Thursday, May 28, 2020

LaSalle Street

Wait. They are getting how much?
NEW ORLEANS — The state’s Superdome commission has finally agreed to compensate the city of New Orleans for taking a block of LaSalle Street to build Champions Square in 2011.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District commission, which oversees the Superdome, Smoothie King Center and other venues, approved a resolution Thursday to pay the city $2.35 million in 10 installments over five years as compensation for developing on and shutting down vehicle access to a public street
Ha ha that's practically nothing. This report also says the street "is valued at $3.3 million" but, in reality the state should owe a lot more than that in back usage fees. Maybe ten times as much.  Maybe that's why they're also planning to give the street back, at least in part. 
The LSED also agreed to reopen the stretch of LaSalle Street between Poydras and Girod streets to vehicle traffic starting Jan. 1, 2021, and then the city would go through normal temporary street closure procedures when there’s an event at Champions Square or a sporting event at the dome.
That's an interesting plot twist, anyway.  I wonder if the cars will return to LaSalle Street before or after they are banned from the French Quarter. As long as they leave enough room for all 13,000 fans to pre-game while properly social distancing, I guess it works out.  

Deal keeps getting worse

I feel like last week they were trying to steal $200 million to make a slush fund out of our relief money.  Now they want $300 million? That's going the wrong way.
As Louisiana figures out how to spend billions in coronavirus federal aid, a rift has emerged between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican legislative leaders over $811 million that the governor wants to give to local governments and lawmakers advancing a measure to take $300 million of the funds and deliver it instead to small businesses.

The money is part of the $1.8 billion sent to Louisiana through the $2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress. While the state is using nearly $1 billion of the funds to plug holes in the state budget, the governor has told local governments they’ll be able to tap into the other $811 million.
The governor had already set up a process by which cities and parishes could apply for these funds.   The less money Republican legislators pull out to pass around to their friends, the better chance every locality has of covering its losses. New Orleans alone is currently looking at a deficit that could be as big as $170 million. The city is authorized to borrow as much as $100 million to make up some of the difference.  That's not going to be enough, obviously.

Do do do do do do

I guess because it is almost June now, we are getting a look at RTA just a few months away from when its October 1 divorce from Transdev is finalized. By that point we probably will have seen the last of Transdev for a while, although it's possible we may be welcoming its former parent Veolia back into town when and if we decide to privatize Sewerage and Water Board.  But that's a problem for another time.  For now, let's just take one more look at the subcontractor we're still waiting on results from.
Public furor had also sparked around Transdev's failure to monitor a subcontractor's performance on the construction of two ferries, which that were supposed be ready in 2018 but have yet to enter service. 

The Metal Shark boats were supposed to be ready in time for Mitch Landrieu's Tricentennial celebration.  I think he was planning to end his last day in office by riding off on one like Frodo leaving Middle Earth or something.  My goodness so much has happened since then.


Sometimes you really gotta hand it to Gusman. He's ready to get out of jail administrator jail and go back to just regular running the jail, which it seems like it what's about to happen. But he also can't help getting in a few parting shots.  This is almost too perfect.

In a combative, 44-page court brief, Gusman tossed his sharpest knives at the monitors deployed by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, claiming that they’ve held him to an unreasonably high standard.

“Continued enforcement of the Consent Decree seeks a jail utopia, reflective of the court-appointed monitors’ personal preferences and idealistic aspirations, not the ‘narrowly drawn…least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation’ requirement that controls prospective relief for jail conditions,” Gusman said, quoting a federal law that limits lawsuits against jails and prisons.

Rather than creating a perfect prison, Gusman said the standard that should apply is “the constitutional minimum.”
Is he saying he feels like he's been denied due process?  That's just great.  Anyway, kudos to Sledge for going ahead and listing the ways in which Gusman's jail has failed to meet the "utopian" standard.
Gusman doesn’t mention the 11 subsequent inmate deaths, including the haunting suicide of 15-year-old inmate Jaquin Thomas, riots, high staff turnover and sexual harassment allegations or the 87 inmates infected with the novel coronavirus.

The agency's handling of the coronavirus outbreak could become an issue at the hearing on Gusman's request, Schlanger said. The consent decree includes requirements for adequate medical care and sanitation.

In his filing, the sheriff also paints himself as a leader in the push to downsize the jail after Katrina, without mentioning that he fought the New Orleans City Council for a lock-up that would have been smaller than the old jail complex, but would have still held 4,300 beds. Over his objections, the council approved one with 1,438 beds.
What is the constitutionally mandated minimum number of suicides, riots, and deaths allowed of the course of a monitoring agreement, anyway?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Suspicious Legislation

On Wednesday, a Louisiana State House committee killed a bill (originally by Sen Bodi White) that would have shielded from the public information about which firms were receiving tax breaks and other "economic incentives" from the state. At the very least, passing the bill would have represented a remarkable about-face by a Republican Party who spent much time and money in recent years promoting a "budget transparency" website

We know senses of shame are in short supply in Baton Rouge so it's hard to believe such a thing is possible, but maybe this would have been a step too far, even for them.
But after the bill cruised through the Senate with little opposition, lawmakers on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee questioned whether the legislation was really about protecting workers from having their information disclosed. The Public Affairs Research Council, a good government group, and the Louisiana Press Association both slammed the legislation as overly broad and argued it would hide important information about who is receiving tax money through the state’s myriad incentive programs.

“I don’t know what the real motive is here,” said Democratic Rep. Wilford Carter, calling it “suspicious legislation.” “My instinct is that it’s something other than what we’re hearing today.”
On the other hand, when you control the legislature with supermajorities when the public is distracted (or excluded) from your activities thanks to a global pandemic, why even bother going to the trouble to hide the looting in the first place. Nobody is paying attention. And even if they are, what are they gonna do? Go ahead and pass all the suspicious legislation you want. Nobody is going to stop you.
Oil and gas companies won another round in the Louisiana Legislature on Wednesday when a House committee approved a measure that would kill lawsuits filed by seven coastal parishes against the companies over the loss of wetlands and marshes.

The 9-3 vote by the Natural Resources Committee advances Senate Bill 440 to the full House. Its chances of winning passage there appear solid since most Republicans favor it, and the GOP has almost two-thirds of the seats in the House.
Granted that kill-the-lawsuit bill still has a long way to go, but it's amazing that we're even wasting any time on this right now. Most of this has been going on during a statewide stay at home order. The legislators should be meeting as little as possible right now. Since we already know we're going into at least one special session this year, the only thing they really even needed to convene this session for at all was to pass a perfunctory budget bill.  But even that simple task has proceeded in a somewhat suspicious manner. The COVID crisis has cratered revenues for this year. There are workarounds in place to get us through the emergency period.  And yet, some lawmakers seem like they don't really want to do that. For example, Lance Harris here.
State economists revised the revenue outlook for the state downward by nearly $1 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, largely because of cratering oil prices and sales tax collections that are expected to be sluggish as businesses contend with a virus that has made many people wary of going out.

But state leaders are using broad flexibility granted by the U.S. Treasury Department in crafting the budget. For instance, the plans use $290 million in federal dollars to fund the state’s corrections department, because the feds told state officials they can assume payroll expenses for public safety qualify as coronavirus-related spending.

Economists are currently projecting revenues will rebound by about $700 million next year, but not all are convinced. State Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican, asked the governor’s administration to plan for possible cuts in case the budget outlook worsens in the middle of this fiscal year.
And hey maybe that's right.  Maybe there won't be a $700 million rebound next year.  But if that's what you're worried about, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be slashing taxes on oil companies right now.  Or, at least, it's a bit suspect.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Should there be a lesson in that, maybe?

Probably not. It's too much to get your head around.
Now broken in two and less than 2 miles long, the island is a mere shadow of the long, sturdy chunk of land Roosevelt visited in 1915, eight years after he made East Timbalier one of the nation’s first wildlife sanctuaries.

The protection didn’t last. Most barrier islands are bereft of natural resources, but East Timbalier promised such a bonanza to oil companies that its federal protections were largely ignored and, in 1969, revoked. A slew of companies have drilled more than 160 wells in and around the island. Canals dug to locate fonts of oil were the first alteration that sped the island’s unraveling. The canals allowed saltwater to seep in and the soil from the crumbling banks to flow out.
See Teddy wanted them to save an island. But later they decided instead that is needed to die for "The Economy." That seems like the wrong choice now but then again maybe not. We're still making it all the time.

And I'm not only talking here about our choice to march hundreds of meat packing workers off to their deaths so we can keep quartet pounders on the dollar menu, although we are doing that too. No I'm talking about the choice to continue deliberately sinking the coast for the sake of oil exploration. Remarkably,  that is still the long term strategy.
Lafourche did not join seven other coastal parishes — Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, Vermilion, Jefferson, Cameron and Orleans — in suing oil and gas companies for widespread environmental damage. The lawsuits, which charge that the companies failed to follow state law in drilling wells, building canals, disposing of waste and restoring wetlands, have encountered fierce opposition in the Legislature.

On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate narrowly passed a measure aimed at killing the lawsuits. Critics say the lawsuits are chilling investment in Louisiana. A big settlement could fund an array of restoration efforts as money from the BP settlement, a main funder of coastal projects, dwindles.
About that "chilling" effect. Are they sure?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Just remember these are the good times

According to Nouriel Roubini, it only gets worse from here.
Specifically, Roubini argues that the massive private debts accrued during both the 2008 crash and COVID-19 crisis will durably depress consumption and weaken the short-lived recovery. Meanwhile, the aging of populations across the West will further undermine growth while increasing the fiscal burdens of states already saddled with hazardous debt loads. Although deficit spending is necessary in the present crisis, and will appear benign at the onset of recovery, it is laying the kindling for an inflationary conflagration by mid-decade. As the deepening geopolitical rift between the United States and China triggers a wave of deglobalization, negative supply shocks akin those of the 1970s are going to raise the cost of real resources, even as hyperexploited workers suffer perpetual wage and benefit declines. Prices will rise, but growth will peter out, since ordinary people will be forced to pare back their consumption more and more. Stagflation will beget depression. And through it all, humanity will be beset by unnatural disasters, from extreme weather events wrought by man-made climate change to pandemics induced by our disruption of natural ecosystems.
There is also some hopey talk in there about a “more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order" emerging out of the cataclysm. But I would counter that argument by gesturing blithely toward the entire history of everything. Our political and economic system doesn't build a better world out of disaster. Instead it ruthlessly exploits opportunities extract every last bit of value out of whoever is being murdered for the greater profit of whoever is holding power.

To illustrate this, I always return to the "existential" problem of Louisiana's sinking coast. Ravaged by decades of fossil fuel extraction and sea level rise, it has reached a "tipping point" beyond which, we now know, it cannot be saved.
The study does not include a map showing what the new boundary of open water will be. But Törnqvist said he expects the eventual shoreline will parallel what's known as the Baton Rouge Fault, an east-west line where land heights today are at about 15 feet above sea level. For the New Orleans area, that would be along the North Shore, somewhere near Interstate 12.

Törnqvist said the biggest question now is how long the state's wetlands will last, and what can be done to slow their disappearance.

"I don't think this is going to happen in my lifetime," he said, pointing out that he just turned 58. "But my daughter turns 10 next week, and a lot of these things are going to happen in her lifetime. I'm not saying that when she is old, we'll have no wetlands at all, but we will have massive changes."
How old were you when you first learned Louisisina would sink into the sea if nothing was done about it? I remember I was about the same age Törnqvist's daughter is now. That was during the 1980s, a very long time ago. What's been done since then? Not much. How old were you when you understood nothing would ever be done?

It would have to be about the time you started watching Louisiana politics.  Our public policymakers only know how to do one thing and that is protect and enable oil and gas extraction no matter the cost.  Which is why, this month, in the midst of a public health crisis, on the precipice of an economic collapse, at the same time we're learning the coast is as good as sunk, the legislature is hard at work, cutting taxes on oil companies and protecting them from lawsuits. It's all they're capable of.

Is this sustainable?  Probably, yes.  I mean, no, the Louisiana coast isn't but that's beside the point.  The system of extraction is what matters and that can go on and on as long as the demands of the extractive regime are met. Eventually no one will be able to live here. But the infrastructure that pulls the oil out of the ground can be maintained so that's what we're going to do.  The consequences of this for "society" are irrelevant. Conditions can get infinitely shitty for the vast majority of people as long as the protected ruling class can sustain itself. And we've learned over and over, that's the point of all of this.  Anyway,  these are the good times. Enjoy them while you can.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Just pass the budget

We already know you're all coming back later on anyway.  Why put it off?
Leaders of the Republican-controlled state Legislature are planning to call lawmakers into a special session immediately after the regular session ends in 10 days, according to a petition that is circulating Friday.

 The document, which was signed by the four legislative leaders, calls for lawmakers to consider 41 separate items beginning at 6:01 p.m. on June 1, or 1 minute after the regular session ends.
This probably won't even be the last session this year given the constantly shifting fiscal situation. This first special session is likely more about overriding vetoes than anything else. That and the Republicans wanted to call one where they set the terms. Anyway the budget John Bel gave them should be fine for now. Just pass that and come back later to fight.

COVID security theater

People are very afraid of this pandemic. The safe thing to do would be to continue encouraging them to stay home and guarantee a basic level of income until it's over. But we can't do that because we still have to have bodies to feed "the economy." So what do we do? Sounds like a fantastic business opportunity.
Acadian Total Security is rolling out thermographic imaging services to interested clients across the region to “protect customers and employees from COVID-19.” The technology claims to scan the face of anyone entering the vicinity and detect elevated skin-surface temperatures. If an above-average temperature is found, an alarm notifies the business owner so further screening can be done, Acadian said in a release.
The cameras cost between $7000 and 70,000 each and are being sought after by businesses, school systems, and local government facilities all of which sounds like very smart fiscal practice during a time of heavy layoffs and austerity budget cuts.

Do they actually work, through? Depends on what you want them to do. If you want them to protect anyone from COVID 19, then, no.
There are some caveats about the use of thermal cameras, especially as protection against spreading COVID-19.

The technology isn’t intended to diagnose illness or prevent the spread of disease. Several thermal camera companies, including FLIR Systems, have released disclaimers that their products aren’t intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and can’t be used to find COVID-19 infected individuals.
If you want to pretend you are protecting people so you can kind of go about your business then they work a little bit depending on whether that fools anybody. If you want to make a ton of money fooling desperate and gullible business owners and government officials into buying your cameras, then they seem to work great.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tourism is the virus

Nature tried to heal for a little while.  Enjoy it while you can.
The Marais is one of the oldest, most historic neighborhoods of Paris and is known for its quaint village-like charm. But it had become a retail Disneyland where visitors came to spend money, but not necessarily for the history.

I knew the Marais belonged to locals again on the first night of France’s national lockdown, when I opened my window to clap for caregivers. The light had faded and I said to myself, “Paris is no longer the City of Light.”

Sadly, there were few people at their windows, because so many apartments in the neighborhood have been converted to Airbnbs for tourists. But instead of the noise of crowds and suitcases on the pavement, the streets were deserted, and there was an air of enchantment. You could hear the birds singing and the wind blowing the leaves on the trees.
New Orleans can feel like that too; empty and enchanted. The other night I could swear I saw a ghost staring out from the window of this empty Airbnb.

Haunted Airbnb

Unfortunately neither we in New Orleans, nor anyone quoted in that NYT story have had a true opportunity to go out and enjoy a locals-for-locals experience of our hometowns. We're only getting glimpses of such places while we commute to "essential" jobs or venture out for "essential" errands or for essential having a few beers on the sidewalk.  A lot like that ghost in the window, New Orleans for New Orleanians is only a momentary mirage. Once we "re-open" the city, it will dissolve before we can touch it.

The short term rentals aren't going to revert to local housing. Yes, there are a lot of desperate sounding Craigslist ads for "furnished rentals" right now.  Some of those could end up staying on the local market. But not as many as you might expect.  Landlords and renters are in a brief period of uneasy detente right now. (In some cases, more uneasy than in others.) But that all goes out the window once the evictions moratorium comes to an end.
Richardson says the city doesn't want people evicted during a health crisis, but it is a short term solution. She says until the economy starts back up, residents won't have a steady income which means both the housing and rental markets won’t be fed potentially for months.

“Eventually rent is going to be owed, eventually mortgages are going to have to be paid, one of the difficult things going forward is the possible, if not probable balloon of payments that people are going to have in the future… it would be a good idea for renters at this point in time to talk to your landlord to see if you can work out even if it’s just a short term deal,” said Richardson.
The sort of small independent landlords with whom you might "work something out" will be under heavy pressure to evict once the CARES Act mortgage forbearance period ends.  Assuming no extension or a more generous round of federal aid, many will be forced to sell out. Probably on the cheap and probably to larger nationally or internationally based mega-landorlds
The proptech industry ballooned following the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, when racist lending practices and government response dispossessed hundreds of thousands of mainly black and Latinx property owners. This era saw over 240,000 black residents lose their homes, erasing most of the gains made since the 1968 passing of the civil rights era Fair Housing Act. Wall Street investment firms such as Blackstone, Invitation Homes, Colony, Waypoint, and Starwood—which have all now consolidated into one mega-firm—swept in to purchase foreclosed homes at auction, ushering in the age of the corporate landlord. Today the conglomerate of Blackstone comprises the largest landowning firm globally and is the biggest landlord in the United States. Hundreds of large investment companies followed Blackstone’s lead, forming massive landlord monopolies in various cities and regions across the United States. These mega-landlords generally acquire new properties through limited partnership (LPs) and limited liability company (LLCs) shell companies, a practice that makes it difficult for tenants to know who their landlords really are, and thus serves to stymie tenant organizing and collective action.
A ginormous private equity firm has no interests in working something out with distressed tenants. Your mayor and councilpersons can talk all they want about finding "balance" between those interests but the future of all housing in your city is going to be about maximum extraction of profit from property by giant ownership entities acting at a far remove from the fate of the people who actually live there.

This begins with vulture firms scooping up distressed properties on the cheap and evicting anyone who can't make rent. A company like Blackstone, whose investments are all but guaranteed by the Federal Reserve, can sit on a lot of unused buildings for a while if it wants. There's no need to shift to a more equitable usage of our housing stock that might drive the investment value down. Better to just subsidize the harsh practices that were already in place. When the pandemic passes, we'll be right back to hollowing out the city of its residents, its schools or its non-tourism related small businesses and replacing anything that resembles a real life community with more of the half-empty resort town we've been building since Katrina. This crisis will only have accelerated that process.

In the meantime, we're already eager to please the architects of that "New" New Orleans in a desperate effort to reopen our tourism economy.  For those willing to don a dining mask and head out for a surreal 25% capacity experience at their favorite restaurant, maybe something like the momentarily tourist-free local-for-locals city really is available.  Or maybe it's another uncomfortable product of the forced march of workers back into the maw of capitalism currently underway.
Mitch McConnell promised House Republicans on Wednesday that the beefed up unemployment benefits enacted earlier this spring "will not be in the next bill."

The Senate majority leader told the House GOP minority in an afternoon phone call that he is comfortable waiting to see how the nearly $3 trillion in coronavirus spending previously approved plays out before moving forward on the next relief legislation. And he told them the ultimate end-product won't look anything like House Democrats' $3 trillion package passed last week, according to a person briefed on the call.
There are over 38 million unemployed nationwide as of this week.  And even though the still raging pandemic guarantees there won't be enough jobs to send them all back to, we're still going to make sure they have to suffer. Why? Well the short answer is, we're trying to make sure we come out of the crisis with a loose labor market full of frightened and docile workers.  McConnell admits as much. So did Louisiana State Rep. Gerald “Beau” Beaullieu this week in Baton Rouge. Republicans are doing everything they can to keep bosses from having to pay a decent living wage.
Beaullieu said hefty unemployment payments could discourage someone from wanting to return to work, and he said the high rate of unemployment was draining Louisiana’s unemployment fund.

“We want to protect that trust fund. We also want to make sure that employees are not disincentivized from going back to work,” Beaullieu said. He said his bill would help “those small businesses get their employees to work."
It's a sad state of affairs that they can be this openly hostile and get away with it. If for no other reason than because they are in danger of rendering all this street theater irrelevant.  
A handful of mostly out-of-state protesters held a small rally outside a Lorimer Street barbershop in Williamsburg on Tuesday, calling on the city and state to end the coronavirus shutdown — so that they can go to yoga and get their nails done!

“My fingernails are breaking, I’ve got hangnails, I’ve been getting my nails done for 14 years … I’m very much into yoga, I can’t go to my Bikram yoga studios, I can’t go get my eyelashes done, I can’t go and socialize with the people that are my friends,” said Mississippian Hillary Angel Barq. “It’s led me to depression, it’s made me not feel sexual — I mean it’s awful.”

The gathering of roughly half a dozen people — outnumbered even by the amount of media covering the event — was organized by the pro-Trump group Liberate America together with the owners of Beard Barberia Cut and Shave at the corner of Grand Street.
The brief time of New York for New Yorkers is ending. Tourism season is back on, heralded by a loudly un-horny Hillary Barq.  This can only bode ill for New Orleans.  There can be little doubt now that the "reopening" of our own tourist business will mean catering to similar organized day trips of death cult protesters coming into town to complain about having to wear masks and whatnot. And with that, will come more intense pressure on business owners and therefore the politicians they influence to take such complaints seriously... regardless of the absurdity of their source.
New York City is one of the global epicenters of the pandemic with more than 20,000 deaths due to the virus, and almost 200,000 people infected, according to the city’s health department data on May 18 — but, when asked whether it was worth risking hundreds of further deaths by allowing businesses to reopen, the protest organizer said it was and questioned the staggering death tolls.

“Absolutely, absolutely. But there’s a difference, it’s what they didn’t tell you is what is the mortality rate that’s already been in place,” said Liberate America’s founder Frank Scurlock, who is from New Orleans.
Nature had a scarce two months to heal. Earlier this week we read that those two months were rather impressive. In April, the emissions typically caused by air and ground travel were down about 40 percent.  Rest assured, though, with Scurlock's group on the loose, the bad air will be back to intolerable levels in no time.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Safety net in name only

These aren't glitches. They're designed specifically to make everything as difficult as possible.
As the coronavirus ripped through Louisiana’s economy over the past two months, a historic number of people applied for food assistance, many after losing their jobs from government-mandated shutdowns.

But huge swaths of those people were deemed ineligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because of supercharged unemployment payments that inadvertently boosted their income above the threshold to qualify for food stamps.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Legal PPE

Some of these are the same Republicans strutting around the Capitol without masks on this week.  If they don't have anything to worry about, then why should any of these businesses?
Restaurants serving takeout and delivery orders in Louisiana during the coronavirus outbreak and businesses providing protective gear should be largely shielded from lawsuits for injuries, the state Senate decided Thursday.

Senators overwhelmingly supported the pair of bills, Senate Bills 491 and 508, from Republican Sens. Sharon Hewitt and Patrick McMath, which are similar to business-backed measures proposed in other states and in Washington amid the pandemic.
The bills aren't even directly COVID related. They just say if you have a job doing something like, delivering food, and you have been compelled back to work by a boss who has deliberately kicked you off of your unemployment benefits, then that employer is not responsible if you slip and fall on the job, for example.  Because any excuse to stick it to you..

Demolition time

What better way to begin the post-lockdown COVID Depression Era than with the formal initiation of the Hard Rock demolitions.  Beyond that, how fitting is it that the first building to come down was a post office.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What are they even doing there

Your state Insurance commissioner telling us what kind of discrimination is fair and whatnot

Donelon was there to testify on behalf of this ridiculous "tort reform" bill intended to shield insurance companies from liability. Republicans have insisted that, despite the raging pandemic and deepening economic depression, this issue is actually the number one priority of the 2020 legislative session. The law, they say, is just not fair to their constituents... by which they mean the insurance companies ripping you off.
Supporters say the way Louisiana courts handle cases seeking recompense for injuries in car wrecks differs from the rest of the country and is the cause for the state having the highest average rates.

“The ways our laws are set up, it’s not a fair system,” said state Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette and sponsor of HB9. He said several times that he consulted widely with insurance companies while putting together his bill.

Opponents point out that no data backs up those savings claims. In fact, an empirical look at the proposal found little, if any, impact on rates. The only thing the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020 is sure to do is to limit injured people’s access to the courts and to lower the damages they could collect if they prevail.
The real shame of the pandemic is that keeping up with the ongoing horror movie we're living in is too much of a distraction from the farce of this session.  The legislators really shouldn't even be here right now.  A more sane and much safer plan would have had them get together (preferably by remote or at least with their dang masks on) to pass the 18 or so constitutionally required bills, including a standstill budget that could be amended later when the economic forecast and prospects for federal aid are more clear.

Instead they are tackling very important matters such as sports betting or banning the use of highly dangerous weapons such as cell phones (but definitely not guns.) And, of course, there is this "tort reform" scheme which, Donelon even admits, isn't likely to do what Repulican legislators claim it will.  The reason it likely won't work is because insurers can ask him to keep it from working.
Both bills also require insurance companies to reduce rates by 10% if their costs go down, unless they can prove to the insurance commissioner that the rate reduction would hurt their business enough to stop selling polices in Louisiana.

While having near identical language in the two bills is probably persuasive in the supporters’ efforts for winning the debate, under the rules, both chambers are going to have to approve a single bill before the legislation heads to the governor’s desk. The session has 19 more days before adjournment.

Donelon acknowledged that he could not be sure that the companies will actually reduce rates by a specific amount.

Landry pointed to language in the bill which said that insurance companies can ask the insurance commissioner to not lower rates by 10%. Donelon said he would insist on the 10% reduction unless doing so threatened an insurance company’s insolvency.
And we already know from the video above that Donelon has a good grip on what kinds of practices keep insurance companies solvent. So he knows what he is doing. 

Also tort reform is, once again, becoming a major Republican priority in state housed across the country right now.  Here's an excellent recent episode of Citations Needed that looks at the history and politics of efforts like this to deny legal rights to victims of all sorts of corporate crimes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Reopen the can of worms

The pandemic closure has slowed the progress of the FNBC grand jury investigations. Remember this is a very long thread to pull on, though. And with enough time, persistence, and, well, pulling, the thread can connect to almost anyone who is anyone in the New Orleans area political/non-profit/business upper class. Here is who may be next on the line.
Additional borrowers could also get swept up in the case if prosecutors believe they committed fraud to get their credit extended. Among those whose loans the government is scrutinizing is businessman and former longtime St. Bernard Parish prosecutor Glenn Diaz, according to sources familiar with the probe.

Diaz, who slipped quietly out of public life after a failed campaign for district attorney in 2014, was in arrears on millions of dollars in First NBC loans that the feds consider dodgy. Another possible target is Mississippi developer Gary Gibbs, the recipient of the loans that were flagged by the FDIC in its civil allegations against Calloway. Those loans alone totaled $123 million when the bank collapsed.

The problem, though, is prosecutors have only so much time to reel everyone in. The statute of limitations on many of the potential charges here is only 5 years and we're 2 years, plus some into the story now. But the grad jury can't operate during the COVID shut down. So, while we know a lot of wealthy businesspersons have been leading the charge to "reopen Louisiana" in recent weeks, maybe a few of them aren't in such a hurry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

They are pleased to do it

Metro Service has been using a prison labor broker in order to help it bust up a wildcat strike staged by garbage hoppers it had already outsourced to a day labor staffing agency.  According to their spokesperson, they are "pleased" to be able to do this.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration said that under its contract, Metro Service Group is supposed to pay employees at least $10.25 an hour. In a statement on Monday, the company acknowledged that it signed a contract to pay the inmate laborers $9.25 an hour. The company said the inmates' pay, which has yet to be invoiced, would be "amended" to meet the minimum.

"We'd like to add that, while hoppers went on strike and while we were unable to secure a regular stream of private sector workers to fill their spots during their strike, we are pleased to be able to provide work-release-approved inmates with meaningful work at a good wage so that they can more easily transition back into society," said a company spokesman.
This is, and I'm very sorry, a total load of garbage from Metro.  This isn't about helping anybody "transition back into society." It is about exploiting a perverse for-profit incarceration system where firms like Metro collect discounted labor from people like Hootie Lockhart who then collect fees from the prisoners themselves.
The work-release inmates were set to receive $9.25 an hour, according to Lock5 manager Hootie Lockhart. He said he usually tries to secure more pay, but the economic crisis has made it hard to find well-paying jobs.

The inmates stand to keep much less than that at the end of the day, moreover. In an arrangement outlined in state law, Lock5 takes up to 64 percent of inmate pay to cover its own expenses, Lockhart said.
This is what Metro is "pleased" to be able to do.  Maybe episodes like this provide us with a moment to examine the morality of these practices and whether the city should be paying for them.

Or maybe not.
A Cantrell spokesman voiced no objections to the use of work-release inmates — noting that the city uses them during Carnival season — but New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams said he was disappointed.

He also said he was "deeply concerned" about the original workers' situation.
Jason is running for DA. While it's good to hear he's concerned about the striking workers, we might like to also hear him comment on the exploitation of victims of the criminal punishment system as well.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Bucking the trend

Looks like we're still doing it.  But in a different direction this time.
About one out of every four workers in New Orleans is without a job because of the coronavirus pandemic and related stay-at-home orders, according to an analysis of unemployment claims by an economics professor.

Baton Rouge has a 21% unemployment rate, the second worst in the state, according to an analysis by Stephen Barnes, an associate professor and director of the University of Louisiana Lafayette’s Blanco Public Policy Center Director. Lafayette had the third-highest rate of any Louisiana metro area at 18.7%.

Those numbers compare to a 15% national unemployment rate reported Friday that analysts say actually is closer to 24% when additional jobless claims and unemployed workers are factored in since the numbers were tallied in mid-April.
The COVID depression is already hitting Louisiana especially hard.  The virus spread more intensely here than in many places.  It has been particularly hard on black and brown people generally.  It has been hard on black and brown people in Louisiana especially where acute poverty and air pollution are exacerbating factors.  We don't necessarily want to shed tears over the depressed demand for oil and gas and tourism given the destructive toll each of those extractive industries has taken on our land, air and spirit.  But they are our two most relied upon sources of jobs and revenue in normal times. They aren't producing much of that now.

So Americans need help. Louisiana, especially needs help. It's time like this when we look to our elected representatives to help us out.  So...   what do our senators think? 
The record $2.2 trillion pandemic bill signed into law March 27 mandated one-time payments of $1,200 for people making up to $75,000 a year, but most of the checks have already been distributed.

The White House and Democrats are signaling support for doing at least one more round of checks.

GOP senators, however, say they aren’t sold yet on the need for a second round, and several said they are strongly opposed to the idea.

“Well people in hell want ice water too,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), asked about another round of checks. “I mean, everybody has an idea and a bill, usually to spend more money. It’s like a Labor Day mattress sale around here.”
Well, okay, then. Thanks for that.

What do our sheriffs think we should do?
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards has filed a federal lawsuit against the People's Republic of China alleging that the new coronavirus originated in a lab in Hubei province and not in a local market, as most scientists have said.

Edwards, brother of Gov. John Bel Edwards, filed the suit in New Orleans on Friday, and asked the court to certify it as a class action on behalf of all 3,000 sheriffs in the country.
Oh god. Alright well that's just nuts.

What do our legislators think?
Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) was completely supportive of the measure, though she had a couple of questions for Miguez.

I’m a healthy person, and I don’t wear a mask because I’m an American, and I can choose. I mean, have you ever known healthy people to be quarantined in the history of our country? Have you ever known our economy to be shut down? I mean, are we in Nazi Germany? Seriously, we should have opened May first!” Horton effused. “But what does this actually do? Will our hair salons and nail salons be able to open immediately if we pass this resolution? And can the Governor just ignore it?”

Hey what about the mayor?  I know there's a lot on her plate but these garbage truck hoppers asked for help this week.  The temp agency subbed out by Metro Service Group has been putting them in harm's way.
Several New Orleans sanitation workers are on strike.

The workers, known as hoppers who work with the sanitation department through a group called PeopleReady, are demanding better pay and better protection while picking up trash.

The workers say they are exposed to the coronavirus and other health hazards every day and are not given the proper protective equipment.

The workers also say they should be getting hazard pay.
Metro holds one of the most lucrative contracts in all of city government.  They were also grandfathered in to the city's living wage ordinance which is why they can use day laborers and treat them like this.  Metro is owned by Jimmie Woods who happens to be one of the most influential political donors around.  When there is an election coming, everybody goes to Jimmie's house for the fundraiser.  Woods bought that house, by the way, from the Kailas family (of Hard Rock hotel fame) in 2016 for ten dollars.  So, typically, Woods gets a lot of respect and favor from a lot of important people.

But this thing with the hoppers seems kinda bad. I wonder what will happen this time.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued the following statement regarding the protests:

"The City of New Orleans is committed to following the requirements of its contract with Metro Services. Under the terms of the contract, Metro Services was paid over $10.7M in 2019 to provide garbage and recycling collections in their service area. Metro is responsible for providing workers with the necessary items for their safety. This would include masks, gloves, etc.

"We ask that citizens keep their garbage and recycling carts curbside today and, if necessary, until tomorrow. Metro has agreed to continue collections as late as possible today which may be beyond the normal end time of 8:00 p.m. They will resume collections on tomorrow for any remaining areas that may not be collected on today."
Well alright that's pretty encouraging. Just goes to show that.... oh wait.
Now, Livingston Parish work-release inmates are being used to pick up garbage in New Orleans East while the workers are on strike.

The workers on strike are employed by Metro Service Group and the number of them protesting has grown. Metro Service Group primarily services New Orleans East.
So there it is.  25 percent unemployment in New Orleans and rather than just give some day laborers some gloves, we are making prisoners pick up our trash.  The trend has never been so bucked.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Actually they don't CARE about us at all

I know Gilbert Montaño is employing a kind of corporate-politcal-speak here intended to persuade upper level pricks into not being quite as prickish as they want to be.  But it still sounds naive as a public statement.
Louisiana as a whole received about $1.8 billion from the stimulus, $800 million of which is supposed to be passed on to local governments.

Montaño suggested there could be changes to that program in the future and that he didn’t think the intention was to leave out cities like New Orleans, which has a population of about 391,000.

I don’t think the framers (of the CARES Act) thought New Orleans would fall below the threshold,” he said. “Place like New Orleans, Atlanta, I don’t think were anticipated to fall into the smaller city category.”
Actually the framers of the CARES Act (Republicans in the US Senate) mean for every state and every city to fall into crisis mode. The cascading disaster can only benefit the wealthiest Americans who Congress exists to serve in the first place.  There's no shaming them away from this purpose.  The President is already articulating their political rationale.
In an interview with the New York Post, Trump expressed reluctance to use a new stimulus bill to aid the states hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. “I think Congress is inclined to do a lot of things but I don’t think they’re inclined to do bailouts,” he said.

He went on to say the states shouldn't get cash in part because they have Democratic leaders. “It’s not fair to the Republicans because all the states that need help — they’re run by Democrats in every case,” Trump said.

That sounds like absolute nonsense. Every state needs help regardless of who is in charge right now. It makes more sense when you understand that the Republicans in every state want to dismantle and sell off public services and infrastructure. The COVID caucus of Republican hardliners in the Louisiana legislature are already moving austerity budget measures intended to accelerate that process.

The purpose is to leverage the pandemic into a shock doctrine scenario that will force states and cities to lay off their workforce, sell off their assets, and privatize what remains of their public services by handing them over to for-profit entities. It's already happening in New York.

And, unless something is done, it's likely to happen in New Orleans as well, under Montaño's direction 
One possibility that’s being considered to increase those savings is offering incentives to city workers for retiring early, he said. The details of that plan are still being worked out and would depend in part on how much the city would need to pay out for unused time-off, he said.

The city could also save between $10 million and $12 million this year from reduced overtime costs from public safety workers, largely due to the cancellation of festivals and other major events, Montaño said.
The bosses won the pandemic.  They've got hardline Republicans in Washington and Baton Rouge to smash what remains of your dwindling public services and infrastructure. And they'll have neo-liberal Democrats in your cities to "partner" with the private profiteers who will scavenge and hoard the broken pieces. Despite Montaño's attempt to appeal to a better nature, this is what the "framers of the CARES Act" intended.  A few weeks ago, the mayor described the situation at a press conference. The CARES Act, she said, "doesn’t make me feel like we’re cared about if that’s all that’s going to come down from the federal government to the city of New Orleans.”  I think that's probably the most accurate take on all of this.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The bosses won the pandemic

In the post-COVID world, you are very likely unemployed and must scrape and grovel for whatever they offer you now.  If you refuse their terms there will be consequences.
COLUMBUS - As Ohio reopens some businesses, employees who don’t return to work could lose unemployment benefits – even if they have a health condition that makes them more susceptible to the novel coronavirus or problems getting child care.

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is asking employers to report workers who quit or refuse work – potentially cutting those former employees off from unemployment benefits. Those not eligible for unemployment in Ohio would also lose access to the additional $600 a week approved in the federal stimulus package.
People don't really understand what is happening yet.

AddingThe bosses understand. They won the pandemic. Time to go home.
Trump administration officials are telling members of the coronavirus task force that the White House plans to wind down the operation and it’s not clear whether any other group might replace it.

Monday, May 04, 2020

The COVID Caucus

What are they even doing there?
While the work went on at the speaker’s podium, the 78 legislators in attendance – many of whom were not wearing masks as prescribed by leadership – milled around the chamber chatting and joking with one another. Often groups of lawmakers gathered in clusters so large that House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, dispatched a sergeant-at-arms to break them up.
I mean, I know there is work to do but at least we could expect everyone to take it seriously given the circumstances.  But if they aren't even going to take the public health threat (or even the health of their colleagues) seriously, what do we think they're going to do about the effects of a crashing economy
The crashing price of oil, which was trading in the $20 a barrel range Monday, will likely have the biggest effect on the state’s revenues, Albrecht said. Currently, the state’s revenues are based on a roughly $60 barrel of oil, and for each $1 drop in the price over a year, Louisiana’s revenues drop by around $12 million.

Complicating the picture is Louisiana’s economy wasn’t roaring to begin with, Albrecht said, which made the state particularly vulnerable to such a dramatic shock. Manfred Dix, the economist for Edwards’ administration, said the state was facing a “double-whammy” of oil prices and business closures from the pandemic.

It’s not easy when from one day to the next you basically tell the economy to shut down and close doors,” Dix said.
Which, again, is why we have to be extra diligent in making sure people are taken care of during the hard times.  A lot of what they're able to do in that regard begins with what the federal government allows. But in the meantime the state lawmakers need to be thinking about ways to keep critical state services available, keep people paid, that sort of thing.

Are they taking that task seriously? Of course not. They're just there to give tax breaks to oil companies. Everybody knows that's their real job anyway.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The Lost Month

"What are you gonna do when this is over?" What hypothetical imaginary spring-festival-in-the-fall are were you most looking forward to? What sports are you planning to not go watch? Immediately after Katrina there was a similar thought experiment going around. What were we gonna do to celebrate when evacuation ended and the emergency was over? It took a while for people to realize that the Katrina emergency would never be over. Katrina changed everyone's life forever.  This event will as well.

I don't think people fully understand what's happening yet. This isn't just a lost month. It's not just an act of nature. Like every major disaster of the 21st Century, it is a moment when the oligarchic classes will further tighten their grip on wealth and power. It is a moment when grifters and political cronies will take advantage to steal whatever the panic shakes loose.The bosses are winning the pandemic.  The bosses and the thieves.

We've seen it all before up close
If Katrina is any guide, profiteering amid the current COVID-19 pandemic seems inevitable given the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be sloshing through the hands of businesses and officials. Within 10 days of Katrina, Congress approved $62 billion in emergency relief for the Gulf Coast. That pales in comparison to the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package already passed, including a $500 billion corporate bailout fund. Yet corporate profiteering still reached epic proportions in New Orleans and the region after Katrina.
One thing Katrina taught us was you can't put off raising questions about profiteering and corruption while the disaster is happening just because "now is not the time." The chaos is precisely the time when it all happens. Shortly after Katrina, George W Bush used the emergency to justify suspension of the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act.   Last month, labor leaders in New Orleans were upset to learn that emergency contracts to set up the Convention Center field hospital had been let to out of state operators.
Some local union leaders are angered that dozens of workers have been brought in from Texas to help convert the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center into a medical facility to deal with the coronavirus crisis, at a time when hundreds of their members are out of work.

The order to convert the convention center into a facility to provide up to 3,000 beds for spillover COVID-19 patients was made by Governor John Bel Edwards two weeks ago.

Two contracts for just over $76 million were quickly put out to bid. One for about $38 million, primarily to provide medical staff and services, went to BCFS Health and Human Services, a faith-based non-profit based in San Antonio, Texas that was formerly known as Baptist Child and Family Services. The other contract to build patient's tented cubicles and related work went to Baton Rouge contractor Dynamic Construction Group.
BCFS is an umbrella non-profit that has been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for constructing and maintaining border detention facilities.  Meanwhile there is also this. 
The governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or OHSEP, also mandated that a previous $12.79 million contract to provide isolation housing units in Bayou Segnette be changed to instead put up trailers for patients "under investigation" adjacent to the convention center, according to Casey Tingle, OHSEP deputy director and chief of staff.

Tingle said that trailer park facility will initially by staffed by medical personnel from the Medical Corps of the U.S. Navy and may later be staffed by BCFS doctors and nurses.

The contract for that spillover trailer park and associated services went to Garner Environmental Services from Deer Park, Texas, whose sub-contractors include Energy Mechanical Services from Waller, northwest of Houston, both of whose trucks and workers were parked alongside Hall G at the convention center for the past week.
The "Government Laison (sic)"  for Garner Environmental Services happens to be disgraced former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmondson.

Maybe it seems petty to point this stuff out. But it matters because everything that slips through in a matter of minutes now is infinitely more difficult to claw back later. And sometimes that is more than just a few million misplaced dollars. Sometimes it's 351 affordable housing units.
In 2016, then-New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu adopted a five-year housing plan featuring a commitment to “build or preserve” 7,500 affordable housing units by the end of 2020. But with the deadline right around the corner, the city won’t come close to meeting that goal.

In fact, the city lost 351 affordable housing units in just the last six months, and 671 over the last two and half years.

That’s according to a new semi-annual data report from HousingNOLA, an affordable housing advocacy non-profit. HousingNOLA issues comprehensive annual report cards on the city’s progress battling the city’s affordable housing crisis, as well as semi-annual data reports to give people an idea of what to expect when the full report comes in the fall.
That's not a direct result of the COVID crisis, of course. (Although good luck affording anything anymore now that nobody has a job!)  I really wanted to bring it up here because last month we also found Mitch Landrieu on Twitter telling us about what "we saw" after Katrina.

Which is a weird thing to say for the person who oversaw a massive exacerbation of these inequalities during his term as mayor. It isn't going into too much of a stretch to say that Mitch Landrieu helped give us the New Orleans where the consequences of COVID 19 would inevitably distribute so unevenly.

All in this together
Are we, though?

Anyway, everything is broken now and whatever new normal we're left with after the grifters are done picking everything over will again greatly advantage the "generational wealth" communities Mitch is talking about. So we're going to have to think very carefully about the kinds of changes that slip through now that we won't be able to undo later. Heightened surveillance. New parade rules. There are a lot of things happening we aren't thinking about. Can you think of any reason to roll back regulations on toxic chemical emissions right now?

Also, what was going on here?
Orleans Parish School Board members on Thursday backed off a fleeting proposal to extend their superintendent’s contract after hearing criticism about the unclear, last-minute process — amid a pandemic — that members of the public said failed to rationalize the proposed move.

It’s unclear why the extension was being pushed now. NOLA Public Schools district Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s contract doesn’t expire until next year. Between now and then, there will be an election for OPSB members, and any newly elected board members will take their seats. Lewis’ annual evaluation won’t be completed until this fall.
It could be nobody knows what day it is or what time it is or in what order to do things anymore so everything tries to happen at once. Or maybe they just saw an opportunity to sneak a major decision by during a moment of minimal public access. It's already a problem that public business has had to improvise virtual proceedings more likely to deviate from open meetings laws with access limited to those who can afford to surmount "digital divide" issues. This is going to become an even bigger problem as this kind of negligence gets baked into the "new normal."

It certainly seems like a moment when you would not want to be laying off reporters but here we are. The news business is really an advertising business that's spent the better part of the past four decades seeing local outlets squeezed to death by mega-corporate consolidation and then by Big Tech. So, like pretty much any other industry, journalism needs a stimulus.  However..
The stimulus package proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) included aid for community newspaper publishers, but that provision did not make it into the final bipartisan bill passed last week. Many newspapers can apply for small business loans, but executives say those won’t cure the industry’s underlying problems.
Speaking of the stimulus legislation, nobody seems to understand  how profoundly awful the "CARES Act" bailout is. We can't afford to fuck this up this badly in this moment. We've been asking for weeks that Congress roll out the big money gun in order to help workers and small businesses affected by the shut downs.  Instead they've been given a sclerotic SBA loan program and a $1200 check that may take months to arrive.  The money gun only fires in one direction, it seems. It fires up to where the Masters of the Universe roam.
The Fed responded by dusting off emergency lending facilities like the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, and the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, all of which saw action after the crash of 2008. Each would be used to step in and buy financial products in the various markets frozen due to virus panic.

The Fed furthermore announced that on March 23rd it would begin buying $50 billion in government-backed mortgage securities, in addition to $75 billion in Treasury bills, every day.

They’ve since lowered those numbers, but the scale of these interventions dwarfs any of the Fed’s actions post-2008. A $50 billion buying spree roughly represents as much Fed support of mortgage markets in one day as was done across a month at the peak of the last round of Quantitative Easing. Taken in conjunction with the CARES Act, the Fed and the Treasury were now positioned to become a major ongoing buyer of everything from mortgages to U.S. government debt to exchange-traded funds  to corporate bonds to money-market funds.
While all of this was being negotiated, the public was led to believe that, unlike in 2008, this time we weren't going to let them steal all the money. This time there would be real oversight.
A $500 billion corporate assistance program for distressed industries proposed in the $2 trillion Senate coronavirus stimulus bill will include an inspector general and oversight committee, according to a senior administration official.

The inspector general for what Democrats initially bashed as a corporate “slush fund” will be confirmed by the Senate, just like any inspector general, according to the official.
But later we found out that, no, actually the Treasury Secretary has authority to overrule whatever the  committee might decree. Oh and Trump has already fired the Inspector General so then so much for that.  Meanwhile, an underfunded SBA loan program ostensibly meant to help small businesses cover payroll was immediately looted by hedge funds

The SBA debacle was so bad that it actually shamed Republicans back to the table one more time to try and fix it. This could have been a bonus leverage opportunity for Democrats to win critical funding for state and local governments whose budgets have been cratered by the crisis. Of course, they whiffed on that and now every state and every city in the country has to wait another month to find out if we're all facing severe austerity cuts on top of the economic disaster that is already unfolding.

In New Orleans, for example, the mayor and CAO will be before City Council on Tuesday with a plan to borrow $100 million in order to fill a massive budget gap. (There is a federal program designed specifically to help them do that. You can read about it here.) The deficit is projected to be as much as $150 million, though, so they're going to have to find more.  Hey I wonder who might have hundreds of millions of dollars in public money just laying around right now....actually, let's come back to that later.  For now, it's still up to Congress. The May stimulus might be their last chance to try bailing out the people instead of the one percent.  We'll see how they do. Seems like a tall order.

Stay Home
Shouldn't these say, "Go Home?"

Eventually they're just going to make everyone go back to work. The Brennans will send a six foot rabbit to force us there at the point of a sword. Those of us there are even jobs for, that is. Those of us that can be used under whatever temporary and tenuous conditions that are set down. It will happen before anyone is safe from the virus. If there is no further action from congress and the status quo order is already maintained, everything will still be as broken as it is now and we will all be several orders of magnitude poorer for it.  Poorer workers are cheaper workers. When unemployment is high they are more disposable. The conditions that force them to work despite the danger make them easily exploitable. The bosses have won the pandemic.

They understand this, of course. This is why they're so eager to "reopen the economy now."  Which, in turn, is why the momentum for doing that has been spurred by a national astroturf "protest" movement funded by the DeVos and Koch political networks. Two weeks ago, about 17 people showed up at the Governor's mansion. Having gained the blessing of elected Republican state legislators, the latest demonstration brought out 250 people in Baton Rouge on Saturday
The protest was put together in the five days since Edwards extended his stay-at-home directives Monday, said state Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, who organized the effort on social media and by contacting churches and other groups.
When the Governor extended the statewide "stay-at-home" order to May 15 he put it in line with the date the city currently has in place.  It remains to be seen whether the state or the city will be ready to "reopen" at that time or what such a thing will even look like. But the political winds seem to be blowing them in that direction.

State and local governments have been chasing White House issued "metrics" intended to gauge the rate of spread and its effect on health care resources. But no one really knows if or when it will be safe to relax the restrictions that get us to meet those numbers. The whole thing could start right back up.
 “So, what happens when we reopen,” mused Dr. Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.  “It’s probably going to explode with a second wave.  The virus is still active, as we still see new cases, if even to a lesser degree.”

To mitigate the potential harm from reopening, every scientist The Lens spoke with re-emphasized that now more than ever is the time to take this virus seriously.  Both infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists alike said that washing one’s hands, wearing a mask and social distancing will go a long way to curb whatever second wave may just be around the corner.

“With a reopening comes a lack of social distancing, and it’s still not mandatory in Louisiana to wear a mask,” Hassig said. “Maybe 40% of people in New Orleans have already been infected. But, who knows?  Until we have the ability to rapidly test people and find out whether they’ve been exposed, it’s a guessing game.  I tell people to be cautious.  People want to take their chances, but it may be foolhardy. Just because we’re currently not running out of hospital beds doesn’t mean it’s time to let down our guard.”

There are still many people who believe this won’t be truly over until and if we can produce a vaccine that generates universal immunity
No one can say for certain when a vaccine like that might be ready.  But the consensus opinion tends toward 18 months at the very least but probably longer than that. So it's entirely reasonable to expect that over the next year and a half we'll be functioning under some sort of social distancing directive punctuated by future stay home orders from time to time if things spike.  Which is why the mayor said Tuesday that we may have to think about canceling Mardi Gras parades next year.

You can get mad at the mayor for saying these things out loud if you want to. But she's not just making it up. We need to talk honestly about the scale and scope of this thing so we can plan to keep everyone safe and secure throughout the....

Ahh who am I kidding? You know they're just going to bring on a bunch of politically connected business people to tell them what to do, right?  Said business people are already drawing up the orders, in fact.
Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO Inc., said that while health care considerations are paramount, it's time to start focusing on limiting damage to the economy.

"There is a general sense of urgency, from small businesses to large, to get the wheels of the economy moving again," he said. "Slowly re-opening the economy has practical implications like jobs, but also psychological implications because it gives people hope that we’re trying to move back to some new normal."

Moving too slowly to resuscitate the economy could prolong the recovery, which could lead to other health concerns that stem from joblessness and poverty, Hecht argues.
Hecht is echoing sentiments expressed in a full page ad placed by area patricians in the Advocate last week.  In this Washington Post interview, the mayor reiterates her response to that ad saying she "will not be bullied" by these business leaders. We hope that remains true. But the bosses have a lot of power. In fact, they probably have more power than the mayor does.

Friday, Cantrell talked to the press about developing a phased reopening strategy. Among the persons and entities listed on her advisory committee, we find businesses and "philanthropists" but not much about workers' voices.
It is unclear yet which businesses fall under the risk categories, but it will be determined in upcoming weeks by a multi-disciplinary, 14-member panel that includes (besides Cantrell): Tanya Blunt-Haynes of Friends Salon & Spa; Susan Brennan of Second Line Stages; Mavis Early of Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association; Joe Exnicios of Hancock Whitney Bank; Vaughn Fauria of NewCorp; Michael Fitts ofTulane University; Trivia Frazier of Obatala Sciences; Andy Kopplin of Greater New Orleans Foundation; Calvin Mackie of STEM NOLA; Alden J. McDonald Jr. of Liberty Bank and Trust; Rick Tallant of Shell Oil; Warner Thomas of Ochsner Health System; and Greg Tillery of We Dat’s Chicken & Shrimp.
This is similar to the infamous post-Katrina "Bring Back New Orleans Commission" Ironically Cantrell began her career in politics resisting that panel's plan to replace much of her neighborhood with green space. Now it looks like she's working for them. It's just an inescapable truth that the city we "rebuild" in the wake of any disaster will be shaped according to the whims of the bosses. The office holder they use to implement their agenda is really kind of irrelevant. It could be anybody... so long as they are careful not to get too out of line.

Of course the mayor's council of bosses isn't the only such panel plotting out an economic reopening. The Governor's Resilient Louisiana Commission held its initial meeting, over the phone of course, on April 22nd.  And the extremely right wing Legislature we just elected also has a task force. What are they like?
The task force is charged with developing comprehensive policy, legislative, and regulatory recommendations to immediately re-start the Louisiana economy and to invest in the long-term recovery of households, workers, and businesses, according to the press release.

“With every challenge, there is opportunity,” said chairman Jason DeCuir, a Baton Rouge-based tax expert. ”It’s a long road ahead, and gathering input to develop solutions is a critical first step.”

The task force's membership skews heavily towards white Republican males.

Hmmm.. I might check again to make sure there aren't any large pink rabbits there just in case. Anyway, what are you going to do when this is all over? You may not have your plans in place yet but rest assured, someone is working out a plan for you.  Right now it only feels like we've lost a month.  But just wait. We're sure to lose much more than that.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Well it is the first of the month

How is that eviction moratorium coming along?
In a move that mirrors the state's latest coronavirus shutdown order, New Orleans judges on Thursday extended a temporary ban on evictions to May 18, but didn't say whether they will impose a longer moratorium.

Housing advocates last week asked the judges to extend a moratorium to Aug. 24 to match a federal law that effectively bans many evictions until then.

The city court judges have yet to answer to the request, according to Veronica Reed, the executive director of the Jane's Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative.
August 24 is probably too soon, actually. But May 18 is extremely too soon and it would be much worse if the judges really do leave it that way.  My understanding is the city court judges are waiting to see if they get some guidance from the state supreme court so... we'll wait another couple weeks to see where that goes. 

Someone is going to have to step in.  The mayor seems to be wavering.  Earlier in the week, Mayor Cantrell spoke with Washington Post reporter Bob Costa about a number of things related to COVID recovery. The video also includes an interview with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms. Cantrell's is in the second half. There is a transcript here and the Advocate pulls this same quote.

When asked about evictions, Cantrell says she's working with the judges but immediately launches into a bit about how "we need to find balance" with the landlords.
MR. COSTA: Just in the final few minutes here, Mayor, I would appreciate your perspective on the economy, to follow up on your thoughts. There's an order about evictions in your city--suspending evictions. It's set to expire, as you know, at the end of this month. Should city courts or your office take action to extend that eviction freeze?

MAYOR CANTRELL: Well, we're actually--we're doing that right now. We are working with the courts on this. We do want to prevent evictions. And at the same time, there needs to be balance there, making sure that we're working with our landlords, even our smalltime landlords, so that they are made whole as well. So, it is a win-win, and there's a balance of the people who need the housing--and we definitely do not want to push them out of housing--but also the landowner who needs some subsidy as well. So, we have activated rental assistance in the city, utilizing public money as well as private, again, wanting to strike that balance to help both, because it does touch--it touches both the economy as well as the tenant who needs the housing.

Notice how she qualifies that they are looking out for, "even our smalltime landlords," implying that the independent mom and pop type landlords we might actually sympathize with are actually an afterthought to her. But apparently the landlords "that we're working with" are more big time than that.

Which is curious since it's really the independents who need attention.  There's a danger here going forward that smaller property owners could fall victim to foreclosure leaving only mega-corporate landlords in control of more and more rental property. This in turn exposes renters to further abuse and much greater chance of being evicted by an uncaring land management companies based thousands of miles away.

It's much easier to bring the interests of small time landlords into "balance" with renters. All that takes is a freeze on mortgage payments to match the freeze on rent. I wonder if Mayor "Not Talking About Taking From The Rich And Giving To The Poor And All That Kind Of Crap" actually cares about any of that.