Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jazzing New Orleans

The usual diatribes are being penned by pundits across the world on the sad fate of New Orleans. Should it be rebuilt? Even if tens of billions were poured back into infrastructure, levies and pumps, what guarantee would the Crescent City have that another hurricane wouldn't come along and create more havoc?

Well, there are no guarantees in this life other than the fact that you're going to leave it someday and it's going to cost you dearly.

What heartens me is that inspite of the bureaucratic incompetence and political indifference, New Orleans can thrive on many levels. It has always been a city in a bad spot dominated by an often-unruly river, saltwater licking her boundaries and vast wetlands. Since New Orleans has always lived on the edge, let's jazz it up even more. Let's improvise.

What if New Orleans became a working laboratory for green housing, alternative energy and sustainable community planning? She already has the elements in place: Plenty of solar energy, tide power and water. What if every new home employed solar energy that could power its own heating/cooling plant and pump? To make this affordable, the government could bring in Department of Energy scientists to test the latest in building and energy-saving/producing technologies. They're already doing this at national labs such as Oak Ridge in Tennessee and Sandia in New Mexico. Let's let the engineers have free rein in the Crescent City.

Since the American taxpayer is subsidizing both energy research and the rebuilding of New Orleans, the greening of this city is as appealing as the city's legendary cuisine.

Making New Orleans a green port of call for energy innovation and research would benefit not only the ravaged city, it would provide dividends for the entire world as we struggle with sustaining economic growth here and abroad.

All it takes is a new vision. As in jazz, particularly Dixieland, someone always plays a solo, but it's always working within the harmony and rhythm of a larger group. I hear the music of possibility coming from New Orleans, but no one in Washington seems to discern this promising melody.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Patrick Fitzgerald for Attorney General

Now that Alberto Gonzalez is gone, if the current occupant -- as Garrison Keiller calls George W. Bush -- wants to revive his lame-albatross presidency he should name Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as the nominee for attorney general.

And then the president should give Fitzgerald complete freedom.

Of course, we're not in Kansas anymore, and Illinois has a greater chance of getting hit with a category 4 hurricane.

Would there be a better way of restoring integrity, dignity and credibility to the nation's top prosecutor's office? After all, Gonzalez was the de facto Torquemada of our time, writing the infamous memo that gave cover to suspension of the Geneva convention, which led to Abu Gharib, overseas CIA prisons in undisclosed secret locations and Gitmo.

But I say none of this out of partisan disgust. Fitzgerald, championed by a Republican senator at the time, has proven to be non-partisan. Like most old-school prosecutors, he's looking for justice. While he was only able to convict Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame affair (and only for lying for what he claimed not to know), there's no telling what he could do to restore faith in a fractured department of justice.

These days, Fitzgerald has had his hands full prosecuting alleged dons in Chicago, remnants of the Sam Giancana days when the outfit controlled rackets and spewed terror on every side of the city.

As attorney general, Fitzgerald could examine what went on to cause a massive credit crunch. Was there anything illegal in lenders granting mortgages to anyone with a modest collection of red blood cells? What about the billions that have been earmarked to rebuild the Gulf Coast? What about contractors gorging on taxpayer dollars in Iraq? Has anyone in the justice department even noticed anything amiss?

A nonpartisan prosecutor would once again befit the symbolic statue of a blindfolded woman with a balance in her hand. Up until now, it's been the American public that's been unable to see any form of justice emerge from its Washington headquarters. And those scales have been tipped in the wrong direction for far too long.