R. Reese Fuller

Plenty of fools to go around

by R. Reese Fuller

Combing through the headlines and reading today's news on this April Fools Day - without any notable hoaxes just yet - there's still plenty of foolishness to mark this day in 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court won't consider an appeals court ruling that the first-ever search of a Congressional office by the FBI in 2006 office was unconstitutional. The raid on Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson's Congressional office was separate from the one on his house, where FBI agents found $90,000 in cash tucked away in his freezer. (Coincidentally, the FBI claims it has him on tape taking a bribe of $100,000 in cash.) Jefferson was later re-elected and then indicted by a federal grand jury on 16 charges, including bribery and racketeering. Read accounts from The Times-Picayune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Reuters. (Be sure to also check out Jefferson's new self-published book, Dying is the Easy Part.)

Then there's the man who once stated that poverty isn't so much of a condition as it is a state of mind. Housing and Urban Secretary Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who advocated bulldozing New Orleans' public housing without a realistic option for rebuilding, has announced he will be stepping down from the position on April 18. Read this account from The Times-Picayune (and note the fellow lurking in the background of the photo):

His resignation as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development comes after two influential senators said his ability to oversee a federal program to help homeowners facing foreclosure had been undermined by ongoing grand jury and housing inspector general investigations into alleged sweetheart deals.

One issue is Jackson's role in granting contracts for friends at housing authorities in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands and accusations by Philadelphia housing officials that HUD moved to deny financing in retaliation for the city's refusal to sell land to a friend of Jackson's.

Jackson says he's stepping down to attend to personal and family matters, but the Associated Press notes:

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, his tenure tarnished by allegations of political favoritism and a criminal investigation, announced his resignation Monday amid the wreckage of the national housing crisis.

He leaves behind a trail of unanswered questions about whether he tilted the Department of Housing and Urban Development toward Republican contractors and cronies.

The move comes at a shaky time for the economy, with soaring mortgage foreclosures imperiling the nation's credit markets.

Read other accounts from The New York Times, Bloomberg, and Reuters.

There's also this gem from the Associated Press:

The Bush administration announced requirements Monday that would encourage developers to compensate for the destruction of wetlands or streams by paying for the restoration or creation of wetlands elsewhere, sometimes many miles away.

The approach, which emphasizes linking wetlands destruction and replacement efforts across expansive watersheds, has been a contentious issue since it was proposed two years ago.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the regulation's final approval Monday, saying it will help replace wetlands and streams that are unavoidably destroyed or severely impacted in construction or other activities.

And while there's an ongoing debate as to whether the adoption of the new policy will help the wetlands, the AP story offers this kicker:
The EPA and Army Corps said the new rules will increase public participation in the process and require increased monitoring of mitigation projects.

Shortly before the new rule was proposed in 2006, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found that the Army Corps could not ensure that 40,000 acres of wetland restoration work, required annually, was actually being done.
And in New Orleans, The New York Times reports that a year after city officials there announced that they had finally devised a plan to rebuild the city nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina struck, nothing's happening:
There has been nothing to signal a transformation in the sea of blight and abandonment that still defines much of the city. Weary and bewildered residents, forced to bring back the hard-hit city on their own, have searched the plan’s 17 “target recovery zones” for any sign that the city’s promises should not be consigned to the municipal filing cabinet, along with their predecessors. On their one-year anniversary, the designated “zones” have hardly budged. ...

The growing frustration points up what has been a recurring theme in New Orleans’s sketchy, on-again, off-again recovery from Hurricane Katrina: grandiose official promises, apparently made to lift the public’s morale, that soon prove unrealistic. ...