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Friday, April 18, 2014

Green gumbo day

Gumbo Z'herbes

I actually put a bunch of meat in mine which is what you're supposed to not do on Good Friday  but who can keep up with all the bullcrap rules anyway. Leah Chase puts meat in hers and that's got to be at least as good as a papal dispensation, right?  Leah also makes hers on Holy Thursday but, again.. rules.. who can say?

Anyway I wrote up a recipe at the bottom of this post a few years back.  Off to the grocery.

He probably wanted to focus on his congressional campaign

DSCN4775

Pete Fountain has retired from performing.
The Pete Fountain fans who filled the Economy Hall Tent at the 2013 New Orleans Jazz Fest unknowingly bore witness to bittersweet history: The farewell performance by one of the greats of New Orleans music in general, and traditional jazz clarinet specifically.

"Last year was his last public performance," Benny Harrell, Fountain's son-in-law and longtime manager, said Thursday (April 17). "He's fully retired now."
I missed last year's Jazzfest set but I did get to see some of Pete's performance there in 2012 from way in the back row.

Pete Fountain

Although we were barely even inside the tent at the time, a Jazzfest attendee turned around and shushed us for talking while Pete was playing.  This incident may have been reported in NOLA.com's review of the set.
He enraptured the crowd during "Basin Street Blues."  The air smelled like the recognizable Jazz Fest triumvirate of trampled grass, sweat and beer. A seated patron shushed chatter in the back row.
Or maybe this was a reference to other shushing going on near us.  Either way, it's a true life story.

The article about his retirement says Fountain is going to continue riding with his marching club on Mardi Gras morning.  I've gotten several photos of him doing this over the years.  Here he is in 2009 with his clarinet.

Pete Fountain

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Economic Survival Accomplished

Better than ever.  Happy days.
New environmental regulations have slowed the pace of drilling permits and overall Gulf oil production remain below 2010 levels. But as the fourth anniversary of the BP spill approaches Sunday, LLOG Exploration is among dozens of companies planning major investments, and oil and gas activity in the region is projected to return -- and in come cases exceed -- levels seen before the spill.

"Regulations have gotten tighter but the Gulf is still a good place for companies to be," said Nimmi Henderson, an analyst with research firm Wood Mackenzie. She said companies are adjusting to the "new normal" of working in the Gulf, not leaving as some had predicted during the 2010 moratorium.

LLOG Exploration is among dozens of companies now planning major investments as oil and gas activity in the Gulf returns to -- and in come cases exceeds -- levels seen before the BP oil spill.
It isn't too long ago that outraged oil reps and Louisiana pols were organizing an insurrection against President Obama's moratorium on new oil leases which they were certain was about to become the Khmer Rouge of "job killing."
In July of 2010, before BP’s Macondo well had even been re-sealed, oil companies organized a mass Rally for Economic Survival. The Lafayette Cajundome filled with thousands protesting the dire impacts of the moratorium.

Obama’s moratorium was apparently some new level of awful. South Louisiana had endured Katrina, Rita, the Federal Flood, and the oil spill itself, without need of a large-scale rally for “survival,” but now, with a moratorium taking hold, unified protest was the order of the day. The Chicagoan in the White House had to hear our state’s urgent plea: If we stop drilling, we die.

Waiting six months for better offshore safety standards was a risk we could not afford to take.

Oil industry apologists used coordinated talking points to predict that the moratorium would “devastate” the South Louisiana economy. The Rally website (still!) claims that “the President’s decision could result in the exodus of all deepwater rigs” and that “the Obama administration has signed the pink slips of tens of thousands of Louisiana and Gulf Coast citizens.”

Well, quite simply, none of those dire predictions panned out. The feared job losses in Louisiana, which local politicians and business boosters estimated at between 10,000 to over 22,000, never materialized. Mere months after the moratorium ended, economists who had predicted sharp job losses in the oil patch suddenly reversed themselves and forecast job gains. Big Oil seemed loathe to let go of skilled workers.
It turns out that Obama's six month "job-killing" moratorium on drilling in the wake of the Macondo blowout didn't actually kill any drilling jobs. Unlike the coastal marshes it has sliced through over the years, the oil and gas industry is pretty firmly rooted in Louisiana.

Of course, the moratorium didn't do much to improve drilling safety either as a disappointed former regulator explains this week in a New York Times op-ed
We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes. Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.
Oh well. Economic Survival Accomplished, though, right?

The disaster is over. Everyone is back at work.  The fisheries are maybe not doing so great but a robust seafood marketing campaign has spurred an economic renaissance of sorts in its own right.
A multi-million dollar media campaign to tout Louisiana's seafood after the BP oil spill in 2010 was plagued by a lack of oversight that led to mismanagement of money, questionable spending on alcohol and limousines and the potential looting of thousands of dollars in promotional merchandise from the New Orleans Saints, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor's office.

BP, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the office of the lieutenant governor entered into an agreement to design and implement programs to mitigate the negative effect on the state's tourism and seafood industries after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010.

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board would develop and implement these programs with $30 million in BP funds.

The state hired Gregory C. Rigamer & Associates to provide strategic planning for a $15 million marketing campaign. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries received $12.4 million for administrative fees and support with the final $2.6 million going to campaign-related expenses.

As of June 30, nearly $17 million of those funds have been spent with the majority, $11.7 million going towards advertising and market research.
Talk about converting lemons to lemonade.... or, I guess, in this case, sweet crude to iced tea. Whatever it is, rest assured NEW ORLEANS WILL turn disaster into profit.. for some people anyway.

Better still, soon there will be a brand new city office dedicated solely to the telling of these sorts of success stories. Last week the city of New Orleans posted an opening for the position of "Chief Resilience Officer." Among the Resilience Officer's responsibilities will be "driving the conversation about resilience." It's hard to come up with a better conversation starter than a story about resiliently parlaying a poisoned Gulf into booze, limos, and Saints swag.  The new CRO should probably lead with that.

But until Mayor Landrieu fills this post, we'll have to rely on his sister to tell our oil and gas resilience stories for us. She's certainly trying to.  If she survives yet another tough reelection campaign, she might even be around long enough to tell talk resilience after the next disaster which could be arriving any time now. Maybe it will come from the Gulf where the industry is still fighting any suggestion of better safety standards.

Or maybe it will happen in heavily conservative St. Tammany Parish where the fracking boom has finally reached the doorsteps of some of its most ardent proponents.  Turns out they don't like that.
Rick Franzo of Lacombe, who is president of the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, said he understood that the parish would receive about $2.8 million a year in revenue if the well were successful. He questioned the value of that money compared to the risks involved.

"I'm a conservative. I'm a Republican," he said. "But I have a problem when I look at the return on investment versus the liability. One accident . . . and you're talking about a disaster in St. Tammany Parish."
Mandeville might need to look into hiring a Reslience Officer too.

Historians say

Way to stay out of the fray, USA Today.
Garcia Marquez grew up in the Colombian town of Macondo, the inspiration for the town of Aracataco in his fiction. In real life his hometown was the site of the Banana Strike Massacre of 1928, when historians say that a U.S. company -- the United Fruit Company -- allowed the Colombian army to fire on a workers' protest, killing hundreds
"Historians say.." but for all we know they might be making it up.  Better wait and hear whether or not "both sides" are at fault. 

Today is Monday Too

"Look at the air, listen to the buzzing of the sun.The same as yesterday and the day before. Today is Monday too."

Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dies at 87

NOLA Spring

It's a veritable domino effect.  First the Newcomb Blvd fence came down, and then, in short order...
NEW ORLEANS -- After nearly three decades, the Lakefront will once again be open to traffic in both directions on weekends.

A committee of the Non-Flood Protection Authority that oversees Lakeshore Drive voted Wednesday night to lift the ban after hearing impassioned pleas from supporters and opponents.
"It was great. Everybody was out here," said Joseph Grenner.

The sunshine and cool temperature beckoned him to the Lakefront on Wednesday.
The New Orleans native remembers when Lakeshore Drive use to be open to traffic in both directions. But, decades-old westbound traffic ban on weekends between Marconi Drive and St. Bernard Avenune has been sparking controversy.

"No matter their color, no matter what their class, no matter where they live in the city, these streets should be accessible to everyone," said Community Voice Vice President Vanessa Gueringer during public comment at Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority Recreation Committee meeting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paper cut

BP Day is this Sunday.  How are you celebrating?
WASHINGTON — More than a dozen oil companies and trade groups have lined up to oppose plans to broaden the federal government’s oversight of safety practices at wells, saying existing standards are enough to protect workers nationwide.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would be foolish to force new and producing wells to satisfy process safety management standards that have governed other industrial operations for decades, said the American Petroleum Institute, Dallas-based Pioneer Natural Resources, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and other groups in comments filed with the agency.

Applying (process safety management) to the exploration and production segment of the oil and gas industry is like prescribing painkillers for a paper cut,” said Rick Muncrief, senior vice president of operations for Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources.
In July of 2012 a Chemical Safety Board investigation named the lack of process safety standards as a primary factor in the loss of eleven lives to the "paper cut" on the Deepwater Horizon.
CSB Chairperson Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “A number of past CSB investigations have found companies focusing on personal injury rates while virtually overlooking looming process safety issues – like the effectiveness of barriers against hazardous releases, automatic shutoff system failures, activation of pressure relief devices, and loss of containment of liquids and gases. Furthermore, we have found failures by companies to implement their own recommendations from previous accidents involving, for example, leaks of flammable materials.”

In its investigation of the Macondo disaster, the CSB found that BP and its contracted drilling rig operator, Transocean, were focused on personal safety issues such as worker injury rates, rather than broader safety issues involving the process of drilling for oil using a complex rig.

Noting the lack of sustained focus on process safety, CSB Investigator Cheryl MacKenzie described an “eerie resemblance” between the 2005 explosion at the BP Texas City refinery and the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

Note here that they're saying the 2010 explosion showed that the lessons of a 2005 explosion went unheeded.  And now they're set on making the same mistakes. 

Serpas Signal

If you're hopping down the bunny trail this Holy Thursday be on the lookout.
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Unit will conduct a sobriety checkpoint on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Orleans Parish.  The checkpoint will begin at approximately 9:00 P.M., and will conclude at about 5:00 A.M.  Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc., available if requested.

Letters, Landrieus, Spoils

The Louisiana Civil Service League writes in opposition to Mitch's attempt to politicize city employment.
(LCSL Executive Vice President Daniel Sullivan) Sullivan has challenged 13 of the 32 proposed rule changes. Many of those he identified as problematic have to do with giving managers more flexibility to execute human resource decisions without first seeking the approval of the Civil Service Commission. In several sections of his letter to Wildes, Sullivan said the various rule changes threaten to take away the commission’s authority.

Sullivan also called a proposed revision that would reduce the priority given to laid-off civil service employees when new jobs become available a “serious and blatant attempt to return to the spoils system.”
Meanwhile the Legislature is considering a bill that would allow Governor Jindal to politicize the levee board nominating process. The Lens will live blog a Senate committee hearing concerning this bill sometime today.
The bill would give the governor greater control over who is chosen to serve on the board. The proposal faces the strong opposition of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, which led the drive in 2006 to create the Flood Protection Authority. Also opposed are John Barry, who was formerly the authority’s vice president, and the trial attorneys who have filed suit against 97 oil and gas companies on behalf of the authority.
Senator Mary Landrieu hasn't spoken directly about this bill but is now publicly opposing the SLFPA-E's lawsuit which spurred its creation.  Here is a letter to The Advocate by Richard Boyd  commenting on Senator Landrieu's position.
Landrieu has always been friendly with oil and gas industry interests in the state and they have been kind to her campaigns in the past.

But the truth is that a massive negotiated or court-ordered settlement in the lawsuit filed against 97 oil and gas companies by the Louisiana Flood Protection Agency — East could pump millions into workable projects to repair drilling environmental damage and start saving the state’s vanishing coastline.

To avoid angering those oil and gas interests, Landrieu wants more federal revenue sharing money.
But Landrieu in her same appearance in her own words amplified the problem with her approach when she said the fight in Washington for more revenue sharing for Louisiana “is what I have been leading for 20 years.” And she has scored some gains but that money comes back in palsy dribbles and drabs compared with the revenue the federal government grabs from Louisiana oil and gas production.
Landrieu's new campaign ad highlights her record as fierce friend of the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. 

BP Day (the fourth anniversary of the Macondo Gulf Of Mexico oil gusher) is Sunday.  Yesterday BP announced that they are ceasing "active clean up" operations on the Louisiana coast.  Maybe they can get Mary to hold the Mission Accomplished banner for them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The NFL's CBA sucks

Here is an ESPN report which ranks the world's professional sports franchises by payroll.  
WHO SAYS MONEY can't buy happiness? According to the ESPN The Magazine/Sportingintelligence Global Salary Survey, the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks spent an average of $2.3 million per player last season, the second-highest total in the NFL. Though the franchise spent more per player than 30 other NFL teams, it ranked No. 116 overall, behind all 30 NBA teams, all but two major league baseball clubs and 13 of 20 English Premier League squads.

"A lot of people think because the NFL has great ratings, the players must be the wealthiest," says Sportingintelligence editor Nick Harris. "A list like this over time shows the disconnect."
Ha ha funny how that just happens.  "A lot of people think..." that because 12 of the 20 most valuable sports franchises on the globe are NFL teams, they would be commensurately represented in a list of team payrolls. But nope. Not even close
It’s interesting to note how low all NFL teams rank on the overall list among all sports teams around the world. No NFL teams rank in the top 100 on a per-player basis (in part because their rosters are so much larger than basketball, soccer and baseball teams).

But even when it comes to total spending, no NFL teams ranked in the top 20, which was completely made up of major league baseball and international soccer teams.
Again, what an interesting fact. You'd think ESPN would ask why such a strange piece of trivia exists but it doesn't for some reason

Ich bin ein Uptowner




It's a brand new day






Monday, April 14, 2014

Or we could do just a wee bit less marketing

The city is asking the state legislature to help stave off a budget crunch imposed by costs stemming from the police and prison consent decrees as well as the firefighters' pension fund. To do this they're asking for an increase the police and fire property tax millage,  an increase in the cigarette tax, and, of course, the ever popular hotel/motel tax.
State Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, is sponsoring House Bill 1083 that would allow New Orleans voters to decide whether to add another 1.75 percent levy to the the hotel tax. The current rate of hotel taxes is 16.44 percent, said Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. The new rate of 18.19 percent would give New Orleans the second highest hotel tax rate among top tourism cities, after New York City, he added.

Hotel patrons already saw 1.75 percent added to their bill last year after the hotel industry approved a voluntary surcharge on rooms to pay for tourism marketing, which the Legislature authorized.

Brossett estimated his proposed tax would raise $13 million to $18 million per year for the city. It, too, has yet to get a legislative hearing.

Brossett said the tax presents a good alternative to budget cuts.
The "voluntary marketing surcharge" is already on top of a hotel/motel tax which is dedicated in very large part to entities spend a great deal of their budget on  promoting tourism.   Maybe if we could just take some of that money and rededicate it, we wouldn't have to bump up the taxes quite so much.

Deficit hawkery

According to a new CBO report, the Affordable Care Act will reduce the federal deficit by a greater margin than previously expected. 

The federal deficit is not actually a problem, of course.  Nor is Obamacare an optimal policy response to the challenge of providing Americans with adequate health care.  But there's a strong relationship between criticism of Obamacare and a belief that "we can't afford it" because of Teh Deficit.  This belief is based in no facts at all.

Where's the boom?

Bobby Jindal wants to run for President talking about Louisiana's booming economy.  Usually flush times make for increased state tax revenues, which make for happy state budgets.  So where'd all the money go?

No

Now that Charles Brown is gone, this would be an excellent time for the Saints to stop drafting USC guys for a while. Almost always the wrong idea.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

BP day is coming

Only eight shopping days remain. How will you celebrate? Maybe some bird watching.
To visit a part of southeast Louisiana that teemed with tens of thousands of nesting brown pelicans just four years ago is to tour a wildlife ghost town. The few remaining patches of sand are naked except for the dead mangroves, their twisted branches rising into the air like arms desperately waving for help.

Hahn would like to provide that help. Shortly after the spill he developed a $5 million plan to keep pelicans in this part of the state. He’s $1.5 million short.
Should ask Tom Benson.  He seems to specialize in wounded Pelicans

Twofer

Waddling Dead

Clancy DuBos agonizes over what aspect of the Vance McAllister story most "riles" him.
This story hurts on many levels, but the hypocrisy is what riles me most of all — and there’s plenty of it to go around, at all levels of both political parties.
Not sure why it's all that riling or hurtful. McAllister is kind of a dumbass. And his dumbassery has made him vulnerable to sniping from cynical political opponents. Pretty regular business, that.

But even in his riled state, Clancy does well to point out why the big winner in this episode is Bobby Jindal.
Louisiana Democrats are having a field day with Jindal’s hypocrisy on this one, but the governor is having an even grander time. Lest we forget, Jindal has a pretty high threshold for hypocrisy. I’m not even sure if Jindal’s hypocrisy has a limit.

Jindal is delighted these days because McAllister’s transgression gives him a twofer: he gets to stick a knife in the new congressman who embarrassed him by defeating his hand-picked candidate in a special election last November; and he gets to remind everyone of Vitter’s “serious sin” on the eve of the junior senator’s campaign for governor next year.

Jindal and Vitter may align philosophically, but the two men cannot stand one another personally. If Jindal has to bear criticism for hypocrisy — a charge that, no matter how glaringly true, seems to roll off him like water off a duck — well, that’s a small price to pay for the chance to prick two foes with one stroke.
Like water off a duck! Get it? Because the Duck Dynasty guy is tangentially related to this. Don't expect that fun to stop either.  Yesterday, this also happened.   
Last week at this time, politicians and their consultants felt U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister would have an easy ride to re-election in November.

But that was before the Swartz Republican was caught by a security camera kissing his friend’s wife in a darkened office.

He’s a dead duck,” said Clyde Holloway, who serves on the Louisiana Public Service Commission and has been involved in Republican Party politics in the central and northeastern part of the state since serving as a congressman in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Like Clancy, I'm disappointed to see McAllister, who won big on defying Jindal over the Medicaid expansion issue, submarined by his own dumbassery.  But if you're looking for something to get riled about, those duck references are a strong contender in their own right.

How's my (pile) driving?

If you've got some thoughts about any of the diggings up of the roads all over Uptown, the Corps would love to hear them.

How's my driving?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Compelling circumstances

Yesterday the media company known clumsily as NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, having been denied a request for appeal, complied with a judge's order to turn over account information about two frequent commenters on its website.
“Nola.com/The Times-Picayune is committed to the idea that the constitutional rights of Internet users, including the First Amendment right to speak anonymously, should be carefully safeguarded, and that the identity of those who choose to speak anonymously should be revealed only in the most compelling of circumstances,” Lori Mince, the paper’s attorney, said in a prepared statement.
The T-P's position in this matter is laudable in principle. Although it has been pointed out elsewhere that they've been less than consistent on this point.  Right now, it seems, they're committed to objecting to having to rat out their... users? sources? content providers?.. whatever you call a newspaper commenter... to a judge. But they're being forced to do that anyway under "compelling circumstances."

In this case the compelling circumstance is that lawyers representing Stacey Jackson think that one or both of these commenters might have been a federal prosecutor publicly disparaging Ms. Jackson while they were in the process of bringing charges against her.

Many will recall Jackson was head of  the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership agency. 
The NOAH program erupted into scandal in the summer of 2008, when information emerged that many of the homes the quasi-city agency had paid to gut or board up had in fact received no attention. The scandal galvanized citizens frustrated with the city's halting recovery.

Much of their ire was aimed at Nagin, who had championed the NOAH program as a way of propping up overwhelmed nonprofits that had been providing gutting services. Nagin initially reacted defensively, holding a memorable news conference in which he blasted the reporting of Lee Zurik, then with WWL-TV and now with WVUE-TV, and accused him of impeding the city's recovery.

But the real center of the scandal was Stacey Jackson, who was NOAH's executive director and had close ties to several of the program's favored contractors.
Whether or not it ends up becoming the means by which more prosecutorial misconduct is exposed, the NOAH scandal is already a memorable event in the city's political history. Not only was it a major turning point in Nagin's relationship with the media but it also helped launch Karen Gadbois's career in investigative journalism and thus is a major reason we have The Lens today. 

Fewer will recall that Jackson was also part owner of a men's designer underwear shop called "The Him Store" but somehow that fact has become less significant with the passage of time.

Anyway, as we were saying, according to Jackson's lawyers, there is compelling reason to believe that forcing the T-P to turn over information about these anonymous commenters will lead to their being positively identified as federal prosecutors.
Whether they will ever be unmasked, however, is not clear, despite Thursday’s developments.

Keith Marszalek, Nola.com’s director of digital operations, did not respond to an emailed question Thursday about what information the website keeps on its commenters. And whether the identities of “aircheck” and “jammer1954” are even knowable may depend on how hard the two have tried to cover their tracks, experts say.
Or not.  But hey let's err on the side of suppressing free speech and a free press anyway just in case.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Profiles in courage.. or what passes for it

It's fun to think about how much political capital was spent and how many people died on their little hills for our milquetoast insurance-friendly version of health reform.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning after five years in the role and overseeing the launch of the health care law, the New York Times and Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
And it's not over yet. Republicans are in the process of killing one of their own mostly because they don't want to stop fighting the Medicaid expansion.  It would be nice if all this drama happened for something less meh but.. this must be the best we can do.

Bye, Colbert

Yes, of course he can do that job. He'll be good at it. And more people will watch him and he'll make more money and such. So, yay Colbert.

But the job will be of a lesser nature than the one he has now which is probably the best thing currently on TV. That will be replaced with yet another clever guy who interviews celebrities with movies to plug every night.  So.. net loss for the audience.

Oh.. but, apparently, it also means CBS has "declared war on the heartland of America" so that's kind of nice, actually.

Ooh ooh (raises hand)

I think I can answer this one
Jindal and Villere did not responded to requests for comment Thursday as to why neither called on Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter to resign after his D.C. Madame scandal in 2007.
The difference between McAllister's situation today and Vitter's situation back then is McAllister surprised a party insider by running an insurgent campaign which criticized Jindal's refusal to accept Louisiana's share of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

Sure, nobody likes Vitter all that much. But at least he didn't do anything threatening.

Update: Another question to ask is what if, instead of Mrs. Peacock in the office, it had been Miss Scarlet in the Motel 6?  That's kind of the point of TBogg's little McAllister fan-fiction here.
I called Vitter.

He knew the ropes. He’d been here before. He’d know how to patch things up.

“Dave, you gotta help me, man,” I pleaded with him. “You were banging hookers left and right and you not only held onto your job, you got reelected. What’s your secret? I gotta know. I’m desperate.”

“Shee-it. boy, you’re screwed,” he drawled. “First rule ‘o pol-o-tics is you don’t shit where you eat. You can’t be banging administrative  staff in a district office. Do like I did, hire a pro -maybe two or three at a time-  and do it a hotel room. That’s the American way.”
And maybe there's an object lesson there for aspiring cheaters.  Still, the knives Jindal et al have out for McAllister are about politics not morality.  

Monorailed

There's a lot to see in this WWLTV report on the cost overruns with the Loyola streetcar project. Most of us already knew that construction was delayed by a number of unexpected obstacles found underground.
In other words, what they found 14 feet underground often did not match what was marked in the city’s as-built drawings and, even if an item was noted in the plans, it was often falling apart.

Officials from Veolia Transportation, the RTA management company, said contractors stumbled on everything from crumbling water mains to unexpected underground drainage canals; sewer and power lines in the wrong spots; an old icehouse cellar that was leaking ammonia; even a petrified tree stump. Each surprise contributed to delays, which caused contractors’ overhead costs to increase.
One of the neatest things they found was a vestige of the New Basin Canal which once terminated near where the present day Union Passenger Terminal is located.

The continuing problems and work re-orders caused the project to exceed its budget so much that the once hoped for St. Claude extension had to be scrapped entirely. 
As for the final price tag for the Loyola line, RTA records show it was more than $60 million, a third higher than the original budget, which was based on engineers’ estimates in 2010. The RTA had to use $15 million of a $75 million pot of local bond and reserve money that was originally set aside to extend the Loyola spur eastward along Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue to Press Street.

Instead, that second phase will only extend to Elysian Fields Avenue.

This is unfortunate, of course, but also entirely understandable. RTA attempted to secure additional funding by applying for another federal TIGER III grant in 2011 but were turned down. Maybe someone will find some money eventually but I get the impression the city will have to get used to a tightening of the federal spigot in the years to come.

It's interesting, though, that this worked out in such a way that the leg of the project that ended up being ditched was the most popular with residents and transit activists when proposed.  The St. Claude line was the only one that would have served an actual neighborhood. By contrast, the Loyola line, which moves passengers along a ten block stretch of the CBD, had been dubbed the "streetcar to nowhere."

RTA now boasts that the Loyola streetcar has exceeded its projected ridership numbers. But critics point out that this comes as a result of gaming the system and inconveniencing riders in the process.
But Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, a nonprofit public transit advocacy group, said that because the RTA cut off the downtown segments of the Freret and Martin Luther King buses at the Union Passenger Terminal, those bus riders now must transfer to the Loyola streetcar if they want to get to Canal Street.

“What we’re doing is really just shifting the ridership from one mode — the bus — to the streetcar,” Heiligman said.

After those bus routes were cut off at the UPT, the RTA’s ridership data show both lost riders, suggesting that customers unwilling to transfer to the Loyola streetcar stopped riding altogether.

The Freret Number 12 bus lost 76,000 riders in 2013, a 40 percent decrease from the year before. The MLK Number 28 bus was down by about 5 percent, while overall RTA ridership was up 12 percent.
Ending the St. Claude line at Elysian Fields, as the plan now has things, doesn't really get it too far away from the heavily touristed French Quarter.  So what's left of the St. Claude extension is itself a "streetcar to nowhere" in the sense that it's less a transit line than it is an "economic development" tool.
Pres Kabacoff, a real estate developer from the Bywater neighborhood, said he thinks the streetcar will help spur business. Kabacoff even argued that slowing down vehicle traffic might be a good thing, since having cars whip by "is not conducive for good retail development."

He added, "To the extent that people have a difficult time in traffic getting down the street it may cause them to want to live in the area and use an effective streetcar."
Which brings us back to the Loyola cost overruns. Yes, there were all sorts of construction problems. But that wasn't the only factor which eventually priced us out of St. Claude. There was also this. 
The numerous delays put the project — situated in the center of the city’s sports tourism area — more than a year behind schedule, meaning it wasn’t going to be done in time for the Super Bowl in February 2013. The Landrieu administration made it clear that wouldn’t stand, so the RTA paid premiums to speed up the work and get it done just under the wire, Veolia managers said.
So those bus passengers RTA is forcing to transfer onto its streetcar to nowhere aren't the only transit users who have to take a back seat to the priorities of our dominant tourism industry.

Letters

This is a letter printed in the New Orleans Advocate yesterday from Nick Felton  Walter Powers.  Mr. Felton and Mr. Powers represent the New Orleans Firefighters Association and the Fraternal Order of Police respectively.
On April 3, Mayor (Mitch) Landrieu announced his “reforms” to the civil service system in New Orleans. These “reforms” include the ability to hire and promote who they want. The mayor claims these “reforms” do not impede the civil service director’s ability to set minimum hiring standards, while at the same time, inserting a provision that would require approval of the appointing authority (read: appointee of the mayor) before those minimum hiring standards are put in place. The “reforms” also include raising the minimum wage of about 200 city employees, which was apparently enough to fool some folks into supporting the measure.

The Louisiana Supreme Court said, “In the science of government, experience is always the best teacher. The political drug store is full of panaceas, each with its trade-mark of some school of therapeutics blown in a bottle. In politics there is so often invoked the destructive concept of a practice that to the victor belongs the spoils. It is the “spoil system” that civil service desires to eradicate. If this Court knows what everybody knows, then it has knowledge that political opponents of one administration may be the governing body of the next, and the cranks of the old may become the philosophers of the new; but the value of civil service reform is wholly dependent on whether the law and the evidence, without exception, are fairly and justly applied by the Commissioners, and in the Courts with an even hand freely and fearlessly enforced.” Boucher v. Division of Employment Security, 226 La. 227, 75 So.2d 343 (1954).

The mayor’s plan indicates that test scores for hiring and promotions should not be determining factors, then states that they should be able to eliminate entire pools of certified candidates if those persons are in the bottom half of the test scores. The mayor’s plan repeatedly points to “falsely objective rankings” without providing any support for that contention. Just because you say it over and over doesn’t make it true.

It is not too surprising that some New Orleans city employees are dissatisfied with the Civil Service Department. It is difficult to perform when your department’s budget has been slashed repeatedly and your workforce has been diminished to a shadow of its former strength. There were also comments made by Rabbi Cohn regarding the slow pace of civil service proceedings. To that, we would simply say that Rabbi Cohn’s short tenure on the Civil Service Commission has been hindered recently by counterproductive actions taken by the current administration and its appointees designed only to impede progress.

We will not try to convince anyone that civil service could not be made more efficient or that things couldn’t be done better. We will tell you that these improvements can be made without impacting the foundation of the civil service system that the people of Louisiana felt was so important that civil service was included in the Louisiana Constitution.

The New Orleans Police Department and the New Orleans Fire Department account for nearly half of all classified civil service employees in the city of New Orleans. We stand united in opposition to this “reform.”
Among the most crucial "reforms" Landrieu proposes is removing a significant portion of the employee performance review and  disciplinary process from the purview of the Civil Service Department and placing it in the hands of the Mayor's Chief Administrative Officer.  This alone is cause for concern that the city workforce is being politicized.

But the "reform" further places employees at the subjective mercy of the CAO by altering the process by which their performance is scored and diminishing their standing to appeal capricious disciplinary actions.  
The plan would eliminate service ratings, which now range from “Outstanding” to “Unsatisfactory,” replacing them with a goal-based “performance management system.” Again, Kopplin’s office would be in charge of that system.

In eliminating the ratings, the plan also eliminates an employee’s ability to appeal a poor rating.
That would be unnecessary, according to the proposal, because “written performance feedback under the performance management system is not an adverse action to punish an employee.”

However, it goes on, “once poor work performance has been established” — it doesn’t say how that would be done — that can spur supervisor monitoring and a report to the city’s personnel director. If the personnel director decides that the employee’s work hasn’t improved, then the employee could be disciplined — which he could appeal.

In effect, the new system would push back the point at which an employee can protest a supervisor’s poor view of his work.
Ultimately what this is about is power in the workplace and, by extension, in the city's labor market overall. "Business leaders" around town make it a priority for this reason in particular.
Gregory Rusovich, CEO of Transoceanic Trading and Development Company, rattled off a list of governmental reforms that he said the city has benefited from since the storms — the transformation of the New Orleans Recreation Department into a public-private partnership, the increased transparency in the city contracting processes, the creation of the New Orleans Business Alliance, the proposed civil-service reforms and even the way the city banded together to save the Hornets (now the Pelicans).
Unfortunately, as Felton and Powers state, the Police and Fire are isolated in their opposition to Mayor's scheme. The minimum wage provision they refer to (which is, of course, a nice thing but clearly also a distraction) was apparently enough to bring SEIU on board. I'm less sure about what Civil Service's reason for signing on is but in any case both groups have badly failed to stand up for the people they purport to serve.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Wouldn't this be a bigger waste of taxpayer money?

Going through the trouble of holding elections whose results are invalidated by a turnout threshold seems more expensive than just passing a tax that at least buys the voters whatever thing they might have passed but what do I know?
The most controversial measure comes courtesy of state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, who wants lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would force local governments and political subdivisions to adhere to new guidelines for tax elections. The coming debate could be a barnburner, pitting the business lobby against school boards, parish councils, police juries, mayors and other local entities.

Allain’s Senate Bill 200 would require a minimum turnout of 20 percent of active voters to validate a local tax election. Under Allain’s measure, even if a tax were to pass with no opposing votes, the ballot wouldn’t count if turnout was one vote less than the proposed threshold. “If we’re going to take people’s hard-earned money, there should be a higher standard,” Allain said.

He contends local governments often schedule tax referenda during off-elections, where there are no high-profile races on the ballot and turnout will be low. “That ends up costing taxpayers more when they do that,” he said. “They pay huge amounts of money to participate in off-elections.”

Last month, when the Orleans Parish runoffs for sheriff and City Council were on the ballot alongside three tax proposals, turnout was 25 percent. In February, when the mayor’s race topped the ballot with six other tax questions, turnout was 35 percent. The last time Orleans saw a ballot with only propositions on it was in July 2008, when four property tax proposals produced a turnout of roughly 5 percent. 
But, if you are going to do this, you might as well hold to your principle and go the whole nine yards with it.  I might be persuaded, for example, by a law that invalidates ANY election result if the turnout is less than  50% of eligible voters. Make them all keep running until we get some kind of consensus.

We might end up having to cancel some parades and stuff, according to some people.
Low voter turnout in key precincts as well as Williams winning the early voting was too much for her campaign to overcome, Hedge-Morrell said.

"In key areas I did really well in (the primary) we dropped 50 percent in turnout," Hedge-Morrell said referring to the Upper 9th Ward and parts of Gentilly and eastern New Orleans.

She cited the St. Patrick's Day festivities as one reason for the low turnout.

"How do we get people to realize you can go to the St. Patrick's parade but you can vote first," Hedge-Morrell said. "It's hard to engage people with the seriousness of the issues we're dealing with. How do we get these people re-engaged?"

Unvanished

The thing to watch for every time we see another one of these reports about how unvanished the oil is is how much more self-assured BP's rebuttals have become.

In this episode we get, "the dolphins were already suicidal, some other studies we paid for said some other fish are doing fine, and anyway we aren't buying your results until you create a completely separate Gulf Of Mexico as a control group," or something like that anyway.

Don't expect that to improve any time soon.. or ever.

The predatory loan state

Payday lenders are going to get out of this legislative session relatively unscathed. So now you know who to go to if you need to cover your chicken boxing debts. And, I guess, Ray Nagin has another option now.

Turnip blood

Now we know why that Nagin legal defense fund website exists.
Federal prosecutors are trying to seize more than $500,000 from former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin following his February conviction on corruption charges.

Prosecutors filed asset forfeiture papers Tuesday (April 8) in U.S. District Court and requested for a hearing on April 29.
Seems excessive. At this point, we're pretty sure Nagin is already going to have spend at least a little time in prison. And, if not that, Dallas. Maybe just quit while you're ahead, the Feds. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Newcomb Blvd will eventually be sold.. just not today

Planning Commission just voted to deny the sale. Fence is still up, of course. Don't hold your breath waiting for it to come down.

Compromise

This afternoon the SLFPA-E attorneys finally answered one of the Jindal administration's loudest complaints against their lawsuit. They offered to reduce their so-called "poison pill" fees correction: standard contingency fees in exchange for a negotiated settlement with the oil and gas companies named in the suit.

Spokes-Lucys for Jindal and the industry immediately yanked the football away.
NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for the levee board suing oil and gas companies over coastal land loss offered to reduce their fees Tuesday if any of the 97 defendants settle, but the Jindal administration called the offer empty rhetoric.

Glad Jones, the lead attorney hired by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, said his law firm would accept mutually agreed upon or arbitrated fees from any defendant who comes to the table and settles the lawsuit within six months.

The industry did not see Jones' offer as a worthy olive branch.

"If these attorneys are truly concerned for the citizens and taxpayers of Louisiana, then they will do what's right for the people and dismiss this suit altogether," said Don Briggs, head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

Neither did Gov. Bobby Jindal's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Their position is no settlement, no lawsuit, nothing.  They are able to take such a hard line because they have nearly all of the elected representatives of the state government backing them up.

If only one major statewide official would speak on behalf of the levee board's case, things might go differently.  Unfortunately...
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Monday that a more equitable division of offshore oil and gas energy revenue, not legal action, is the key to saving Louisiana’s disappearing coastline.

“Lawsuits will not save the coast of Louisiana,” Landrieu told reporters.

Her comments came during and after an appearance at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Landrieu is seeking her fourth term in the Senate this year.
Oh well.

Public-Private streets

Eventually they're going to let the Newcomb Blvd residents buy the street. If we can just convince them to build a little moat around themselves and stay on their side, we might all be better off anyway. 

Meanwhile, Lakeshore Drive, which already is only open to traffic during certain hours, is getting ready to undergo yet another in a seemingly never-ending series of multi-year renovations.
A year after the groundbreaking, crews are close to completing a $6 million project to stop the erosion and give the lakefront a new look.

Between the Lighthouse and Mardi Gras Fountain, a concrete cap is keeping waves from washing the soil away.

"Just the little bit of progress to date, some of these northerners, it's really protected a lot," said (Orleans Levee District spokesman Gerry) Gillen.

But the concrete surface creates a new walking path for lakefront visitors, complete with new benches and wheelchair access.

"Oh, it's gonna look terrific," said Gillen. "We do have some landscaping and decorative security lighting that's going out there. This is the second most visited tourist area other than the French Quarter."

This week pre-construction work is starting on the second phase, the badly scoured area at Franklin Avenue.

I would love to see where Gillen is getting his lakefront tourism statistics.  I know "think of the tourists" is the go-to reason to bolster an argument for any project you can think of these days. But this one seems dubious.

In any case, you have to admire the Lakeview folks a little. They've managed to keep their technically public street mostly private for decades without having to deal without having to go through the ugliness of a public hearing.

The next seasonal Abita

How does 4-methylcyclohexane methanol IPA sound?
A New Orleans company is proposing to drill a 13,000-foot well in search of oil and gas on a tract of land near Mandeville, creating concern among some St. Tammany Parish officials and citizens who fear the operation could harm the aquifer that supplies the region with water. Helis Oil & Gas LLC wants to drill the well just north of Interstate 12 and about a mile east of Louisiana 1088 and use the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," method to extract oil and gas from the ancient sedimentary rock formation known as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.
On the bright side, it can't be any worse than lemon wheat. 

Can they have an iconic structure too?

After having lost out on a scheme to glom taxpayer subsidized hotels and condos onto its piece of the Tricentennial Consortium WTC redevelopment plan, Convention Center execs are just going to ask the legislature directly.
The mammoth convention center in New Orleans looks to embark on another expansion phase that would include a corporate meeting center, hotel, condos and retail space. The House Ways and Means Committee approved HB 788 by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, that would authorize the convention center authority to increase its bonding capacity in order to raise up to $142 million to be used to attract $1 billion in private investment, according to the author. The revenue bonds would be paid back from the authority’s share of the local hotel-motel tax and revenue generated from the commercial development.
Remember, the Convention Center receives 3 of the 13 cents that comprise the hotel/motel tax already.  If they get to run their own hotel, that money stays in-house, I guess.  It's their own little ho-zone of sorts.

Kiss of death

McAllister's office sure does know how to treat the ladies.
Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, who is 33 and married, has been identified as the staffer on the video kissing her boss. On Monday, Monroe's News-Star published a quote from McCallister's chief of staff Adam Terry who said that Peacock had just been fired. But why? For being kissed by the boss?
Again, infidelity isn't really anybody's business.  But sexual harassment in a congressional office is.  Also there's the issue of how the video was acquired and leaked. Probably James O'Keefe wasn't involved but it does raise some questions.
But while the national media gawks over the lurid details and focuses on Congressman McAllister’s rank hypocrisy, they’re missing the real scandal here: Who leaked the video, and was this leak purposely timed? After all, this video was recorded nearly four months ago, from inside the Congressman’s own district office.

To borrow a horror movie cliche, the call was coming from inside the house.

Update:  Also it turns out that McAllister inherited Rodney Alexander's staffers who probably were not exactly his friends.

Additionally, most people who have seen the movie Clue will remember that the "Mrs. Peacock" character was a Senator's wife involved in a blackmail scandal. So there's that bit of fun.


Monday, April 07, 2014

It worked out OK for Vitter

Don't see any reason why it can't also work for Vance McAllister.

After being caught on videotape, U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, who ran as a devoted family man and Christian, asked forgiveness from his family and constituents Monday for kissing an aide a month after being sworn into Congress.
There's, of course, the hypocrisy. But apart from that we're just being icky about people's private lives which are pretty much no one's business but theirs.... and, I guess, the cameras they put everywhere. 

Shit my Mitch says

Somebody go get the historicalness scale so we can measure this thing properly
"On behalf of the city of New Orleans, I would like to thank all of the fans who came from around the world to WrestleMania 30," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "WrestleMania has taken its rightful place amongst the most historic events ever held in New Orleans."

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The circular tourism economy

Rest assured, unlicensed vendors, no wrestlemans are coming to overturn your carts of not-official WWE merchandise.
A federal judge in New Orleans this week delivered a smackdown to World Wrestling Entertainment, rejecting the company’s request to allow its personnel to confiscate alleged bootleg goods sold at events surrounding this weekend’s WrestleMania XXX without having to identify ahead of time who exactly is selling the fraudulent items.
You may think to yourself, "Well of course. There is no conceivable justification for handing the World Wrestling Entertainment company special law enforcement powers in your city simply because they are visiting there."  You would then be surprised to learn that this sort of thing does in fact happen. 
In the past, federal judges across the country have been receptive to WWE’s requests to allow it to directly seize counterfeit goods. Ahead of WrestleMania XXVII in Atlanta in 2011, a judge gave this permission and the company seized 3,000 T-shirts that were being sold for $10 apiece, WWE said.
By now we're used to reading boilerplate uncritical  headlines about the economic "boon" to the city each of these events is supposed to carry with it.  But one has to wonder if the extraordinary measures taken to control the flow of the supposed "economic impact" limits its distribution among the host city's population. 

Similar issues arose just after last year's SuperBowl.
The Super Bowl Host Committee has said it expects the game will have a $434 million impact on the city. That figure, though, isn’t the net revenue that local and state governments will deposit into their treasuries, experts argue, and many local businesses said they had disappointing or slower business than expected.

Pam Doerr runs a small shop on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter that sells small jewelry items and art. She said she made two sales between Thursday and Saturday. Both of those customers were locals, she said.

“The people were nice, the crowds were here, but they just didn’t spend,” she said. “I was very disappointed.”

There is no question the crowds were here. The Quarter looked like the city was celebrating Mardi Gras Day all weekend. And tourism officials said there were no hotel rooms available in the city.

“We are pulling final numbers today, but it’s safe to say hotels were at 100 percent (occupancy) for the Super Bowl weekend,” Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in an email.
This report jibes with other anecdotal evidence I heard during Superbowl week. Independent shopkeepers and vendors did poorly.  This is probably in part because most visiting fans planned to spend their money on "Officially licensed NFL merchandise" which could be had from various temporary stores set up in rented spaces around the quarter like this.


SUPERBOWL MERCHANDISE



Super Bowl Fan Store


Bartenders and waiters just did okay.   Some did very well, of course, but mostly the crowd was comparable to any event weekend with transient visitors checking into the typical tourist-ridden haunts.  The NFL high rollers, though, appear to have kept their money with in a tight circle of private parties and closed events. For all the attention paid to the tounge-in-cheek "Do Not Serve" Goodell stuff, it was never likely that Roger or anyone throwing around Roger type money would have come in contact with our local service staff anyway.
Michael Regua, executive chef of Antoine’s for 36 years, said that previous Super Bowls have seen a surge of business at the restaurant during the week leading up to the game. This year things were slow until Friday, he said.

“A lot of people had parties and other functions to go to” before the weekend, said Wendy Chatelain, Antoine’s director of sales and marketing.

“I’m not going to say it was disappointing. But we geared up to do more, and it seems everyone got to the city on Friday,” Regua said. “We hoped to have the whole week.”

Michael Pearson, a sports marketing professor at Loyola University’s Joseph A. Butt College of Business, said he’s always skeptical about the expected economic impact that host cities say they will receive from large sporting events.

Much of the money that flows into the game, some economists argue, flows out of the host city and back to the headquarters of those companies hired to help put on what has become a days-long production.

One such private event took place at Armstrong Park.  
The NFL Honors ceremony, a two-hour prime time awards special event, will be held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on the evening prior to Super Bowl XLVII (Saturday, 2/2/13). And although the city’s official press release indicated that Armstrong Park would not be closed to the public in preparation for this event until Wednesday, 1/30/13, the park has, in fact, been locked up tight since Monday, 1/28/13.
Was the city even compensated for the use of this facility? (The max event fee is $1,500)

The hotels, though, were packed. For all practical purposes, hotel occupancy has become equated with whether or not we judge an event successful. But it's deceptive to assert that occupied rooms translate into direct benefit to anyone other than the hoteliers themselves.  Keep in mind, the great majority of revenue generated by the hotel/motel occupancy tax goes to right back into supporting tourism related entities.
Three state entities — the Louisiana Superdome Commission, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the state general fund — get 9 of those 13 cents per hotel dollar. The Superdome Commission — responsible for the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena — gets the biggest cut: 4 cents per dollar, or about $34 million in 2013, based on city revenue estimates. The next largest beneficiary is the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority — which governs the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — with 3 cents, or about $26 million in 2013.

Two cents go directly to the state general fund. Of that, about $7.3 million is allocated this year to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau and $2 million to the Morial Convention Center for debt services on outstanding construction bonds.

Of the four cents not going to the state, two-and-a-half cents are divided between the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and the Orleans Parish School Board.

The remaining penny-and-a-half goes to City Hall — meaning only 11.5 percent of the city's hotel/motel tax take goes to city government. At the Nov. 9 budget hearings, council vice-president Jackie Clarkson gasped when she misheard RTA president Justin Augustine announce the agency's share of hotel/motel revenues of "one and a half." "We only get one and a half," she said.
Add to that, the various mechanisms by which large event organizers like the NFL control how and where their visitors spend money on dining and shopping and a picture arises of a much more self-contained "economic impact" to the city at large than tourism leaders tend to describe in the press.

Of course WWE doesn't do this on the scale the NFL does. (Few do.) But clearly there's a model there which others are trying to emulate.  If Judge Berrigan had granted WWE permission to send its employees around town as quasi-law enforcement officers harassing local merchants at will, it isn't hard to imagine such a practice becoming a standard accompaniment to any major event.
Ashlye Keaton, an adjunct lecturer in the Tulane University Law School who specializes in entertainment and intellectual property law, said granting the motion could have created a ripple effect.

“There are all kinds of conventions that come into town. We are a tourism-breeding ground, and you know, if they were successful in that motion, just imagine the size of the can of worms that would open for anyone else coming down here,” Keaton said. “Everybody would be filing their motions in advance.”
For this weekend, though, the most WWE's agents can do to suspected bootleggers is call the NOPD.  And while that's theoretically more constitutionally valid than, say, sicking some pro wrestlers on them, we all know that in practice, it may actually be worse.

The after-grift

Ray Nagin, apparently, has a legal defense fund.
NaginLegalDefenseFund.com claims that Nagin “lacks the resources for a more robust defense,” and seeks “tax-free” donations to an independently administered trust set up on Feb. 27. That was about two weeks after the former mayor was convicted on 20 of 21 federal corruption counts.

The site says gifts will support, among other things, “living and travel expenses related to clearing the Nagin family name.” It also rails about prosecutorial misconduct in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and suggests that unsettled questions about other online postings could be grounds for Nagin to get his conviction overturned.

WWL-TV has not been able to determine if this is a real independent trust or even if Nagin is aware of it. But we did verify that at least one New Orleanian is already donating to it.
Though no one has verified it, if I had to guess, I'd say this is legitimately a fund for Ray Nagin's defense and not just some scam.  This isn't to say that there isn't an element of scam to it, but that's another issue.

In any case I'm kind of disinterestedly rooting for Nagin at this point. Jim Letten's stint as US Attorney was every bit as much an exercise in egotism and hypocrisy as Ray Nagin's terms as mayor were.  Nagin's legacy has already been justifiably blown to hell.  We're really just getting started with Letten.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Hogs without a cause

A state under siege. A lawmaker responds.
Desoto Parish State Rep. Richard "Richie" Burford, R-Stonewall (motto: "A great place to live"), introduced House Bill 353, which declares open season on wild hogs — the pigs, not the Tim Allen dad-buddy masterpiece. Under the bill, hunters can go after wild hogs, day or night, on private property. Under present law, hunting wild hogs is restricted to daylight hours from February through August. The bill passed the House 85-10 on Wednesday and was introduced in the Senate Thursday.
Go see that Gambit post for recent video of rampaging hogs out on Almonaster Boulevard. (They are very difficult to count!)

Also, if any of your newly empowered local militia happen to provide you with feral hog meat in the near future, know that it is pretty good eatin'.  We got a hold of two wild roasts a few years ago.

It's a little gamey and a bit more lean than farm raised pork but there are some things you can do to mitigate that. It helps to brine the meat for a few hours ahead of time.  Another thing we did was layer on some bacon in order to add in some fat as it roasted.

Here is the first preparation where we braised it in red wine with some potatoes and vegetables while we watched a Saints game in 2009. It was good. It didn't photograph so well but, trust me, it was good.

Pig roast

In any case,  I prefer this version we did later on during Mardi Gras 2010.

Wild Hog Roast

It's dressed with cumin, paprika, oregano, thyme, onions, garlic, potatoes, some lemons, yucca root, and obviously, the bacon again.  Added some lime juice, orange juice, and beer then roasted it for about 8 hours.  Very pretty results.

Wild Hog Roast

Troublemaker

On this day in 1968 Martin Luther King was in Memphis supporting striking city sanitation workers.  In today's environment, how would that go over?
If he were still alive, King would surely join the growing campaigns to unionize and improve pay and working conditions for janitors, security guards, hotel workers, hospital employees, farmworkers, grocery employees, and others who earn poverty-level wages. He might disrupt Walmart stockholder meetings to demand that the company pay employees a living wage, join fast-food workers in their quest for decent pay, and urge consumers to boycott the Gap, Walmart and other companies until they stop manufacturing their products in overseas sweatshops. He'd also be working with unions, community groups, and fellow clergy to pressure Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which was one of the demands of the March on Washington.

Today we view King as something of a saint, his birthday a national holiday, and his name adorning schools and street signs. But in his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous troublemaker.
Probably today, too.

All of Uptown is under contruction

Best to avoid trying to drive there in any particular direction for the next few years.

Blue tubes

Those blue pipes are water lines getting ready to go underground on Napoleon Avenue this week. It's part of the now decades long SELA drainage project currently slated to wrap up some time in 2018. Here is a recent presentation on the work begin done (PDF).

Once the utility work is finished, they're going to dig into the neutral ground and create a new underground drainage canal.

Napoleon SELA canal

Similar work is currently going on on Jefferson Avenue and is schedule to begin on Louisiana this month.

Uptown SELA

Combine this with the ongoing streetcar tie replacement project happening up and down St. Charles and you're better off just avoiding the roads altogether for a while.

Predictably, the work will probably cause some disruption of access to next year's Carnival parades although it's not clear exactly how that will work yet.  Anyway don't tell these felled lamp posts about it. They're already roping off their spot.

Lamp posts

Rent is too damn high

There goes the neighborhood
Being a real estate junkie, I’m constantly looking at properties around the city, renovating them in my mind. Last week, I noticed a small house just around the corner from us was on the market for $419,000. Now, it’s only 1700 square feet, it’s a nice renovation, and it’s in Central City.

Priced over $400K?? My jaw dropped.

Obviously from a property owner’s standpoint, having nearby property blow up in a sales price sounds pretty good: that  means that our property is theoretically going to be worth more. But does that now mean that Central City is eventually going to become the next Bywater—with prices so expensive no one but rich people can live there?

Mostly it's about being able to bully people

Had a brief Twitter conversation about this yesterday.  In my working life I've had to deal with all sorts of personalities. I've worked with and for some great people. And I've worked with and for some terrible people.  I've supervised good employees and troublesome employees.

I've always considered it a given that people are going to have their quirks and their strengths and their weaknesses. And since we're not robots, those qualities are not going to be constants.  The secret to working with people, though, is tolerating the fact that they are people and figuring out how you're all going to get something done in spite of whatever is bugging you.

You do this best by being flexible and being respectful.  Most importantly you do this by resisting the bullies and the hypercompetitive Type-As and the atmosphere of suspicion and intimidation they tend to foster.  Simply put, in a majority of workplaces, unless an employee is behaving criminally or dangerously, there's no reason to fire or threaten to fire them.  Firing people is a serious and traumatizing action from which most people do not easily recover.

But the bullies do tend to run things and that's how you get stuff like this.
According to Landrieu, the plan would not touch employee protections in disciplinary matters. However, one provision appears to do just that.

The plan would eliminate service ratings, which now range from “Outstanding” to “Unsatisfactory,” replacing them with a goal-based “performance management system.” Again, Kopplin’s office would be in charge of that system.

In eliminating the ratings, the plan also eliminates an employee’s ability to appeal a poor rating.

That would be unnecessary, according to the proposal, because “written performance feedback under the performance management system is not an adverse action to punish an employee.”

However, it goes on, “once poor work performance has been established” — it doesn’t say how that would be done — that can spur supervisor monitoring and a report to the city’s personnel director. If the personnel director decides that the employee’s work hasn’t improved, then the employee could be disciplined — which he could appeal.

In effect, the new system would push back the point at which an employee can protest a supervisor’s poor view of his work.

What are you trying to say?

Found this on my windshield yesterday. Not going into that good night just yet.

Sell us your crappy car

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Everybody hates Badon's bill

State Rep. Austin Badon had to pull his bill to lessen penalties for marijuana possession from consideration today.  The bill was opposed by speakers from the ACLU as well as from the libertarian leaning conservative Pelican Institute on the grounds that it did not go far enough in the direction of full decriminalization.

This afternoon in a chat with the The Lens, Sen. JP Morrell also characterized Badon's bill as being a bit lukewarm for his liking
I think Rep. Badon's bill is well intended but it doesn't go far enough. The problem it poses, during this legislative session, is that it is a "compromise" that, if successful could lead people who are considering my bill to reconsider their support 
Morrell is supporting a Senate version that would reduce possession charges to misdemeanors. Under Badon's bill, marijuana possession would remain a felony.

But what really got to Badon was the opposition of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association whose support he had counted on. One supposes, in fact, the bill was as moderate as it was specifically to court the Sheriffs.  They said no anyway
But, Badon deferred discussion on his bill Thursday -- and said he doubted he would bring it back up for discussion -- after Sheriffs' Association head Mike Ranatza testified against the bill in front of committee.

Badon said the LSA had indicated to him that they would remain neutral on the bill, as the Louisiana District Attorneys Association did Thursday; Ranatza would not comment on the blow up, but was overheard telling state Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, "I never spoke to him since last year" on the bill.
It's kind of weird that Badon would have been caught this flat-footed by the Sheriffs, even stranger that he would not have been in contact with them, even.  In any case, he made a point of  demonstrating frustration afterwards.
When asked to comment on Ranatza's statement that there had been no discussion, Badon told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, "B---s---...His leadership has to be called into question...You don't do that in this body."

Badon was seen avoiding Ranatza after the vote was taken, slipping out the back as he called, "Austin! Austin!" behind him. Badon said, "I'm not in a good frame of mind, Mike."
If only there were a safe, legal way available to help him calm down....

Oh well.  Morrell's Senate bill is still forthcoming. And the House will undoubtedly take this up again.  Part of me wonders if Badon might have decided to stall his own bill on purpose just to see if the Senate version offers some room to hammer out something better.  He clearly wasn't happy with this version.
Badon agreed with Esman and said he wished the bill went further, but he was forced to compromise: "It's a good bill. I wish it would do more but it is a consensus bill."

Badon was reluctant to postpone debate on his bill to lessen these penalties, however, and noted afterward he hadn't decided to bring it back up for another vote later: "I'm pretty livid. I don't want to make any rash decisions right now."
In other words, pulling it in the first place might not have been a "rash decision" either? Just speculating.

Incentives

Yesterday the legislature passed a bill that (theoretically) could put a stop to the SLFPAE's lawsuit against the oil and gas industry over damage it has done to the Louisiana coast.
State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, is sponsoring the bill, as well as a few more that seek to derail the lawsuit filed last summer by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East, or SLFPA-E against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. The east bank levee board is seeking damages from industry for decades of environmental harm that dredging and other pipeline activities imposed on Louisiana's coastline.

But Gov. Bobby Jindal is fiercely opposed to the lawsuit. After ensuring its strongest proponents were removed from the levee board, Jindal turned his eye to killing the suit legislatively. Adley agrees with the governor that the board illegally entered into a contingency fee contract with legal firm Swanson Jones, without seeking the proper approval or making the terms of the terms of the contract public.
Jindal and Adley and others have argued that the lawsuit interferes with the state's own supposedly good faith negotiations with oil and gas over coastal restoration funds.

Which brings up the question, what are the industry's incentives with regard to coastal loss?  What do they get, for example, if nothing is done about it?
A set of laws unique to Louisiana allows the state to claim the minerals found under any navigable body of water. That has troubling implications for landowners in Vermilion Parish and every other coastal region of the state. The laws mean that as more land becomes submerged under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico each year, more and more money that once flowed from oil and gas drilling companies to the bank accounts of landowners now flows directly into the coffers of the state.

Landowners here say the law not only hurts their pocketbooks, but also creates a disincentive for Louisiana’s government to care about coastal areas and repair and maintain wetlands. The theory goes that if the cash-strapped state can make money off gaining increased mineral rights, then it has no reason to help keep privately owned bayou property from going underwater.