What do we do with a flood protection bowl with a big ole hole?
Voters in St. Bernard decided they don't want to pay for flood protection. It's a vote that threatens New Orleans and Jefferson residents, because our $14 billion dollars' worth of flood walls are not complete without the St. Bernard link, which makes us susceptible to flooding again. Shouldn't that worry us? And what do we do now?
As always, I turn to the experts. Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority President Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali joined me in "The Think Tank" this morning.
This seems like a real problem, is it? "Yeah, it's a serious problem! I'm disappointed they didn't pass the tax. It's probably our fault, we probably didn't do as good of a job of explaining why it has to be done. We can improve on that. We're not in desparate straits yet but we're in very serious trouble," Steve warned.
When I think of the $14 billion flood protection system I think of a big wall surrounding us - if St. Bernard doesn't pay for their part of the wall, doesn't it create a hole? "No one is an island - St. Bernard is on the cutting edge of flood protection for the metro area, there's no doubt about that. We have an issue coming up right now where we're going to have to do some repairs to an interior levee in St Bernard 8 miles from New Orleans, but those repairs will directly impact flood protection for about 2.5 square miles of urban land in Orleans Parish. The way floods occur have no respect for political boundaries, and so we're struggling right now to figure out a way to pay for about $4 million of repair to a levee in a parish that doesn't have $4 million to spend on it," he continued.
So regardless of how good the rest of the flood protection system is, it's only as good as it's weakest link, right? Isn't that St. Bernard now? "That's not St. Bernard now, but if we don't provide the maintainance and improvements that are necessary in the Lake Borgne Levee District, St. Bernard will very rapidly become the weakest link, and then we're all vulnerable."
Click the link below to hear the rest of my interview with Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali.
Was justice done in Ferguson? Everyone has an opinion on it, but the fact is, the system of using a grand jury to decide whether or not to bring charges is not a popular system - so much so that half the states in the US don't use them at all.
In the reading I've done about grand juries, I've discovered that our founding fathers believed that grand juries should be used to block the government from bringing wildly unpopular prosecutions. I read in Bloomberg that because the grand jury hears only what prosecutors want it to hear, it no longer functions as a meaningful check on their authority. Prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if they want to.
I could read all day but I wanted to talk to an expert, so I called Harry Rosenberg, a former US Attorney. I asked him to explain why we have grand juries at all, and why we don't just prosecute!
"Grand juries are often perceived as a rubber stamp for the district attorney or Federal prosecutors. What's helpful is to understand the purpose of a grand jury is not to serve as a trial jury, but to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal charge," he started.
But that's where I get confused - if the prosecutor is going to tell them there IS enough for a charge and they go along the prosecutor, then I don't understand the need for a jury!
"While it is an abberation for the grand jury not to side with the prosecutor, there have been recent instances in Louisiana where matters have been presented to a grand jury, and they've either decided not to pursue further action or to come forward with no true bill. In the Merritt Landry case earlier this year, the grand jury went from hearing some of the evidence you'd think would lead to indictment to saying 'we're not going to take any action.' So there is somewhat of a check and balance to the system."
So what are we to understand about the decision not to bring any charges in Ferguson? "McCullough could have gone forward and charged Darren Wilson without using a grand jury at all. Whether he used the grand jury to be transparent, as he professed, or whether it was to help him use the grand jury as buffer for whatever action they may take, it's hard to actually know where the truth lies. But he chose to skip his entire discretionary process and use the grand jury to decide whether to come forward with a charge or not."
"What happened in Ferguson is an abberation on multiple levels... you have the district attorney giving the jurors, over four months, almost 70 witnesses, hours of testimony and reports, a considerable number of documents. The norm is to provide the jurors with a couple of hours or at most a couple of days of summary testimony by a law enforcement officer, and then they decide if there is probable cause or enough evidence to charge. Here, they acted almost as a trial jury rather than a grand jury."
Click the link below to listen to the whole interview, it's fascinating stuff.
I never did want to learn about politics. This job forced me to. If you run a “think tank” you learn that people really like to think about politics. I find this “poly-tics” a strange thing. Poly means multiple and tics mean blood suckers, but voters seem not to notice or care. They just love to debate a subject that needs no debate. No part of the debate will ever change their dogma. No part of the debate will ever prove them wrong.
But here are some of the things I think I’ve learned. Notice I say “I think,” because in a think tank you never know…you are constantly looking for truth to overturn your theory. If you’re not, you’re not really thinking. You’re just reciting what you think you already know.
1. Whatever you want proved I can find the expert to do just that. If it’s political, I simply call think tanks. Think tanks are all conservative or liberal. For those that call themselves “non-partisan” either a conservative or liberal will tell you they’re lying. If it’s the economy, I can get you the liberal economist who will tell you Obama is doing just fine. If you want “Obama the devil,” I’ll get you a conservative economist. Who knew “the numbers guys” were more swayed by dogma than numbers!
2. We all say we are really, really, angry at those darn politicians, especially those in Washington. But then we always vote for those we supposedly hate, over and over and over again. The same goes for attacks ads that we hate and then believe, if it’s our belief being read back to us.
3. We’re told gridlock is bad and nothing can or will get done. But, put me in front of any politician right now and I guarantee they will rattle off a list a mile long what they’ve accomplished. But oftentimes that list is followed by a caveat that sounds like this, “if the Democrats/Republicans/Obama hadn’t stopped me.”
4. I can even get you historians who say our founding fathers pre-programmed gridlock into the Constitution (especially James Madison), because it’s a good thing! I can even find you experts who proclaim all this political sound and fury signifies nothing, because it’s always been this way throughout history.
5. So this is my think tank education, so far. Independents, go ahead and vote. We should vote. Men and women died to give us that opportunity. But, don’t lean too much on a belief that you’re making much of a difference. Democrats and Republicans will worship at the altar of dogma regardless of whether truth be found. We are assured this is the best system in the world. Even though (to me) that seems like having the least cancer in the cancer ward, but I must say it is still a reliable way of being told we’re not going to change the process.
So what to do? Let’s leave the fear and loathing to the media. Let’s leave the “I’m right” and “you’re wrong” to the liberals and conservatives, and let’s find a way to laugh. Life is short and “politics” won’t affect much as long as they keep doing nothing. Let’s learn from Twain and Carlin.
Mark Twain: “In politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, who opinions about them were not worth a penny.”
George Carlin: “This country was founded by a group of slave owners who wanted to be free! So they killed a lot of white folks in order to continue owning the black folks, so they could wipe out the red folks, in order to move west and take land from brown folks, which eventually gave us the wealth and technology to kill yellow folks. Which means the motto of our country should be…“You give us a color and we’ll wipe it out.”
But a word of caution for Mark and George followers: when humor does not join a herd, the “dogma people” can get very angry. This, so far, I have learned from thinking.
Former basketball great Charles Barkley says brainwashed members of the black community are holding the black community back. Because to be accepted you gotta go to jail, you gotta be the right color black and you can’t speak too intelligently.
It all started with a report that some of the Seattle Seahawks rank-and-file players think that their QB Russell Wilson isn't black enough - it is an issue that has extended into African-American society in general, though it has gotten better recently.
Some Seahawk players fought back, saying that the report was false, and Wilson himself said he had no idea what that would even mean, that he's just a well-educated and well-spoken man and that has nothing to do with how black he is.
Barkley went on WIPE Radio in Philadelphia and said "When you're black, you have to deal with so much crap from other black people... young black kids that do well in school, the loser kids tell them, 'oh you're acting white, you speak intelligently, youre talking white.' It's a dirty dark secret in the black community, one of the reasons we're never going to be successful as a whole... because of other black people."
You can listen to Barkley's full comments here:
I've always been reluctant to do shows that polarize people on a racial basis but I think this one affects everybody.
I asked Captain Black aka Nadra Enzi to come on and help me understand this - he's an anti-crime activist and a frequent guest on the show.
"Let's be honest. Black people have been defined by everybody else but themselves for so long that now we are seeing a legitimate argument between the kind of culture that produces a Dr King or a Malcolm X and the kind of culture that produces people like we see on WorldStarHipHop or end up on the 6 o clock news."
"At the end of the day, its our children, its our neighborhoods, its our very quality of life that's being obliterated. And not by the tea party, not by the GOP, but by a subculture in our own ranks and I don't think it's out of bounds to talk about it. The lives we save by having that conversation may be our own!"
We took calls from folks all over the city who had their own opinions about it and I think it was a fruitful discussion. Click the link below to listen to the whole episode.
Do you welcome or worry about technology that can control our brains and bodies? It sounds strange but people are being turned into partial cyborgs for really good reasons like health issues, missing limbs, corrective vision and more.
Scientists are now implanting technology in our bodies and brain. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes... some folks now have electronic limbs, others brain chips that reduce paralysis. Is this the future? And how far can we let technology go when it comes to body and brain control?
As I always do when I have these kinds of questions, I invited an expert into the Think Tank to explain in layman's terms just what the possibilites and pitfalls of augmenting our bodies with computers are.
Dave Snyder is a contributing editor of The Futurist magazine and a self-described "evangelist for the future." He knows a lot about the things coming down to us. So what's his take on these new developments? Is it hocus pocus or is it a building movement?
"It's an absolute building movement, it's where the technology is taking us! The next three or four or five years, all this medical tech will be so miniaturized, you won't even be able to recognize people who are wearing it. Just yesterday, two Polish scientists accounced that a man who had his spinal cord severed in an accident was able to walk. That's never been done before but they have achieved this just yesterday. There is a very solid wave over the next five to ten years of innovations like this all over."
But then this morning I see that US stock futures are up above 16,000 and that we are now supposed to shrug off Wall Street worries. Confused? Me too, so I asked Dr. Rajesh Narayan, an international banking expert and Cameron Professor of Finance at LSU to come in to the Think Tank and help clear some of this up.
"The world is not going to end tomorrow, but I think we are in a holding pattern and these are the symptoms of coming out of that pattern. You're seeing high levels of volatility and what the media often refers to are these tantrums in the stock market or bond market, reactions to what the Fed says about it's monetary policies. The markets are desparate for signs of growth and they're finding that difficult to come by."
The American economy is doing better than most, so why is our federal reserve concerned about problems in Europe?
"Not much is happening by way of growth in Europe. There's political change in France and Italy. Germany is on the verge of a recession. Spain has unemployment rates in the double digits. These big economies in Europe are not showing the signs of growth we'd like to see five or six years after the crisis, and that depresses global demand considerably."
Dr. Narayan helped me conclude that things are probably going to be okay. Click the link below to listen to our full conversation:
Are fears about the Ebola virus becoming a worldwide pandemic warranted or not?
After today's news that Thomas Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US died in the Dallas hospital where he was being kept, do you trust that our healthcare system can prevent it from spreading across America?
From the beginning of the Ebola outbreak we were told not to worry about it here in America. Our healthcare infrastructure would stop any spread of the virus. Now headlines warn --stop Ebola before it turns in a Pandemic (as in a disease that spreads all over the world)! This leads to the old question: who do you trust?
A Spanish nurse who treated two missionaries with the disease has now come down with Ebola too - and authorities in Europe want to make sure her dog doesn't have it!
I've tried to avoid talking about Ebola on "The Think Tank" so far because it seemed to me like maybe it was too much hype - but now I gotta wonder. To better understand it, I invted Dr. Scott Gottleib from the American Enterprise Institute and Dr. Fred Lopez from the LSU Health Sciences Center to come on and explain it to me. Even with these experts telling me what they know, I'm still a little confused.
Take a listen to our conversation by clicking the link below:
The simple answer might be no. A new study from Tulane University says many in unprotected areas will be forced from their homes, and that parish and state leaders don't have any idea how or where to relocate them.
I started talking about this in 1970 and ended up doing 16 documentaries about wetlands loss all over the world. In the last 9 or 10 years here we've talked about it much more, but one thing nobody will ever say on the record is that some towns, some communities in southeast Louisiana will have to be abandoned, but of course, politically, you can't say that.
The study is an overview of what happens when towns need to move, what powers the goverment can use to move communities, and a view of who is in harm's way right here in our own backyard.
So are Louisiana residents outside our levee system tragically out of luck? "If you are in these communities and you are in harm's way, you need to be thinking about this. A lot of people don't want to talk about it, don't want to think about moving, about retreating, but we are losing this battle. You've got to have a Plan B," said Christopher Dalbom, Program Manager of the Institute of Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane.
The study also found that moving communties and relocating residents is not easy to do; when it has been attempted, it has not always had happy outcomes and it can be very expensive. Senior Research Fellow Mark David says "If we want that to be a part of what we want to do, we need to think about that now, and not later, when the need to move becomes more imminent. The other lesson is that if you don't want to face relocation, you can at least improve your options now by elevating your homes and making smarter construction decisions. That can put us more back in the driver's seat."
"If you're 75 and living in southern Terrbonne Parish, maybe you won't see your town go underwater. But if you're 15, there's a pretty good chance that you will."
This coversation is mega-important for us to have, and have now. Not tomorrow. Click the link below to listen to the whole conversation.
Why are women who are raped and sexually assaulted receiving huge hospital bills for medical treatment they received after the crime?
It may be hard to believe, but it seems to be true. Our esteemed state leaders have been sending hospital bills to make rape & sexual assault victims pay for being victims. From a father's view, when I hear this, I am horrified.
Who would not see that this is beyond wrong? Why are we essentially financially raping women who’ve been raped?
To better understand this, I invited Mary Clare Landrieu, Executive Director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center and State Representative Helena Moreno on to explain exactly why this is happening. Am I reading this right?
"Yes, unfortunately.. with some of the changes that have occured in Louisiana with the privatization of public hospitals, expenses that were borne by the state were absorbed, and now with some of the private hospitals taking over, what we're seeing is adult sexual assault victims are beginning to receive bills for some of those services. The actual forensic exams and rape kits are still being covered by the hospitals, but it's some of the ancillary test results and HIV testing and medications that they may have to receive that now are emergency room charges."
So this is a new problem?
"It's been in the last year... some of the billing procedures and policies are more related to some of the private hospitals. There is definitely Federal legislation that says medical care related to forensic sexual assault should be covered by the state, but we think at all the care should be included in this and that rape victims should not be experiencing those costs."
This is just totally unbelievable. To all you fathers out there, save your money. Make sure you have $4,000 ready in case your daughter gets raped.
To hear the full conversation, click the link below.
Should the Ebola virus be a major concern to America and us Americans?
What about the CDC's initial concerns over critically ill crew members on a ship headed to New Orleans? The Marine Phoenix spent a short time in Panama and the Democratic Republic of Congo before docking in Belle Chasse for inspection. Medical experts said there were concerns about possible symptoms of malaria; and caution about Ebola. We know now that the risk of a widespread malaria outbreak is very low. That's a relief, but is anyone else confused?
So first, we're told Ebola could be contained in Africa. Then we were assured Ebola poses no threat to America. But we're told also being told that Ebola is a warning for an unprepared America. What or who should we believe?
This morning we started "The Think Tank" with two enlightening interviews. We were joined by Dr. Scott Gottleib, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Dr. Fred Lopez, an infectious diseases expert from the LSU Health Sciences Center. Click the link below to listen to our conversations. And don't forget to think about it!