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Monday, September 16, 2019

They're gonna make him a bionic thumb

The latest and most advanced surgical procedure that will be used to repair Drew Brees's thumb ligament is, basically, duct tape.
Brees stayed in Los Angeles to meet with renowned hand surgeon Dr. Steve Shin, who performed UCL surgery on baseball player Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels in 2017.

If the UCL is the problem with Brees' thumb, the ligament will likely be repaired by drilling a hole through the bone and tying a suture to the ligament to stabilize it.

Dr. Shin is known for augmenting that procedure with extra suture tape, which helps provide extra stability.
That's very exciting. They say the athletes who get the tape job usually end up recovering faster. Which puts Brees back with the team in 6-8 weeks. There's an outside chance, given the week 9 bye and everything, that he could play November 10 against the Falcons. A tour of division opponents follows that date so it's something to shoot for.  Another idea would be to try and pray the pain away.  Does Drew know anybody who could help with that?

So, anyway, don't despair.  Now we have a dramatic arc to follow this season beyond just bitching about the stupid refs all the time. Not that that isn't fun too. Look how fun that was on opening night.

Some fans are upset

But, yeah, it's time for new things to happen.  Also, as usual, I meant to write something to kick off the season but missed that deadline.  Varg and I tried to make up for it on the fake radio show which, by the way, we're putting out on YouTube too now in case people prefer to consume their #content there. 

Fair Sham

During last week's CNN climate forum, Elizabeth Warren hit a home run. Warren was asked about the Trump administration's decision to reverse Obama era efficiency standards for light bulbs. Her answer brought out a point that Democrats, even the "good Democrats" often fail to make about where the true onus for effective climate action lies.
“Oh, come on, give me a break,” Warren, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said during CNN’s Town Hall forum on climate change. “Look, there are a lot of ways that we try to change our energy consumption and our pollution, and God bless all of those ways. Some of it is with lightbulbs, some of it is on straws, some of it, dang, is on cheeseburgers.”

“That’s what they want us to talk about,” Warren said, before noting that, in her estimation, the fossil fuel industry wanted to cast the climate fight as “your problem.” She continued: “They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws and around your cheeseburgers, when 70% of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries.”

The industries Warren mentioned are the oil industry, the electric power industry and the building industry, according to The New York Times.

In other words we aren't going to solve a problem caused by institutional corruption and  mismanagement by shaming the individual victims of that mismanagement into submission.  We're not going to reduce carbon emissions by drinking out of paper straws. Anyone who tells you differently is not really on your side. 

Similarly, in New Orleans, we aren't going to relieve decades worth of decay and negligence visited on our drainage system by shaming people into picking up their trash. But for some reason, LaToya Cantrell can't help but to do just that at every opportunity. Even, here, where the topic is really more about expanding the Department of Public Works, she can't help but get in a dig.
Officials outlined more on how they plan to spend money from the "fair share" deal. The money will help the Department of Public Works hire 42 extra employees and fund more tasks being brought in house. They'll bring in five more maintenance inspectors and 28 new pieces of equipment, including vac trucks, pothole patchers, dump trucks, excavators, pickup trucks and trailers.

"We are owning our responsibilities and seamlessly working together," Cantrell said. "It's a shared responsibility. We're not being reactive because we're doing the work every single day and have been doing it every single day since I've been in office."

Cantrell ask citizens to do their part by cleaning up the city and dumping trash appropriately. Someone recently dumped three boats on Martin Luther King Avenue.

"You can't make it up," Cantrell said. "It's present. It's there."
What does a boat left in the street have to do with causing people to need... boats in the street every time it rains?  I really have no idea.  But it's obviously evidence that we've done something wrong.

It's notable, also, that Cantrell's hostility toward the citizenry appears here in a story about her so-called "fair share" deal with the hospitality industry.  She's very proud of her grand bargain. She's so proud, in fact, that #FairShare has already transcended its original meaning to become a catch-all mantra applicable to whatever the mayor happens to be talking about at the time.  A new gambit at extracting patronage dollars out of the French Market is about “...getting our fair share, based on what’s coming back to the city, and these are assets we control.” A scheme to skim fees off of other governmental agencies for tax collection services is apparently about getting a "fair share."  The city raised the fees it charges to Bayou Boogaloo saying they also need to pay a "fair share."  LaToya's PAC is using it as the title of a fundraising campaign.  The city's and the mayor's official Twitter feeds frequently tag random messages about anything and nothing with #FairShare.  It's basically LaToya's #MAGA now.  More to the point, Cantrell's muddled, scattershot use of the phrase now indicates she never grasped its value in the first place.

The original context was the structural inequality of the tourism industry in New Orleans. An obscene portion of the wealth generated by tourism accrues to a cohort of owners and oligarchs while the majority of workers who make that wealth possible struggle for low wages, poor benefits and minimal job security. Moreover, the tax revenue collected off the backs of these workers feeds directly back into systems and institutions meant to further line the pockets of the very same oligarchs. A "fair share" of that revenue should be used to support the city's working class. It should build affordable housing. It should fund better schools, better transit, better city services. It should help the city build and maintain the basic infrastructure that makes life possible here without further burdening its poorest and most vulnerable people. 

So does Cantrell's "fair share" deal actually do any of that?  Not really. The city does receive the temporary windfall of a one-time payment plus a share of one or two new revenue streams (depending on future developments.) But the new money is grossly insufficient to the need.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s hard-fought “fair share” infrastructure deal could provide more than $20 million a year for the struggling Sewerage and Water Board over the next decade. But that doesn’t come close to meeting the $3 billion in funding required by the Sewerage and Water Board’s 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan.

That was revealed by Cantrell administration officials on Monday at the first meeting of the City Council’s Ad Valorem and Special Dedicated Revenue Committee. The committee aims to take a bird’s eye view of the city’s finances and release a public report in early 2020. 

“Oh wow, so every year, you’re hundreds of millions of dollars short leading up to 2028?” Councilwoman Helena Moreno asked at the meeting.
Sure, $3 billion over 10 years is a tall order. In a better world, every city in America would have ample support from a federally funded and guided Green New Deal initiative to repair crumbling infrastructure and stem the tide against the threat of climate change.  But until we get there we have to depend on our local leadership to do the best they can. The #FairShare isn't the best we can do in New Orleans.

In fact, it was never intended to be. The closest description of what it actually was intended to do came from Stephanie Grace all the way back in June. Her key observation at that time was that all of the recurring revenues generated by the deal do not come from the tourism industry giving up any of its accustomed share. Instead they come from new taxes on the "man behind the tree." 


The latest evidence that it always helps to have some metaphorical man behind some imagined tree is the deal to send more money to New Orleans to help rebuild its aging infrastructure, which has apparently cleared all remaining hurdles in the state Legislature. Despite a period of tense, on-again, off-again negotiations among New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Gov. John Bel Edwards, legislative leaders and representatives of the tourism industry, all sides emerged with much of what they wanted.
"All sides" got what they wanted.  True! But that requires some explanation of which "sides" wanted what. Let's look at how the spoils are divided.

Number one on the list was the Convention Center wanted to build their publicly funded but privately profitable hotel. Check. Walt Leger got that for them.
House Bill 617, passed by the Senate on a 33-0 vote on Sunday, authorizes the Convention Center to build and own the $550 million, 1,200-room hotel proposed for the upriver end of the giant exhibition hall. The bill also clears the way for the Convention Center to develop other vacant land it owns next to the site.
Number two was the tourism cabal wanted less public scrutiny over the marketing and convention brokering agencies they control.  Check.  The technically public New Orleans Tourism Marking Corp will be folded into the technically private (but publicly funded) New Orleans and Company.  The city's "infrastructure fund" gets a cut NOTMC's corpse.  But the lion's #FairShare of that still goes to the NO and Co.
About $5.5 million of the Marketing Corp.’s budget, which comes from a nightly fee charged on hotel rooms, would be redirected to the city’s infrastructure fund as part of the overall deal. Other money the group receives, including $2 million a year from Harrah’s Casino and its hotel and $7.8 million from a self-assessment by hotels in the city, would go to New Orleans and Co.
The key difference, though, is that these operations will be more fully privatized under the new regime.  The city had a direct oversight role with NOTMC.  The new entity says it will "invite" them to sit in on the back bench at some of their meetings.
Oversight of the combined organizations is another detail being worked out. In an internal company email sent Wednesday and shared with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Perry said New Orleans and Co. intends to invite the two City Council district members and a rotating at-large member to serve on an “ex-office” basis with New Orleans & Co. Perry later clarified that his group is still working out the details for a formal City Council presence on the board, but his plan is to invite council members to serve on a leisure marketing committee run by Romig.
Number three was the city wanted to pull in more recurring revenue from local hotel/motel taxes. This, more than anything, was the core of the "fair share" argument. And they did sort of get what they wanted.  But the trick is in how they got it. What the city is getting is a completely new tax based on a revival of a so-called "lost penny" that hadn't been collected since 1966.  In other words, the tourism agencies aren't "sharing" their previous take at all.  The "man behind the tree" is.

Number four was various parties for various reasons wanted a new tax on Short Term Rentals.  The hotel industry wanted it in order to equalize the tax paid on STRs with that applied to hotel rooms.  The STR industry, while not happy about being taxed, is happier on balance with becoming a critical revenue generating industry the city will be reluctant to crack down on in the future. The city, again, just wants to get paid.  And they will. Maybe. The new tax still has to be approved by voters on the November ballot this year.  Also the city is having difficulty projecting just how much revenue it's going to actually see from it.  One thing we do know is whatever amount the tax does eventually produce, we still have to "fair share" 25 percent of it back to NO and Co. So, congratulations on that as well. 

Number five on the wish list was the Convention Center wanted to ret-con its legally questionable collection of a tax originally intended to pay for its Phase IV construction. Over the years, that money has become a kind of slush fund the city's elite have used to pass money around among themselves for their own pet projects and those of their cronies.  So, yeah, in exchange for a paltry $50 million one time payment, they get to keep doing that now.   Already, they've got big plans. 
New Orleans tourism officials' plans for a massive entertainment district on empty land upriver from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center are back on the table.

The Convention Center's board, which finally won approval in June to build a 1,200-room hotel on part of the land after lengthy political wrangling, has asked interested firms to submit ideas by Oct. 4 for how to develop the 20 acres adjacent to the hotel site.

In its request for new master plan proposals, the Convention Center said it "expects the development to be reflective of the unique culture and history of New Orleans and include elements not commonly found in other parts of the nation."
They're putting out for bids on a shiny new entertainment district to go with their hotel. It will be built on some of the highest ground in the city convenient to downtown. Ideal for building affordable housing, maybe.  But that would only happen if the city were serious about giving its workers a "fair share" of the benefit their labor actually produces. LaToya Cantrell's fair sham deal was never really supposed to do that.


The mayor herself even admitted the fair sham isn't going to be enough last week when city officials laid out their plans for some of the money they know they will have on hand.  The deal left far too much money and power in the hands of the tourism cabal. So, naturally, she is asking you to make up the difference.
But she said it will take far more than the "fair share" deal’s millions to fix all the roads, canals and pipes that have crumbled during years of deferred maintenance and that are being further battered by the effects of climate change. She said that’s precisely why voters should pull the lever for a trio of infrastructure funding initiatives on Nov. 16. 

Part of what voters will consider is tied in with the fair share deal: a tax on short-term rentals whose proceeds will help to fund city infrastructure.  The other initiatives include a 3-mill tax to pay for repairs and maintenance of infrastructure, a $500 million package of infrastructure bonds and another $10 million in bonds for maintenance work.
When they do get down to fixing the canals and pipes, however they pay for it, let's hope they get it right this time.  The last big drainage project only just recently wrapped up. And already people are raising questions about that one.
The SELA improvements all stem from widespread flooding on May 8, 1995. The resulting $3.1 billion in insurance claims set a record at the time for an unnamed storm event, and the federal flood insurance program had to foot the bill for repairs.

So, Congress responded by authorizing $1.5 billion in drainage improvements over the next 20 years, with the idea that improving the infrastructure would prevent rising flood-repair costs in the future. The Uptown culverts were among the last pieces of that puzzle.

But after this summer’s floods, there are questions about whether those improvements have had unintended consequences for New Orleans’ antiquated drainage system.

When the Corps completed the SELA culverts, they were turned over to the Sewerage & Water Board. The board’s executive director, Ghassan Korban, doesn’t believe the increased capacity in the SELA culverts would have any negative impact on surrounding drainage, but he said he’s hired an outside engineering firm to analyze the flow and determine if it’s causing any bottlenecks.
A couple of independent engineers quoted in that story think maybe the SELA work is making the flooding worse. Sewerage and Water Board is skeptical but they say they'll check it out.  Last year we read in The Lens that the new culverts are "large enough to accommodate three city buses side-by-side."At the time that seemed like a colorful description but, really, who knows what might be down there

Whatever they find, though, it's important to understand, the mayor is not going to ask the city's ruling classes to pay to dig it out.  According to her version of events, they are paying their fair share.  So, obviously, we must be the problem now.
Joey Wagner, the Corps’ senior project manager for the SELA projects, bristled when WWL-TV asked what he would tell Bossier and others who think the construction has contributed to recent flooding.

“Like the mayor says, move your cars to the neutral ground," he said. "We all know there are certain areas of the city that are going to flood. And it’s going to continue to flood until the system is totally overhauled.”

And Mayor LaToya Cantrell backed up Wagner at a news conference last week: “Until the city, until we start dealing with our local issues relative to infrastructure, then we will not see the system working as intended.”

She focused her ire on the large amounts of debris New Orleanians regularly dump into the drainage system, and then blamed the intensifying rainfall.
To quote Senator Warren again, come on, give me a break.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Just impeach the MFer already

There is still plenty time left for them to do it. They obviously don't want to do it but that only underscores their own selfish cowardice. But we talked about this already a few months ago.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Clearly, Donald Trump is out to crush the Rispone campaign

Prominent Republican donor and fundraiser Lane Grigsby has some kind of IRS problem on his hands.
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Cajun Industries founder and Chairman Emeritus Lane Grigsby and his wife for more than $750,000 for an income tax refund the government says the Grisbys were not entitled to receive.

According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, the refund was issued for the 2013 tax year and was based on more than $1.34 million in research and development tax credits Cajun claimed for the year.
Grigsby is a close associate of Gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone. In fact, you might say he's been with the Rispone campaign from the beginning
Rispone said he entered the race after not being able to sleep at night. A devout Catholic, he believes God was waking up to tell him to run against Edwards. He and Grigsby had a tough time finding someone to take on Edwards. Grigsby said they had been approaching potential candidates for two years, and they couldn’t find someone they considered a worthy challenger. So Rispone decided to run himself.
Turns out the Lord works in mysterious ways, though.  If it really is He who inspired Eddie to run in the first place, then why strike at his closest friend and ally at this critical moment? Unless, of course, the test issues not from God but perhaps instead from The Enemy. 
Grigsby suggests the IRS is overreaching and that he may be targeted because of his outspoken, conservative political views, noting that other partners in his business also received the R&D credits for 2013 and haven’t gotten any push back for it.

“It’s typical of the way our government abuses its citizens,” he says. “I know the IRS has been used against other conservative people. I know other people who got this same credit and theirs was allowed. Why was mine stopped? Why me? Maybe because I do raise my mouth a little too loud.”
I dunno, Lane, maybe those of us called to do the Lord's work might think to go about it with a little more humility.  In any case are we sure we want to be out here implying that the Trump Administration is under the influence of Satanic forces.  We're not saying you're necessarily off track in that case, but it does seem like a radical departure from the campaign strategy thus far.

Today, in #Bothsides at the Daily Georges

This afternoon the front page of the Daily Georges website is highlighting a letter writer aruging in favor of Drew Brees's constiutional right to wittingly associate his professional marketing persona with a despicable hate group. Go find it if you want to read it.  It figures that the letter writer specifically praises the Advocate's decision to print a dishonest opinion piece about the subject by resident toad Dan Fagan earilier in the week.

We went over this the other day, but just to reiterate, the problem we have with their decision to publish Dan Fagan is not that he writes opinions we do not like. The problem is he writes bullshit opinions constructed from deliberate lies about the subject of his opining. Giving him a platform on the editorial page, in turn, sets the boundaries of subsequent discusssion to encompass his bullshit as an acceptable premise.  This generates more letters and opinions based on that bullshit which the paper is then only too happy to print and highlight on their web page thus reifying the bullshit further.

None of this is an accident. It is a deliberate editorial choice which reveals the preferred inclination of the paper's management which is clearly quite favorable toward bullshit.

For example, last week, this happened.





Bullshit. It's just one side of an irresolvable "civil" debate.

John Bel's race to lose

Hey look, poll numbers!
A new poll in the Louisiana governor’s race contains good news for Gov. John Bel Edwards and one of his Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Edwards, a Democrat, received 47% of the vote versus 24% for Abraham and 16% for businessman Eddie Rispone, the other Republican candidate, in the survey taken by Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge-based pollster, for undisclosed private clients.

The news is good for Edwards because it showed he likely would have won the election had it been held when the survey was conducted, Sept. 3-6, Pinsonat said, once the undecided votes are redistributed.

Propelling Edwards was his 54% positive rating versus a 42% not positive rating, the poll found.

Edwards will win the Oct. 12 primary outright if he receives more than 50% of the vote.
It also says here that Verne Kennedy's adjusted numbers put JBE over the top last month as well.  Nobody should be too shocked by this. The Republicans are barely even bothering to run a campaign against him.  Their A-list candidates all decided to sit out. The guys who are in it don't seem to be doing much hustling.  And behind the scenes, at least half of their donor base seems perfectly happy with the conservative Democrat in office now. He already does most of what they want, anyway. And that's all the more likely to continue when the Republicans expand their legislative majorities this fall.

Of course there's still a chance Edwards doesn't quite make it over the 50% hump. In that case, we're likely to see a much more aggressive push behind whichever Tweedle lands in the runoff with him. But, generally speaking, if the "accidental Governor" ends up losing, it will only be by accident. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

I'm still waiting for that Epstein crossover moment

I'm still very behind on a lot of things I wanted to put on the blog this week. Probably won't get caught up for a while. But this is one for that if-I-don't-write-it-down-I'm-gonna-forget-about-it category. So here it goes.

Among the latest characters to pop up in the FNBC saga is real estate shark Gary Gibbs. (No, he is not the ex Saints defensive coordinator by that same name. Yes, I checked.) His case is one of several instances revealed so far where the bank appears to have been shoveling out new bad loans in order to cover old bad loans in the expectation that some external event might come about to turn everything around.
Regulators from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in a notice filed last week that Robert Brad Calloway, a former loan officer and chief credit officer at First NBC Bank, submitted false or misleading documentation in order to make a series of loans to Diamondhead, Mississippi-based businessman Gary R. Gibbs that totaled $123 million at the time of the New Orleans bank's collapse.

The filing says that Calloway, along with First NBC'S former CEO, Ashton Ryan, got the loans to Gibbs approved when they knew he didn't have the necessary collateral, and that they also knew the money was being used by Gibbs to cover payments on existing loans instead of for Gibbs' business expenses, as was represented to the bank's loan committee.

In Gibbs's case one such external event may have been his successful conning of a former business associate's widow out of her inheritance. She has filed a civil suit seeking to recover those assets which, thanks to FNBC's collapse, now may technically belong to a vulture capital firm. 
In her civil case, Heisler is trying to keep assets that include a $2 million brokerage account, a shopping center in Metairie and a building at 844 Baronne St. from being seized by Girod LoanCo, the debt investor that bought a large portion of the First NBC loans sold by regulators last year, including the notes Heisler signed.

Girod LoanCo is a specially created company that is ultimately owned by TPG Capital, a $100 billion private investment firm co-founded by billionaire James Coulter.
Coulter, by the way, has been turning New Orleans's disasters into "opportunities" for some time now.  Here he is in 2010 dishing out advice to the 'treps at Idea Village.
Coulter told the crowd Friday  morning that there are three types of entrepreneurs: the natural, the coin flipper, and the rest of us.

The natural entrepreneur has the natural gift of gab and persuasion, which helps him find success in business. The coin-flipper is successful purely out of luck, while the rest-of-us are hard-workers.
It's not clear which entrepreneur type Coulter is supposed to be here.  If we're going by the way he describes himself to Forbes, we'd have to say he's the right-place-at-the-right-time-with-the-right-barrel-of-cash type.
I married a woman from New Orleans, so I had family here. Post-Katrina I had a number of friends call me up and say they wanted to do something to help the community – not just Habitat for Humanity or Red Cross, we’ve done that, but what can we do for the community. So we raised some money from one email and said to some friends: find some good places to put it.

One of the questions was how do you create something sustainable? And if you look at jobs here it’s likely that one of the real job creation engines will be entrepreneurship because it’s a place where people want to live.
Not so sure about that "job creation engine" of entrepreneurship in retrospect.  Unless the job we're talking about is grifter.  Post-Katrina New Orleans has been a ripe environment for those. They do like to call themselves "entrepreneurs," though. I think we've covered that a fair amount.   Maybe that's the type Coulter is.  That's more or less how this reads, anyway.
I think it takes an entire ecosystem, and to that end it has to attract entrepreneurs, and that’s about a lot of people under 30. I think the renaissance going on in education with TFA people coming into town provides a natural fuel for the city.

So the first thing you have to do is have the entrepreneurs, and the second thing is you have to have a funding system to help them. Now you see investors coming into town and investors that you didn’t know were in town showing up. The third is you have to create an infrastructure of support – the chamber of commerce and government really make it easy for entrepreneurship here. And lastly there needs to be a confidence that it can get done here. That’s part of what we’re seeing in that community that’s important – it’s exhibiting that confidence.
Coulter is the type of entrepreneur who was able to"create an infrastructure of support" within business and government circles by exhibiting a lot of confidence in order to turn the "fuel" provided by things like school charterization into a "renaissance."  Got it.  Anyway, now he owns a bunch of assets that got sucked up in the collapse of the bank that financed many of the post-K con jobs you read about.  Good for him.

I wonder how many more of these stories and characters we will read about before the FNBC case is over. I do hope someone is researching the book. If done well something like that has the potential to connect a lot of interesting threads in this city. I promise I really was just joking the other day when I suggested that maybe somewhere in the pile of politically connected non-profits, start-ups, and university projects that exert so much influence on what happens in New Orleans, somebody might have some Epstein money laying around.  But, you know, maybe that's not all that far fetched....

Your God-given right to record videos for hate groups

Why does the Advocate publish Dan Fagan? Their management constantly makes a big deal out of the need for us all to arrive at a more respectful civil discourse. But then they turn right around and hand over editorial space to Fagan's inflammatory disingenuous clickbait taeks. I really don't understand. The only explanation I can come up with is Fagan's product comports with somebody in charge over there's definition of decency.

Which means somebody in charge over there thinks it's perfectly within the bounds of decent, respectful, civil discourse to say that a well known hate group famous for promoting psychological torture and funding politicians who believe there is such a thing as "legitimate rape" is merely "advocating for the preservation of family values."
Brees did seem to waffle some on his association with Focus on the Family, claiming he was unaware of the religious group’s stand on gay issues.

 “I was not aware of any of the things they said about them lobbying for anti-gay (causes)… any type of messaging or inequality or any type of hate-type related stuff. I was not aware of that at all,” Brees said.

 But Focus on the Family is much like most Christian organizations advocating for the preservation of family values. Does Brees consider defending traditional marriage as “hate-type related stuff?”
Focus On The Family is not like "most Christian organizations." It is a politically active anti-gay hate group founded by a psychopath. Dan Fagan clearly knows this and yet chooses to tell us a blatant lie about it. And the Advocate then chooses to legitimize Fagan's deliberate lie by publishing it on its very civil and respectful op-ed page. Why would they do that?

Drew Brees ought to have known all of this as well although, as Lauren Theisen writes here,  the possibility that he did not is at least plausible.
I can’t see inside Brees’s head and don’t know what his beliefs are—given that he’s a rich, straight man who’s spent nearly two decades fanatically focused on playing pro football at a legendary level, I’d wager he might not even know what conversion therapy is. But his explanation has to do better than this. The video doesn’t mention Focus On The Family at all, let alone disavow them, and speaks in only the vaguest possible terms about the specific criticism Brees received. At best, the statement makes clear that Drew Brees will not directly attack any gay person for their sexuality, but whether or not he believes they should have full rights is still up for debate.

“I’m not sure why the negativity spread, or why people have tried to rope me into certain negativity,” Brees says in the video, most annoyingly. I know he’s hard at work preparing for the Texans, but literally five minutes on the internet, tops, would answer that question. He really doesn’t even have to do it himself! Just find someone who’ll tell him, “Hey, that video was produced by people who want to oppress gay people. Back away from it now.” Drew, if you’re reading, I’m telling you it right now.
For whatever reason, though, Brees, who makes an estimated $16 million a year renting out his carefully managed public persona for brands, doesn't always subject his partners to the most strict vetting process. Witness his association with cult like multi-level marketing schemes like Advocare, his support for an attempt by Tom Benson and Ron Forman to privatize and profit off of publicly accessible park space at The Fly, and his involvement in a diamond counterfeiting deal over the summer to name a few. We might expect that someone with this much money at stake in choosing the right business associates should pay a little more attention to what their business is all about.  But Brees is enough of a weirdo football nerd that it we can't be too surprised if it turns out he doesn't make time for all that.

That's hardly an excuse, of course.  Big Easy Magazine traces Brees's relationship with Focus on the Family at least as far back as 2010.  Certainly some basic awareness should have soaked through at some point. Maybe he really does support the hate part of the hate group's agenda after all.  Indeed even the "Bring Your Bible To School Day" event he promotes in the video is, at best, an iffy propaganda stunt aimed at undermining church/state separation by stoking the radical right's victimization complex.  That's certainly the angle Fagan takes in his bad faith (groan) defense of Brees from persecution at the hands of (checks notes) a small New Orleans based website.*
But the rules are different now. Are Christian groups no longer allowed to take positions on controversial social issues? Are organizations whose beliefs are Bible-based now off-limits for celebrities like Brees? Is this the new standard? The fact Brees had to defend, quantify and clarify his association with Focus on the Family speaks volumes. It should concern us.
Actually, no, none of this "should concern us."  The fact that the Advocate thinks so little of its readers that it would present such obvious bullshit as just one end of the ordinary spectrum of honest political argument might, however.

*Speaking of persecution complexes, maybe the folks over at Big Easy Mag can sit back and take a few breaths.  The way they've reacted via social media and subsequent commentary to the inevitable criticism that comes with publishing a critical story about a local icon seems a little out of proportion. On the other hand, maybe if the other various corporate outlets such as the several owned by the Georges Media virtual monopoly weren't #bothsidesing the issue to death, they wouldn't feel so out on a limb.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Business as usual

John Bel Edwards is likely to be reelected because he "embraces" the petrochemical industry and because the Republicans aren't really trying to beat him. They are trying to win supermajorities in the legislature, though. And they will at least come close to doing that.  There are very serious consequences for Louisiana in both of those outcomes.

But we keep reading that this is a "policy barren" campaign where no one bothers to even go outside and talk to anybody.  This means either that the money power dominates the state to such a degreee now that politics is entirely irrelevant or that there is a tremendous power vacuum waiting to be exploited. Not sure which is worse.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

They love that ITEP

This is from a Louisiana House of Representatives candidates' forum in Zachary.  The area is still reeling from the loss of 600 jobs when a paper mill in Port Hudson closed this year. Naturally, the preferred solution among legislative candidates is bigger faster tax breaks for big business.
“It not only affects people’s lives and families, but it affects the school systems, the income that they were relying on,” said (Bradley) Behrnes, 38, who lives in Slaughter and is a regional director for Louisiana Workforce LLC, which contracts with sheriff’s offices to provide educational programs for inmates.

Behrnes said he’ll look into undoing recent changes to the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP, that give local governing bodies a say in whether to grant tax breaks. “We’ve become an unpredictable place,” which deters companies, he said.
In all likelihood, Republicans are going to strengthen their majorities in the legislature this fall. Can't wait to see what the agenda looks like then. 

Also what a strange way to describe Louisiana Workforce LLC. You wouldn't know it from that article, but it is the state's largest prison labor operator. Here's how they make their money.
Work-release also has been a major boon for those who run the programs — a group that includes many Louisiana sheriffs and a handful of private contractors. The report says operators took in approximately $55 million in revenue in the most recent year studied, the bulk of it coming from the 64 percent share of inmate wages that the overseers are allowed to keep. Operators also made $4.1 million from selling snacks and other items to inmates.
This also provides us some insight into why Behrnes is so eager to offer tax subsidies to employers.  That's basically what fuels his customer base. 
Employers who hire work-release participants also are winners: Not only do they get tax breaks for hiring offenders, but they don’t have to offer them as many benefits as regular employees, the report notes. Moreover, offenders are typically punctual and reliable.
And that's how we're gonna put this economically depressed district "back to work"

You didn't not build that

While we're pleased as hell for the people of St. James Parish to learn that Wanhua has withdrawn its application to build a gigantic poison gas factory in Convent.  At the same time, though, maybe the kids should not get carried away with themselves.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and other community and environmental groups that had fought the project trumpeted Wanhua's decision to withdraw its land use request as a victory, calling it "David Beats Goliath."

In a joint statement, they claimed Wanhua capitulated to the pressure and that  litigation from the groups had slowed the project's approval enough to allow it to be subject to more thorough scrutiny and become more vulnerable to economic variables.

The groups also promised to continue fighting other projects planned near the largely lower income, black communities in the parish's northern end.

"My great-great-great-great grandmother came out of slavery and bought my family's land," said Barbara Washington, a Convent resident who is part of the community group Rise St. James. "Our hard work has paid off. We will not stop 'til all those industries who want to come in here change their plans. We are tired of being sick. We refuse to be sick anymore."
I can pretty much guarantee this international chemical manufacturer did not alter its global production strategy because it was afraid of a couple of local non-profits and a pro-bono law clinic.  These entities move in completely separate dimensions from the rabble they indifferently exploit and crush just in the course of daily business.

Wanhua claims that uncertainty over US/China tariffs is affecting its costs. There's room to dispute just how serious they are about that. But it's far more plausible at least as a factor in their decision making process.  As the matter stands now, they're still planning a "scaled down" plant somewhere else in Louisiana.. possibly in St. James Parish, even. It wouldn't be surprising at all to learn they're negotiating with John Bel Edwards for a new package of tax incentives to make that happen.

In the meantime, that's one fewer poison gas factories. That's good.  At least it means the new poison gas factory next door will have to find a different customer, anyway.
The down-scaling would have cut capital investment significantly but would have avoided the use of potent chemicals that had drawn opposition from community and environmental groups. The shift, however, also meant the company would no longer need a supply of chlorine, which Wanhua had planned to get from future neighbor, Occidental Chemical Corporation.

OxyChem was also offering Wanhua the land for the proposed complex and that offer dried up after Wanhua's change in scale and the loss of potential chlorine sales, Roussel said. OxyChem has declined comment on the matter.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

We built it, they came, then they left

Here's a very good Les East feature on the long history of the minor league baseball franchise once known as the New Orleans Zephyrs and currently formerly known as the Baby Cakes.  Coincidentally, I found this in an old drawer the other day.

Zephyrs vs Cubs

That wasn't "Opening night" or anything but it was from the inaugural season at what we used to call Zephyr Field.  It has been strange to read in the months since it was announced that the team would be moving to Wichita that the "state-of-the-art" baseball stadium on Airline that lured the team to New Orleans in the first place was now hopelessly out of date.  I'll admit that I have as much trouble getting out to that elbow of Metairie as Les says the folks there have coming into New Orleans.  I  actually saw more Zephyrs games during the four years they played at UNO than I did during the two decades they spent way out in Jefferson Parish.  So it's just not possible for me to remember the stadium out there as anything other than a shiny new luxury.
The stadium name was unofficially changed to “The Shrine on Airline,” a nickname given to the building by the team’s first public address announcer, Derrick Grubbs, when Zephyr Field opened. The stadium was a nice $20 million state-funded project that became a “shrine” when the local owners decided to pump in a few million dollars of their own money to upgrade it.

They read that a swimming pool was being planned for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ new stadium and they beat them to the punch by adding a pool and two hot tubs beyond the right-field wall. Then they planned a berm in center field that would naturally be called “The Levee.” They discovered that the original plans called for The Levee to be 10 feet lower than Monkey Hill, the spot in Audubon Zoo generally accepted as the highest point in South Louisiana. Once they realized how close they were to eclipsing Monkey Hill, Leger said, “we had another drink and said, ‘let’s go.’”

The stadium quickly became more than the home to a minor-league team. The stadium was the site of high school state championships and most recently LSU’s annual Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic, named in honor of the late Tigers star that grew up in Metairie. LSU and Tulane played before record crowds in an historic NCAA super regional in 2000 as the Green Wave’s best team ever beat Bertman’s final Tigers team for a spot in the College World Series.  The stadium was the site of the 1999 Triple-A All-Star Game, which set the tone for liberal expansion of the venue’s resume’ for big events.

Minor-league soccer had modest success and non-sporting events were held in the stadium as well. It was the site of a Presidential address by George W. Bush in April of 2001 and less than six months later a vigil in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The shrine routinely hosted post-game concerts and was even turned into a haunted house leading up to Halloween for a couple of falls.

So all types of people were drawn to the stadium for a variety of events.

“This is the entertainment focal point for Jefferson Parish,” Maestri said.
It had a dang swimming pool and everything, man.  But now it's garbage, apparently. Anyway there's a lot more Les's article.  Seems like it should get more circulation. The baseball team was only here for a quarter of a century.  Surely somebody noticed.

Well this will not lead to anything good

LABI is starting up a "judicial transparency" project.Which is to say, they are ramping up the pressure to for a more "business friendly" court system.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is also adding pressure on the system, and the group revealed details Thursday about its newly created judicial program. LABI plans to evaluate judges based on categories like the length of time it takes them to clear dockets, their professionalism and more.
Just something to file away for the future. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Edwin Edwards is high on life

Still alive. Not on drugs. Got it.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards is "looking good" and expects to be released from the hospital Wednesday, said Leo Honeycutt, who was by his bedside.

Edwards was hospitalized Tuesday morning but was doing well and cracking jokes by evening.

After doctors visited Edwards Wednesday morning, Honeycutt said, "Looking good to be released today." Honeycutt wrote in 2009 the authorized biography, "Edwin Edwards Governor of Louisiana."

"He's in great spirits, lucid, laughing (not drug induced)," Honeycutt said.
Kathleen Blanco, on the other hand.... 

"Von Kurnatowski’s sudden death leaves many issues unresolved, many questions unanswered"

Ya think?

In the public health department

Tim Faust at Garden District Books

Let's see what day was this?  It was a long weekend and I have no idea what I did with most of it.  Was it Friday?  I think it was Friday.  Anyway I went to see Tim Faust speak at Garden District Book Shop.  The book he's promoting is called Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next.  I'm sure it's very good. I did buy a copy but it's at the bottom of a pile quite similar to if not worse than this one from the middle of the summer. I'll get there eventually.  If you've seen, read or heard any of Faust's work advocating for a better health care system than the nightmare we live and die at the hands of today, then, well, this talk was very much like that.

In his talk, Faust says the US is "the most dangerous place to be sick the most dangerous place to be poor, the most dangerous place to be black or brown, the most dangerous place to be disabled, the most dangerous place to be queer..." There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between poverty and illness. The so-called "health-wealth gap" in the United States adds up to a 20 year difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest. All of these states of precariousness are direct reflections of an unjust health system. 

By that, he means the US health care delivery apparatus is fraught with such waste and unfair distribution that the negative health outcomes compound upon each other. "In the US all prices are fake," says Faust. The costs of primary and preventative care are grossly inflated as large corporate providers force smaller health clinics out of business in order to charge hospital rates for everything. And, of course, insurance companies can only profit by denying patients care when they need it. 

Unjust wealth allocation leads to unequal health outcomes in all sorts of ways.  Faust travels all over the country talking to people about health care and gave a few examples. In Houston the prisons have become warehouses for people with untreated mental illness. In Memphis environmental racism has led to a situation where black children die at 20 times the rate of white children.  When Indiana Governor Mike Pence inhibited needle exchange programs during the height of an opioid crisis, it  resulted in "one of the biggest HIV outbreaks in decades."  These are all essentially questions of resource allocation.

The day after I saw Faust talk, I read in the Advocate that the state has finally responded to public pressure at least to the point of agreeing to study the effect of the Denka neoprene plant on cancer rates in St. John Parish. As we know, the State of Louisiana subsidizes the proliferation of plants like Denka to the tune of billions of dollars each year.  Poor Louisianians are subsidizing the profits of the petrochemical industry with their very bodies.

The US spends over $3.6 trillion annually on health care. According to Faust at least 1/3 of that is "waste." It would cost approximately 10 percent less to implement a single payer system. And the savings can be applied to giving people better housing, better transit, better food access, a fairer criminal justice system etc. all of which support better health outcomes.  So the fight for health justice really is at the center of a struggle for a radical societal overhaul.  Efforts to combat the problem at the margins via schemes like Obamacare or Medicaid as we know it are not good enough. It is in Faust's words a question of giving people "insurance or emancipation."

Which is why the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare that John Bel Edwards' reelection campaign touts as a major accomplishment doesn't get us where we want to go. In Louisiana, Medicaid is privatized. And the MCO contracts, in addition to just being inefficient means of shoveling money to for-profit insurers and providers, amount to one of the biggest slices of political patronage a Governor can hand out. This year, the dispute over those contracts has left over half a million Medicaid patients in a wholly unnecessary state of uncertainty just as the start of open enrollment for next year looms. 


Finally, Faust fielded a few skeptical questions from audience members about whether or not a single payer system would garner support from doctors, some of whom, at least, might find certain aspects of their practices less profitable. But, while that isn't really true for most doctors,  the question did remind me that a professional association of Louisiana doctors has endorsed Ralph Abraham for Governor.
The Louisiana Medical PAC hasn't issued an endorsement in the most recent governor's races, but jumped at the chance to endorse one of their own.

“It’s been a number of years since we decided to take a position in the governor’s race, but we have one of our own running,"  Dr. Robert Bass, chairman of the PAC, said in a statement. "We believe that physicians supporting physicians is important, and when you have a candidate like Dr. Abraham, it’s very easy to make this decision.

"Dr. Abraham has a wealth of knowledge that is critical to helping Louisiana improve healthcare outcomes."
That's interesting. As it happens, this week the Bayou Brief provides us with an example of one health outcome Dr. Abraham has used his "wealth of knowledge" to bring about.
“Opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths,” states the CDC. “Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017. A staggering 67.8% of all drug overdose deaths are due to opioids, and while nationwide these numbers have declined, Louisiana is one of a handful of states in which deaths from opioid overdoses have increased.

During the past year, overdose deaths went up by 4.7% in Louisiana.

“Louisiana also ranks among the top 10 states with the most opioid prescriptions written per capita, according to its state’s lawsuit against 17 companies, including Purdue Pharma,” according to a report published yesterday by APG Wisconsin. “Since 2007, the state has spent at least $677 million ‘for treatment of opioid use and dependence.’”

During the seven-year timeframe, Abraham’s pharmacy in Winnsboro doubled the number of opioids it dispensed to patients; opioid prescriptions filled at his pharmacy in Mangham, which is located near his former medical clinic, surged a staggering 67%.

In Mangham (2017 population: 638), Abraham’s pharmacy supplied enough opioid medication to provide every man, woman, and child 6.1 doses every year (or 43 pills in total) for seven consecutive years; his pharmacy in Winnsboro (2017 population: 4,652) could have provided every resident 4.4 doses per year (or 31 in total). (Note: Annual doses per person were based on Census estimates, not the most recent American Community Survey).
If a single payer system focused on health justice for all means a less profitable pill pushing scheme for Dr. Feelgood that's just something we are going to have risk.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

I know I know I'm behind on everything

Just a few days ago I was telling myself I'd take the Labor Day weekend to get caught up on all the stuff. But then I did none of the stuff, instead. This is a very bad blog now for #content. I'll try and get caught up this week.  We recorded a podcast last week but I fucked up the audio and haven't fixed it well enough to put it out yet. I have more books to write about. It's football season, so we should say something about that. We just passed another Katrina anniversary. Did anybody even notice? It's city budget season.... there's a lot of things.  Meanwhile here's me pretty much all weekend.

dumb cat

I don't know. I'll get it together, maybe. Or not. We'll see!

Oh shit also there's an election happening. Might as well throw that on the pile too. This is coming up real fast.  The last day to register to vote is next week.
The Oct. 12 ballot will contain both local and statewide races, including primaries for governor, secretary of state and lieutenant governor. The deadline to register to vote in this election is Sept. 11 (in person or by mail). Those registering online through the GeauxVote portal on the secretary of state’s website have until Sept. 21 to register.

Early voting for the Oct. 12 election is Sept. 28-Oct. 5 (not including Sunday, Sept. 29) from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Individuals who need absentee ballots must request them by Oct. 8 at 4:30 p.m. and get them to the Registrar of Voters via mail by Oct. 11 at 4:30 p.m. (with the exception of military and overseas voters). 
That isn't a lot of time to make up this deficit
BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana law change earlier this year restored voting rights to thousands of convicted felons, but at most, only a few hundred have registered to vote so far. Data from the secretary of state's office shows modest upticks in the number of felons who have registered to vote since the law loosened March 1.

Louisiana legislators agreed to allow people on probation or parole for a felony to register to vote if they haven't been incarcerated for at least five years, a change estimated to make 36,000 felons eligible for voter registration. But since the law took effect, 581 felons have had their voting rights restored. The secretary of state's office has said it cannot determine which were able to register specifically because of the law change.
That is.. not exactly terrific progress.  Especially considering the extended lead time the Sec of State's office had to prepare for the change.  Preparations for the new rules going into effect even got extra attention during the course of a special election last year. Kyle Ardoin promised his office would be ready.  But as of this March, from the looks of things, he's been taking it about as seriously as I've been taking the blog lately.
Details about navigating the new law don't appear on the Secretary of State website's homepage — a result of prioritizing special elections and other important elections information, Ardoin said.

VOTE has been working to educate those affected by the new law, putting posters in probation and parole offices and distributing fliers for people to share.

“It’s interesting that so much of the explanatory burden is falling on an organization that was founded in Angola and run by formerly incarcerated persons,” Reilly said. “We’re doing our best to reach people in a lot of different ways.”
And, of course, Ardoin is back on the ballot himself next month.  Can't imagine that would have been a reason for him to drag his feet on something like this.

Guess they haven't stepped up

Remember when all of these individuals signed a pledge that said they would support this?
We’re stuck here in New Orleans, too. Stuck with promises from politicians that haven’t materialized in our paychecks. I believe strongly that public money must be used for the public good and that means that jobs using public finances must pay fair wages. During the last election, six of our city council members and the mayor said they agreed and committed to supporting a $15 minimum wage. It’s time they acted.
Why haven't they?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

All we do is build nice things for Mooch

So it was back in February when we started reading about how the new "opportunity zones" embedded in the Trump tax overhaul might make for a good deal of mischief from local politicians looking to hand out favors to the various real estate sharks with whom they have friendships. Today, the New York Times provides us with a little background on how these new rules were developed, as well as  how they're being applied to create "opportunities" for rich people to get richer.
The opportunity-zone tax break was targeted at the trillions of dollars of capital gains held by rich Americans and their companies: profits from investments in the stock market, real estate and other businesses, even short-term trades by hedge funds. When investors sell those assets, they can incur tax bills of up to 41 percent.

Sean Parker, an early backer of Facebook, helped come up with the idea of pairing a capital-gains tax break with an incentive to invest in distressed neighborhoods. “When you are a founder of Facebook, and you own a lot of stock,” Mr. Parker said at a recent opportunity-zone conference, “you spend a lot of time thinking about capital gains.”

Starting in 2013, Mr. Parker bankrolled a Capitol Hill lobbying effort to pitch the idea to members of Congress. That effort was run through his Economic Innovation Group. In addition to Mr. Parker, the group’s backers included Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans, and Ted Ullyot, the former general counsel of Facebook.

The plan won the support of Senators Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, and Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina. When Congress, at Mr. Trump’s urging, began discussing major changes to the federal tax code in 2017, Mr. Parker’s idea had a chance to become reality.
In May of this year we read that something called the New Orleans Redevelopment Fund had launched an initiative to rake in as much of the financing from these schemes as it could grab. NORF executive Cullan Maumas said at the time they were seeing, "50 to 100 inquiries from potential investors every day since the regulations were clarified."

Later we learned that at least one of the properties NORF was using this "distressed neighborhood" incentive to redevelop turns out to be the Warwick Hotel located on prime downtown real estate right in between City Hall and Charity Hospital.
The official owner of the Warwick Hotel property is the NORF 3 Opportunity Zone Fund, and Maumus said the development is a big leap in scale for NORF.

"It is going to be our flagship project in the city," he said.

Prior to the Warwick purchase, the six-year-old NORF had invested about $40 million to redevelop three dozen New Orleans properties, mostly residential dwellings, though it has had a couple of larger conversions, including a warehouse at 2740 St. Louis St., along the Lafitte Greenway, where the firm's office is now located.
According to the NYT, this poaching of desirable properties that happen to lay in the boundaries of opportunity zones which happen to have been drawn by local electeds doing favors for the poachers is a widespread practice.
But even supporters of the initiative agree that the bulk of the opportunity-zone money is going to places that do not need the help, while many poorer communities are so far empty-handed.

Some opportunity zones that were classified as low income based on census data from several years ago have since gentrified. Others that remain poor over all have large numbers of wealthy households.

And nearly 200 of the 8,800 federally designated opportunity zones are adjacent to poor areas but are not themselves considered low income.

Under the law, up to 5 percent of the zones did not need to be poor. The idea was to enable governors to draw opportunity zones in ways that would include projects or businesses just outside poor census tracts, potentially creating jobs for low-income people. In addition, states could designate whole sections of cities or rural areas that would be targeted for investment, including some higher-income census tracts.

In some cases, developers have lobbied state officials to include specific plots of land inside opportunity zones.

In Miami, for example, Mr. LeFrak — who donated nearly $500,000 to Mr. Trump’s campaign and inauguration and is personally close to the president — is working with a Florida partner on a 183-acre project that is set to include 12 residential towers and eight football fields’ worth of retail and commercial space.
And it comes as no surprise that the Warwick is far from the only questionable project in New Orleans benefiting from the tax shelter.
The Warehouse District of New Orleans is one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. Some of the area’s hottest restaurants — as well as a new one dishing out shrimp tempura tacos — are here. So are hipster barbershops. Boutique hotels spill well-heeled tourists onto the red brick sidewalks. High-end coffee shops are packed with young people buried in their MacBooks.

And it is getting hotter. The sounds of heavy-duty equipment heaving steel or pouring cement are audible across the neighborhood.

In other words, in a city grappling with acute poverty, this is not a neighborhood that especially needs a generous new tax break to lure luxury lodging. Yet state officials have established an opportunity zone here.

That decision benefited businesses already operating or planned for the district. One of those is a 225-room hotel, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels chain, whose plans were unveiled a year before Mr. Trump signed the tax law. Its location inside an opportunity zone meant investors could earn greater profits than they otherwise would have, by financing the project with tax-advantaged money.
Oh yeah I remember when that Branson hotel was announced. The freaking mayor went down there to greet him
“There’s always give and take when you’re trying to build a building. Sometimes if one doesn’t have those give and takes it just never happens,” Branson said. “You managed to guide it through in an environmentally friendly way, in a friendly way for New Orleans and also a way that we could justify actually building it.”

Construction will begin in coming weeks.

It has been a long time coming and guess what Sir Branson? You’re worth waiting for,” Cantrell said, adding that she hopes Virgin Air will follow the hotel investment. Cantrell noted the new $1 billion airport terminal, which is set to open this fall.
If there is a ga-jillionaire sicko, whose butt LaToya will not kiss at a moment's notice for a photo-op, we have not yet met that ga-jillionaire. Actually, I wonder if she has met Mooch yet. He shows up in the NYT piece too as one of Branson's investors. 
Those investors include Mr. Scaramucci, who briefly served as White House communications director in 2017 and has claimed credit for helping to create the opportunity-zone plan. “We got to get into this business because this will be transformative to the United States,” he said recently.

Mr. Scaramucci’s investment firm, SkyBridge Capital, has raised more than $50 million in capital gains from outside investors, and most of it is being used to finance the hotel, according to Brett S. Messing, the company’s president. He said the hotel was likely to be the first of numerous opportunity-zone projects financed by SkyBridge.
This is the part where I usually type, "meanwhile there is a housing crisis in New Orleans..." but the article already does something like that for us.
Less than two miles away is the poorest opportunity zone in Louisiana — and one of the poorest nationwide. The zone includes the Hoffman Triangle neighborhood, where the average household earns less than $15,000 per year. Block after block, streets are lined with dilapidated, narrow homes, many of them boarded up. On a recent afternoon, one of them was serving as a work site for prostitutes.

City officials, including the head of economic development for New Orleans, said they were not aware of any opportunity-zone projects in this neighborhood.
It's a tale of two opportunity zones.  One where wealth begets wealth and one that stays left behind. Either way there's plenty of prostitution in evidence in both. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

John Bel is healing the blind

That's pretty impressive, right?
Edwards began airing a campaign commercial on Tuesday in which people described how they benefited from Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid to the working poor. “I can see,” said one man, who was identified as suffering from glaucoma.
One thing you can't say about John Bel Edwards is that he's broken his major campaign promises. No, he never promised to lay his divine hands on the sick and the frail. But he did promise to accept the Medicaid expansion and that has had tangible benefits for people. Of course, he's also using the MCO contracts as political patronage. But he never promised to undo Bobby Jindal's privatization scheme. And, as we all know, nothing about this is adequate compared with the universal health care system some of your less terrible Presidential candidates are pushing for at the moment.  But that's really beyond the scope of what your John Bel Edwardses are going to tackle for you.  Medicaid expansion and a teacher pay raise were the main things the Governor said he'd deliver in 2015 and here he is running for reelection a perfect 2 for 2.  This doesn't mean we don't have many many complaints. It's easy enough to scroll through those.  But, usually, when you deliver on the specific things you said you would deliver on, it bodes well for your chances of being reelected.

That's what Shane Guidry seems to think, anyway.
One prominent Jefferson Parish Republican donor, Shane Guidry, said he is sitting out the governor’s race this time. Four years ago, his company, Harvey Gulf, donated $150,000 to Gumbo PAC, which supported Edwards over Vitter.

“I don’t think he can be beaten,” Guidry said of the governor.
And he's far from the only big money donor the Governor has successfully courted.. or at least mollified..  so he's probably right. All the conventional signs point to a reelected John Bel.  A few weeks ago, Stephanie Grace reminded us that a lot of Republicans are resigned to that fact as well. For example, John N Kennedy may be publicly urging President Trump to come down and speak at a rally for whichever of the C-list GOP contenders might make the runoff. But if John really was that gung-ho about the chances, he probably would have run himself. Remember also that Steve Scalise and Jeff Landry have made the same calculation.  Of course,  from a national perspective, it does stick in the party's craw that the Governor of a deep south "red" state is (kind of) a Democrat. And maybe things will change once/if we end up with a runoff.  But, for now, it looks like a wait and see situation. The Republicans aren't running their first stringers out there.

Instead they've fielded these guys.



That's Congressman Ralph Abraham on the right and multi-millionaire construction magnate weirdo Eddie Ripsone on the left.  Or maybe it's the other way around. Nobody knows, actually.  It says here there are three debates scheduled for primary season where, one would expect, the two of them would be required to appear in the same place at the same time.  We'll see how that works out.

Supposedly we should have an easier time telling them apart once their campaign "messages" start to get out.  But so far, that hasn't helped.  Rispone made a bit of a splash a month ago with a newspaper ad (that John Georges for some reason agreed to print) and a TV spot promising he can be every bit as racist, cruel, and intolerant as Donald Trump. 
Rispone's ad also represents the latest diatribe from the Rispone campaign on immigration, which has traditionally not been a campaign issue in a state where only 4% of residents are foreign born, and even fewer are unauthorized. Last week, Rispone's campaign put out a newspaper ad that said if elected, "Louisiana will stand with President Trump" to "build the wall," and called New Orleans a "sanctuary city." The ad also said he would not "put up with ANTIFA lawlessness," referring to the left-wing activists, or "tolerate replacing the American flag at government buildings with Mexican ones," an apparent reference to an Aurora, Colorado immigration detention facility. 

In the TV ad, Rispone says, "as governor, I will work with President Trump to protect our constitutional rights, to ban sanctuary cities, and end taxpayer benefits for illegal immigrants in Louisiana."
All of which, Abraham was all too happy to match. In an ad released last week, Ralph says he is a big Trump guy too.  Which he proves by also saying something incredibly stupid.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Republican candidate for Louisiana governor Ralph Abraham has released a new TV ad that takes aim at abortion rights and the transgender community as he works to draw attention for his campaign. In the 30-second spot launched Thursday, the three-term congressman looks directly into the camera to establish what he calls "the truth."

The conservative hits several points in quick succession, declaring that "life begins at conception," taxes are too high and he supports President Donald Trump.

With a chuckle, he wraps up with a swipe at the LGBTQ community: "And as a doctor, I can assure you there are only two genders."
Ralph went on to clarify this week that he was only talking about "lawsuits" and that we should understand he does not have a "discriminatory bone" in his body which, as a medical doctor, Abraham should be able to identify.  I think it's connected to the racism bone somehow.

One item of note from that Tyler Bridges story  worth keeping an eye on. Tonight Abraham is holding a fundraiser hosted by Joe Canizaro who is a co-chair of the Trump Louisiana campaign.  Karl Rove is supposed to be there. So it's not like the Republicans aren't keeping an eye on things.  But for now it's safe to say they're viewing the race as a bit of a... Long Shot?

Fool me once, shame on me Fool me six times in two years....

Well then I guess it might be time to rethink things.
NEW ORLEANS — Citywide flooding events like what happened Monday afternoon are "extreme" and require a "thorough investigation," a Sewerage & Water Board spokesperson said.

As much as 5 inches of rain fell across the metro New Orleans area between about 1:30 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. Monday, creating widespread flooding that affected many parts of New Orleans as cars stalled, gridlock formed, businesses flooded and residents dealt with all-too-familiar frustration.

It's at least the sixth time during the past two years that heavy rains inundated different parts of the city following a seemingly routine summer thunderstorm.

S&WB communications director Richard Rainey said the results of Monday's flooding were "extreme," and that the flood events they've witnessed since the notable Aug. 5, 2017, flood are a phenomenon that need to be investigated. 

Was Monday "extreme"?  What does that even mean anymore?  It wasn't quite as bad as the flood we had last month.  But it wasn't nothing. I happened to be headed uptown on St. Charles when it hit. When I saw that Washington was going to be impassable for a while, I pulled over and parked on the sidewalk.  Like a lot of people, I wasn't going anywhere for a while.  Some of these larger vehicles were a little more confident.

Trucks in the flood

Bus boat

I did get out and walk around a bit. The worst of the rain had already cleared up when I took these photos.  It was brief but it dropped enough water to do this.

Belfort Mansion in the flood

It also shut down the streetcar which left packs of bewildered tourists to trudge their way up the neutral ground on foot.. provided they stuck to the high ground.  Also it wasn't long until the canoe people started to show up.  Why are there always canoe people when this happens?

Canoe

I mean I took that picture from the neutral ground just 20 feet away.  My feet weren't even wet.  You didn't need a canoe to get where you were going.  This was strictly a recreational activity.  There was more than one canoe guy too. There's always more than one.  Here you can see a canoe passing in front of the New Orleans and Company offices. Embossed lettering on their building proudly proclaims it the "Headquarters of New Orleans Tourism."

St. Charles at Josephine

Speaking of which, just across the street in front of the Avenue Plaza, I overheard someone saying, "Back in Atlanta we don't have this shit." That's right.  #OnlyInNOLA, baby.

Avenue Plaza

But, okay, probably just the fact that we're talking about seeing the canoes every time this happens means something is wrong.  How often should this be happening?  Six major street floods in the space of two years is a lot.  And it's not just the frequency of the flooding that is unusual. It's also the locations.  This stretch of St. Charles is relatively high ground. The river side tends to pool up a little bit from time to time but I can't recall seeing the whole street inundated like that until very recently.  Same goes for this stretch of Carondelet which was flooded Monday.

Carondelet and Washington

This one is from the July flood. It's Third and Carondelet. I've lived nearby for almost 20 years and I've never seen it do this.

Third and Carondelet

Something is definitely different. But what?  Here is one theory.
The S&WB is studying the effects of the massive culverts built in recent years under several Uptown avenues as part of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, known as SELA. A report on the impact SELA has had on drainage in the area could be complete as early as next month, Korban said.
My goodness. Imagine if after all these years, all the money spent, all the neighborhoods and business disrupted by the construction, all the expensive property damage incurred that SELA actually would have ended up making things worse. Delightful!

Anyway, it's not just SELA they're looking at. Korban says they also want to look at the pipes under the CBD
To try to figure out what’s wrong, the S&WB plans to investigate the long length of box canals that run from Julia Street up to Drainage Pump Station 2 on North Broad Street, which is responsible for keeping the area dry. Just blocks away from that station, the S&WB is still working to clean a massive pile of debris, that included at least one car, from the canal that carries water away from the station on its way to the lake.

It's strange that it has taken them so long to admit this, But it turns out that even when the pumps are working at (near) full capacity, they can't pump the water out of the city if it's not even draining down to where they are.  So now we're gonna go down in the culverts.  We learned last week that practically anything could be down there. It's probably not going to be pretty.

But we should point out also that there is more than one reason they're looking at those downtown pipes.  They've actually been planning to go down there for some time; prior to this flood, and before even the much discussed extraction of a Mazda 626 from below Jeff Davis Parkway. In the story about that episode, we read about these negotiations
Similar inspections of pipes in the Central Business District are being pitched to the Downtown Development District to encourage it to agree to a new, $3 million tax that was negotiated as part of the Cantrell administration's infrastructure funding deal this year with the hospitality industry, Green said. 
It's not just.. or perhaps even primarily... concern about downtown drainage issues that is motivating the inspections. It's the pursuit of political leverage with a taxing authority that, really, shouldn't even exist in the first place. That doesn't mean going down to look at the pipes is a bad idea. It's just that we should be aware of why they're looking at those pipes in particular.

And to be clear, it's not just support for the new tax, the mayor is asking from DDD. She also wants them to roll their millage forward to maximize windfall from the recent property assessments.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration is asking the DDD to increase its millage by $2.5 million and dedicate that money toward drainage and infrastructure issues in the area. The district had planned to roll back its tax rate in 2020 because of higher property assessments; the additional tax would keep the rate about the same for the area.

An effort to actually identify and begin fixing the drainage problems could help convince the district’s board that such a move is needed, Weigle said.
On Monday morning, the very same day the streets flooded,  Together New Orleans presented a report to City Council about the devastating effects the skyrocketing assessments and potential property tax hikes are likely to have on the city's already severely cost-burdened homeowners and renters.  
Together New Orleans estimated that almost 2,000 households will see their taxes go up by more than $1,000 next year. And because of a recent state constitutional amendment that phases in the higher taxes on assessments that increase a property’s value by more than 50%, nearly 5,200 will have a total increase of more than $1,000 in the next four years due to this year's citywide reassessment.

Some neighborhoods will see tax increases that represent more than 4% of the average median income of the residents living there, Together New Orleans said.

“When you add all that together, there’s no way folks can continue to live here even if they make a decent wage,” the Rev. Joe Connelly, a member of the group, told the council.
Councilmembers were apoplectic. But also they seemed to be at a loss for solutions.  At one point, Helena Moreno even wondered out loud if we could just ignore the assessment and decide to collect this year's property taxes assuming the previous values. That's not likely to happen.  But it's also clear that rolling forward isn't going to be a popular option with Councilmembers either.

But City Council isn't the only body who will be making decisions about millage rates. In fact Council actually only controls something like half of them. The others are spread out among several taxing authorities including the Sheriff's office, Audubon, the Convention Center, and, yes, the Downtown Development District where it looks like the mayor, via Sewerage and Water Board has found some leverage.  It almost makes you wonder whether or not LaToya might want to think about shoving a few cars down the storm drain herself just to provide a little extra motivation.