Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cappuccino and Louisiana Political Scandals

The Hollywood Family morning ritual involves two crucial elements - cappuccino and the Times-Picayune.

While I'm preparing the frothy hi-caf nectar of the friars (cappuccino takes its name from its color, which approximates the robes of the Franciscan Cappuchin monks), Mrs. Hollywood is scanning the newspaper for the latest reactions to the latest political scandals.

We are seldom "disappointed."

Most big city newspapers are dull, owned by the same dull conglomerates, clones of each other, politically predictable, and devoid of anything interesting. I lived in Philadelphia, where the Inquirer was known as the Stink-quirer or the Ink-waste. In Atlanta, we all detested (and consequently ignored) the Journal-Constitution (a.k.a. the Urinal-Constipation), a page of which is depicted in the official portrait of the late Gov. Lester Maddox hanging in the state capitol wrapped around a dead fish. The Columbia (SC) State was more along the lines of Pravda (I used to call it the Statist). But the New Orleans Times-Picayune is different.

The writers are clever, the journalists are hard-hitting, even the political cartoons and letters to the editor are edgy. And, given our outrageous political climate, they never run out of scandals to cover. They are so numerous that the newspaper actually addresses them with satire and humor.

And there is one saving grace about political corruption in Louisiana - it is bipartisan.

We have a Republican "family values" U.S. Senator (David Vitter) who, shall we say, enjoys the "New Orleans Ladies" (ahem). The kind that are available for lease, the expensive ones that the Crescent City was known for decades ago, and still seem to exist for politicians. In spite of this, the Senator still soldiers on fighting for good conservative values. In fact, I believe he recently co-sponsored a bill with Senator Craig of "wide stance" fame. Grand Old Party. Or is that Par-TAY!

We also have a Democrat "fight for the poor" U.S. Representative ("Dollar" Bill Jefferson), who decided to help himself to some of that money supposed to help the poor. Investigators found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He assures us that there is an explanation. It's been months and months, and we're still waiting. Several members of his family have been indicted for fraud and dipping into the public trough, with one having copped a plea and turn witness against the rest of the family. Of course, the Congressman is standing for re-election. That's the beauty of the Democrats - they'll let you run for re-election from prison. Equal opportunity and all that.

In recent months, we've had a local mayor, Eddie Price, smashed out of his gourd, plow his city truck through a toll booth, ignore efforts to pull over, and when he finally did, the police didn't give him a field sobriety test or even file a report. After the media exposed this matter, he finally got a ticket. A ticket. Wow.

We recently had a New Orleans cop leading other police on a high-speed chase through the city, after which he struck another policeman. He said he was justified because he was "running late for work." Shortly thereafter, another NOPD officer, frustrated at having to wait in a carpool line, decided to wave her gun, curse, and threaten parents picking up their kids from a community center - all in front of frightened children. One of her superiors told her within hearing of the public that she should have shot the man who calmed her down and talked her into holstering her pistol. In the midst of these scandals, a 35 year veteran with a spotless record decided to wear the old uniform shirt as a tribute to his fallen comrades on his last day at work, and was investigated, and retired under a cloud that revoked his commission - until the Times-Picayune broke the story and the egg-faced police chief repented of digging in and defending the stupid move, and finally "fixed the glitch."

Never a dull moment!

This morning's installment saw State Senator Derrick Shepherd (D-Marrero) spending the night in custody in a halfway house. Shepherd, who is already being charged under Federal law for swindling thousands of dollars from the people of Louisiana (along the lines of Bill Jefferson), perhaps to appeal to a sense of inclusiveness and non-partisan corruption, was arrested after his ex-girlfriend charged him with breaking into her home, beating her up, and stealing her Blackberry and a hundred bucks. When the police came, the Senator was at home receiving a lap dance - perhaps purchased with the aforementioned c-note. However, the ex-girlfriend (who herself holds a political job, transportation coordinator for the New Orleans Recovery School District - scary!) has now changed her story, and claims that she and the Senator are still lovers (maybe the lap dancer was a gift?). They were just having a tiff, and so she decided to file a false police report - which she has now revoked.

Lucky for the Senator she changed her mind. He almost had his bond revoked in the Federal case - which would have placed him in the pokey until his trial begins in October. Oh my goodness, what a soap opera!

So, with the latest round of "entertainment" we not only have good old fashioned Democrat malfeasance, but the Republican bump and grind to boot. I guess Senator Shepherd, known for his pro-life (not "wide") stance, is, shall we say, "reaching across the aisle."

But the good news is that we have journalists that will not only tackle such issues, but will do so with a rapier wit. Enter Jarvis DeBerry. He is on the Times-Picayune editorial staff (and we suspect he writes many of the editorial positions - his crisp writing is pretty easy to spot), and he can actually make his readers laugh out loud. In Louisiana, we have so much political corruption, that sometimes there is nothing to do but laugh. The great thing is that when the whole city is laughing, but angry just the same, things actually get fixed. Politicians who want to keep their misdeeds in the dark, find themselves the butt of jokes everywhere from the statehouse to the corner store. "Laugh at the devil" Martin Luther is reputed to have said, "and he will flee from you." It works, at least in New Orleans.

Here is this morning's offering from Mr. DeBerry. Great stuff!

But it doesn't stop with DeBerry. No indeed! Cartoonist Steve Kelley has a take on it that was in this morning's edition, as well as a riotously funny letter to the editor from Robert Watters, the owner of a Bourbon Street strip club, who implores the Senator to leave the lap dancing to the professionals. The letter simply has to be read to be believed - and lest you non-Louisianans begin to believe that your politicians aren't also in the sewer, check out the end of Watters's letter for the zinger.

But even corruption has more flair in the Pelican State. Where else would you find not only reporting about our crooked senator's domestic problems, his arrest while getting a lap dance, and night in a halfway house; three jokes about him in a political cartoon; an editor ripping him to shreds; and a stinging comic rebuke from a Bourbon Street "peeler bar" owner - all in the mainstream morning paper?

I'm not sure which is frothier - the cappuccino or the Times-Picayune.

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