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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Excellence in recovery

This has been passed around a bit over the weekend
When people tell you that they love the new New Orleans, what they mean is that they love that the poor were kicked out and social services were eliminated so they can make more money.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  There's more.


Data use regulation

Get ready to see that term. It's the new pragmatic approach to privacy protections coming out of the tech industry and carried forth by our reasonable technocratic wise men.   
Craig Mundie is a longtime Microsoft technologist and member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which recently released a set of new recommendations for the use of big data, wrote. In July, Mundie wrote in Foreign Affairs that use regulations are a “pragmatic” solution to the “data exhaust” generated by new products and services. But such a label shifts critical focus away from technology companies that define and control the space we have for “pragmatic” decisions. Technology companies have designed products to produce a data exhaust, often deliberately. Unreadable privacy notices and the inconvenient choice mechanisms were created by the very companies that want to encourage data sharing. Technologists designed systems to make privacy impossible, and now they say it is “pragmatic” to accept their legal proposal to solve the privacy problem.
The idea is, instead of restricting the kinds of information companies can collect on you (because that would be against freedom), we wait to see how they're using it first and then restrict what we don't like (provided we even know about it) a little bit at a time.  Sound good?

Ok but also remember that restricting those uses is kind of a problem too because you run into that whole "corporations are people" with free speech rights thing. 
Use regulations offer no real protection, because businesses themselves get to choose what uses are appropriate. Worse yet, companies misusing data will have a huge legal loophole—the First Amendment. Companies have long argued that privacy rules are a form of censorship, and thus limits on use will be an abridgement of their free expression rights. The only workable situation for this problem is to require companies to contractually waive their First Amendment rights with respect to personal data.
Well Ok. But what are the odds that companies would sign onto such a waiver? Not good, I'm guessing.  Maybe we should put it in the terms of service.  Everybody just clicks through that stuff anyway. 

The indelible mark and the erasable land

Katrina mark

That picture is one of the famous "X" marks left over by search and rescue teams moving through New Orleans after the Federal Flood. If you need a refresher on what the codes indicate you can look here. This mark tells us that when the team came by this address on.. I think that says September 9, they found no hazards of note (right quadrant)  and, more importantly zero bodies (bottom quadrant.)

That shouldn't be too surprising given that this house is near St. Charles Avenue; Uptown and close enough to the river to escape the flooding. (Here is a T-P animated graphic that shows where the water came from and where it went.  Useful for explaining things to the unfamiliar this weekend.)

What may surprise some to learn, though, is that I took that photograph just this past Thursday.  It turns out a lot of people, in the course of rebuilding their homes and lives, decided to keep the marks.
The T-P asked some of them to talk about it. This was my favorite response.
Augusta and Robert Elmwood, St. Roch
"There are several reasons we choose to leave the well-known Katrina X on our house. The public reason: as a sort of reminder, 'Lest we forget...' Another Katrina may be just around the corner. Also on a grander scale, it should be a reminder to all, that man and all his things are vulnerable in the face of raw nature, and that our lives are fragile and can be changed or taken from us in an instant. Our private reasons: It is our badge of honor. We paid our dues and stuck it out for 10 days before we had to leave because my husband was running out of his medications. He calls it our 'combat medal.' It is also a reminder of the misery we shared with so many others who stayed behind, our eternal bond with them and the city. It is a reminder of the event that affected so many lives. We and our children will always preface stories and recall events with the phrase, 'Before Katrina....' I also want it to remain in memory of those long-gone ancestors who perished in unnamed hurricanes since the earliest days of this city. Our X was made on Sept. 11 (9-11) by a unit from Texas (TXO). They did not enter the house (NE), and we are fortunate that the lower quadrant is empty. And that is why we would never paint over or conceal it. In fact, we are considering having a metal image of it made and attached to the house, directly over it, so that the actual mark appears to be a shadow. Then, even if the paint peels off, the reminder will endure."
Looking back through my old pictures, I'm a little surprised I didn't photograph more of these while they were still fresh.  I can only find a couple. This was also Uptown taken in June 2006.

Entrance with rescue marks

This is 735 Bourbon Street in March 2006

735 Bourbon


Katrina and the flood have formed an indelible mark on our lives. It is the palimpsest upon which every story about our city today is written. Nine years later, it is impossible to understand anything happening in New Orleans without talking about how that thing was made possible or necessary by Katrina.

A few weeks ago I read this article titled, "How to Tell When New Orleans Has Recovered From Katrina."
Allison Plyer, head of The Data Center in New Orleans, sees the overall recovery as basically on track – 90 out of a possible 100 – but she also sees clear evidence of what some call the two faces of Katrina. On one hand, some people in New Orleans are experiencing a “greater than 100 percent” recovery, says Plyer, because the city has better facilities, improved flood protection and a growing economy (rather than the shrinking economy it had pre-Katrina). But, says Plyer, “others feel like they haven’t recovered at all or that they are even worse off than they were before Katrina.”

Flozell Daniels, Jr., works with underserved communities as head of the Foundation for Louisiana and sees that recovery gap first-hand. So he gives the overall recovery a lower mark – “I’d say we’re about 50 percent there” – and believes that the true timeline for recovery is likely a generation.

The answer, if you read between the lines of that is, we never "recover." We just continue along an altered path.  We continue for as long as we can, anyway. Which, of course, might not be for too much longer given the engineering of challenges of just keeping the city habitable.. or even on the map.

A few nights ago I was messing around on YouTube when I came across this circa 2006 BBC documentary.  It's a little hokey in spots. It asks, "Should the city be rebuilt?" which is pretty insulting. But it also covers the disaster and its causes very well. Watching this really brought back the uncertainty of the time.



Because politicians, tourism promoters, and real estate agents, like to tell happy stories, the story you're more likely to read these days tells you the worst is now behind us.  This is, in all likelihood, the exact opposite of true.

Here is a slick report produced report by The Lens and Pro Publica graphically detailing the extent to which Louisiana's coastline has eroded during most of our lifetimes.. and the probability that it will be gone before many of our lifetimes have ended.
In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.
I don't like that "largely unnoticed" bit. I'm an old dude now and I can speak with some authority when I say that this has been a known and widely discussed issue for at least the three decades that I can remember having heard it discussed.  It's been noticed.

Getting people to notice is different from getting them to do anything about, though.  The report goes into that too. But if you're reading this, you probably already know that story as well. The state has a $50 billion master plan for rebuilding the coast.  If fully implemented, the plan will still result in a huge annual net loss of land until the year 2060 at the earliest.

The plan is unlikely to be fully implemented, however, because the last year has demonstrated the lengths to which the state's political class will go to protect the oil and gas industry from being held liable. Instead, our representatives say they are working out a less punitive (and less lucrative) settlement.  And in the process, they've introduced an interesting new concept.

Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement. “It's very difficult to see a future in which that [such an agreement] isn't there,” he said he said.

Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.

There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”
Coastal Louisiana's future comes in various sizes now.  It's like choosing a health plan.  If you are at greater risk for catastrophe, you're going to want more robust protection... which is then likely to be out of your price range.  If you're a South Louisiana resident, at least you have the benefit of a simple method to assess which plan might be in your best interest.  Just check around your neighborhood to see how many X marks are still showing.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Club Is Open

Rob Ryan Has Left The Building

I've come to think of the weekend of the Katrinaversary as the NOLA New Year.  It's the turning point in our transition from the depths of Hurricane Season to the goofy excitement of Football Season. It's a time to look back but also a time to look forward.

It's not uncommon to mark this with a celebration. Obviously this is Decadence weekend in New Orleans so there will be plenty of that.  But also... despite the ugly weather.. I'm told this is happening.

Via the parallel internet:
ON AUGUST 30TH, THE 5TH YEAR SINCE SMELLING GREATNESS SAINTS NATION, WHODATS, AND RYANITES ARE INVITED TO GATHER FOR A CELEBRATION OF ALL THINGS ROB RYAN.

Mission Statement: I am my brother Rob's keeper. Buy a stranger a round.
In other words, there's a pub crawl organized in Rob Ryan's honor beginning today at 3 PM (about the same time the Saints' roster should be finalized)  at the Steve Gleason statue. Here is some more text I've lifted from the march's Facebook page
The intention of the event is to celebrate Saints Football, to applaud The Rebirth of Defense, and to buy a stranger a drink. Your expertise in fellowship has left a great imprint on us. I would like to extend the invitation to be our guest of honor, joining us at any spot (or all) along the route to the endzone -Ms Mae’s.

Agenda:
3pm - Steve Gleason Statue for gathering of the tribe, and invocations.
4pm- Circle Bar
5pm - Irish House
6pm - Igor’s
7pm -Fat Harry’s
8pm - Ms Mae’s

A special prize will be awarded at Ms Mae’s for person demonstrating their most spirited inner “Rob Ryan.”
Oh I stole one more thing from their page. Here it is.

Rob Ryan Missal

If you don't mind getting a little wet, this might be an appropriate way for you to ring in the NOLA New Year.  Be safe. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just think of how many floodwalls we could stuff with these

This is a recent article in The Atlantic by a local printmaker who came to own a collection of some 30,000 editions of New Orleans newspapers dating back to the 19th Century.
There were papers from the The Daily-Picayune dating back to 1888, some from the The Times-Democrat, and many more from the first decade and a half of The Times-Picayune,  which was created by the merger of the Daily-Picayune and the Times-Democrat in 1914. Reading a book on the history of the Picayune, I learned of Eliza Jane Nicholson, the first female proprietor of a major American newspaper. Much of the collection, it turned out, contains her innovative publishing legacy. So I named the archive after her: The Eliza Jane Nicholson Digital Newspaper Archive.
There's much more to this.  Check out the archive's website here. It had been in the news previously, but I'm sorry to say this is the first time I've read about it. It's a fascinating project.
I’ve recruited archivists, artists, curators, graphic designers, grant writers, media history experts, and am building a team of volunteers. We're designing prototypes that re-imagine this material for the modern market. Preserving an archive like is not enough. Today's technologies and analytical tools will allow us to revisit these newspapers and extract more meaning from them than was ever possible when they were first printed. 
It reminded me that I've got a little digital newspaper archive of my own going. It's come about kind of by accident but it's there nonetheless.  Over the better part of a decade I've been taking shapshots of newspapers from time to time.  My collection marks significant events such as:

Hurricanes approaching.. or "eyeing Louisiana" .. or ending a lull.

Katrina Puts End To Lull

Waiting For Gustav

Isaac Eyes

Prayers being answered

Amen

The Gambit getting smaller

Gambit vs. Gambit

Papers going to war

War

Certain special events being advertised

RT Gambit ad

BTW: Rising Tide 9 is coming September 13.  This one looks to have a surprising amount of heavy substance. It's a great time with some OK people and terrific deal.  Sign up here.

"7th Ward Roosters" running wild

Seventh Ward Rooster

"Jeff" doing various things

Pulling the plug

Jeff Valued Lives Over Property

Jeff to cap pay raises

There's more.  Not sure these are.. you know.. printmaker quality or anything but at least they are free to access.

More justice by attrition

Just following up on a theme from yesterday.  Here is Tom Edsall writing in Tuesday's New York Times.
This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists.

And that’s not all. The more commercialized fee collection and probation services get, the more the costs of these services are inflicted on the poor, and the more resentful of the police specifically and of law enforcement generally the poor become. At the same time, judicial systems are themselves in a vise. Judges, who in many locales must run for re-election, are under intense pressure from taxpayers to cut administrative costs while maintaining the efficacy of the judiciary.

The National Center for State Courts recently issued a guide noting that while the collection of fines and costs is “important for reasons of revenue,” even more important is the maintenance of “the integrity of the courts.”

At this point, this isn't even justice so much as it is extortion... for the benefit of the private contractor.

Awkward juxtapositions

Monolith

The most basic of several reasons I've been suspicious of the new CZO is I always thought that "awkward juxtapositions" were what made urban life interesting.
Meanwhile groups representing some Uptown neighborhoods called for changes to the building guidelines for St. Charles Avenue. The ordinance divides the avenue into several zones, each of which has different rules.

“That makes for some awkward juxtapositions, particularly with regard to height and setbacks,” said John Bendernagel. The avenue needs some “mechanism of broad oversight” that will consider it in totality, he said.
It should be possible to simplify the zoning rules without also enforcing a bland sense of uniformity on our neighborhoods.  Cities are place where you find bars next to churches next to houses next to grocery stores next to.. breweries, even.
Residents who attended Tuesday’s hearing mostly applauded the commission’s staff for their work in taking on the monumental task, but they still recommended a few tweaks to the ordinance.

Scott Wood, who owns Courtyard Brewery, asked that breweries be listed as permitted uses in more business and commercial zones, instead of being restricted largely to industrial areas. The wide range of brewing techniques doesn’t restrict the process to an industrial setting, Wood said.

Before moving forward with a plan for a brewery on Erato Street, Wood said, he had to go through the long process of requesting a conditional use from the commission and the council.

He said he hopes the zoning ordinance will permit breweries in more areas so the industry’s growth isn’t stifled.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Justice by Attrition

This is an excerpt from Matt Taibbi's latest book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap The book examines inequalities in the American justice system. Taibbi juxtaposes the soft pursuit.. or non-prosecution.. of wealthy criminals, particularly the megabanks responsible for the 2008 financial crisis with the absurdly harsh treatment of poor people accused of everyday petty crimes.

In this chapter, he observes the humiliating process defendants go through answering charges in a New York City courtroom.
Bail. In criminal cases big and small, it's the whole thing. Everything comes down to bail.

Lawyers in this courthouse have yet another saying: "If you go in, you stay in. If you get out, you stay out." If you get arrested for a B misdemeanor in New York City - let's say it's prostitution - you might face a punishment of fifteen to ninety days. But if you don't make bail, you'll almost automatically spend at least that long in jail waiting for trial.

The state knows this, so essentially, charging a person who can't make bail with a B misdemeanor is the same as convicting that person. You file the charge, the judge sets high bail, you go back inside, and then you eventually plead to time served because, well, why not? You've already done the time.

The only difference is, you've got a conviction now, which means the next time you get arrested, the denial of bail - or a punishingly high bail - will be even more automatic. Additionally, every misdemeanor conviction in New York carries a two-hundred-dollar surcharge, plus you have to have a DNA sample taken if it's your first. And that's true for a violation of every single penal law in New York State, excepting traffic violations. So your DNA is on file forever, and giving the sample costs fifty dollars, a testing procedure that, of course, you pay for yourself.

So if you're a prostitute with no fixed address and a long criminal history hauled in during the wee hours of a Tuesday morning for accepting some undercover cop's sting offer of twenty bucks for a sex act outside a park, you're pretty much automatically looking at two weeks to three months in jail, plus a two-hundred-dollar fine ("That's like ten blowjobs," comments one public defender righteously) from the moment the city decides to file the charge.  And in the relatively rare instance where God smiles upon you and sends an undercover officer who doesn't know how to make a legal arrest, you will still plead guilty and pay the violation for loitering.

You're paying the fine not for what you did, mind you, but simply out of recognition that you'd be paying a lot more if the state decided to be difficult and proceed with its messed-up case.

This is the essence of Justice by Attrition. It's like a poker game where after arrest, the accused sits down at the table with one chip. But the other player, the state, has a stack of chips fifty feet high.  Will you play, or will you fold?

Most everybody folds.

I thought about this part of Taibbi's book this morning when I read this Katy Reckdahl article about the Justice by Attrition meted out to defendants in New Orleans. Unsurprisingly, Sheriff Gusman's jail plays a big part in that.
In Orleans, as elsewhere, most indigent defendants remain in jail until trial because they can’t afford bail. Altogether, Orleans defenders make 4,500 jail visits a year, which eat up so much work time that the caseload measure becomes almost meaningless. “You can blow three hours trying to talk to your client for 15 minutes,” said Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton, who described the jail as “one of our most disruptive inefficiencies right now.”

When Orleans Public Defenders go into court on Thursday, they will tell a state civil-court judge that Sheriff Gusman is violating both state and federal laws that govern a defendant’s right to counsel. They’ll show their log documenting inconsistent wait times and non-private conditions: rooms where they must discuss delicate case matters within earshot of other inmates and exchange paperwork through deputies, who may or may not deliver it.
The worst thing here is Gusman has no incentive to be helpful.  His budgetary fiefdom actually depends on the state's willingness to put people in jail and keep them there
Aside from its size, OPP is unique in other ways. Under the terms of a lawsuit over prison conditions filed in 1969, the jail's budget is based on a per-diem paid by the city for every inmate in prison. The more people locked in OPP, the higher the funding Sheriff Gusman has at his disposal. "Our current funding structure is creating a perverse incentive to lock more people up," explains Dana Kaplan, the director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a criminal justice advocacy organization and member of the OPP Reform Coalition.

The institution of OPP is also exceptional in that it is a county jail and a state prison combined into one entity. About 2,700 people in the jail are mostly pre-trial detainees - the majority being held for drug possession, traffic violations, public drunkenness, or other nonviolent offenses - and are legally innocent. An additional eight hundred people are state prisoners who have been convicted in court, who may spend years or even decades at OPP.
That story was published four years ago in 2010.  The following year in 2011, City Councilmember Susan Guidry took up the per-diem issue with the Landrieu administration during a budget hearing.
“I’m surprised that the administration has had a year to do this and we still don’t have a fixed budget,” (Councilwoman Susan) Guidry said. “This is a perverse incentive to keep people in jail. It’s wrong, it’s not a healthy thing to do and we have had a whole year since the last budget. I don’t want another year to go by without us dealing with this.”

Guidry’s criticism prompted Landrieu’s budget director, Cary Grant, to say that a fixed payment system for Gusman is still “a goal of the Landrieu administration.”

So, Guidry asked him, how many people did he have working on the issue today?

Today we probably have fewer people working on that than we should,” Grant admitted.
Then.. by last year... still nothing happening.
Now that the Justice Department is insisting that the city share responsibility with the sheriff for the unconstitutional conditions there, Mayor Landrieu would like us to believe that his hands have been tied since he has no control over Gusman or OPP. But the Landrieu administration has dragged its feet on changing the funding of the jail from a per diem structure that incentivizes filling beds at the jail to one that would increase transparency and accountability. When Laura Coon of the Department of Justice asked Kopplin if the city had done anything to increase the city's oversight over the jail, for example, ordering a forensic audit,  Kopplin admitted that although this was something within the city's power, they hadn't ever looked into it.
Meanwhile, the sheriff keeps pushing to build more and bigger jails at greater and greater expense to the city.  Which is one reason this issue always comes up at budget time. Because no one seems capable of getting per-diem reform going. And because the legislature is not the most progressive body on earth when it comes to sentencing reform, a lot of people look at halting jail construction as at least a way to throw a stick between the spokes of this big wheel. At the District B Community Budget Meeting last night, Mayor Landrieu seemed to be on board with this thinking.
An easy choice, for Landrieu at least, involves the jail. The Sheriff’s Office will soon open a 1,438-bed building that will replace most of the jail’s current facilities. But it won’t accommodate certain inmates with medical and mental health needs, meaning it’s out of compliance with the consent decree. Sheriff Marlin Gusman favors building yet another facility to house that group, and provide additional beds to meet the city’s jail population needs. The building would go on a plot of land — once said to be intended for “green space,” between the 1,438-bed jail and Gusman’s new Kitchen/Warehouse facility. Landrieu, who initially seemed to be open to the additional building, is now pushing for renovations to the Phase II building to meet medical and mental health needs.

“Do you want to build more jail cells or do you want a better NORD [New Orleans Recreation Department]?” Landrieu said at the meeting. “I don’t think we have to build a bigger prison. That’s my personal opinion.”
Today the Metropolitan Crime Commission actually recommended building even more jail than Gusman is currently asking for.  The city council has passed a resolution siding with the mayor.
 If the city and the sherriff can't come to an agreement, the size of the jail could ultimately be decided by a federal judge through the consent decree process. 

As for criminal justice reform overall, that will come about even more slowly.. as if by attrition.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rabbit hole

If you're looking for one to crawl into for a while, this gallery of 1930s New Orleans photography I picked up via The Lens's Twitter feed isn't a bad one.

I kind of wish the captions were more informative, though. Here's a "saloon on Decatur Street"  Where? What was it called?  Here is a "Negro street" Which street, though? 

This one is called, simply, "street scene."  But.. um.. it could definitely benefit from a more detailed explanation.

What's up, District B

Mayor Landrieu's rolling budget extravaganza pulls into Uptown tonight.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu will hold the fourth of five town-hall meetings on the 2015 city budget tonight at 6 p.m. in City Council District B. It will be held at Touro Synagogue, 4238 St Charles Ave.

Self-censorship

We spend a lot of time talking about how telecoms and entertainment conglomerates are contriving ways to have you and your non-conforming opinions kicked off of their internet.  And, to be sure, that is the overarching concern right now.

But we talk less about how our we're self-censoring our way off the internet through our own behavior.
WASHINGTON (AP) — People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The study, done in conjunction with Rutgers University in New Jersey, challenges the view of social media as a vehicle for debate by suggesting that sites like Facebook and Twitter might actually encourage self-censorship. Researchers said they detect what they call the “spiral of silence” phenomenon: Unless people know their audience agrees, they are likely to shy away from discussing anything controversial.

In other words, most of us are more comfortable with ice-bucket challenges than political banter.

“People do not tend to be using social media for this type of important political discussion. And if anything, it may actually be removing conversation from the public sphere,” said Keith Hampton, a communications professor at Rutgers University who helped conduct the study.
The study cites social pressure and hints at worries over government surveillance issuing from the Snowden revelations.  There's also the concern what you say on social media might affect future employment prospects or even  your credit rating.

Personally, I've always believed the best reaction to this is for everyone to just say fuck it and let it all hang out anyway. But I also think this preference has to do with the peculiar time during which I and the internets came of age together.

I grew up experiencing a.. mostly.. analog social environment. I mean... the 80s and 90s weren't exactly the dark ages. We had Nintendo and cable TV and personal computing devices. But until I was in my 20s, the internet was something you dialed into on occasion and even then for less than an hour at a time, usually.

In that environment political discussion was something that happened within your limited circle.. or more often between you and the television set.  The official narrative was set by big corporate media companies and it flowed in one direction.   When the internet finally afforded large numbers of us access to web publishing platforms like the one I'm typing on right now, it was incredibly liberating. Suddenly a whole mess of us were not only talking back to the screen but  we could hear each other doing it.  The benefit of knowing you're not alone is a difficult thing to impress on people these days.

People have already forgotten the profound changes it brought to local and national politics. Or at least I think we take a lot of it for granted now.  But as commercial media absorbs more and more of the internet we're in danger of ceding back what ground we had gained plus a whole lot more.

I've tried to point out the chilling effects of the digital panopticon numerous times in recent years. I'll pull out my favorite Dan Savage quote once again, though.
Savage playfully pandered, saying, “I’m a print guy, and I think books are magic.” But he added a very real and sobering message: not all kids can risk getting caught with an incriminating browser history, nor do many kids have access to YouTube at school.

The book is for them, Savage said, and challenged school librarians to put it on the shelves where kids in need might find it and “read it surreptitiously, if that’s what they need to do at that point in their lives.”

Here again, Savage linked the subversive quality of his YouTube and book project to the knowledge dissemination mission of libraries. It puts LGBT adults in touch-if indirectly-with the LGBT youth who need to hear their messages.
I was lucky enough to become an adult well before anyone had to worry about whether the very act of pursuing a line of intellectual inquiry would be recorded, and scrutinized.. potentially forever by everyone. The panoptic internet could be conditioning us to fear, not only overt expression of controversial opinion, but even the act of investigating and formulating those opinions in the first place.

What do we do now to ensure that people can be educated while feeling safe to think independently?

There are a number of things, in fact, but the first and easiest thing we can do is to defy the "spiral of silence" on social media. Because unless everyone is yelling back at the screen, it begins to feel as though no one is.

The Victor Butler Era

11-5 with a road playoff win in Philadelphia.  All in all, not a bad period in Saints history.  Good job, Victor. Best of luck.
Butler was a 2013 free-agent acquisition who previously spent four seasons as a role player with the Cowboys.

Butler was with Dallas from 2009-12 and played almost every game as a backup with two starts.

He spent two seasons in Dallas under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was in Dallas from 2011-12 before taking the Saints job. Butler signed a two-year contract with the Saints, with a reported $750,000 signing bonus.

Butler was expected to ease the transition and possibly earn his first starting job as Ryan transitioned the Saints from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. However, that never materialized after Butler tore his ACL in the final week of OTAs last summer.

So sue us

On Monday, the city Civil Service Commission went ahead and approved Mayor Landrieu's so-called reform initiative despite the opposition of the police and firefighters unions, the Civil Service staff, and the lone member of the commission elected by city employees. 
Clark said he couldn’t “in good conscience” vote in favor of the proposal because the commission did not have enough time to review the administration’s latest changes. He also was perturbed that the administration didn’t provide the commission with a marked-up copy of the new rules so that members could easily identify the latest additions and omissions.

“How can you vote on something that you just received?” Clark asked. “We are the Civil Service Commission. We have the power of legislation. We can write the rules in two ways. We can W-R-I-T-E them or we can R-I-G-H-T them.”
Throughout the process questions were raised about the constitutionality of the rule changes. The commissioners decided to risk an expensive court battle anyway in the hope that at least some of what they threw against the wall would stick.
As the meeting begins, employee groups, including the police associations and Randolph Scott, come out in opposition to changing the Rule of Three. There are still some questions as to the constitutionality of the change, because the current rule closely mirrors the Louisiana State Constitution. The comments are brief, and shortly after that, Cohn moves to approve the proposal as offered. He moves to make any provision found to be unconstitutional severable from the remainder.
Monday evening the Fraternal Order of Police had apparently already filed for an injunction.  The Lens released a copy of their lawsuit here.  I imagine there will be more about this in the coming days. 

The mayor will appear at the District B Community Budget Meeting Tuesday night at Touro Synagogue (4238 St. Charles Avenue) Maybe he'll address the issue there.

Meanwhile, journalism is dying

We keep hearing about how there's no money for journalism or to pay journalists.  Thank goodness there's enough to build a Crystal Palace for the King of Louisiana, though.

Digital privilege

Here's one of those things that should be obvious to a lot of people but isn't
Yes, much of the Internet is free. But it takes time and energy to develop the skills and habits necessary to successfully derive value from today’s media. Knowing how to tell a troll from a serious thinker, spotting linkbait, understanding a meme, cross checking articles against each other, even posting a comment to disagree with something–these are skills. They might not feel like it, but they are. And they’re easier to acquire the higher your tax bracket.

Everyone this side of Fake Jeff Jarvis ought to be able to see that many people do not have the luxury to act as their own media ombudsman.

If I work as a security guard or at the counter of a Wendy’s, our media environment is significantly more difficult to track. Not everyone has their Internet time subsidized by an employer who asks them to sit in front of a computer all day. In fact, many people have jobs that forbid them from doing just that, with bosses who will write them up if caught checking their phone. These people–we often refer to them (derisively) as “average Americans”–are removed from the iterative, lightning-fast online media cycle for hours at a time and often for the entire day.
In an ideal world, media professionals would understand their responsibility to use the tools at their disposal to inform their readers rather than perpetually compete for their distracted and confused attention.  But the economic incentives created by the professional media world tend to work in exactly the opposite way.

In an ideal world, professional educators and librarians would understand their responsibility to promote an environment and transmit the skills necessary to help a distressed and time-stressed population navigate these hazards.  But I often wonder how many of them understand the problem at all. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Swipe-ables

It's Katrina Week so get ready for the run of obligatory retrospectives.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I don't count myself among the number who would tell you this is old irrelevant news.  On the contrary, there's almost nothing going on in New Orleans today that can be understood without first understanding the effect of the flood.  So it's worth it for everyone to take time for reflection and examination. 

On the other hand, this is the week where national news outlets and producers of commentary feel obliged to weigh in with gross distortions and harmful agenda-laced false narratives.  For example, here is an article suggesting that the forced upheaval of so many lives actually held a "silver lining" for displaced residents. Get ready to read more of this as we perfect our rationalizations for the subsequent gentrification of New Orleans.  Ask around the (relatively) more affluent corners of New Orleans these days and you might be surprised to hear how many people seem to think Barbara Bush was right all along. Not that anyone you ask will remember that quote... especially if they've only recently moved here.

Anyway, what else is there?  Oh yeah clickbait. Professional media runs more on clickbait now than it did nine years ago so there will be plenty of that.  Keep an eye out for Buzzfeed's Katrina Remembered In GIFs of Beyonce Making Funny Faces.. or maybe they've got another slideshow of Six Flags photos to share. 

If you're looking for a less cynical presentation of images, though, this T-P Then and Now gallery is worth a moment of your time.

Where are the big secret money piles?

It's my observation that most New Orleanians do not appear to be sitting on top of huge piles of money.  So the fact that so much of it is being spent on housing remains a mystery.

Likely this is your observation as well.  If you know where the piles of money are, though, please tell me.

Citizens On Patrol



Sure was a wacky Police Academy movie
Several dozen civilians would be trained in some police duties, paid and deployed to the French Quarter and adjacent areas under a plan that Mayor Mitch Landrieu made public Thursday.

The patrol cops — who would be unarmed and have no arrest powers — would assume traffic control and other non-emergency duties to free up sworn New Orleans police officers to focus on more serious crimes, according to a summary prepared by the Mayor’s Office.

Landrieu’s office is calling the plan NOLA Patrol.

“We’d like to fast-track this,” Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Thursday when asked about the plan. “The response we’re getting from the tourism industry has been very positive. We want to have a cleaner and safer French Quarter for tourists and residents.”
Wait.  Why is Stephen Perry talking to us about a law enforcement initiative?  Because, The Citizens On Patrol Temp Police will be paid by the hotels.  
The funds for NOLA Patrol would not come from the cash-strapped city budget but from a special levy that New Orleans hotels began assessing on themselves April 1 to market the city, under a 2013 law passed by the Legislature.

The self-assessment adds 1.75 percent to a hotel bill, with the proceeds going to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One-seventh of that assessment, or 0.25 percent of the hotel bill, would go to the city for NOLA Patrol. That money — estimated to be about $2.5 million per year — would be used to hire 50 “ground patrol officers” and pay for 12 new vehicles.

While the city would not provide the money for NOLA Patrol, the City Council would decide how to spend it under a cooperative endeavor agreement that Perry expects the visitors bureau to sign in the next week.
It says that the Citizens On Patrol will be unarmed but I think it might be fun to at least let them borrow the snow camouflage.. at least on special occasions.  Maybe during Christmastime they can go around caroling in historical garb.  They are tourism employees after all.  Law enforcement for and by a coalition of private businesses with heavy political influence sounds totally constitutionally legit.  I feel safer already.

It certainly can't get any scarier than the State Police hanging around past Labor Day
NEW ORLEANS - This summer Governor Bobby Jindal approved 50 extra Louisiana State Troopers to help patrol the streets of New Orleans through Labor Day weekend.

State and city officials now confirm the additional manpower will be sticking around well past the September 1 deadline.

You've likely observed the extra blue uniforms and hats patrolling the French Quarter, Marigny, Central Business District, and other tourist attractions across the city. The additional manpower was approved by  Jindal at the Landrieu Administration's request.
They don't get to wear snow camo either, I guess.

But they are pretty good at fudging the details when people in their custody are mysteriously shot so it's no surprise they're welcome to stay.  But after a while, we should probably get them trained up on taking room reservations. Just so they know who they're working for.

Gutting Civil Service

The Lens will live blog today's vote on Mitch's "reform" initiative.
The mayor’s plan also would remove the current employee rating system, replacing it with a so-called “performance evaluations system” administered by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin. Under the current proposal, direct supervisors will do these evaluations, and someone above them will review them for fairness and compliance with the rules.

Landrieu has said that his changes will not affect employees’ disciplinary protections. But that was not clear under the first two versions of his proposal, which said employees could not appeal poor performance evaluations. In the current system, employees can appeal their service rating.

However, in the new proposal up for vote on Monday, evaluations would be subject to review by an appointed panel, the Civil Service Department and ultimately, the Civil Service Commission.
Maybe people will think that's good enough.  But moving the evaluation process from Civil Service over to the CAO's office means politicizing the entire system.  This should have been obvious to everyone from the start.

Let's hook our private lives up to the giant omnipotent banking machine

What could possibly go wrong?
It’s only natural that the less fortunate, under the burden of austerity, are turning their kitchens into restaurants, their cars into taxis, and their personal data into financial assets. What else can they do? For Silicon Valley, this is a triumph of entrepreneurship — a spontaneous technological development, unrelated to the financial crisis. But it is only as entrepreneurial as those who are driven — by the need to pay rent — into prostitution or selling their body parts. Governments might resist this tide but they have budgets to balance: Uber and Airbnb will eventually be allowed to exploit this “gold mine” as they please, boosting tax revenues and helping citizens make ends meet.

The “sharing economy” won’t supplant the debt economy; they will coexist. The increased liquidity of data, combined with more and better tools of analysis, already allows banks to tap the techniques of Big Data to extend credit to “unbankables” while identifying and excluding the true deviants. This would only raise anxiety over debt. Start-ups like ZestFinance, which studies 70,000 data points — including how you type and how you use your phone — already help banks decide whether online applicants are worthy of a loan. A scheme pioneered in Colombia by Lenddo, another tech-savvy lending start-up, links the approval of credit cards to applicants’ activity on social media, so now their every click can affect their suitability for credit — a point not lost on Douglas Merrill, the co-founder of ZestFinance, who says that “all data is credit data”. Well, if all data is credit data, then all life — captured by digital sensors in the world around us — beats to the rhythms of debt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beautification

The best way to make that space look more inviting to visitors is to put up a big fence.
One week after the city removed about 160 homeless people from an area underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway, the City Council voted Thursday to turn much of the area into a fenced-off parking lot, provided that the state agrees.

A second measure, which appeared aimed at making it easier to crack down on future homeless encampments, was deferred after a period of debate made clear that the council was divided on the idea.

Both measures were introduced by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell at the request of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.
The proposed tent crackdown is actually just a slight adjustment in language to what is already an existing section of city code.
Likewise, city law already prohibits the obstruction of streets, sidewalks or other public land by “any debris … or any other articles whatsoever.” On Thursday, Cantrell will ask her fellow City Council members to add the following sentence to the law, spelling out more specifically that tents, mattresses and furniture are unacceptable obstructions as well:
Unless lawfully permitted, the erection or placement of any tent, item of household furniture not intended for outdoor use, or other semi-permanent structure shall be considered an encumbrance/obstruction when placed on any of the public places or rights-of-way set forth in this Section. Permanent obstructions shall be prohibited.
The original law — which applies citywide — already contained that idea, but the new language puts that intent into writing. The language, Cantrell said, should assist the NOPD and other city agencies when they are dealing with the issue.
The law is pretty egregious as it is already. It includes language prohibiting the the installment of basketball goals near streets or sidewalks.  Plus there is this section. 
If any person by performance of any outdoor act or activities causes a crowd to gather, and if the crowd makes passage by pedestrians inordinately difficult or conducts activities which impede access to the public rights of way the department of police shall have the authority to order such person(s) to cease performance of their act or activities
Pretty much anything can fall into that category.  It's interesting language to encounter while the Ferguson, MO demonstrations are still going on.  Police don't need much of an excuse to break up an assembly, it seems.

Anyway back to this parking lot idea.  I'm a little confused since I thought it was already a parking lot.  It's a paved space with street access where people often park cars (particularly during Saints games.) That is usually a pretty big giveaway.   So what's the angle?
The ordinance authorizes the mayor to enter into an agreement with the state to transfer control of four sections of the site — all between Simon Bolivar Avenue and Carondelet Street — to the New Orleans Building Corp., the public-private entity that operates as the city’s real estate arm.

Cantrell did not mention the former encampment when explaining her support for the measure.
“Given the need for parking in the CBD, I am encouraged that we would make the most of all available space we have for parking,” she said.

The proposed agreement, between the NOBC and the state Department of Transportation and Development, calls for the NOBC to manage and operate a parking lot at the site on behalf of the city. The agreement would be in effect for five years.

Landrieu aide Eric Granderson said the Mayor’s Office has not decided whether the area will be used as parking for city employees or leased to a third party to operate as a private lot. The second option would require further City Council approval.
Oh, of course.  There are potential leases to sign and fees to charge.   Problem isn't fully solved until we've taken a public space and turned it into something someone can profit from.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The rent is too damn high

New Orleans's gentrification problem extends into football.
New Orleans is the only team in the division with an average price above $200 for the season. The current average price for New Orleans Saints tickets is $245.42, 30% above the next most expensive average in the division.
After decades of hearing about how New Orleans lacks essential "corporate support base" present in model Sun Belt cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, this comes as a bit of a surprise.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Basically they just went to West Virginia to play golf

Typically the third game of the preseason is supposed to be when teams take the longest look at their starters in action.  Coincidentally, this week is when we're seeing many Saints who missed a bunch of time during the first part of training camp come back to practice.

Dirty job but somebody has to...

There are two seats up for reappointment on the SLFPA-E and nominations are due next week.  Depending on how the nominating committee decides to package things, the process could result in opponents of the board's lawsuit against oil and gas companies gaining a majority.  The guy who is supposed to tip that balance sounds really enthusiastic.
Morgan said Wednesday that while he “didn’t really want” to serve on the board because of the time and work involved, he felt compelled to submit his name after being asked to do so by officials including Jindal’s former coastal protection chief Garret Graves, who is now running for Congress in the 6th District. While serving in state government, Graves was one of the leading opponents of the suit.

Jay Lapeyre, the chairman of the nominating committee, said Wednesday that he was among the people who encouraged Morgan to put his name in for the position, and he said he has encouraged anyone qualified to do so. Finding qualified candidates for the authority has been difficult in the past.

“I encouraged, as I always do, everyone with ability and competence to run,” Lapeyre said.

If he is appointed, Morgan is expected to be a fifth vote against the lawsuit.
Graves and Lapeyre must have appealed to his noble sense of civic duty.. or something like that. 

Luckily, they put it all on TV

Video from last night's coastal restoration discussion hosted by The Lens is up at.. The Lens.

NOPD: We see your ice bucket challenge and we will meet it

With overwhelming force.

What did New Orleans law enforcement buy?

Here are some pieces of military equipment sold to police in New Orleans:
  • Eight night-vision sniper scopes
  • 20 snow camouflage parkas
  • A “rough terrain” forklift
  • 40 “laser modules
  • 14 thermal sights
  • 21 7.62 mm rifles and two 5.56 mm rifles
  • 30 survival axes
Snow camo also good for tracking down the elusive Gulf Walrus.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Coastal conversation

Really bummed I couldn't be there for this.  My daily schedule right now is precisely calibrated such that I am always unavailable for any event either personal or professional. 
Wednesday night at 6 p.m., The Lens will host a panel discussion among state and environmental leaders about how to foot the bill for the coastal restoration effort. Joining us:
Fox 8 News’ John Snell will moderate.
Anyway, they say there will be video available at that link so that's good.  I hope they archive it, though since I won't have time to watch live. 

Qualifying week




Think of it as pre-season but for political candidates.

 NOLA.com is giving us roster updates.
11:25 a.m.: Frank Marullo came in to correct some paperwork. At 74, he's too old to run for another term as Criminal District Court Judge, according to the current state constitution, which sets the limit at 70.

However, Marullo was elected before the constitution was adopted in 1974, when the age limit was 75. In an interview this morning, he said that he should be grandfathered in and legally allowed to run again.

Furthermore, it's a question of morality, according to Marullo. Forcing judges to retire because of an age limit amounts to "ageism" he said. "This is 2014 not 1928."
Also DA Leon Cannizzaro is being challenged by Lon Burns and his rhyming slogan.
His unofficial campaign slogan: "You can't preach what you don't know, and you can't lead where you don't go."
Other exciting things happened. Yolanda King had trouble filling out a form, for example.  Many other candidates qualified.  Were you one of them?  Better check the list to make sure.

If the mousears fit

Your Guide To Dizneylandrieu

Sometimes they just come out and say it. I always prefer when they do that. 
The plan leaves room for another major future component not directly included in this expansion, officials said: Tulane University’s major parcel along the river, currently leased to Mardi Gras

That property was once considered for a “Riversphere” facility that would include educational and research components, and Convention Center officials support Tulane’s plans in that direction.

Whatever Tulane does, they said, would only be a further draw for convention-goers to return to New Orleans.

“What we want to do with this is make it a new experience in New Orleans,” said convention center general manager Bob Johnson. “It’s the old Disney theory: Every two or three years, Disney opens a new attraction and people that are familiar with Disney will go back. … It would also put Tulane’s brand in front of a million people a year.”
What we're talking about here is allocation of public resources and tax dollars to the construction of a privately run hotel with condos, retail space, and various other attractions  including (possibly) a yacht harbor and a "moving sidewalk"  in order to give conventioneers a more "Disney" type of experience and "put Tulane's brand in front of a million people a year," which must be very important.. to Tulane.

What's important to New Orleanians might be different from what's important to the tourism industry, though.  Despite the industry's relentless insistence that everything it does is a great benefit to the community, the tax revenue it generates actually contributes almost nothing to the city budget.

To his credit, Mayor Landrieu proposed (ever so slightly) altering this arrangement during the recent legislative session but was unsuccessful in his modest effort. 

The mayor is currently holding a series of community budget meetings where he answers public comments about the city's priorities.   At those meetings you hear a lot about fixing streets, hiring police, and paying firefighters.   Nobody says much about building Disney stuff or promoting "Tulane's brand." 

Tonight's District A meeting is at the Lakeview Christian Center: 5885 Fleur de Lis Drive beginning at 6:30.  It will be live-blogged by The Lens

Busy man

Cedric Grant could have his hands on a lot of money spigots over the next year or so.
Should it pass, Grant will be in charge of not only major improvements to the city's sewerage and water systems, but also an estimated $9 billion in repairs to its notoriously pockmarked streets.

That means for the first time in recent memory, the persistent problems that most often rankle New Orleanians -- from broken streetlights and potholes to flooded roads and poor water pressure -- could fall to one man.

It was the only way he would take the job, Grant said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview from his office at the water board's St. Joseph Street headquarters.
Optimistically, this might be like having a more competent Ed Blakely around.

On the other hand, it's still kind of like having Ed Blakely around.
"I was coming over here to do this. If they didn't want this done, I'm not the one (for the job)," he said. "I've been in infrastructure my entire career and I've seen it all, and this is what needs to be done to make this city work."
See what I mean?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New New Orleans

New Orleans is now ranked second in the US in income inequality.
Inequality is growing nationally, but the speed of growth in New Orleans is faster than that in many other cities. New Orleans' Gini coefficient rose 5.39 percent since 2008. Only 14 of the 50 cities included on Bloomberg's sortable list saw inequality grow faster.

The Gini coefficient for the United States as a whole was .4757, according to Bloomberg, which updated its figures in April. According to the CIA, which hasn't updated its figure for the United States since 2007, when its Gini Coefficient was .45, America ranked 41st for income inequality, between Uruguay and the Philippines.
Update:

That, more or less, is the great failure of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Sure, there's growth and "vibrancy" resulting from massive investment in rebuilding.  But the benefits of this growth have accrued into the hands of a small and isolated caste for the most part.  This needs to be examined more thoroughly.

For example, here is a problem we were discussing on the parallel internet a few weeks back.
Offering a direct view of City Park, this just-listed 4,137-square-foot house has hit the market for, ahem, $700,000. The listing is straight-up with the fact that "a total renovation is needed to restore this home to its former glory."
Housing prices are out of control.  But who are the buyers? Not anyone I know.. or know of.. or can even imagine I might know anything about right now.  Every personal story I come across has to do with friends or acquaintances being priced out of neighborhoods not buying into them. So, who is buying in?

We can talk about our pet theories of gentrification all day long.  Are the majority of these huge sale prices investment properties? Are they full time homes or vacation rentals?

One reason I'm interested in the Airbnb trend is, in some cities, it encourages a practice where investors buy up the housing stock and put it to use in the tourist trade (although unlicensed and untaxed). It sounds like this is happening here but I really wish someone would dive into explaining the extent of it.

Anecdotally I hear "a lot of people are moving here." And that's fine but please also tell me where these people are getting $700,000 to blow on fixer-uppers.  I've heard some say "doctors" and "film people" are buying houses but there's little I can do to confirm these guesses.

New Orleans is not exactly a city of millionaires. Or at least it hasn't been.  So what is actually going on? The housing market suggests there is money coming into the city from somewhere.  Where?

"Is this America"?

Pretty much the dumbest question anyone can ask about Ferguson. If you don't recognize what's going on there as fundamentally American, you haven't been paying attention.
It does matter what toys the cops get to play with, but the context for their behavior matters more. That’s what it’s worth noting that Ferguson’s police force is almost entirely white, in a city that’s 60 percent black. The same applies to the town’s mayor, city council, and school board. And then there’s the fact that the city itself, as it exists today, was dramatically shaped by the racist housing discrimination practice known as “redlining.” The city’s very geography is the product of racist public policy and business practices.

None of which makes Ferguson unique. Coates begins “The Case for Reparations” with a story of one man’s experience with redlining in Chicago—just one more example out of millions.
Nor is this the first time that America’s long history of racial oppression has set the stage for confrontations with the police. The 1967 Kerner Commission, established by President Johnson to explore the root causes behind the race riots of the 1960s, placed America’s racial caste system at the center of their analysis. When historian Blair L.M. Kelley writes that “Ferguson is America,” she’s not wrong.

And like Ferguson, America is a place stricken with far more than just police militarization. If we’re going to even begin to ameliorate this country’s root-deep racial inequities, we need to do more than relieve the police of their grenade launchers. We need to remedy centuries of malicious practices that have etched themselves into the topography of this nation.

See also:
The outpouring of anger on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown is partly a reaction to a long history of marginalization experienced by African-Americans, a process exacerbated by gentrification, argue experts. It should be no surprise, they say, that the latest racial flashpoint is not in the inner-city but in the modern suburb.

Ferguson is an outer suburb of St. Louis, the 16th fastest gentrifying city in the U.S., according to Census data. Not unrelatedly, a 2011 study by Brown University showed that the St. Louis metropolitan area was the 19th most segregated city in the U.S.

The social and economic inequality in the St. Louis area, which is divided along racial lines, is a microcosm of a problem playing out across the U.S.: Wealthier, typically white residents move into a previously economically disadvantaged neighborhood in the city, pricing out black families and displacing them to suburban outskirts, according to a recent Brookings report.

In 2008, the population of poor people in suburbs across the nation grew twice as fast as in city centers, the report said. By 2008, U.S. suburbs were home to the largest share of the nation’s poor.

Emergency management

From last night's District C Budget hearing.
Landrieu: "The interior streets in this city are awful, they're awful ... I'm going to tell you how big it is: $9 billion ... Currently we do not have a long-term plan to fix the interior streets." He says S&WB director and former city infrastructure head Cedric Grant is negotiating with FEMA over funding for interior street repairs.
We're reaching a point where this might not sound convincing to people anymore but many street repairs in New Orleans are still flood recovery issues.  Ten days from now marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and we're still depending on FEMA for major infrastructure work.

Good thing, too, unless you guys have $9 billlion laying around.  Well, OK, maybe some of you "entrepreneurs" have it. That's what NOLA.com keeps telling me, anyway.  But probably keeping the feds involved is a good idea. 

In fact, we really shouldn't have to rely on the pretext of disaster recovery for federal support of urban infrastructure. But that's just crazy talk, I know.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Budget Barnstorming

The first stop on the tour is tonight.  Given today's events, this should be a fun evening with the mayor.  I'm pretty sad that I can't go.  But not too sad since The Lens is live-blogging it.

Never Forget

Ronal Serpas participated in a panel discussion at Rising Tide 5.

Hail to the Chief

By the way, RT 9 is happening September 13.  Most of the schedule is published here. I am given to understand there is more to come so stay tuned.  I had trouble this morning figuring out how to register but I figured it out so I'll save you the trouble.  Just click here. 

As for Serpas, it looks like he's gonna be just fine.  Thanks for asking, though. 


Do we do the do-over over?

Yet another challenge to a decision on the airport construction.
NOLA Airport Builders argues in its protest that the Aviation Board improperly jettisoned that competition because it did not show "just cause" as required by Louisiana law.

The protest also says that the Aviation Board's Review Committee, which judged the most recent competition, gave "erroneous and arbitrary" scores, dolling out too few points to NOLA Airport Builders and too many to Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro. It also calls out the board for putting Kenneth Schwartz on the Review Committee, saying his inclusion presented a conflict of interest.

Robert Boh, chairman of Boh Bros. Construction, is an emeritus member of the board at Tulane University, where Schwartz is dean of the School of Architecture. The Boh family are noted Tulane donors, according to the protest.
Recall that "NOLA Airport Builders" (then known as Odebrecht-Parsons)  had their "win" in the first round of this process thrown out, at least in part, because of... conflict of interest issues.
Adding another twist to the already tangled awarding of a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars — and potentially giving ammunition to a challenge by the losing bidder — it was reported this week that New Orleans Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant previously worked for one of the companies he recommended should oversee construction of a new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Grant worked for Parsons Corp., one of the firms involved in the Parsons Odebrecht joint venture that he and other members of an evaluation committee last week scored as the best choice to manage construction of the $546 million terminal.
Maybe, if we keep trying, someone will submit a bid involving nobody who knows anybody. It might take a while to do that.. especially in this town.   Good thing we're not trying to get this thing done on some sort of timeline.
The $828 million construction project should create 13,000 jobs, according to materials handed out by the mayor’s office, and is scheduled to be completed in May 2018 — not so coincidentally the date of New Orleans’ tricentennial celebration.

Serpassed

See usually these kinds of things are announced on Monday morning so as to minimize their impact on the news cycle... wait.. that's not right.  Are we sure this didn't actually happen two days ago and is only being publicly disclosed today?

Anyway, wow!
Ronal Serpas is out as police chief in New Orleans.

After four often-rocky years on the job, Serpas will announce his retirement as New Orleans police superintendent at a news conference today, according to a source with knowledge of his plans.
What Serpas plans to do next is unclear.

Lt. Michael Harrison, police commander of the 7th District, will serve as interim NOPD superintendent.
The announcement was sudden, but shouts for Serpas’ resignation punctuated much of his tenure. The loudest came from police officer groups embittered about several issues, including reforms to the off-duty detail system and a stiff disciplinary regime that led to the termination of scores of cops on grounds that many viewed as specious or arbitrary. Serpas, the chorus went, never had their backs.

As recently as last week, newly elected City Councilman Jason Williams suggested in a little-noticed web broadcast last week that at least five members of the council were prepared to terminate Serpas — a power bestowed by the city charter but never before exercised.

Recently elected At-Large Councilman Williams is turning out to be an interesting fellow so far.  Put a pin in that for now, though.

The bad news is, now it's likely some of these goofballs will claim credit.
Demonstrators marched two miles Sunday from the Marigny to the Saint Claude neighborhood to protest Ferguson, Mo., police shooting of Michael Brown Aug. 9.

Nearly 60 people participated in the protest that began at Washington Square Park on Frenchmen Street and ended at the New Orleans Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, nearly two miles away at North Robertson Street and North Claiborne Avenue.

The New Orleans Anarchist Bookfair organized the protest on Facebook, though no one at the protest claimed responsibility for setting it up or being a member of the Bookfair.
The first rule of Bookfair is don't talk about Bookfair.

Often the worst actors in any situation like Ferguson are the clueless white kids in other cities out for what amounts to public masturbation. I hope they had fun storming the castle.

Anyway, if you'd like to discuss any of this with the mayor, he will be available tonight at the first community budget hearing.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu kicks off his annual tour of New Orleans' City Council districts Monday, fielding questions and concerns from residents and business owners before crafting his public spending plans for 2015.

The meetings mark the first public steps in weeks-long number-crunching that must end with the council approving the city's annual budget before the end of the year.

His first stop is in District C, the city's most diverse district and marred by a rash of high-profile violence, including a deadly shooting spree on Bourbon Street and a police officer firing on and striking a suspect in Algiers during a traffic stop. Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey has hosted several town-hall style hearings on public safety, but she did not immediately return messages left with her and her staff Monday (Aug. 18) asking for details on her priorities for 2015.
If you're driving over there this evening, the good news is there very probably will not be a sobriety checkpoint in effect. So BYOB.  

And now, please, this

Jon Bois's The Tim Tebow Chronicles begins today. Please enjoy.

"As simple as training your dog"

Here are cops in Ferguson, MO tonight threatening to shoot people for filming them.



Here is the result of a second autopsy on Michael Brown's body.  The independent examiner determined the unarmed boy was shot 6 times.
One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.

Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.
It's disappointing that this is still going on after a full week.  Obviously the decision to impose a curfew hasn't helped matters. The police description of events is suspicious.  The "premeditated coordinated instigators" line sounds dubious as do the multiple references to "Molotov cocktails" which one always hears knocked about in these situations. 

And even if you believe the police version of these events, they haven't exactly reacted to that in a smart way.  For example, if you really think a crowd is armed with fire bombs, launching tear gas canisters at them (which spark on impact) is probably a bad idea.  As I'm typing this, CNN is reporting that the National Guard has been called in.  That probably won't go well.. although it also can't go much worse. Or maybe it can.
The 131st Bomb Wing is a unit of the Missouri Air National Guard, stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Knob Noster, Missouri. If activated to federal service, the wing is gained by the United States Air Force Global Strike Command. It is an associate unit of the active-duty 509th Bomb Wing, which falls under the Eighth Air Force.

The 131st Bomb Wing is the only Air National Guard wing to fly the B-2 Spirit, as well as the only nuclear-capable Air National Guard bomb wing.
Ok but we still can be pretty secure in our belief that this won't end with the nuking of St. Louis.  This is not to say it ends well, though.



By November, Republican congressional candidates will celebrate police "heroes" and realize a fundraising windfall from it. Already the foundations for that are being laid.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Frustrated with the national coverage of protests surrounding the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a few dozen people showed up in downtown St. Louis on Sunday afternoon to show solidarity with the officer who killed the 18-year-old.

Since officer Darren Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9, there have been nightly protests in Ferguson. But the counterprotesters said they wanted the country to know that not everyone supported the Ferguson demonstrations, and wanted Wilson and his family to know that there were people who backed them.

The protesters gathered outside KSDK-TV, a local station that they said has been biased in its coverage of the controversy.
Beyond that, the most likely result is something like what we always see after such shocks: Limited to zero police accountability combined with a general acceptance that strong-arm tactics are a thing people can expect to see in the future.  Or as the pro-police demonstrators put it,  we're being trained to put up with it.
"They're going to keep pushing the envelope," he said of demonstrators who've gotten violent during protests in Ferguson. "There's no reason to stop. ... It's as simple as training your dog. If you don't tell them stop biting, guess what, he's going to continue to bite."