Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kathy Makes It All Better

Today marks a great day in the history of rebuilding the City of New Orleans. Governor Kathleen Blanco declared today that the weekend of January 18th - 21st shall be known as “New Orleans Louisiana Saints Black And Gold Weekend.” Thank god, I didn’t think she cared! Good to know she’s keeping our hopes up with distractions.

Governor Blanco hand-picked ICF International to administer her Louisiana Road Home Project. According to ICF contracts, they were paid $87,000,000 for phase one of the Road Home Program, plus an additional payment of 43,000,000 for OCD’s or “Other Direct Costs.” That’s 130 million dollars for the first four months of operation in which they organized themselves into a close-knit bureaucracy.

Amendment III of the ICF contract outlines phases two and three and sets a 756 million dollar cap for all phases of the contract. It also adds an additional 13 million for ODC’s. So, 756+43+13 = 812 million dollars.

The ICF contract quotes a per-unit cost of $750 for appraisals. How this compares to the Road Home’s statement that the ICF
is administering at seven cents on the dollar is questionable. Let’s say there are 150,000 vetted and credible applicants from both Katrina and Rita. That’s $112.5 million in appraisal charges, leaving a lot more than seven cents on the dollar sitting in ICF’s coffers. The LRHP has approximately 100 employees. That’s enough money left over for each employee to take home 2.3 million a year during the course of the 3 year operation. Surely that can’t be right?

Maybe the extra $700 million is earmarked for the applicants. According to the press releases, each applicant could receive $150,000 in Road Home money, but you must subtract for any insurance, FEMA, etc., money received. Also, the ICF bases your appraisal on pre-storm home price, not replacement value. The Road Home FAQ’s actually state that most applicants will receive between 60 and 70 thousand dollars. Not good, but enough to kick-start your life. Isn’t it?

Let’s ask Saul and Mildred Rubin. Based on a $130/sq.ft. formula the ICF uses, the Rubin’s uninsured 2000 sq. ft. Lakeview home, which spent the better part of early September under 9 feet of water from the 17th street canal breach, should qualify for about $260,000. Then why did they receive a damage estimate of $550 dollars? And they aren’t the only ones in this situation. April Allen’s similarly destroyed Vista Park home raked in a whopping $6,430 damage estimate. Hmmmm... 700 million divided by 150,000 applicants is about $4,666.67. April got a deal!

No, wait, that can’t be right. Louisiana is only paying ICF International for administering the LRHP. The Feds are smartly keeping applicant money in their own pockets until the ICF notifies them, whereupon the Feds wire the money or line of credit to the applicants lender. So that still leaves the matter of $700 million dollars in the ether.

Since accepting applications in mid-2006, the LRHP has doled out a whopping 177 checks. They’ve also mailed out initial responses, second responses, letters retracting first and second responses due to errors, and letters retracting the retraction letters due to even more errors... wait... I think I have it! After deducting salaries, phone bills and three-Cosmo lunches for the ICF, LRHP and State “leaders,” that leaves about $375 million for postage! That’s one hell of a bulk rate.

Now I may be out on a limb here, but do we really need Kathy proclaiming faux holidays in her Thindy Brady-ethque thtyle? I don’t. I know thew Saints are for real. The City of New Orleans and half the country know. I also know that Kathy can move fast when a bandwagon rolls past. I suppose she needs to make us forget all those little slappy fights with Tom Benson over a new stadium. I’ve said it to Mayor Nagin, and I’ll say it to Kathy. Sit down, shut up and fix the problems. While you still have the power to do so.

View the ICF contracts.
More on the Rubin’s and other cases.
ICF Website
Governor Blanco's Website
Louisiana Road Home Program

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Did Somebody Say McCreepy?

Credits: Leo Burnett, New Delhi; Copywriter: Rondeep Gogoi, Art & Illustrator: Sumonto Ghosh

Our first foray into the world of badvertisements was to have been the new McDonald’s “Dollar Menunaires” campaign, a stunningly annoying spot that has been running every 15 minutes on American television. However, while researching that particular bomb, I ran across this little gem from the print world and simply couldn’t help myself.

Spawned from the offices of Leo Burnett Worldwide, (creators of such beloved hucksters as Tony the Tiger, Poppin’ Fresh, the Keebler Elves, and the Marlboro Man,) this Spock-eared little cherub heralds the birth of a new McDonald’s franchise in Kimaya Kothrud, India. Yes, India, where there are over 50 franchises.

Perhaps it’s my Ameri-centric nature, but I fail to see how this Kabuki-esque critter can make anyone crave a tasty McAloo Tikki. One blogger, on seeing the ad, wondered if there was a clown-painted fetus campaign while the restaurant was under construction. Let’s face it, there’s a time and a place for children. Some other time and some other place.

Now I haven’t been able to eat McDonald’s food since the mid 90’s when they allegedly began tinkering with the cooking process. There’s no telling how many millions they spent on improving the taste of their food, but all it did for me was cause an instant case of McBowelmovements. Trust me, I tried them out a few more times at different locations and in different cities, but the results were always the same. Halfway through the meal I’d be halfway to the McMensroom. Even on the occasion when I only ordered a box of fries.

What I did find interesting when researching this ad, is the fact that almost all Indian franchises offer a vegetarian menu prepared by specific employees in a section separate from the non-veg area. This may be a side effect of a 2002 lawsuit by vegetarians, (many Hindu,) in which McD’s was found to have been adding beef extract and animal flavorings to their fries and biscuits. For U.S. consumers, this practice is still continued according to WikiPedia.

But I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, the McInfant.

I get the comparison. New baby, new franchise. It’s cute and at first glance, effective. It catches the eye and with the help of decades of relentless McBranding is instantly recognizable as a McAdvert. Look at it quickly. Not bad. But now take some time to view it. Click on it and view the large version. Now think of Quint in Jaws as he recounts the tale of the USS Indianapolis. Replace the word shark with McInfant. Here, let me help you.

“...sometimes a McInfant, he looks right into you... right into your eyes. You know a thing about a McInfant, he’s got... lifeless eyes, black eyes like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at you he doesn’t seem to be livin’, until he bites you and those black eyes roll over white and then... oh, then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'...”

Interesting, no?

And the less said about the love doll mouth the better. I’m all for sex in advertising, but this is a child for crying out loud. Add in the ear and you have the bastard love-child of Barney Fife and Pennywise. The clown, not the band. I don’t have a particular aversion to clowns, but I’m certainly going to have nightmares over this one. I am decidedly not lovin’ it.

Although the make-up, photography and Photoshop work is very good, I would have replaced the light reflections in the eyes with Golden Arches. Just a thought. The copy on the other hand just doesn’t work. “Just opened, near Kimaya Kothrud.” Wow. I hope Rondeep isn’t getting paid by the word. I would have tried something like, “The newest addition to our family.” It seems to me that this child is somewhat older than ‘just opened’ but I guess it would be in poor taste to have a McNewborn in the O.R. with the cord still attached.

Speaking of segues, it’s time to cut the umbilical on the firstborn of this series. I hope you enjoy it, and if there’s an ad out there that needs my attention, please let me know.