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Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Once in a lifetime leader"

God I hope there aren't any more like this before we're all dead. 
The political action committee that’s been set up to support Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s potential run for president started circulating letters to Republican donors Wednesday, pitching Jindal as a “once-in-a-lifetime leader.”

Buzzfeed obtained a copy of the letter, which is signed by former Congressman Bob Livingston, chairman of the pro-Jindal “Believe Again” super PAC.

The letter largely touts Jindal’s gubernatorial track record, including sweeping cuts that have been made to state government — without noting the state currently is facing significant budget struggles.

Bring the baggage

Won't happen, of course, but, for what it's worth, David Duke briefly entertained the notion of running against Steve Scalise (AKA "David Duke without the baggage") on a radio show yesterday.
Meanwhile, Duke said he’s considering an electoral challenge to Scalise.

“I am not registered to vote right now. I have legally been able to vote for years but I haven’t registered right now and I’d be able to vote for, but I might just register,” he said. “Just so, I might have to run against Steve Scalise because you know, I really might. I mean, I’m definitely going to consider it because its so disgusting to me to see…he got elected on false pretenses.”

Duke added that “the Republican Party’s issues are my issues,” but said “the difference with me in the Republican Party is that I didn’t betray them when I got elected.”
He's not even registered to vote.   Anyway, if there's anything we can do to encourage him to pursue this fantasy, then let's get on that.  Running Duke against Scalise is very much like running Stormy Daniels against David Vitter.. except, people will actually pay attention to this. 

Hell even the pineheads are worth 50 Blue Dogs a piece

Somebody stole a bunch of Varg's stuff out of his truck last weekend.   That sucks.  Maybe Sidney Torres will make a TV commercial about it.

QOTD

Tom Benson:

In a brief interview with Fox Sports New Orleans sideline reporter Jennifer Hale that was shown on the video boards of the Smoothie King Center at halftime of the Pelicans game against the Nuggets, Benson dismissed accusations that he's not healthy enough to make sound business decisions.

"People think there's something wrong with me," Benson said. "I've been in the office everyday putting in a full days of work. I feel fine."
He can feel any way he wants. We're still gonna think there's something wrong with him.  Also, we heard this interview in person at the Pelicans game last night but could barely make out what he was saying thanks to the exceptionally crappy sound system in the Blended Beverage Building. Maybe some of the inheritance can go to getting that fixed.

Update: As a bonus, here is Drew Brees feeling some balls on TV.

Upperdate: Wish I'd seen this before making this post.  This is an excerpt from Brian Boyles' New Orleans Boom and Blackout: One Hundred Days in America’s Coolest Hotspot about the run-up to  Superbowl XLVII  in New Orleans.
“We’re here today to witness a major miracle,” Governor Edwards announced at a press conference on June 3, 1985. “I can’t tell you how many times it took just another little miracle to keep the deal afloat.” [i] The governor rarely shied from hyperbole, but he had a point: after seventeen losing seasons under original owner John Mecom, the woeful Saints were rescued by a native son. Mecom was a rich man’s son, an unpopular Texan whose family owned oil wells and chemical plants. His Saints never finished with a winning record, going a combined 83-187-5 and driving fans to don paper bags over their heads in shame. Some predicted the franchise would relocate. Instead, Tom Benson returned to purchase his hometown team. He entered the bidding as an underdog: the NFL required an owner to purchase 51 percent to officially hold a controlling stake in the team. Unable to hit the percentage on his own, Benson lobbied successfully for special approval by league owners to be declared the principal owner among a group of ten investors. Once again, the Saints found themselves on the positive side of a rule change. Together with Edwards, Benson wrestled a new Superdome lease and a sales-tax waiver on concessions from a skeptical state legislature. On May 31, 1985, the sale was approved. “I want everybody to know who I am,” Benson reportedly told his lawyer. “Everybody is saying, ‘He’s just a used car dealer.’ Let them see me now.”
Benson needed help from the state, and from the Governor's political pull just to have himself installed as the Saints' owner.  He's been benefiting from state largesse ever since. It has made him a billionaire.  But even so, he and whoever inherits his fortune somehow retains the prerogative to remove the team from the city on a whim. 

One such whim could be the owner suddenly thinks the Dome is out of date.  Where would he/she get an idea like that?

This vehicle is making a turn

Megan Braden-Perry is bringing her old Gambit Public Transit Tuesday series back via her website.  These were a lot of fun before. Try and remember to follow the new ones.

Meanwhile, it's Carnival time and that's going to affect a number of RTA routes.  

Pet peeve

Not the biggest deal on Earth but this Lens op-ed struck a bit of a chord with me.
A decade or so ago, around the time we bought a little Pekingese puppy, I began noticing the birth of an increasingly powerful movement that I’m still trying to wrap my head around: the pooper troopers.

I’d feel their cold stares as I walked my dog. Somehow, while my head was turned, they had infiltrated the social and cultural consciousness of America. Under their watchful eyes and the movement’s fluttering banner (a plastic grocery bag), it had become politically incorrect, anti-social, downright disgusting, filthy and even criminal not to scoop your mutt’s poop.

I gave the matter deep thought. What is the purpose, I asked myself.
Aside from the obvious absurdity of wrapping biodegradable mass in unnecessary plastic, there's something psychologically weird about the dogshit obsession.  It's another sign that the city is becoming, literally, anal about stupid stuff.

Even so, despite the ascendancy of the scooping fetish, I somehow manage to step in it as often as I ever have.  (Seriously, ask Menckles. This happens to me so frequently that she jokes I must be doing it on purpose.) And, yet... you know... shit happens.

On the other hand, anti-poop fad has made for some interesting signage around town.  Here are some that I've noticed in recent years.

There's the simple approach.

It's the dogshit, stupid

That sign is from January 2006.  At this time, there were still flooded cars, downed traffic signals, and various other forms of debris and flotsam everywhere.  But someone decided dogshit was the real barrier to tidiness. The masking tape and plain paper approach was in keeping with the post-K DIY aesthetic.

This one is the polar opposite.

Scoop the Poop

Very classy from 2008.   In the Garden District, of course.

You can get other sorts of professionally made dogshit signs too. Here's a cute little number I noticed on Napoleon Avenue a few years ago.

No!

This one is even simpler.  Graphic, rather than language based.

No Dogshit (graphic)

Then there is the more official signage.  Or, at least, signage designed to look official. Like this one in the Marigny from 2006.

Pick Up After Your Dog

Is it really a $100 fine?  Who enforces that?

Here is an official sign at the gateway to the Crescent Park.  It's only been there a year or so at the most and already someone has embellished the message a bit.

Scoop poop on pain of death

Whoah.. I really wonder who might be responsible for enforcing that one.

The best dogshit signs, though, are the homemade ones.  Here is one I noticed during Mardi Gras 2009.  It's meant to be read at poop's eye level.

Dog's eye level sign

And then there's this one right around the corner from 45 Tchoup.

Plese

At first I thought the misspelling was cute.  But, when I noticed another one just like it, I realized it was an affectation and it became annoying all over again.  Kind of like the whole poop-scooping concern itself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Boardwalk Empire

Here's a project that seems to have come out of left field.
A pair of developers, headed by the owner of Tipitina's, is negotiating the lease of a stretch of disused lakefront property in the hopes of constructing a 4.5 acre water park and outdoor concert-festival venue.

The development would sit on the site of the old Bally's riverboat casino landing in eastern New Orleans.

The Orleans Parish Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Board, which owns the land, is negotiating lease terms with Studio Network-Lakefront LLC, a company formed by Tipitina's owner Roland von Kurnatowski and his business partner, Dr. Eric George, a prominent New Orleans orthopedic surgeon.
It looks like they finally want to redevelop the Jazzland/Six Flags site... only they're not doing it at the Jazzland/Six Flags site.
Studio Network's proposal for the lakefront, dubbed Tipitina's Festival Park, would include:
  • An outdoor amphitheater with a 5,000 capacity.
  • A lazy river and splash park.
  • Water slides and zip lines.
  • A two-story, covered boardwalk with shops.
  • The conversion of the old riverboat terminal into an open-air market.
The "Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Board" exists as a result of the a post-Katrina reorganization of the levee board.  Even though the city had been flooded because of levee design failures on the part of the US Army Corps of Engineers, some felt as though it was inappropriate for the levee board to go on managing real estate and other recreational assets such as this riverboat landing.  That same some argued that, since managing these properties exposed the levee board to the dreaded appearance of possible corruption, that this somehow made us less safe from catastrophic flooding.. even though it hadn't.

In any case, what they decided to do was outsource the appearance of corruption to its own independent board.  Problem solved, right?   I mean who could get the wrong idea from this?
When those properties were returned to local control with the 2010 creation of the authority, the Bally's parcel was just one in a long list of battered assets that the newly-created entity, which lacks tax-funding, was incapable of repairing and returning to commerce on its own.

Last year, the authority decided to let the private sector have a go, issuing a request for development proposals.

Studio Network's proposal was the only submittal.
Speaking of non-flood assets, this story reminded me of  another  waterfront development in roughly the same part of town. When last I saw they also wanted to build a boardwalk.
Among other amenities, Pontchartrain Landing boasts 105 RV sites, 40 boat slips, a swimming pool, the Lighthouse Bar and Restaurant, three houseboats and regular shuttle service to the French Quarter. According to Bob MacKinnon, the founder of GuestReviews, a kind of TripAdvisor for the camping and RV industry, Pontchartrain Landing has consistently ranked among the top 1 percent of campgrounds in the country.

"It's part of a pretty exclusive group," MacKinnon said.

And it's currently in the midst of a makeover. In time for Mardi Gras, Schenck plans to  add a large reception hall, a new seafood restaurant, a coffee shop, 10 boat slips, 20 RV sites and 51 hotel-style rental units.

"Our goal is to create a boardwalk atmosphere on the north end of the canal," Schenck said during a tour of the property, as excavators tore up the earth around him. "We want to be what the West End of New Orleans used to be."
When that story was published they were lobbying City Council for an "overlay district" zoning exception.  Whatever happened there?

Busted

Cheap oil continues to unravel the "Louisiana Miracle."
South African energy giant Sasol will delay making a final investment decision on its proposed gas-to-liquids plant in the Lake Charles area because of the collapse in oil prices.

Sasol will continue to work on the project although “at a much slower pace,” President and Chief Executive Officer David Constable said.

The gas-to-liquids plant makes up the bulk of an estimated $22 billion complex.

The GTL complex would produce more than 96,000 barrels of diesel fuel, naphtha and other chemical products each day. The facility would have created 750 permanent jobs.
Very high profile project. Could not have been more over-hyped.. although Bobby Jindal did try.. as Clay observed earlier.
Governor Jindal said, “We are proud that Sasol is following through with its commitment to invest in this historic manufacturing project, and that the company is developing a project to the highest environmental standards in our state’s history. Thousands of high-paying construction jobs will be created by this world-scale chemical project, and thousands more permanent jobs will result when this ethane cracker complex begins operating in just a few short years.
 
Today, Louisiana is the epicenter of an industrial renaissance surpassing anything we’ve witnessed since perhaps the industrial revolution in 19th-century America. With projects like Sasol’s historic manufacturing investment in Louisiana, we truly are reaping the benefits of having the nation’s best business climate and a workforce that is second to none in the world. Indeed, Louisiana is the new frontier for business investment, and the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.”

Guess we're gonna have to wait a little bit longer for the re-dawning of the 19th Century.  Bobby tried to welcome it back last weekend but it looks like nobody showed up for that.

Dispelling myths

The 10 year Katrinaversary is coming.  (Holy crap!) And with it will inevitably come a zombie surge of the myths and lies we've all spent that decade combating in one way or another.

New Orleans is all below sea level!  They were raping babies in the Superdome! Nobody tried to evacuate!  Nobody could have predicted the breach of the levees!

And on and on. We've got a few months to start beating them all back again.  Jarvis DeBerry is getting a head start on it.

What right do you have to an opinion about anything?

Glenn Greenwald's reaction to the Jon Chait "PC police" article everyone is talking about, hits the most important point.  There's a certain species of journalist, and Chait is among them, who still haven't made peace with the idea that the things they write about actually matter to people outside of their social circle... and that those people are just as smart and relevant as they are.
What made the indignity so much worse was that the attacks came from people these journalists regard as nobodies: just average people, non-journalists, sometimes even anonymous ones. What right did they have even to form an opinion, let alone express one? As NBC News star Brian Williams revealingly put it in 2007:
You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.
That sort of sneering from establishment journalists was commonplace once they realized that they had critics and that ignoring them was no longer an option. Seemingly every week, a new column appeared in the NYT, Washington Post, or Time lamenting the threat to journalism and democracy and All Things Decent posed by the hordes of unhinged, uncredentialed losers who now had undeserved platforms to say mean things about honored journalists.
Greenwald has a lot more to add regarding the standard complaints about the often vicious tone of online criticism. He's been on the receiving end of that sort of thing as much as anyone with a high profile.  One of the consequences of letting the rabble into the deb party is sometimes the lobster tree gets knocked over.  The thing about that, though, is that it's pretty much just part of the job.
But that’s the price one pays for having a platform. And, on balance, it’s good that this price has to be paid. In fact, the larger and more influential platform one has, the more important it is that the person be subjected to aggressive, even harsh, criticisms. Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement. Having people devoted to attacking you – even in unfair, invalid or personal ways – is actually valuable for keeping one honest and self-reflective.

It would be wonderful on one level if all criticisms were expressed in the soft and respectful tones formalized in the U.S. Senate, but it’s good and necessary when people who wield power or influence are treated exactly like everyone else, which means that sometimes people say mean and unfair things about you in not-nice tones. Between erring on the side of people with power being treated with excess deference or excess criticisms, the latter is vastly preferable. The key enabling role of the government, media and other elites in the disasters and crimes of the post-9/11 era, by itself, leaves no doubt about this. It also proves that one of the best aspects of the internet is that it gives voice to people who are not credentialed – meaning not molded through the homogenizing grinder of establishment media outlets
News and politics (news is politics, really) is not a consumer product to be passively absorbed.  It is a a contentious struggle to define what is important and what gets done.  The purpose of democracy is to ensure that the greatest number (ideally all) of the citizens are not only informed of the issues of the day but that they are active participants in how those issues are articulated and argued over.  This is not a healthy process if it is dominated by authoritative gatekeepers.   It is messy and often impolite.  It is insurrectionist.

An informed citizenry holds the constant potential to overturn order. This, more than anything, is why I wanted to work in libraries. And it's the reason I've been attracted to blogging and social media all of these years. (Well, one reason anyway. I also enjoy posting pictures of food and talking shit about football.)   Anyway, no one who cares about this stuff is in any way out to "kill journalism."  On the contrary, every blogger I've ever met has a great deal of respect for journalists and the job they do.   Except Jon Chait, of course.  That guy is a douche.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The greatest thing on the internet today

Your New Orleans Pelicans. Heroes.


Where did all the joints go?

Here's a little NOLA.com blurb by Todd Price about a new (sorta new.. this place has closed and re-opened in a few locations) restaurant over by the Fairgrounds. Used to be this menu was pretty unremarkable.  Now it's a bit of a rarity.
Big Shirley’s, which Dummett runs with his wife, Suzette, cooks neighborhood New Orleans food. Live here long enough, and you recognize the style immediately and crave it daily.

It’s food like hot sausage po-boys or pork chops with a side of greens and thick rounds of candied yams. At Big Shirley’s, they have meatloaf on Tuesdays, spaghetti on Thursdays and fish on Fridays.

The definition of New Orleans neighborhood food has always been flexible enough to admit new additions. And at Big Shirley’s, you can order jerked shrimp, roasted garlic rosemary chicken and vegetable pasta primavera.
You can still find food like this, of course.  It's just that the places you find it are usually aiming a little higher than just the no-frills lunch crowd.  The High Hat on Freret is one example that comes to mind.  You can get a terrific plate of catfish and side of greens there, but it comes as more of an.. elevated concept.. than simply a quick bite.  What's missing from the landscape these days is a menu like Big Shirley's but without the pretense of a concept... or an accompanying "craft cocktail" list.

There's also what you might call an "old line" set of standard New Orleans casual places (Liuzza's, Joey K's, Mandina's, Frankie and Johnny's.. a few others.) As pleasant as those places can be, they also can feel a bit like the museum pieces critics like to accuse the French Quarter "Grand Dames" of being.    Sure, each is as authentic as it's ever been.  But they're also on the list of places we all name when tourists ask for  that.  Too often a meal any of them feels like a deliberate act of self-conscious preservation.

New restaurants are opening all the time these days. Each with its own kooky point of emphasis seemingly pulled out of a hat by a fourth grader.  (Here's an all grilled cheese restaurant!  How about a place that serves all ramen noodles! Gourmet popcorn!) I'm sure some.. or even most of these.. little "trend-traps" (TM Kevin Allman.. I think) are great in their own right and I'd be happy to try them all.

But if I were trying to open a new restaurant in New Orleans right now and I intended for it to be around for a while, I'd look for a neighborhood that hasn't had a place like Big Shirley's in a while and then do something very much like that menu.

Bucking the trend

National unemployment down to 5.6 percent.  Louisiana unemployment up to 6.7.

We're bucking the wrong way.

You call that living?

City Council has a lot of terrible legislation pending before it in the next few weeks.  Council members Guidry and Head are sponsoring ordinances designed to regulate (they say).. but really.. authorize and sanction Uber and Airbnb in Orleans Parish. Not to mention, also, the noise ordinance is on the way back.  The city has already signaled they may want it to be back with teeth.   More on all of that later.. but I'm convinced this is by far the most right wing city government I've seen in operation during my adult life, at least. 

The good news is, it ain't all bad.

Yesterday District D Council member Jared Brossett introduced an ordinance that would require all contractors doing business with the city to pay a minimum wage of $10.10. 
Brossett, who introduced the ordinance last week, bills it as a "living wage" proposal similar to others approved in progressive cities around the country.

"I am a firm believer that economic opportunity is one the cornerstones of a thriving city," Brossett said Monday (Jan. 26). "Sadly, too many of our citizens don't have that opportunity. A job by itself is not the type of opportunity we need. A good-paying job is what our people need. And if your company wants to do business with the city, we want them to pay you a living wage."
Nevermind that $10.10 is hardly what we could call a "living wage." If you think people can or should be able to live on that, well, as President Obama said, last week, "You try it."

Nevermind, also, that Brossett's proposal conflicts with (an admittedly egregious) 1997 state law (sponsored by our friends David Vitter and Steve Scalise, btw) which specifically prohibits municipalities from passing this kind of ordinance.  Of course such a law deserves a good challenge every now and then.  The last attempt at this was rejected by the State Supreme Court, unfortunately.  Lamar has all of the details here.

My point, though, is that Brossett's proposal, while not exactly a bad idea, is kind of a waste of time and attention because 1) the proposed wage is insufficient to meet any reasonable definition of a "living wage," and 2) it effectively accomplishes nothing baring either a reversal of a Supreme Court decision or a new constitutional amendment.  It makes for a nice headline, of course, but carries little purpose else.

So, like I said, it ain't all bad.. but it ain't all great either.

Last week's very reasonable smoking ordinance is another interesting case. I know some people are.. um... put out by it.. but the law they ended up passing is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people working in service industry jobs.  (And, yes, I'm looking forward to never again coming home smelling like smoke.) Still, it's worth paying attention to the Machivellian  process by which the smoking ban made its way through passage.

The original draft of Council Member Cantrell's ordinance was intentionally bloated with draconian overreach. The ordinance, as written, would have pushed smokers, not only out of the bar, but at least 25 feet away from the front door of the building before they could light up.  This would have caused concerns about negative effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.

The ordinance, as written, would have banned the indoor use of electronic cigarettes.  This might actually be a good idea but it was pretty difficult to justify given what we currently know abut the effects of second-hand vape.

The vaping provision was so ridiculous, in fact, that it dominated much of the public debate on the ordinance. Of course, this was always going to be a bit of a circus. Bar owners and casino managers were certain to complain the moment the ban was conceived.  Interesting, though, that throwing the oddball vapists in with their lot caused their arguments to appear more risible than they otherwise might have. Sort of a subtraction by addition.  I can't help but wonder whether this was calculated.

The ordinance, as written, also included some absurdly severe enforcement provisions which, like all of the others above, had to be amended out.
Yesterday, at-large councilman Jason Williams introduced an amendment to remove NOPD as an enforcement agency. That amendment was approved. NOPD and the still-in-progress NOLA Patrol will not carry out enforcement of the ordinance. District E Councilman James Gray also objected to a community service requirement for people unable to pay the fine. That amendment also was approved. Rather than mandate seven hours of community service to anyone unable to pay the fine, it will now be left to a judge's discretion.

Enforcement of the ordinance is largely incumbent upon businesses to remind smokers to step outside. Bar owners and managers, under the ordinance, must ask smoking patrons to put out their cigarette.

Williams said removing the NOPD from the picture "makes sure we don’t overburden or add an additional burden on the NOPD for a smoke-free New Orleans."

"It would be poor judgement to take police officers off the street for even a minute (to address smoking)," he said."

"It’s not a great thing if it becomes a tool of oppression for some people in this city," Gray added, suggesting that the ordinance could become an excuse to "stop young black men in the street" simply for smoking.
Noble sentiments from Gray and from Williams, of course.  Isn't it neat the way they got to step in and be heroes at the last minute there? Gray, Williams, and Nadine Ramsey got to make a big show of cutting all the nasty parts out of Cantrell's ordinance.  The opposition got to shout into the void. And, of course, the ordinance passed. Everybody wins!

You'd almost think the whole process was a sham and everything was planned out well in advance... you know.. if you thought that's how this stuff worked, anyway.

Monday, January 26, 2015

They're not real people They are billionaires

These are two columns published yesterday in "The Official Newspaper Of The New Orleans Saints." One is by sports columnist Ted Lewis and the other is by Stephanie Grace. Grace's is far better but they both contain an interesting common phrase.

Lewis's theme is straight-up LEAAVE THE BENSONS ALOOONE stuff. As much as the public may enjoy gawking at the royal follies, Lewis advises us to all "grow up."  He lectures us on our behavior through a series of very short paragraphs.
However you want to look at it, it’s great stuff. And it’s just getting started, so sit back and watch the show.

To which we say, stop it.

Stop. It.

Now.

Yes, this is a family feud. But it’s no game show.

These are real people involved.

Yes, they’re flawed people — like all of us are.

Yes, they’ve had dysfunction in their family before — like most of us have.

But they’re also real people who undoubtedly are feeling both deeply heartbroken about what has happened and embarrassed that it is playing out this way, no matter what kind of public face they’re trying to put on.
It gets smarmier than that.  But I hope you guys are all sufficiently shamed now that you have been informed that the Bensons are real people with the same real problems that you or I might have

For example, who among us has not had to struggle with just the right mix of antiques to properly accent our stained glass. And surely everyone can relate to the difficulties of finding good help these days.

But, at the end of the day, we know it's all worth it when the state of Louisiana sends us our annual $12 million gift ... and Mercedes-Benz sends us the $50 million for hanging signs up on a building the state owns... and, of course the rent payments come in from that office tower the state gave us and now rents back from us.   Real life is challenging, sure. But look how rewarding it is also!

Grace takes a slightly different tack from Lewis.  Rather than admonish us to lay off of the Bensons because the are "real people with real problems," she, instead remarks that this is precisely why it's so much fun to gawk at them.
So why isn’t it all more entertaining?

Let’s start with the obvious. These aren’t Hollywood characters but real people we’ve all watched for years, even if we don’t know them personally, and they’re experiencing real pain.

Moreover, some elements of the story are universal. At some point, every family must face the mental and physical decline of a loved one, and it’s always wrenching.
Gah!  At first glance, it looks like Grace is making Lewis's point for him.  We love this stuff because the pain is real. What kind of sick people must we be to so enjoy the thrill of watching human beings deliberately injuring themselves and one another in public for millions of dollars like this?  And anyway, isn't the football enough of that already?

But keep reading.  She gets closer to the point.
We may feel like voyeurs, but the rest of us have a stake in how this turns out, too. All of us, from the Louisiana taxpayers who built the two franchises’ facilities and have spent hundreds of millions on their upkeep, to the fans who buy tickets and merchandise, to the New Orleanians who will never forget how the Saints helped get them through the toughest of times — and who get that the continued presence of both teams signals the city’s survival, resurgence and big-league stature to the outside world.
New Orleans isn't obsessed with Bensonology right now solely for the  sake of titillation. They're concerned that the massive investment they've all made in public treasure, passion, and goodwill is under the stewardship of unstable, incompetent, and, frankly, unnecessary plutocrats.

These are not real people like you and me. These are billionaires squabbling over a fortune which they have, through political manipulation applied via a corrupt system welfare-for-the-wealthy, looted from the rest of us. They really don't deserve to benefit from anyone's well-meaning attempt at empathy, even if they are.. technically... humans.

Bronze Tom official greeting

In other news, what's grosser than Tom Benson?   Roger Goodell, of course.
And yet even some owners have been frustrated by aspects of Goodell's tenure. Bob McNair, who owns the Houston Texans and is a Goodell supporter, told me that when Saints owner Tom Benson resigned from three league committees in 2013, Goodell's pay package and his handling of the Saints' Bountygate scandal were two reasons. "Tom's a green-eyeshade accountant of many years," McNair said. "He's just not happy about what happened." (Through a spokesman, Benson denies this.) It's also an open secret in league circles that some owners, especially Woody Johnson of the Jets, resent the preferential treatment Goodell is perceived to extend to his inner circle.
Goodell's "pay package" is so obnoxious that even robber-barron Tom Benson is offended by it.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees has figured out the problem on the field.
The good news for Saints fans is, after meeting with Payton and Loomis, Brees is confident the front office realized the error of its ways and has a better plan in place entering this offseason.

“I think we’ve identified the problems or the things that got us beat or the things that didn’t allow us to be as good as we know we can be, and we have the solution to fix it,” said Brees, before boarding the bus out of the Pro Bowl. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but I know we can get it done.”
Was Henry Ellard really that much of a problem?

I'm pretty much just here to push a button

I can't help it if sometimes I get confused about which button they want me to push.
Minutes after Ramsey had joined her colleagues last week in unanimously passing a new anti-smoking ordinance, she offered a new ordinance that would have given Harrah's a 50-percent exemption. Her proposal would also remove "places of employment" from the list of locales that banned smoking and added "tobacco retailers" to the list of places exempted from the ban.

Such changes likely would have gutted the new law by allowing any establishment selling tobacco products or operating as a legal casino to dodge the ban.

Johnson said Ramsey had thought Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration had asked her to offer the changes. The mayor, through his spokesman, disavowed any such request Monday and said he supported the ban that passed last week.
 

Elections have consequences (?)

In 2014, the voters, clearly demanded that Congress get to work on destroying Social Security.  They heard you loud and clear.

Zombie pledge drive

Send braiinzzz
Since 2006, The American Zombie blog has been providing original, independent, investigative reporting on corruption issues that affect New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.  From government to the power players that pull the strings behind the scenes, AZ has fearlessly dug up the story just below the surface shedding light on the corruption, dirty politics, and backroom deals among the power players that have enriched themselves at the great expense of the public as a whole.
Jason does some of the most valuable work out there.  If you can keep the guy in business, consider doing it. 

All we do is build nice things for rich people

The Perez development in Holy Cross gets covered in The Guardian.

This is not always the case but sometimes the 10,000 foot view really does capture the essence of a story better than the local news does.
Residents say while potholes and street lamps in the Lower Ninth Ward and other low-income neighborhoods go unfixed, and while people who were here before Katrina struggle to maintain their damaged homes with little city help, the city has refocused its energy on attracting rich outsiders and corporations. It isnow one of the fastest-growing cities in the US.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Everywhere else it's just Deflategate

Go away, Benson
Krewe of King Arthur 2006


It's... just... all... too much
The battle for control of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans moved into court Thursday (Jan. 23) as family members associated with Rita Benson LeBlanc filed a lawsuit claiming that the teams' owner and family patriarch Tom Benson is incompetent and is being directed by a manipulative wife and her allies at the highest level of the sports empire.

The suit was filed one day after Tom Benson unexpectedly announced plans to transfer future ownership of the clubs to wife, Gayle, cutting off his daughter, Renee LeBlanc, and his two grandchildren, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, who until recently had been designated as the heir apparent.
Have you read the lawsuit yet?  Of course you have. It's the tale of a great king and his three heartbroken heirs separated from their patriarch by an interloping witch.
The suit attempts to paint Gayle Benson, 67, as a gold-digging opportunist who has taken advantage of her husband's unfit state of health and ostracized family members in grasping for power and riches.
She keeps him locked away and feeds him only ice cream and wine.  (No, not wine ice cream. You can't buy that in Louisiana.)  She's taken control of the family fortunes and all of the king's communications. (Sometimes to very strange effect, indeed.)

So now the exiled heirs have appealed to the law courts to throw out the usurper and restore their inheritance. Nevermind, of course, that the princess may not be the wisest heir apparent and that the king is not all he's cracked up to be. Nevermind, as well, that all the great fortune they're all fighting over derives directly from the fame (and blood) the warrior class they keep about them and, more fundamentally, from the taxes, faith, and tribute paid to them by the masses.

But, this is New Orleans, after all, and we can't seem to get enough of our make-believe royalty. Especially this time of year.

Playing dress up

Anyway, I tried to warn you guys last year this kind of instability is the reason the civilized world has moved away from absolutist hereditary government.  The fates of nations should not depend solely on the fickle vanity of kings.

Bronze Tom

Thursday, January 22, 2015

President of Wanklandia

Jeff Arnold is going to need a job soon.  This seems pretty good to him, I guess.
State Rep. Jeff Arnold plans to end his tenure in the Legislature this year by pushing a bill that would have Algiers and West Jefferson secede from Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Early indications, however, are that the West Bank lawmaker may have difficulty finding many people who want to go along with the idea.

Arnold, a term-limited Democrat who has represented Algiers for almost a dozen years, envisions a 65th parish that would stretch from Algiers to Grand Isle, powered by an offshore and marine services-based economy and a population large enough to qualify it as one of the top six parishes in the state.

Leave your opinions at home, put your cigarettes out

A right to smoke?

City Council, this morning, is ready to go with the smoke-out.
A proposal that would make it illegal to smoke in most indoor public places, including bars and casinos, appears poised to win approval from the New Orleans City Council on Thursday as long as the measure does not require that the New Orleans Police Department act as an enforcement agency for the ban.

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who introduced the ordinance, said she believes at least four other members on the seven-person council will vote for it.

“I think we’re in good shape in taking a step toward protecting our residents, our employees, our musicians,” Cantrell said Wednesday
The last minute appeals of the vapists seem to have fallen on deaf ears. 
The ordinance may ultimately end up including other amendments — from council members and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration — that would, for instance, allow smoking on certain patios and balconies.

Cantrell said, however, that she has no plan to remove a prohibition on smoking electronic cigarettes indoors despite pressure from e-cigarette lobbyists to exempt the devices.

“The data is not concrete as it relates to (the safety of) e-cigarettes,” Cantrell said. “Until they’ve been regulated, we have to just wait on that.”
I agree with Ms. Cantrell that vaping seems pretty gross and that inhaling large concentrated quantities of nicotine-spiked chemicals is, in all likelihood, not very good for you.   On the other hand, it has been decades since the dangers of second hand smoking have been widely understood and we're only just now confident enough in our legal standing to impose a ban on smoking.  Interesting that we can just plunge ahead and bad e-cigarettes as well with next to zero data available.

But plunging ahead is what this city government tends to do nowadays. And, even though the public is still treated to the spectacle of "public input," One gets the distinct impression that decisions are made far in advance and further from the public eye than they've ever been.

In this case, it's all in the cause of providing hospitality employees with a safer workplace so we can laugh it off a bit.   But it's something to keep in mind, particularly when this comes down.




We're pretty sure all of the relevant decision-makers there have already made up their minds as well.


Update: Looks like the vapists are getting their clause.  The word, "vape" will be an official legal term in the City of New Orleans.

UpperdateThe ban passed.  Actually quite reasonable in its amended form.  In all likelihood the harsher provisions (25 feet from doorways, anti-vaping, mandatory sentencing) were in there for negotiating leverage in the first place.

Golden Crown

Bo Dollis


This Tuesday, we learned that Bo Dollis had passed.  That's him on the scooter in the above photo, Mardi Gras Day 2008.

WWLTV:
NEW ORLEANS - Big Chief Theodore "Bo" Dollis, who led the Wild Magnolia tribe of Mardi Gras Indians in performances around the world, has died. He was 71.

His death was announced by the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame and confirmed by his son.
Dollis masked as a Mardi Gras Indian for more than five decades.

Though he had no formal musical training, Dollis and The Wild Magnolias recorded several albums, spreading the music of the Mardi Gras Indians worldwide and featuring Dollis' distinctive voice.

He is best known to many for his signature vocals on Wild Magnolia songs including "Handa Wanda" and "New Suit." Their song "Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right)," climbed onto the Billboard singles chart. In 1974, they released the album that introduced the recorded version of "Handa Wanda," which is now a familiar Carnival anthem.
A few things about "Carnival anthems."  If you're from New Orleans.. meaning, if you spent the especially nostalgic portion of your childhood here.. they're more accurately Carnival carols, almost a sacred kind of music tied to a holiday season.   There's a more or less standard playlist that most people can rattle off in a few minutes. The most famous recordings of these songs were all made roughly between the 1940s and 70s. The earlier ones are rock n' roll songs, the later ones are classic funk.  Each has its own distinctive quality.  None of these is more distinctive than Bo Dollis's voice.

This is from the Advocate:
A musical pioneer, Dollis expanded the reach of the Mardi Gras Indian sound by recording traditional chants and blending them with funk and rhythm-and-blues music. The Wild Magnolias performed at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970.

With Dollis as lead vocalist, the Wild Magnolias recorded several albums, including “The Wild Magnolias” in 1974 and “They Call Us Wild” in 1975.

“Bo Dollis created the soundtrack to Mardi Gras with the Mardi Gras Indian sound,” Big Chief Juan Pardo of the Gold Comanche tribe said.

Dollis may be best known for his raw vocals, exemplified in the Mardi Gras classic “Handa Wanda,” which opens with Dollis’ powerful shout.

 


This is from NOLA.com music writer Keith Spera
In the pantheon of New Orleans music's great voices, Bo Dollis' remarkable rasp, equal parts gravel and joy, ranks near the top. It is just as unmistakable, if the stylistic opposite, of Aaron Neville's delicate, fluttering falsetto.

Stanton Moore, the Galactic drummer, once observed that Dollis' voice, like those of Robert Plant and James Brown, is "rooted to the center of the earth. It's the most soulful, powerful shout that I've ever heard. It's heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time."

Before Dollis, Indian chants were already bubbling up into popular music.  Some of the titles  NOLA.com's Allison Fensterstock cites here are among the Carnival carol cannon themselves. 
By the middle of the 20th century, the chants sung by Mardi Gras Indians in the streets of New Orleans had begun to work their way onto wax. In the mid-1950s, folklorist Samuel Charters had collected field recordings of Indians in New Orleans, later released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. In the '50s and early '60s, Danny Barker, James "Sugar Boy" Crawford and the Dixie Cups had released swinging jazz and rhythm and blues arrangements of Indian tunes like "Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing" and "Iko Iko." Earlier than all of that, Jelly Roll Morton had demonstrated Indian melodies on the piano for Alan Lomax, during Lomax's landmark, marathon Library of Congress interview sessions.

Indian tunes were making their way into popular music – though, outside of Charters' recordings captured in the field, none of them were performed by actual masking Indians. In 1970, Wild Magnolias Big Chief Bo Dollis, who died Tuesday (Jan. 20), changed that. He did so with the help of his longtime friend Monk Boudreaux — Big Chief of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians — and a young Quint Davis.
After those Wild Magnolias records were made, Dollis's shout was forever entwined with the image of the Mardi Gras Indian in the public imagination... so much of that image being shrouded in mystery.

Until very recently Indian culture existed somewhat on the fringes of what was considered the mainstream Carnival experience. It's only really within the last decade that it's become something you'd expect most tourists to even know about much less seek out in the neighborhoods. Even locally, it was often relegated to a back page curiosity. (Its less than comfortable relationship with the police has improved only somewhat.)

Still, over the course of roughly a generation, this unique and rich folk tradition has steadily come to be more widely understood and celebrated locally.   Dollis's music was indispensable in transmitting the essence of that culture to a wider public.   
""He was the modern musical face of the Mardi Gras Indian culture that broke through to the outside world," (Quint) Davis said. His voice "came out of his personality. Bo wasn't an angry Indian. He was a joyous Indian. Bo had this joy about the whole culture. He had this joy about the fact that he was leading it, and he could sing it. That infused what he was singing."

We've been lucky enough to catch the Wild Magnolias on Mardi Gras Day pretty often over the years. Their home base is right around the corner from where we are.  They used to come out of the H&R Bar on Dryades Street.  It burned down in 2001. Here's an old picture I took of the still standing facade in 2005.

H&R Bar

They're still on the same block, though.  Here's another picture from way back in 2005.  That's Bo standing outside of the Sportsman's Corner. I remember pointing him out to Daisy.  It was, I think, only her second Mardi Gras that year.  "Who's Bo Dollars?" I remember her asking.



The corner of Second and Dryades is a nexus of activity on Mardi Gras morning.

Wild Magnolias

Big Queen

In 2008, I got about 30 seconds of Bo leading a round of Indian Red.  Sorry about the grainy video. It was way back in the aughts and the technology was bad.




Anyway, you can see his health was already not so great by that point. He had taken to using a scooter to get around when out with the group. The most recent photo I have of that is from 2009.

Bo on scooter

That same year, Menckles had knitted these purple green and gold beer coozies that fit around your neck. It was a pattern she made up on her own and it took her a long time to figure out how she wanted them to work.  We only had two of them.  But for some reason she kind of spontaneously decided to give hers to Bo... just as a decorative thing to hang from his handlebar.  I'm sure he thought she was nuts, but he accepted it.

By some coincidence, Bo Dollis is featured on this year's Jazzfest poster. Fittingly enough, the man himself was a poster image for an entire genre of folk art and music.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Bobby Jindal is talking about

On Monday night CNN published a very satisfying editorial by Jay Parini.  The title alone, "Bobby Jindal doesn't know what he's talking about," is rousing in its own right. Parini is reacting to some absurd assertions laid out by Jindal during a speech this week in London.
He (Jindal) announced confidently to a group that included a number of British parliamentarians that the police in the United Kingdom don't dare to tread in these zones, where Sharia law is widely used. "Nonassimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can without regard for the laws of the democratic countries which provided them a new home," he said

This is the sort of ill-informed fantasy that plays well in certain right-wing circles. This probably works for Jindal back home in Louisiana.

Oddly enough, Fox News got into trouble recently on the "no-go zone" nonsense, too, as when Steve Emerson, a so-called terrorism expert, explained to the American masses that Birmingham, a major British urban center, was populated entirely by Muslims and that "non-Muslims just simply don't go in."

British Prime Minister David Cameron correctly labeled him "a complete idiot," and Emerson's remark caused a spokesperson for the network to admit that Muslim "no-go zones" don't actually exist, not in Britain, not in Europe.
You know it's bad when David Cameron thinks you are a "complete idiot." On the other hand, that's probably exactly what Bobby Jindal wants. Here's Jindal not backing down one bit when confronted after his speech by a reporter.
But later, he was confronted by CNN’s Max Foster to back up these claims. “Look, I’ve heard from folks here that there are neighborhoods where women don’t feel comfortable going in without veils,” Jindal said. “That’s wrong. We all know that there are neighborhoods where police are less likely to go into.”

“But you need to have proper, sort of, facts to back that up,” Foster replied, saying he, as British man, has never heard of “no-go zones” for non-Muslims.

Jindal said that’s why he added the word “so-called” before “no-go zones” in his speech before turning the accusations around on liberals. “I think that the radical Left absolutely wants to pretend like this problem is not here. Pretending it’s not here won’t make it go away,” he said.

As Foster continued to press him for evidence and accused him of “exaggerating” the situation, Jindal replied, “I think your viewers know absolutely there are places where the police are less likely to go. They absolutely know there are neighborhoods where they wouldn’t feel comfortable.”

Jindal doesn't care what this guy thinks any more than he cares whether or not it makes Cameron or any other strawman elitist choke on his porridge.  Facts are stupid things anyway.  Why anyone still insists on living in the "reality-based community" anymore is beyond comprehension.

Jindal is purposefully talking past these twits directly to the "viewers" who "know absolutely" that Muslims/immigrants/poors whoever they're most worried about are very scary.  The more flack he catches from  fact-addled "leftists" over it, the better. Jindal has "heard from folks" what the real deal is and that's good enough for him.

I continue to recommend  Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge about the rise of Ronald Reagan for further insight into the backlash base Jindal is trying to tap into.  The book picks up with Nixon's politicizing the POW issue and proceeds through Watergate up into the 1976 election where Reagan challenged Ford as a fringe candidate.

The consensus view of Reagan during the late 60s and early 70s was that he was a nut, and not a particularly smart nut, either. He was often the lone national figure who would blindly adhere to the furthest right wing talking points even as they were discredited by facts. The mainstream treated him as a laughing stock... sort of the way they do Jindal now. 

But Reagan kept plugging away. Impressing the eggheads wasn't his goal.  He wanted to make the impression that he was talking past intellectuals in the media and appealing directly to the people who really knew what was going on. Whatever the facts may appear to be according to the elites, Reagan and Jindal are sure to have "heard from folks" that something different is actually happening.

I'm far from the first person to observe that Jindal is deliberately trying to mimic Reagan's strategy in moving onto the national stage as best as he can. This doesn't mean it's going to work out as well for him, but, as stupid as he makes himself look, don't think there isn't a method to it.  

Of course, sometimes a typo is just a typo.





Other times, though, I kind of wonder.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A dream not yet realized

Cornel West's remembrance of Martin Luther King published in Salon yesterday is not to be missed. I think that, in recent years, we are starting to recover a bit of the radical King that had been bleached out of history for the better part of a generation. West explains why we need to remember now more than ever.
The fundamental question is: Does America have the capacity to hear and heed the radical King or must America sanitize King in order to evade and avoid his challenge?

King indeed had a dream. But it was not the American dream. King’s dream was rooted in the American Dream—it was what the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness looked like for people enslaved and Jim Crowed, terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized by American laws and American citizens. The litmus test for realizing King’s dream was neither a black face in the White House nor a black presence on Wall Street. Rather, the fulfillment of his dream was for all poor and working people to live lives of decency and dignity.

King’s dream of a more free and democratic America and world had morphed into, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.” He called America a “sick society.” At one point, King cried out in despair, “I have found out that all that I have been doing in trying to correct this system in America has been in vain. I am trying to get at the roots of it to see just what ought to be done. The whole thing will have to be done away with.” He said to his dear brother Harry Belafonte days before his, King’s, death, “Are we integrating into a burning house?” He was weary of pervasive economic injustice, cultural decay, and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified, which are still with us today.
 Today, the house is still on fire.
The world's richest 1 percent will own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined by next year, according to a new study released Monday by Oxfam.

In 2014, the wealthiest one percent owned 48 percent of the overall wealth, while everyone else had 52 percent combined. Their share of the wealth has steadily risen in recent years and is poised to surpass 50 percent by 2016, the study found.
Maybe it's a very small consolation, but if you're grasping about for hope, it is significant that we have dedicated a national holiday to the contemplation of King's memory.  When seen in full, it is a contemplation of the potential of radical resistance and of what it means to  practice participatory democracy.  Rather than a stale commemoration of long gone history, King's holiday is an active reminder of how much there is still to do.

Once upon a time, our friend Steve Scalise voted against its recognition in Louisiana.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Embracing the Dream

DSCN0982

This is a sculpture at the corner of Oretha Castle Haley and Martin Luther King Boulevards by the late artist, Frank Hayden. It was installed in 1976 as a monument to Martin Luther King Jr.
Frank Hayden (1934-1988) shared these words during the unveiling of his ten-foot tall sculpture honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in August 1976. Hayden’s abstract egg shape with arms and hands revealed was met with mixed reactions. It was reported that many in attendance expected a life-size statue of Dr. King. Hayden explained “the shape represents life and growth, and the arms and hands are reaching out for brotherhood.” Inside the egg form are passages from Dr. King's speeches, and there is a bullet hole to commemorate Dr. King's assassination.

MLK and OCH

I took these photos back in 2006.  Since that time, this corner.. along with the rest of the OCH corridor, has seen some changes thanks to a variety of revitalization efforts.. as well as the beginnings of the gentrification process in Central City.

One very high profile project involves the Gators department store on the left in the above photograph which is being redeveloped into the New Orleans Jazz Market opening this spring.
The extensive renovation/construction project to convert a long-dormant former department store into a sleek center for modern jazz is scheduled to be completed in early 2015. Plans call for the New Orleans Jazz Market to house a 360-seat performance venue, a rehearsal room and an archive of New Orleans jazz. The market will host educational programs and performances by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and others.

Founded in 2002, the nonprofit NOJO was modeled in part after the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York, intended to be a permanent performing arts institution devoted to building an industry for jazz in the city where the music originated.
When I took these photos I also took some of a mural facing the monument from the side of a building on MLK Boulevard.

King mural

The mural, titled "Embracing the Dream" by artist Bruce "Shakor" White,  offered a commentary on the sculpture.

DSCN0985

DSCN0986

Last year, the building began undergoing renovations leading to the mural's removal from the wall. Gambit's "Blake Pontchartrain" explains.
Display windows have been installed where the murals used to be and passersby now can see local artists' works on display inside. The Labats say the two Shakur murals are in a secure place. Possible plans for the murals have been discussed, including one to display them on the third floor of the building. Connie Labat says the renovated building will feature live music, films and theater — and will always have art displayed.
That's nice, I guess.  Still it's a shame that the mural, which was such a great companion piece to the sculpture, had to be removed from the adjoining outdoor space. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

David Duke: Republican

David Duke Republican

For a few weeks now I've been promising to try and add what little bit of perspective I can to the recent blow-up over Rep. Steve Scalise's 2002 appearance at white supremacist convention in Metairie. Scalise was briefly in the news again this week after an apparently lukewarm protest in D.C. and the fact that the national press picked up a bit on his refusal to add his name to a symbolic statement that slavery was kind of a bad idea.

The key to understanding the Scalise controversy, though, is understanding that his seemingly extremist views and associations are really quite near to the mainstream of the political establishment.. not just in Louisiana.. not just in the South, even. But Louisiana is the political incubator that birthed Scalise, so we should talk about that first.  It so happens that I grew up in Louisiana and therefore have quite a lot to say on the subject.  So much, in fact, that it's going to take more than one long-ish post like this to get to it all.  Believe me, this worries me as much as it does you.  In this post, though, I'd like to focus on  just how near to the mainstream of the political establishment David Duke himself was.  At least in the early 90s he managed to make himself so.

For those of you who weren't around during the Peak Duke years, it might be difficult to understand that David Duke circa 1989-1991 was a slightly different figure from the more openly fringe Duke he was prior to those years and to which he reverted later.

Duke did not run for Senate or for Governor as a Klansman.  He ran as a Christian conservative Republican ostensibly regretful of the "mistakes" of his youth.  As such, the fact that he was indistinguishable from the mainstream of his party remains the most remarkable fact about his rise.

In order to help better understand this, I've pulled up these debates from the 1991 Governor's race.  One is an LPB broadcast.



The other was presented by WWLTV. This one comes in five parts. I'm just going to embed the first one and trust you can find the others from there. 



Here are the issues Duke hammers on throughout.

1) Corruption:  Emphasized to some degree because it is a  perceived soft spot vs Edwards.. although Duke fails to land anything like a significant blow in those exchanges.

But there's a more subtle set of references to "machine politics"which, in New Orleans, carried a certain racial tinge. And at several points Duke out and out accuses Edwards of "buying black votes" as well as of asking blacks to vote against Duke because of his "past" thus proving that Duke's opponents are, in fact, the "real racists."

In Duke's construction, this is all evidence of his status as an outsider. Duke frequently describes himself as a reforming crusader for more "honest and open" government and a break from the "politics of the past." You can watch this today and place Duke alongside any typical "Tea Party" leaning Republican and he looks like much the same quantity.

2) The Environment: This is a bit of an anachronism.  It's hard to conceive of now when we think of this issue in terms of the standard national argument over global warming.  But this was far from a dominant issue in 1991.  Politically.. especially in Louisiana.. it was more of a fringe concern that could attract "kooks" on either the left or the right.  (Coastal erosion was a known factor but only just beginning to gain political traction.)

When it was cited at all by candidates, environmentalism was held up as kind of a vague claim to virtue; not too different from being in favor of "ethics" which.. we just saw was something Duke demagogued on pretty hard.  In fact, these two issues treated in just this way were something of a standard play for Louisiana conservatives of the time.  (Buddy Roemer, and before him Dave Treen, was also famous for talking about "ethics" and "the environment" in ways that were scarcely any different.)

Like many phony political environmentalists of his day, Duke was not very coherent.  While he decries Louisiana's status as, "the nation's largest toxic waste dump," he doesn't say much about how he would go about reversing that.  In fact, he rails against big government "intrusion on business" several times.. including where it concerned a controversy over a law requiring fishers to use new turtle-safe nets which one would have thought would be an environmental concern.

3) Education:  Here, again, we find Duke harping on a very mainstream reformist topic. He does take advantage of a few opportunities to do some subtle race baiting, though. There's a question at one point about a federal mandate for equitable funding for public schools in poorer neighborhoods.  Duke merely says that this sounds like "redistribution" and is therefore probably bad.  At other points, he talks about "affirmative action" and "forced busing" which are the sorts of education topics Duke's target voters are typically concerned with. But mostly he just says the word, "education" over and over. He rarely ventures very far outside of the "won't someone think of the children" range.

An interesting difference between then and now is that, in 1991, a "pro-education" candidate supported teacher pay raises.  Today, the popular political rhetoric around education involves union busting charter schools and reliance on a high burnout, virtual temporary labor force provided through the Teach For America pipeline.

Also, notice, that in 1991 there was no talk about using state money to fund private religious schools teaching an anti-science curriculum.  No one in these debates seems to think evolution is a controversial topic.  In other words, education policy in Louisiana is currently to the right of David Duke.

4) Welfare Reform: Here we have the real meat and potatoes of the Duke candidacy. Welfare was the issue that he rode the hardest during his brief period of notoriety. During the debates he returned to it as often as possible. He talks about it when asked about the budget. He talks about it when asked about his legislative agenda.  When asked a pointed question about why he received an unusual amount of campaign money from out of state, he says a lot of people around the country care about welfare reform.

But notice that he doesn't say anything particularly outlandish.. or at least.. anything that would be too different from what you'd hear most Republicans say. The general implication is that some people are getting something they haven't earned and it's coming off of the backs of good clean hard working people.

His go-to image is about wagons. "Too many people are riding in the wagon while not enough are pulling it." He tells us people are using welfare to buy drugs and lottery tickets. He repeatedly conjures the specter of welfare mothers having children on purpose in order to increase the size of their check.  Edwards counters that this is a ridiculous idea since such a welfare baby bonus would amount to 11 dollars a week.  No matter to Duke, who goes on to suggest that welfare recipients be required to take birth control. All of these horrors, of course, come at the expense of  veterans, and the elderly, and the disabled according to Duke who says he is merely trying to defend basic fairness.

It's important to understand that Duke's arguments here are no more extreme than what we get from conservatives today. In some ways, they are somewhat less so. Recall that only a few years ago State Rep John Labruzzo (heir to.. roughly Duke's old district, btw) called for forced sterilization of welfare recipients.

Thursday afternoon, Rep. Charles Boustany appeared on the Angela Hill show where the two of them commiserated over what they agree is a dire need for.. yep.. welfare reform. Boustany is pushing a bill in the new congress.  On the Angela show, Boustany hit a set of talking points pulled directly from the Duke playbook.
Because let me tell you one of things I did I was successful in the last congress in getting a bill passed and signed into law. So it's actually a law of the land now what that says that if I deadbeat dad is is getting welfare money... from the family.. he cannot use that money in a strip club. The casino or liquor store that became law that's my bill. I'm also the author of legislation that and I tried to get done last year and couldn't .. I'm reintroducing it.. that would deal with the drug testing. You know you go to work for company  you get drug tested but taxpayer dollar shouldn't be going to buy drugs. So those kind of things I'm look at that.
There was nothing in even the most inflammatory rhetoric from Duke during that election that isn't squarely within the bounds of the mainstream Republican agenda then or today.

Anyway so enjoy watching those videos. There are a few other interesting bits you might pick up on.  Duke is asked to name some close advisers he might appoint in his administration.  One of those names is Kenny Knight, who we have since learned is a link between Duke and Steve Scalise

During the LPB debate (a little over 33 minutes in)  there is a dramatic exchange between Duke and Norman Robinson who really lays into him over... well... Duke's many statements and publications, as well as his general having been a Nazi and a Klansman for all those years.  Duke cites his Christian faith (supposedly arrived at in his older wiser years) and begins, "I regret having been intolerant but that's not how I live today."

As he talks, though Duke becomes more and more strident.  First he talks about the long history of racist Louisiana politicians he is better than. Then he very quickly arrives at a, "there is racism on all sides" stance. Finally he's talking about Jesse Jackson and the fact that Norman is out to get him.  It's striking but it also would fit very much within the FOX News Ferguson coverage last year.

One interpretation of the Steve Scalise story asks us to believe that Scalise's appearance at a white supremacist event was a "mistake" he made some time in his past.  This is almost the exact same sort of excuse David Duke once employed in order to brush off his own past.  (And, hey, maybe it's not even that much of a mistake anymore.  Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal is apparently going to spend Martin Luther King Day speaking to an anti-Muslim hate group in London.)

Duke sold his new self remarkably well. He limited his racial rhetoric to code-speak while developing a platform that seemed to position him well within the mainline of reformist Louisiana political tradition. (In Louisina "reform" candidates are usually conservatives. That's more than I have time to explain right now. Read a book.)  But he was never going to be accepted among the professional power players.  During his term in the Legislature he was widely shunned.

Duke succeeded... maybe we can't call one victory in a State Rep race success... Duke reached the pinnacle of his career because he happened to come along at a time when white backlash voters were at their angriest, and the Duke brand offered them the primal scream of a "fuck you" vote.  But, in order to reach even that level, he had to re-calibrate that brand  a bit. He had to tone down his rhetoric just enough to play the part of a mainstream professional Republican.

The remarkable lesson, though, is just how easy this was to do.

The difference between Duke and Republican insiders wasn't about ideology as much as it was personality. Duke really was a weirdo and an outsider and the insiders hated him for that.  During the debates, reporters and Edwards go after him for not having ever had a "real job."  Duke calls himself a "small businessman."

Really? What kind of small business?

Computer consulting. And a "mailing list company."

Since then, Duke and his mailing lists have become infamous in state politics.  Here he was in 1991 being called out as a hustler.  And yet, in future years, that hustle would remain lucrative for him thanks to several Republican and Democratic clients.

A few years afterward, Steve Scalise would brag to Stephanie Grace that he was "David Duke but without the baggage."  What Scalise meant specifically was that, unlike the professional Republicans who merely push an agenda that plays upon the prejudices and fears the white supremacist crowd, Duke had actually signed up for the movement.

In politics you can be all sorts of things and make it okay, but the one thing the real pros cannot abide is authenticity.  That authenticity was both Duke's strength and his undoing.  Maybe Scalise has ended up with more baggage than he bargained for after all.  In all likelihood, though, he's probably still just enough of a phony to keep his job.