them; the officers surrounding this case will always have their own versions of the story - and you wonder how they'll be able to effectively work with each other in the future. How can you police a city if you don't trust those you work with?

All because one inexcusable and irreversible decision was made in a cloud of fear, during a time ruled by chaos and misinformation.

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Obama's Primary Challenge

Make no mistake, I think a liberal challenge to President Obama in the run up to the 2012 general Presidential election is a fantastic idea. As a matter of fact, if there is a strong enough Democratic primary challenge from Obama's left for 2012, I think it virtually guarantees a second term for the Obama Presidency. I came to this realization while speaking to former Hurricane Radio contributor SAWB last night on the phone.

As a libertarian/conservative who gets most of his information from talk radio, he's not blisteringly happy with the tax deal Obama just negotiated, as Democrats got more out of the deal than they have any rational reason to believe, but he thinks that only the liberals in the Democratic Party are angry with it enough to do anything about it. He played down the DeMint faction's lunacy on the topic (not voting for a bill where they get almost everything they want), and played up the idea that the liberal interests that "control the Democratic Party" (you know, the ones powerful enough to shoehorn the public option into health care over everyone else's objections < /sarcasm>) will challenge Obama in the 2012 primaries - and Obama will lose.

(This manufactured overestimation of the power of the ultra-left in the Democratic Party is one of the ways the GOTP has gained so much traction in the South and Midwest over the years, and is a constant theme of talk-radio. Like much of talk-radio, it has very little bearing on any existing or current political reality.)

While this narrative is being cooked up on right-wing radio (and I have grown to hope they continue), it has spread from there (as it always does) into a few on the left who are generally displeased with President Obama and who are deluded enough to see expediency in political purism. Because of this, some folks are now arguing against a Democratic primary challenge from Obama's left. While they have to say this, I surely hope someone on the far-left won't listen, and will go ahead and start their campaign yesterday.

Here's why:

1. Despite two years of the most virulent, reality-bending criticism from the right-wing, Obama's approval/disapproval among the general voting public remains roughly even. They've literally thrown everything at him, and the kitchen sink was first, setting their narratives that he is the next coming of whatever is considered the most evil character in world history that afternoon at the radio station. A challenge from the left would put Obama's pragmatic centrism on display to a greater degree than any academic comparisons can. Right-wing narrative, their greatest tool, will lose a great deal of power when compared to a reality the media will actively focus on.

2. Next: governing Obama might get a lot of things done, but he and the Democrats absolutely lose the political narrative concerning those things, and cede the terms of the debate to the right-wing. Campaigning Obama is a force of nature. As Dante has said, the GOTP wants to avoid "Campaign" Obama as long as possible. A Primary challenge from the left will get Obama in campaign mode, fighting for the center and the independents while the GOTP fights over their rabid, lunatic, War-On-Christmas-is-real believing base. The contrast to the general public will be night and day.

3. Democrats will be seen by the center and the independents as making the more mature, rational, responsible, pragmatic choice. While the best challenger would be Nancy Pelosi herself, someone close to her will suffice.

4. Finally: it will spool up and activate Democratic locals all across the land earlier, at a time when most of the GOTP assets will be in the heat of a much more fluid primary season. While the GOTP nominee will have a primary-tested campaign organization ready to go in the general, an Obama reelection campaign organization will already have the proverbial high ground.

This needs to happen.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Florida is Getting a New Coach

Urban Meyer has resigned as head coach of the University of Florida football team.

Obligatory mention of "Again."

Florida fans react.

Now that it is almost 24 hours after that announcement, it is OK to start looking at what next year's landscape might resemble after the blast.

Or, as I have come to know it, a bunch of University of Georgia fans waiting to see what next superstar coach will run the team most deeply and sorrowfully ingrained in our psyche. It is not a pleasant feeling.

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Secession Fever Throughout the South

Things are taking on a life of their own below the Mason-Dixon Line. My whole life, I can remember rumblings about how the South would be better off by going a seperate way. These were generally from the gruff old men, considered by curmudgeons mostly, or those individuals with the most at stake in the selling of human chattel. Or some politician looking to stir up some votes by appealing to emotion. Every now and then, you'd run into some shrewish woman who would demand disunion while those within earshot politely tried to change the subject or, failing that, made their excuses for the exit. For the most part, the teachers, the bankers, the businessmen, the papers - and the veterans and military men, these people never really spoke of secession in serious ways.

I'm starting to think they were all just being polite about their real opinions because I was around, changing the subject and politely making for the exits. What else am I to think now that the election of Lincoln has caused such insane ferver down South?

South Carolina and Florida look to leave any afternoon, and the fire-eaters in Charleston don't care to wait on other states to make any moves. They don't seem to care if they drag us into a shooting match.

Texas a state that cost this nation so dearly already seems poised to follow them out before the end of the month. That my beloved home state of Georgia is looking for ways to "dissolve the Union" peacefully, this tells me we're gearing up for a fight. Things aren't looking good down here in New Orleans, but all the activity and nightly meetings of this or that faction (combined with the amount of whiskey) threaten to burn the whole of the city down.

Hell, all this has caused even the Northern cities to start convening and adopting resolutions expressing their desire to remain in the Union.

How did it ever come to this?

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Unbelievable Political Calculus

Wait.

When it comes to extending the Bush subsidization of the uberwealthy, the Democrats were toast. The D position since 2006 was to try and salvage the middle class cuts, while detatching them from the uberwealthy, deficit building cuts that haven't done one thing to create jobs (as promised by Bush and the GOP).

Becasue Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid don't own calendars or listen to nationwide polling, getting a deal done on this before the election was out of the question. Then the GOP won in November, and would be routing the Dems from the House of Representatives. All the momentum was in favor of the GOP, the Dems had one choice: extend the tax percentages or raise taxes on every American. Again, toast.

Basically, the Dems now had to give the GOP what they wanted, or become politically responsible for increasing everyone's taxes. While they're often accused of raising taxes even when they don't, this time would be the real deal. (Of course, not a single elected Democratic official ever seems to realize that they'll be getting blamed for taxes whether they've raised them or not.)

Some Democrats want to fight the GOP over this no-job-creatin', deficit exploding, subsidization of the uberwealthy. They want this even now, after their inability to win an argument against fantasy-land Republicans. But President Obama steps in, chides these Democrats of his own party, and comes up with an unbelievable compromise with the GOP. They get to keep this failed tax structure, and the Democrats get a few things like unemployment extended. That's more than these Democrats reasonably had any right to expect.

Even though, by extending this tax structure, they'll still be responsible for raising taxes. Because they always are.

No one will credit Obama for negotiating this solution. To the left, this is a cave to the right. To the right, he is the same socialist, Islamic, Kenyan anti-colonialist he was before, and he's only doing this becasue he fears Boehners made of orange. Most GOTP folks know this, and were celebrating their political victory. They got the tax structure they wanted, before they even got control of Congress, and they'll take all the credit for stopping the march of communist homosexuality that all Kenyan anti-colonialists really want (according to lunatics on talk radio). The Democrats and anyone to the left of reasonable just has to sit here and take it.

But that's not how it really is going to happen.

Instead, the ultra-right-wing, despite getting everything it wants out of this legislation, ISN'T GOING TO VOTE FOR IT.

This is not some political victory that Obama orchestrated, as some might think. Without a Democratic Party effectively speaking to the people of this nation and explaining what is going on, the GOTP is free to demonize Obama without the contraints of reality, make Democrats accept and vote for demonstrably failed Republican tax structures and economic policies, AND NOT VOTE FOR THEIR OWN LEGISLATIVE POLICIES.

Meaning the "Bush Tax Cuts" are now "Obama's Failed Subsidization of the Uber Wealthy."

And if the Dems somehow come to their senses, and get enough votes against this compromise, they will be responsible for raising taxes on every American.

I'm getting awful tired of being put in lose-lose situations becasue Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid don't own calendars, and President Obama continues trying to negotiate with individuals who want nothing more than to see him destroyed.

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Special Interest Welfare (NOLA Style)

I already wrote about all those fiscal, free-market conservatives in Georgia subsidizing their economy to the tune of $10 Billion. They may want to keep government hands off of business, but they'll never keep business hands off taxpayer dollars!

And you know how I like to compare Georgia with New Orleans?

Down in the Crescent City, folks who own real estate already pay an astronomical amount of property tax to subsidize our feudal lords and ladies for nonexistent city services like streets, water, police and schools. No longer do you have to wonder where the money to the local government goes instead of those things because, in NOLA, property taxes are collected to subsidize private hotels and privately owned pay-parking lots.

Your tax dollars at "work."

Awesome.

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The World's Longest Press Release

Or maybe the world's longest op-ed. Perhaps the world's longest navel-gaze. Any way you cut it, all Newsweek did with this spread was give Michelle Rhee four pages of advertising, and exactly zero journalistic verification of her claims. There are so many flaws and contradictions in what she wrote that I can barely begin to discuss them.

I'll just let you read the article yourselves. Don't worry if you feel sorry for her, or excited about educational reform when you're done reading. Through all my pop-culture conditioning, even I was relating to her at some points. Some. Before I got too far into that, I realized I have a well-developed suspension of disbelief that comes from a life of reading science fiction and horror novels. That was the part of me that was relating to Rhee - the part of my brain that can sketch dragons and unicorns and read zombie fiction all night.

Meanwhile, the reality-recognizing parts of my brain, the part that went through a year of "education reform" in the Recovery School District in New Orleans and the accreditation fight back in Glynn County, Georgia, that part of my brain saw thiw for what it was.

Four pages of fluffy, self-aggrandizing nonsense.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Kneejerkin'

The Wikileaks thing could be the end of the internet as we know it. We've now moved from kneejerk reactions by the right wing reality show and pundit circuit to sitting Senators talking about investigating American media for treason.

Remember, folks, these are the people who campaign against President Obama by calling him a Constitution-shredding tyrant.

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The Grand Army of Huntin' Season

Bush lied to me, they all lied to me: "We gotta go to Iraq because they're the most dangerous country on Earth. They're the most dangerous regime in the world." If they're so dangerous, how come it only took two weeks to take over the whole f****** country? S***. Man, you couldn't take over Baltimore in two weeks. - Chris Rock


While a bit oversimplified, here is a good look at why conquering the United States would be difficult. Chris Rock ain't wrong.

I wish [Machiavelli] was around today, if only to hear the praise he would have for a nation that every year assembles and then disbands the world’s largest army purely for the purpose of managing its deer population.


(HT: Daily Dish.)

Let me say first, that as a civil libertarian, I think one of the greatest guarantees of personal liberty is enshrined in the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution.

While the 600,000 armed individuals running around the Minnesota woodlands might not constitute a ready-and-willing Second Grand Army of the Republic in tactics, the sheer number is overwhelming. This is almost three times the number of Union and Confederate combatants at Gettysburg. As a matter of fact, if these numbers are true (and I have no doubt they are) than Michigan and Pennsylvania both had more armed individuals running around the woods this deer season than were combat deaths in the entire Civil War, to date this nation's bloodiest struggle.

But I make the Civil War comparisons for a reason. Though the author examines the difference in centralized force of arms vs. decentralization, this view should not be romanticized. Look through the comments section for some good points. To which I supplement the following:

We have an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to keep an invading horde from even reaching American shores, or bottle them up and annihilate them at whatever beachhead they are lucky enough to grab onto. Because of this, the United States will likely never have to face an external threat of invasion, but it is nice to know that, should that eventuality ever happen, our invaders are going to need the proverbial "bigger boat." There are a lot of us here in the USA. There are a lot of us who own guns. There are a lot of us who know how to use those guns.

Decentralized militia do make it very difficult to take and to hold territory by conquering. One commenter is exactly right - this is the exact kind of enemy we are facing in Afganistan, Iraq, and in Vietnam a generation ago.

Even with those numbers emerging from the woods of Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia and Minnesota, the casualties on our side would be catastrophic. This is always the case when a more numerous, decentralized and lightly trained home guard faces off against whatever invaders could have come that far.

One commenter mentions that this is why the South thought they would be able to resist Union invasion during the Civil War. Before I get to the larger perspective, let me address the history. The South didn't have anywhere near these kind of numbers in the first place, while the North did. The South lasted as long as it did because of A) some brilliant tactical generalship, and B) because the Union didn't really get its numbers together with a strategy until almost 1864. Once that happened, it only depended on how fast Grant and Sherman wanted to lose men while winning battles.

Even then, the Union did not have the will to use that force of numbers and hold the South. This is why Reconstruction ended in 1877, and the South had to be effectively re-conquered in the 1960's.

And that's the larger point: there is no external threat of invasion to the United States of America. Our greatest threat to national destruction has always been and will always be ourselves. I don't worry that those 600K, 700K, or 750K deer hunters will be called up as volunteer militia against the screaming Canadian cavalry or airlifted Chinese tanks. I do worry that those hundreds of thousands of American guns will be turned on hundreds of thousands of other Americans with guns.

That is something we have seen before.

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The Real Constitutional Threat

Is the so-called "Repeal Amendment." Sounds like another round of nullification to me. If you like the 1st, 4th, 5th, 14th, amendments; if you like Civil Rights; if you like women's suffrage and a bunch of things like that, the Repeal Amendment isn't for you.

But civil libertarians and the American left will be content to sit around, drinking their high-gravity beer or soy-milk lattes, not talking about this while thinking "oh, the GOTP will never be able to pull that off. Someone is sure to stop them."

First they came for your pragmatic, centrist President's birth certificate...

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Special Interest Welfare

Oh, the glories of our free-market economy, where all businesses are free to compete for subsidization and shift the tax burden onto others.

I guess we'll know very soon if all the "fiscal conservatives" who run every state office in Georgia know what that term actually means. Because I'm fairly certain that the food stamps Newt Gingrich loves to hate don't cost his home state $10 billion annually.

I've never actually seen a "welfare queen driving a Cadillac" with my own eyes. Maybe I'm just not hanging out in the same places where the talk-radio guys get their intel. But I have seen more than a fair share of our Subsidy Aristocracy and their many luxury vehicles, and homes, and boats, and club memberships, and fancy vacations, and second homes, and....well, you get the idea.

But pretending American feudalism is the other way around sure keeps winnin' them elections! Why question what's working, after all?

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Speech Vs. Publicity

George Will follows the right wing of the cliff like a lemming in this howler of an article confusing the definition of free speech, and supporting the Supreme Court-backed march towards the feudalization of the United States.

Yup, I'm talking about campagin financing. While this time, his focus is on the Arizona state method of allowing candidates to voluntarily limit their contribution ceiling and campaign dollars by applying for public campaign funding.

Will uses the rhetorical device of false equivalency: because public funding of a campaign will increase the amount of money to a candidate based on the amount of money private funding candidates spend against them, Will claims that somehow "limits" someone's free speech in some way. Speaking of the 9th Circuit, who upheld Arizona's law, Will says

It upheld this abominable law that is obviously designed to coerce candidates into limiting their political speech by making the exercise of their First Amendment rights trigger government spending on behalf of their opponents.


Sorry, that's not true. No one is limiting what a privately funded candidate or polictical group can say, or how they can say it or how much money they can raise to say it (all different things, in descending order of civil-liberty-related importance). All this law does is allow for a publicly funded candidate to respond without going bankrupt; and I do not believe they recieve dollar-for-dollar matching funds, or funds in triplicate, as Will attempts to suggest. But they do get to tell the voters that they aren't raising money from interest groups, and are instead accepting limits on their own funding.

It isn't their fault that American voters tend to distrust those candidates who spend all their time hobnobbing with the richest and most well-connected contributors and then writing legislation or contracts that benefit those contributors. (Why would people equate smoke with fire, anyway?)

The other thing this law does is make campaigning accessible to more individuals, not just rich or well connected individuals, by removing the artificial but real limits on free political speech built into a system where running for office costs as much as it does. Those real limitations are, noticably, ignored by Will in this article.

Finally, no one's free political speech is limited by any campaign finance law, despite how many well-financed right-wing pundits continue to say it is. Limiting money to a candidate does not silence speech - they still have the right to say whatever they like, with only the other candidates, the media and the education of the voters to determine if what they say is true. All that campaign-finance rules affect is how the candidate publicizes their free speech.

There's a big difference between the two.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Zombie Popularity

Professor Kat isn't content to just watch zombie TV, no. She breaks down the cultural appeal from an academic standpoint.

When I was growing up, a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction had to do with what happened when the governments of the world finally nuked each other. Mad Max, War Games, Terminator, Red Dawn.

Fast forward to today. Anybody notice that post-apocalyptic fiction post-Cold War has a lot to do with the failure of systems to contain crises? From zombie fiction like World War Z and the Walking Dead, to macabe fiction like The Road, even to the entire Harry Potter series - disaster is coming and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

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Palestine Recognized

I'm not sure what the exact ramifications of this will be, but official recognition by a major emerging international player is nothing to sneeze at.

And specifically stating the 1967 borders is also a big deal, at least symbolically.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

A City With a Soundtrack

One of the editing elements hailed as a good move by the editors of last spring's Treme HBO miniseries was that the soundtrack cut through different scenes - the characters, in different places doing different things, could often be found listening to the same song on the same radio station.

Not a lot of people believe this could be true, but it is in New Orleans. I listen to WWOZ all day at work. My home radio is tuned to 90.5 FM. It is usually the station I listen to first and last in my truck on my way around town.

And there's the rub. I can't tell you how many times I've turned off the car radio and walked into a friend's house, or a store, or a restaurant, to hear the same music playing on the same radio station. Or sitting on my porch listening to the OZ from inside my own house and from a neighbor's window.

Thing is - it happens so often, I barely notice anymore, I just accept that music lives in the air around here. WWOZ is one of the reasons that happens.

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Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead

While I think the burden of proof needs to be very high, and the system that gets us there must be beyond reproach, I still believe in the death penalty. And I wish I didn't have to point out examples like this one to explain why I think so.

There should be a limit to how much damage one person can do during their lifetime. Once that limit is exceeded, there is no reason to allow them any more trips around the sun. And I'm not sorry for thinking so.

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Exceptional Work

Sometimes, you run across a post that basically sums up your feelings on a subject. This is one of those times.

See, the cost of being exceptionally awesome is that you have some exceptional bills to pay.


Extension of all the Bush tax cuts will amount to a government subsidization of the uber-wealthy financed by more debt. The proof is in the pudding: these tax cuts have existed for a long time. They have dominated our economy since their passage.

How's that working out for us so far?

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Quick Saints Quote

The Black & Gold show up as #5 on Don Bank's NFL Power Rankings for Sports Illustrated, but here's the rub:

Tell me again how much the Saints offense missed Reggie Bush, who returned to the lineup last week in Dallas after missing eight games with a fractured fibula. He never really got a handle on the ball all day against the Cowboys, and nearly gave the game away. He's known for instant impact, but none of it was of the positive variety in his long-awaited return. If and when I figure out my all-overrated team, Bush will be my starting running back.


I should mention that every time I watch a Saints game on the TV's at Carrollton Station, there is undoubtedly someone in the crowd yelling "RUN FORWARD" every time Reggie gets the ball. Now, I know that haters are gonna hate, but it will take a long, sustained level of football excellence (that we suspect he's capable of) to overcome Bush's disappointing NFL career so far. But, how long will it be before defenses stop biting on the fact that Bush is in the game, if they haven't already? If you ask me, that's the primary benefit of him being on the field.

Also an interesting tidbit - New Orleans and Atlanta are tied for winningest NFC teams over the last 46 regular season games. Though earlier this year I noticed that, since 2006, the Dirty Birds have gone 2 - 7 against the Bless You Boys, with only one win (earlier this year) coming in the Louisiana Superdome. We'll see how the record shakes out this season, as these rivals have a chance to meet up two more times.

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Without Skipping a Beat

Hey, look: folks on the right wing are demanding a knee-jerk reactionary expansion of the US Security state through increasing the powers of an imperial presidency. That's a bold move by a group of folks who got elected based on posters casting the President as a tyrant. I guess they would love it if the TSA touched Julian Assange's junk, but it would be Big Intrusion if the TSA went after theirs.

Hell, they aren't even sworn in as running the Congress yet, and they're right back where they left off. The howler of it all? They're saying that the left has been disingenuous in failing to criticize Obama's security state. The same security state they constructed, expanded, and now demonstrate intentions of furthering still.

(Related)

And for you Sarah Palin fans out there, not only did she misunderestimate the way we define "treason" back here in Reality, she is supporting the expansion of executive power in the interest of "neutralizing" a website.

Look, I'm not a big fan of these document dumps, but let us not overstate the damage here. The executive branch can take plenty of steps to prevent leaks of this size, mainly by maintaining their chain of command in-house. The last thing we need is a further expansion of executive power to act as judge, jury, torturer and executioner in the name of keeping state secrets under wraps. That's old school Eastern Bloc authoritarian mentality if I've ever seen it.

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That Other Case

Just in case you were too busy paying attention to the NOPD officers on trial in the Henry Glover incident, the Danziger Bridge case shows up in the news again.

Because that one hasn't been resolved yet, either.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Blight, Rich Property Owners & Race

Blight usually has more to do with rich, well-connected property owners than it does with lower class folks - even as blight is traditionally associated with depressed neighborhoods and at-risk populations. It also has a lot to do with code enforcement, zoning laws, and property tax assessment methods. This can happen anywhere, cities like New Orleans have to look for solutions the same way they have to figure it out in Athens and Lexington, Georgia.

Let's put it this way, if a lot of people I know refused to keep up their properties or let them fall into disrepair (or even just repaired them in the wrong way), they'd get a visit from county code enforcement. Neighbors would complain. Fines could be assessed. Something would be done. I know this, because it has already happened to friends of mine who have attempted to make modest renovations to their homes without the proper permits. Try it sometime, if you own property in a relatively well-off, middle class area and want nothing more than a visit from the county authorities.

Meanwhile, in other parts of town, derelict buildings owned by absentee landlords remain out of commerce and nothing gets done. Boarded up windows and doors get town down by the elements or people who want access to an abandoned building. Rodents move in. Crime usually follows. Many of these properties are in depressed neighborhoods with at-risk populations. Neighbors may complain (if they know where to direct their call), but nothing ever seems to get done. Building conditions get blamed on the local population - but at-risk populations don't usually own those buildings!

As a matter of fact, keeping those buildings in derelict or blighted states of disrepair actively contribute to neighborhoods remaining depressed, at-risk populations remaining at-risk, and depreciation of surrounding property values. After all, why spend money to increase the property value and therefore increase your property tax liability when you can just let the building deteriorate and decrease both? Our system as currently maintained incentivizes blight.

Also, property values affect the property tax structure that is used to pay for the derelict schools in depressed neighborhoods with at-risk populations. That's a nice, tidy way to continue the cycle of poverty, especially in the South, and placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the at-risk populations themselves.

For example, New Orleans has a ridiculous blight problem. It also has a ridiculously high property tax, and a byzantine property tax structure. The folks who own maintained properties must subsidize the entire local system because there are a lot of folks who own derelict properties that drain the system.

There are two excuses for such draning behavior, one based on liberty and one based on racism. Both must be addressed calmly and logically if we are to build the political will necessary to rebuid our cities, especially in the South.

One: "you can't tell me what to do with my property." This is usually employed by the rich or well-connected property owner who owns blighted or derelict property. Spending money to keep the building up will increase property values and probably property taxes. There is no incentive to keep up the property, and there is no incentive to sell the property (if it may be worth something someday). So it just keeps mouldering where it is, dragging the neighborhood and community around it down with it.

I can empathize with a property owner's rights to their own property, but not at the expense of surrounding neighborhoods and communities, and not while being subsidized by my tax dollars. Yes, there is a fine line that exists here between individual rights and government intrusion, but let us not pretend it can't be walked, especially with dynamic and responsive local involvement. Right now, some wealthy property owners are hiding behind this slippery slope and the rest of us are paying for it.

Two: "Racism." A more complicated excuse, this is broken into two sections. The first is akin to enemies using human sheilds during times of war, the second is based on reasonable historical mistrust taken to extremes.

2A: A rich, well-connected property owner (of any race, and this includes government agencies) rents to low-income or Section 8 tenants and allows the properties to deteriorate. The Housing authorities do not enforce code on these properties because of a lack of resources or interest. The result allows low-income or Section 8 tenants to live in squalor, while the owner collects a government check. Populist critics blame the property's state of disrepair on the residents, even though the owner of the property and the local government AND the state or federal housing authority should be ensuring compliance and basic standards of living.

Because many urban, low-income or Section 8 tenants, especially in New Orleans and across the South, are inhabited by at-risk minorities, addressing these living conditions can be demagouged as racist policy by those who don't want the situation to change. Requiring property owners to maintain their property may cause those property owners to sell those properties or stop renting to low-income or Section 8 tenants, usually resulting in such tenants having to leave thier places of residnece. History being what it is, this can be construed as racist policy even if enforcing code and basic building standards will benefit the at-risk residents of low-income housing or Section 8, AND the neighborhoods and communities in which they live which may be neither at-risk, nor low-income, nor Section 8.

2B: Unclear title to property. References to racism in these instances reflect the historical race-based rules regarding property ownership, and the distrust reasonably formed during that time. For those of you who do not think the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow lives with us even today, here is one of the prime examples.

This is where the next generation of a family has inherited a property owned by a progenitor, but there is no clarity regarding who can make decisions for this property. With no clear title, local code enforcement agencies are unable (or unwilling) to contact the proper individuals to remedy deterioration to a property.

Again, race relations historically have weakened minority property ownership rights, and this kind of situation is ripe for racially motivated advantage-taking. History is filled with examples of a family losing land because "the county" contacted some distant cousin and they sold the property to some wealthy developer for a song. (Who then treats the property as described above...)

However, the local governments can do a lot in locating owners and assisting them through the process of property remediation, especially in this day and age. Fair and just codes can be written and enforced that will allow for due process and remediation, but local politics all across the South have been demagouged to a standstill on issues such as these. Either the county interests refuse to recognize the legacy of Jim Crow as it relates to such proceedings, and get shut down; or property interests refuse to recognize the need for such proceedings, and imply that reasonable codes are a return to Jim Crow.

That has to stop - just as it is racist policy to seize property without due process-based legal contact or compensation, it is racist policy to allow the situation to go unaddressed for so long it begins to affect the surrounding neighborhoods and communities in adverse ways, and this is exactly what has happened all over the South.

Finally, the first item is more easily remedied than the second, from simply a due process standpoint. When ownership of blight or derelict property is well established, and the owner simply ignores the problem (as appears to be the case in Athens and Lexington) the solution presents itself - go after the wealthy property owners who let their property deteriorate. Incentivize selling this property or keeping it in commerce. Remove the systematic incenctives to let the property's value depress. Enforce reasonble code with due process, and appraise property value realistically.

In the second instance, the system will take longer, be more difficult and more emotional (as we're starting to do this in New Orleans), but it must be done sooner rather than later. Cities must have a hand in reviving their more vital neighborhoods.

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