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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A modest proposal

I realize that it's bad that the Convention Center has been hiring prison slave labor for many of the vanity projects for wealthy New Orleans insiders it spends its slush fund on.  And at first glance we would like to put a stop that.
And now, board member Robert “Tiger” Hammond told The Lens he’s going to try to create a living wage requirement for Convention Center contractors. Unlike the New Orleans city government, the Convention Center doesn’t have conditions for how much its contractors have to pay their workers. The Convention Center board made an attempt to create a living wage requirement in 2017, but it didn’t get off the ground.

“Stay tuned on that, because next month I’m bringing that up as a proposal again,” Hammond told The Lens. “We have a much friendlier board now and next month I will be bringing that issue back up to light on the living wage.”

Hammond is the President of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, a union and labor advocacy organization.

“As a guy who represents labor, it doesn’t sit well when a person comes to me and says, ‘Wow, looks like you have to go to prison to get a job with the Convention Center these days,’ “ he said.

Hammond said he will propose that the Convention Center simply adopt and mirror the living wage ordinance used by the city, which requires contractors to pay employees a little over $11.19 per hour, adjusted each year for inflation.
On the other hand, I think a more elegant solution might be, if we actually put the corrupt operators who enable this system in the first place in prison themselves, then that way we could pay Walt Leger 20 cents an hour to build fences and stuff. I mean if they're going to work for the tourism cabal anyway, they may as well do some actual work.

The people for whom none of this means a thing

Speaks volumes about the Democratic Party in Louisiana
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has selected a team of prominent Louisiana campaign veterans to work on his 2020 efforts.

The Bloomberg Louisiana team includes Richard Carbo, who just ran Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election campaign; Ryan Berni, a longtime aide to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; and Bill Rouselle, a long-time strategist who worked on campaigns for Edwards and New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, among others.

The pinnacle of success for your most influential political consultants is about electing a meal ticket. Anyone who is in this because they actually care about things is a chump. 

Why do so many people want to burn it all down? It's a mystery.

A Muse or a Nyx or whatever

Looks like an interesting memoir to add to your reading list this Carnival season.
“Singing Out Loud: A Memoir of an Ex-Mardi Gras Queen” chronicles Eaves’ life in New Orleans, her struggle with mental health, her unease with the city’s hierarchical social code and her journey to selfhood — standing on her own two feet and deciding for herself what she wanted in life. In some ways, the book could be about almost any questioning young woman born in the early 1940s who did not yet have the strength of the feminist movement to bolster her. But in other ways, it could only have happened here.
Deb Interrupted, maybe?  This article hints that readers will get some insight into the social and racial dynamics of Carnival society. It also notes that Eaves's daughter produced one of the more compelling documentaries that covers much of the same ground.

I'm not sure how to read this quote. It doesn't have to mean she thinks it's all better now. But it can suggest that. 
Homesickness brought the couple back to New Orleans, where Eaves discovered Carnival traditions had expanded to include many more forms of expression, well beyond what she described as the restrictive, hierarchical practices of the old line krewes.

“During the time that we were gone, Carnival expanded so much,” she said. “Now, anyone who wants to can be part of the festivities in their own way. They can be a Muse or a Nyx or whatever suits them. It’s a wonderful evolution of the culture.”
You can be a Muse or a Nyx or whatever now. It's progress, I guess.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Out with a bang after all

Well this is like the third or fourth reversal of plans now. But somehow this just feels more like the way we do our business anyway.
NEW ORLEANS — The city is speeding up the Hard Rock collapse demolition timeline. Officials will now use a controlled implosion to bring down the building and destroy three buildings surrounding the collapse site to do so.

Engineers are shooting for the implosion to take place in mid-March. Debris cleanup will take another two-to-three months.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the new plan Friday afternoon after meeting with the building’s owners and insurers.

“We are going to revert back to implosion of the site as being necessary to insure public safety as well as being aligned with a timeline that is more suitable for the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell also announced her support for destroying three buildings that surround the collapse site to make that happen.
The most likely explanation for the change is this is the fastest and most emphatic way to ensure the whole block gets demolished. Which, in turn, is the best way to ensure the owners of those properties (i.e. the villains responsible for the hotel collapse in the first place) can sell the land for the highest possible profit.

In other words, it's Cantrell looking out for her wealthy allies again.  But, hey, more explosions!

Redistricting nightmare

Some mornings you are reminded that the new legislative and congressional districts drawn after the 2020 Census will be handled by the most right wing legislature in recent memory. 
Senate rules require the Senate Finance Committee to include at least one member from each congressional district. But Cortez also extended that to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that will be overseeing the politically sensitive task of redistricting, the remapping of legislative and congressional political boundaries.

“I asked for requests from everyone, and I tried as much as I could to meet their requests by interest area,” Cortez told The Associated Press. “That played probably as big a part in it as anything.”

He noted, for example, that senators from coastal areas wanted to serve on the natural resources committee, while senators from rural farm areas sought seats on the agriculture committee.

Baton Rouge area Sen. Mack “Bodi” White will helm the Finance Committee that draws up the state’s annual operating budget. Sen. Bret Allain of Franklin will oversee the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee that handles tax policy. And Slidell Sen. Sharon Hewitt will take charge of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that governs redistricting. All are in the GOP.

Hewitt very nearly ran for Governor last year but decided to come back to the legislature for another go at passing Medicaid work requirements maybe? Or maybe she can vote against equal pay for women again.   Anyway, she's in charge of drawing up the new districts.

See here for a full list of Senate committee members. 

Flooding the zone

Columbus remarks here that there sure are a lot of people running for seats on the state and parish party executive committees this year.  How grass rootsy!
By the time qualifying closed last Friday, a surprising number of candidates had qualified for parish and state Democratic and Republican committees. “There was obviously a feel in the community that new faces were needed at the grassroots level,” said a former elected official.
But when you look through the list of names qualified in each district (and Columbus lists some of them) you'll see that there are more than enough familiar folks in there to load the committees up with insiders and crowd out whatever grass roots insurgency might be brewing. Stacy Head and Seth Bloom are here to help guide the Democrats into the future. How exciting. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In other words, they've got it covered

Any way you slice it, a $7.2 million hit to the city coffers to clean up after a "cyberattack" is.. well it's not nothing. But it's important to point out to that, so long as it doesn't get much worse than that, it's within the bounds of what's been budgeted.
Officials have also paid for technical help to move and integrate the city's software. All told, the price tag has hit $7.2 million, a figure Cantrell said could grow.

The city's cybersecurity insurance will cover about $3 million of those costs. But the city will have to pull the rest from its emergency fund, which Montaño said totals about $27 million.

"We do anticipate increasing the level of (computer) insurance for the city moving forward, upward of maybe $10 million," Cantrell said.
Also god bless all the city workers and just people who do business with them for dealing with all the headaches this has caused everyone. If you are sending in your property tax bill by the extended February 14 deadline, maybe include a nice little Valentine's greeting with that.

Anyway, it's expensive, but they've got it covered. Remember that when people start fighting over money again come budget season.

Music ain't a crime... yet

City Council may or may not figure out if it should be, though.
The New Orleans City Council instructed the City Planning Commission on Thursday to study the city’s current laws and “existing ambiguities” on outdoor live music and entertainment, and to suggest necessary amendments to local law.

The motion, passed unanimously, comes months after city officials announced that live outdoor entertainment was no longer allowed at any business in the city without a special permit. The change came although no new laws or regulations were passed.
The "announced" change in policy referred to here happened when Safety and Permits decided that a zoning regulation that requires music venues to close their windows and doors during live music performances must mean that all outdoor music is prohibited by default. 

The ambiguity city council is trying to resolve is deliberate, though.  
The interpretation does not appear on a list of Safety and Permits interpretations listed on the city’s website. The department’s director, Zachary Smith, told The Lens last year that interpretations can be less formal, including emails and even verbal communications. When The Lens asked him to point to where and when this interpretation was introduced, he could not.

We believe we’ve made a decision. Whether it’s verbal or in writing, it’s something we don’t have a specific copy of it,” he said in August.
With no written policy to refer to, it makes decisions by the department more difficult to challenge. The reasoning isn't formal. It's just kind of out there; not something you can just find by opening a door or window, for example.

Anyway now we have to have a study. Then we'll have to have a law change. Eventually they'll probably just codify the policy as currently iterated. You know, because "balance" or whatever.
Palmer said that the study was vital considering rapid changes happening in New Orleans.

“I believe we are at an inflection point in this city,” she said. “We have seen an increased influx of different development pressures, population shifts, some by choice and others not.”

Councilman Jay Banks held a similar sentiment.

“The magic of New Orleans is its culture,” he said. “This study will give us the information necessary to balance the needs of the new developments and new residents and all of the other stuff that’s happening, but not losing sight of what makes New Orleans New Orleans.”

Oh look here is something else that is apparently a crime

Enjoying a National Championship victory cigar.
Saying it was against building policy, a police officer with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome told a group of hyped-up LSU football players celebrating their national championship win Monday night to extinguish their victory cigars inside the team's locker room.

That's when he felt NFL pro football player Odell Beckham Jr. slap him on the backside.
Odell, who was also spotted handing out cash* to athletes exploited by a corrupt and hypocritical system on Monday, now has an arrest warrant out for him. In the locker room incident above, we find him just trying to stop some Dome mall cops from harassing the kids.  The dude is a freaking hero.

* The cash may actually have been intended for the band. But that's a whole 'nother case of official overreach causing bigger problems than it solves.

Why isn't Walt Leger in jail?

Seems like if you write the bill that allows the tourism cabal to continue stealing public money for another sixty years or so and then immediately take a job working for the tourism cabal, that would be the kind of corruption we might want to discourage.
Also on Tuesday, the Convention Center board’s finance committee voted to advance a resolution that redefines how its dedicated taxes are collected and how the money can be spent. The resolution is in large part a reflection of legislation passed by the Louisiana Legislature last year that allows the center to spend tax revenues on the $675 million hotel project and the entertainment district development. The bill was sponsored by then-state Rep. Walt Leger, who now works for New Orleans & Co., formerly the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Not in this city, though. Here we consider that sort of thing "business and economic leadership."  The Advocate invites such "leaders" to summits like this one where they hold forth on the great matters of business in the city for the upcoming year.  Walt was on that panel last week.  He told everybody there that it was time to "get creative."
Walter “Walt” Leger, the former Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives, who now is head of strategy and top legal adviser at New Orleans & Co., said there is a need to "be creative" in terms of raising money for needed education and infrastructure, like implementing a gas tax or public-private partnerships.
That's interesting. Walt's bill "creatively" preserved a public slush fund for the Convention Center to use for its own purposes of handing money over to rich developers for at least the next 50 years.  Meanwhile his advice for funding public transit and infrastructure seems to involve privatization.  How much is New Orleans and Co. paying him now?  And why do we not putting the entire lot of these grifters in prison?   

Probably because the systemic and massive theft of public resources by politically important oligarchs isn't nearly as worrisome to people as their suspicion that some teenagers they read about on Nextdoor might be doing some petty theft and vandalism in Lakeview.  For that, we lock down the schools and call half the NOPD in full body armor to come out and shoot at a 17 year old.  Afterward, the Advocate's opinion page makes certain to heap thanks upon the police and the paranoid residents who called them.

Walt Leger and his cronies are never going to jail. Because the ruling class of this city and their mouthpieces in the media decide what justice even is in the first place.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Oh no where did all our teachers go?

We used to have thousands of experienced, home grown, professional unionized teachers here in New Orleans. And now we need to spend $7 million recruiting to fill a shortage. What happened?
However, following Hurricane Katrina, the city's school system morphed into a decentralized system of scores of largely autonomous charter schools, overseen partly by the Orleans Parish School Board and partly by the state-run Recovery School District. Over time, all schools were converted to charters, and the local school district regained oversight over all schools only last year.

Meanwhile, teacher hiring became trickier, as the 38 separate nonprofit organizations that operate the city's charter schools gained control over hiring, without the benefit of a single, centralized office to provide talent.
LOL the system spontaneously "morphed." I hate when that happens. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Has anything been going on?

I've been watching a lot of football these past few weeks. So I know there's a lot to catch up on.  A bit of a haze going on today, though, on account of the fact that watching football often involves intoxicants. Did they sort out which tigers were "real"?  It's still a little foggy to me.

Geaux Clemson

Monday, January 13, 2020

The little things

The Louisiana Democratic Party, such as it is, has spent much of the past month backslapping and high fiving over its last second muster to very narrowly reelect a conservative Governor. But if they're being honest, they have to admit the 2019 election was close to a total disaster. Republicans hold historically large majorities in the legislature (a "supermajority" in the Senate, in fact.) Their agenda is going to begin with limiting your right to sue if you are injured by corporate malfeasance. There will probably be another stab at tilting the ITEP rules back (further) in favor of big business. And, of course, there will never ever ever be a successful attempt by this legislature to raise the minimum wage above the federal standard.

So it could have been a lot worse if John Bel weren't going back up there to stand around and frown at the Republicans until they behave somewhat. But it's still going to be very bad.  In the meantime, it's the little wins that matter. And from the looks of things, today's election of Clay Schexnayder to the Speaker's chair above Sherman Mack is probably one of those little wins.
The speaker’s race pitted Republicans against one another, as Kennedy and Landry ran negative ads against lawmakers allied with Schexnayder and Baton Rouge businessman Richard Lipsey funded digital ads against Mack. Republican donor Lane Grigsby also pushed for Mack.
Hard to know what the long term consequences will be. But any time you can make John, Jeff, and Lane upset on the same day, has to be considered at least a little bit good.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Does anybody remember DXC?

I wonder if anyone understands that DXC was never going to hit its stated hiring targets.  I wonder if they understand that even with when we consider the clawbacks described here that the city and the state are still spending millions of dollars to subsidize this company. 
That explanation didn't stop Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration from cutting DXC's first-year incentives payout by 45%, the amount its payroll fell short. That's in line with rules meant to ensure an economic return on the $6.5 million the city invested in the deal.

Similarly, the state, which was due to reimburse more than $3 million of DXC's first-year expenses, is likely to withhold about $235,000 of that amount, according to records at Louisiana Economic Development. 

The low payroll was discussed at a meeting of the city's Industrial Development Board last week. The public board must pay a portion of the money New Orleans has committed to DXC over the next decade. It will also cut its first-year share by 45%.
I wonder if anyone understands this entire deal happened in the first place because it serves DXC's global cost cutting strategy. DXC is still getting everything it wanted.  It wanted to lay off workers worldwide and move the remaining bits of its hacked up operations to "lower cost labor markets." That was where we came in.  We were the lower cost labor market. Well, that and we were the suckers who agreed to just subsidize their payroll costs regardless. It's fine with DXC if it doesn't pull down the full subsidy because it doesn't really need to hire 2000 people.

Put to fake a little bit of good faith, they did manage to hit a first year target of 300.  You'll never guess how they did that.
“This newly formed IT services company will create thousands of job opportunities for New Orleanians, adding to our rapidly growing digital economy,” then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in 2017, when the deal was announced.

But over the next two years, they filed more than 150 documents asking for federal approval to hire workers from overseas.

According to a Lens review of data from the U.S. Department of Labor, DXC has filed 152 applications for H-1B visas for foreign workers in New Orleans in the last fiscal year. Some of the applications were for up to 24 employees, but it’s not clear how many DXC is actually trying to hire.

DXC spokesman Richard Adamonis did not respond to The Lens’ questions about how many foreign workers DXC is planning to hire, or how many of the 300 hired this year were on H-1B visas. Most of the applications had starting dates in the fall of 2019. He instead provided a brief written statement.

Our agreements with the State and City establish specific goals for job creation within the Greater New Orleans region, without regard to employee origin,” Adamonis’ statement said in part. “Many of these new hires join DXC through our local educational partners.”
Ha ha joke's on us, I guess. Failed to read the fine print. Maybe that's what the local educational partners will teach the future hires.. if there are any.  Anyway, wow, what a totally trustworthy partner Mitch and John Bel and LaToya have chosen for us.

At least LaToya says she had a hand in it.  Here she is during the final 2017 mayoral debate saying she played a role in landing the DXC deal as a city councilmember. She also goes on to talk about how she wants to "depoliticize" the process by which these corporate giveaways are handed out. This is the same line taken by LABI and Republican agitators in Baton Rouge who spent the 2019 election complaining that John Bel's changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption process allow for too much democracy. It's possible the current mayor is even more right wing than either the governor or her predecessor.

Meanwhile, we read at the bottom of this story that DXC fired its CEO in September. It's hard to read between the lines here but it sounds like the shareholders are convinced his cost-cutting strategy that brought the company here was good for them in the long run. Even if it was "brutal," it was also "effective."
Lawrie had led the legacy Computer Sciences Corp. through a turbulent period for the IT services industry, which had to deal with low-cost competition from India and elsewhere.

But DXC shares have since recovered to nearly $38 as analysts began to recognize the change was necessary.

Lawrie’s tenure is commonly acknowledged to have been brutal in style (even if) it was effective,” according to Rachael Stormonth, an analyst at Nelson Hall, a consultancy. Salvino, on the other hand, immediately emphasized that he would seek to rebuild morale, and he is thought to have a good grasp of the "solutions" approach needed in the industry now, Stormonth said.
And now the job is to "rebuild morale."  Probably should start in the PR department. 

Was "everything fine" before Trump?

Here is one of those annoying political profile articles that treats individual politicians like Hollywood celebrities. But you should read it anyway because it is about AOC and contains a couple of items worth making note of.

The first is this little bit of reflection on one of her first public acts upon arriving in Washington.  She participated in a sit-in protest in Pelosi's office organized by the Sunrise Movement. It's kind of a forgotten episode now. But it still says something about Ocasio-Cortez's instincts.
“I was terrified,” she told me. She doesn’t regret it — though it set the stage for a very complicated year with Pelosi. “I learned a lot about how fear shapes the decisions of elected officials: ‘I know this could be bad, and this could make someone mad, and I don’t know exactly how they would drop the hammer on me or what hammers would be dropped.’ It felt like the right thing to do, and when you say that people think it’s a form of naïveté and that it’s childish, but I don’t think it was.”
It can be very easy to back out of doing what you think is the right thing because of institutional pressure to get along.  The implicit threat that publicly challenging the Speaker of the House would have debilitating consequences for a freshman Rep. was real. Typically the way to build a career and reputation in the party is to keep your head down and definitely not make anybody mad.  The only way you might decide to buck those rules is if you understand the actual nature of "the party" and which side of it you are on. 
She said the Congressional Progressive Caucus should start kicking people out if they stray too far from the party line. Other caucuses within the Democratic Party in Congress require applications, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out. But “they let anybody who the cat dragged in call themselves a progressive. There’s no standard,” she said.

The same goes for the party as a whole: “Democrats can be too big of a tent.”

It is comments like that that kept Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the Democratic Party from reaching any kind of meaningful détente. I asked her what she thought her role would be as a member of Congress during, for instance, a Joe Biden presidency. “Oh God,” she said with a groan. “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.
That's the line that got this story shared all over the internet today.  For some reason people are having difficulty with it. But it's actually very easy to understand.  If you want to know which Democratic Party you happen to be in, just ask yourself whether or not "everything was fine" before Trump?
“This whole primary,” she went on, referring to the one Biden and Bernie are in, “is going to be about the soul of the Democratic Party. I think it’s a referendum on whether we think everything was fine before Trump. People who live in a lot of privilege, who think of public programs as charity, they often think there was nothing wrong before Trump. They think Hillary was the problem. But it’s much deeper than that.”
This morning, Atrios put up a blurb to the effect that the Bush Administration was also quite monstrous, you know.  Which doesn't seem like something that even needs saying to those of us old enough to have been paying attention back then. I mean I would assume anyone old enough to have a living memory of the Bush years who says Trump is any sort of unique and radical departure from that is lying.  If you are a Democrat who tells that lie, it is because your political program is specifically about guarding your own privileges with minimal or no changes to the system that grants them. Where do adherents to such an agenda get to describe themselves as "progressives"? Only in America. 

Monday, January 06, 2020

Somebody finally woke up Arthur Morrell

Usually Morrell times his shutdown fits to coincide with the annual budget negotiations for maximum leverage. He was bit late this year. Wonder what happened.
Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell has called off his plan to furlough nearly all of his office's dozens of employees, a day after announcing it.

Morrell said Saturday that he was backing down on his threat to furlough about 80 workers at the request of Karen Herman, the chief judge of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

The two were set to meet to discuss the situation on Monday, the same day that the furlough would have gone into effect.

In a telephone interview on Saturday, Morrell said the furlough was being called off until further notice.
Again the timing is weird. If you are going to do this after the budget is already active, you basically have to call your own bluff the next day.

"Grateful"

I know this is a small thing but because there is no other new information in this statement besides the fact that the mayor is "grateful" to the krewes, then we have to consider that was the entire point of saying anything.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she is "grateful" that Carnival krewes have been willing make adjustments to their routes to avoid the site of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse.

At the city's annual King's Day celebration Monday at Gallier Hall, marking the beginning of Carnival, Cantrell said krewes have been "overwhelmingly supportive" of the decision to avoid the collapsed hotel at Canal Street and North Rampart Street.

"I’m very grateful to the krewes being receptive to the changes. It wasn’t a battle to fight, it was one we could all agree to," Cantrell said.
But why wouldn't they be supportive of this? Can you imagine a krewe captain insisting on running a great big carnival parade and the noise and crowd and mess that comes with it directly into the shadow of an unstable husk of a building which, as of this writing, is still so dangerous that search teams can't remove the bodies that are trapped there? Well, okay, actually maybe some of these entitled individuals would insist on it. But that's all the more reason not to be "grateful" to them.  There's a hazard there. Just plan around it.

This is an announcement that they are going to plan around it. But it could have been saved for when they told us what the new plan actually was.  So we have to assume there was a reason the mayor wanted to get into the paper expressing deference and gratitude to the krewe captains for some reason. It's weird.

Anyway, hey, it is Carnival Time now.  Gonna need to take a minute after the Saints loss yesterday to decide if we're ready.

The New Boil Order Decade

The answer is five. If you were keeping score at home, write down five was the number of consecutive days we were able to go before the first boil order of 2020.
The Sewerage & Water Board issued a boil water advisory for the West Bank Monday afternoon, the second time such a notice has been issued for the area in less than a month.

In a press release, the S&WB said water pressure dropped on the West Bank while crews were making a repair to Mardi Gras Boulevard.
Reset your counters to zero. 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Year of Demolition

They announced today that the Hard Rock hotel demolition process has been pushed back again
The previous timeline of stabilizing the building to begin recovering evidence of the collapse and the two bodies trapped on the site on Feb. 28 has now been pushed back until May 7. That delay will also effect when officials believe the building will be completely demolished to an empty lot, pushing it back to December rather than late summer as previously projected.
It says "more to come" at the bottom that NOLA.com article so maybe they'll tell us more later about how soon the bodies that are still trapped under the rubble might be recovered.  Also this doesn't say anything about how the possible demolition of the adjacent properties might play into this plan.  We already know what the mayor thinks.
Answering questions about the proposal at a press conference on Monday, Cantrell said she decided to support the additional demolitions after consulting with engineers who said the work is necessary to safely use the cranes that will be engaged to take down the half-collapsed Hard Rock.

“My initial response to that is public safety first,” Cantrell said. “What the engineers have indicated is that a clear line of sight when utilizing the large cranes that will be used is just the top priority.”

“Public safety has always kind of led us and it will continue to (do so),” she added later. “As it relates to the adjacent buildings, I would say I’m absolutely in favor of demolition” if it is needed to create that clear line of sight.
I dunno. I kind of think if "public safety" had always been the priority with these developers, the building inspectors responsible for approving their plans, or anyone responsible for labor standards enforcement who ignored the complaints of their workers prior to the collapse, then we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.  Much more likely the mayor is concerned with making sure the developers pay whatever it takes to clean up their mess. Which is fine, except this sounds like she also wants to help them recoup their losses by maximizing the resale value of the property. Knocking down the whole block instead of just the hotel is one way to do that.

Leftover money

Obviously it would have been less than what we might consider ethical for this PAC to hang onto "leftover" money from the Governor's election and plow it right into their next cause. But would it have been technically illegal if they had?  It doesn't say here. But I'd like to know.  Anyway, they're going after Leon now.
People Over Politics supported Edwards during his successful re-election bid, paying for a billboard in the same location and paying for canvassers during the race.

The current version of the group is not affiliated with the Edwards campaign, Greene said. Leftover money collected by People Over Politics as part of the gubernatorial race was sent on to Edwards’ leadership PAC, and the group has secured new funding for the district attorney’s race, she said.

A list of donors to the group was not immediately available. The group's chairman is Anthony Marullo, a real estate developer.

The organization is not supporting any specific candidate against Cannizzaro, Greene said.
Also if that is the same Anthony Marullo I'm thinking of then, yes, he is "a real estate developer." That's a bit of an understatement, though.  Marullo's family has owned the French Market Restaurant for decades. Here is an amusing story from 2016 about Marullo's dispute with a health inspector he says was shaking the restaurant down.  The family also controls numerous other properties including several hundred apartments in several locations as well as a somewhat controversial CCs franchise

As for their interest in the District Attorney's office, we can only guess what that might be.  The PAC spokesperson says they plan to go after Leon's record on prosecuting domestic abuse cases as well as his use of so called "fake subpoenas"  to compel witnesses to testify. While we agree that those things are bad, we'd like to know more about what is actually motivating this PAC's (currently anonymous) contributors and the Marullos specifically.   Because odds are it's something besides just an earnest concern for the victims of Cannizzaro's practices.

Happy days are here

Excellent news for Louisiana's petro-based economy! - The Advocate Editorial Page, probably.
LONDON — The price of oil surged Friday on concerns that Iran might respond to the killing of its top general by the United States by disrupting global supplies of energy from the Mideast.

If sustained, the rise in oil prices could lead to more expensive car fuel, heating and electricity bills, stifling the global economy at a time when it is already slowing.
One thing I am thankful for during this particular cycle is that there is no cable news channel blaring in my household.  Just because the rest of America is being bombarded with war opinions from people who should be in prison doesn't mean you have to listen to it too.  Most people's TVs still come with an off button. Might as well make use of it while you still can.

Meanwhile, your Democratic Presidential candidates are weighing in. That includes those among them who have been a troop.
Pete is just going to accept, on its face, the premise that the US launching an assassination attack on a high ranking Iranian military and government officer is a justified action.  Anything he says after that is pointless. It would be one thing if it were just Pete. But it's also coming from every other Democrat to have weighed in so far.

Well.. not every one of them.
Sanders took a different tone, one drawn from a wing of the party that has opposed American wars since Vietnam.

“Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars,” Sanders said in a statement, after noting his opposition to the Iraq war and without mentioning Soleimani by name. “Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one.”
Gotta love the way they write, "a wing of the party that has opposed American wars since Vietnam," as if that's a bad thing.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Billyworld

Nungesser is still trying to privatize the state park system.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser will speak to Northshore residents at a Mandeville community meeting Wednesday, Jan. 8 about a controversial proposal to build a 150-room hotel and conference center on state land next to Fontainebleau State Park.

The St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission commissioned a $28,000 feasibility study on the project by Tennessee hospitality consulting firm Pinkowski & Co., which released its findings last summer. The study projected the lodging and conference center would generate almost $2 million annually in cash flow right off the bat if it were to open Jan. 1, 2021  — $1.8 million in 2021 and almost $2.3 million by 2025.

But some residents and local leaders are not sold, citing environmental concerns as well as what some consider a struggling hotel industry in the area. The Clarion Inn & Suites Conference Center in Covington, which was St. Tammany Parish’s largest full-service hotel, closed in May 2019.
Billy's been trying to cut that  Fountainebleau deal for a while now along with various schemes to turn as many state parks as possible into privatized "revenue generators."  At one point he even said he was working out a deal with the mayor to put Confederate monuments back on display in Fontainebleau.  I wonder if we'll hear more about that any time soon.

It is the Twenties now

Happy New Year. Did you know today marks the second consecutive day in the year 2020 without a boil order having been issued in New Orleans?  Let's keep that going. Good riddance to The Boil Order Decade.

Meanwhile, it turns out that being in a real decade now with a readily comprehensible name brings new responsibilities. People were never comfortable saying "the tens," " the teens" or, god forbid, "the aughts" with any sort of conviction so instead we've spent the past twenty years floating in a vast directionless cultural drift. What was the defining aesthetic of The Aughts? We were never told.

On the one hand, this probably means we've spent the past two decades living more honestly. Marketing departments were never able to sell anyone on the concept of an Aughts or Teens, therefore nobody knows what was the dominant style they were supposed to consume.  On the other hand, it has also felt a bit like being stuck in a vortex where our perception of the passage of time is flattened... perhaps into a circle, if you like.  For example, see here.
The Wonder Years aired from 1988 and 1993 and depicted the years between 1968 and 1973. When I watched the show, it felt like it was set in a time long ago. If a new Wonder Years premiered today, it would cover the years between 2000 and 2005.
Anyway since we're about to get back in the mode of pretending there's some sort of unifying spirit to the arbitrarily defined age we're all living our otherwise disparate and isolated lives through, this also means we're going to have to ret-con themes onto the preceding period as well.  Luckily we already have Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine theory so we don't have to work very hard at it.  The disasters of the 2000s, the big endless war, the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Avatar, etc. led directly to the broken infrastructure, inequality, privatization, gentrification and cultural destruction that have characterized the 2010s in, well, in many places, but certainly in New Orleans.

So, you know, welcome to the 21st Century. We're finally here. The first thing we'll have to do in the Twenties is figure out whether or not we can survive it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Extreme Emergency

After the December we've just had, it's hard to blame Sewerage and Water Board for busting out a whole  new level of emergency declaration.  Otherwise, we might be so numb as to ignore their missives altogether.
NEW ORLEANS — The General Superintendent of the Sewage & Water Board of New Orleans has signed an extreme emergency declaration amid concerns over a potential water main blowout in Gentilly.

The document said sewage from Lakeview, Gentilly and the 7th Ward flow into Sewer Pump Station D, which is located at Florida and Peoples avenues. The station is one of the two major sewer pumping stations on the East Bank.
Actually, "extreme emergency" is a real thing. It's a specific designation for expediting the procurement process during situations of imminent danger to the public. And, yeah, I also thought that's what regular emergency declarations are for but apparently this just goes one more.

McBride talks about it at the bottom of this post albeit skeptically.
WDSU did get comment from the Board when they covered this story Tuesday night. The statement is pure spin, given the plain verbiage of the emergency declaration is generous in its use of words and phrases like "catastrophic," "imperative," and "significant risk to public health:"

"We want to emphasize that the health and safety of our residents was never at risk. At no point did we release sewage into the Mississippi River, had circumstances forced us to do so, we would have alerted the public and all necessary agencies as mandated by the EPA and LDH. It is important to note that we are not in a state of emergency. The phrase 'extreme emergency declaration' is a legal condition that allows us to more swiftly order equipment, hire any necessary contractors and expedite our response and repairs to prevent a true emergency. The decision to enact an emergency declaration is indicative of our commitment to being proactive as we work to keep New Orleans safe and healthy."

I would just like to say that the fact the situation got to a point where they needed to bypass public bid laws shows the opposite of a commitment to the public, as it will now cost more and the work will have to be hurried, which practically guarantees sloppiness and mistakes. And they clearly don't know what "proactive" means.
Either "the health and safety of our residents was never at risk"or it was. SWB seems to be saying both.  Maybe it still is. You never know what is going to flood, back up, or explode at any given moment. This description doesn't inspire confidence.
The emergency declaration, passed unanimously by the board, will allow the job to be bid out and repairs made more quickly, as the broken valve at Pump Station D is currently being held open by a hydraulic jack and wooden wedges.

Crews discovered the problem Dec. 2 and spent about six hours trying to get the valve open as sewage backed up into the system.

It was during this period that the agency considered the possibility of diverting sewage away from the valve and dumping it into the river in order to keep it from backing up into the streets, or worse, causing a blowout that would be a "significant risk to public health," the emergency declaration reads.

Ultimately, the agency did not need to take that step, Executive Director Ghassan Korban said.
Yikes! They almost dumped raw sewerage into the river.  Can you imagine what would happen if somebody dumped raw sewerage into the Mississippi River? Who could even contemplate such a thing?  It would be a national scandal, right? Surely, the federal government would have to intervene.  Well, it turns out that's exactly what's already happened. There's already a federal consent decree in place because dumping raw sewerage into the Mississippi is something SWB used to do it all the time
The prospect of releasing sewage into the river would be an apparent violation of a federal consent decree under which the city's sewer system has operated for two decades.

The S&WB was put under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice in 1998 after it was accused of violating the Clean Water Act by dumping untreated sewage into Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and other water bodies.
Speaking of federal intervention, there's more where that came from.  A lot of people may have missed this bit because it was wedged in between the turbine explosion, the French Quarter sewer fire, and this latest nightmare scenario with the sewerage back up, but we also learned this month that the IRS has placed a lien on all Sewerage and Water Board assets for failing to pay $185,741 in payroll taxes withheld from employees between 2015 and 2018.

What were they spending the money on instead?  Certainly, the ballooning cost of turbine repairs must have had something to do with it.  According to the legislative auditors' office, emergency spending on one of those projects had blown up to eight times its initial cost in 2017. 
Following established approval policies that govern contract changes is important to evaluate whether work changes are necessary and fairly priced. For example, a 2017 emergency contract to repair a turbine was originally approved for $500,000, but the contract had $4 million in contract change orders. While change orders may be appropriate and necessary, the S&WB does not always conduct a review or obtain the documentation needed to monitor the reasonableness of costs and necessity of work performed. For example, in one contract, a change order was approved via email and did not go through proper approval procedures. 
One can understand, then, why the latest "extreme emergency" declaration might make us extremely nervous.  In order to deal with the sewer back-up, SWB is going to need to throw a lot of money at it very quickly and with little to no oversight. 
By approving the emergency measure, the S&WB is allowing all of this work to be done without formally advertising for bids, without a cost cap and without designating where the money will come from. There were no estimates provided on what the work could cost, though the declaration said the work would take "several weeks."

Already they can't pay their taxes. What happens if the feds decide to foreclose?  If we lived in a better world, under a different regime, this might be one vector by which the federal government could step in and help. Cities all over the country are in dire need of a massive infrastructure overhaul. Utilities in crisis, such as our beloved Sewerage and Water Board, would be prime subjects for such a renewal. Unfortunately the current administration in Washington tends to harbor somewhat less benevolent motives.
Trump’s plan turns infrastructure investment on its head in another way as well. Traditionally, the selection of projects to be funded by the federal government emphasized benefits to the public. The administration’s plan weighs the ability to attract sources of funding outside the federal government at 70 percent when considering whether to support it; economic and social returns from the project count for just 5 percent. Federal funding will go to projects that are most attractive to private investors, rather than to those, like clean water, that meet the needs of communities.
The CPA interviewed by Channel 8 for their story on SWB's tax lien says, “technically the IRS could foreclose and force the sale of assets." So, rather than an opportunity to help, the powers that be, as currently configured, are far more likely to push for privatization.  Which is a troubling prospect now given that the local political climate has never been more ripe for it.

To begin with, the state legislature coming into office for the 2020 term will have the most right wing make up we've seen in that body in our lifetimes. Things are going to get super free market solution-y real quick.  More so than they are now, I mean. It's "unprecedented."
“It’s unprecedented. The Legislature is more conservative, more pro-business than ever before,” said Stephen Waguespack, head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the powerful lobbyist representing the business community. “The final tally shows that you’re going to have Legislature with a lot of fresh faces and a lot of new ideas.”
Don't expect the newly reelected John Bel Edwards to be much of a backstop to any of that. Already one of the more infamously "pro-business" governors in the country, in his now weakened position, John Bel is likely to be more eager to please than ever.

One item that caught our eye during the lead up to this year's election season was Edwards's gift of a multi-million dollar state energy systems privatization contract to Bernhard Energy Partners.  The deal was announced one year after Jim Bernhard decided, entirely by coincidence we are sure, that he didn't want to run against John Bel for Governor after all.  Anyway, in light of Jim and John Bel's well consummated friendship, we thought it newsworthy this week that Jim's company was investing in privatized water systems
The equity firm, which is led by former Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard and has raised more than $3 billion in capital, is interested in regulated utilities and has viewed Ascension Wastewater as a good foundation to get into the regional utility business, already drawing interest from other communities.
The article doesn't say much about which other communities are showing interest. But, with every passing plant failure, tax lien, or extreme emergency declaration, it becomes more likely that New Orleans would be among them.

If it is going to happen, the key decision maker will be the mayor.  She is the nominal President of the board and the prerogative to set its policy direction rests with her. And if LaToya decides she wants a major overhaul for Sewerage and Water Board, this legislature is likely to give her one. Typically the city's legislative delegation takes marching orders from the mayor.  After the success of several of her endorsed candidates in this year's elections, Cantrell's hand has only been strengthened there.

SWB has been the number one issue on her plate since before she even came into office. The 2017 citywide flooding dominated the campaign that year. And ever since she took over, the agency has done nothing but produce headaches for her administration. In addition to the continuing recurrence of street flooding and boil order crises, the mayor has also had to contend with a billing SNAFU to which she inartfully responded to by threatening to shut off water to residents, frequent turnovers in leadership and the ongoing financial problems of an agency incapable of collecting bills owed to it or paying out bills owed to vendors.  Her most public battle of the past year has been over the so-called "fair share" deal with the hospitality industry. Regardless of whether one believes that deal actually accomplishes what it claims (and we definitely do not believe it does), the bargain was, at least ostensibly, driven by the need to better fund Sewerage and Water Board.  It seems safe to assume that the time is fast approaching when Cantrell is ready to be done with this problem one way or another. 

We won't be surprised, then, if LaToya decides that privatization is a perfectly acceptable way to accomplish that.  There are a couple of reasons to expect this.  The first is political expedience. A privatized Sewerage and Water Board might still be fraught with unaccountable runaway corruption and incompetence. But at least this will make that somebody else's responsibility. Moreover, with the problem passed off, Cantrell can claim to have "done something" about the agency regardless of that something's objective merits. Once embarked on, the results of such a change won't be obvious to the political press for some time.  In all likelihood, a true verdict on New Orleans's experiment with a private water utility wouldn't arrive for several years.  They still haven't come around to acknowledging the total disaster wrought by school charterization, for example. And we're already well past a decade into that adventure.

In addition to just being politically easy for her, placing public services into the hands of for-profit private interests is very much in line with Cantrell's ideological approach to governing. Here are a few recent examples of this approach in action.

In November, Cantrell also spoke up on behalf of higher profits for Entergy in direct contradiction to a lower rate schedule negotiated by the city council and its consultants. The mayor intervened on Entergy's behalf because it was offering her a one time $75 million kickback meant for Sewerage and Water Board upgrades. Councilmembers didn't go for it.  But, amazingly, Cantrell and Entergy came back again with a second push for rate hikes in December this time citing the emergency situation brought on by the turbine explosion.  Even in the face contrary public opinion and council opposition, Cantrell' preferred approach to city infrastructure always begins with making sure one or another "private partner" is profiting from it.

Another private partner in receipt of the mayor's enthusiasm has been the "Blue Bikes" rental scheme the city has entered into with Uber. The company announced in December it will be replacing all of the bicycles with hybrid electric scooter-bikes and jacking up prices for all riders in the process.  The city is disingenuously promoting this private for-profit business as a "public transit" solution. It's probably something they consider a revenue generator, although I'd like to see the costs in dedicated infrastructure, promotion, etc. compared to the 2 percent kickback Uber promises. In any case, it's definitely not a money maker for riders. Public transit, ideally, should be free to use. Or, failing that, it should be as close to free as feasible.  When the city and its private contractor are expecting to turn a profit from those users, though, they are no longer really providing a public service. It's not clear the mayor understands, or cares much about, this distinction.


There was a line from the mayor in this WWLTV recap of 2019's disasters that best sums up her philosophy of governing.  Essentially, it's all about her. Or, at least, it's about her vs. whoever was doing her job before she was.
Cantrell said the city will continue to invest in drainage improvements and maintenance next year.

"Unfortunately...previous administrations did not own up to existing conditions within our built environment, throughout the city of New Orleans, did not deal with the Sewerage and Water Board accurately or appropriately, did not deal with even maintenance," Cantrell said.


Now, technically, what she is saying there is true. There is a long history of negligence, graft, and decay that's brought us to where we are. And that pattern has persisted throughout the course of several "previous administrations." But in Cantrell's mind, this isn't a systemic question of power and class politics so much as it is about the specific individual who happens to be mayor at any given moment. The way she puts it, it sounds like she is saying "Nobody before me knew what they were doing" and that's the reason we are where we are. But that isn't the reason. In reality, there are lots of reasons, personal, political, and, I guess, natural/cosmic that have contributed.

In a broad political sense, we've been under the sway of a national conservative movement for decades that has abandoned urban infrastructure. Federal money has dried up. State houses have become more hostile and conservative. The general philosophy of government that obtains generally leaves cities to fend for themselves. It's no surprise that most cites haven't handled that challenge gracefully. Petty local politics and small time corruption only becomes more of a problem in the context of diminishing resources. New Orleans is certainly no exception to that.

That doesn't mean we let any of the players in that off the hook. Ideally we'd like to see our local politicians join in a democratizing movement to take public resources back from the oligarchs. But failing that, at least, we should expect them not to make choices that actively exacerbate matters. In any case, we're describing a much larger circumstance than just, "Those were bad mayors and now I am a good mayor so don't be mad at me" which seems to be LaToya's take on things. Maybe that's all that matters to her.

Or, worse, maybe she really is a true believer in Free Market Uber Alles neoliberalism.  According to this story, she's starting off the new year at an international conference that appears to center on that ideology in particular.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and two staffers are headed to the African country of Ghana where they will attend the Essence Full Circle Festival and create an agreement to strengthen relations with a city there.

The trip will feature Cantrell as a speaker on the Essence Global Black Economic Forum, a news release said. The forum brings together government officials, entrepreneurs, executives and entertainers from around the world to discuss economic development opportunities and cultural exchange and ways for the private sector to lead this development. The festival marks 400 years since the first slave ships left Ghana.
Anyway, when the mayor does return to us from Woke Davos, it will be time to dive back in to a whole new year of extreme emergencies.  Whether or not this is the year those emergencies lead to serious talk about privatizing the city's sewer and water systems remains to be seen.  But the elements that could take us there do seem to be in place.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Crown jewels

City Council is adding staff to its in-house utilities regulatory office (CUNO). The idea is to give the council more directly accountable agency in its oversight of Entergy instead of outsourcing that function entirely to consulting firms. The consultants aren't being replaced. This is more about CUNO having more of a policy voice. Currently it has practically none.
“What’s unprecedented about New Orleans … is that they outsource everything,” utility industry attorney Scott Hempling told The Lens in March. “I’m not aware of any place that has any resemblance to that paucity of internal expertise and the near total dependence on outside expertise. No place.”

Instead of having zero input, the council is now aiming to have some. 


But, while more direct regulatory engagement from the democratically accountable council is a welcome shift in the right direction, that's not all that's going on here. The consulting contracts, at a combined $7 million, are some of the biggest that city councilmembers can award to anybody. And this article suggests that these moves now could mean the next time the contracts come up for bid they won't automatically default to the same two firms who have held them contracts for almost 40 years. The contracts are up for bid in 2021. As it happens, that is also when the councilmembers are up for reelection.

Sooo, well you can see where this is going.
Moreno is not the first council member to push for change. Notable predecessors include Shelley Midura, Stacy Head and Susan Guidry. Those former council members told The Lens earlier this year that the consultants were able to keep their positions in part due to political connections and contributions.

“Certainly, politics come into play,” Head said. “And these advisers have been skilled at making sure they have alliances that will benefit them in keeping relationships with council members and getting their contracts renewed.”

Another former council member, Oliver Thomas, told The Lens that because the utility committee was responsible for assigning the bulk of the council contracts’ value, it was traditionally seen as politically powerful.

“When you talk about a crown jewel committee, that’s probably the most influential council committee,” said Thomas, who was chair of the utility committee from 2006 to 2007. “That’s where you can raise money. And more importantly than being able to raise money, that’s where you place your relationships and where you can help people who are trying to get involved in that particular industry. So that’s a plum jewel.
Anyway if you're interested in following the next citywide election cycle, you'll want to pay attention to Dentons' and Legend's campaign contributions as well as those of their potential competitors.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Every emergency is an opportunity

No, we're not talking about Sewerage and Water Board just yet. But we'll get to it. There's a lot of emergencies to keep track of. Meanwhile, back at the Hard Rock site, the developers charged with demolishing the mess they've made there want to also knock down three more buildings in the process. Is it absolutely necessary for them to do this?  They haven't explained that yet. But it does look like it would be beneficial to them either way.
There’s also a worry that the developers might benefit from knocking down the buildings, since it would leave a large vacant parcel that could be sold or redeveloped to recoup the mounting costs of the collapse.

“All of that is a matter of speculation, but it certainly would result in a larger parcel for redevelopment and no assurance on what would be put back there,” Lott said.
There is a review process that goes through HDLC and then through other bodies including the City Council with probable input from the mayor.  But often these sorts of things get expedited during an "emergency." 

Actually it adds zing to the barbecue sauce

They say he had no use for it but I don't think they know.
Horn, a Saints standout and fan favorite who retired from the NFL after the 2007 season, admitting paying off co-defendants Vanover and Caldwell and others who helped him submit the false claims, according to court records.

Among those claims was reimbursement for a $52,000 cryosauna, a machine that uses nitrogen vapor to create freezing temperatures for body therapies. But Horn didn’t need the machine and never received it, prosecutors said.
It's the quick-freeze that really locks the flavor in.

Beefy Mac with Joe Horn sauce

Joe Horn Barbecue Sauce. Try some on your Beefy Mac 

If you live long enough, all of your heroes become Uncle Rico, I guess.

Anyway it's a shame this happened.  NFL retirees have had to fight pretty hard to get the league to do anything at all to help with the health care costs incurred after a career in pro football destroys their bodies. Ripping that fund off, in particular, is, as they say, not a very good look.

Of course, under a nationalized single payer health care system, none of this would even matter. But that's another conversation

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

There's always more to the story

Headline says, "OMG the driver was denied a permit!"  And, admittedly, that is a problem. But it's a very large and convoluted citywide problem involving the charter school system, the legal environment under which bus companies operate in Louisiana, and several other things. The top of this Lens article covers some of it if you are looking for a quick mode of entry.

Anyway back to this un-permitted driver today.  Why was he denied a permit?
City spokesman Beau Tidwell confirmed the Hammond’s Transportation bus was driven by Chad Rodney, who had applied for a city school bus permit on Sept. 24 and was denied because he had a 2016 conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. By state law, school bus drivers can’t operate within five years of such a conviction, Tidwell said.
Is that a valid reason, though? Weren't we trying to end this kind of employment discrimination against ex-offenders? I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess the bus didn't crash because the driver was busy selling coke at that particular moment today. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What do we want for our city during the brief time it has left?

Gambit asks various political players and advocacy groups what they would like to see from the Governor during the next legislative term. There are some good answers as wells as some bad ones. LaToya says some good words about some interesting topics like the LaSalle Street controversy, the public defender's office, and "rail connectivity." We should wait to hear what she has in mind for those items, though, since she also takes a minute here to thank the Governor for his help with the Fair Sham. If her solutions to the new priorities are involve more giveaways to oligarchs the way that plan did, then that's going to be a problem.

Ethan Ellestad wants the Governor to appoint better people to the Convention Center board and Superdome Commission. But he's not likely to do anything different with those patronage opportunities than in his first term.  If anything, the fact that he doesn't have a reelection campaign to worry about now could make this even worse. Appointments are more likely to reward past donors now than they are to encourage community or labor support in the future.

Ethan also talks about housing but he frames that in stark capitalist terms as an "investment."
“For the culture,” Ellestad says, “it is investing in making sure people can stay in the communities where they’re from, because they are not just the creators of the culture, which comes from working class black communities, but also they are part of the service industry, which is the backbone of the tourism industry.”
Of course we need to make sure poor and working class people are not displaced from their neighborhoods.  But to turn that question of basic human dignity into a matter of "tourism industry" benefit is demeaning.  Your right to your city isn't based on your potential commoditization as a "culture bearer." You deserve more respect than that. I've written about this before. Unfortunately Ethan Ellestad's organization has embraced this dehumanizing and exploitative rhetoric wholeheartedly. It's going to continue to be an impediment to true housing justice.

Gambit also asks for comments from GNO Inc. for some reason.  Nobody should care what they think.

If I had to pick the best comment out of all of these it would probably be this from Anne Rofles.
“New Orleans’ risk of sinking into the Gulf of Mexico is already pretty high, but it is assured if Gov. Edwards continues to allow every chemical plant, oil refinery, pipeline and gas terminal that wants to come here to come here,” says Anne Rolfes, founding director of the environmental advocacy group Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Right now he is rolling out the red carpet for them, and New Orleans will simply not exist if he does that.”

Last week we learned that, over the past decade, the state of Louisiana, one of the most environmentally threatened places in the nation, has slashed funding for its Department of Environmental Quality more than almost any other state.
In a 10-year period marked by a dramatic increase in newly built and planned petrochemical plants in the state, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has seen its budget slashed by nearly 35 percent and its staff cut by almost 30 percent.

So says a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that terms itself an environmental enforcement watchdog.

Louisiana’s funding cut percentage ranked second among the states, tied with Texas. The state ranked fourth in the percentage of staffing cuts, with Illinois, North Carolina and Arizona seeing larger cuts of 38% to 32%, according to the report.
Meanwhile the state continues to pour millions of dollars into state subsidies for the very industries most in need of monitoring. During this year's election campaign, John Bel told us as plainly as he could that that isn't likely to change in his second term.
Edwards has suggested Louisiana can continue to embrace natural gas for “20, 30, 40 years,” as the U.S. transitions to renewable energy. “There’s going to continue to be a demand for hydrocarbons for a long time to come,” he said, adding, "We are a natural gas state." 
John Bel was just narrowly reelected specifically because New Orleans turned out to vote in record numbers.  And yet he'd prefer to go on subsidizing oil and gas production for "20, 30, 40 years" even if it means New Orleans no longer exists. Enjoy those years while you have them, I guess.

Monday, December 16, 2019

There's a car on fire*

In our excitement to identify and catalog this weekend's various unrelated disasters, we missed the flaming bus that rolled in the Jingle On The Boulevard parade.  We gather this was an unplanned bus fire despite the fact that it was there specifically to carry the "Royal Heat" dance team.  We regret having overlooked the bus fire but are happy to report it is only the second school bus immolated in New Orleans East this year that we are aware of.

Similarly this morning's flaming vehicles that caused a French Quarter block to be evacuated are not the first cars on fire to appear in 2019. Today's event is unlike the one over the summer, though, in that because it is not suspiciously coincident to any ongoing political campaigns, there is a much better chance we will actually be told how and why it happened.

Actually, we are being told that this afternoon as I am typing this.  According to WWL:
What caused a loud boom and flames to erupt from the street in the French Quarter around 5:00am?

"This morning we had a challenge in the French Quarter with the explosion and the fire," said Col. Terry Ebbert, New Orleans Director of Public Safety and Security.

He explained that officials are blaming human waste.

"It appears that we had... methane gas underground."

Where did it come from?

"That is probably is due to (the) sewage system."
One thing we have learned this year is that, whether they blast it with flames from below, disable it in a flash flood, or just suck it straight on down into the culvert, Sewerage and Water Board is coming after your vehicle one way or another.

Anyway, another day, another (literal) shitstorm.  I wonder what will explode tomorrow.

*

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Day in the life

Oh boy
The Sewerage & Water Board said that an explosion occurred in one of its turbines at its Carrollton water plant Saturday afternoon, injuring two people as residents were told to stay clear of the area.
According to the tweets and such (it's BREAKING news so we can't be sure) this is Turbine 5. Last year this piece of equipment made news when it failed a test of its capacity to run on diesel fuel. At the time, SWB said that was perfectly okay, though. 
A newly repaired turbine at the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board's Carrollton Plant failed a test run using diesel on Thursday, though it is still "fully functional" when using natural gas as its fuel, the utility announced Thursday.

The Thursday test was aimed at seeing whether the repairs would allow Turbine 5 to be switched to diesel in case its main natural gas fuel supply was interrupted during a storm. But officials concluded that "additional repairs are needed" before it'll be able to switch to that backup fuel supply, according to a news release.

After the diesel test, the turbine was tested with natural gas and "continued to show strong performance," according to the release.
Anyway, today it seems to have exploded.

Before we get too carried away, though, it's important to say up front that this probably doesn't have anything to do with yesterday's "cyberattack" on city computer systems.They still have no idea what that might be related to but, apparently, we don't need any of that fancy crap anyway.
Officials said that taking the computer systems offline could result in inconvenience but that city government would continue to operate.

"One positive about being a city that has been touched by disasters ... is our plans and our activities reflect the fact that we can operate without the internet and without a city network," said Collin Arnold, New Orleans' homeland security director.
We should also clarify that, much the same as the computers are not related to the explosion, this water main break in Algiers, which happened today is unrelated to either of those things.  Nor is any of the above mention situations related at all to the other water main break happening Uptown. This is why there is a boil order in effect in Algiers but none on the East Bank.

That's a lot to keep straight, I know. Just be thankful it's a nice day outside so the power is probably not gonna go out and.. goddammit



Well if it's any consolation, this event is unrelated to the computer hacking which, again, is itself unrelated to the explosion that is unrelated to either of the unrelated water mains.

Also it turns out there is something wrong with Drew Brees's elbow
NEW ORLEANS — Saints Quarterback Drew Brees is on the team's injured roster, but isn't expected to sit out the Monday game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Brees was listed at the bottom of the weekly injury roster released by the team Friday. According to the report, his right elbow was injured sometime after Thursday's practice.

But just being on the injury report isn't an indicator that the QB will sit on the sidelines. The report notes he attended the full practice Friday.

It's unclear how the injury happened but if Brees practices again Saturday, he will likely start against the Colts Monday.
So that's pretty mysterious. As far as we know this is not related to the already well known problem with his thumb from earlier in the season. And at this we are practically obligated to point out that neither injury is related to any of the above mentioned infrastructure crises which can be a little bit confusing given that elbow joints do occur in both Drew Brees and in water pipes.

Honestly the best advice at this point is not to think about it too much.  Or, as a wise man once said, "Worry about your frickin meat."

Return of the Mack

The Republican caucus has voted to endorse Rep Sherman Mack to become the next Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives. That doesn't necessarily mean he will become Speaker, though. 39 Republicans voted to endorse him. But he will need 53 votes when the full House decides the matter in January. And there are other candidates.
Republicans came to Baton Rouge for a delegation meeting that was supposed to start at 9:30 a.m., but haggling over the endorsement vote delayed the start time. Mack and Schexnayder were among the candidates that gave presentations before a question-and-answer session, and Mack won 39 votes, which were cast by ballot. That was the exact number he needed to win the endorsement, as it required a two-thirds vote of those present. (Clay) Schexnayder won 17 votes, while Chalmette Republican Rep. Ray Garofalo won one vote.

“I would hope all the Republicans would get behind Sherman Mack now that he has been selected as the Republican delegation nominee,” said state Rep. Jack McFarland, of Jonesboro and one-time speaker candidate who got behind Mack in recent weeks. “That’s the purpose of having that vote.”
If Shexnayder retains his support that would mean the votes of Democratic House members will come into play. This week, John Kennedy and Jeff Landry have been urging the Republican members not to let this happen although it's difficult to imagine it will make much of a difference.  Should the speakership go to Mack or to Shexnayder or to Mack or to some compromise candidate in the event of a deadlock, the Republican agenda is pretty clear. And they all seem to be on the same page more or less. However it is worth noting that Mack is thought by the "Kingmaker" to be somewhat more on that page.
Mack, the preferred candidate of influential GOP donor Lane Grigsby, had emerged as one of two front-runners for the top post in the House, along with state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, of Gonzales. The two both offered up the exact same policy priority, tort reform, a long-held Republican priority that has recently evoked heated battles in the Legislature and in elections.

Pro-business groups and trial attorneys, who are on opposite sides of the issue, poured millions into the governor’s race and legislative elections this year. Business groups were generally successful in electing favorable lawmakers, while Edwards, a Democrat with big support from attorneys, won the governor’s race over Mack’s preferred candidate, Eddie Rispone.
Don't let John Bel's narrow escape fool you. This election was a major right wing landslide and the new legislature is going to reflect that. Whoever the new speaker is, that person's top priority will be "tort reform." Which means they will work to protect corporate entities such as polluting chemical companies or labor abusive contractors such as Citadel Builders from facing any consequences for their crimes.

Which points us to one more reason why Mack might have distinguished himself as the most Republican of this batch of Republicans. Recall that during the previous term, Mack was among the few holdouts agitating against and watering down the set of bipartisan criminal justice reforms the legislature eventually passed. So he's keen on seeing to it that the legal system punishes somebody.  But only certain somebodies.