-->

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How many commissioners?

In a new twist in the mayor's scheme to gut city civil service protections, a group of city employees is suing.   Their argument is kind of unusual.
Concerned Classified City Employees, a group that has for years opposed Landrieu’s proposal to change how employees are hired, promoted and evaluated, says that the city’s charter calls for the Civil Service Commission to have seven members, not the five it has. The Commission’s three-to-one vote in favor of Landrieu’s plan was therefore not a legal majority, the suit alleges.

The group’s argument stems from inconsistent language on the Civil Service Commission in the city charter and the Louisiana State Constitution.

The charter does, in fact, mandate a seven-member commission, with nominees selected by local universities and city employees and appointed by a City Council vote. However, that was trumped by a section of the 1974 state constitution — clearly designed to apply only to New Orleans when it was written – that calls for a five-member Commission.

The problem, however, is the language in the constitution applies to “each city having a population exceeding four hundred thousand” or in smaller cities provided a local option election has been held. Without an election, the constitution says, municipalities with populations between 10,000 and 400,000 can opt create their own civil service systems through state statute or local law.

The city’s official 2010 Census population was about 344,000, down from 484,000 in 2000. And New Orleans residents have not voted on the issue since the city’s population went below the 400,000 mark post-Katrina.
That's a tricky argument to make. Especially so since the city's population is estimated to have risen past 400,000 again.  [CORRECTION: No it hasn't!  I could have sworn it had but the latest estimate says 378,715]

On the other hand, I could argue that the entire commission is illegitimate since the employees are represented by a token minority and since this is yet another of several commissions in the city where university presidents are given undue deference.

University administrators are some of the worst people on the planet. I'll never understand why we give them so much power over our civic institutions.

Monday, September 29, 2014

October 6 is the deadline to register to vote in the fall elections

Not many people know that the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office lets you register online

Bad economists

Nothing more dangerous than someone who either understands just a little bit of econ 101.... except maybe the people who make their money ensuring that that's all most people understand.

This is from Paul Krugman's review of a new book by Jeff Madrick.

Adam Smith used the phrase “invisible hand” only once in “The Wealth of Nations,” and he probably didn’t mean to say what most people now think he said. But never mind: Today the phrase is almost always used to mean the proposition that market economies can be trusted to get everything, or almost everything, right without more than marginal government intervention.

Is this belief well grounded in theory and evidence? No. As Madrick makes clear, many economists have, consciously or unconsciously, engaged in a game of bait and switch.

On one side, we have elegant mathematical models showing that under certain conditions an unregulated free-­market economy will produce an efficient “general equilibrium,” in the sense that nobody could be made better off without making anyone worse off. Yet as Madrick says, these assumed conditions — including the assumption that people “are rational decision makers, and that they have all the price and product information they need” — are manifestly not met in practice. What, then, do the elegant models tell us about the real world?

Well, in a different chapter Madrick recalls Milton Friedman’s dictum that economic models should be judged not by the realism of their assumptions but by the accuracy of their predictions. This lets general equilibrium off the hook, sort of. But has the proposition that free markets get it right ever been vetted for predictive accuracy? Of course not. Friedman’s own polemics on behalf of free markets consist mainly of “assertions based on how free markets may work according to the Invisible Hand,” Madrick writes, with hardly any evidence presented that they actually work that way.

In other words, economists arguing for free markets and limited government try to have it both ways: They claim that their doctrine is a deep insight derived from first principles, but dismiss as irrelevant the overwhelming evidence that these assumed principles don’t hold in practice.
And, of course, there's no shortage of demand for economists willing to make these distortions in punditland.  Economics may be the most corrupt discipline in all academia.  

"Demographics" won't save you

This is Bernie Sanders in an interview with Thomas Frank making a point a lot of Democrats need to hear right now.
Another thing I’ve been wrestling with lately is a kind of complacency that you see among Democrats, where they say, “Eventually, Democratic domination is inevitable. The demographic changes in this country…”

Believe me, I’ve heard it 500 times.

So why do we need to worry?

Which is obscene. Forget obscene, it’s the wrong word. It’s pathetic.

I’ve been to those meetings with very high-ranking campaign leaders. And that’s exactly what they say. So what they say is, during the Obama campaign, “This is how we’ll win this election. We’re going to get a huge percentage of the African-American vote. We’re going to get 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. We’re going to get 58 percent of the women’s vote. Et cetera, et cetera. All those trends are on our side. And that’s how we win elections.”

During the course of that discussion, the issue of how the party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the senior vote—or even the issue of seniors—was not there. They have a list of the 87 different categories, and kind of toward the bottom is seniors. The white working class of America, which now votes overwhelmingly for Republicans, was not mentioned. Now, how can it be that the party that is struggling to raise the minimum wage, to fight for pay equity, do reasonable things for working-class people — not enough by any means — is losing the white working class to the other side? Very little discussion about that.

So I am not a great fan of this. I understand demographics. But it has to do with what your political values are. And if your value is to expand the middle class of this country, provide healthcare to all people, educational opportunity for all people, it’s not just winning elections. It’s not just being better than another party, which is now an extremist party with racist overtones. You can’t go through your life saying, “Hey, you think we’re bad! You should see them! Vote for me! Yeah, we’re pretty bad, but they’re worse!”
Banking your party's future on "demographic trends" is like investing your publishing venture entirely in SEO.  It's all gimmick and no substance.

If your party isn't about anything substantive, eventually you're going to lose these people you think are yours for superficial reasons as well.  Either that or you'll keep them and never do anything to help them.  Hard to know which is worse.

It's ok, Saints fans

At least Tom Benson is still rich.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson remains the richest man in Louisiana, with a net worth of $1.6 billion that puts him at No. 386 on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest people in the United States.

Benson’s holdings include a 26-story office building named after him, New Orleans’ Fox television affiliate, auto dealerships, and two professional sports franchises, the Saints and the NBA Pelicans, according to Forbes.
That's what really matters here, right?

What did Bobby Jindal know and when did he know it?

Gill:
What does he know, and is he gonna squeal on anyone?

Those questions will be all the more pointed when an indictment is handed up against a public official. In the case of Bruce Greenstein, who allegedly perjured himself nine times during and after a relatively brief stint as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Health Department secretary, we have the prosecution’s word for it that there is more to come.

“We are continuing our investigation into other aspects of the case,” Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s son and assistant, David, said last week. “These lies are part of the cover-up of the whole process.”
Interesting that he uses the phrase, "cover-up."  That's the sort of thing that makes bosses and bosses of bosses nervous in these situations.

Speaking of the boss,
Jindal finished fifth in the Value Voters Summit presidential straw poll, garnering around seven percent of the vote. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz finished first (25 percent), followed by neurosurgeon Ben Carson (13 percent), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (12 percent) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (10 percent).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

World's greatest boss

Uber
Uber makes that money by relying on a network of thousands of drivers who are not technically employees of the company, but rather independent contractors — the company calls them “driver-partners” — who receive a percentage of its fares.

From the very beginning, Uber attracted drivers with a bait-and-switch. Take the company’s launch in LA: In May 2013, Uber charged customers a fare of $2.75 per mile (with an additional 60¢ per minute under eleven mph). Drivers got to keep 80 percent of the fare. Working full time, drivers could make a living wage: between 15 and $20 an hour.

Drivers rushed to sign up, and thousands leased and bought cars just to work for Uber — especially immigrants and low-income people desperate for a well-paying job in a terrible economy. But over the last year, the company has faced stiff competition from its arch-rival, Lyft. To raise demand and push Lyft out of the LA market, Uber has cut UberX fares nearly in half: to $1.10 per mile, plus 21¢ a minute.

Uber drivers have no say in the pricing, yet they must carry their own insurance and foot the bill for gas and repairs — a cost of 56¢ per mile, according to IRS estimates. With Uber’s new pricing model, drivers are forced to work under razor-thin margins. Arman, for instance, made about $20 an hour just a year ago. And now? Some days he doesn’t even break minimum wage.

"Bait and switch" is a favorite maneuver at Uber which recentlyy wedged its way in the New Orleans market. It did so only by agreeing to operate its "Uber Black" limo service rather than the "UberX" taxi-like ride sharing scheme which is where its bread and butter is made. They clearly intended to defy this agreement almost immediately.

Here they are pretty much doing exactly that.

Blah blah blah "both sides" blah blah

One would hope that the daily newspaper in a region acutely affected by climate change would not print editorial cartoons which 1) reinforce the false equivalence meme that there are two equally legitimate sides to the argument and 2) write the whole thing off as more hot air.. as it were.

But no. Here's Walt Handelsman doing both of those things

Even outside of the climate change argument, it's interesting that the underlying theme of almost every Handelsman cartoon is that the content of the paper it's printed in isn't really worth the reader's time to care about.  Why the Advocate would think that's a good idea for the editorial page, is beyond me. 

Refuse to be a goddamned animal

Great post from Angry Who Dat this week leads off with some evolutionary science about pattern recognition as a survival skill.
The argument, basically, is that if we hear rustling in the brush, and we’re scared of it, there are two possibilities: it’s a fucking tiger, or it’s not. If it’s a tiger, we’re more prepared to deal with it if we assume the rustling means danger. If it’s just wind, there is no harm in a moment of irrational fear. So we see patterns everywhere, and because there’s no evolutionary control for assuming a pattern when it doesn’t exist, we have no mechanism for toning that shit down when it’s completely unnecessary. So, sometimes, we look at a burnt tortilla and see the Buddha. Or whatever.


I actually read that a year or two ago, but I couldn’t help think about it this week. I’m afraid that as Saints fans we’ve developed a shitty little mutant version of that pattern recognition ability, in our cases a conditioned pessimism – one, not unlike the adaptation in the article, that has no natural controls.
Much like Governor Jindal, I do not claim to be an "evolutionary biologist."  But, if I understand this correctly, then the appeal to Saints fans here is even easier than the one I've been trying to make. Last week, prior to the Vikings game, I tried to appeal to our sense of drama.  How can the long story of the football season be interesting at all unless the narrative begins with a challenge? 

That seemed all well and good to me but here we have a reminder that Saints fans need not dig into their copies of The Power of Myth to understand the arc of the hero's quest or any such heady stuff.  Here we see that fans need only remember that they are, in fact, civilized human beings capable of reasoning out problems beyond just the, "Ooh what's that sound!?" phase. 

Now I fully understand that for some of us that may, in fact, be asking too much.  And, yes, I expect that in the wild, I would have been exactly the sort to get eaten by several tigers I decided were probably just the wind. But I still think we are our best selves when we aspire to be a bit more than the animals we descended from.

In other words, 1-3 sure would suck but it ain't the end of this football season.. much less the world.  Also it's not very likely either. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bobby Jindal: Health care expert

Remember back when Bobby Jindal was a young up-and-comer in the Mike Foster administration?  Former Governor Duck Hunter* appointed Jindal to be Secretary of Health and Hospitals at the precocious age of 24.  The young whiz kid didn't make too many waves during his tenure there.  But he did a pretty good job of figuring out where all the money was.  This would be useful later when, as Governor, he helped people steal much of it.

We've already talked about this a few times this week.  First there's the slow-motion obviousness of the Bruce Greenstein directed grift of Medicaid privatization.  Later in the week we saw that Jindal's hospital privatization scheme was causing rape victims in New Orleans to be billed for their examinations.

Finally, there's yet another health care related Jindal grift in the news.  The State Office of Group Benefits, which manages health care and retirement benefits for state employees, is going bankrupt.

Group Benefits will soon go broke if changes to its health insurance offerings aren’t made, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols warned legislators Thursday.

“If we do not make the changes now the Office of Group Benefits will not have the money to pay for the health care of its members,” Nichols said.

But some legislators and insurance plan members said other options are available that won’t be as financially devastating to the 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents who are members of Group Benefits, especially retirees on fixed incomes, and time should be given to pursue those options.

“It’s an economic catastrophe for thousands of citizens of Louisiana who do not deserve this,” said Peggy Schwarz, of Braithwaite.

Some blamed the Jindal administration for creating the crisis because of poor management and “reckless decisions.”
"Some blamed the Jindal administration." 

Well, yeah. "Some" have been blaming Jindal for this since the outset.  It's a lot like the Greenstein situation in that regard. It's another one of these Jindal privatization schemes that divide the spoils amongst cronies at the expense of both taxpayers and people who depend on the services provided.

Let's see how far back we can go to explain this one.   Sometime in the spring of 2011, Tom Aswell started writing about this. Here is a post he wrote about the request for proposals for privatizing OGB.  It was picked up by TPM. 
But critics of the governor's plan contend that any financial benefit will be a one-time thing. In the long run, they charge, privatizing will result in higher costs for employees, the state and, therefore, the taxpayer. Some have even suggested that the plan is a way for the state to get its hands on part of the agency's sizeable surplus, which Louisiana law prohibits from being used for "cash flow purposes" or any other purpose "inconsistent" with the administration of the department that generated it.

A few days after Jindal unveiled his budget, blogger and local reporter Tom Aswell, who was at the time still an employee of the state's Office of Risk Management (which was itself privatized last year), reported that investment bank Goldman Sachs had helped write the OGB's Request for Proposals. He says the only bid that came back for the advisory role -- and the $6 million fee -- was from Goldman. Among the questions TPM has posed to DoA, with no response so far, is what, if any, involvement Goldman Sachs had in the request for proposal. TPM has also reached out to Goldman for comment. Aswell also wrote that an employee at the DoA, who did not want to be identified, had informed him that, as part a sale of the OGB, the state would receive $150 million to $200 million of the surplus, with the rest going to the purchaser.
So you've got a stable department that provides a vital service for state employees and runs a budget surplus. Sounds great... but what if we break it open and suck out all the money! This is a running theme of Bobby Jindal's tenure in office.

Also a running theme, Bobby Jindal knows and cares a lot about health care so it's ok.
Jindal, meanwhile, noted that he is also a state worker whose coverage is provided through the benefits office.

Noting that one of his two sons was born with a heart condition, Jindal said, "I'm not going to do anything that jeopardizes health-care coverage for my family or other state employees."
"Some" raise objections.  But then "some" get fired for that.  
"Should the state of Louisiana be an insurance company or do you provide it to a private company to run?" Commissioner Of Administration Paul Rainwater told the committee. Rainwater said privatizing would "unleash some of the value" of the agency, potentially net the state $150 million in up front cash, and "create something that's much more efficient."

(Former CEO Tommy) Teague was fired from OGB on April 15, just as questions about the potential sale of the agency were getting louder. And when he testified Tuesday, he appeared much less convinced than Rainwater about the financial benefits of the proposed plan. By many accounts a popular and competent administrator, Teague referred to OGB as "we" several times during his testimony.

"Fully-insured [insurance] plans are simply more expensive than self-insured plans," he said.

Teague also said the agency's large surplus fund -- which was accumulated during his tenure -- would be part of any sale, but expressed bewilderment at the math of such a deal.

"You give up 520 [million dollars], and you're going to get back 150 [million dollars]?" Teague said. "I don't understand how that works."
How it works is you "unleash some of the value" so that the state and the contracting management company and the consultants can take it all, of course.  Teague didn't get that. So they fired him and brought in someone who.. sort of did.  
Early in the hearing, State Sen. Edwin R. Murray (D) wanted to know if Kipper had seen the report, but had a hard time getting Kipper to even acknowledge that a report exists.

"Senator Murray, I have not seen that report," Kipper said at one point. "I have not seen that report."

"So it does exist?" Murray asked.

"I have no knowledge that it exists--" Kipper responded.

A little later on, when the existence of the report had been firmed up, Murray wanted to know, more specifically, if Kipper himself had asked to see the report. Kipper said that he had not, because he does not want his "judgment jaded" by the report while he evaluates bids currently coming in from financial advisers that want to help the state with OGB's privatization.

"The report might tell you there's no need to privatize it," Murray said.

"That might be the case," Kipper admitted. 
The report that Teague's replacement, Scott Kipper, did not want his "judgment jaded"by did, in fact, suggest that privatization might not be the way to go.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office issued a report Monday that predicts the Jindal administration’s plans to privatize a health insurance plan could increase costs for state employees.

The 17-page report characterizes the possible increased premiums as an issue that should be deliberated before decisions are made on the future of the Office of Group Benefits.

“The sale/lease may result in higher insurance premiums to state employees under a private insurer because of an increase in marketing costs, premium taxes, necessary profit margin, and reinsurance costs,” the report states.

In his response, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s top budget adviser, dismissed the possibility of higher premiums purely as a result of privatization as speculative.
In any event, Kipper's bungling was bad enough that he resigned shortly after his appearance at this hearing.  The process of selecting a contractor moved on. Soon, state employees would wonder if a 5 percent raise in their premium was part of a scheme to make the plan more attractive to bidders.

In 2012 the Legislature approved the outsourcing plan.  The contract went to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  As, we've seen them do throughout this story, "some" criticized this entire plan as stupid and short sighted grifting.  "Some" were fired.
Opponents of the measure have questioned whether those savings will actually materialize and argued that switching to a private company to administer health benefits will lead to increased problems for employees filing claims.

Lawmakers have been able to delay the privatization effort for months. Initially the Jindal administration sought to sign the contract without the input of legislators, but that was blocked by an opinion from the Attorney General's Office saying state budget committees would have to sign off on the move.

The measure then appeared on track to be rejected by the Appropriations Committee during a joint meeting last week. Administration officials pulled the item from the agenda before representatives could take that vote.

Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, lost their spots on the Appropriations Committee shortly after that meeting. While both men said they believed their opposition to the privatization at the Office of Group Benefits played a role in their ouster, they also suggested they were being punished for their past clashes with the Jindal administration over budget policy and their support for a special legislative session.
Fast forward a few years and it turns out that "some" may have been right about this stuff.  By July 2014, the agency is already struggling to maintain stable financing.   

The administration’s management firm — Alvarez & Marsal — recommended changes to Group Benefits that are projected to save $1.1 billion over five years.

Johnson defended the premium reduction, saying there was no need to keep a $500 million reserve. Group Benefits officials have said a responsible target is between $120 million and $220 million. She said it was inappropriate “taking employees money and banking it.”

But state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, who is in the insurance industry, disputed Johnson’s statement.

“You honestly think that was too large for 230,000 employees?” Johns asked. “I personally believe there’s been some decision made at the Office of Group Benefits that’s not in the best interest of the overall stability of the program.”

Johns said he was a member of a legislative committee that had to deal with Group Benefits finances when it was in shambles previously. “We worked hard to get it back into a positive position,” he said.

State Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, said the administration has a definite “PR problem.”

He said Group Benefits members point to increased premiums and benefit reductions that are on the way and blame it squarely on the program’s privatization.

“They say it was running great until we privatized this thing. Whether it’s true or not, it’s the perception of some,” Shadoin said.

Johnson and McIlwain agreed that the privatization was not the culprit in the diminishing reserves but rather an intentional act by the administration when it reduced premiums.
Some understood from the outset that this scheme mostly amounted to an attack on an efficient and important department of state government for the benefit of  favorites and corporate raiders. "Some" wrote letters to the editor about it.
The Attorney General’s Office said before privatization could go into effect, the legislators had to approve it. The Appropriations Committee, by a 16-10 vote (after two members were removed from the committee and two new ones who would vote for it were put in), approved privatization; the Senate Finance Committee voted 10-3, and the Jindal administration had won. State Group Benefits was privatized.

After privatization of the Office of Group Benefits, health benefits are being cut, premiums are being raised and the $500 million trust fund has been raided. They gave a 1.5 percent pay increase to retirees that starts in July, and the same month a 5 percent rate increase on insurance premiums, at a loss of 3.5 percent for the year.

This Jindal administration should be held accountable as to where the $500 million trust fund went. Workers worked so hard to build this up, and it’s nearly gone after two years with higher rates and less benefits to the 250,000 families insured. This is a shame, and someone needs to be held accountable.
No one will be held accountable.   Well, state workers and retirees will, in a way.  They're going to be asked to give up some benefits and pay higher premiums now in order to resolve this entirely manufactured crisis.

And, as we've already seen, this is just one of several crises our technocratic health care expert Governor has managed to leave us with.  Maybe next time we'll elect "Some" instead.


*Buddy D used to call him that. It wasn't a compliment.

Chart party

Maybe not so festive, though.



The worst thing about this chart is it is a cliche.  Everyone knows about it.  No one has the motivation or the means to do anything about it.

More fun charts here. 

Also.. apologies to Jon Bois.

Hipsters are incidental

"What even is a hipster?"

Fashion doesn't matter.  Conspicuous consumption is conspicuous consumption no matter how fun your mustache is.   And despite our received capitalist mythology, consumers aren't the people making the large scale decisions.
Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations.

The banks are in charge of the banks

This is long but essential story about regulatory capture in American high finance.  Maybe that bores you.  If so, think of it like this.  The New York Fed is ESPN.  Goldman Sachs is Roger Goodell. And Carmen Segarra is Bill Simmons.

Clouded window

Same sex marriage was legal in Louisiana for a few hours on Thursday.. in case you missed it.. which you probably did.  And even if you didn't miss it entirely, the Jindal administration was making it extra-difficult for you to take advantage.

Letters

Ray Nagin got a letter in prison from a conspiracy nut.  Nagin wrote back to him.  The conspiracy theorist then sent Nagin's responses to the press.. because this is how conspiracy nuts get themselves into the news.  The Advocate ran a story about it.. for some reason.

I did enjoy this part, though.
Christenson has tried to intervene in a number of high-profile federal criminal cases, filing third-party motions in which he typically invokes the “Katrina virus” and asserts a massive cover-up. He also has floated conspiracy theories about the 2010 BP oil spill.

In July, he filed a motion to intervene in Nagin’s case, but Berrigan threw it out, saying he lacked standing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Whoah

The Teamsters and Unite Here appear to have successfully organized hotel and food service workers at Harrah's.

Have been negotiating for 6 months now.  Who knew?

Also.. 
New Orleans' paltry union presence makes it an outlier in the American tourism economy, (Unite Here's Scott) Cooper said.

In Las Vegas, for example, 90 percent of the major hotels use organized labor, he said. In New York, union density runs about 70-80 percent in he hospitality industry.

Whether Harrah's is the first of many or a one-off will be up to the workers of the city, Cooper said.

Found more money

We're rich!
New Orleans' economic outlook took on a rosy hue Friday as city economist James Husserl unveiled his latest predictions: The public fisc stands to gain $14.6 million more in revenue this year than the bean counters had predicted during budget debates last fall.

Husserl told the Revenue Estimating Conference that the city's $505.4 million general fund could grow to $520 million by the end of 2014 and possibly reach $536.9 million through 2015, an educated guess based mostly on the steady increase in sales tax collections.
The mayor's 2015 budget proposal should be out soon. According to this article, he's already planning to spend a lot of this extra revenue on the OPP consent decree and also, finally, firefighters' pensions.. caving a bit given that he just lost in court over that issue again

Should be interesting to see what else happens.

Can't afford an island, put it up for sale

Headquarters of New Orleans Tourism
New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau Headquarters on St.Charles Avenue

This is a difficult point to convey to non-native New Orleanians.  Yes, there are things about living in this city that make it different.  And, yes, it's always been true that these defining characteristics have been overly romanticized or used as crass branding tools for marketers.
And some wonder whether the justifiable pride that New Orleanians have in their culture gives short shrift to some of the city’s more pressing problems.

Count among the skeptics Adolph Reed, a New Orleans native and University of Pennsylvania political science professor who was in town last week to keynote a Tulane University conference on the topic of New Orleans exceptionalism. While Reed cherishes the city’s flavors — he never misses a chance to dive into an oyster po-boy when he’s home — he worries that the city’s singular attributes have become fetishized and commodified.

A major theme of the conference was that the city may limit itself by focusing so tightly on its culture, while larger problems are sometimes overlooked. Tulane professor Matt Sakakeeny, who co-hosted the conference with Thomas Adams from the University of Sydney, said the organizers hoped to put New Orleans in proper context while shattering stereotypes.

“Our aim is to go beyond the caricature of New Orleans, as one friend put it, as if everyone in this city was a Mardi Gras Indian second-lining down the street, po-boy in hand, on the way to Jazz Fest,” quipped Sakakeeny.
But here is what has changed in recent decades that you will have to have grown up here.. or at least been here a while to notice.

First, the tourism industry.. long a presence in New Orleans... has grown so large and overbearing that it has swallowed everything around it. 

Cities do not exist solely to sell themselves to visitors. They exist first for utilitarian reasons. They are centers of commerce; ports on important navigable waters, way stations along routes of trade or migration, outposts on a frontier.  As they grow, and if they are successful, they attract people from all over who contribute in large or small ways to a local culture.  Eventually... as a nice side effect.. leisure travelers like to visit cities and experience a little bit of this cultural identity.   Inevitably the expectations of these visitors come to redefine the cities themselves a bit.

Mother of all cheese
Krewe of Muses float 2013

Sometimes, though, they come to overshadow and redefine the entire city's reason to exist in the first place.  This is what people my age have grown up witnessing.

In the space of a generation, we've gone from being a city whose history and cultural institutions supported  a growing tourism sector into a tourism destination surrounded by the husk of the city that spawned it. This is evident in the "fetishization" Adolph Reed is talking about in the above article. It's one reason you end up with little ironies such as, "Po' boy $12"

It also spawns a self-perpetuating industry in cultivating and packaging "amenities" for the leisure lifestyle. Things have gone so far, in fact, that our overall citywide development strategy depends on removing poorer residents and replacing them with wealthier transplants, or real estate investors willing to pay high prices for properties that can be rented out to vacationers and part-time residents. I've written about this at length previously so I won't rehash it here.  I only mean to show that New Orleans was once a city that appealed to tourists, became a tourist attraction that catered to tourists only, and is becoming now a playground for wealthy part-time residents.

All of which is the context for this parody video response to a typically awful promotion created by the New Orleans Toursim and Marketing Corporation. You can watch the original commercial for gentrified Bywater at that Gambit link.   Here is the parody.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Business is good

The business is blowing up people and stuff.
Stock prices for Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman set all-time record highs last week as it became increasingly clear that President Obama was committed to a massive, sustained air war in Iraq and Syria.
There's also the business of "training moderate rebels" whatever a moderate rebel might be.  We do know the moderate rebels will be trained and armed in one of the world's most repressive and extremist countries
U.S. officials said a critical component of the plan to train and equip the Syrian insurgents, who have received only modest American backing so far and have failed to coalesce into a potent fighting force, was the Saudis' willingness to allow use of their territory for the U.S. training effort.

"Now what we have is a commitment from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... to be a full partner with us in that effort, including by hosting that training program," a senior U.S. official told reporters in a conference call.

The Saudi decision came to light after Obama spoke by phone earlier in the day with Saudi King Abdullah.
It's important to keep in mind that we're training and arming these people, in part, because we like to be able to say we're not putting very many "boots on the ground."  This is good for morale because we aren't putting as many of our soldiers in harm's way.

But it's also good for business because of who we send instead of soldiers.
Analysts say hiring contractors is a way to avoid deploying such forces.

David Johnson, a former Army lieutenant colonel who is executive director of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, said contractors aren’t considered “boots on the ground” in conflict zones.

“The government always seeks to minimize boots on the ground to reduce domestic political risk,” he said in an email. “The American people and media do not consider a paid contractor to represent them in the same way that they do a soldier.”

Using contractors, who, most studies show, are cheaper than soldiers, trims the official presence and still accomplishes the logistical and security objectives, he said.

Defense contractors have plenty of experience in Iraq. During the U.S. occupation, thousands of armed security contractors and support personnel worked alongside foreign and Iraqi troops to help stabilize the country.

Experience.

That is good for business even if it means your business does only one thing.
Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war.  It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All the military power in the world won’t solve those problems. Obama knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary — mostly because he and his advisers don’t know what else to do. Bombing has become his administration’s default option.

Because it isn't necessary to "solve those problems" so much as it is to just make sure you get to stay in business.

Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy—and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing US counterterror operations in the "surge" years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS's fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington's weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.

When you think about it, from the moment the first bombs began falling on Afghanistan in October 2001 to the present, not a single US military intervention has had anything like its intended effect. Each one has, in time, proven a disaster in its own special way, providing breeding grounds for extremism and producing yet another set of recruitment posters for yet another set of jihadist movements. Looked at in a clear-eyed way, this is what any American military intervention seems to offer such extremist outfits—and ISIS knows it.
Probably, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Blackwater and Northrop Grumman know it as well.  They've been in this business a long time. And it's still quite good to them.  

Gonna need even more Mackels

Looks like Travers may have bugged the wrong judge's meal.

Side effects of the grifting

Bobby Jindal is leaving quite a legacy with regard to health care policy in Louisiana.  If he wants to campaign for President on his privatized market-driven wonderland he's created here, he's going to have some uncomfortable questions to answer about it.
At Interim LSU, where trained nurses see about 20 to 25 sexual assault patients per month, nurses until recently were instructed to reassure victims they would not be billed. Although the public hospital was not required by law to do so, it for years absorbed the costs of these exams and all the related medical expenses, area sexual assault victim advocates said.

"Now that's changed," Tonkovich said.

The hospital, Tonkovich said, began billing victims for exams after the state last year turned control of the hospital over from Louisiana State University to a private entity, Louisiana Children's Medical Center, now known as LCMC Health. Recent victims have received bills totaling more than $2,000, Tonkovich said.
But then, "Pay for you rape kit" is already a favorite policy among GOP superstars so maybe Jindal is just fine with this.

Maybe there's a reason for that

When costing out a 20 percent raise for police officers, city Civil Service staff conveniently neglected to factor in pension contributions.
Inspector General Quatrevaux said the staff report is flawed because it looks only at starting salaries, ignoring the cost of pension funding.

Retirement contributions, which are set by the state and paid by the city, currently stand at 31 percent of an officer’s salary. That’s money the city must come up with in addition to officers’ pay.

“How can you make an intelligent assessment if you’re ignoring 31 percent of the cost?” Quatrevaux said. “If they fail to look into retirement contributions, they’re very likely going to get the wrong answer.”

“I will certainly oppose any pay raise based on this analysis,” Quatrevaux added. “It’s such surface treatment of an important subject, it’s beyond belief.

In 2014, the city budgeted $21.8 million for the state’s police pension fund. That means the recommended raise would cost the city another $3.3 million annually by the third year.
It's "beyond belief."  So what's the reason for it?

Eric Holder's legacy

Just another brick...
Holder, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton years, outlined what was actually sort of a “get tough on crime” document. He gave prosecutors all these tools to go after big corporations. But, at the bottom [of the memo], he outlined this policy called “collateral consequences,” which was — all it really said was, if you’re a prosecutor and you’re going after a big corporation that employs a lot of people, and you’re worried about innocent victims, you can seek other remedies. Instead of criminally prosecuting, you can do a deferred prosecution agreement, a non-prosecution agreement or, especially, you can levy fines.

When he wrote that, it was nearly a decade before the too-big-to-fail era, but when he came back to office [as Obama's attorney general], this idea, which initially had been completely ignored when he first wrote it, suddenly [becomes] the law of the land now, insofar as these systemically important institutions are concerned. The administration’s come out and overtly talked about collateral consequences and talked about [how] they can’t go against companies like HSBC and UBS because they’re worried about what the impact might be on the world economy.

What’s interesting about it is that this idea suddenly matches this thing that happened with our economy where we have the collapse of the economy in 2008, [and] instead of breaking up these bad companies, we merged them together and made them bigger and more dangerous. Now they’re even more unprosecutable than before, now this collateral consequences idea is even more applicable. And that’s the reality we live in now; it’s just this world where if you can commit an offense within the auspices of a company like that, the resolution won’t be a criminal resolution, it will be something else.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

No sting operation necessary

Lon Burns (after several twists and turns) has been ruled ineligible to run for DA

Emeril kicks the THANKS OBAMA up a notch

Not much else to say but, derp.

Clown show

This is a story in which a Mackel takes something a con artist orchestrates seriously.
Mackel said Tuesday that he couldn’t discuss whether the TV station wired up Williams or whether the FBI had requested the recording from the station. News Director Jonathan Shelley said the station has had “no official communication” with the FBI.

In a phone interview with The New Orleans Advocate, Williams said she had been pestered to get out of the race by Marullo’s camp. She said she grew fed up and decided to tape a phone call with Sonja “Lady” Dedais, a self-styled political consultant who once ran for mayor and wound up brokering the meeting with Marullo.
Also Ms. Williams launches into a bit of a wrestling monologue herself. 
Williams said “authorities” were involved in taping her conversations but declined to say which ones.

“We recorded all the phone conversations, and then I was wired, and we got him on tape offering me (the post) to get out of the race. Other than that, I can’t go into detail,” Williams said.

“I’m not sitting in the back of the bus. I’m going to expose them. People in this city are tired of the politics. I’m tired of it,” she said.

“I got tired of the harassment, tired of being played like I’m stupid, like I’m dumb. My young generation, we were taught to use your education to get where you’re at, not buying people out. I played along with them. Whatever it took, I didn’t care. It wasn’t about the race. It was about what’s right and wrong.

What do I have to lose? I tried to make them think I was naive and nice. I wanted him to talk to me and give me the information. They had no idea who they were messing with.”
So she sounds like a level-headed candidate and not at all like a plant in a stunt or anything like that.  Also, it's nice that she's so "tired of the politics" that she qualified to run.

Also Dedais doesn't work for Marullo. Who does she work for?
Marullo’s camp distanced itself from Dedais on Tuesday, saying she has played no role in the campaign other than as an apparent supporter.

“She has not been paid, and I don’t believe there’s any intention of paying her. ... I know he feels like the two of them set him up,” said Edwin “Win” Stoutz, Marullo’s campaign finance chairman.

For her part, Dedais said Williams played her. Dedais described herself as a volunteer for Marullo’s campaign.

“The judge didn’t ask me to set up no meeting. This girl asked me to meet with the judge,” Dedais said. “I didn’t even know she was going to hit the judge with that question. I just told him, ‘Hey, Marie wants to get out of the race. She’d like to know if you’d like to have lunch with her,’ ” Dedais said.
Dedais is described in the article as "self-styled consultant."  Which is.. yeah.. in the same way that James O'Keefe is a documentarian.  Anyway, she's obviously freelancing, here.

The most high profile thing she's done is run for Mayor in 2006.

She also owns a couple of rental properties.

Her Twitter feed seems sane.

Also, "Loyola is sued for negligence" is interesting. 

Anyway, so, yeah.. definitely the sort of source to build  a Mackel exclusive around. Nice job.

The rent is too damn high

On Benson Tower, that is.
As part of a deal with Saints owner Tom Benson, the state is paying substantially more to rent space in Benson Tower than it did under previous lease agreements in New Orleans, according to a state legislative audit released Monday.

The state, through the Office Facilities Corp., pays $25.12 per square foot to rent space in Benson Tower from Zelia LLC, a Benson-owned company. That’s about 42 percent more than the state paid under previous leases in New Orleans before its local offices were relocated in 2011.

State offices were moved to the 26-story Benson Tower as part of the state’s incentive package to keep the Saints in Louisiana.

Under its current lease agreement, the state pays 32 to 35 percent more than the list cost for office space in Benson Tower, according to the report. The New Orleans lease also is about 32 percent more expensive than the state pays to rent space elsewhere in Louisiana.
Sounds like a deal worth its weight in bronze.

Bronze Tom

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Medicaid privatization scam is scam

News today from the biggest, and also least surprising, Louisiana corruption story of the decade.
A special state grand jury in Baton Rouge Tuesday morning indicted former Jindal administration health chief, Bruce Greenstein, on nine counts of perjury related to his involvement in award of a nearly $200 million state government contract.

Greenstein’s alleged untruths occurred during sworn testimony before a state Senate confirmation hearing and at a grand jury investigation. Greenstein lives in Seattle and his attorney was not available. The grand jury returned the charges to 19th Judicial District Judge Louis Daniel.

“The grand jury is not closed so we are continuing our investigation into other aspects of the case,” Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said. “These lies are part of the coverup of the whole process.”

The action came some 18 months after the Jindal administration abruptly canceled the contract with Maryland-based Client Network Services Inc., citing among other things “improper contact” by then state health secretary Greenstein throughout the bid and award process.
This has been a fun process to watch unfold. It was so obvious and out in the open from the very beginning that everyone knew something was wrong almost immediately. Someday they will teach it in schools.

It began when Bobby Jindal dragged his feet telling the legislature which firm had been selected for the newly privatized Medicaid claims processing contract; "the most lucrative contract in state government".

Then we found out that the contract was going to CNSI which (dramatic music) was the former employer of Jindal's newly named head of Health and Hospitals, one Bruce Greenstein.  This seemed fishy... even to members of the Louisiana State Senate.. who questioned Greenstein about his dubious claim that he had recused himself from the selection process.
In nearly three hours of testimony that took on the appearance of a courtroom drama, lawmakers challenged Greenstein's previous assertions that he erected a "firewall" to keep himself removed from the selection process.

The secretary has acknowledged that he met with officials at CNSI and other companies shortly after taking his state job last September, including a lunch with a CNSI executive during his second day on the job. Greenstein said he could not recall any conversation about the contract.

But Greenstein also has said he was aware that the state's bid requirements were changed after his arrival in a way that made CNSI eligible to apply for the job.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, asked Greenstein about contradictions between his earlier testimony about a firewall and emails in which Greenstein discussed the bid requirements. "The integrity and the character issues are what we're here about today," Peterson said. "I believe that you have not been truthful."

Greenstein said he had forgotten about some of the contacts until he reviewed the subpoenaed documents, but that his limited involvement did nothing to compromise the selection process. "I was not trying to mislead anyone," he said. "I was a bit nervous at the time. I know for sure that I had no conversations about how the proposals were evaluated."
 He was nervous.  Ok. He wasn't the only one.
Although the winning bidder was selected weeks ago, agency officials had refused to tell lawmakers, citing a state statute that said the contract award had to first be disclosed to a joint meeting of the health-care committees in the House and Senate. That committee might not meet until after the Legislature adjourns June 23.

That brought a torrent of criticism from senators, including allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who accused the administration of stonewalling and called Greenstein's integrity into question.

"It seems like somebody is trying to cover something up," said Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales.
The competing bidders also protested claiming that CNSI had lowballed its estimate. As it happened, that protest fizzled quickly.  But a month later another protest was filed against Greenstein's selections to run the managed care networks that would replace traditional Medicaid fee-for-service payments. 

The difference between the service delivery models is, in the privatized version, the contractor has a bigger black box from which to extract profit while denying services to patients. That's the big grift. It's important to remember that that is still in place.

But the CNSI thing didn't go away either.  In 2013 a Federal grand jury started looking into it prompting Jindal to cancel the contract.
The Baton Rouge-based federal grand jury subpoenaed documents related to the state’s awarding of the contract to the Gaithersburg, Md.-based Client Network Services Inc. Greenstein was a vice president with CNSI from 1995 to 1996.

The company got the contract for Medicaid claims processing in 2011 amid some complaints that the firm “low balled” the price and made erroneous assumptions in its proposal.

The contract was awarded by the state Department of Health and Hospitals and signed off on by the Jindal administration amid complaints from other vendors.

At the time, Greenstein said he took himself out of the contract dealings. Documents revealed Greenstein influenced a change in the solicitation for proposals that allowed CNSI to compete.
Recall, though, that Legislators also had evidence that Greenstein acted improperly at the time the contract was awarded and that they said so.  It was only two years after the fact that the feds finally forced Jindal to stop backing him anyway.  Greenstein resigned shortly afterward.

CNSI still sued the state for wrongful termination of the contract... because now they're left out of the grift and want to get paid somehow.  But, lo and behold, court filings in that case revealed that CNSI are, in fact, some pretty bad dudes.
In the 2009 FBI interviews, former corporate counsel Matthew Hoffman and ex-CNSI controller Jeffrey Weisenborne allege that CNSI owners lied on documents about the company’s financial health to a syndicate of banks that held lines of credit with the firm in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Weisenborne and Hoffman were interviewed in 2009 as part of probe by the U.S. attorney in Maryland’s Southern District.

The FBI reports are a synopsis of interviews with Weisenborne and Hoffman.

Both recount knowledge of anonymous letters received by Bank of America and M&T Bank in fall 2008 that stated CNSI employees were “being threatened for trying to report the company’s true income and that the owners were overstating revenue to the banks” or outlined “a number of fraudulent acts by CNSI. These letters also said the owners had made death threats to employees not going along with the way things were being done.”

Hoffman told the FBI he was threatened on March 7, 2009 during a meeting at CNSI offices in Rockville, Md., according to the report of a Sept. 11, 2009 interview.

The four owners were in the meeting when one of them said that if Hoffman “ever disclosed the misconduct at the company, they would have him killed.” Another owner “stepped in and said they should move on.”
So the firm Bobby Jindal and Bruce Greenstein wanted to put in charge of weighing its own profits against the health and well being of Medicaid recipients already had a history of ... allegedly.. threatening to kill people in order to protect its bottom line.

To be fair, nobody has alleged that Bruce Greenstein was involved in the death threats.  But, it turns out, that the feds did know that he was involved in rigging this contract and that "state officials" were informed of this.
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.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called CMS, took the whistleblower’s allegations seriously enough to pass them on to the state attorney general’s Medicaid fraud unit.
Greenstein's attorney responded to that story by saying the constant contact between Greenstein and CNSI's lobbyist was no big deal seeing as how they were both, "prolific texters." 
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.”
You really gotta like that "vast majority" bit.  If I prolifically text you a bunch of soup recipes and baseball scores but happen to slip like maybe one or two nuclear launch codes in there then what have you got?

Anyway now Greenstein is being indicted for lying under oath about all of this stuff.  But there's one thing that still sticks out and it is this.
Jindal did not respond to a request for comment. Instead, his press office released a prepared statement from Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright: “We have zero-tolerance for any wrongdoing, which is why we immediately acted to terminate the contract when we learned from the AG that improper behavior might have occurred.” He said the office also asked the inspector general to conduct an independent investigation.
According to CMS, the state Attorney General's office was informed about improper behavior in 2011 before the contract was even awarded.  Bobby Jindal cancelled the contract in 2013.  Did the AG just sit on this information for 2 years?  Or did the Governor decide to just ram this thing through anyway?  In other words, what did Bobby Jindal know and when did he know it? 
 

Lame

What happened to the Mardi Gras alternate jerseys?  We asked last year and they told us... something something something... NBA trademark process takes a long time... check back later. 

Apparently today they are giving us red, instead.  OK.

QOTD

Mary Landrieu responding to criticism about her appearance at an LSU tailgate over the weekend.
On another issue, Landrieu laughed off a question about her role on Saturday at an LSU tailgate site where she briefly held a beer spigot for a thirsty beer lover.

They need to get a sense of a humor, and they need to get a life,” she said of GOP critics.

“It’s just the way we roll. The gentleman that did that is 28 years old and he has also graduated. He has a master’s in business. So I think he can make a decision for himself what he’d like to do.

“I thought I did pretty well by not doing it myself and just helping him,” Landrieu said with a laugh.
Most people know that LSU football tailgates are a marquee stop along the Louisiana campaign trail.  During major elections, you can eat pretty well just mooching off of the spreads set up by the several campaigns.  A keg stand assist in this environment is basically the equivalent of a baby kiss elsewhere.

Of minor note in this story is that Mary tactfully declined to endorse Edwin Edwards in the District 6 congressional race. But that isn't really news. The two of them have never really gotten along.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We're gonna need more Mackels

Tonight at 10 some of you may see the shocking film.. or iPhone recording.. or whatever they have.
Frank Marullo, the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge who this month survived a legal challenge to his right to run for office again at age 74 now appears to be facing an allegation that he offered his backing for a plum court job to one of his challengers in order to grease her exit from the race.

Marullo purportedly offered local lawyer Marie Williams his support for a magistrate commissioner’s post at the court if she would drop out of the race for Marullo’s Section D seat.

The conversation was surreptitiously recorded Wednesday inside Mandina’s restaurant, Marullo’s favored dining spot. A WDSU-TV reporter had staked out the Mid-City restaurant and quizzed Marullo as the judge left the restaurant.

In a snippet of the conversation aired Monday evening on the TV station, Marullo can be heard cautioning Williams that he has only one vote among the dozen judges who are charged with selecting four commissioners for the court. He then follows that by saying, “I will vote for you.”

The snippet did not make clear whether Marullo offered that support in exchange for Williams’ promise to get out of the race.

Marullo was confronted outside the restaurant by WDSU reporter Travers Mackel. In a short interview, Marullo said there was no quid pro quo and even denied that he had offered his vote to Williams.
Staked out by a Mackel.  Oh dear, well that is embarrassing. Meanwhile, Frank Marullo had dinner at Mandina's.    So maybe that's news although probably it's not.  Let's ask the experts.
Asked about the conversation, Dane Ciolino, who teaches law at Loyola University, said, “I think it raises questions.”
Let's see.. questions raised by this. Ok Is there a Mackel hiding behind every flower pot waiting to pounce?   Because if not, then how can this not have been staged?  Also how stupid does a TV reporter have to be to allow himself to be used in such a stunt?   Moreover, can we expect to see a 10 PM report on every negotiation between candidates in every race this cycle?  Because there are at least as many of those as there are candidates.

Sadly we only have two Mackels, though.  And one of those is too busy imagining Pelicans trades that will never happen to focus on the imaginary political scandal beat at the same time.

Happy Ritaversary

This week marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Rita's pass through the Gulf of Mexico.  The  storm made landfall along the Texas/Louisiana border.. less than a month after New Orleans and cities along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts were devastated by Katrina.

In an unrelated matter, a wall of sheet piling fell over at the 17th Street Canal today.

Hurricane Season still has about two months to go.

Venomous caterpillars

Always something, I guess.
NEW ORLEANS —Administrators for Tulane and Loyola universities are advising students be alert for stinging caterpillars frequently seen inching across areas of their campuses.

The puss moth caterpillar is typically an inch in length and range in color from white to dark brown. Don't let their small stature fool you though, within the thick hair covering their bodies is venom that can potentially cause harm to unsuspecting students, children and adults.

"They will not attack," Loyola professor Robert Thomas wrote in a public service announcement to the campus. "But you must be careful where you sit and place your hands when they are present."
We're all relieved to know that the caterpillars "will not attack," I'm sure. 

One has to wonder, though, how an announcement like this comes about.  It's basically, "Native animal to the area is native to this area."   But some university administrators had reason to put everyone on alert.  So I guess what I'm asking here is which one of them accidentally sat on one at Yulman Stadium last weekend?

Keep on nukin'

The Obama Administration is spending $1 trillion to update and expand the US nuclear arsenal.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.

Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.

You know for only five percent of that sum, you could fully fund Louisiana's $50 billion coastal restoration plan.  But everyone says we're too broke for that.

"Highly educated"

Hey can we dispense with the obligatory aside about how smart and well-educated Bobby Jindal is whenever we write about his latest pander to one or another GOP anti-science constituency?
But what happens when a highly educated guy who did study science in college wants to run for national office in a party that increasingly stands against facts and science? In the case of Louisiana Governor and perennial presidential wannabee Bobby Jindal (R), you act dumb and make tortuous statements.
How dumb?

At a breakfast organized by The Christian Monitor, Jindal was introduced as a biology major, Rhodes Scholar, and former President of the University of Louisiana System. Naturally, at one point HuffPost’s Howard Fineman said, “I want to ask a couple of science questions.”

Jindal cluelessly fails to see what’s coming and excitedly interjects “I’m a biology major.” Fineman is happy to repeat that point and, of course, then asks him a bunch of obvious science questions, including whether he accepts evolution.

So Jindal now feels compelled to explain, “I was not an evolutionary biologist.” Yeah, Jindal apparently got one of those Biology degrees from Brown University (with honors at the age of 20!) that doesn’t require learning about evolution — the central organizing principle of modern biology.
Jindal clearly doesn't want people to think of him as a smart guy anymore.  So let's just stop describing him that way.  From now on, these stories (and there will be more of them) need only read, "Plumb stupid Governor Bobby Jindal talked up his staggering ignorance of basic 7th Grade level scientific concepts today."  That's obviously what he's after there, anyway. 

Perhaps he will want to "sell that sucker"

Not sure what the mayor plans to do with the Wisner land.  But given its value to the energy and shipping companies who have been paying rent all these years, and the fact that it will all dissolve into the sea soon anyway.   Maybe now is the time sell it for a lump sum.

Sucks to be the various arts and non-profits whose grant funding relied on the continuance of the trust, though.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Edge Cannot Hold or It's Great To Be Proud To A Thicker Applause

Let's take a minute right now to remember the good times.  It's been a while, I know, but if you concentrate you can probably bring them back in your mind.  They were about a month ago.  The stupid fake games were all over with.  Nobody was worried about Sean Payton's eyesight.  Tom Benson's statue hadn't quite happened yet.  Domestic violence was still within the power of a multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise tax exempt non-profit to quietly sweep under the rug.  People were content. Things were... well.. not nice, exactly. But the discord was sufficiently sublimated. Radisson was still pleased with its marketing strategy. 

Also everyone still loved Rob Ryan.  So strong was the cult, in fact, that Saints fans commemorated the opening of what we all expected would be a glorious 2014 football season with a Rob Ryan themed pub crawl. They did this on the Saturday prior to opening weekend.  I mentioned this activity back in my Week One post so some of this might be a repeat.

They began at the Gleason statue (the good statue at the dome) with an invocation and made their way Uptown toward Ms. Mae's stopping at several watering holes along the way. It rained like hell but they didn't seem to care.  They were celebrating all things Rob Ryan and buying drinks for strangers.

I caught up with them at Igor's.  They looked ridiculous.

#GetWeird

In addition to the fancy get-ups, the Pub Crawl also featured strong elements of ritual.  For example, there was a missal  on which the prayers, Our Coordinator, and Roofbanger's Creed, appeared.  These were passed around at each stop so that bar patrons could follow along with the blessing.

There was also a call and response.  This took a little explaining... in fact I'm still not sure I understand it fully but I'll try to relate what was going on as well as I can.

Shortly after the Ryans arrived at Igor's, Mr. Clio (that's him in the above photo as Ginger Rob Ryan) explained to me that one of them had either attended a Saints practice or saw some footage of Ryan at practice or something like that.  (I wasn't paying close enough attention not knowing where this was going.) At this.. practice.. or whatever it was, Ryan was yelling at someone to, "Hold the edge!"

I don't quite know what it means either.  And I'm not sure the Rob Ryans do. And, again, this whole conversation was just nonsense to me up until this part.

Mr. Clio:  So what we've been doing is calling out names of Saints defensive players from the past and telling them to "Hold the edge!"

Me: Uhh.. um.. I don't..

Mr. Clio:  Ok so think of any Saints defender from like any time.

Me: Alright.. um... Jim Wilks?

Mr. Clio: Ok but just shout it.

Me: What?

Mr. Clio: Yeah right now, just shout it out. Watch.

Me:  JIMMY WILKS

Entire Bar: HOLD THE EDGE!

This sort of thing continued on for the duration.  Many a random Saint current or retired was named.  Many edges were held. There was much rejoicing.  But soon Menckles and I had to get out of there.  It was Saturday and we had a date at a different bar that evening for the opening night of the 2014 Les Miles follies. So we said our goodbyes to the Rob Ryans and saw them off on their merry way further Uptown.

It would be the last time we'd think to use the words Rob, Ryan, and merry in the same sentence for quite a while.

So what the hell has been going on?  Here's a quick look back at the first two weeks of the season.  They're different from how we thought they would be.

(Note: As a long standing running joke of obscure origin going back almost a decade now, we at the Yellow Blog enjoy "shamelessly stealing".. that is hot linking directly to NOLA.com photography of the week's games and writing our own captions under them.  But, in the spirit of good nettiquette, we will link to the galleries. This week, they are here and here if you'd like to flip through them all.)

First the good news

The Saints do not suck on offense.  Despite having played two games on the road, where they're supposedly "not themselves" or whatever, as of this writing, they are ranked 3rd in scoring offense. Also they are 3rd in total yards. That's 6th in passing yards and 5th in rushing (Whoah! Balance!)  Drew Brees has thrown one extremely costly interception at crucial moments of each game so far.  But, apart from that, he's his usual self.  Jimmy Graham is still pretty good.  They haven't done anything terrible to the uniforms.  It looks like they kept the right kicker.


Hey guys it's Shayne Graham. I am on your team.  Really they told me I could be in here.


Brandin Cooks Rookie of The Year Watch

Brandin Cooks won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award several times during the first half vs Atlanta.  The Saints made an effort to get him involved early and he proved more than ready for the task.   Cooks caught 7 passes for 77 yards. He looked equally as good catching deep passes and short passes.  He was effective on routes along on the sideline as well as in the middle of the field.  He looked good on and end around play that went for 18 yards.  He scored his first NFL touchdown in the second quarter to put the Saints up 20-7.

But the most impressive moment for Cooks came on the second play of the game when Brees connected with him on a 32 yard pass off of a play fake.  Cooks, who is approximately 4 ft 3 inches tall out leaped a defender to pull the ball down.  If it wasn't already clear to fans who had seen his preseason that Cooks has pro receiving skills, it was after that play.


Cooks can play tall or he can play small as he did here squeezing though a tight spot for a touchdown

As impressive as all that is, Cooks virtually disappeared in the second half.  Obviously the Falcons adjusted their defense to pay more attention to him. That can be a good thing since it means the Saints have a weapon that teams have to account for.  But it also could mean that it took only one half of football for someone to write the book on how to shut down the Saints' explosive rookie.

At Cleveland, the Saints had so much trouble getting the ball into Cooks' hands that Sean Payton had to resort to trickery just to hand it to him. 

Still in all, it's a pretty nice way to start out for Cooks.  He hasn't blown his chance at that award everyone has him penciled in for yet.

Also this was kind of adorable.





Worst 3rd Quarter Ever

This was set up to go poorly when the Saints allowed the Falcons to finish the half with a field goal after taking possession with only 20 seconds remaining. Atlanta took the kickoff to start the third quarter so the touchdown they scored then actually capped a ten point swing.

But the big deflating moment came when, as the Saints were poised to answer, Drew Brees threw an interception as he targeted Cooks in the back of the end zone. When it happened, I wondered if the rookie had been maybe a bit off with his route.  But after the game, Brees blamed himself.
"If I can put that thing a foot more in front of Cooks, it's a touchdown instead of an interception," Brees said. "It was a good decision. I was going to the right place. I just didn't put the ball out there far enough for him. When you have a game like this, it's those plays that make all the difference."
That one sure did make a big difference. Five plays and several missed tackles later, Antone Smith had given the Falcons their first lead of the game.


We were all over here. But suddenly he was all the way over there


Worst First Quarter Ever

Jesus, the Browns really came out and punched the Saints in the mouth, didn't they?  In the first quarter last week, Cleveland outscored New Orleans 10-0, outgained them 133 yards to 7, and caused at least five more collective "Ooohs" from the crowd at Harry's Bar in reaction to hits on the quarterback or ball carrier. It was.. not good.

Twice during this mess the Saints had the Browns stalled in 3rd and long situations.  Each time they allowed a conversion due to errors by Patrick Robinson (more on that in a bit).  But besides the atrocious play on 3rd down, the defense was terrible in every possible way; pushed around by the Browns' front line and young power backs, unable to generate any sort of pass rush, and completely baffled in coverage.

It was.. unbelievably not good and it lasted for 25 percent of the available playing time.  Combine the first quarter of Week 2 with the third quarter of Week 1 and the Saints have completely spaced on one fourth of their entire season thus far.  Taking into account that they've lost two games by a total of less than one touchdown, I'd say that's pretty significant.


"Bill Parcells says Khiry Robinson reminds him of  Curtis Martin" is the new "Jimmy Graham used to play basketball"

I don't really have anything to add to that. I just wanted to point that out. Really looking forward to being in the Dome and away from any TV commentary this week. On the other hand, I might consider the theory that Khiry is a "fake" Curtis Martin. But let's leave that alone for now as well.

P-Rob Problems

Somewhere in the Good Fan Handbook there's some sort of directive about heaping too much blame on quarterbacks or cornerbacks.  So we are obliged to state for the record that Patrick Robinson is not the only reason the Saints are 0-2 or that the defense is on pace to surrender more yards than it did during the 2012 Spagnocalypse.  But, at the same time... come on. P-Rob is having issues out there.  Let's review some of the standout moments so far.

In Week 1 at Atlanta, the Saints got out to an early lead.  They had build a pretty nice 13-0 with 10 minutes to play in the half.  The juggernaut we expected all offseason was beginning to manifest. They were poised to drop a hammer down on the hated Falcons who they now had backed up in their own territory facing a 3rd and 8.  And then, this happened. (Borrowing a GIF from B&GR)



That drive culminated in a touchdown and suddenly the Falcons had life.

Atlanta took the ball to begin the 3rd quarter and moved to the New Orleans 28 where they began to sputter.  But on 3rd and 10 Julio Jones shook free of P-Rob and set the Falcons up with a 1st and goal at the one. They would score on the next play.

Things would get worse for Robinson in Week 2.  He was responsible for a pass interference on a 3rd and 7 during the 1st quarter which set up a Browns touchdown.  The touchdown was scored by Miles Austin in single coverage with.. Patrick Robinson.


Patrick Robinson (not in the picture because.. why would he be?) was responsible for this


Later in the quarter, Browns kicker Billy Cundiff had a field goal attempt deflect off of the left upright (which caused Saints fans to wonder if it could play corner) only to be given a do-over a few plays later thanks to a neutral zone infraction by Patrick Robinson.

On the Browns' final drive, P-Rob was beaten by Austin again for a 13 yard gain just two plays prior to the dumbest defensive play in history during which, of course, Patrick Robinson was (somewhat irrelevantly) flagged for holding.

There's more but those are the, um, highlights. At the beginning of the season, we said that P-Rob was the "Mark Ingram of the defense." He was a high draft pick who had been disappointing but could make a huge impact if he could finally put it together a bit. So far, this story is not having a happy ending.

The return.. and subsequent departure of #AngryIngram

Mark Ingram had a nice two weeks there. At Atlanta, he carried 13 times for 60 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns and the bulk of those yards came during the 4th Quarter when they were needed most and after this happened.








This is the legend of #AngryIngram acted out in dramatic fashion.  Cute joke and all.. until the experiment is replicated and the theory confirmed.


Ingram smash



And then it happened again!  Ingram's numbers at Cleveland: 11 carries 83 yards 1 touchdown.  Most of the yards came after he broke his hand during the first half.  The touchdown came during a furious 4th quarter rally that gave the Saints a lead which lasted until the final seconds.  Both weeks Mark Ingram's performances should have been enough to help the Saints win.

When you score 34 and 24 points you probably should win most of those games.  But to blow them in the frustrating, gut wrenching ways the Saints blew them... that could make a person lose his temper a bit. He's going to miss a few games now. Let's hope everyone stays out of his way in the meantime.

Marques Colston: HOLD THE EDGE... or at least the goddamned ball 

Not to dwell on this too much but, Jesus, what an awful way to lose that Atlanta game. If Colston doesn't fumble that ball at the start of overtime, does anyone have any doubt whatsoever that the Saints march right on down the field and #AngryIngram the ball on into the endzone? Nope. No doubt about that.

But that isn't what happened.


Instead this happened

Marques Colston has not been heard from since.  He is said to have participated in the Cleveland game but was not targeted with a single pass. If you see him, please ask him to call home.

We are wasting Morstead's beautiful talents

The Saints' dumpster fire of a defense has completely wasted some clutch efforts by punter Thomas Morstead. Let's review those briefly.

Midway through the 4th quarter of the Atlanta game, the Saints are holding a three point lead and the ball.  Their drive stalls and on comes Morstead who delivers a beautiful 58 yarder that reverses the field position from the Saints' 30 all the way down to the Atlanta 12.  A holding penalty backs the Falcons up further to their own 6.  Thomas Morstead has saved the day, right?

Nope. The Falcons shoot right out of that hole.. converting a 3rd and 6 against Patrick Robinson along the way... and drive the length of the field for a touchdown.

Late in the Cleveland game, the Saints have the lead and the ball and are driving into Browns territory.  But then, disaster strikes. Brees is sacked on a third down pushing the Saints just out of field goal range.  No problem.  The Saints just trot out Morstead who delivers a perfect kick pinning the Browns down on their own 4 with less than three minutes to play.

We already know how that drive ended.  

The point is the Saints are playing well enough to win on offense. They could be a bit better in some aspects of special teams but the punter is certainly getting the job done.  So what's the deal with that defense?

Advertising looks and chops a must

What the hell happened to Rob Ryan?  It was supposed to be through him that all things were possible.  Ryan had designed the Future Of Defense where we put 11 safeties on the field and "get weird" all over everybody.  Ryan was going to win us a Superbowl and ride off into the sunset with a head coaching job somewhere.

But so far, things have been very different from that. Versus Atlanta, the Saints surrendered 568 total yards.  That is the second most in team history. ( The most  was 605 yards which came in 2004 605 against the Vikings... this week's opponent, incidentally.)

Their highly touted and highly paid defensive ends could generate very little pressure on Matt Ryan despite facing a second string left tackle. I'm not going to look this one up but I'm pretty sure the Saints have 2 total sacks in 2 games. The coverages are frequently confused. Patrick Robinson is not good.

Again.. what the hell happened?  Well, for one thing, Rob Ryan apparently decided to stop being Rob Ryan. 
None of this makes sense. The Saints didn’t put much emphasis on the cornerback position during the offseason, and did put a lot of emphasis on safety, giving many dollars to Jairus Byrd and matching the offer Rafael Bush got from Atlanta. That, with all the talk of multi-safety hybrid weird revolutionary future of defense defenses, indicated Rob Ryan would deploy his personnel sort of how he did in 2013.

He hasn’t. The Saints have played three safeties only rarely, and when they have they’ve only done so because personnel groups like the Falcons’ four receiver sets forced the Saints to use four corners. That’s why Rafael Bush played a significant number of snaps against Atlanta and just five against Cleveland: Atlanta spread the field; Cleveland, which has no good receivers on its active roster right now, couldn’t.

Rob Ryan wanted to “get weird.” He did. His defense is so inexplicably plain that I’m bewildered.
Why would Rob suddenly betray his nature.. or at least his defense like this?  The Saints appear to have spent very little time preparing to play defense at all.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer found Hawkins down the right side for a 28-yard reception, setting up the winning 29-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

Why did two players go with one man?

“We were trying to figure that out right now,” White said after speaking with his fellow defensive backs, including Lewis. “We’re going to go watch the film and figure it out from there. We don’t know.”
Maybe he's distracted.  As we've seen,Ryan got a lot of press this offseason labeling him the next big thing.  We know he wants a head coaching job.  He's considering this season a kind of audition for that.  But in trying to figure out what teams are looking for in a coach, he may be concentrating on style over substance.
If Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants to be a head coach in the NFL, apparently all he needs to do is call his barber. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Monday that the reason Ryan's not getting more consideration as a head coach this offseason is because some NFL executives don't like Ryan's long locks.

"If he wants to be a head coach, he has to cut his hair," Mortensen said several executives told him, via FoxSports.com. "It is about image for these guys. They want a CEO-type. That's what they want."
And sure enough, Rob is wearing a, yes still nearly shoulder length, but decidedly more conservative hairstyle this season.


I'm just a boy with a new haircut

Could it be that Rob bought the bullshit about his hair to such a degree that he decided to work more on that than on actually preparing his team?  Stop trying to please the big boys, Rob.  Like the song says, "Attention and fame is a Korea," or something like that.  Anyway it sounds bad.

What to do?

Well this roundly sucks.  What are we supposed to do with this football season?  Are we giving up? After 2 weeks? That's not where Angry Who Dat's head is at.
What I do know, and will repeat for the second week in a row (hopefully this doesn’t become a thing) is this: it’s not happening because the roster is devoid of talent. We’ve seen better from every player on the field, including Patrick Robinson. And whether it’s the gameplan or the play calling or something more intangible like leadership, by definition it must be something that can be fixed. And something, in my delusion, that I believe will be.

The first two games were not pleasant experiences. But in perspective, they were losses, on the road, by a field goal or less. Ahead are 14 more games, 8 of them at home where Sean Payton simply does not lose. A lot of fun awaits, many drinks, a little anger and probably a lot of yelling at Patrick Robinson. We have a long way to go. Even if it’s over, declaring it’s over won’t negate the sadness. If it’s not over, and you assume it is, you’ll miss out on the fun.
Not only is there "a lot of football left to play" but also things are suddenly very interesting.  Just a short month ago, Saints fans (and possibly the team and coaches too) were spending a little too much time congratulating themselves on the season they were about to have. You don't have to believe that the 0-2 start is totally the result of karma or even just hubris. But you can probably agree that expecting to win every game and then just going out and winning every game is boring.

We don't watch these games to be bored. We watch them because they are entertaining. The inspire our sense of drama, heroism, and above all, absurdity.  Those are all fun things. We do this for fun.  You have to believe that there's more fun left to be had over the next 15 weeks, right?

Besides, look:

Week 3

Carolina ain't going nowhere. We'll see them down the line.  We'll see Atlanta again too; in Week 16 in what could be a big showdown after many other interesting things will have happened.  Also Tampa.

So you see it's fine.  Or at least it will be fine if the Saints can get it together real quicklike.  I'm a bright eyed optimist right now, but come see me at 0-3 and then maybe we'll have to talk about that.

The good news is, here, in a pretty desperate spot, the Saints have one strong card to play.  For the first time this year they get to roll out their home stadium and their... very anxious.. home fans.  Let's hope that's enough to save the season. In any case, they're waiting to hear from you.