-->

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The state budget is not yet busted

Some quick notes on what's being reported from the Revenue Estimating Conference today. The projection they adopted expects the overall budget to shrink by about $223 million this year. BUT there are multiple caveats and what-ifs that will determine the eventual impact on services. 

The REC is itself a politically contentious process.  Its purpose is to set an initial framework for the Governor's budget proposal before the legislative session begins.  After that, lawmakers can figure out how to find more money if they want or just move everything around. But this is where they come up with the number that sets the starting point.  But that starting point isn't an absolute truth ordained from the heavens. It's something that gets argued over by the committee. The result of that isn't so much as an agreement on the most reasonable forecast as much as it is an agreement to stop arguing.

The four-member Revenue Estimating Conference, made up of (JBE's Commissioner of Administration Jay) Dardenne, (Senate President Page) Cortez, independent economist Stephen Barnes, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, picked the less rosy of the two available forecasts.

Manfred Dix, an economist for the governor’s administration, forecasted a drop of only $35 million in the state general fund for the upcoming fiscal year, citing what he sees as a quicker recovery as vaccinations ramp up.

Dardenne initially moved to recognize Dix’s forecast, saying the panel would meet again in two months to revise its forecast. President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is also expected to push for aid to state and local governments now that he has Democratic control in Congress.

The panel’s independent economist, Barnes, sided with Dardenne, but Cortez and Schexnayder refused, with Cortez saying the panel should proceed cautiously with so many unknowns. Instead, all four agreed to the more conservative estimate, with Dardenne saying he wanted to avoid going without a revenue forecast, something that had thrown the budget process into chaos amid previous disagreements.

So the REC number is important. But remember not to take it too seriously. Predicting the future is, after all, always more of an art than a science. For example, it says here that state sales tax revenues during the pandemic weren't quite as bad most people expected.  Also there's a fair amount federal money already allocated for Louisiana that hasn't been factored in yet simply because the rules for spending it haven't been established. 

However, the $292 million in higher-than-expected tax collections this year could be used to help cover some of next year’s expenses. In addition, Louisiana is receiving new federal aid passed by Congress in December, some of which could help offset state budget cuts next year. Louisiana and other states still are awaiting federal guidance on what strings exist on the latest assistance.
And, of course, no one expects that to be the end of the federal aid. We could end up being disappointed about the eventual size of it. But right now there are reasons to be optimistic that the next stimulus package could include real fiscal help for the states. Even Cortez thinks so

Once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Congress could also put even more federal funding relief on the table — and that could also affect how large any state budget cuts would need to be.

“We fully expect to get more stimulus dollars,” said Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, a member of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Cortez said he does worry any money coming from the federal government after Biden becomes president might not arrive in time to help prop up the state budget. Congress still has to negotiate the new package and the legislature often finishes Louisiana’s budget in June, right before it takes effect in July.

It's hard to know whether or not Page is joking there.  If the last few years have taught us anything it is that this legislature is not worried in the least bit about fiscal deadlines. 

The upshot is the pandemic fiscal doom is not yet upon us. Which is an important thing to remember when Republicans start talking about belt tightening during the session this year.  They are still in charge of deciding whether or not you have to suffer in order to protect the petro-bosses who fund pretty much all of them.  There are better choices, though. 

Oh also be sure and check out this FB event hosted by the LA Budget Project. Looks like they will be talking about a lot of this stuff.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Maybe this time we could actually try?

The thing to know about the US response to COVID in 2020 is that we did not even try to contain it. The leadership in the Congress and in the Trump Administration were more concerned about ensuring that the bosses and ownership classes in the country profited from the pandemic than they were interested in stopping it. Because of their utter and willful failure to put forth a national plan that would for pay people to stay home and prop up state and local governments during the lockdown, every locality was left to make its own policy dictated by local wealth and power.

Which is why, even in cities like New Orleans where the political leadership has been relatively serious about the threat, the lack of help from the feds has left that - to put it charitably - unfocused leadership vulnerable to pressure from the local bosses and ownership classes. And so even the local COVID restrictions were embedded with favoritism toward local power centers. Tourism business owners were allowed to expose their workers and customers to danger. Charter school boards were allowed to force staff and students into unsafe classrooms. Gayle Benson was allowed to gather crowds in the Superdome. 

We've seen the results of all of that and they have not been good. So, given this experience, what happens when these new COVID variants begin to proliferate? It says here we will have to do "something dramatic."

“I’m very, very concerned that we’ve now gone from a virus that we could control to a virus that we really can’t, unless we do something very dramatic,” said Kristian Andersen, an infectious diseases expert at Scripps Research Institute.

A spike in infections — on top of the existing caseloads — could force hospital leaders to consider how to surge capacity, staff, and resources — and weigh what happens if they have too many patients to care for. It could force schools to close again or delay plans to reopen. The variants are also ramping up the pressure on the country’s sputtering vaccine rollout, to try to protect more people and snuff out transmission before the variants become dominant

Are we prepared to tighten down further? The promise of the vaccine rollout plus general 2020 fatigue strongly suggests we are not. But, as we saw this week, the vaccines aren't quite rolling out as quickly as we had hoped.  So the critical matter now, if we want to handle this correctly,  is that we don't botch the federal relief effort a second time. Unfortunately it looks like we are well on the way to botching it a second time.

Biden is seeking to garner 10 Republican votes for the plan and approve it through "regular order," the usual path for legislation. But it's already running into early Republican opposition ranging from Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, to Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

"Republicans have made it clear they're not going to go for something of this size," Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic aide and now a political strategist, told Insider. "I can't imagine Republicans going for a package like this that includes minimum wage."

Republicans, of course, do not care who lives and who dies as long as the bosses and owners make out okay. And Joe Biden obviously doesn't care about anything as much as he cares about making Republicans happy.  So here we go again. A whole new chance to get it right and a whole new chance to blow it. Is it too much to ask that we try at least?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

20th Century is definitely over

Abusive murderer and music producer Phil Spector was responsible for a lot of things you might remember from then. One of those things might be the now dominant culturally subconscious idea that it's all downhill from wherever you are

“I get a little angry when people say it’s bad music,” Spector said of his music while talking to Wolfe for the piece. “It has limited chord changes, and people are always saying the words are banal and why doesn’t anybody write lyrics like Cole Porter anymore, but we don’t have presidents like Lincoln anymore either.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

Some real soul searching going on here

Turns out Eddie Rispone, despite having spent the past several months scheming and maneuvering and spending a fair amount of money in an effort to become the next chair of the state Republican Party, has suddenly discovered he's too busy.  

Eddie Rispone, the Republican businessman who lost a bid to unseat Louisiana’s Democratic governor in 2019, is suspending his campaign for chairman of the party, weeks after saying he wanted to take over after seeing the party outworked and outspent during the governor’s race.

Rispone said in an interview he has “major obligations” in his personal and business life that would prevent him from devoting enough time to party chair.

Can't even spare them decency of coming up with a convincing lie. Boss move.  

On the other hand why bother when he's got Mike Bayham around to make stuff up for him. 

Mike Bayham, the secretary of the party, said Rispone “got a taste of unfortunately how fratricidal this party is.” Bayham has previously said the party needs a “culture” change, pointing to an attack mailer against him in his race for re-election to the Republican State Central Committee, whose origins weren’t disclosed.

“The guy is a serious businessman,” Bayham said. “I think he didn’t fully appreciate how much herding of cats there would be involved. When you’re chairman of the party you answer theoretically to over 220 (central committee) members.”

See the thing is Rispone, who spent the 2019 gubernatorial election on television cartoonishly praising Donald Trump in front of as many pickup trucks as he could find, is just too good for this party.  And since the "culture change" he's hoping for has more to do with who gets paid to make ads than anything else, maybe he's got a point.

Warped operation speed

 Looks like that expanded vaccine distribution isn't happening as soon as we thought. 

When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Trump administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December, taking second doses directly off the manufacturing line.

Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding eligibility for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions. Health officials in some cities and states were informed in recent days about the reality of the situation, while others are still in the dark.

Just yesterday, Louisiana Health Department officials said they were expecting some 58,000 doses in their next shipment as they get ready to ramp up vaccinations.  I wonder if that number is affected by this or if it just means they won't be able to move as quickly as they had hoped.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Nobody actually lives there

No better indication of what our tourism bloodsuckers have done to the French Quarter than this.  

Louis and his brother John Matassa have long run the grocery together. The store wends across a number of connected buildings, filled with narrow aisles and a small deli known for its plate lunches, breakfast biscuits and po-boys. Matassa's sturdy delivery bicycles have been a common sight bouncing along French Quarter streets, bringing sacks of grocery and cases of beer to customers’ doors.

But Catalanotto said slow business during the pandemic has been “the last straw” for a grocery that had struggled over the years as the French Quarter’s residential population declined and one-time homes were converted to condos and short-term rentals.

“People say this is a great time for the grocery business and that’s true, but not in the French Quarter,” he said. “It’s a different market here.”

Can't "shop local" when there are no locals. There could be a lesson here for what we want our city to look like after COVID. But we all know we're going to double down on turning our historic neighborhoods into theme parks.

In 8 days nobody will remember any of this

If we took it seriously, Trump would already have been removed. Instead he's giving a speech in Texas today while everybody keeps arguing over what the most civil, move-forwady, bipartisan response can be. If we took it seriously, the large majority of congressional Republicans would be resigning today.  Don't expect they're going anywhere. 

If we took it seriously, Jeff Landry would resign in disgrace.  Instead he's going to remain a likely candidate for Governor in 2023, in disgrace nonetheless. But still... 

Anyway the point is, in a week they're going to change the subject. Maybe it won't exactly be a thing where nobody remembers this happened. But it will definitely be digested into the regular theater by then.

The latest shock

Was it a coup? Is it still a coup? Will it be a coup? Who is a terrorist? Should we use that word at all?  What color is the "threat level"?  Are we frightened enough? Who knows? Does it matter? 

At the end of the day somebody is going to make a lot of money building a bigger and scarier surveillance apparatus. That's what's really important. 

Defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton made an undisclosed strategic investment in Tracepoint, a technology startup with Baton Rouge roots. 

Tracepoint LLC, a digital forensics technology startup in New Orleans, was co-founded by Baton Rouge-based disaster response business Plexos Group and several other experts in the field in 2012. 

Plexos Group CEO David Odom said that the investment "affirms the unique value this growing company brings to the cybersecurity industry." Plexos Group develops new companies and invests in startups as part of its market strategy, according to the company. 

Tracepoint conducts background screening for employment, tenants, credit checks and drug and alcohol testing.

The new economy is built on shock-driven paranoid reaction.  Can't do anything to stop the pandemic-depression causing people to lose jobs and homes and descend into despair.  But we sure can invest in keeping an eye on them.

Was he grounded?

Cameron Henry's brother has run into some kind of a problem.  Let's try not to imagine what it could be with so little information available.  

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana lawmaker from Jefferson Parish has abruptly resigned from his elected position.

The House of Representatives clerk’s office confirmed Tuesday that Republican Rep. Charles Henry submitted his resignation to House Speaker Clay Schexnayder on Monday. The resignation from the 105-member chamber was effective immediately.

“As of today, he is no longer a member,” said House Clerk Michelle Fontenot.

Because if we don't give him the benefit of the doubt and it is what we think it could be, then why are Steve Scalise and John Kennedy not resigning as well?

Monday, January 11, 2021

"Beyond punishment"

Jason Williams was sworn in as DA today. We are, as always, prepared to be disappointed in how he actually plans to translate his rhetoric into practice.  But he does know the rhetoric well. 

Williams says he will end the use of Louisiana’s stringent habitual offender laws, never transfer juveniles to adult court and become much pickier about charging cases for prosecution. Underscoring his new approach, his large transition team includes many liberal policy advocates and former colleagues in the defense bar.

"Being more selective about prosecutions will allow us to focus on the crimes that matter most to all of us. We’ve got to go beyond punishment and invest in our community," Williams said in his inauguration speech.

Again, we'll see if those words carry any sort of commitment. We already expect the increase in crime commensurate with worsening economic conditions during the pandemic will lead to new political pressures on every politician to "get tough." That's especially likely to be worse during a municipal election year. 

Speaking of which, the timing of Jason's resignation from City Council means there will not be an additional election just to fill his seat

Monday also brought some clarity regarding Williams’ now vacant at-large seat on the City Council. Tyronne Walker, Williams former campaign manager and transition director, said that his resignation of the seat was effective Monday at 11 a.m., meaning his seat will be filled by an appointment by members of the City Council. If he had decided to resign any earlier, there would have been more than a year left in his term. Under city law, that means the seat would have been required to be filled by a special election.

On Monday morning about an hour before the ceremony began, Walker told The Lens that Williams had not recommended an interim candidate for the council to consider. Council President Helena Moreno on Monday announced the opening of applications for the post.

So.. you know.. if you're looking for a job...

Impeachment 2: The Re-Impeacheming

 Should have been done by now but they do say they are ready to do it... "later in the week."

At least 218 Democrats have now signed onto an impeachment resolution, enough to pass the measure should it come to the floor later this week, according to a congressional aide involved in the process.

Pelosi has indicated she will bring the resolution for a vote this week if Trump doesn't resign or Vice President Mike Pence doesn't initiate other processes to remove him.

There are Democrats already falling into 8 dimensional calculus trying to rationalize not moving quickly.  Some of them, despite having nearly witnessed what could have been a lynching if executed by a more competent and purposeful mob, are still waiting for the bi-partisanship fairy to arrive.  Others are just hoping it all blows over and they never have to do anything. 

And maybe they won't.  Just give it another week or so and President Biden will wanting to get straight into his hundred days agenda. Apparently tops on that list is building back better a "strong opposition party" and how is he supposed to do that when the congress is bogged down in a "divisive" after the fact impeachment of an ex-President?  

Anyway you can see where it might go if they don't get a move on.  Not to be too naive about it. I mean there are politics to consider here. But the reason to impeach and remove Trump now is because... Trump, however stupidly and incompetently, did in fact, incite a riot that resulted in injuries, deaths, and endangered the lives of members of Congress and the Vice President.  I know our track record for holding our Presidents accountable for crimes like this is not good. But that doesn't make it any less imperative.

Con d'etat

The reason I don't think of it as a coup attempt is because there was no actual unachievable path to holding power in its wake. Certainly not one that Trump was capable of designing and seeing through. That would have required him to actually focus and do work for a minute which he does not do. 

That isn't to say that he would not have accepted the results of the coup had there actually been one. He definitely would have. But the thing to get about Trump is he isn't actually the person who does anything.  In his mind, he's just watching all of this on TV the way you and I are. In real life, he's a con man who lives off of whatever the suckers in the downline end up bringing him. That isn't how you run a coup. This was more like multi-level militia marketing. 


So of course Trump didn’t have a plan for losing the election. He expected that the people working under him—that is, the entire United States government—would find a way to stop the election that he’d lost from becoming official when he gave that order, but he had no sense of how that might work beyond them just somehow doing it. He promised evidence that would show he was right and then told other people to find it. It never came, but at some point he just started acting as if it had been delivered and denied, and began talking about how unfair that was.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

It was a miserable time, would be a shame to see it end

Ordinarily, preparing to watch your team in a playoff game is a confrontation with mortality.  By this point you know your heroes well. You've learned their strengths and weaknesses. You know their endearing qualities and their annoying faults.  You've seen them endure setbacks and overcome obstacles.  A playoff season is a successful season by most measures so by and large they've done well. You like your team by this point. You've lived an entire journey with them. And now it could all come to a sudden end. So when the day comes that it can all end forever, naturally the question arises, what was it all about?

What was the 2020 Saints season all about? Should it even have happened in the first place? Did it? There were so few witnesses. We've long argued that live pro sports is a kind of civic exercise. It builds community and solidarity among the masses around shared passions, symbols and experiences. It inspires creative and elaborate cultural expression.   Like any entertainment, it offers diversion and comic relief from daily drudgery.  But among such entertainments sports is uniquely populist. Its energy, its sense of authenticity derives from the presence of a crowd.  

But there have been no crowds this year. Despite Gayle Benson's reckless and selfish desire to gather one, and despite the mayor's bending over backward to accommodate her while yelling at you for having Christmas with your family.  Despite Sean Payton's extremely coach-brained scheme to quarantine 50,000 people, there will only be about 3,000 brave but deluded Saints fans in attendance for today's possible concluding event. Even if we set aside the guilt and anxiety that would come with being among that audience during a pandemic, it's not anything like the immersive, cathartic experience of a full Superdome. The risk of being there is real. The benefit is non-existent. 

Again, that's been the case all season, so what have we been doing?  Well we've all been watching on TV and trying, in our increasingly spare leisure when we can allow ourselves to put aside the burning world around us and enjoy something, to connect with something like the experience we remember. And it's in there somewhere.  It's underneath a hundred layers of dissociation and confusion and a laugh track of fake crowd noise, but somewhere in there we can see our guys. There's something of this thing we're all invested in. We still care about that. It's just that, like a lot of things, that's been harder to feel this year.  It could end today.  A whole epoch of it could end, in fact. That's still a shame, right?

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

No, they still are not doing a coup

Big fun for the cosplayers at the Capitol today. Looks like the cops let the other cops dressed up like..uh.. vikings or something run wild inside the building for a while.  The President put out a video telling them they are all "special people."  The other President is on TV right now complaining about broken windows. Nobody knows when the cops will finally ask the other cops to leave. Maybe they will spend the night there. Who knows?

Overall, I gotta say, not great.  But, despite the breathless hype-slobber coming out of the  cable news regulars, it's not a "coup."  It's more like, well like this.





Trust me, we are still living under the same shitty undemocratic and racist regime of increasingly authoritarian oligarchy.  Today's LARP will not interrupt that.  If anything, it can only make it.. more of what it already is. Looking around Twitter and TV the only possible acceptable policy response will come in the form of an expansion of police powers and a crackdown on political organizing.  Not a crackdown on the kind of people who made the riot happen, of course, but there will definitely be some cracking down. Probably on leftist and Black Lives Matter groups first. You know.. usual suspects.   Hilariously, but predictably, some of the loudest voices already calling for such a thing are emanating from ostensibly "left of center" actors.  It's always amusing to see what brings the inner cop out in certain people.

Anyway, rest assured, your government is not overthrown. It remains in full possession of its power and glory fully poised to once again meet the moment of crisis by punching  down and left.

They're up to something

Not clear exactly what yet but if you were listening to the press conference on Monday, there were some interesting quotes. 

Cantrell said the move ending the furloughs was the “first step on the city’s road to recovery.” She also indicated that it was also the first step in a larger plan to restructure the city’s workforce.

“We are making this move as a part of a much broader effort to restructure how we use our public servants, our public employees, in the city of New Orleans,” she said. “Everyone needs to have that shared sacrifice and do what it takes to move this city forward. … In the weeks ahead, we will come before you with specifics as it relates to emergency response, business response, community response and organizational changes as it relates to the City of New Orleans.”

They have some idea of how they want to "restructure" and it appears they may be using the emergency response and selective decisions about furloughs to get that implemented.  Kind of an ad-hoc budgeting process depending on how "optimistic" they get from month to month. 

Cantrell said the city was ending some furloughs with additional funds the city is projecting in a more optimistic outlook. If those funds don’t materialize, however, the move could cause layoffs later in the year, she said. 

The additional funds optimistically projected there refer to a possible new round of federal stimulus (which, yes, is exactly what we need but don't hold your breath) also stepped up sales tax collection if we get enough people vaccinated in time for that to help, and property tax collection which... it turns out... is now delayed by... wait for it... to much "optimism."

Waiting on your property tax bill in New Orleans? So is the rest of the city. Blame paperwork problems and overly optimistic city officials for holding up the annual notices telling property owners how much they need to pay.

Tax bills typically go out during the last weeks of December. But because of problems that prevented the certification of the tax rolls, the earliest they could now be sent is this week. None of the issues will change the taxes owed by residents. But City Hall said it will adjust the deadline for payments once the bills are sent out.

According to this, at least part of the problem comes from the way the bills were itemized. Apparently they were prepared in the expectation that the December millage reconfiguration would pass. It did not and so now things need to be revised. Of course the overall revenue doesn't change. So one would think there isn't much optimism/pessimism that comes into play.  Unless you were optimistically hoping to restructure your "emergency response, business response, community response and organizational changes as it relates to the City of New Orleans," and now you have to find an alternative means of accomplishing that.... perhaps through emergency measures. 

But we'll just have to wait and see as far as that goes.  There is one other matter in the story about the tax bills, though, and I'm not sure I understand it exactly.  

One potentially more substantive issue also is holding up the process: a disagreement between the assessor’s office and the Tax Commission about the value of “public service” property in the city, a category that largely encompasses property owned by utilities.

Under state law, those property values are set by the Tax Commission and passed along to local assessors, commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy said. But in the final version of the tax rolls, the assessed value that the commission put on the total value of those properties is about $65,300 higher than what the assessor’s office estimated, Chehardy said. A meeting is set Wednesday to discuss the discrepancy and try to correct the problem, he said.

One way to read that is the city proposed to charge "public service" property... perhaps belonging to Entergy or maybe Cox or some such... less money than the state Tax Commission expected they should. I don't know if I'm reading that correctly but if I am then, given the assessor's recent tendency to give out tax breaks to large corporations, it's something to watch.

No, they aren't doing a coup

Republicans are not "doing a coup" today. They are just setting the premise for the next four years of obstructionist behavior.  The ceremonial hooting, hollering, marching, and LARP counter-programming going on in D.C. while Congress receives the electoral votes from the states, is the opening bit in the opposition party strategy.  Even as they technically cede office, they are saying that they don't actually have to recognize the legitimacy of the incoming government.  Materially, that is as bad for you and me as if they were in fact doing a coup which of course is why they don't have to do one.  They don't have to do anything at all, really, besides be rude and raise money for two years before they take the Congress back. This morning, Democrats are already celebrating their victories in Georgia by talking about the things they aren't even going to try to do in the meantime.  In other words, the strategy works. Nothing will fundamentally change.

It's also important to say that this is the exact same strategy Republicans always employ whenever it is their team's turn to be out of power for a while. To believe any of it is new one would have to have no memory of the conspiracy stuff Rush Limbaugh's listeners regularly wallowed in during the Clinton years. And, supposing, some are too young and precious for that, surely they can reference the rolling boil of  birtherism and "secret Muslim" theory and whatever the hell was on Glenn Beck's dry erase board throughout the Obama years, right?  Right?  Like that just happened. Does anyone remember any single thing that ever happens?

Maybe it doesn't matter. All that matters is what can hold attention right now. And we can make that whatever we like as long as there is money to be made from pushing it out there. Cable news is going to wring the "coup" story line for all it is worth. It's great sensational #content. It keeps the folks watching and worrying and arguing about nonsense.  Nothing makes advertisers happier than that; perfectly alienated and insecure consumers at full attention.  But it distorts the reality of what is happening in unhelpful ways. And that sucks because, again, what is happening is actually very bad. 

We're not getting anything out of this deal.  What we want. What we need the Democrats to do for us during this fleeting moment when they hold a little bit of power is, at the very least, address the emergency seriously.  We need them to distribute the vaccine with some competence. We need them to pass a new stimulus that bails out the bankrupt municipal and state governments before everything collapses.  We need them to cancel rent.  We need them to pay people to stay home and be safe until the pandemic is over. 

But we aren't getting any of that.  Instead we are getting... "a new era of bipartisanship"



Which, looking at D.C. today, we can count on to mean, Republicans refusing to participate in anything constructive on the grounds that  "*wink wink* the government is illegitimate" while the governing party refuses to even try to do anything without them. All of this bodes ill. But it's not a coup that poses the danger.  It's the same continuity of government for and by the ruling classes we've been experiencing forever.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Choose your own impropriety

You can get mad at John Bel for appointing his nephew to the UL Board of Supervisors or not. It's up to you.  It's not technically an ethics violation of any sort. 

The UL System governs nine colleges and universities, including Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of New Orleans and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Stevens, the son of the governor's sister Alice, is a graduate of SLU.

The governor's selection would not run afoul of the state code of government ethics against nepotism -- preference for relatives in hiring.

The ban generally applies to members of a government official's immediate family, including children, the spouses of the children, brothers and sisters, the spouses of the officials' brothers and sisters, his or her parents and his or her spouse.

Anyway, it could have been worse.  A year ago John Bel tried to appoint Jim Bernhard to the LSU Board. Bernhard declined. Which seemed to make some sense at the time simply because we could assume it was a case of overkill.  After all Edwards had already awarded Bernhard's new company a lucrative contract to privatize energy systems at state buildings. Seems like more than enough repayment the Governor could offer Bernhard for the gentlemanly favor of deciding not run against him in 2019. 

Bernhard Energy Solutions partnered with the HVAC company Johnson Controls at the request of the Edwards administration after both firms submitted proposals to the state. Bernhard Energy Solutions is one of several companies controlled by Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by former Shaw Group chief executive and Democratic Party official Jim Bernhard, who was floated as a potential candidate for governor before ruling it out last year.

But it turns out Bernhard didn't turn the LSU board position down out of contentedness. He was actually angling to grab another deal for his company

Since then, the competition over the massive contract — which several board members described as having a value of $855 million over decades — has grown increasingly fierce. Five Board of Supervisors members told The Times-Picayune and The Advocate that LSU staffers have tried to steer them toward the Canadian company, Enwave, which offered a less expensive deal but may also lack a necessary license to do the work.

Bernhard, however, wields immense political power and ties to LSU and its football program, and board members said that’s made him a controversial choice for the contract. He seems to want the deal badly: In fact, he turned down an invitation from Gov. John Bel Edwards to serve on the Board of Supervisors that would have prevented him from getting the energy contract. Meanwhile, Bernhard Energy Solutions has partnered with Johnson Controls Inc. for similar projects, creating a new entity called LA Energy Partners. And they also formed a subsidiary called Tiger Energy Partners specifically to vie for the LSU contract.

So which is it worse for John Bel to appoint his law partner/nephew to a higher ed board position? Or is it worse that he and LSU continue doing business with this guy?  

Even without serving on the board, Bernhard has cast a long shadow over LSU. As LSU police investigated allegations two years ago that LSU football wide receiver Drake Davis had abused his girlfriend, several witnesses in the case told police that they feared coming forward because they feared retribution from Davis’ powerful adoptive father — Bernhard. Bernhard has said he did not threaten any retaliation in the case.

Bernhard also touted in a 2015 news release that a cogeneration plant his companies built on LSU’s campus “continues to help reduce LSU’s energy expenses by millions of dollars annually.” But LSU attorneys said the opposite in 2006, when the university and Bernhard Mechanical sued one another over the plant.

LSU claimed the cogeneration system meant to save money actually increased the university’s utility bill by more than $2 million a year. LSU attorneys said then that Bernhard had promised energy savings totaling between $7 million and $44 million over 20 years.

“Since the cogeneration system began operation in late December 2004, the cost of operating the system has exceeded by more than $2 million what the same energy would have cost LSU had the new system not been built,” LSU’s attorneys alleged.

Who knows? The Ethics Board doesn't offer much guidance either way.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Keeping the faith 2021

Happy New Year! Pandemic is over now. Congratulations to all who participated

(CNN)President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on live television Monday afternoon and reassured Americans of the vaccine's safety.

The shot, which Biden received in his left arm, was administered at ChristianaCare's Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, by Tabe Mase, who is a nurse practitioner and the head of employee health services at the hospital, according to the Biden transition team. 
 
"We owe these folks an awful lot," Biden said, thanking those involved in the vaccine's development and distribution and front-line health care workers. 
 
Biden said the Trump administration deserved "some credit" for Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's vaccine program, and their role in making coronavirus vaccinations possible.

Certainly we do love to get up every day and remember to give Trump "some credit" for everything that's gone on this year.  But let's try to remember that.. popular and electoral vote counts notwithstanding... he isn't the only winner. 

The real winners are the bosses. The bosses have won the pandemic.  They actually have been the winners since the very beginning but if you read this website you would have seen us bleating about it many times over already.  We could already see how they were going to win early as March. Before the CARES act even passed it was clear that first shot at a federal response was going to be the one opportunity for a just outcome . And it was just as clear we were well on the way to missing it.  I didn't explicitly use the phrase "bosses are winning the pandemic" until about a month later but anyone could tell what was happening. By May we had the whole picture and it has not changed since. 

Eventually they're just going to make everyone go back to work. The Brennans will send a six foot rabbit to force us there at the point of a sword. Those of us there are even jobs for, that is. Those of us that can be used under whatever temporary and tenuous conditions that are set down. It will happen before anyone is safe from the virus. If there is no further action from congress and the status quo order is already maintained, everything will still be as broken as it is now and we will all be several orders of magnitude poorer for it.  Poorer workers are cheaper workers. When unemployment is high they are more disposable. The conditions that force them to work despite the danger make them easily exploitable. The bosses have won the pandemic.

I don't bring that up to get in a cheap I-told-you-so. If you read this website you also know nothing I can tell you matters.  I just want to point out how obvious all of this has always been even to an idiot blogger who only knows what he reads in John Geroges's newspapers. 

From the moment the pandemic hit, the most likely thing to happen, as has been the case with every of our century's many disasters, was yet another concentration of wealth and power at the very top and a further immiseration and impoverishment of the vast majority.  Jesus I said that too way back in March.  Look, if you are wondering why there has been less and less posting on the yellow blog as this year has gone along it's because fewer and fewer new things have happened as it's gone along.

 Anyway here we are a few days before the end of the year and how is all that going

Meanwhile, America’s wealthiest have seen their fortunes soar. The 100 richest people in the U.S. added about $600 billion to their wealth in 2020, enough to send a $2,800 check to every adult in the country. One, Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, ended 2020 six times richer than at the beginning of the year.

Individual billionaires getting more billions? Check.  The engines that siphon the billions upward continue to crush and devour everything in their path?  Check on that too

“The COVID-19 pandemic has generated record profits for America’s biggest companies, as well as immense wealth for their founders and largest shareholders—but next to nothing for workers. In a report published last month, we found that many of America’s top retail and grocery companies have raked in billions during the pandemic but shared little of that windfall with their frontline workers, who risk their lives each day for wages that are often so low they can’t support a family. This is especially true of Amazon and Walmart, the country’s two largest companies. Together, they have earned an extra $10.7 billion over last year’s profits during (and largely because of) the pandemic—a stunning 56% increase. Despite this surge, we ranked Amazon and Walmart among the least generous of the 13 large retail and grocery companies studied in our report. The two companies could have quadrupled the extra COVID-19 compensation they gave to their workers through their last quarter and still earned more profit than last year.”

Sounds about like mission accomplished, right?  Well, they're almost there.  As I type this right now, I'm watching Mitch McConnell fend off a last minute attempt by Bernie Sanders to tack a one-time $2,000 payment to individuals onto the jumble of giveaways to Wall Street firms and defense contractors that just passed as the (likely final) COVID relief bill.

They wouldn't even be there had our ingeniously unstable President not thrown one last incoherent fit during which he happened to mention that $2,000 is a larger amount than $600. Before Trump opened his mouth, the deal was already closed. Our leading opinion makers were well on their way to lionizing the moonshine sipping centrists who brought it to us and explaining that it was "good enough" the way it was. Who would have thought we might actually miss having Trump around to light random things on fire like this?  Going back to brunch is going to suck. 

Or maybe it doesn't matter. McConnell seems to have the situation well in hand

McConnell introduced the parallel pandemic relief bill on Tuesday, S.5085, which would include the $600 to $2,000 increase in checks to individual Americans, but tacks on a repeal of section 230 of the Communications Act of 1996 and funding for a commission to investigate voter fraud. Both of these additions to McConnell's surprise bill are demands which have been made by Trump for months. The Section 230 repeal would pull back protections for internet companies and allow such media companies as Twitter and Facebook to be sued if users feel wronged by messages on the platform.

Aside from maybe Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell is the most consequential American political figure of the 21st Century.  Over the course of the previous two Presidential administrations, McConnell has completely turned over the federal judiciary. He delivered trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the corporate ruling class.  Now he is leveraging the pandemic to crush workers' rights and bankrupt every state and municipal government which will result in radical austerity nationwide. When future historians write about the dawning of the American neo-feudal age, McConnell will be remembered as a prime architect.

Not to give him too much credit.  I mean being an insider hatchet man for the establishment is always an easier job than trying to protect the disenfranchised.  That's kind of the definition of how power works. McConnell isn't engaging in any dark wizardry. He's just making obvious moves that no one can muster the effort to counter.  It's very easy to muck up something everyone wants by tying it to something else everyone know cannot pass.  State and local governments need relief but McConnell killed that by tying it to liability shields for bosses who callously expose workers to danger during the pandemic. And now he has blocked these one time survival checks by tying them to internet censorship and Trump election conspiracy crap. Being a jerk really isn't that hard as long as you are sufficiently insulated from any consequences.  

So McConnell isn't the definitive US politician of the moment just because he happens to be the guy in position to pull the lever on the machine that feeds the abattoir. It's more the fact that he, or any person who would get to work those controls embodies the universal ethic of the governing class. It's a power that only does one thing. And so anyone who seeks to wield that power necessarily wants to do that thing. Which is another way of saying they're all like this. None of them is here to help.  In fact as I'm continuing to type now, I see the Democrats in the Senate have, in fact, caved on their gambit for the $2000. It looks like they decided it was more important to continue funding the current push for war with Iran.  Here's Joe Biden barely acknowledging the issue while literally turning his back and walking away.  You're not going to get a clearer image of where the Democrats are than that.

Of course, a one time check for $2,000 or even the $2,800 we could have by splitting up the billionaires' profits from this year is still an insult. A just pandemic response policy would pay people to stay home, protect them from their exploitative bosses and rapacious landlords, guarantee treatments and vaccinations are free, and "re-start the economy" through continued fiscal stimulus on the back end.  But we'll never do any of that. All we care about, even at this very late stage of the game, is keeping the military and police state funded while also giving away billions of dollars to rich people

WASHINGTON — Tucked away in the 5,593-page spending bill that Congress rushed through on Monday night is a provision that some tax experts call a $200 billion giveaway to the rich.

It involves the tens of thousands of businesses that received loans from the federal government this spring with the promise that the loans would be forgiven, tax free, if they agreed to keep employees on the payroll through the coronavirus pandemic.

But for some businesses and their high-paid accountants, that was not enough. They went to Congress with another request: Not only should the forgiven loans not be taxed as income, but the expenditures used with those loans should be tax deductible.

The truly remarkable thing now is how little it matters that the supply side philosophy guiding such policy has been repeatedly discredited over the course of our 50 year experiment with it. Tax privileges for the one percent do not magically raise revenues. They do not end racial inequality. They do not "create jobs" or raise the general standard of living.  No matter. Our leaders will press on with it as an article of faith. It's the central creed of both parties from Congress all the way down to your local City Council. Giving money to rich people is the reason our electeds are called to service.  The hours are running short on the year now. But real quick, here are a few of our favorite local examples of neoliberal gospel preached in 2020. 

Just last week, Governor John Bel proudly announced a plan to give away $3 million in state funds to a company owned by the world's richest man who proposes to "create jobs" paying $32,000 on average.

Besides the access to Interstate 49 and 10, Amazon is eligible for a performance-based grant from Louisiana Economic Development of $3 million. The grant is payable over two years and can offset facility infrastructure costs. The state will also give Amazon access to LED FastStart, the state's workforce training program, which has given 463,000 training hours to more than 29,000 employees since 2008.
In October, with Orleans Parish homeowners still reeling from last year's property tax assessment, and renters facing a wave of evictions as CARES act protections and unemployment benefits ran out, Erroll Williams announced a $42 million tax cut for corporate owners of downtown commercial properties

According to data compiled by the Downtown Development District, almost a third of the total cut in commercial sector valuations — or about $90 million — is accounted for by 10 downtown properties, including the cluster of properties at the river end of Canal Street owned by Harrah's New Orleans Casino, a division of Caesars Entertainment of Las Vegas. Harrah's valuations were more than halved to about $15.3 million, which will reduce its property tax bill by an estimated $2.4 million, according to the assessor's office.

Similarly, the Marriott Hotel on Canal, the Sheraton, the Intercontinental, the Crowne Plaza, the Roosevelt and the Ritz-Carlton will see their property taxes halved.

All are owned by national hotel management groups, suggesting that any tax savings will head to corporate coffers outside of the city.

This gift to out of state mega-landlords will be paid for by about a $12 million dollar drop in revenues meant for public schools and services while homeowners and renters will have to pay $30 million more collectively. 

But let's not get too caught up in the distinction between businesses and neighborhoods. Because another thing we learned this year is that the city's official position is that neighborhood ARE businesses. 

“I really want to be thoughtful on the term business, because we were worried that there may be criticism that we only are thinking of businesses. I say business as a very global perspective where neighborhoods are businesses in my mind. People that have never been through this process and want to expand their gate, those individuals, those customers are businesses. So it’s not just ‘hey let’s help big business.’ “

That is New Orleans CAO Gilbert Montano employing a special kind of capitalism-inflected gobbledygook to talk about his plan to reorganize city planning, permitting and land use departments under something called the Office of Business and External Services. The scheme, which Montano describes as a "paradigm shift," would essentially change the mission of these agencies from protecting  public safety and quality of life from the hazards of profit-driven development to assisting the profit-seekers in getting around those protections.  

As if to drive the point home, the person they hired to implement this new vision made his own fortune monetizing the gentrification of New Orleans neighborhoods. 

Bowen’s new position caught the attention of some affordable housing advocates on Monday due to his former job as general manager of Sonder — a San Francisco-based company that has grown to be one of the largest operators of short-term rentals in New Orleans. In the resume he submitted for the job, Bowen claimed that during his tenure at Sonder he “Blitz Scaled the New Orleans market for Sonder from launch to 1,000 apartments (2,500 rooms) in under 36 months.” 

A report from March 2018 by Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, an affordable housing group that opposed the expansion of the legal short-term rental market in the city, found that Sonder had more listings on Airbnb than any other short-term rental operator in the city with 124.

Neighborhoods are businesses.  They are fodder for "blitz-scaled" profits regardless of whether anybody can actually live there.  It probably helps if they don't, in fact. That way they won't need things like public libraries which, incidentally, the city proposed to de-fund in order to pay for Bowen's new neighborhood monetization department. That proposal was killed by voters. But it's only a temporary set-back. It's clear where the city's priorities lie. Eventually they'll get the budget to follow. 

To expect anything different would be to expect a sudden conversion of the entire political class away from its religious belief in trickle-down economics.  But why would that happen when our priests continue to reaffirm their orthodoxy over and over?  As our final example, we have here one of Mayor Cantrell's very first actions in response to the emergency way back in March. She decided to give businesses a tax break

Despite worries about the city’s bottom line, Cantrell announced on Tuesday that the city would waive all penalties for late sales tax payments from businesses for the next 60 days. That measure is intended to make sure businesses have the money on hand to keep paying their employees while state and city closures are in place during the height of the outbreak.

What could possibly go wrong? Well they did ask her that. 

Given the strains to the city budget, Cantrell urged those businesses who are remaining open and can pay their sales taxes to do so, to lighten the burden on city government. Asked about concerns that businesses would simply pocket the money, not turning it over to their workers or to the government, Cantrell said she choose to look at the situation from an optimistic perspective.

I’m not being negative at all and thinking that our businesses or employers will not do the right thing,” Cantrell said. “This is all with the expectation that they’ll do the right thing.”

Don't be "negative." Just hold fast to the belief that doing nice things for those at the top of the ladder will result in nice things for those at the bottom. For ever and ever amen. Anyway, the true believers only need to hold out a bit longer. The sooner we can declare the pandemic over, the sooner we can dismiss any heresy that suggests that poor people have anyone besides themselves to blame. 

The savior is coming in the form of a vaccine... eventually... maybe.

It’s happening all over again. For months, Americans who despaired about the country’s coronavirus-suppression efforts looked desperately to the arrival of a vaccine for a kind of pandemic deliverance. Now that it has arrived, miraculously fast, we are failing utterly to administer it with anything like the urgency the pace of dying requires — and, perhaps most maddeningly, failing in precisely the same way as we did earlier in the year. That is, out of apparent, near-total indifference.

Well, they'll figure it out.  After all, as Joe Biden might say, we gotta give Trump some credit. Just have a little faith.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

I wonder who bought up all of these properties

Eyebrow raising story here about the Bank Of Louisiana's 97 year old founder and his ongoing dispute with FDIC regulators. 

G. Harrison Scott, chairman and majority shareholder of the Bank of Louisiana, is not fond of his bank’s regulator, the FDIC.

“They’re lying sons of bitches, and you can quote me on that," he said. "They lie, lie, lie, and I’ve caught them in it.”

Yeah it's not really clear from the story that he's actually caught anybody in a lie.  In fact this says his family members and partners have a plan to comply with the FDIC orders but Scott still needs to sign off on it. Basically, it says he's being stubborn and taking things personally and his daughter who is more or less running things now is trying to work around that. 

Anyway what's fascinating here is that we're told this is a case of the old man being out of step with The Way Things Are Done Now.  But I think it's an open question as to whether the "good old days" described here were really that long ago. 

Shannon Scott said that the bank was forced to sell off loans to one customer in particular, Billie Karno, a prominent owner of properties in the French Quarter, including the bars known for their "Huge Ass Beers" trademark. She said the loans were performing fine and it was easy to find another bank to take on some of them to satisfy the regulator.

"It used to be you’d take the FDIC auditor out to lunch and have a couple of cocktails and take him golfing and he’d give you a great review," said Shannon Scott. "It’s just different times, things have moved on and you either adapt and change or you get out of the business."

Attorney Henry Klein, a longtime friend of Harrison Scott and a former bank board member said: “He and Judge Comiskey, when they ran the bank together, were gentleman bankers the way bankers used to be."

I mean if these loans to Karno's businesses didn't raise objections until 2011, then what has really changed?  We can LOL at the golf and cocktails line here but the new COVID relief bill does include a so-called "three martini lunch" deduction. Surely there's still some room in this business climate for a "Huge Ass Beer" clause.  

But forget about that. That's not really what's interesting about these Bank Of Louisiana dealings. What is going on with all these foreclosed properties? 

The main complaint in the FDIC's latest action was the bank's large portfolio of foreclosed properties. It started the year with 53, which had annual carrying costs of $1.5 million annually, according to the FDIC. That's enormous for a bank with revenue through the end of September of barely over $5 million.

Shannon Scott said she has since sold off 26 of those properties and expects to make more progress well before the scheduled hearing next summer.

Would love to see some follow up reporting on what sorts of properties these are and who is buying them.  One of the most disturbing trends in housing since the 2008 financial crisis has been the consolidation of rental properties by national private equity firms. Here is a recent NYT Mag article looking at some of that.  

When credit was tight after the financial crisis, the acquiring firms, led by Blackstone, figured out a way to generate more of it by creating a new financial instrument: a single-family-rental securitization, which was a mix of residential mortgage-backed securities, collateralized by home values, and commercial real estate-backed securities, collateralized by expected rental income. In 2013, a year after Ellingwood’s home was acquired, Blackstone’s Invitation Homes securitized the first bundle of single-family rentals — 3,200 of them for 75 percent of their estimated value: $479 million. Those who bought these bonds received 3 to 5 percent in monthly interest until their principal was returned (generally in five years). Blackstone put some of that $479 million toward repaying the short-term credit lines it took out to buy the houses. Because the value of the portfolio of homes had increased since their acquisition, Blackstone could extract much of the difference as cash and buy more homes. Blackstone issued a second bond package of nearly $1 billion six months later. Other REITs like Colony American Homes quickly began doing the same, rolling homes like Ellingwood’s into a $486 million securitization.

With the securitized homes, the rental income now needed to cover not only the mortgage but also the interest payments distributed to bondholders — creating an incentive to keep occupancy and rents as high as possible. In fact, Invitation Homes’ securitized bond model assumed a 94 percent paying-occupancy rate, putting pressure on the company to evict nonpaying tenants right away.

A lot of people are hanging by a thread right now trying to stay in their homes.  Not sure any of them are going to have much success settling back rent disputes with a corporate absentee landlord over golf and cocktails.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Eddie Rispone: Perpetual outsider

One of the state Republican Party's long time major fundraisers and "kingmakers" who hilariously ran for Governor in 2019 as an "outsider" is going to run for the party charimanship as.. a self-described outsider. 

After successfully electing several candidates to the committee in December, Rispone is now looking to take even more control over the Louisiana GOP, running for chair of the party.

“It was never my intention to run but recognizing the substantial challenges we face as a body and as a party, I believe we need someone with major business and large organizational skills to ensure the party can be the most effective in helping elect conservatives in the future,” Rispone said in an email to party officials.

Remarkable that he can keep up that pose. Even now after having "recruited" (i.e. bought and paid for) a number of candidates to turn over seats on the central committee, Rispone continues to insist it was  "never my intention" to run for chair.  Until it was. 

Eddie also complains about having been "outworked and outspent" during the Governor's election. There's actually some truth to that. But it's Rispone's own fault. He and his campaign decided the way to win was to hide behind the President and a barrage of TV ads rather than appear at a runoff debate or god forbid actually talk to any real live people. But now Eddie says he's the guy to change this culture? 

Anthony Ramirez, who ran Rispone’s communications during the 2019 governor’s race, said after reviewing the results of the race, “we saw that the Republican party was clearly outworked on the ground.” And after poring through attendance records, they discovered nearly 40% of the Republican State Central Committee didn’t attend a single meeting last year.

See that? Republicans don't even want to talk to each other.  And who can blame them, really? Read the rest of this article and see how they treat each other.  

After stepping down as party chair in 2018, (Roger) Villere dove into political consulting work through CRV Consulting, who he runs alongside Phil Capitano, the former mayor of Kenner who was arrested this summer after police said he used his vehicle to ram the back of a woman’s car during a dispute over allegedly stolen property. Villere and Capitano also run the Louisiana Conservative Republican Coalition, which is registered as a nonprofit and which doles out endorsements to Republican candidates. It endorsed Capitano in his bid for re-election to the Republican State Central Committee this year, but Capitano was unseated by Keith Conley, a longtime Jefferson Parish government official.

State Rep. Mark Wright, a Covington Republican, said Villere’s group sent a mailer endorsing his opponent for the Republican State Central Committee, using “the Republican party seal or something that looks exactly like it.”

The picture coming into focus here is one of a good old fashioned dispute over territory and patronage.  You wanna run for something in Louisiana as a Republican?  Well here is the list of people you need to hire or bribe or both. Villere and Capitano and  want to be those guys on the one hand.  Rispone is installing his own people on the other. (There are others vying for position as well including Lenar Whitney apparently.  You'll just have to read the article.)  

The Villere faction is backing current chair, New Orleans private security mogul Louis Gurvich, over Rispone.  It doesn't take much reading between the lines here to see why.  Eddie "refused help" from Villere.. which is to say, he didn't pay him for anything.

“I have made up my mind I’m going to be against Ripsone,” Villere said. “I thought he was a poor candidate (for governor) … You need a party chair who can bring people together. Why would you elect a party chair who refused help in the runoff and didn’t bring people together in his own race?”

And, of course, the pro-Rispone side's motivations are just as petty and personal. 

As part of the race for state central committee – typically low-profile, low-wattage affairs that are decided by a few dozen votes – Bayham said he was hit with an “ugly” mailer that attacked his weight, which he says was sent by someone other than his opponent. (Spending on Republican State Central Committee races doesn’t require disclosure under Louisiana’s ethics laws, like other campaign spending.)

“This is what this party does. We cannibalize ourselves because this is about control and contracts and not about defeating the Democrats,” Bayham said. “We have to see who is going to finally change the culture of this party. Is Louis prepared to do it or is an outsider like Rispone prepared to do it.”

Villere said in an interview he had “nothing to do with” the mailer attacking Bayham, calling it “reprehensible.”

There's that "outsider" characterization again, though. It sure is doing an awful lot of work. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Don't call it a task force

Well certainly this explains everything

The investigative team was created amid the fallout from a June report from the federal monitors overseeing the NOPD’s progress in fulfilling a reform plan. The monitors said that district task forces routinely conducted questionable stops and searches.

Ferguson emphasized that the new “VCAIT” team is not a task force but rather an investigative unit.

Asked about concerns around violent crime, Ferguson said several units announced in the fall are beginning to produce results.

“It is coming to fruition. It may take some time with some of it,” he said. “We hear and we understand the community’s concerns, and that is why we are here today.”

What does the "investigative team" not do that the "task forces" were doing?  Ferguson doesn't say.  This story does say that the Investigative Team includes FBI and State Police among its number. When we learned last week that the city had been lying about NOPD's use of facial recognition technology, it came out that "state and federal partners" were key to enabling that to happen.

The New Orleans Police Department has confirmed that it is utilizing facial recognition for its investigations, despite years of assurances that the city wasn’t employing the technology.

In a statement to The Lens last week, a department spokesperson said that although it didn’t own facial recognition software itself, it was granted access to the technology through “state and federal partners.”
The good news is we learned yesterday from the tweets that City Council had passed a new ordinance that supposedly bans facial recognition and "3 other invasive, racially biased surveillance technologies."  But we see no mention of it in today's T-P/Advocate so we aren't quite up to speed on the details yet. Maybe we'll learn more when we are finished digesting the city's argument for ending the NOPD consent decree.  It appears to hinge on having met the exacting requirements set forth by Jeff Sessions. 
The Cantrell administration’s legal argument leans heavily on a 2018 memo from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which dramatically limited the scope of police consent decrees. Sessions was forced to resign the same day he issued the memo, and it’s unclear whether President-elect Joe Biden’s Justice Department will adopt the same stance.
Not sure what Jeff's standard for rooting out racially biased surveillance is. Sure hope it's a good one. We should note, though, that according to the Lens, NOPD views the new ordinance more as guidance on how to use the technology rather than a ban. 

Jones told The Lens that the NOPD only used facial recognition for “violent cases,” but that “documentation of frequency of use of Facial Recognition is not currently available.” Asked whether there was any written policy or procedure regarding the technology, Jones responded by saying that NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson “is currently working with Councilman [Jason] Williams on a policy as to when facial recognition tools should be used.”
So we'll see how that shakes out. Of course they could always go right back to lying about it. Or it may be that as long as they can keep coming up with new names for doing the same things, that they don't have to. 

Update: Okay here is the story about what City Council passed this week. I think this is the key point.
However, it does let officers use evidence gained by outside individuals or agencies from any of those technologies as long as no one from the Police Department requested or knew that was the source of the information.
Seems like a pretty big loophole easily exploited by a multi agency investigative team, right?

Monday, December 14, 2020

#Takeemdown

The cameras are already such a tremendous insult to everyone's dignity and general expectation of a reasonable amount of (if not quite privacy)peaceful  anonymity on the streets of their city. But add to that the lying and, it's long past time for them to go

New documents obtained by the ACLU of Louisiana through a public records request are shedding more light on how the New Orleans Police Department utilizes facial recognition software — a practice that the NOPD had denied using for years until admitting it last month.

As The Lens reported, the city has justified its previous denials on the basis that it didn’t actually own facial recognition software. Nonetheless, the NOPD has been using facial recognition since at least 2018 by tapping its intelligence partnerships with federal and state agencies, including the FBI and Louisiana State Police.

“After years of assurances from city officials that facial recognition was not used in New Orleans, the ACLU of Louisiana has obtained nearly 50 pages of email requests from New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Fusion Center asking LSP to use facial recognition on various photos and video stills,” said a Monday press release from the ACLU of Louisiana.

City Council had been considering a ban on facial recognition. But then they learned it was already in use.  Now the ban's sponsor... who was never really serious about it in the first place... has been elected DA. So, likely, nothing will happen. What should happen is the cameras should all come down.  But no one is even going to consider that. 

In other words, he skipped bail

You have to admit it has a certain elegance to it

The Louisiana Supreme Court set up new rules this year to quell public criticism over its secretive system for disciplining judges accused of misconduct.

But the first judge to face public charges under those attempts at transparency, Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell, is about to run out the clock. He'll be leaving the bench and a stack of ethical complaints behind him -- with no public disciplinary hearing, much less a blot on his judicial record.

Judge Cantrell will leave the bench without having faced any consequences for his overly harsh, obnoxiously so, in fact, treatment of defendants and their lawyers who had the nerve to object to his bail policies even though a federal court found them to be unconstitutional

Among other things, Cantrell was accused of “willful misconduct” and “persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”

From the bench, he launched or threatened contempt-of-court proceedings against defense attorneys who requested bond for their clients in amounts below a $2,500 floor that he’d adopted. That sparked a federal civil rights lawsuit that forced an overhaul of the court’s funding scheme.

And yet now it is Judge Cantrell who is skipping out on bail.  And that many not even be the biggest irony here.  For that we need to look at the reason the judge was able to postpone his matter past the expiration of his term.

Cantrell requested, and received, an extension to this week, saying that COVID-19 concerns had slowed depositions and subpoena returns. A new hearing date was set over three days to begin Monday. Recently, it was recently “continued without date.”

In and of itself, that seems proper.  But consider the judge's lack of consideration for accused persons in his own courtroom and it seems less like justice. Makes one wonder what his daughter-in-law might say.

She has stoutly resisted more recent pressure from advocacy groups urging that police release nonviolent suspects from custody. “You’re worried about criminals catching coronavirus? Tell them to stop breaking the damn law,” snaps Cantrell, a streetwise woman known for her salty tongue.

How big is the Six Flags site?

Over the years I've seen it reported differently a few times. Is it 140 acres or 220 acres or 227 acres or 224 acres or 150 acres?  Today the city's latest RFQ lists it as separate parcels of 162 and 65 acres.  Is that right?  What is happening? 

Under the latest request for qualifications, developers have from this Wednesday, Dec. 16, through to Feb. 9, 2021 to demonstrate their interest and ability to revitalize the area.

Schwartz said the city then hopes to winnow those bidders down to a short-list of potential master developers who will be asked to submit fully-fledged proposals.

He said the city is aiming to choose an exclusive developer, which can be a joint venture, and to have worked out a redevelopment plan by the end of June.

"We're going to do everything we can to stick to that with no more delays," he said.

The city is asking for proposals that include both the 162-acre main site where the abandoned amusement park is located as well as a nearly-adjacent 65-acre site located to the northeast, closer to Bayou Sauvage, between Interstate 10 and Michoud Boulevard and abutting two residential areas that contain several hundred houses.

Guess we'll find out soon enough.  This reclamation project has attracted some truly remarkable ideas from some fascinating people over the years.  Can't wait to see what is in the next exciting batch of presentations.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Fast Pass

Kudos to the Times-Picayune/Advocate for polling its stable of "influencers" on the... well.. the kind of things the influencers might think about.  This question, for example, is just not something we'd expect the ordinary non-influential Joe or Jane might have to consider. 

We also asked a speculative question: If allowed, how much would respondents pay to be one of the first people vaccinated? More than half wouldn't bite.

More than half say no!  Well, 58% wouldn't go for it anyway.  Still, consider that a lot of that squeamishness likely has to do with just plain uncertainty about the rushed vaccine itself and it's kind of amusing that many of them said yes. 

Just this week the Governor laid out the state's plan to administer as many as 159,000 vaccinations by the end of the month. That number may be optimistic depending on how many doses become available and when.  The first batch of 39,000 injections could happen as early as this weekend.  But it will take many more months to get the vaccine out to everyone so we have had to prioritize health care workers. 

Between 200,000 and 215,000 people are estimated to be in the first priority group for the vaccines, according to state Health Department figures. That includes 75,000 to 80,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and between 125,000 and 135,000 health workers.

The T-P Power Poll question doesn't only presuppose that the blessed elect should have the option of skipping this line. It goes straight on past that and asks them how much would they pay to have that privilege validated.  Turns out that's extremely valuable to some of them!

Byron LeBlanc, president of LeBlanc & Schuster Public Relations, said he'd consider it: "I'd probably be willing to pay more than $100 for the vaccine if it meant I could get a wrist band or something that would let me do away with the masks and resume normal behavior and travel."

What is this, Disney World? I just want to ride on the planes again.  Please let me buy a fast pass. Actually, going super-early would not allow you to "do away with masks and resume normal behavior."  Because vaccinations, much like masks and social distance precautions, are only effective when everyone has them.  Until that happens, early vaccine recipients who aren't being careful around others could be even more dangerous. 

Only people who have virus teeming in their nose and throat would be expected to transmit the virus, and the lack of symptoms in the immunized people who became infected suggests that the vaccine may have kept the virus levels in check.

But some studies have suggested that even people with no symptoms can have high amounts of coronavirus in their nose, noted Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, who represents the American Academy of Pediatrics at meetings of the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The first person confirmed to be reinfected with the coronavirus, a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong, also did not have symptoms, but harbored enough virus to infect others.

Vaccinated people who have a high viral load but don’t have symptoms “would actually be, in some ways, even worse spreaders because they may be under a false sense of security,” Dr. Maldonado said.

As with so many human problems, no one is really safe from COVID until we all are safe from COVID.  Elites such as those identified by the Times-Picayune as "influencers" tend to think they can buy their way out of that social contract. A lot of the time this makes them suckers.  But mostly it just makes things difficult for the rest of us.