Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bobby Jindal's monthy newspaper column

This one was a little bit lowbrow even for Politico so it had to run in USA Today instead. In it he writes that Common Core is a bad idea (he was for it before he was a against it) because the federal government is only ever good for having army men drive tanks and stuff.
It is true, the Common Core standards did originally grow from states wanting to increase standards so our students can better compete with the rest of the world. Great idea. And Louisiana was in that group.

But a few things have happened along the way. First, the federal government became increasingly involved. Unless you are fighting a war, the kind that requires tanks, submarines and jets, you really don't want the federal government involved.

"First, the federal government became increasingly involved."  Some day they're going to have to tell us the name of the Fourth Grade student Jindal hires to write these op-eds.  And then we'll have to put that kid in a better writing program.

It turns out, though, that there are a host of not-crazy reasons to be skeptical about Common Core. Some of those are enumerated here by BESE candidate Jason France who, somewhat ironically, posts under the name, "Crazy Crawfish."


New Orleans ranks number 2 nationwide in income inequality.

Keep flipping those houses, I guess. What could possibly go wrong?

No repercussions

This Bundy dude isn't saying anything a clear majority of white moderate-to-conservative voters don't believe and articulate every day.  If you don't understand that, you have probably not been exposed to very many white people. 

The point is, if you think being associated with this guy is going to in any way harm the chances of Republican politicians who spoke up for him you'd be mistaken. Sure, they'll "publicly distance" themselves or whatever but the base remains fired up.

Just remember NOLA.com comments are pretty terrible but there sure are a lot of them.

Louisiana voters: "What even is the point?"

A New York Times poll (via Gambit) finds President Obama and Bobby Jindal are equally disliked in Louisiana.  David Vitter has a 51 percent approval rating while Mary Landrieu's is close to that at 49.

There must be some reason voters see these supposedly opposing figures as pretty much equally meh.  Why do you think that would be?
A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

Jazzfest kicks off at City Hall

They're voting on the noise ordinance today. Pretty sure there's no show scheduled this time around but you never know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Safety first

This morning the New Orleans Police Department's Crime Prevention Unit issued a long press release about online safety titled "Being Safe and Smart While Social Networking." Coincidentally, today was the day that NOLA.com launched its new commenting system so it was probably a good time for a refresher course anyway.

The press release begins by describing the internet at some length. These are only the first three paragraphs.
Browsing the Internet is like having the world’s largest library and entertainment system at your fingertips. Kids are able to read stories, tour museums, visit other countries, play games, look at photographs, shop, and do research to help with homework. The Internet is a great tool for children to learn academically and socially. It also offers an array of entertainment resources, but it may also pose some risks. It can be a forum where children are vulnerable.

Social networking sites are the hippest “meet market” around, especially among tweens, teens, and 20 somethings. These sites encourage and allow people to exchange information about themselves, and use blogs, chat rooms, email, or instant messaging to communicate with the world at large. But while they can increase a person’s circle of friends, they also can increase exposure to people who have less-than-friendly intentions, including sexual predators.  
Social networking websites are here to stay… and the number and types continue to evolve on a daily basis. As these sites continue to increase in popularity so does the attention that they are getting from criminals. Now is the time to educate yourself on the proper use of these social networking websites. It is important to be aware of the risks of social networking in this cyber world we live in.
Later there are a series of bulleted safety pointers the police would like the hip tweens, teens and 20 somethings to consider while making their way around this cyber world we live in.  Some of these might also have benefited certain employees of the US Attorney's office had they been made aware of them when they first ventured out into the "meet market."
Make sure your screen name doesn’t say too much about you. Set a display name (screen name) that is not your actual name. Instead, make up a generic name such as “123girl.” Do not use any information in your display name that indicates personal interests or location such as “SoccerPlayer123” or “LouisvilleGal.” Don’t use your age or your hometown. Even if you think your screen name makes you anonymous, it doesn’t take a genius to combine clues to figure out who you are and where you can be found.
Setting up an alias, like "123girl" is also pretty good advice for an NOPD officer cruising around the cyber world for child pornography.  I wonder if he tried that.  

Taxing district to nowhere?

There's some good news and some bad news about the mayor's latest move at the legislature. The good news is they're asking for permission to do something New Orleans residents have been clamoring for for years. They're asking if the city can keep all of the revenue generated by local sales and hotel/motel taxes.
Plans for the proposed riverfront tax district have not been made public until now. Members of the New Orleans legislative delegation know little or nothing about it.

Here’s how the taxing district would work: If the World Trade Center becomes a hotel as planned, the city would collect the entire 9 percent sales tax on retail purchases — under current law, 4 percent goes to the state treasury — and all of the average 16.44 percent hotel/motel tax. Under current law, the city would have to share that future tax revenue with the convention center, the Orleans Parish School Board, the Regional Transit Authority, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation and the Louisiana Superdome.
The bad news is there are no hotels or retailers currently within the proposed district. (If I'm reading this correctly, anyway. The boundaries are not defined here.)  If passed, the city will be awarded 100 percent of zero dollars worth of tax revenue... for the time being, anyway.

Staying "us"

Like the ongoing gentrification angst, tourism in New Orleans can inspire endlessly distracting arguments around the idea of an imagined "us" or the question of what is most essentially "New Orleanian."

That's sort of what Alex Rawls is thinking about here while pondering an announcement that 9.28 million tourists visited New Orleans last year.  (I suppose this means "they" outnumber "us" by a factor of about 25.) 
I’m also aware that New Orleanians have been anxious about the impact of tourism since the dawn of a tourism industry, and we’ve managed to stay “us” despite the growth of tourism for more than a century. I believe we’ll continue to find ways to assert an essential New Orleans-ness, even in the face of further tourism, but we need more discussion about the desirability and manageability of further growth in New Orleans tourism, and the degree to which it is the economic engine to which civic leaders have hitched our collective wagons. The belief that growth is automatically good needs to be questioned. Is an endlessly growing French Quarter Festival a good thing, for example? Is an ever-expanding influx of tourists a cause for celebration, or do we need to think more carefully about the impact of further increases in tourism? 

That notion of managing to stay "us" is tricky. "Us" is a fluid identity, constantly changing not only over time but across neighborhoods and demographic segments.  I get that there are certain baskets of styles and mores we tend to think of as "Naturally N'awlins" or whatever by general consensus.  But even the compositions of those baskets are highly varied and subjective. 

Then there's the basket we make specifically for sale to visitors. It's the one with the most easily accessible and simple cliches which may or may not be the most "authentic."  But since the tourist basket is recognized by 9 million consumers.. and because it's where all the money is, it gains a weight of legitimacy all its own.
William Khan, who grew up in Metairie, went to Jesuit High School and now lives in the French Quarter, said he believes that T-shirt and souvenir shops are easy to vilify and turn into caricatures because so many of the owners are immigrants and cater largely to a lower-income clientele.

The older generation that first opened these shops are largely reserved, quiet and don't believe in making trouble, he said. But his generation, which grew up in the United States, is technologically savvy and not shy about taking a vocal stand.

"After 30 years in business I'm making the case that we're part of the French Quarter," William Khan said. "I'm no longer apologizing for what we sell. We're actually part of the community and it's time to integrate us and accept us. I'm not going to be defensive anymore. We've been part of the community for three decades."
 And "us" is redefined yet again.

We're pretty good at fretting and arguing in New Orleans over the elusive One True Meaning of "us."  This self-obsession may, in-fact, be the common denominator that defines "us." That's fine. There's plenty of time and room to play that game forever if we want.

But there are other more important questions to ask about tourism than these existential dilemmas. What are the material effects of tourism on the city's permanent population?  How does it affect our quality of life? The price of our housing? Our public infrastructureWho shares in its "economic impact"?  Are its tax revenues directed to our areas of greatest need?

It's fine to worry about how the tourism industry adds to or subtracts from the cultural meaning of "us" but while we're doing that we should also ask whether the industry serves us.  Or do we serve it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This thing we all look at is terrible. Why do we look at it?

Alex Pareene, quite laudably,  blows up the NYT Editoiral page here.

The real problem, though, is that the NYT Editorial page is a thing that matters regardless of who writes it.We have the capacity to communicate with an entire universe of smart people who have subject authority and are ready to offer opinions.  It's a failure of our for-profit system of media that we're still directed to this particular corral in spite of it all.

Morrell's marijuana bill didn't make it out of committee

No big surprise.
A state Senate panel Tuesday afternoon rejected legislation that would have reduced criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

The 4-3 vote came after the panel also shot down a compromise under which possession of an ounce or less would have been a misdemeanor.
Oh well, as you were, Louisiana.  You were shoving people into jails for stupid stuff. Get on back to that.

Where did all the money go?

Everybody keeps telling me oil/gas exploration booms are the flush times in Louisiana.  Where is all the money?

Why not make them own it?

Even if you know they're going to speak and vote against you, you may as well make them go on the record as having done that.  Particularly in cases like these.
A lawmaker voluntarily pulled her bill to provide workplace protection to lesbian, gay, and transgender people as well as others who might be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, said she didn't want to go through with a vote on the legislation because she knew she didn't have the votes to get it out of the House of  Representatives' Civil Law and Procedure Committee Tuesday morning. 

"I have sadness, disappointment that we have let it get this far, where there are still some issues about people's right to work," said St. Germain. "I will be back with this bill next year."
If they're gonna be assholes, the least you can do is make them stand up and identify themselves as such. 

They pretty much have to draft the Towson guy

It's right there in the script.
The Saints have expressed interest in Terrance West, and sent several scouts to his Pro Day. At 5-9, 225 pounds, the Towson running back is stocky and tough to bring down. He has experience catching the ball, however he isn't the shifty, speedy back that could slide into the void Sproles left.

Additionally, West's stock has been rising and he will likely go higher than the Saints would prefer, with four running backs on the roster.
I don't think the Saints are interested in replacing Sproles's role in the offense, exactly. They've given every indication... up to and including out and out stating.. that they're planning to gear the offense toward more of a power running attack this year.

This doesn't necessarily mean the offense will be any less creative, it just means it will be different and will require different players who do different things.  Here, for example, is an article about Robert Meachem's value as a blocker which might give you some small hint at what they're thinking about these days. Anyway, I don't expect they'll just run down to the pound and ask for another Sproles because they liked the one they had. 

But it does make sense that they'll go with more offense in the draft.  Of course, they don't have to do that but they have been doing most of the fancy free agency stuff on the defensive side of the ball so... analysis, right?

Speaking of which, here's some good stuff from Angry Who Dat articulating more or less the smart people's consensus that the Saints are managing this supposed "closing of the window" thing pretty well. If I had a criticism of this... which I don't, actually.. but if I did, it would be to say, yeah but basically they've upgraded the secondary while cutting loose veteran talent on offense.  That's still an incomplete. Obviously there's a plan but let's wait until they draft this Towson kid before we go busting up the windows and stuff.

Small number

Can't imagine why that would be the case.
The Service Employees International Union, whose members include a small number of city employees, also says it supports the (Civil Service reform) proposal
If you insist on functioning as a management tool rather than representing your members' interests, don't expect to retain many members. On the other hand, if the only reason you keep a toe in the door at City Hall is to network with the political players there, then, yeah, great job. You're making lots of friends. 

Kristin Palmer translated

Pretty hard to read this passage.
"These stakeholders will not agree on every word of this ordinance. Some may feel that certain provisions go far, too far, and others not far enough," Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said Monday (April 21). "This legislation will not fix every problem in the existing code and there may be desire (to extend the proposed law) to other parts of the city besides Bourbon Street. That will be for the administration and the incoming council to consider."
And not see it as...

Robert Adley likes the giggles

Senator Adley is co-sponsoring a bill in the Louisiana Legislature introduced by J.P.Morrell that would decriminalize marijuana possession.
Sponsored by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, the bill would make possession of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. Under current law, first-time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor; subsequent charges are felonies. The maximum sentence for the third offense is 20 years in prison.
A few weeks ago a less good bill in the House which would have kept the felony charge but reduced the proscribed sentence was deferred, supposedly because Austin Badon forgot to call the Sheriffs Association ahead of time to ask them if it was ok.

The Sheriffs don't like this bill either, of course. But it's worth noting that several conservatives like Senator Adley do.
Referring to Morrell’s bill and the state’s budget problems, Adley said, “We can’t fill up the jails on simple possession charges. We don’t have the money to keep them.”

Adley said that smoking marijuana as a Marine courier in Vietnam during the 1960s has led him to conclude that the dangers of the drug are overhyped. “People were better off smoking it than drinking alcohol,” he said. “They just got the giggles. The more whiskey they drank, the meaner they got.”
The Senate bill goes before committee on Tuesday.  Who knows, maybe it will do better than the Bible bill did today.

If it somehow manages to become law, though, it will be interesting to see how Chief Serpas's statistics-focused NOPD handles it.  Serpas and DA Cannizzaro have previously announced their intention to arrest fewer people on simple possession charges. But, as long as the criminal penalties still exist in statute, those charges can and have been pressed.

Recently Serpas told WGNO he was most worried about encountering marijuana users in the context of.. what else.. one of his renowned traffic checkpoints.
NOPD Police Chief Ronal Serpas says whatever lawmakers decide it’ll be up to law enforcement officers to enforce the changes.

“Marijuana, alcohol, any kind of synthetic drugs, they affect the way people drive and that’s one of the things we’re most concerned about is impaired driving.”
Serpas says he's concerned about impaired driving and I guess we'll take his word for that.  Last year the Times-Picayune reported that, while DWI arrests are way up under Serpas, the rate of traffic accidents due to driver impairment is unchanged. But whether the chekcpoints actually make the roads safe isn't important.  The pretext they provide officers to conduct arbitrary stop-and-searches, on the other hand, sure is a neat bonus. 

Here's a recent Democracy Now! interview with Matt Taibbi. His new book is about contrasts between the way the US justice system treats the superwealthy as opposed to.. pretty much everyone else. In the interview here he's talking specifically about how the drug laws can be used to intimidate people in absurd ways. 
MATT TAIBBI: So, HSBC, again, this is one of the world’s largest banks. It’s Europe’s largest bank. And a few years ago, they got caught, swept up for a variety of offenses, money-laundering offenses. But one of them involved admitting that they had laundered $850 million for a pair—for two drug cartels, one in Mexico and one in South America, and including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico that is suspected in thousands of murders.

And in that case, they paid a fine; they paid a $1.9 billion fine. And some of the executives had to defer their bonuses for a period of five years—not give them up, defer them. But there were no individual consequences for any of the executives. Nobody had to pull money out of their own pockets for permanently. And nobody did a single day in jail in that case.

And that, to me, was an incredibly striking case. I ran that very day to the courthouse here in New York, and I asked around to the public defenders, you know, "What’s the dumbest drug case you had today?" And I found somebody who had been thrown in Rikers for 47 days for having a joint in his pocket. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s—is that even illegal?

MATT TAIBBI: No, in New York City, actually, it’s not illegal to carry a joint around in your pocket. It was decriminalized way back in the late '70s. But with part of the now past stop-and-frisk, what they do is they would stop you, and then they would search you and force you to empty your pockets. When you empty your pockets, now it's no longer concealed, and now it’s illegal again. So they had—in that year, they had 50,000 marijuana arrests, even though marijuana—having marijuana was technically decriminalized at the time.

So, my point was: Here’s somebody at the bottom, he’s a consumer of the illegal narcotics business, and he’s going to jail, and then you have these people who are at the very top of the illegal narcotics business, and they’re getting a complete walk. And that’s just totally unacceptable.
Serpas's sobriety checkpoints aren't NOPD's only answer to stop-and-frisk.  Sometimes, they randomly stop bicyclists too.  Which is what happened to the subject of the lede to the Lens article we began this post with. 
Bernard Noble was visiting his father in New Orleans three and a half years ago when two cops spotted him riding a bicycle. They stopped Noble, frisked him and found a small amount of marijuana — the equivalent of two joints.

Noble, a 47-year-old truck driver and father of three, is now serving a 13-year prison sentence after a jury found him guilty of marijuana possession. It was his seventh drug possession conviction in Orleans and Jefferson Parish.  He originally was sentenced to five years, but Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. appealed and got a longer sentence.
Since Serpas' policy response to the bills in the legislature appears to be a redoubling of his efforts at traffic enforcement, it isn't hard to imagine more scenarios like these even if marijuana possession is partially decriminalized in Louisiana.  It won't be, so we don't have to worry too much about that particular irony.  But between a DA holding out for longer sentences in possession cases despite his own stated policy and the impaired drivers who are actually  bicyclists, there's plenty of that to go around. Perhaps enough to inspire a giggle from Senator Adley when he's in the right state.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fest inflation




60 bucks at NOLA Disney


Home refinance window not pictured

This year, the price at the gate is going up again.
After holding steady last year, the price of Jazz Fest tickets has inched up again this year.

Early birds were able to pick up $50 tickets. Advance tickets, on sale now, are $55 per day, excluding service fees. Latecomers and last-minute weather-watchers will have to pay $70 at the gate.

That’s up $5 across the board from last year, when the same tickets went for $45, $50 and $65, respectively.
We talk about this every year and end up shrugging. In that Advocate article you'll find most of the usual explanations they trot out every year. Most of them are legitimate... given the fest's aims which are their own separate issue. It costs more and more to book the high-profile headliners, festgoers are demanding more "amenities" although I don't see anything here that seems like it justifies a 40 percent increase in the walk-up price since 2008.
Festivals have also added amenities to make for more appealing environments. They are no longer just the grungy parties in open fields they were decades ago. Many provide more — and often cleaner — restroom facilities. Modern services like ATMs and cellphone-charging stations abound.

“You try to build an environment where people can be comfortable and enjoy the weekend with some comforts other than a (portable toilet) that’s been there more than three days,” said Stephen Rehage, founder and producer of the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience.
Okay, but they've had ATMs on site for quite a while now and something tells me we're not paying $20 a head more for phone charging stations.  I'll be sure to keep an eye out for those improved restrooms, though.

"Powerless vestige"

The Lens will live-blog today's meeting of the Civil Service Commission as they take up the mayor's proposed "reform" to the city's personnel management system.
The proposals would give departmental managers — political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor — greater discretion in hiring decisions by reducing the importance of examination scores and eliminating the requirement that laid-off employees be considered first.

Landrieu’s proposals would eliminate the employee evaluation system, replacing it with a “performance management system.” Unlike the current job ratings, those measurements could not be appealed.
Yesterday PANO President Mike Glasser spoke about the proposed changes with the press.
Glasser said PANO agrees with only one aspect of the initiative, which would raise the minimum wage for city employees to $10.10. He said any effort to weaken the civil service system would eliminate the commission's merit-based purpose.

"It was designed to eliminate nepotism, it was designed to eliminate patronage, favoritism, bias by setting firm, plausible attainable goals and minimum criteria," said Glasser.

Glasser said the Civil Service Commission will become a "powerless vestige" if the city's plan is passed.

Living it up

Half shell

We celebrated BP Day in the quarter at Acme. Despite our anxiety four years ago, gulf seafood like those oysters pictured above is still available.

Of course there are still grave concerns about these fisheries.  And despite BP's announced end of "active cleanup" it's certainly not difficult to find tarballs on the beaches. I'm not at all convinced that I haven't been poisoning myself these past few years. 

But, hey, while we're still alive we might as well live, right?  It's what BP is doing.
BP has rebuilt its armada of deep-water drilling rigs to nearly double its size before April 20, 2010, fired up three big expansion projects since last April and in March reached a deal with the federal government to lift a 16-month suspension from entering into new federal contracts for leases in Gulf oil fields.

“We’re fully back in,” said Richard Morrison, regional president of BP’s Gulf of Mexico business, in a recent interview with FuelFix.

The Gulf has become one of BP’s most profitable regions in the world, and the company has produced only about a fifth of the reserves from its four giant Gulf fields. Those, along with newly discovered ultradeep-water oil patches, “will keep our geologists and rigs busy for the next several decades,” Morrison said. “That’s why we have confidence in the future.”

Meanwhile, as they've merrily gone about their business, and as most of us have been merrily slurping down whatever might be in those oysters, Clay has been watching the BP trial close up.  Here's his latest post on what's gone on there.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nothing to see here

Good job, everybody. 
The U.S. Justice Department will not pursue a criminal investigation involving an FBI agent who shot and killed a New Orleans man during an undercover drug sting last summer, a spokeswoman for the agency said Sunday (April 20).

The decision comes more than three months after Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office declined to pursue charges against the agent, who fatally shot 37-year-old Allen Desdunes on July 30, and referred the case to federal prosecutors on jurisdictional grounds.

Probably nothing anyway since when is it ever something?
According to a recent New York Times study, the FBI has cleared its agents in every agent-involved shooting incident between 1993 and 2011, deeming 70 fatal shootings and 80 non-fatal shootings justifiable.
Gold stars all around. 

And on the third day, the oil was still Un-vanished

"It looks like there was a fire here," said Doug Meffert, vice president of the National Audubon Society and president of the Louisiana chapter, "but there wasn't a fire."

The bones of black mangrove stumps are all that remain of what was a thriving bird rookery here in Plaquemines Parish Four years ago, footage of oiled brown pelicans and the thousands of shorebirds nesting here went around the world in the aftermath of the 200 million gallons of thick crude that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

Today the only green thing on the beach is a glass bottle. There are no pelicans, no mangroves, and worse, much of Cat Island itself is washing away. It and most of the barrier islands and marsh in Barataria Bay are steadily degrading, losing their battles with coastal erosion and subsidence faster than ever. They took blows from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustave, and Ike. But the oil from the spill is rapidly accelerating their demise.

This morning's Advocate:
Four years after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and exploded about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 men and causing one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, many questions remain unanswered about the potential long-term impacts of exposure to the millions of gallons of sweet crude and large quantities of dispersants that were used to break up the oil as it poured into the Gulf of Mexico, into wetlands and onto beaches along the Gulf Coast.
Oh but nevermind.  All the suffering for these sins will eventually result in... resilience.. or something.
The water management sector’s recognition as a separate segment of the local economy may be new, according to the report, but its impact on the economy has been around for years, and has dramatically increased since Hurricane Katrina, with the investment by Congress of close to $15 billion in improvements to the New Orleans area levee system and interior drainage projects.

And the sector is about to see another burst of activity, thanks to expected spending on coastal restoration projects if the state receives the billions of dollars it expects as its share of fine money and natural resource damage mitigation payments that will be paid by BP and its drilling partners in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill.

No doubt this will lead to triumphant celebration of a "green economy" developing in Louisiana.  It's important to keep in mind, though, that  we're really talking about a a disaster recovery economy. And in order to have that, you first need to have disasters.

"Willing to be wooed"

Sure, Mitch. Encourage them.
NEW ORLEANS - You could say Mayor Mitch Landrieu has drafted his own version of David Letterman’s “Top 10” list, with his reasons why Stephen Colbert, should move “The Late Show” to New Orleans when he takes over for Letterman next year.

At the top of the list, which Landrieu outlined this week in a letter to CBS chairman and chief executive officer Les Moonves, are tax credits, which the mayor said would be attractive to CBS and its late night production. (See letter)

Though Letterman’s show is currently taped in New York and has been associated with the city for decades, a Los Angeles Times article last week reported that the network was being courted by L.A. and other cities interested in becoming a home base for the show, and “is said to be willing to listen to pitches and be wooed.”
It's bad enough that Louisiana has been a leader in enabling the entertainment industry's inter-state competition for corporate welfare via its "Hollywood South" tax credit program to the great expense of taxpayers.  It's worse that our political leadership continually fails to see their role in this robbery as anything other than positive press for themselves.

Besides, New Orleans already has its own local talk show format production if you're into that sort of thing. As for hosting the national outfits, didn't we try that already?

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


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?


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


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.  


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.


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.