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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back in a bit

It's late summer and I'm lucky enough to be skipping town for a few days.  See if you can get them to finish all of the road work while I'm out.

Third Street barricade

When I get back next week it will be football season.  Get ready for that by reading Ralph Malbrough explain that the Saints are going to go undefeated or some such.  Is Ralph ok?  Look into that for me.

Bicycle nationalism

What would Jesus drive?


There are times when an ignored or oppressed faction  has no other option but to get out in the street and demand to be taken seriously by a community.  This is not one of those times.
NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Angry bicyclists from around the Bywater and Marigny came together and blocked the intersection where a bicyclist was killed the day before.

The New Orleans bicycle nation is banding together, to say ‘enough is enough,‘ and the fatal tragedy on Thursday afternoon could have been prevented.
"New Orleans bicycle nation."  Good grief.

There are a lot of people in New Orleans who use bicycles as one of their transportation options.  Just like there are a lot of people who use hammers to hang some of their pictures or can-openers to get at some of their artichoke hearts. These people do not constitute a "nation."

I know because I am one of them.  I've been riding a bike around New Orleans now for (literally.. I'm an old dude now) decades.  In my experience, bicycling is the most convenient way to get most places in town when:

1) You're planning to travel 2-5 miles each way.

2) You don't have to carry a whole bunch of stuff or passengers.

3) You're fairly certain it's not going to rain like hell that day.

For other occasions I keep my twenty year old Toyota Tercel around as a backup. It works most of the time. But I've never considered either the bike of the car any sort of status indicator.

The deniznes of "bicycle nation" obviously think differently about that. Otherwise they wouldn't have thought it appropriate to wedge their personal identity politics into the scene of a tragic and horrific traffic fatality.
"We're offered these two little white lines down the side of the road, and that's it," said Adam Traugott, 26, a St. Claude resident who organized the ride in response to Philip Geeck's death Thursday afternoon (July 17).

"The culture here treats bicyclists as illegitimate," he continued.
Um... no.  There's nothing wrong with, "the culture."  A lot of people ride bikes in this city.  If anything, "the culture" is very much in favor of it, perhaps even to a fault.

There are bicycle advocacy groups, bicycle social events, bicycle valets. There is a city-sponsored Bike To Work DayLifestyle articles regularly highlight the cycling trend in our local publications. In 2011, the League of American Bicyclists presented New Orleans with its "Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community" award.

Bicyclists are not a persecuted minority in New Orleans. They are not "illegitimate" in the eyes of "the culture." On the contrary, as a widely acknowledged favorite fashion accessory of  the young, hip, creative class "New New Orleanian,"  the bicycle has never enjoyed a more elevated status in the eyes of the establishment.

So well entrenched is bicycle advocacy, in fact, that road resurfacing projects are required to plan for incorporating the needs of cyclists in their design. But it's worth noting that this political pull is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Here is a Lens article from 2011 about the city's effort to respond to the demands of cycling advocates.  A decade ago, our award winning bike friendly community was in much worse shape.  
In 2002, the city’s fatality rate won New Orleans  the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous biking city in the country’s third most lethal state for biking. In fact, Orleans Parish accounted for 49 percent of all bicycle crashes statewide, federal highway data shows.
What has changed since then?  Well for one thing there's a "media focus" on bicycling as fashion among the tastemaking class. 
Despite a media focus on young, white and preternaturally hip pedalers, the data show that the majority of the city’s cyclists are men of color who don’t have cars and rely on bikes to get around. And the injury rate tracks that: Of the injuries reported between 1996 and 2001, 44 were sustained by black males under 18, but only two in the same age group were white males, the Regional Planning Commission states in its New Orleans Metropolitan Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the most recent study of biking fatalities in the city.

“You can’t attribute the popularity of bikes to the influx of new people and the fact that people are all green,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. “It is the fact that we are a poor city. People cannot afford to have cars and they get around on bikes.”
It's probable that those numbers have shifted  a bit since that plan was published but Kristin Palmer's assertion is still on the mark. Most people who rely on bikes as their primary transportation in New Orleans do so out of necessity.

At the same time, though, the gentrification trend has brought with it a critical mass of "preternaturally hip" yuppies sufficient to generate political responsiveness.  At least enough to get some bike lanes clumsily slapped down around town anyway. And that, in a sense, is the problem currently.

The accident last week didn't result from lack of attention to the demands of bicycling advocates. After all, it happened in a very recently installed bike lane. Contrary to the claims of  the bicycle nationalists, "the culture" is going all out to accommodate them. It's just doing so poorly.

This article explains the stupidity of the Elysian Fields/St. Claude intersection pretty well.
As St. Claude approaches the intersection from the east, the bike lane's solid striping becomes dashed, that's a signal to both cyclists and motorists that they are entering a mixing zone, Bennett said. That's normal. It's the area where cars wishing to turn right merge across the bike lane in preparation to turn right.

It exists so drivers merge across the cycle lane rather than turning abruptly across it, Bennet said.

The St. Claude-Elysian Fields intersection, however, has an odd feature. The right turn is configured as a slip lane -- the little diagonal cut-through found on many busy streets. But the angle there would be too sharp for large vehicles, so truck drivers are allowed to make the right turn from the through lane, cutting across the bike lane.

Block signage on a St. Claude's lane that include the words "Trucks OK" and a right arrow signal to truck drivers that they can make a right turn, despite the lane for bicycles to travel through the intersection.

"That is very dangerous," Bennett said. "I've never seen that design before.

"You never want to have a lane turning across a through lane of traffic," he said.
Click here if you need to see that illustrated.

They've created an intersection of state highways and major trucking routes with two turning lanes that plow straight across a bike lane in a way that makes it very difficult for bikers and drivers to see each other coming at all much less figure out who has the right of way.  It's almost as if planners are trying to hurt people.

They're not, of course.  It's just that this was the path of least resistance for a road design process involving agencies at federal, state, and local levels all trying to meet slightly different standards and satisfy the demands of various parties.. including truckers and bicyclists.

There are actually smarter ways to integrate all of these elements.  We're just not there yet. We can get there but I don't think we're likely to get there by airing grievances that have no basis in reality.  Running out in the street and shouting at police can only spark an unproductive negative reaction. And then "the culture" really will learn to see you as "illegitimate." 

Also, I couldn't quite work these into this post but read them anyway.  Varg was an eyewitness to the scene just after this accident occurred. He wrote this about it.  Also Jules Bentley was among the participants in the protest.  His account of that event is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Planners gonna plan

It's because, if they say nothing, someone might figure out how unnecessary they often are.
The Deutsches Haus can once again call Mid-City home, the New Orleans City Planning Commission said Tuesday in agreeing to the German cultural organization’s proposal for a new building along Bayou St. John. But before construction can begin, the project’s architects must revise the building’s design to make the structure a little less Germanic-looking, the commission said.
Commissioners also asked about the possibility of renaming the club Gen. Pershing Haus.  

Later they got around to music criticism.


Does anybody even get what the open primary is for?

New York Senator Chuck Schumer writes in a NYT op-ed that an open primary system would serve to reduce "polarization" by making elections less about "ideological purity."
We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.
And yet in Louisiana, which has operated with open primaries (with the exception of an experiment during the 2008 federal election cycle)  since the mid 70s, conventional pundits like Clancy Dubos in this 2004 column frequently argue that the system actually encourages more "extreme" candidates.
In addition to breaking down the significance of political parties, the law tends to reward "extremist" candidates -- from the far right as well as the far left -- at the expense of moderates and mainstreamers in both parties. Examples are easy to find, but none is more glaring than the "runoff from hell" in the governor's race of 1991.

In that year's gubernatorial primary, Edwin Edwards and David Duke edged out incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer to give voters the unenviable task of choosing between a known crook and a known Nazi (who later turned out to be a crook as well). That race should have given us all the prodding we needed to change the law, except that the folks in a position to make such a change -- Edwards and state lawmakers -- all got their jobs as a result of the law.
Actually, they're both wrong.

I'm not here to tell you that Democrats and Republicans are "exactly the same" party. They're not.  But on the questions that matter most, the consensus that emerges from both parties is clearly more attuned to the whims of industrial and financial elites than to any grass roots driven impetus to "ideological purity." 

Of course the story is the same in Louisiana.  We're gearing up for a Governor's election next year.  Here is a NOLA.com article laying out some fundamental ways in which the top three candidates resemble one another despite personal and superficial differences. Ultimately the candidates will compete for the favor the oil industry and the Louisiana Family Forum in varying proportions.

In either case, you're dealing with more or less the same ruling class represented by the voters' choice among a few different personalities.  Probably a choice between two parties with meaningfully differentiated policy positions would be more useful. But under the circumstances, the open primary has the advantage of being at least slightly more honest.

Amazon always reading over your shoulder

What could go wrong?
Your networked Kindle tells Amazon where you've got to in each book. This is so that if you switch to, say, the Kindle app on your smartphone, you can pick up exactly where you left off. But this also means that Amazon knows not only what you're reading, but even where you've got to. So anonymous reading goes out of the window.

Nnnevemind

Proclamation found to be in error. Unproclamation issued.
A city proclamation welcoming the anti-abortion group Operation Save America to the city and recognizing its "outstanding service to the City of New Orleans" was issued in error, according to an email this afternoon by a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Gambit goes on to note that the city pretty much just issues these welcome proclamations to any visiting group who fills out the web form and meets certain standards. 
Getting welcomed to town is reserved for groups and conventions, but anyone can apply for a ceremonial proclamation, as long as the reason fits in one of the city’s six categories: organizational honors; church anniversaries and pastoral anniversaries; retirements; heroic deeds; a 100th birthday; or “outstanding community service by an individual, group, or organization.”
They couldn't find out anything about how these applications are reviewed and vetted but it's good to keep in mind that this task probably falls to some peon civil servant barely scraping out a subsistence wage.

The mayor is pushing a civil service reform package in the hope that they can someday easily fire whoever the poor underpaid sap is.  But thankfully that hasn't happened yet or today might have been even worse.

In case you missed it

Ed Blakely solved Gaza last week. Apparently the key is to know who in the audience is in favor of slaughtering civilians and who is not.
"Israel is using a lot of cards, a lot of chips," Blakely says. "If you're in the silk-stocking district in New York, you know you have a lot of Jews in the audience, but in the middle of Iowa, you may not know who's in the audience, and that could trickle back to hurt you. ... Certainly you wouldn't want to be siding with people who are slaughtering civilians."
So there.

The Fuck You Vote

"City of St. George" separatists are still short of the necessary 18,000 signatures they need for their breakaway from Baton Rouge ballot initiative.  What's interesting is the reason they believe they came very close to their goal.
Lionel Rainey, St. George spokesman, said Tuesday morning that the group would not be submitting its petition by Wednesday, which is the deadline to have the November election.

Last week, the group announced they had 17,076 signatures. It was the first time they had disclosed their signature counts since December.

He said he didn’t have an updated signature count but estimated that at least 200 more signatures had been collected in the past week.

“It was a really good week,” he said, attributing some of the past week’s momentum to a PBS “Frontline” documentary that aired last week on the effort that he says unfairly depicted the movement as racially motivated.

“Absolutely it was positive for us, these people are not prejudice,” he said. “There is no racial or class motive around this, they just want better for their children. And rightfully so, that frustrates them.”
This is a phenomenon the late Greg Peters once described as "the Fuck You vote." In essence, signatories are saying, sure, this might be a stupid, revanchist, and racist initiative.  But "Fuck You" for telling us not to sign it.

Corps letter asks Helis to think about fracking just a little to the right

Helis says this is a "routine request" but it looks like the Corps is asking them not to drill in an environmentally sensitive area.

Let it burn

Mitch's official policy regarding the troubled firefighters' pension.
According to the latest independent audit, the fund took a roughly $40.2 million loss on its investments in 2013, in large part because it was forced to acknowledge the deteriorating value of real estate and other investments on its balance sheet.

On top of that, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has refused to hand over enough money from the city’s general fund during the past few years to entirely make up for declining assets, forcing the fund’s managers to cannibalize investments in order to pay current beneficiaries.

That left the fund with about $84.8 million in net assets available to pay retirement benefits at the end of 2013, a 41 percent decline from a year earlier. In 2011, that figure stood at $158.5 million.

Moreover, a good portion of what remains is in the form of real estate and other investments that could not be sold off quickly, should the extra cash be needed.
We all understand the city's budgetary problems.  They're not unlike what other cities are facing in many respects.  But it's important to point out that a political leadership that actually believes workers shouldn't lose their retirement to the vicissitudes of the financial crisis would try to find ways to help muddle through.

Mitch is asking for a property tax increase this fall in order to fix some of this. But he's only doing that because several court rulings have mandated that he do something.  As a matter of philosophy he seems to favor scrapping the pension altogether.. thus leaving working people to pick up the tab for bankers' crimes. 

Also.... I sure hope the firefighters don't have any money in securitized re-packaged auto loans.
Auto loans to people with tarnished credit have risen more than 130 percent in the five years since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, with roughly one in four new auto loans last year going to borrowers considered subprime — people with credit scores at or below 640.

The explosive growth is being driven by some of the same dynamics that were at work in subprime mortgages. A wave of money is pouring into subprime autos, as the high rates and steady profits of the loans attract investors. Just as Wall Street stoked the boom in mortgages, some of the nation’s biggest banks and private equity firms are feeding the growth in subprime auto loans by investing in lenders and making money available for loans.

And, like subprime mortgages before the financial crisis, many subprime auto loans are bundled into complex bonds and sold as securities by banks to insurance companies, mutual funds and public pension funds — a process that creates ever-greater demand for loans.

Update: This morning the judge rejected Stacy Head's stab at trying to muddle through.
Head, taking the witness stand in Civil District Court, offered to bring a motion at the council that would take $2 million this year from the New Orleans Police Department budget, plus raise about $1.4 million by furloughing current firefighters one day per month through the end of the year, although there was confusion about exactly how many days would be required.

While that would cover only a fraction of the $17.5 million, Head argued that it would be more than enough to keep the pension fund from continuing to shrink, as it has over the past few years.

Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso rejected the offer from the bench, ordering the city to come up with the full judgement before a Sept. 3 hearing and threatening to hold certain officials -- she did not say which -- in contempt of court. Presumably that could mean fines or even jail for city officials.

Edwin Edwards running circles around Bobby Jindal

At least in the press, he is.
The politician who’s captured the imagination of at least some out-of-state junkies is governor-turned-inmate-turned-congressional candidate Edwin Edwards — who, unlike a certain current occupant of the office, has a knack for attracting attention without having to wave his arms and shout, “Over here!”

Just this month, Edwards has snagged three full-length profiles in major publications: New York Magazine (which doesn’t normally cover congressional campaigns half a country away), plus the insiderish National Journal and the conservative Weekly Standard. All entertainingly, and even wistfully, recount Edwards’ greatest hits, from the naughty one-liners to the corruption trials to the post-prison marriage to a woman 50 years his junior, not to mention new fatherhood at age 86. Never mind that his odds of returning to Congress are miniscule.

But despite a relentless campaign to get his name out, Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose aspirations are somewhat less fanciful than Edwards’, is still struggling to break through. A new Gallup poll of Republicans and those who lean Republican found that just 45 percent know enough about him to have an opinion. That puts him well behind nine other potential presidential contestants and slightly ahead of just one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Note that, in Grace's estimation, Jindal's chances of being elected President are "somewhat less fanciful" than "miniscule."

Thanks, Pro-Life thugs!

Love, Mitch Landrieu
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an official welcome this week to Operation Save America, an anti-abortion organization that interrupted an Uptown church’s prayer service with its protests on Sunday and had plans to parade the alleged remains of a fetus around Jackson Square in the French Quarter.


The certificate, which is dated July 20, extends Mayor Landrieu’s official recognition to Flip Benham of Operation Save America for “outstanding service to the city of New Orleans,” according to an image of the certificate being shared by the group on members’ Facebook pages. Supporters of the group were enthusiastic about Landrieu’s welcome, with one noting that “This is a first!”

Benham, director of Operation Save America, was found guilty of stalking in North Carolina in 2011 for distributing “Wanted” posters featuring the name and photo of a Charlotte abortion doctor, and sentenced to 18 months probation. A local organizer for the group, Pastor Dale Sochia of King Jesus Ministries in Boutte, told the New Orleans Advocate that they would be holding a funeral procession in Jackson Square on Tuesday featuring an open casket containing a “a real aborted baby.”
 Meanwhile, the mysterious "Tips For Jesus" is in town.  Reports about the tipper (or more likely group of tippers) for Jesus vary but it is speculated that there is probably a genuine religious bent to their guerrilla publicity campaign.   Maybe they're here with Operation Save America.  In which case, they would be demonstrably more thankful for the service than the Mayor.

Poor door

They should migrate this concept to New Orleans so that Jackie Clarkson has a place to retire to.

While they still exist anyway

If you look around you'll notice that the notion of affordable public higher education is almost at thing of the past. Which leaves us with the feudal system described in this article.  But if you happen to be an elite brat afflicted with a conscience, the author offers advice.
Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don’t have a satisfying answer, short of telling them to transfer to a public university.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lionel Ferbos: noted metalworker

1911-2014
While active as a musician, Ferbos for many years also kept his day job as a tinsmith in his family’s sheet-metal business.  He went to work with his father in the family business in the 1940s, and became a master metal worker.  He also worked at Haspel’s Clothing Factory in the early 30s, where he met his future wife.  Ferbos and his wife, Marguerite Gilyot, were married for 75 years, until her death in 2009.  The couple had a daughter, Sylvia, and son, Lionel Jr., who died in 2006. 

In addition to his daughter, Ferbos is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren as well as a host of nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements are pending.




Thursday, July 17, 2014

SELA or NASA?

SELA or NASA?

That's the scene on Jefferson Avenue about a week ago just near the JCC where the SELA project is applying very frightening heavy duty pieces of equipment to the construction of an underground drainage canal. They're about to make an even bigger mess as they reach the part where they have to cross St. Charles Avenue
"On Jefferson Avenue, what the contractor is getting ready to do is begin their canal construction in the St. Charles Avenue travel lanes, south of the neutral ground," said Wingate. "In order to do that, we need to get the traffic off. You'll have two lane traffic north of the neutral ground for about two to three blocks."

The nearby Jefferson Community Center sent out an email blast letting members know about the construction.

"Members, especially elderly members who need to come to the front entrance of the JCC, where our handicapped entrance is, can enter the JCC by coming Jefferson Avenue and taking a right on St. Charles," said JCC Executive Director Leslie Fischman. "There will be an opening for JCC members to drop off in the front circle. We'll probably use this for rainy day car pools as well for our nursery school."

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, when you're sitting in you vehicle, steamed because you hit one of these traffic nightmares, keep in mind when it's all over with you're going to have better drainage, brand new sewer and water line and a freshly paved roadway.

"Hopefully, this short-term inconvenience will produce long-term benefits," said Wingate.
In the meantime, get used to it.  We've got at least another three years before the last leg of this project is scheduled to wrap up.

"Community RFP"

The Airport bidding process just keeps getting more and more complicated.
Stand with Dignity, a local labor group, announced on Thursday that it is launching a "community request for proposals," which will, among other things, ask the joint ventures to demonstrate their commitment to hiring locals, paying them a living wage and offering them opportunities to improve their careers.

The city's selection process for the contract includes requirements for the participation of disadvantaged business enterprises -- companies usually owned by minorities, women or veterans -- but it doesn't have much in the way of guarantees for workers, particularly those from poor communities, said Collette Tippy, lead organizer for Stand.

Stand's request for proposals mirrors that of the city. However, rather than asking them to demonstrate their experience and expertise, the labor group's request asks the joint ventures to detail how they will achieve Stand's employment and wage goals.

Stand has no official authority or legal standing to select a contractor for the airport project. Participation in the group's request for proposals is completely voluntary.
Just to clarify one point.  This "local labor group" doesn't appear to be affiliated with any of the building trades unions whose members would actually do the bulk of the work associated with these construction contracts.  Instead, they're kind of a weird mix of neighborhood groups, faith-based orgs, and.. the Cowan Institute.. for whatever reason. Oh and SEIU who only get things right about a third of the time.

Doesn't mean they're wrong to insert themselves or that their concerns won't be valid.  But they're different from simply "a labor group" and they certainly aren't the only "labor group" with a stake here. 

Where did all the money go?

The State of Louisiana is now and will continue to be faced with serious budget problems for the foreseeable future.  Which is weird because we keep heating about how these are the boom times in our state. 

Last month the Wall Street Journal article enthused, "We are building a Qatar on the Bayou," in an article about the heavily taxpayer subsidized petrochemical bonanza in Louisiana. 

So get ready to read many more like this. 
A subsidiary of Chinese chemical manufacturer Shandong Yuhuang Chemical Co. will build a $1.85 billion methanol manufacturing complex on the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, the company said Thursday.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's office called it the first major foreign direct investment by a Chinese company in Louisiana.
Well.. it's also a major direct investment by Louisiana in the company.
Louisiana Economic Development started discussions with the company five months ago and offered incentives to lure the company to the state:
  • a $9.5 million grant to be paid over five years starting in 2017 for infrastructure costs.
  • a $1.75 million grant over 10 years to cover some of the costs of developing and creating access to the riverfront.
The company is also expected to pursue breaks through Louisiana's industrial tax exemption and the Quality Jobs program, which provides a 5-or-6-percent cash rebate of annual gross payroll for new direct jobs for up to 10 years.
In another 10 years or so, we'll start to theoretically recoup some of the money we're paying out now.  That is unless we're paying it out to whoever is next in line by then.


Good news, bad news

The good news is CNN has already had a 24 hour Malaysia Airlines bureau up and running for months now.
CNN) -- A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday.

Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it lost contact with Flight 17 and that the plane's last known position was over Ukrainian airspace, the airline said on Twitter.

The aircraft was "shot down" over Ukraine by "terrorists" operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system, according to the Facebook page of Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. There were 280 passengers killed as well as 15 crew members, Gerashchenko's post reads.
The bad news is we never got around to electing Sarah Palin's Russia view house President which, clearly, is why this was allowed to happen.  

"Turnaround specialist"

Looks like David Gilmore really gave HANO a serious turnaround.
"I think people have been troubled by HANO in the past. We put every effort in to fix HANO especially the finance department," said Ronald McIntyre, former finance director for the Housing Authority of New Orleans.

He was brought in from Washington, D.C. to oversee the finances of the housing authority. McIntyre was hired by then-administrative receiver David Gilmore.

 He says their relationship soured when he started to question how the housing authority handed out contracts.

"David Gilmore and HANO steered contracts to his friends.  He steered contracts and used federal funds to cover those contracts," McIntyre said.

He says says his questions lead to an increasingly hostile work environment and harassment by superiors. McIntyre was ousted from the agency early this year.

"The day after I informed him (Gilmore) in writing that I was going to the EEOC and the inspector general I was terminated," McIntyre.

Will attempt to show

Advocate: Coastal Louisiana land loss worth price to fix, study will attempt to show

Let's hope the attempt goes well. It seems very involved.
BURAS — With a 50-year, $50 billion coastal restoration and protection plan to pay for, the state is gearing up with evidence to convince the rest of the country that the price tag is worth it.

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority started a new study in May that will quantify the worth of south Louisiana and just how much the rest of the country has to lose if nothing is done to stem coastal land loss or make coastal communities more secure.

“Try to understand the financial implications of future land loss and flood impacts,” Charles Sutcliffe, policy adviser with the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, told Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members at their Wednesday meeting.

This Coast-wide Economic Impact Evaluation will be done in cooperation with LSU and the RAND Corporation and will include a steering committee made up of representatives from government agencies, businesses and coastal researchers.
For future reference, when your state is faced with an environmental catastrophe on an order of magnitude such that roughly a third of of its total land area (including its most heavily populated communities) is sinking into the ocean, here is what you do.

First you will need to put together a "Master Plan" for coastal restoration.  This will be a long, politically controversial and expensive process.

Next you'll need to do the cost/benefit analysis of implementing the master plan.  This will also involve a lot of people and take several months or years to complete. This is what the phase they're on right now.  Finally, comes the marketing campaign to develop a "brand" that makes the cost/benefit analysis of the Master Plan accessible to people.

Once that's underway you're well on to drowning.

But the important thing is lots and lots of consultants and lobbyists and lawyers get paid in the meantime. Because that's what emergency response is really all about.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Magic Microbes

Seems like not so long ago they were telling us bacteria on the spilled oil was a good thing
A fortuitous combination of ravenous bacteria, ocean currents and local topography helped to rapidly purge the Gulf of Mexico of much of the oil and gas released in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, researchers reported on Monday.

But apparently, in the ocean, there's always a bigger fish... or microbe.
A couple hundred miles away at Auburn University, Dr. Cova Arias, a professor of aquatic microbiology, conducts research on the often-deadly and sometimes flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus. Arias’ research at Auburn, and through the school’s lab at Dauphin Island, has focused on Vibrio’s impact on the oyster industry which was brought to a standstill three years ago by the BP Oil Spill. In 2010, out of curiosity, Arias set out to discover if Vibrio were present in the post-spill tar balls washing up on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. She was highly surprised by what she found.

“What was clear to us was that the tar balls contain a lot of Vibrio Vulnificus,” said Arias.

Arias can show an observer Vibrio in the lab as it appears as a ring on the top of the solution in a test tube. Vibrio is not something, though, that a person can see in the water, sand, or tar balls.

But, Arias’ research shows it there, especially in the tar balls, in big numbers.

According to Dr. Arias’ studies, there were ten times more vibrio vulnificus bacteria in tar balls than in the surrounding sand, and 100 times more than in the surrounding water.

“In general, (the tar balls) are like a magnet for bacteria,” said Arias.

Arias’ theory is that Vibrio feeds on the microbes that are breaking down the tar.

Choice ridership

Rail tie work
Rail tie work is still ongoing on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. The work was briefly suspended and streetcar service temporarily reinstated for the benefit of visitors over the Fourth of July/Essence Fest weekend. 


Major T-P feature this morning based on the release of a report by the advocacy group Ride New Orleans on the state of our public transit.

The news is bad.
The report argues that the RTA has not kept pace with the city's repopulation after Katrina: The agency restored only 36 percent of its bus and street car services while more than 86 percent of the city's population has returned, the report said. And ridership for public transit has increased every year by roughly 20 percent, although it remains a mere fraction of the service's pre-Katrina numbers.

"We did find that the current transit system is inequitable. We found that a lot of the service decreases have been in low-income communities and in communities of color," said Ride New Orleans president Trevor Theunissen.
For all the talk you see bandied about hyping the busy, growing, fantabulous "New New Orleans," these numbers show the old New Orleans sure did move a lot more people around. 
But in 2012, Veolia only operated 79 of the RTA's 86 buses during peak times, a much smaller fleet than the 301 buses that cruised city streets at rush hour in 2004, Ride New Orleans found. Augustine said the fleet is now closer to 136 buses, but remains a far cry from its pre-Katrina ranks.

The RTA also eliminated at least 33 routes after the storm, including 10 express bus lines that shot riders across town with few stops in between, Ride found. The agency also did away with all "school trippers," public buses that augmented school bus service. Several major routes were stretched to cover extra miles where others never returned, such as those on Carrollton and Mirabeau avenues, Almonaster Boulevard and Desire Street.
But these concepts, "booming New New Orleans" and fewer public transit riders aren't as contradictory as they sound.  Remember, the city we've rebuilt is no longer interested in serving poor people. We just watched a movie this week where Pres Kabacoff told us the poors were "a drag."

Instead, the future of public transit will be in attracting "choice riders."  
Even as ridership increases, the system needs to attract car owners -- riders who choose to use public transit -- rather than relying on passengers without other options, said Renne, the UNO transportation expert. In most cities, he said, the number of people who have no vehicles and must use public transit is too small to build a viable system.

"You've got to attract choice riders. This is not rocket science. These are simple things," Renne said.
That way you can run fewer buses for fewer riders who don't mind paying a higher fare.  Revenue per rider goes up, costs go down. Oh, and yes, of course fares are going up.   
The Ride New Orleans report comes as Veolia has signaled it may pursue a rate increase as a partial fix to a potential $10 million shortfall in 2015. At the same time, Veolia has proposed a $5 million-a-year expansion of its routes and bus services.
RTA also recently took over operation of the Mississippi River ferries. Pedestrians who once crossed the river for free now pay two dollars each direction. But probably they are "choice riders" so it's ok. 

Blame the victim

This is actually pretty refreshing.  Nine times out of ten these situations only lead to a customer service rep losing his job simply for having been put in an impossible position.  Well, actually, that's probably what will happen here anyway but at least the news coverage and the complaining customer get the story right.

Pepper

They're having a "Suspicious Package" break in classes at the UL-Lafayette campus this afternoon

Looks like two "packages" which, if the pattern on these sorts of things hold, are most likely a discarded wig and an old metal lunchbox. But the police explode them anyway just to be safe.  Sadly the Lafayette cops don't seem have a specialized bomb robot like the one NOPD occasionally get to play with.

They do have dogs, though.  According to the Advertiser report picked up by WWL, the university also has a dog.
The university's dog, Pepper, and those from other local law enforcement are being used to sweep all buildings on campus including the Cajundome and the University Research Park.
Does the University of Louisiana have a dog? Yes. How many dogs does it own? One. What is the dog's name? Pepper.  What does the dog do?  Hangs around mostly... deterring crime.
So what made University Police decide to add K-9 help?

"As an emergency response agency we try to use her as a deterant to crime, so we got her knowing that that's something we needed to do," Sgt. Lasalle says.

And they use her frequently, making random sweeps along the campus and bringing her to big events.  University Police also lend Pepper out to other agencies in the case of bomb threats or bomb scares around the area.
 Yeah sometimes the cops need her to help them do stuff. 



The UL cops are happy anyway.  They're even looking to expand the program and assemble a team of super-dogs to watch over the campus.
Pepper is only two and a half years old, and soon she might have other K-9's by her side.  University Police are looking for other dogs with other specialties to make this campus the safest that it can be.

Can't wait til the movie comes out. 

Happy Birthday!

Nukes. They are 69 years old today.  Still haven't quite blown up the whole world. But then again, Tom Benson is 18 years older than you are so there's still time.

Last minute appeals

Monday evening the internets were buzzing with news that Saints TE(?) Jimmy Graham had filed an eleventh hour appeal of an arbitrator's ruling that he was in fact a TE(!) With less than 24 hours remaining before the franchise tag deadline. Was this cause for panic? 

Of course not.  As it turned out the last minute appeal was only a prelude to the Saints working out a deal with their TE(¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  He will continue to play for them and make lots of money.
Graham, 27, agreed to a record four-year contract Tuesday morning, the team announced. The four-year deal is worth up to $40 million with $21 million guaranteed, according to ESPN. Not only does that make him the highest paid tight end in the league, but it is also the biggest contract ever given to the position.
On Tuesday, former Mayor Ray Nagin created a similar but smaller buzzing when he let it be known that he will appeal his conviction on public corruption charges.
The one-paragraph notice of appeal does not reveal Nagin's appeal strategy. It says only he could challenge the jury's verdict, his prison sentence, the $500,000 judgment he was ordered to pay based on the value of the cash and gifts prosecutors say Nagin took while in office.
Probably not going to be as happy a result though. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Swollen and infected but so what


"It's impossible for you to have been more wrong"

Sometimes smiles come from the little things.

Honest graft

As you read this article about how the outgoing HANO director used a non-profit to circumvent public bid laws and direct contracts to consulting firms of his choosing there are two things to keep in mind.

First, this person was in charge because he is a "turnaround specialist" charged with managing a federally mandated receivership of the notoriously corrupt housing authority and, you know, showing us local buffoons how grown-ups are supposed to behave.
Gilmore was the latest in a series of receivers since HANO was taken over by the federal government in 2002 after years of poor management. He oversaw the agency’s day-to-day operation and was its lone board member.

The federal government had been scheduled to relinquish control of HANO in mid-2013, but the city had not yet selected an executive director or appointed a board for the agency at that time, so HUD renewed its contract with Gilmore’s company, Gilmore Kean LLC, for six months, through Jan. 8. An option in the contract allowed for a three-month extension, putting Gilmore’s end date at April 8.

Public housing residents and landlords portrayed Gilmore and his team from Gilmore Kean LLC as attentive leaders who cared about improving the lives of those living in government-subsidized developments in New Orleans. Many said they considered the redevelopment of various housing complexes, including the multimillion-dollar Iberville redevelopment, as Gilmore’s greatest accomplishments during his tenure.
Ok well. Good job, then. 

The other thing to note is that this profiteering took place over the course of a long and much delayed process of demolishing New Orleans's public housing and replacing it with.... less public housing.  Because this is what "moves the city forward" or something. So it's honest graft, really.

Last night PBS aired Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker's documentary about the 2010 District B Council election "Getting Back To Abnormal."  The fate of public housing in New Orleans is a major theme of the film.  You can watch it here on the POV website until August 12.  There a number of memorable quotes to play with there but my favorite is the part where Pres Kabacoff tells us that after Katrina, "We don't have quite the drag we had here with so many poor people living here"

Again, what was the point, exactly?

Law passed ostensibly to kill the SLFPA-E lawsuit probably doesn't actually kill the lawsuit.
John Barry, whom the governor removed from the levee authority board for leading the lawsuit effort, now heads the nonprofit Restore Louisiana Now. In a letter to his organization, he recently outlined some of the tactics that lawyers for the Flood Protection Authority may use to keep the suit alive.

Barry described two points of contention: that legislators broke their rules on public notice while moving the bill between committees, and that the language of the law actually exempts the levee authority from the intended oversight.

During the session, lawmakers supporting one bill to stop the suit failed to gain approval in one committee. But they were able to have it amended into another bill that was before a more receptive committee, where it eventually passed.

“So not only was proper notice not given, but [the new bill] as it was heard was entirely different from how it was filed,” Barry wrote. “And it gets even more egregious: forget the lack of notice — even if you were physically in the room when the committee heard [the bill] you could not get a copy of the bill. This violates all sorts of notice and open meetings standards.”
  So what was the point of that law?
SB 469 appears to have been written and deliberately designed by lawyers who represent the oil and gas industry in order to shield, reduce, or eliminate their clients’ exposure to civil damages on a wide range of pending and future claims, including, most notably, BP’s liability for billions of dollars in outstanding claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Indeed, according to people intimately involved in the legislative process, no one lobbied harder for the passage of SB 469 than those associated with BP.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prolific texter

Documents released by the Governor's office confirm a bunch of stuff we all pretty much suspected from the beginning.  Bobby Jindal's hand-picked Sec. of Health and Hospitals steered the state's Medicaid privatization scheme to his former employer.
An anonymous whistleblower warned federal officials about problems “dangerously close” to fraud in connection with the state award of a lucrative, now-scrapped state Medicaid claims processing contract, according to recently released documents that the Jindal administration used in making its decision to cancel the largest contract the state lets.

The email shows that federal regulators had alerted state officials of the potential issues with the nearly $200 million contract prior to its award to a company that formerly employed the state’s health agency chief. As secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, Bruce Greenstein was in charge of the agency that oversaw the contract.

Greenstein repeatedly has said he was not involved in the decision to award the contract to his former employer, Client Network Services Inc., the Maryland-based technology firm known as CNSI. But phone records and other data included in the released documents show at least 2,882 contacts between Greenstein and CNSI executives and the company’s lobbyist.
Everyone who cared enough to even read a little bit said this was happening the entire time.  Legislators opposed Greenstein's appointment.  PAR raised objections to the privatization plan.

But all of this went right on through anyway. Even now Greenstein says there's nothing inappropriate about his relationship with the firm receiving this huge contract from the office he oversaw.  
The emails by CMS and the whistleblower were among those recently released by the Jindal administration in response to a public-records request. The administration provided thousands of pages of mainly text-message logs revealing frequent communication between Greenstein and CNSI executive Carroll Creighton before, during and after the selection process and subsequent bid award. Creighton is CNSI’s vice president of government affairs and business development. The records cover a June 2010 to June 2012 time frame and indicate a higher volume of activity around key events in the selection process.

Neither Greenstein, who returned to Seattle, nor Creighton agreed to interviews. Attorneys for Greenstein and CNSI said the men are longtime friends who stay in close contact.

“The vast majority of the text messages and phone calls are of a personal nature and have nothing to do with the contract,” said John McLindon, Greenstein’s Baton Rouge attorney. “Bruce is a prolific texter, and I’m told that Carroll Creighton texts a lot, too.”

Creighton, who lives in Seattle, started work at CNSI a few months after Greenstein in 2005.
Yeah ok fine.  By this point in the Jindal administration we're all pretty much used to the cynical cronyism and political calculation that guides policy on every issue from education to flood control to health care.   So, weary as well all are, maybe "prolific texting" is as good a reason as any to just shrug it off.

But remember Bobby Jindal ran for Governor pledging to wage a "War On Corruption" and his campaign was greatly aided by the propagandists who provide us with our professional news services.  Maybe they'll be less credulous when the next LABI, Louisiana Family Forum,  and oil industry backed "reformer" comes along. But probably not. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ancien Regime

Tom Benson turns 87 years old today. Believe it or not this only makes him the third oldest current NFL franchise owner. And that's not the only way in which the league resembles a medieval society of competing but also interlocking and cooperating branches of  hereditary nobility.

This is from an article published a few months ago about the succession plan for Benson's empire of publicly subsidized sports franchises who play in state-owned facilities.  The plan is said to be a closely guarded secret but it is assumed that Benson's daughter and grandchildren would  receive his ownership stake. The NFL prefers this as a matter of policy.
The NFL prefers to keep teams within their controlling families after a majority owner has died.

That's not always the case. In Buffalo, the Bills will be owned by Wilson's estate because his wife, Mary, and two surviving daughters, Christy and Edith, have no interest in running the team.

But in most cases, teams are transferred within family ranks whenever possible.

For instance, McCaskey and her family have controlled 80 percent of the Bears since her father, George Halas, died in 1983.

In Tennessee, Adams' daughters Susie Smith and Amy Hunt, and the family of his deceased son, Kenneth Adams, each received a third of the Titans.

And in Pittsburgh, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell arranged for Dan Rooney to maintain controlling interest of the Steelers, which has been in the Rooney family since Art Rooney founded it in 1933. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

In which Ray Nagin tells you about a thing being "surreal"

He's kind of an expert in that.
Nagin spoke to the WDSU I-Team exclusively, maintaining his innocence and suggesting that he had been “targeted” by the government.

When asked what went through his mind as the sentence was handed down, Nagin sounded a defiant note.

“Well, you know, all of this is pretty surreal to me,” he said. “I still maintain my innocence. We're going to appeal this thing and, you know, it's just something that's very difficult.”
I haven't watched the interview yet but according to the report, Nagin's appeal will lean on the US Attorney commenting scandal a bit as well as on prosecutorial "magic.
“The prosecutors were fairly magical in their ability to take something that supposedly happened and paint it as reality when it didn't really happen,” he said.
I know we're still waiting on Katrina's Secrets Volume II but if Nagin wants to write a YA novel of two while he's got all this time on his hands "Fairly Magical" might make a pretty good series title.

QOTD

This AZ post is not about the Ray Nagin sentencing. It's about coverage of the BP claims process.  Still this is a good line to have in mind on the day this creature the NOLA press created and sold to voters as an anti-corruption Dragonslayer is sentenced to ten years in prison for being one of the dumber and sloppier criminals to hold public office in recent times.

Anyway, here you go.
Folks, I want you to understand something if you don't already realize it....most mainstream media resources, on the whole, are bullshit PR printing presses....or rather pixel presses.  That holds true in our little swampy corner of the world in spades.
Nagin ended up getting 10 years which is probably the best he could have hoped for given the sentencing guidelines.  It's still an awful long time to be in prison. Remember how long Nagin's term in office seemed to all of us? This is actually longer than that.   There's a chance he'll only serve about 8 of those years but that would depend on Nagin exhibiting "good behavior" and when has that ever happened?

Anyway he's going to jail while others in similar circumstances (Fred Heebe, Gary Solomon, others) are apparently immune to prosecution and the people who decided Ray Nagin should be mayor in the first place are still picking our candidates for us today.

Also, for some reason, Mitch Landrieu was asked to say something.  He said, we're "moving forward."
Said Mayor Mitch Landrieu,“Today marks the end of a sad chapter for our city.  The people of New Orleans are turning the page and moving forward."
But if there's any actual progress, or even justice, in any of this, it isn't easy to pick out.

Nagin derrangement syndrome

It's Ray Nagin's big day. I guess they'll finally show that guy what's what. Surely there will be dancing and cheering in the streets when Ray Nagin gets taken down a peg.  Can't wait to see what that might be like.
Since his conviction, the lender on his family's townhouse in Frisco, Texas, which testimony showed Nagin's family living in rent-free after Hurricane Katrina compliments of the developer before they eventually bought it, has sought to foreclose on the property.

And after trial, Nagin's wife Seletha filed for bankruptcy, in the process presenting a grim picture of the family's finances.

Then another financial blow came when U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan in May ordered Nagin to forfeit $501,200 that prosecutors totaled as the gains he received in the bribery schemes for which he was convicted. That figure reflects travel paid by city vendors, cell phone service, money meant to appear as investments in Stone Age, ill-gotten business for Stone Age and free granite provided to the company.

And Nagin could face yet undetermined amounts of fines, in addition to a lengthy prison term, at sentencing.

Files in the Seletha Nagin bankruptcy case in Texas show the Nagin family went from "a seven figure net worth" to $204,810 in assets, surpassed by liabilities of about $223,256.

The bankruptcy files list the Nagins owing $42,839 to the Internal Revenue Service for 2011 and 2012 taxes. They list about $6,059 in debts for bills at retail stores Kohl's and Macy's and for medical services from a handful of providers, including a pathology lab, an orthopedic clinic and a radiology practice.

The court documents list Ray Nagin as unemployed. They indicate Seletha Nagin works as a sales clerk at a Bath and Body Works store in Texas, making about $490 a month.

They also reflect her collecting $312 monthly in food stamps and receiving $400 from one of their two sons, with the name not specified, bringing their average monthly income to about $1,202.
Well ok but that's just the total financial ruin of the man and his family. That might be a big deal if we were talking about someone who is also pretty near unemployable at this point and... well, ok so he's also unemployable.

That might be a big deal if we were talking about a person who hadn't lived through Hurricane Katrina as the Mayor of New Orleans. There's probably some money in that story.. you know.. in the right hands, it would make a compelling book and.. oh.. yeah.

Ok well, so Ray Nagin is pretty well screwed as things stand right now.  This morning Judge Berrigan can only make matters worse when she sentences the 58 year old Nagin to what will probably be something between 10 and 20 years in prison. Apparently this is supposed to serve some sort of purpose.

At least according to what the many folks on the parallel internets demanding an "apology" from the gelded stooge seem to think this week.  Who knows why so many people have decided to make this petty thief's conviction about their honor. It's especially puzzling given the fact that the major criminals who created the petty thief in the first place are still pretty much running the city anyway.  But there's no accounting for hurt feelings.

One friend in the parallel internet did a pretty good job yesterday of explaining why Nagin personally irks people. Why, for example, did Nagin think taking his case to trial was a good idea?
The moron is too narcissistic to realize his fluffers have long ago abandoned him and plead out. No, he wanted to be tossed out the front door, he wanted his show trial with all the cameras focused on the perfect shine on his head. He doesn't give a crap about his finances or his family or his "legacy". The whole prosecution has been about HIM and one more chance to bask in the glow. He will go down hard simply because he chose that path.
It's true Nagin was always just a little too stupid and/or full of himself to understand that everything wasn't always about him. But surely the current mania for revenge can be described as a direct reflection of this overinflated sense of importance.

Maybe there's some symmetry in that but it still doesn't look to me like a long prison sentence is necessary to balance out Nagin's stupid and crude but only moderately significant crimes. 

Wait.. why?

Bob Ellis's pro-Airbnb astroturf group held a community meeting to discuss their advocacy of legalized short-term rentals in New Orleans.   This was weird.
Rather than keeping unlicensed, short-term rentals illegal through an outdated rule, the city should embrace a new law that legalizes the practice and generates revenue and accountability through licenses and enforcement.

That was the argument presented Tuesday night by the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, a nonprofit formed to advocate for legalizing short-term rentals from websites such as Airbnb and VRBO in the city.

"There's obviously demand," Christian Galvin, a a group board member, told about 50 people gathered at the Jefferson Parish Library in Harvey. "There's thousands of these types of rentals online...it just needs to be regulated so that the good operators rise up and give a strong representation for New Orleans."
What were they doing in Harvey?  Priced out of the New Orleans meeting room rental market for some reason?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

New Orleans is famous the world over for its property values

Can't let anything take precedence over the resale value of a piece of property.
"There's no way in the world that I can ever sell my house or much less even live in my house with the way it is right now," said Torres, who used to own SDT Waste & Debris Services and recently opened a resort in the Bahamas called the Cove. "When you go in the backyard, it sounds like you're at a club."

The lawsuit claims that the live music at Buffa's has damaged Torres' property value at 1011 Esplanade Ave. and caused significant pain and suffering. It also claims that the city wrongfully issued the bar a live music permit. It calls for an injunction to stop the performances and requires the owners to regularly measure the sound levels to ensure they are not exceeding the legal limit.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Sharing the wealth

What are the benefits of having oil and gas extraction dominate your state's economy?   Cash payoffs, apparently.   Pennsylvania residents are enjoying that exact benefit now.  And it only cost them... some legal technicality.
It didn't take long for the residents of Finleyville who lived near the fracking operations to complain – about the noise and air quality, and what they regarded as threats to their health and quality of life. Initially, EQT, one of the largest producers of natural gas in Pennsylvania, tried to allay concerns with promises of noise studies and offers of vouchers so residents could stay in hotels to avoid the noise and fumes.

But then, in what experts say was a rare tactic, the company got more aggressive: it offered all of the households along Cardox Road $50,000 in cash if they would agree to release the company from any legal liability, for current operations as well as those to be carried out in the future. It covered potential health problems and property damage, and gave the company blanket protection from any kind of claim over noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations.

The agreement also defined the company's operations as not only including drilling activity but the construction of pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.
But hey, fifty grand, right? Who wouldn't trade all future claims against poisoning for that?

Someone should tell St. Tammany Parish residents to ask Helis Oil if they can get in on this deal.

Actually the smart guys in Louisiana might be a bit more risk-averse.  They're only willing to sacrifice their integrity. 
In April, the PSC hired Acadian Consulting Group LLC of Baton Rouge to complete a report by Nov. 30 comparing net metering’s costs against its benefits.

State records show David E. Dismukes is an owner of Acadian Consulting Group, the company hired for the study. Dismukes also is an economics professor and executive director of LSU’s Center for Energy Studies.

In a complaint filed Tuesday with the PSC, C. Tucker Crawford, president of Gulf States Renewable Energy Industries Association, alleged Dismukes cannot produce an impartial study on net metering because he has in the past lobbied “for the elimination of renewable energy subsidies and the augmentation of fossil fuel subsidies.”

Crawford added that Dismukes accepted $20,000 from a fossil fuel group, the American Energy Alliance, before arguing last year against federal tax and financing policies benefiting the wind-energy industry.

In addition, Crawford wrote the PSC, Dismukes received $96,000 from America’s Natural Gas Alliance in 2012; $76,000 from Shell in 2012; and $37,000 from the Louisiana oil industry in 2004.

Cab drivers and concierges as sources

Brazil is maybe an extreme example but it is remarkably easy to get visiting reporters to tell only the story your tourism boosters want them to tell.
As is often the case with the mainstream media, they have started with an indisputable truth and then have chosen to draw conclusions that match their own embedded perspective: a perspective shaped by Sepp Blatter, his broadcast partners and a blinkered reality of hotels and black SUVs. It is certainly true that the million-person protests have not taken place during the World Cup, as they did during the 2013 Confederation’s Cup. But the conclusion that now everything is awesome and “parties have replaced protests” is simply not true. I recently returned from Brazil and saw a different reality. The fact is that there are protests, strikes and battles with police happening every day. In the favelas, there are demonstrations against the police occupations that are happening because of the Cup. (Here is a terrific photo essay by Andalusia Knoll that shows images from all the World Cup protests that are not happening.)

If the protests are far smaller than the ones a year ago, it is because the streets are militarized down to the last inch, ruled by a military police force who are tear-gassing any group of people who attempt to gather and raise political demands.

Offense level

The guidelines that will help Judge Ginger Berrigan decide Ray Nagin's sentence make about as much sense as those stupid charts NFL coaches use to decide whether they want to go for two point conversions.
Under the rules, Nagin starts with a base “offense level” of 20 because he was an elected official who took multiple bribes but otherwise has no criminal history — facts that, with the jury verdict, are now undisputed.

The other major factors that will add points to his offense level include the financial “loss” the court assigns to his actions, the court’s judgment as to whether he was an “organizer or leader” in “criminal activity” that involved at least five people, and whether Nagin is found to have obstructed justice by lying to investigators and to the court.

There is some gray area in all of these questions. For instance, the monetary loss can be calculated to include not only bribes paid and received, but also the proceeds of any contracts that resulted from bribes.

At a minimum, however, Berrigan will almost certainly find that the loss was greater than $200,000, as the jury convicted Nagin of taking more than that amount in bribes. That would bring his offense level to 32, but it could go significantly higher depending on whether Berrigan decides to include the profits of some or all of the contracts Nagin signed.

Were the judge to use the amount of “ill-gotten gains” she has ordered Nagin to forfeit — $501,500, which includes the money his granite company took in from a deal with Home Depot — the offense level would jump to 34. If she includes the profits from contracts won by firms owned by those who bribed Nagin, the number could go higher.
This article is fascinating.  At its core is the premise that the sentencing guidelines will trump sentiment coming from third party appeals for a harsher or lighter treatment.  In a way, we are told, this might be a good thing for Nagin since he appears to have surprisingly few "friends" speaking on his behalf.

And yet, after carefully explaining that the sentence is really predetermined by math, we come right back to multiple factors the judge can consider if she feels the math is maybe too harsh.  For example, she can take into account whether there is a pressing need to protect the public from future crimes of this nature by the defendant. In Ray Nagin's case, that would seem a minimal risk.

Also the judge can go light on Nagin if he begs for mercy.
One factor that could play a role is whether Nagin speaks at the hearing and what he chooses to say.
When defendants plead guilty, they typically give an “allocution” — a speech to the court apologizing for their behavior that can sometimes sway judges.

But Nagin did not plead guilty, and although he was convicted by a jury, he has never admitted to any wrongdoing, even creating a website to raise money for a legal defense fund in which he steadfastly maintains his innocence.

“In my experience, the kind of speech a defendant gives at sentencing can matter a lot to what judges decide to do, especially within the (sentencing) range,” said Tania Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at Tulane Law School. “I’ve seen judges cross out what they had written down and change it based on what the defendant does. But if he’s not prepared to fall on the sword and beg for mercy, he may say very little. And he seems pretty determined to maintain his innocence.”
And that seems kind of nice but, if you think about it, it's a juvenile and irrational practice. To say to people, well we'll let you go if you make a show of supplicating yourself before the court is almost medieval, really.

And yet that seems to be what people want. Some sort of public apology. As if individual hurt feelings are what actually matters here. People are pretty small that way. 

I've never been anything near to what one would consider a "friend" of Ray Nagin.  He was elected in 2002 as a political creature of elite New Orleans. Nagin was a product of the popular con at that time which sold people on running government "like a business."  He was a bad mayor pre-Katrina who proved even more spectacularly incompetent at handling the post-Katrina morass.  And on top of everything he turned out to be a foolish and incompetent criminal clumsily accepting small time bribes for often petty reasons. 

There was something that could have been done to prevent Nagin from blundering around for four years after Katrina but we reelected him anyway.  Extracting an "apology" now won't help anyone.  And neither will throwing this thoroughly humiliated and bankrupted person into federal prison for 20 years.

According to the sliding "offense level" chart, Berrigan could give Nagin anything from 10 to 30 years.  Even the low end of that seems unnecessary at this point.

Why did it fall the way it did?

I used to wonder if the 17th Street canal levee breach after Katrina that flooded Lakeview could have just as easily broken on the Jefferson rather than the Orleans Parish side. Maybe it wouldn't have made a tremendous difference in the amount of water that ended up piling into Lakeview thanks to the breach in the nearby London Avenue canal levee.  Or maybe it would have.

One thing's for sure, it would have meant a lot more damage in Metairie.  And this McBride post indicates it sure could have happened that way. More to the point, though.  Maybe it still could.
Given the shallow depth it was found in 2011 and 2014, it makes sense some of the debris was part of the I-wall and levee construction in the early 1990's. That work did involve placement of dirt on top of the existing levees at the time. It extended the entire length of the canal (all the yellow and red lines shown above). Other, deeper debris has likely been there far longer. The records of nearly every soil boring taken in 1981 along the west bank - long before the I-walls were put in - have numerous mentions of shells, wood, bricks, and other "miscellaneous fill." Those records were used in the basis of design for the Corps' early 1990's work. This junk has been known to the Corps for a very, very long time. It also very likely extends the entire length of the canal on at least the Jefferson Parish side.

How it got there doesn't really matter now though, because all the junk is still there today, and the integrity of the outfall canals remains the responsibility of the Corps. As the decision recorded in the contractor quality control log of March 11, 2011 indicates, there is no way the 17th Street canal west bank levees would be built today with the debris-riddled dirt that is currently sitting in them. That dirt is - according to the Corps - "unsuitable." Yet there the levees sit.

Correction: Originally this post cited a breach in the Orleans Avenue outfall canal.  Orleans Avenue did not, in fact, breach. Here's that T-P Katrina animation in case anyone else needs a refresh.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

What is the sound of lemony fresheness?

Looks like another round of noise crackdowns is in the works.
Mimi's in the Marigny — one of the central venues in the ongoing conversation about music permitting and noise ordinances — has suspended its live music schedule. As first reported this afternoon on NOLA.com, Mimi's music programming is taking a brief hiatus, though staff there haven't confirmed why.

Meanwhile, Buffa's Bar & Restaurant announced on its Facebook today that the watering hole and entertainment spot now faces a lawsuit from 1011 Esplanade Avenue Inc., alleging that it has violated the city's noise ordinance. The post also says the suit challenges Buffa's mayoralty permit allowing live music, though the venue has been a longtime fixture for music in the neighborhood.
Gambit further reports that "1011 Esplanade Avenue" belongs to Sidney Torres who the Buffa's owners say was something of a regular.. or at least a customer.  So what gives?  

Wonder what they actually fired him for

On Friday, the Fourth of July at 7PM.
Malachi Hull's troubled tenure managing the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau came to an abrupt end when Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration announced Friday (July 4) that he had been fired.

Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said Landrieu had asked Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux to investigate the bureau after several incidents led to the arrests of inspectors there
You could say that he was fired for incidents of brutality and intimidation toward drivers and tour guides instigated by his inspectors. But that seems unlikely since this butt-kicking style was probably what the mayor was looking for when he hired Hull to implement a series of reforms unpopular with drivers. Hull's heavy-handedness in Atlanta where he was employed when Landrieu hired him had resulted in a lawsuit.

So it could be that, with the mission accomplished, Hull just isn't as necessary as he once was.  But I'd consider the proposition that the administration was unhappy with his behavior maybe a bit dubious. 

On the other hand, he did write that C&D letter to Uber.  Mitch can't have liked that very much. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The bead trees are so hard to look at during the offseason

Here is a well known St. Charles Avenue Bead Myrtle in full bloom just after Carnival.

Bead tree

And here it is during the summer months when it's growing some other crap.

Bead tree offseason

What, then, was the point?

The "Kill the Lawsuit" bill does not appear to have actually killed the lawsuit.
The attorneys will definitely challenge this bill on several grounds. Let me name just two:

First, Act 544 does prohibit “local government entities” — except for parishes — from suing over any oil-related damages in the coastal zone. However, a local government entity has a very precise legal definition, and that definition does not fit the flood authority. So the bill actually does not prohibit the flood authority from suing. That is a very strong argument that the attorneys will make.
Obviously there's more to Barry's post there but the highlighted part is what's interesting to me.  It suggests the bill's authors may not have had the levee board lawsuit in mind specifically even if that was the ostensible reasoning behind the bill. 

"Suspicions grew"

Stacey Jackson pleaded guilty Wednesday to accepting kickbacks from contractors her non-profit hired to do remediation work that was never actually performed on flood damaged homes after Katrina.
Jackson, 47, was the focus of prosecutors' five-year investigation of the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership program, the troubled non-profit that she ran as its executive director. She eventually became another black eye for Nagin, whom a jury convicted of 20 corruption charges in February. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 9.
NOAH wasn't only "another black eye for Nagin" amid the various instances of corruption for which he was prosecuted. (Nagin wasn't charged with anything relating to NOAH anyway.)  It was the moment at which the local press.. and possibly federal investigators.. started to take these kinds of allegations against the Nagin administration seriously.

It's remarkably difficult to put yourself back in that time even now but back in 2007-2008 the conventional wisdom communicated through the daily news about Nagin was still wrapped up in his image as an innovative, reforming, businessman... an image the Times-Picayune had invested much in crafting and selling to voters in 2002.
Ray Nagin was a largely unknown businessman who was polling at 2 percent in his campaign for mayor before The Times-Picayune editorial board, of which I was and am a member, endorsed his candidacy. The endorsement, which was printed earlier than usual, helped give the erstwhile long shot some legitimacy.

The already revised history tells us the turning point came when Nagin delivered his stupid (but also overblown and misunderstood)  "Chocolate City" speech on MLK Day in 2006.   And it's true that this was a political turning point for Nagin.  It signaled a new and more populist reelection strategy as Nagin surely knew many of his moneyed, white backers "some people Uptown" were about to abandon him. But the press was considerably slower to turn on him.

And by "turn on him" I mean give credence to the mounting evidence that the phony they created out of whole cloth was... well.. a phony.

But, as the story says here, "suspicions grew."
Federal agents stormed NOAH's offices in August 2008 as suspicions grew that little to no work had been done at hundreds of properties assigned to the agency. What followed led to guilty pleas from four contractors, including Jackson's cousin, Richard Hall. Hall stood accused of stealing $117,000 from NOAH while performing few of the house repairs he was hired to do. He admitted his guilt in 2012, but he did not admit kicking cash back to Jackson.
How and when did the suspicions grow?  Not relevant to the story, apparently.  But for fun,  let's check the other paper to see if they know.
Jackson’s crimes were committed while she was serving as director of New Orleans Affordable Homeownership, a city-supported nonprofit program that Nagin made the centerpiece of an anti-blight campaign.

The agency hired private companies to gut and board up some of the tens of thousands of properties damaged in Katrina and its aftermath. Media reports at the time revealed that many of the properties the city had paid to remediate in fact got little or no attention and remained in shockingly bad condition.

Rather than acknowledging the problems in the city-administered grant program, Nagin reacted angrily toward the news media as critical stories unspooled, a move that did lasting damage to his relationship with the public. His image was tarnished further by the fact that his brother-in-law, Cedric Smith, was a leading contractor for NOAH, although Smith never was charged with any wrongdoing.
"Media reports at the time" likely refers to the WWLTV's investigation of NOAH.  Lee Zurik in particular seemed to get under the Mayor's skin. It was to WWL cameras that Nagin made his famous "cold cocking" threat.  Zurik deserves the credit he's received for picking up and running with this story. It's the story that made his reputation as an investigative journalist; one he still trades on today.

But Zurik didn't "break" the NOAH story.  Then-amateur investigator Karen Gadbois did. The WWLTV series became a collaboration between Zurik and Karen and a few researchers working with her Nagin would later deride as "council sponsored college students turned spies." (scroll down to page 7 of this PDF)

God bless you

Karen would go on to jump into professionalism herself and found The Lens which still sort of does some spying despite appearing to be out of money lately. (Must have lost that council sponsorship. You can help with that.)

It's a shame, though, that the critical role she and her associated "dangerous people of the internet," as Advocate publisher John Georges calls them, played in the unraveling of the Ray Nagin myth seems to have been written out of the official history.

Update: Turns out NOLA Defender credited Karen Gadbois. Good on them.