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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Un-Serpas Signal

Ronal Serpas is no longer the Chief of Police in New Orleans. But his legacy lives on.
NEW ORLEANS, LA,- The NOPD Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint beginning at  9:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, to 5:00 a.m. on Friday, March 6, 2015.  Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc.
Drive carefully.

Quantity over quality

A writer writes, they say.
If this whole president thing doesn’t work out, Bobby Jindal should consider another career path: columnist.

Since becoming the governor of Louisiana in 2008, Jindal has amassed a clip file of guest editorials that would be the envy of any freelance opinion writer.
For the record, some of us began speculating about Jindal's punditry ambitions a year ago at the latest.  Have you read some of those clips, though?   They are not good. As in, they appear to be written by a 14 year old for a 10 year old. But with maybe more outright lying than you would expect.

But then hackery never demanded much in the way of talent, let alone honesty.

Indispensible man

Last month, Mickey Loomis told reporters that the Saints had "a plan" to deal with this season's edition of "Cap Hell" (which may or may not exist depending on which theology you are subscribed to.)  Loomis didn't give away too many details but he did say, ""I wouldn't call it easy."

He also hinted that it might entail some emotional difficulty.
Loomis said he would view the team critically without overreacting to last year's finish.

"Every year we've got to look at our team with a critical eye and try not to be swayed by the emotional investment we have in any given team," he said. "That's true whether you're 11-5 or 7-9. Obviously we've got a different feeling after 7-9 and not living up to expectations that I think we all had coming into last season.
For a while, the ordeal of coming to terms with disappointment was limited only to the Benson family.  This week, that is beginning to change.

Yesterday, we learned that the Saints are "shopping" their most productive defensive player as well as their (currently) most controversial one. And then this happened.
NEW ORLEANS - The Saints have released fan favorite and Super Bowl hero Pierre Thomas.

Thomas all but confirmed the move with a Tweet to fans of the team. The move was first Tweeted by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

"I want to thank the New Orleans Saints organization, all my coaches, my teammates and the Who Dat Nation for an amazing adventure," Thomas Tweeted from his official account. "I have so many wonderful memories I will never forget. I am thankful to have spent the past 8 years in the great city of New Orleans! As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end but I'm not done yet."
My my does the time fly or what.  For most fans it feels like only yesterday when Pierre was magically hatched from an egg to beat Antonio Pittman out of a roster spot during the 2007 pre-season. We took it as an auspicious sign that Sean Payton was the kind of coach who would allow a rookie free agent to render his 4th round draft pick irrelevant.  Looking back, it may have been the best decision of Payton's Saints tenure.

"Underrated." That's the first thing most fans will want you to know about Thomas.  Let them keep talking and they'll tell about his uncanny balance, or his vision, or the fact that he almost never fumbled.  Someone will talk about screen passes.  But everyone will want you to know about how underrated all of this was.

During a time when there are fewer running backs among the NFL's marquee superstars, Thomas was never a household name outside of New Orleans.  Having shared playing time with Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and the legendary Jedidiah Collins, Pierre was never even the most famous back on the Saints' roster.  But an argument can be made that (other than the quarterback, of course) he was the most important player on the team. 

Just take a look at what Reid has compiled, for example. You may have instinctively understood that Pierre Thomas was "underrated."  Did you realize, though, that he was essential?
In 2009, Pierre Thomas cemented his legend as a Saint during the postseason. In the NFC Championship Game, Thomas scored on a long screen pass on the Saints' first drive to even the score at 7. Later in the game, he scored again. In overtime, in the game's most crucial moment, Sean Payton called on PT to return the kickoff. Thomas promptly returned the kick 40 yards, setting the stage for an historic overtime victory.

Not quite finished though, PT secured a critical first down on a fourth-and-1 leap to set up Garrett Hartley's game-winning field goal--a play in which a lesser guy would have fumbled, or been driven backwards, from the thunderous hit delivered by Vikings' linebacker Chad Greenway. 

Two weeks later in Super Bowl 44, Pierre Thomas scored one of the most iconic touchdowns in Saints' history on the most beautiful god damn screen pass you've ever screen. This was the finishing touch on Ambush, a sequence that catapulted the Saints to Super Bowl glory.

Lost in the shuffle is Pierre Thomas' 2011 playoff game against Detroit, one in which he quietly contributed 66 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving. Thomas' presence on the field, though, steadied a Saints' team that started slowly. His 59 first-half yards kept the Saints afloat while much of the team fumbled through a listless first half.

The next week in San Francisco, the Saints weren't so lucky. On the game's opening drive, Thomas, on the doorstep of the end zone, took a vicious hit and left the game with a concussion. The Saints then fell into a huge hole and never recovered that day, and one might argue that neither so have the Payton-era Saints.

With Pierre Thomas in the fold for that entire playoff game in San Francisco, one wonders how different Saints' history might look right now. 
That's what they call a "big game player." During the most crucial moments of the Saints' most glorious run, Pierre Thomas was the indispensable man. 

Even when it comes to our greatest heroes, we sports fans can be a critical lot.  Even the most famous contributors to this Golden Era of Saints football have drawn our ire.  Reggie Bush couldn't just put his head down and run forward. Roman Harper fell down all the time.  Mark Ingram was a general disappointment for a few years. Jeremy Shockey was a douchebag. Jimmy Graham is almost as much of one. Junior Galette thinks you are all "fake fans." Even Drew Brees is an annoying brand whore.

Nobody ever complained about Pierre Thomas for any reason unless it was to wonder why he wasn't getting the ball more.

There's a real short list of Saints, even from this era of smelling greatness, who are unconditionally loved by everybody. I tried getting people to name them on Twitter this afternoon. We came up with Steve Gleason, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colston, Scott Fujita, and Tracy Porter before we got into an area where people might dispute some names. 

We all agree that Pierre Thomas is one of those guys, though.  When you lose those players, it hurts.  At least it does until they come out with their own brand of barbecue sauce two or three years later. So we've got that to look forward to, at least.


See alsoHere is a B&G Review post that went up just as I was finishing this.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Horticultural creationism

Another day, another Jindal budget feud.
During a discussion on programs and the governor’s proposed budget for the coming year, assistant superintendent Dave ‘Lefty’ Lefkowith noted deep cuts that the Jindal administration has recommended for the Education Department’s executive budget — heavily implying that the cuts are a response to the political battle between Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White.

“Let’s just be adults about this,” Lefkowith said.

 Stafford Palmieri, Jindal’s chief of staff, denied that the cuts are politically motivated.

“All of the departments are taking cuts like that this year,” she shot back. “That’s just the reality of a $1.6 billion shortfall.”

I wish I could grow money on trees, but I can’t,” she added, drawing laughter in the room, which had grown quiet in the back-and-forth.
One would think, though, that given this Education Department's creative approach to science instruction, they might still figure out a way to do that.  As long as the money doesn't evolve from the tree, it should work out OK.

Great, when can we see it?

Newell is bogarting the good footage.
METAIRIE, La. – An agitated Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand lashed out at a teenager whose family filed suit against the department after he was punched by a deputy during an arrest – an incident that was captured on video and shared on YouTube.

Brady Becker suffered visible injuries from the punches and his case has been a cause célèbre in the news as Becker's family and his attorney held press conferences to denounce the physical arrest.

"I'm mystified by his asking for my deputy's job. He caused this. I expect an apology" from Becker, Normand said.

Wednesday, almost three weeks after the incident, Normand fired back, saying that Becker started the incident and is fully to blame for everything that occurred.

"We didn't start this, Becker did," the sheriff said.

Normand said a longer version of the video than the one that had been released to the public was shot and showed much more of the incident.
Also, "He started it!" is pretty funny, although WWL picked up on that too. 

Most people are not necessary

The work you do is probably more easily automated than you think it is.
Automated Insights, a company that provides language generation software to The Associated Press and other organizations, announced Wednesday the news cooperative will use the software to produce thousands of stories about collegiate sports.

The Associated Press will begin publishing automatically generated sports stories this spring, beginning with Division I baseball, according to a press release.
We could see these developments as an opportunity to de-couple the right to a decent living from the obligation to perform labor, however pointless.   Or we could continue to compete with one another in a stupid race to see who "deserves" more.  Which way do you think we'll take that?

Permanent omnidirectional war

I'm so old I can remember when a lot of people voted for this administration because they said they were tired of permanent omnidirectional wars.
Many Democrats feared Obama’s proposal was too broad, and that the lack of geographic limits along with the inclusion, beyond ISIL, of “associated forces” to the bill would write yet another blank check for war.

But the administration pushed back hard: “Our focus, and the focus of this authorization to use military force, is on ISIL,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on the day Obama unveiled his proposal.

This was decidedly not the approach the administration took today in a hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee. Obama’s undersecretary for defense policy, Christine Wormouth, explicitly affirmed to Republican Representative Richard Nugent that the proposed authorization is not limited to ISIL, and could be used all over the globe to fight a broad war against Islamic “extremism” generally.
 Oh well.

Punch the rich

If only Warren Buffet were correct about this.
He continued that while there are “plenty of other candidates” whose political style he doesn’t agree with, “I do think it’s — I think it’s a mistake to get angry with your, with people that disagree with you,” he said of her. “In the end we do have to work together… And it does not help when you demonize or get too violent with the people you’re talking to.”
As much as I'm enjoying the mental image of Elizabeth Warren running around punching billionaires in the face, I am sorry to say I don't think she's actually as threatening to them as Buffet imagines.  Warren's role is to provide disgruntled liberals with the illusion that someone in the Democratic party gets them so that they will at least remain engaged enough to hold their noses and vote for Hillary in 2016.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Unpopular lame duck governor might have trouble twisting arms

The good news for him is he probably doesn't care all that much.  Anyway, he's probably not going to be able to make these business groups agree to pay their taxes.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's business-lobbying groups are calling a centerpiece of Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget proposal a multimillion-dollar tax hike on business, pitting the governor against powerful industry leaders in the upcoming legislative session.

The Republican governor wants to lessen spending on refundable tax credits, in which the state pays out more than the taxes a person or business owes. He proposes to use the savings to pay for public colleges and health care services in the fiscal year that begins July 1, as he looks for ways to close a $1.6 billion budget gap.

Business organizations object to the most expensive tax break targeted: the inventory tax credit, which refunds businesses for paying local property taxes on their inventory. Jindal wants to limit the credit to only cover a business' state tax liability, which the administration estimates would save the state as much as $377 million annually.
Maybe someone else can.
State Sen. Ben Nevers and Rep. Harold Ritchie, both Democrats from Bogalusa, have introduced similar bills calling for a new tax on the oil and natural gas industry. The purpose of the legislation is to direct more money to higher education and health care services -- which are facing drastic cuts next year.

"We wanted to make sure the topic was discussed on both sides of the Legislature," Nevers said.

Nevers and Ritchie's measures call for at least $300 million from the proposed oil and gas tax to be spent on higher education, $250 million to go to health care services, $80 million to go to prekindergarten or early childhood programs, $250 million to go to state employee retirement benefits and $150 million to go to transportation needs.
Although probably not.

Turns out that Ferguson is in fact an Amercian city

If its police force is any indication, anyway.

Can't reinflate the water balloon

20 years ago in Baton Rouge, a college roommate of mine came back from a geology class barely able to restrain his glee. 

"New Orleans is sinking!" he beamed.  "Y'all gonna have to move out of that shithole."

My roommate was a proud small town Cajun boy from Iota.  I don't think he actually disliked the city as much as he just enjoyed talking shit about it to me whenever he could. Anyway, today he was excited to have some new ammunition.

Having been raised in the sinking shithole, I was already aware of its peculiar and precarious geographic situation. The city was shaped like a bowl. Its land dipped below sea level. Its borders were ringed by levees and walls to keep out the water from the surrounding lakes and marshes. The lakes and marshes were, in turn, being eaten by the sea beyond them. Meanwhile the drained swamp inside the bowl was settling lower and lower each year. The problem was only going to get worse over time.

We knew all of this.  We learned about it in elementary school.  I remember a public awareness stunt that would happen at the beginning of hurricane season where some group went around town with a giant ruler that was supposed to represent the height of a storm surge in the worst case scenario.  It looked bad. But, ironically, the constant little reminders also made it seem sort of routine. The result of this public information campaign was not action so much as acceptance. Of course the city is sinking, we all thought.  Didn't you learn that in sixth grade? Geeze. Besides, I told my friend, in the meantime living there was a (sinking) ride worth taking.

You might think the experience of the Katrina flood would alter that attitude a bit.  But I'm not sure that it has.  Instead, what's happened in the 10 years since is, rather than take the actions necessary to make the city viable in the long term, we've once again simply accepted the reality of its vulnerability.  Katrina's floodline is our new giant ruler. We all know the city is doomed. Didn't you see what happened in 2005? Geeze.

It's important to keep this in mind when you read in the newspaper, perhaps for the first time this week, what many of us old timers have known for decades.  New Orleans's world class drainage system is a curse as much as it is a blessing.

Originally, the water table under New Orleans stayed high thanks to an almost annual soaking from Mississippi River floods. But when levees were raised to protect the city from those floods, the water table started dropping and the soils began to drain, dry and sink. That problem was magnified when development spread blankets of concrete and asphalt across the landscape, reducing the ability of rainfall to recharge the water table.

New Orleanians live in a city that gets an average of 60 inches of rain a year, yet they know the area’s rare droughts can cause expensive problems as well: sink holes develop in streets, houses begin to list like leaking ships, cracks spider across walls, and doors start sticking in their jambs as homes begin to move with the ground beneath them.

But for a population living in a bowl, fear of flooding from frequent torrential rains was always the greater concern, and higher priority. The result is a vast storm-water drainage system featuring some 1,300 miles of subsurface pipes leading water to a series of deep outfall canals linked to 23 pumping stations which rank among the largest in the world.

And they’re always working.

“Some of those lines just continuously drain water from the soils beneath the area and into the canals, even when there is no rain,” Waggoner said. “So there is this constant tapping into the water table.”
 What they are proposing as a remedy is a $9 billion plan they say might help stabilize the water table.
That acknowledgement began to turn into citizen action in 2013 with the release of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, which was funded by state and federal grants.  Developed by Waggoner’s firm in collaboration with water management experts from the Netherlands and around the world, the plan presents a $9 billion vision of how the Crescent City can turn its age-old enemy into a friend by raising the water table to help reduce subsidence.
Letting water pool up in order to reduce flooding sounds counterintuitive. I suspect this is part of what makes it attractive.  It makes a great Upworthy style headline. How we stopped the flooding will surprise you!

But maybe they can do some of what they say.  I suspect, though, that in order to function as intended, such a system needs to be implemented in full rather than in the compromised piecemeal way things actually happen in the real world.  So I'm skeptical.

What they can't do, though, is reinflate the sunken city. They can't even halt the subsidence, really.  Certainly they will hire some consultants. Certainly they will make names for themselves in the urban planning community which  is really what it's all about.  Remember, this is a sinking city. Everyone knows that already. The smart people are the disaster capitalists who can figure out how to enjoy the ride and peel off the profits from that while they still can.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Everybody hates Bobby

Not sure why he would want to win CPAC but Bobby Jindal really wanted to win CPAC.  He didn't.
Bobby J finished 11 in the faux GOP primary. Jindal netted 0.9 percent of the vote. However, “undecided” edged out the Louisianan with 1 percent of the vote. The Governor did manage to beat Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Pataki, and John Bolton in the crowded field.
In case you missed CPAC over the weekend, here is a quick re-cap.

What a shame it is about Steve Scalise

Imagine if he hadn't had quite so many friends in the white supremacy business and you might could see how he'd have a shot at becoming Speaker of the House.

On the other hand, without those friends, it's hard to imagine his career happening at all. Funny how that works.  Or not funny, really.  One point we (meaning I, Lamar, and others) tried to make when this story first broke was that it's remarkable how far the local political and media power structure  will allow a person with ties to hate groups to rise until the pressure from outside finally spurs them to become more critical.

And pressure from outside doesn't necessarily have to stem from the purest of motives.  Scalise was golden right up until the point where he became a possible rival to Republican party leadership. Then, suddenly, this stuff mattered.

"Someone is gonna hire me. I’m Chris Rose"

In a way, what's happened to Chris Rose is overly harsh.
Rose’s collection of post-Katrina Picayune columns, 1 Dead In Attic (Simon and Schuster), became a New York Times bestseller in 2007. Since then, New Orleans’ news community has seemingly cast Rose aside. No journalism entity in town will hire him, he tells me, not even freelance. If they do answer his calls, they say he’s too much of a risk. And so for all of 2014, the 53-year-old Rose was waiting tables to pay rent and feed his three kids.
There's a litany of personal struggles there we wouldn't wish on anyone.  It's hard to see why this should become a permanent barrier to employment. "No journalism entity in town will hire him."  That sounds pretty sinister.   Your instinct is to react the way Harry Shearer does.
At Kingfish, Rose continued serving his fans—as well as his fellow New Orleans celebrities. “This waiter walks up and it took me probably way too long to realize, Oh my god, I know who you are. I was absolutely startled,” says Harry Shearer, comedic actor, voice of many Simpsons characters, and part-time New Orleanian. “To go from an essential voice to a forgotten voice in the relative blink of an eye is pretty shocking. For a city that reveres tradition and history, a city full of second chances, it seems very puritanical what seems to have happened to Chris.”
But you look again and you see the several examples of employers having been flexible and patient. FOX 8 flew him into town and put him up in a hotel several times, apparently.  And yet it keeps not working out somehow.   Except that actually it does work out. Rose is writing professionally again and "making four times the price that Gambit or Times-Picayune pays freelancers."

For some reason that isn't good enough, though.  Somehow, despite every humbling experience, Rose maintains a distinct air of "Don't you know who I am!" about him.
Clean, sober, and again a free agent, Rose this time found himself deeply unemployed. Having been praised for understanding New Orleans in a special way, he suddenly, finally, also understood its smallness. “For seven months I was getting turned down. I kept thinking, ‘Someone is gonna hire me. I’m Chris Rose.’ It took a while for me to realize, all these unreturned phone calls … I’m not gonna get a job here. And I had no other marketable skills. For 30 years there’s never been any question of what I was gonna do.”
But who is he, really? Chris Rose is a significant specimen. He was the first bona-fide Katrina entrepreneur; the first in a long line of such people to try and monetize a personal brand he built on other people's tragedy.

I say, "other people's tragedy" carefully, of course.  The time of the flood affected everyone who lived through it.  It changed everyone's lives in radical ways.  It profoundly affected our sense of community and our politics.  It made physically manifest an existential threat of impending doom we might have sensed before but never directly confronted. It made people take stock of things and decide what was important to them.  I wouldn't want to belittle anyone's experience with that.

But what I just described there was pretty much the basic package. If your life was in New Orleans before Katrina, you got one of those. That's not nothing.  But it's possible to say that, if this is all you got, then what you got was not especially tragic.

Chris Rose was living in New Orleans at the time of the flood.  Personally, he came out of it pretty well. Or, at least he should have. As you can see from the CJR story, he's been through some personal trials but it's a stretch to relate those directly to the storm.  He didn't lose his home. He didn't lose his job.   In fact, the experience was a boon to him, professionally. He made certain to take advantage of it, anyway.

It's a little strange that Rose should end up such a pariah after all this time.  He's far from the only hyper-ego to go about feeling Katrina at you for money.  He actually presaged the kind of cynical exploitation that currently comprises a large (although perhaps over-exaggerated) portion of the local economy.*

Maybe, then, we might view Rose as a bit of a cautionary tale.  Is personal branding really the best way for us to go about making a living?  There were hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians who lived through the same Katrina flood that Rose did. His supposed skill.. "understanding New Orleans in a special way," as the CJR piece puts it, is really no skill at all.  Or, at least, there's nothing "special" about it.

Of course he is an OK writer and, at times, a clever wit but really so are most people. And that's a good thing.  Obviously not everyone is exactly the same, but within a reasonable spectrum, most ordinary people are pretty smart, or funny, or have something of value to say.   None of them is particularly "special" though. Why would you want to be? That sounds pretty lonely.

But the principles of the Perpetual NOLA.com Entrepreneur Week teach us that the secret to success is to always be bootstrappin' in a competitive creative class kind of way. And so we become a whole economy full of Chris Roses forced to sell our adequate but unexceptional selves as "brands" based mostly on the power of their own bullshit self-salesmanship.  What does it mean when we find out our individual brands aren't worth very much in a market flooded with many many more similar to ours?

Pretty soon we're all just working at Rouses. Maybe that's for the best.

*Interestingly Rose says all the royalties from his book belong to the Times-Picayune thanks to the copyright provisions of his employment with them. In that case, the packaging and profiteering off of the Rose brand is partially.. or even mostly.. the company's fault.  That's probably the worst aspect of any of this. Especially since NOLA.com has become the online Church of Entrepreneurship that it has in recent years.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Nobody actually lives here

All the money is going into vacant houses. This is, of course, the plan.

Team Fitbit

Always something.  Last year it was Crossfit.  This year it's electronic monitoring. If there's a fad, these guys will find a way to incorporate it.  Just wait and see what happens when they unveil that new Left Shark formation.

Snakes arriving early this year

Every spring, toward the end of the legislative session in Baton Rouge, the world's most predictable joke is made by just about everyone. This is from May of 2013:
There are always jokes this time of year about all the unsavory characters coming through the State Capitol, as legislators and lobbyists come together to wrangle over what bills will eventually become law. But this year, those same people are sharing space with snakes — real snakes, presumably water snakes migrating from nearby Capitol Lake.

The exact number of snakes found in the building hasn’t been pinned down. The official word from the people who run the building’s operations is that there have been four or five confirmed snake sightings dating back to late April.

But a quick survey of the people who guard the doors or the people who clean the floors and take out the garbage, and the problem appears to be much more widespread. They estimate there have been more than a dozen snakes found in the building going back to early spring.
It may still be a little chilly out but I think we can start with the snake talk a little early this year.   The petroleum industry will be paying a premium to bring them out.
“While many industries will be impacted by today’s budget proposal, the nature of the changes will completely kill the growing solar industry,” Jeff Cantin, the president of Louisiana’s trade association for solar and renewable energy, said in a prepared statement. He predicted the loss of at least 1,200 jobs if Jindal’s plan is adopted.

The solar industry has relatively few friends in the Legislature, however, while the business lobby — and in particular the petrochemical sector — is powerful. As such, it’s the proposed cut of the inventory tax refund that is likely to set off the most heated debate, observers say.

“Here’s the good news: It’s early; we’ve got a couple of months to work on this,” said Waguespack, who was a top Jindal aide before taking his LABI post. “I think most people look at this rebate as the wrong one to do away with. I’m optimistic that cooler heads will prevail.”
"Cooler heads" or , you know, colder blooded lobbyists. But the point is clear.  The biggest pot of revenue Jindal has found, the inventory tax refund, is also the pot most likely to be full of snakes.

Of course there's always the option of passing the whole problem onto the next Governor.
Procopio, of PAR, threw in another unappealing possibility: that the governor and the Legislature, as they’ve done in many recent years, will pass a budget that is balanced only by dint of rosy predictions that aren’t met, setting off a round of midyear cuts and leaving problems for the next governor to deal with.
Which is exactly the sort of thing Jindal might enjoy.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What is the opposite of muckraking?

You hear a lot about how the professional media no longer exercises standards or decorum or whatever it is our supposedly anarchic, wisdom-deprived, gatekeeperless environment is missing now.  I think civility is another one.  We don't have that anymore either apparently.

Still somehow, we manage to keep a pretty good handle on which stories we are definitely not going to cover.
From the very beginning- the moment that public records surfaced revealing that Bill Cassidy claimed to be working in Baton Rouge on the same days he was voting in DC and that he failed to submit 75% of his time sheets (despite the explicit demand that he account for all of his work)- the Louisiana media has been absolutely, shamefully, epically derelict in its duties. They refused to ask the tough questions. They refused to hold him or LSU accountable. Two days ago, LSU released a report that it conducted itself; they called it an audit, and they implied it cleared Dr. Cassidy.

Crazy all the way to bank

The key to understanding CPAC.. and by extension the Republican Presidential primary... and, I guess, by extension our entire corrupt and broken political system... is you have to first know is that almost none of it has anything to do with public advocacy. Most of it is about making money.
The commerce of conservatism has never been more robust. And here at the right’s biggest trade show, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, just about everyone is selling something.

Political figures’ seeing financial incentives in keeping their names circulating as presidential hopefuls is nothing new. But the merging of political and profit motives has gotten to the point where many Republicans say they fear that their nominating process has begun to look like a machine for generating and heightening brand awareness.

“There are a lot of reasons for running for president,” said Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News. “And getting to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue often isn’t one of them.”
You might think it's fun to gawk at so much right wing crazy in one place but most of these people know exactly what they're doing. What kind of an idiot would actually want to be President, anyway? The smart.. or at least shrewd.. ones  are just building a brand they can parlay into something much easier and more lucrative.
Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, won the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses in January of that year. Two months after winning the prominent early presidential derby test, he left the race. In September 2008, Huckabee became the host of an eponymous TV political commentary program on Fox News.

Huckabee is not the only Republican on the national stage who later went under the TV lights – former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a Fox News contributor. Any hopes for Huckabee, who left his show earlier this year to consider another run for the presidency, and for Palin that such regular national TV exposure could reboot their White House ambitions, have so far proved elusive at best.

The popular use of the town hall meeting political structure in New Hampshire, familiarly employed by Christie in New Jersey, works to Christie’s advantage, the source said. A strong showing in the “Live Free or Die” state’s primary could seal the deal for the birth of a lucrative post-politics media career for Christie, in the event that he does not reverse a polling trend that shows a thorny path to the presidency.

Life imitates art.. or vice/versa

This is a float from this year's Knights of Chaos parade. The brawling figures depicted are our friends Gayle Benson and Rita Benson Leblanc.

Gayle and Rita

This is a story form today's Times-Picayune/NOLA.com thingy.
The pregame encounter occurred in front of dozens of friends and guests of the Bensons and quickly escalated after Rita Benson LeBlanc, whom sources described as the aggressor, approached Gayle Benson.

At one point, the two sources who witnessed the incident said, Rita Benson LeBlanc, then 37, grabbed Gayle Benson by both shoulders and shook the then-67-year-old repeatedly during a confrontation that lasted several minutes.

"She (Rita) was shaking her (Gayle) to emphasize her point and to be heard," said one of the sources who was in the suite and witnessed the incident. "It was pretty ugly.

"I remember the pyrotechnics going off in the stadium (during pregame player introductions) and thinking fireworks were also going off in the suite."


The problem

Everyone is worried about what "looks cool" as opposed to what works for people.
Vision Zero, a policy pitched by non-profit transportation advocacy groups Bike Easy and RIDE New Orleans, aims to educate the public and improve public infrastructure with a goal of eliminate traffic-related death. Vision Zero started in Sweden and has been adopted by American cities like New York, San Francisco and Houston.

Brossett said creating a safe infrastructure for all kinds of roadway users is important, especially with the population of the city expected to grow, but that government agencies can’t do it alone. “One life is too much to lose,” said Brossett. “…Whatever your mode of transportation is, it should be respected and the law should be abided by.”

At-large Councilman Jason Williams called the ordinance “a huge part in making our city what we want it to be.” Williams said New Orleans takes pride in how “cool” it is, but such committees are the basis of improving the city to making it “look the way we want it to look.”
Well, it should be noted also that Brossett is interested in making people "abide by the law" which roughly translates into, "Let's figure out more ways to fine bicyclists." This is different from just doing stuff that makes biking safer like paving streets and redesigning intersections and.. even.. sometimes.. if you're doing it correctly, bike lanes. 

But we don't do bike lanes correctly in New Orleans. We just paint stripes on roads where we think it might look cool to have them.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Now you don't have to go

Here are two entertaining links to kick off the weekend. Each involves a report from somewhere you, thankfully, will never have to visit.

First, here is Jeb Lund who went to CPAC this week so you don't have to.
I eventually leave the room and start heading to the other side of the Gaylord, where former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Montana Representative Ryan Zinke answer the question: “When Should America Go to War?” And, folks, lemme tell you, it is all the dang time.
And, even more frightening, here is Matt Taibbi at the NFL scouting combine.
In the old days, the draft was an unknown event that took place in hotel banquet rooms, sometimes during the season. Old-timers like former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt tell stories about teams that used to “pick up a pay phone, call a school, and say, ‘Hey, we need a tackle; you got anybody good?’”

Screw that now: The new reality-show format subjects the draft entrants to a hilarious nine-week stretch of goofball obstacle courses and campy personality tests that collectively play out on TV like a cross between Battle of the Network Stars and the Miss America pageant, with a faint but troubling whiff of 1830s slave auction mixed in.

Because they said so

Another judge just goes along to get along with Mitch.
A judge sided Friday with Mayor Mitch Landrieu in his fight with city employees about the overhaul of municipal personnel rules, finding that city employees failed to prove they were entitled to sue.

Friday’s ruling against the Concerned Classified City Employees, an organization made up of active and retired city workers, is the Landrieu administration’s second major courtroom victory over employees seeking to overturn the new rules. Judge Robin Giarrusso’s ruling leaves intact Landrieu’s Great Place to Work Initiative, which was passed by the city’s Civil Service Commission in August.

In December, Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julien found that a lawsuit filed by the Fraternal Order of Police to block key parts of the initiative was premature.

Giarrusso did not explain her legal reasoning for the ruling, which was preceded by brief arguments from the plaintiffs’ attorney Arthur Smith, as well as lawyer Gilbert Buras for the commission and Greg Feeney for the city.

The good (and bad) news is Sean Payton is still Sean Payton

The coach who wrote a screenplay about improving football games through the use of an X-Box, is still talking about improving football games through the use of virtual reality.
BOSTON -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has an idea. And now, for the first time in NFL history, it's a realistic possibility.

Imagine a young quarterback walking into a room at the Saints' practice facility. He straps on a headset, flips a switch and plays a virtual game against the Atlanta Falcons' defense. His vision is filled with current Falcons schemes and players, who move and react based on data compiled by the NFL's "Next Gen Stats" program.

"The challenge we have all the time is that it's the one position where there's only one of them in the game the entire time," Payton said Friday during an appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "The game ends, and how do you get those guys snaps, real-time snaps? Much like we develop pilots -- they do a lot of simulator work -- I think the opportunity exists [in football]. Especially when you're able to accurately show movement with chips, exactly how it unfolds with the defense."
Eventually we'll get to a place where all football happens in the virtual realm.  Although the brain damage may still be as severe as ever. 

Pain

Jindal's last minute LoomisMath today notwithstanding, the state budget wreck he's created is going to cause a great deal of pain.

The pain will be particularly bad for university students in the form of higher fees and university employees in the form of.. unemployment.

Also badly hurt will be approximately 57,000 uninsured patients who depend on New Orleans area community clinics.
The program is essentially a waiver of Medicaid eligibility for people who are age 19 to 64 and whose are at our below the federal poverty level, but who don't meet the current Medicaid eligibility requirements. Their incomes, for example, must be less than $11,496 per year for an individual or less than $23,556 for a family of four, for example.

"I know that these clinics provide valuable services," Nichols said during the budget hearing before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget in Baton Rouge. But Nichols said the state has provided the match over the past several years with the hope and expectation that the local government would find a way to support it.
This could be alleviated if the state were to accept the expanded Medicaid provision of Obamacare but... Bobby Jindal doesn't think free money from the feds makes fiscal sense. This helps explain why we're in this position in the first place. 

Public schools will also be badly hurt by Jindal's proposals.  Although, we can't help but notice that his pet voucher program makes out okay in the process.
The governor’s public schools budget includes a nine percent increase in state aid for vouchers, to $46.1 million.

Vouchers are state aid for some students to attend private schools if they meet income and other requirements.

The program, which used to be limited to New Orleans, was expanded to a statewide effort in 2012 as part of Jindal’s public school overhaul that year.

The additional funding would allow another 679 students to qualify for vouchers.

About 7,200 students are taking part this year.
There's much much more pain to be described, of course.  The papers do a good job of filling you in.  As you read through that, though, keep in mind that it can, and very likely will, get much worse once the Legislature begins to tug at it.

Jindal's proposal relies heavily on lawmakers' willingness to claw back $526 million in refundable tax credits. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of business and industry lobbyists mobilizing now to save their special favors. 

On the other hand, it could open the door for discussion about reigning in the largest and dumbest tax giveaway in the state.
Morrell said in an interview last week that the overall goal was "comprehensive reform" of the current iteration of the film tax credit program, which in its current form works like this: a project becomes eligible for motion picture tax credits once its in-state budget exceeds $300,000 worth of expenditures. Once finished, the film receives a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase of eligible, in-state goods and services and a 35 percent credit on local labor. The credits are then refundable by the state at 85 percent or transferable.

However, the state does not currently budget for this credit, so how much cash the state is on the hook for it can vary from year to year. 
Last year this program cost the state at least $250 million.  So if you're looking for change under cushions, that sounds like a good place to start digging.  Tom Benson probably has the rest but that money is all tied up in legal wrangling right now. He's trying to free it up, though.  The sooner the better. Otherwise the lawyers eat it all.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How do you get to be the sole trustee of a dissolved trust?

Neat.
It makes me wonder if Mitch is deluded or simply unaware of the reality.  It seems like he thinks he owns everything, including Port Fourchon, and he thinks he's going to do whatever he wants with it.  What he wants, as I suggested back at the beginning of this battle, is to sell the land while he's still in office using the proceeds however he sees fit.  And by the looks of many of the donation recipients he sees fit to pay off his peeps and lucrative voting blocs (I have more coming on that issue soon).
How much for all the land? When Jason first started writing about this, Mitch selling the whole thing off at once seemed like the most likely outcome to me.   Starting to look more likely.  And, hey, maybe it's the right thing to do.  It's all gonna melt into the sea, anyway, right?

LSU finds that LSU acted appropriately

Well.. okay, then.

Nobody actually lives here


This is a new report from The Data Center (formerly the New Orleans Community Data Center... they re-branded to higher ambitions.. or something).  It tells us that 39% of children in New Orleans are living in poverty.  
The child poverty rate in New Orleans is fully 17 percentage points higher than the national average. Moreover, it is higher than in many comparable U.S. cities. Among the 39 cities with populations between 275,000 and 600,000, New Orleans has the 9th highest child poverty rate. This is particularly concerning given that many of the cities with higher child poverty rates, such as Cleveland, are not experiencing an economic renaissance as in New Orleans.
An "economic renaissance" with 39% child poverty.  How does that work?  According to this report, if you actually live here, things are as shitty as they've ever been. 
Given that 82 percent of New Orleans families with children have at least one working parent, how could it be that 39 percent of all New Orleans children live in poverty? The answer may lie partially in the large number of low-wage jobs offered in the New Orleans area. A larger share—12 percent—of full-time, year-round workers in the New Orleans metro earn less than $17,500 per year, as compared to only 8 percent nationally. And female workers who live in the city of New Orleans itself are more likely than male workers to earn low wages. According to 2013 Census data, more than 64,000 working women in New Orleans earned less than $17,500 in the prior 12 months through either full-time or part-time work.
There is one key difference, though.  If the overall population of children is any indication, it turns out, significantly fewer people actually live here.
Roughly 78,000 children under 18 years of age live in New Orleans as of 2013. This is a sizable drop from 2000 when over 129,000 children lived in New Orleans.i While the number of children in New Orleans is significantly smaller than pre-Katrina, the poverty rate unfortunately is not. The child poverty rate in New Orleans dropped in 2007 but has since increased to the same level it was pre-Katrina. Today, 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty.

The city's post-Katrina strategy has had nothing to do with alleviating poverty and everything to do with removing the poors. And it's working. It works especially well for the people who actually matter, anyway.  Developers and realtors are doing great.
The cost of buying a home in the New Orleans area climbed for the third year in a row in 2014. And it was not just the city, but the suburbs as well, that saw gains.

Meanwhile, in the city proper, the latest figures showed that the market has gotten so hot in more desirable neighborhoods that buyers have started scooping up even the more run-down properties. The price of homes in poor or fair condition last year spiked in certain ZIP codes.

Across the region, sales of single-family homes in average or better condition climbed 3.1 percent, to $114 per square foot, last year, compared with $110 in 2013. Those figures compare with an average price of $102 per square foot before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Considered another way, a 2,000-square-foot home now sells for an average of $228,000 in the metro area. It would have sold for an average of $220,000 last year and $204,000 before the storm.

Nobody lives here.  Or at least the shrinking number of people who do live here can't make ends meet.. particularly the few people who are still trying to raise families here. But demand for housing has never been stronger. What is happening?

New Orleans is becoming a smaller, more expensive playground for the wealthy.  This is not an accident of history or the will of the invisible hand of the free market. It is happening because that is what our political leadership wishes to happen. All they're interested in is more and more nice things for rich people who don't live here.
NEW ORLEANS -- The long-vacant Rault Center building at 1111 Gravier St. recently sold for $5.5 million.

The developer plans to turn the building into a 185-room boutique hotel.

The old New Orleans Public Service Incorporated building at Union and Baronne sold last month for $11.6 million.

It is also expected to be transformed into a hotel.

New Orleans City Council member LaToya Cantrell says momentum is growing across the CBD.

"Across the board, what I envision is a real tipping point that's happening," said Cantrell. "It's prime real estate in the heart of the city of New Orleans and it gives me great, great confidence that we're moving in the right direction."
I don't think LaToya is dumb. So I have to assume she is fully aware of the sort of lie she is telling when she asks us to conclude that downtown development is primarily about creating a "neighborhood."
"Basically, what we're see happening there is the development of a brand new downtown neighborhood which is what we're about, we're about creating a collection of great neighborhoods downtown," said Weigle.

"We do have more people moving to the CBD," said Cantrell. "They're moving into a mixed-use community. So, you can live, work, play and also worship."

There is now hope the stars aligned for the long dormant Plaza Towers at Howard Avenue and Loyola Avenue will make a comeback.

New Orleans developer Joe Jaeger recently purchased the 45 story skyscaper.
It's former owners spent $11 million removing asbestos and mold from the building.

"We've seen the growth occur along Loyola Avenue, as it relates to the Hyatt, of course," said Cantrell. "Now we have Dave and Busters coming on line there. The redevelopment in terms of the streetcar line. Plaza Tower is the only development in my mind that holding it back and now we have someone who's going to be responsive and responsible for bring it back, back into commerce."

Hotels, pied-a-terres, short term rentals, and..... Dave & Buster's, I guess.  But not many families with children, of course. Those kind of people can't afford what we're building.   But, hey, it makes money.  And it generates tax revenue. It's a shame that nobody actually lives here but that's part of the deal. 

Eventually they will kick you off the internet anyway

Just not today.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, in a 3-2 vote, approved the reclassification of the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act.

Though expected, the vote was greeted with cheers—applauded as "the biggest win for the public interest in the FCC’s history"— from supporters of net neutrality, the concept that says online traffic should be relegated to fast or slow lanes determined by the large telecom companies who control much of the nation's digital networks.
All it takes is for a future administration to reverse this hiccup. And that is inevitable. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Vampire Squids

They sucked out all the money.
“The health of the financial system might matter less for the real economy than it once did,” writes J.W. Mason, an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College who wrote the paper, "because finance is no longer an instrument for getting money into productive businesses, but for getting money out of them."

If it holds up, that has some pretty serious implications for how the Federal Reserve should go about tending the "real economy" in the future.

Here’s the data at the center of the report: In the 1960s, 40 percent of earnings and borrowing used to go into investment. In the 1980s, that figure fell to less than 10 percent, and hasn’t risen since. Instead of investment, borrowing is now closely correlated with shareholder payouts, which have nearly doubled as a share of corporate assets since the 1980s.
In other words, finance has been a drag on rather than a booster of wealth in the real economy since before someone my age would have even opened his first bank account.  Still, for whatever reason, we're supposed to keep playing the game.  Why?

Probably pink salt

Every state house has at least one witch-doctor nowadays.
Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R) plans to introduce a bill she said would provide more options for cancer patients — but actually relies on what medical experts call a myth, Think Progress reported.

“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, salt water, sodium cardonate through that line and flushing out the fungus,” Fiore said on her radio show over the weekend. “These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”
On the other hand it's no worse than buying pink yogurt cans in October

More cops does not automatically equal safer city

I want to be a police officer

The number of police is a "measurable," though, so every story about how safe people feel inevitably includes a line like this.
Among the rise in violent crime, New Orleans averaged more than one non-fatal shooting per day -- 398 -- in 2014, compared to 322 in 2013 -- a 24 percent increase. A WWL-TV report in January discovered the NOPD had 1,148 commissioned officers, well off its target of 1,600.

While less than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the NOPD, 77 percent said they felt safe in their neighborhoods -- compared to 81 percent in March of 2014 -- though only 44 percent said they felt safe in outside of their neighborhoods in the latest survey.
Would there have been fewer shootings if there were 1,600 NOPD?  It's hard to see how one relates to the other.  There were plenty of NOPD available to respond to a shooting at the Muses parade this year.  But there's not a lot their concentrated presence could have done to prevent it, unfortunately. 

Still, everyone is clamoring for more cops... real ones and fake ones too. So much so that this month the city council agreed to allow NOPD to reduce its hiring standards in order to help it meet its hiring goal.  This might not be such a great idea.
Research conducted by Jason Rydberg and Dr. William Terrill from Michigan State University provides evidence that having a college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance. The study also discovered evidence that educated officers demonstrate greater levels of creativity and problem-solving skills​, wrote Mark Bond, criminal justice faculty at American Military University (AMU).

“A formal education teaches critical-thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of criminal justice at AMU. “These are vital to officers on the street and those involved with community policing, especially since discretion plays such a large part in officer-citizen contacts. The policy and procedure books agencies use can only cover so many situations and scenarios—the rest is up to the individual officer.”
It's unclear whether more police will actually be beneficial.  But we've already moved on to asking whether more bad police will help.  Should be fun finding the answer to that one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nobody actually lives here

Ikea  coming soon

Occasionally we look around at real estate listings like this one   or this one.  and this one and scratch our heads. Where is the money coming from?  No one has sufficiently explained it yet. 

I have no idea what's going on myself but I do have suspicions, particularly where it involves the short-term rental market.  There are renovations happening all over my neighborhood recently. Every time one is completed, that property then becomes host to an ever-rotating series of visitors. During Mardi Gras, it was particularly striking. I used to get to know the neighbors during parades.  In recent years, I've been talking more to tourists staying for the weekend in what used to be the neighbors' homes.

Of course from the city's point of view this is all good news. In the coming weeks, City Council is going to look into making all this underground activity legal.  Higher property values, higher tax collections, fewer actual residents to have to deliver services to.  Lots of money to be made in real estate, I guess. But nobody actually lives here anymore.

Almost a quarter of the way there

The over/under on number of years before BP pays any Clean Water Act fines (if any) over the Macondo spill is 20.  It's been 5 already.
BP is challenging a January ruling over the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill as it seeks to lower its civil penalty for the disaster. BP faces up to $13.7 billion in federal fines.

The notice of appeal, filed Monday (Feb. 24) in New Orleans, comes days after U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected BP's attempt to lower the maximum fine for the spill.

Barbier ruled Jan. 15 that 3.19 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day gusher. The ruling was based on evidence presented in October 2013 in the civil trial over the spill.
Remember, the ruling they're appealing was already a lazy "split-the-baby" decision by Barbier and a big break for BP in and of itself.  

Also, Louisiana is waiting on that money to help fund crucial coastal restoration projects with only the very survival of its most populated areas at stake... oh who are we kidding, it's never gonna happen. 

Uh oh

Y'all, I think Mary Landrieu's reelection campaign might be in real trouble now
(Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama issued the third veto of his presidency Tuesday to reject legislation that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, escalating a battle over the project between the White House and Republicans in Congress. 
Some Canadian oil might have a slightly more difficult time getting to international markets, I guess. For a while, anyway. Why is this even a thing to people?

Everybody hates Bobby

Weird guy camps out on White House lawn and makes paranoid speech about mooslims or something.
WASHINGTON -- Gov. Bobby Jindal continued his attacks on President Barack Obama, proclaiming just outside the White House Monday (Februrary 23) that Obama is "unfit to be commander in chief" based on his refusal to commit resources needed to defeat and kill radical Islamic terrorists.

"I take no joy in saying that," Jindal said after he and other governors met with the president for nearly 90 minutes. "I don't say so for partisan or ideological reasons."

But he said a president who cannot call the enemy "radical Islamic terrorists," or is willing to rule out ground troops, except for very limited missions, isn't leading the United States to victory over a brutal enemy that he says only can be stopped by killing them.
In other news, Osama Bin Laden is still dead.

In other other news, Bobby Jindal's Presidential campaign is still dead in the water

Entitlements

Sounds like a broken record at this point but Hollywood South is just one big corporate entitlement.
The program is certainly popular and fun. It draws movie stars to our midst, attracts good publicity and puts locals to work.

But it’s also distorting, and not just in the way that Petal and Smith were able to so easily exploit.

Their crime would not have been possible if the program didn’t provide tax credits to moguls who don’t even accrue tax liability in the state, a situation that creates a separate marketplace to buy those credits and sell them to locals who do owe taxes; that’s what Petal’s company, LIFT Productions, was set up to do.

In fact, it’s distorting to refer to the payouts as tax credits at all because the state often just cuts checks to players that exceed their tax bills.

Subsidies is more like it, and generous ones at that.
I don't know exactly who Grace thinks it's "fun" for, though. It's probably not fun for the university system.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Math is stupid

Bobby Jindal doesn't want to be in the "Party of Stupid," right?
State officials don’t even agree on how Louisiana got into this budget mess.

Jindal insists the bulk of next year’s shortfall is because of the nosedive in oil prices and its impact on Louisiana’s treasury through lessened severance taxes and mineral royalties. He told a crowd at a recent Baton Rouge event that the state’s financial problems are “largely due to the decline in the price of oil.”

The math doesn’t back up the governor’s assertion, no matter how many times he repeats the explanation.

Louisiana’s income forecasting panel dropped next year’s revenue projections by about $300 million because of plummeting oil prices. The larger problem for next year’s budget is the use of $1.1 billion this year in patchwork financing.

The dollars come from one-time legal settlements, redirected account balances and insurance payments that aren’t expected to appear again next year. Jindal and lawmakers used the money to pay for ongoing programs, so when the dollars disappear, the state must come up with a new way to pay for those items if it wants to continue the services.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

BTW Public schools still failing

Maybe it seems like a small thing, but you really should appreciate the occasions when the big city papers admit this.
Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans’ infrastructure, the city still faces myriad problems, including a failing school system, broken-down streets and federal consent decrees mandated for the city’s jail and Police Department. But topping the list, according to New Orleans City Council members, are two issues: an income inequality that continues to crush the city’s poorest residents and violent crime.
It's taken a while for them to notice but the school system, even after all the "reform" and privatization, is still failing. That's progress.

Here's a recent article by Kristen Buras.  She wrote a book about the charterization movement in New Orleans. (You don't need to buy it. $125, yikes!) The new system still fails to serve its students.  But, in another way, it can be considered a success.
The CEO of Future Is Now, a charter operator in New Orleans, was paid a salary of $250,000 when John McDonogh High School, seized by Future Is Now despite community resistance, posted a performance score of 9.3 on a scale of 150. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that taxpayers received their money’s worth.

In 2012, students from various historic high schools in New Orleans that had been taken over and chartered issued a list of demands to the Recovery School District.

“A lot of money has come to New Orleans for education reform,” they protested, “but none of it benefits the children.”
Buras is speaking Monday evening at Tulane if you're interested.  

Anyway, thanks again to the Advocate for noting that the system is still failing even as an aside to a story about something else. 

That something else, by the way, was a public forum on crime and inequality held by three city councilmembers.  I don't know if they invited the others or not but Jason Williams, Nadine Ramsey, and Jared Brossett are the most vocal councilors regarding inequality.  It's probably just a coincidence that they are the three shortest tenured on the council.... right?
“Affordability is a big issue in this city,” Brossett said, citing rising property taxes and rents, which worsen the burden created by low wages paid in several industries in the city. Together, these issues make the cost of living in Orleans Parish the highest of any parish in the state, he said.

“Income inequality — I don’t need to tell y’all this. It’s vast. I mean, we were compared to Zambia, as far as income inequality,” he said. “That is ridiculous, as we are part of one of the richest and strongest nations on this planet.”

The impetus behind Brossett’s proposal, added Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey,was a disparity between white and African-American workers in New Orleans that seemed to be getting worse over time.

“It’s always interesting to me to read in magazines and news articles and in press releases about all the wonderful things that are going on in our city,” Ramsey said. “But we all know that this economic boom is not being shared across the board in all of our communities.”
This is going to be an important year with regard to these sorts of issues. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of talks like this one.

Why are we cutting higher ed?

Here's a typically territorial clash of the tiny titans between Pat Connick and Austin Badon.
Resurrecting tolls on the Crescent City Connection could return to the Legislature's agenda this spring if a measure to merge Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans also is revived, a legislator said.

Calling it a "shot across the bow,'' state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, warned that he may push to reinstate the tolls, if Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, pushes to combine the schools. Connick opposed the tolls renewal in 2012.
Yeah, it's petty. No, it's not going to amount to anything. Still it's worth noting why Pat Connick thinks we're currently gutting higher education in the state of Louisiana.
He pointed to the decision by Southern University's governing board to combine the jobs of system president and main campus chancellor to streamline the organization. Southern is facing a $15 million deficit next year.

"This issue has never been addressed by the Legislature. It's been pushed under the rug and ignored,'' Connick said, adding Louisiana has too many public universities. "That's why we are precisely where we are today, cutting higher ed, cutting health care.''
No. We're cutting higher ed and health care because Bobby Jindal has wrecked the budget in pursuit of a career in national politics.  But thanks for your concern. 

Deliverables

I dunno, $1.2 million over 10 years still seems a pretty cheap price for this.
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
But I've never quite understood the market scale for bribery and/or consultancy fees... or really the difference between them in the first place. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Deterrent

There have been so many Uncle Ricos caught up in the Hollywood South tax credit scams by now, it's difficult to keep track of them all. Malcolm Petal was the original Uncle Rico, though.  Things turned out OK for him.
A bribery scandal that rocked Louisiana’s burgeoning film industry in 2007 may cost state taxpayers another $6.5 million.

An independent arbitrator has ordered the state to fork over that amount in disputed film tax credits to Malcolm Petal, a former New Orleans lawyer who was convicted of paying off the state’s film commissioner in exchange for millions of dollars in tax credits based on inflated expense reports.
Petal did five years in prison for bribery.  It's nice when you get out and find your investment paid off after all.  Meanwhile the state is going broke.
State lawmakers on Friday criticized but did not reverse nearly $61 million in cuts that Gov. Bobby Jindal levied across state agencies to close a midyear deficit.

More than 135 state workers will be laid off. Open hours at state museums and parks will shrink. Three state historic sites will close. Plans to expand a program that provides home-based aid to people with developmental disabilities will be scrapped. Fewer dollars will be spent on transportation supplies, drug abuse education and law enforcement training.

Like Uber but for feudalism

This is some very exciting disruption right here.
Sidney Torres IV, the New Orleans businessman who made headlines in recent months for his television commercials blasting Mayor Mitch Landrieu over French Quarter safety, said he is putting up his own money to staff and equip the patrol for at least the next three months.

"I'm very confident in this," Torres said by phone Friday (Feb. 20). "If it works, and I have a good sense it will, funding is not going to be a problem."

The pilot program calls for three off-duty NOPD officers to patrol the Quarter in all-terrain vehicles equipped with lights and sirens. But unlike a similar plan to place off-duty NOPD officers on patrol along Bourbon Street, Torres' plan includes a smart-phone application designed to connect citizens and visitors of the Quarter directly to those patrols.

Those who download the free app, which Torres said is in its final stages of development, would be able to report in a few taps of their phone screen a crime being committed -- or suspicious activity -- to the nearest patrol officer.  A photograph could also be submitted through the app, Torres said.

All reports would also go to the NOPD 8th District, which includes the French Quarter.
It's an app that connects  smart phone users who notice "suspicious activity" directly to Sidney Torres's privatized police force.  What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Iconic Tower 2: The re-iconing

The new WTC bids were published yesterday.

A city selection committee will begin negotiating Friday with five developers vying to take over the vacant former World Trade Center office tower at the foot of Canal Street and turn it into a mixed-use hotel and residential complex.

The committee will have to decide which of the plans — submitted in response to a request for proposals and all of which propose some combination of hotel and residences — would provide the best value to the city. The five respondents will make formal presentations to the selection committee on Feb. 27.
The last time we went through this process, all of New Orleans got into a fight over whether it was best to tear the building down and whether or not the redevelopment should involve the construction of an "iconic structure" whatever that is.... possibly a giant napkin ring, according to some drawings.  Anyway, none of it mattered since the winners in that long process couldn't agree with the city on the actual value of the building so the mayor just declared a do-over. 

And here we are now with five new proposals for a "99 year lease" on the property. None of them propose an "iconic structure" or giant ferris wheel but each has its own hook, so to speak.   The Four Seasons proposal includes a "cultural attraction." The Hotel Alessandra proposes a "wine laboratory" as well as a ... something.. featuring Kermit Ruffins who was involved with one of the proposals last time around.

If I'm reading between the lines correctly, though, this looks like a decision that will come down to either Pres Kabacoff's HRI proposal or Daryl Berger's Conrad Hotel group.  Each of those proposals involves actors in the failed "Tricentennial Consortium" bid which the mayor clearly favored last time around.

HRI's proposal includes relies heavily on tax credit financing and includes
An interactive visitor attraction called the New Orleans Experience and operated by Mercedes-Benz Superdome manager SMG would occupy the building’s 31st floor.
An interactive visitor attraction called "The New Orleans Experience" that isn't the actual city of New Orleans even though it is located directly inside of it sounds very Dizneylandrieu-ish to me. Let's go read more about that. NOLA.com published the actual bids proposals.  This is from HRI's.
Integral to our philosophy will be a world-class, innovative, and inter-active visitor attraction on the 31st floor that celebrates New Orleans' cultural history. This attraction, aimed at local residents as well as visitors, will rival the impact that Manhattan's famous New York Experience did for the Big Apple serving as a memorable, entertaining, intellectual gateway to New Orleans. We're teaming up with Unified Field, the nationally renown inter-active design firm based in New York who helped make the World War II Museum here so exciting, to ensure that this experience is a "must-see" When completed we expect the New Orleans Experience to host 500,000 visitors annually.

Yes, it could have been better proofread.   The New York Experience, by the way, was a film that ran from 1973 until the late 80s in New York until the rent got too damn high to support it anymore. I guess you could say it was "iconic" in its own right. Although it did have its critics.
The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau wrote in, too, complaining that Mr. Russell had made it all too realistic. Mr. Boyars said the bureau pleaded for 15 years to drop the mugging scene. ''I asked the powers that be,'' Mr. Boyars said, referring to his bosses at Trans-Lux. ''They said, 'No, it's part of New York and if there's no crime and grime in the ''New York Experience,'' it's not the New York experience.' '' 
Something tells me we don't have to worry about Pres Kabacoff's hotel producing a film with that sort of visitor-unfriendly realism involved.  Here is a look at the trailer, in fact.



While HRI involves SMG and Pres Kabacoff Conrad has all the other important people involved.
The proposal also contemplates the larger redevelopment of nearby riverfront property, including connecting both the Morial Convention Center and the former WTC building to the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel, connecting the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk to Convention Center Boulevard and making “significant aesthetic and practical enhancement” to Poydras Street.

The development partnership behind the plan is led by local developers Joe Jaeger, Darryl Berger and Roger Ogden plus Xavier University President Norman Francis.
Because they propose to connect the Convention Center via the "Whale Lot" on Convention Center Boulevard, I figured Conrad was most likely to feature a monorail in their proposal.  The defunct "Tricentennial Consortium" had a similar idea and featured one in their renderings.

Tricentennial Monorail

The Convention Center has already proposed a package of street redesigns which could accommodate these plans as well. Also, I think Kabacoff owns the Whale Lot. So even if Conrad wins, then, so does HRI.

Conrad does have one sorta-iconic thing in mind.

Conrad Video Wall
The design element will incorporate state-of-the art lighting and kinetic digital effects to bring drama, life and a unified sense of identity to a space that has been sorely lacking same since its creation. In addition to integrated LED lights for animated content, there will be opportunities for projected video art similar to that experienced last year during LUNA fete last year where video images were projected onto the facade of Gallier Hall.
The Krewe of Endymion previewed this "Video Wall" feature for us last Saturday.

Anyway if you care to wager on this round,  I'd put my money on Conrad. Every one of these "lease" agreements has various kickbacks built in, of course, but Conrad takes it that one extra step.
On top of that, the 2 Canal team is promising to donate $1 million to Xavier University and $250,000 to the mayor’s NOLA for Life Initiative.