Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Whatever keeps everybody miserable

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court has found a creative way to deal with its unconstitutional "debtors prison" situation. Rather than give up entirely on setting cash bail and collecting punitive fines and fees from poor people, they've instead been taking that money and putting it aside in escrow. It isn't useful to anyone there. The money had been going to cover the court's operating expenses but, last year, a bump in their allocation from the city budget was meant to eliminate the need for that. Which leads us to suspect that some of these judges are still setting bail out of spite.
Meanwhile, advocates say that even if there were no conflict of interest, (Judge Harry) Cantrell is ignoring his constitutional obligation to consider whether defendants can actually make bail.

In a federal court petition filed Friday, they cited the case of Miles Moran, a 28-year-old homeless man from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, who’s accused of unauthorized entry into a Walgreens drugstore on Canal Street.

Cops say Moran has a history of shoplifting at the store. On this occasion, they claim he walked out with four Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas, two bags of Lay’s potato chips and two Cokes. The total cost of the goods was $21.28 — but the unauthorized entry charge is a felony.

Cantrell set Moran’s bail at $1,250, then slashed it to $300. Still, attorneys from the Orleans Public Defenders say Moran, who’s been unemployed since December, can’t afford any cash bail. They’ve asked the judge to release Moran with no bail to Odyssey House, which offers residential treatment for people with substance abuse problems.

In a written ruling, Cantrell stood by his decision to impose a money bail, citing a pending municipal attachment and warrant for Moran from Kenner. Public defenders said Kenner wouldn't even have bothered to pick up Moran from the New Orleans jail.
Clearly the judges need additional incentive to treat people humanely. One solution offered today during City Council budget hearings would have made their budgetary supplement contingent on eliminating the bail and fees but the judges say their hands are tied by state law.  Instead, it looks like the Council resolved to create a "task force" to figure out ways to lobby Baton Rouge. Good luck talking to the incoming Republican supermajorities about bail reform.

Helena Moreno floated a different idea.

The problems with that should be obvious and VOTE says it well enough in that tweet.  But it turns out this is an actual thing under consideration.
One option the court is considering is to ask the Legislature to pass a law that would direct money raised from bail fees to the city, which would continue to make up for the resulting revenue shortfall. The money in escrow could also be sent to the city.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he thought that would solve the conflict of interest problem.
So there's your solution. Keep right on collecting exorbitant bail, fines and fees from poor people. But make sure to "Fair Share" the proceeds out to City Hall and everything's golden.

Do the collapse

Turns out they have to blow more stuff up. Terrific way to ring in the New Year. Don't worry. The football and tourism related events will still happen, of course.
City officials presented a timeline for when the implosion of the failed Hard Rock Hotel construction site would happen shortly after they announced the demolition of the building would move forward at a press conference Tuesday evening.

Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell told media the building should be imploded in nine weeks, with recovery of the bodies of two still-missing workers and further investigation to follow. A three-month cleanup will also take place after the planned implosion.

The only factor that could move the demolition past the nine weeks is the College Football Playoffs and New Year's Eve events, McConnell said. "We will not let it interfere with CFP," McConnell said.
This also says they're going to stabilize the "Alpha" crane that has been dangling over Canal Street since the last time they set off explosions down there.  That one collapsed into the now-condemned building while the other broke in half and nose-dived into Rampart Street where it punctured a sewer line.

This result was different from the elegant "umbrella closing"  effect officials said they were going for beforehand. Nonetheless, we were all told immediately afterward that the crashing and dangling was, in fact, exactly what they meant.  McBride also noticed this discrepancy and points us to this video where the contractor continues to say that it happened just like they planned.  McConnell even said at the time that after the demolitions, the dangling Alpha crane was "very stable." It's weird though that the thing they did on purpose just left something that still needs to be stabilized hanging off the side of the building for a month. Sounds fishy to us. But it was good enough for the sages at Georges Media where the moral of the story was, as usual, everyone in charge is doing a great job.

For a different take on that, please see this month's Antigravity where Jules Bentley offers this counterpoint
It’s not surprising that Mayor Cantrell now wants to raze the whole structure to the ground, since this murder monument indicts her entire political class. What a towering tribute to its enablers the Hard Rock Hotel presents, a great slumping sundial whose gnomon points to their collective moral lodestar, unquenchable greed. It celebrates the greed not just of its developers but all who collaborated on, encouraged, profited from, and rubber-stamped this deathtrap. The list of the guilty is long, and every name on it is written with the blood of the building’s laborers—for Mammon, whose temple this is, desires human sacrifice.

Yeah you are going to want to read the rest of that. Jules is probably the only writer in town who can so, um, lovingly pull together the threads of New Orleans power, politics and exploitation that run through this story.  (Others who lack the patience and craft can only blurt stuff out into the void.)

I do feel compelled to add one bit, though.  In this passage, where Jules is describing one of the Kailas family's several scandalous entanglements with the corrupt polity, we learn what became of their Bayou St. John home.
Because the Kailas family is one of metro New Orleans’ biggest landowners and developers, almost everyone’s in bed with them, including former Governor Jindal, whose various campaigns they provided with tens of thousands of dollars of donations, monetary and in-kind.

In just one year under Jindal’s tenure (2011-2012), the Kailas-owned Lago Construction firm got more than $1.5 million of taxpayer money through state contracts—contracts which, thanks to the hard work of WWL’s investigative team and David Hammer, we now know were variously improper and fraudulent. On dates they charged taxpayers for long days of public service work, Lago employees were instead laboring on the Kailas family’s multi-million dollar Bayou St. John mansion. You won’t find them there now, alas. In 2016, they sold that property to Metro Disposal CEO Jimmie Woods for ten dollars.
Woods immediately put the Kailas house to use as a venue for political fundraising events. This one was for JP Morrell who was considering a run for mayor at the time.  Look at all the folks who showed up.
In addition to Gov. Edwards, the $250-per-person fundraiser at businessman Jimmie Woods’ home on the bank of Bayou St. John drew a host of other Democratic officials — U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who is running for U.S. Senate, as well as City Councilman Jared Brossett and current and former members of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. The packed event suggested an unusually strong coalition around a term-limited state senator, and Morrell acknowledged there is widespread speculation around who will run in New Orleans’ upcoming mayoral race.
Not long after that Woods hosted a similar event for Karen Carter-Peterson.  She didn't run for mayor either. But that's not the point here so much as it is that, politically speaking, New Orleans is a small town where the money does seem to go around and around in a very tight circle. You can get a pretty good glimpse of it behind just about any building you knock over.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Just last year the DeFelices collaborated with Poppy Tooker on a (pretty interesting as these things go) nostalgia-heavy cook book.  No idea why they're selling the restaurant now.  They must have their reasons.
The DeFelice family, the fourth-generation owners of the Uptown institution, have sold Pascal’s Manale to Jessica and Ray Brandt, long-time proprietor Sandy DeFelice confirmed today.

Ray Brandt is a New Orleans native who has built a large local network of car dealerships, Ray Brandt Auto Group, representing a dozen auto brands.

“What we’re feeling is a bag of mixed emotions,” DeFelice said, shortly after the sale was completed Tuesday. “You hate to see it go, but it really was the right time to turn the page in our lives and start a new chapter.”
So that's weird. It doesn't say exactly why Ray Brandt wants to own a restaurant. (Tom Benson no longer available to buy?)  But it does say his nephew already has a history with Pascal's and will be the new manager there. So it's kinda sorta still in the family.  Anyway, this is one of those New Orleans museumstaurants that would be a real shame to lose.  Let's hope they don't plan on changing too much.

Nobody could have predicted.. nobody can predict... nobody will have predicted

Can you believe it? The City Council's STR regulations aren't actually clamping down on STRs.
Councilman Joseph Giarrusso had questions of his own on short-term rentals. He asked Smith whether the city had seen the “radical increase” in commercial permits that some short-term rental critics had feared would occur this fall. He specifically asked about Mid-City.

The new rules passed in August include a 25 percent cap on the number of units within large commercial buildings that could be used as Airbnbs. However, that will not apply to permits that are approved before Dec. 1. Some short-term rental critics urged the council to put a moratorium on new commercial permits until Dec. 1 to prevent a rush of applications meant to lock in rentals above the 25 percent cap.

“I wouldn’t use the word radical, but there has been an increase, especially in some of the commercial units that just came online,” Smith said. “We don’t expect that trend to continue.”

Smith was referring to a new gated community in Mid-City called 37Hundred Bienville. According to city data, all 20 of the luxury condos have commercial short term rental permits, which allow the owner to rent out the unit 365 days a year.

The permit holder for all 20 units is Hosteeva LLC, an international rental platform based in Metairie. A unit in the new development is advertised on their site at $142 a night.

According to city data, the number of active commercial short-term rental permits has increased by 331 since the new rules were passed by the City Council in August, up to a total of 1,371.
"We don't expect that trend to continue." Does that mean after December 1?  Because, sure, I guess. But it should have stopped before it began in August. It isn't just a problem with this site either.  The Charity Hospital deal also has "grandfathered" STRs over the new limits baked into it. Everybody knew this would happen. Even idiots like me knew it would happen.  Councilmembers certainly knew it would happen.  On the day the regulations were passed, people in the council chambers literally were chanting "Freeze commercial permits!" It's why Giarrusso even asks the question here.

People are shocked and all but I have no idea why that would be.  Remember, Council only came back to pass these insufficient rules because they were embarrassed that people had noticed how insufficient the last set of rules passed under Mitch had been. The current council members aren't stupid. Most of them were elected during a year when voters were mad about STRs so they want to at least look like they tried to do something about it. On the other hand, these politicians don't actually care if you have an affordable place to live. Ultimately, they all work for the real estate vampires.  Which is why the new rules have gaping loopholes in the zoning language in addition to this deliberately planned three month "gold rush" on grandfathering.

What's remarkable, though, is despite having obviously sold housing stressed New Orleanians out more than once, this Council still gets to play Good Cop during the city budget hearings. But only because it turns out the mayor is a more ham-fisted bad actor than they are.
Palmer, along with Councilwoman Helena Moreno, also once again questioned whether the city was properly allocating millions of tax dollars that are specifically earmarked for short-term rental enforcement.

“I’m talking about making sure that the money that’s coming in for enforcement is actually being used on enforcement,” Moreno said.

Monday’s meeting was part of the council’s annual budget process, which includes hearings on the proposed 2020 budget on a department by department basis. The council has until Dec. 1 to tweak and approve the budget. The Department of Safety and Permits — which is responsible for much of the city’s short-term rental enforcement efforts — was one of the five departments or agencies to present their budgets to the council on Monday.

As The Lens recently reported, Cantrell administration officials have gradually walked back plans for beefing up enforcement over the course of 2019. In March, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert MontaƱo sent a memo to the council explaining that “in order to ensure the city is adequately staffed to handle Short-Term Rental Enforcement,” 16 new employees would be needed.

But now, the Department of Safety and Permits only plans to hire a quarter of that. According to the presentation from Safety and Permits Director Zach Smith, the department is adding four new employees to enforce the new, stricter short-term rental rules that the City Council passed this summer — two attorneys and two code enforcement inspectors.
The trick here is the mayor doesn't really want to do anti STR enforcement. She wants them to proliferate. This week, in fact, the mayor and her PAC are campaigning hard in favor of a local tax on Short Term Rentals on the November 16 ballot.  Just how much revenue that tax will produce is still a matter of dispute. And we've written plenty about how this part of the "Fair Sham" is as inadequate fiscally as it is damaging to the affordable housing supply. Most crucially, as the DSA election guide points out, the new tax enters the city into a Faustian bargain with exploitation.
Turning to short term rentals for revenue only further lets the elite off the hook while actively worsening conditions for cost-burdened workers. This tax would create a perverse incentive for the city to encourage STR growth to gain more tax revenue. In fact we are already seeing the effects of that.
Knowing what we know now about the failures of even the latest set of STR regulations, it isn't hard to imagine a future moment when City Council has to revisit the issue yet again. If the STR tax passes and we end up having to argue against a vital revenue source just to prevent our homes from becoming full-time hotels, it's all going to be a lot harder.  Your mayor and council members understand this now.  But rest assured they will have not difficulty affecting surprise later.

Monday, November 11, 2019

No complaints about the plumbing, yet

Even though it feels like a lot longer, we've now lived through an entire weekend of the New Airport Era. And so far the only complaints have been:

1) There's no dedicated flyover exit from I-10

2) You can't get a cab out of there

3) They're probably going to lose your luggage

4) It takes over an hour to get through security

But the toilets work.  At least so far as anyone can tell they do.  Stay tuned, though.

And, yeah, everyone has already excitedly pointed out that the holidays are fast approaching. Should make for some excellent sport.

Gotta get everything or else you get nothing

There are two campaigns in the running for the Democratic Presidential nomination presenting a  (kinda sorta) left-ish policy platform.  There are key differences of detail between those two policy platforms that deserve your attention but the more significant matter of distinction has to do with building power. If the next President is committed to turning campaign plans into lasting and impactful change, they're going to need some muscle to get it done.  And that comes from having been elected on the strength of an actual mandate. Fostering a continuing movement outside of the government is the only way to overcome the inertia on the inside.

Because if the next President has to walk into this mess with no one to have their back, then we're all in for a whole lot of nothing happening.
Most Democrats expect the governing agenda of the next Democratic president to be set by, well, whomever that next president might be. Ben Cardin, Democratic senator from Maryland, has other ideas.

“I think we’ll take up our own proposals,” Cardin told The Hill on Tuesday. Asked if he would vote for a “Medicare for All” package — a policy supported by the two most popular 2020 contenders in the Iowa caucuses ― the 76-year-old Cardin suggested the bill wouldn’t even be granted a vote.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

America needs this

Coach O has to know he's got a lot riding on today. At the very least, the fate of the Governor's election hangs in the balance. But, probably, Coach O's own future is at stake as well.  He's a couple of years in and things are going well. But once it starts looking like you can't beat Bama, well, no LSU coach has been able to survive that so far.
“Sometimes it’s why you’re shown the door,” Neuheisel said. “No question Les Miles was shown the door because of his inability to crack the code of Nick Saban since 2011.”

Ed Orgeron, Miles’ successor, may have refused to call Alabama by name during LSU’s open week (“Our opponent,” he growled), but he has never shied away from the fact that to be considered a successful coach at LSU, you have to beat Alabama. At least once in awhile.

It has often been this way for LSU when it comes to Alabama. Charles McClendon was Bear Bryant’s first former pupil to beat the master; he did so 50 years ago Friday. But his own nine-game losing streak to Bama and the Bear, from 1971-79, helped hasten McClendon's forced retirement, despite being LSU’s winningest coach ever.
Anyway, as we all know, Trump is going to be there at this Alabama home game.  Maybe this is finally the venue where he might not be mercilessly booed out of there by everyone in attendance. But that's no guarantee.  Especially if the home crowd isn't in a great mood for some reason. What could that be?  Coach O, American needs you to do your part.

If it helps, I think maybe it's time to bring back an updated version of this.
Back in 1946, the rallying cry for LSU was “Beat Bama for Bernie!” a reference to then-coach Bernie Moore and LSU’s quest for its first win over Alabama since … 1909.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Oh good now I have more time to write something

Thank god they finally put this out before early voting ends.  I want to write a big thing about the Governor's election but I haven't had the time to finish it yet.  Here is a pretty good tl;dr from these people.
The consequences of these elections will be dire regardless of who sits in the Governor’s office. But if that person is Eddie Rispone, the scope of the disaster would be magnified immensely.  Rispone’s program constitutes an all-out assault on Louisiana’s poor and working classes for the exclusive benefit of its wealthiest.
There's more in there to pick through on the legislative races and ballot propositions and stuff. But as it regards the marquee race, what else is there to say?

Meanwhile, thank god B&G Review published this before the Saints came back from the bye week.  I've also got a long-ish draft about football but there's plenty enough good stuff is here.  That post is about the "Hero's Journey of Sean Payton" (sort of).  But I've got a different hero in mind this season.  Let's find out if I ever get around to writing it out.

In sum, I am terrible with deadlines.  But that's part of the fun. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Bible pledges

It's not an original expression by any means but it does seem popular this year. Eddie Rispone made it a thing in one of his early ads this summer when he promised to "get tough on illegal immigration the second my hand comes off the Bible.”  This week John Bel had a riff on it too.
“There is a big difference between me and him,” Edwards said, “but I am supremely confident as I stand before you today that the people of Louisiana know that, they get it and when the hand comes off the Bible on inauguration day, it will be my hand.” He was mocking a commercial by Rispone who promised to get tough “on illegal immigration the second my hand comes off the Bible.”
It's weird what politicians think is funny, or even novel. Bible pledges have been a thing for as long as I can remember. It's what you say instead of, "On Day One..." when your campaign relies on patronizing churchy types.

And I guess that does fit Derrick Shepherd's M.O. well enough. He's always inclined toward that sort of thing. It's no surprise that he would lean on it even harder now in his first run for office since getting out of jail. Shep is in a runoff now with his cousin Byron Lee for the Jefferson Parish Council District 3 seat. He's made "atonement," with a fair amount of religious subtext, a theme in his messaging.

Beyond that there is the, well, the text that appears on the website of his website, 2ndChanceNOLA. Ostensibly the site is about Shep taking up the cause of ex-offenders' rights. In a vacuum, that is quite laudable. In fact, we here at this very blog have cheered Shep's previous efforts at restoring the full civil rights of those who have been convicted of felonies. Although, we can't help but suspect that his motivation in these matters is, to put it nicely, personal, to put it less nicely but more accurately, cynical.

During his days in the state senate, Shepherd was most famous as the author of one of those "baggy pants" bills that were popular at the time among the Cops & Jesus set.  Despite his sudden affected sympathy the victims of the criminal punishment system, Shepherd's website indicates he is in no way reformed on those points.
I owned up to my crime, pleaded guilty and paid my debt to society.

I am pro-criminal justice, pro-police and pro-law and order. Going to prison didn't change the core values I upheld as a citizen, a JAG officer in the military, attorney and state senator. I still believe in the strength, honor and importance of those values as strongly as I believe in God. With everything I brought upon myself, my family, friends and the constituents I represented in the state legislature, I still want to be a contributing member of the community and not sink into the shadows.
So it's not surprising at all to read that Shep would be the latest candidate to deliver a bible pledge. The circumstances of that are pretty interesting too.
Lee has at least one powerful ally on his side. A political action committee funded by River Birch Landfill owners Fred Heebe and Jim Ward has sent out several mailers calling Shepherd untrustworthy and bringing up his past legal troubles, including allegations of domestic violence.

But Shepherd shrugs off the attacks from the New Horizons PAC, saying they were prompted by his vow to make sure River Birch is operating in compliance with state regulations.

"I plan on siccing (the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) on the River Birch Landfill as soon as my hand comes off that Bible," Shepherd said.
Long time Shep fans will recall that his name did come up in the River Birch bribery case when he and other local officials appeared to work on behalf of the River Birch owners to shut down a rival landfill by, yes, "siccing DEQ on it." It was then alleged that Shepherd turned to the River Birch owners in search of an exchange of favors-for-favors.
No evidence has surfaced to show that Shepherd was working on behalf of River Birch. But at least once, he had a direct interaction with one of the company's owners.

On Dec. 18, 2008, after he was convicted and shortly before he reported to prison, he pulled into Ward's driveway and demanded an audience, according to a letter that River Birch attorney Peter Butler wrote to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

Ward invited him into the backyard, where Shepherd said he was "contacting his 'friends' to help him out and asked if Mr. Ward could give him a job," Butler wrote. Shepherd then asked for money.

Ward ended the conversation and brushed off Shepherd.
And now Shep is on the comeback trail and, if the above story is correct,  River Birch would understandably be worried he could end up in a position to seek retribution.

Of course, if Eddie Rispone's hand comes off the bible too next year, it's questionable whether there will be anyone left at DEQ to sic on anybody. So, you know, joke's on Shep.

The only survival skill is flattering power

Here, during the endgame of the collapse of the free press, the only professional journalism that exists anymore is the "polite" kind. Something vital is being lost.
If the news media has no place for journalists and critics and columnists who voice contempt for people like Peter Thiel and Jim Spanfeller and Bret Stephens, then you will read and see no news from people who have these entirely compelling ideas about Thiel, Spanfeller, and Stephens. It turns out that even the bygone, now-lamented golden age of the blog was a diminution of rudeness’s influence. If your local media has no place for people who voice contempt for your city’s police chief, say, or your state’s attorney general, or the publisher of your city’s largest newspaper, all of those people will feel more comfortable in abusing their power. They will grind you down, and in the process, they’ll tell you to be civil about it.
 We're going to miss it. That is if we're even allowed to acknowledge it mattered.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

How fair is fair?

Yesterday we thought it was kind of funny that LaToya was still saying "fair share" about everything, including, now, the Entergy rate case negotiations, like it's some sort of tic she's developed.  Today, though, it's less funny since it appears she has signed onto a proposal from Entergy that looks a lot like her bargain with the tourism cabal that is the actual genesis of that catch phrase.   
The company is offering to send up to $75 million in a one-time payment to the embattled Sewerage & Water Board if the City Council allows it to earn 10% profit,  the company's vice president told council members in an email.

The utility suggested the money could go toward building a modern power substation for the S&WB, which operates more than half of the pumps in its drainage system on an older power standard that is used almost nowhere else.

Cantrell has spent much of this year trying to secure more money for local infrastructure improvements, especially those sought by the S&WB. 
So to recap, here is what has happened so far. Hopefully this won't be too technical.  City Council's regulatory consultants (themselves not exactly hostile to Entergy's interests) recommended we hold Entergy to an 8.93% ROE. (Return On Equity: the figure that determines a regulated monopoly's profits). Entergy balked at that.  LaToya intervened at that point on behalf of something called the Crescent City Power Users Coalition in order to help Entergy negotiate the rate up to 9.35%.

The "Power Users" are apparently comprised of several entities with large electricity bills including Touro Infirmary, University Medical Center, New Orleans Cold Storage, and Sewerage and Water Board. It is assumed that Cantrell's deal offered those entities a better rate and spread more of the burden onto regular ratepayers. But that is just an assumption at this point.

Whatever it was, Entergy's CEO later decided it wasn't good enough for them. So now they want to back out and the mayor has spurned even her friends in the "Power Users" coalition in order to back out along with them. We thought, yesterday, that the City Council had rendered the whole matter moot by moving the case to its consent agenda for Thursday, essentially declaring the argument over.

But now we find out today that Entergy is offering this $75 million kickback.  The mayor thinks that is too good to pass up. It's difficult to understand why she thinks that, exactly.  This story suggests it's because this arrangement makes it look like more of an accomplishment for her, specifically. Although it doesn't quote her directly, that's how we would interpret this, anyway. 
Cantrell's office said Entergy's latest offer indicates its willingness to do more for residents at her urging.
But if that really is the case, she's made a mistake. Leave alone for a moment the point that a one time $75 million donation to Sewerage and Water Board is, pardon this expression, a drop in the bucket.  It's also just a wholly inappropriate way to go about raising the money. As Helena Moreno correctly points out here, it's not a gift to the city from Entergy. It's just something else you will pay for via higher electricity bills. 
However, City Councilwoman Helena Moreno said Entergy ultimately would get the money for the S&WB contribution from its customers — the residents and businesses of New Orleans. She said Entergy should be more upfront about that fact.

“If ratepayers are asked to foot the bill, we need a transparent process to examine these projects, along with how much more the people of this city will have to pay,” Moreno said.
And, of course, in the long run, once they make their $75 million back, it's just a rate hike.  As was the case with the tourism bargain, this is a deal that sustains corporate profits while increasing the costs borne by poor and working class New Orleanians.  Every time this happens we get a clearer understanding of how the mayor defines, "fair share."

Anyway, it looks from here like City Council isn't going for any of this and is set to approve their original compromise rates tomorrow.  But who knows what sorts of negotiations are happening this afternoon.  Maybe Entergy has decided to play hardball.
NEW ORLEANS — City Hall and the Orleans Parish Civil Court were shut down Wednesday afternoon after losing power.

City officials posted about the power outage on social media around 1:30 p.m. An Entergy outage map did not show the outage, but the company did tweet that "crews are on site assessing the cause of the power outage."
That's a joke, of course.  But then again, this is the mayor who tried to cut off everybody's water last year so maybe let's not underestimate the potential for wacky behavior here. 

As one does

Last year Joe Burrow played against Alabama with a "slight separation" in his shoulder. Here is how.
Burrow separated his throwing shoulder two days before LSU's game against Alabama last year, according to Sports Illustrated, and he played through pain in the Tigers' 29-0 loss at home.

How'd he play through it?

"Get shot up with a bunch of drugs and go out and play," Burrow told SI.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

It's all riding on this

By now we're all aware that Donald Trump is going to be at the Alabama-LSU game in a desperate attempt to locate at least one sports venue in America that might not boo the shit out of him. Forget the CFP rankings. This "Game Of The Century" of the week has much higher stakes riding on it.

During early voting this week, everyone is talking about the way Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone has based his entire campaign message on his enthusiasm for all things Trump. It's interesting, then, to see Trump show up now as a guest of honor at an Alabama home game. There are already whispers all over the internet about Rispone's Atlanta Falcons fandom. What does it say that his favorite President stans for Bama? 

But let's also not lose sight of the fact that Coach O has endorsed John Bel Edwards. The result of this game could be the key to everything.

Our humble new home

There's something about the background story of Fidelity Bank as described here...
Ferris points out that Fidelity Bank, as a mutual savings bank, is technically owned by its depositors and doesn't have the same pressures to constantly grow or be swallowed up.

"There is a certain type of thinking in our industry that if you cannot continue to deliver economies of scale you won't survive," he said. "But I don't think it is the only way a bank can survive and prosper. I think there is a role for community banking in Louisiana."
... that doesn't quite line up with its move to a more prominent address.
Fidelity chief executive Chris Ferris said moving from nondescript corporate offices on the 27th floor of Place St. Charles to a permanent headquarters with a visible presence in the city is, in part, a signal of stability to the bank's 350 employees amid tumult in the banking sector regionally.
A more cynical reader would ask why the conservative mutual lending institution suddenly needs to deliver a "signal of stability." If that really does have anything to do with the reason for moving, it might even be worrisome. Or maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's the perception of banking instability generally that causes us to read too much into stuff like this.

Still, it's a little weird, right?
The 111-year-old Fidelity Bank, which started life as Fidelity Homestead Association, has followed a conservative path and last made an acquisition in 2014, when it bought north shore mortgage lender Nola Lending Group. Ferris said Fidelity is not looking to get into the commoditized banking game, but would look to buy other like-minded banks to expand in the region.
Don't worry about us getting all caught up in the jungle envrionment of banks eating banks everywhere you look. We're not about any of that stuff. Anywhooo... if anybody out there is looking to get gobbled up, give us a call, okay?

Fair enough already

City Council has apparently rejected the Mayor's request that they allow Entergy to pull down an even higher profit. 
Last week, Cantrell sided with the company in the dispute, saying Entergy should be allowed to make a greater profit than the utility committee recommended in a unanimous vote last month. The resolution still needs to be approved by the full council, meaning there is still time to move it to the regular agenda and amend it before a final vote on Thursday.

 Andrew Tuozzolo, the chief of staff for Councilwoman Helena Moreno, pointed out that the public still has the opportunity to comment on consent agenda items.

 The issue centers on a key component of Entergy’s profit rate — called return on equity. The council resolution would lower the rate from 11.1 percent to 9.35 percent, which will help lower electric bills for east bank customers by an average of $2.86 per month and maintain Algiers customers’ current levels. Entergy and the Mayor have argued that should be set at 10 percent instead.
That 9.35 percent is actually greater than the 8.93 percent the council and its consultatnts initially proposed.  A story we linked to last week explains that LaToya had already intervened once before to help Entergy negotiate it up to that.   At that point she told the T-P Advocate Georges that her purpose was "to make sure we're getting the best deal possible for the people of New Orleans and a fair share for the city," demosnstrating yet again the completel meaningless of that phrase.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fall reading


Happy Halloween, everybody.  For some reason we stopped posting the book blurbs almost as soon as we started it over the summer.  Let's correct that now.

The Missing Season by Gillian French (2019)

Actually, this YA novel is the reason I'm posting these on Halloween in the first place. Clara's family moves from town to town as her father chases the next demolition job. The latest move is to the fictional town of Pender, Maine where the paper mill that had been the economic heart of the town has closed. For Clara it means adjusting to a new school and new friends again. But it also means a possible encounter with the town's urban legend.  Every year around Halloween, at least one young person seems to turn up dead in the woods around Pender.  Officially the deaths are violent accidents or drug overdoses. But others say a mysterious figure known as "The Mumbler" is to blame.   Clara's family has arrived at Pender in mid-October. Could she become the next victim?

This is a terrific novel for young adults. French's treatment of teenagers, their problems and relationships is realistic and thoughtful. It's also the best kind of horror writing in that it relies on the characters' real life sense of dread rather than shocking imagery or situations.  The fading town and diminishing prospects for its children is a major component in that as well.  I would have liked the ending to have resonated with those themes a bit better.  This one seemed abrupt and just a little out of synch.  Otherwise, a good little Halloween story.

White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War by John Gans (2019)

This keeps the Halloween theme a little bit in a banality of evil sort of way. This dry and anodyne account surveys the evolving role of the National Security Council in generating and executing US foreign policy. Gans focuses on individual staff members serving under each President since the NSC's inception to describe major events (the bombing of Cambodia, the Lebanon intervention, Iran/Contra, the Iraq troop surge, etc) through the eyes of these somewhat behind the scenes actors. The NSC is either an unaccountable "common law" deep state or a flawed but necessary crutch that serves Presidents who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the bureaucracies at DOD and State. Is any of this a good thing or a bad thing? Gans says it's a little bit of both, although the suggestion is it's gotten to be more of the former over time. Either way we're left trying to decide if the sprawling American empire is more chaotic than it is legalistic. All of which causes us to wonder what difference that really makes.

Chaucer's People : Every day lives in Medieval England by Liza Picard (2019)

Picard uses Chaucer's archetypal characters as entry points to brief essays about the lives of the real sorts of people they represented. For example, the Wife of Bath describes what it was like for wealthy travelers of the Middle Ages to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. (They had to buy Rick Steves videos on VHS back then.) The Ploughman chapter talks about how labor conditions in the wake of the Plague led to official wage suppression, a more rigidly controlled economy and a peasant's revolt.  The Cook's chapter has lots of odd recipes.  The Physician chapter describes the horrifying state of medieval medicine... which I guess is a good place for us to land on our Halloween theme again.  Anyway, you get the idea.

Remaking New Orleans: Beyond Exceptionalism and Authenticity edited by Thomas Jessen Adams,  and  Matt Sakakeeny (2019)

Actually I want to write more about this later.  It's difficult to sum up in a paragraph without simplifying. It's a collection of essays intended to dispel certain myths about the history and culture of New Orleans that have been commodified by the tourism industry while elevating ignored facets of our story that emphasize the city's working class and what has been done to it in various ways over the centuries. Again, that is an extreme simplification but it's what I would say is the gist of this very eclectic assemblage of topics by various authors. It's one of the most original and important books about New Orleans I've read in a while. At the same time I've noticed a few negative reactions from certain corners that have me confused. The common criticism I've noticed, that the book is for and by "gentrifiers," seems to me 180 degrees contrary to the book's actual purpose. It's so surprising, in fact, that I've wondered if it is even offered in good faith (or if some of these critics have actually read the book.)  But, like I said, this is all a subject for a longer thing I want to write.  For now, just know that this exists and that more people should give it a look.

It's just good business sense

Last week the city council's utilities committee passed a resolution aimed at re-setting Entergy's rates for the first time in a decade. In the era of privatized utilities, New Orleans is one of very few places where the city council at least retains some regulatory authority over the private monopoly that sells everybody electricity. So every now and then, the council gets a say in how much you can be charged.

The resolution that passed is actually the result of a compromise brokered by the Cantrell administration. Council wanted to give east bank residents a $4 a month rate reduction. Entergy wanted to raise those rates by $4.46.  Cantrell stepped in with a plan to give average ratepayers a $3.42 break in exchange for making things a bit cheaper for S&WB and other "large energy users"
Meanwhile, the Cantrell administration, the Sewerage & Water Board and several private businesses that are large energy users proposed to reduce typical customers' monthly bills by $3.42 and allow Entergy a 9.35% return, saying that is comparable to what is allowed for other utilities.

The administration intervened "to make sure we're getting the best deal possible for the people of New Orleans and a fair share for the city," Cantrell said in a recent statement.
 Always looking out for you.

Anyway, the full city council still has to vote on this. It's scheduled to happen on November 7. But Entergy's CEO is still pushing for higher rates.
The council's utility committee members said they believe that Entergy's funding is sufficient to allow for lower energy rates and to cover its investment needs, while not harming its credit rating.

Denault said the company doesn't agree with that assessment.

"In New Orleans, the council utility committee issued a resolution that, if adopted, would set a revenue requirement that is below what we believe to be just and reasonable," the Entergy chief said on a conference call Wednesday to discuss its third-quarter results. "We continue to work with council members to reach a fair outcome when the council takes up the matter in early November."

Denault didn't say — and company officials didn't comment — on whether Entergy would challenge the council's rate decision in the courts, which is a course of action open to the company.
Entergy says it needs higher rates in order to  "invest in infrastructure projects."  But one would think that there's plenty of cash on hand after reading this.
Entergy said in its Wednesday earnings statement that it expects profits this year to be higher than previously forecast. The company said it now expects to make about $10 million more in profit this year than it previously expected, which would put full-year profit at just above $1 billion.
And therein lies the problem with private for-profit utilities.  You can't automatically reinvest your surplus into capital improvements when you've got promises to shareholders to think about.
Entergy's shares have been on a long run up, gaining about 65% since early last year to stand at about $121 a share, largely on promises to investors that it will get out of the wholesale business and invest heavily in more efficient plant and infrastructure to increase profitability.

The company has been increasing its dividend payments to shareholders annually at a rate of about 2% to 3%, but has promised to increase that to track earnings, which would mean increases closer to 5% to 7%.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What always happens

In today's nothing-ever-gets-better story, we begin with a lawsuit filed by New Orleans short term rental operators which contends that, even though the city's latest set of regulations gives them almost everything they could want, that still is not enough. These landlords have the resources to keep pushing back until they get their way.  They'll get it eventually.
The suit argues that by preventing owners who formerly held temporary licenses from continuing to operate short-term rentals, the city is violating their rights.

“We were granted a license and had a fair and reasonable expectation that we were going to be able to renew our licenses, as long as we followed the rules,” said Eric Bay, president of the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity.

The city did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.

When the council changes the rules on what a property can be used for, existing businesses are typically allowed to stay in operation as “non-conforming uses” as long as they do not close for more than six months.

In discussions leading up to the passage of the new rules, however, city officials said that policy would not apply to temporary rentals since they did not count as full-time uses, a requirement to be granted nonconforming status.
Not being a law talking guy, I can't say what ANP's chances are of winning in court. It sounds to me like a bad argument but you never know, with the right judge...
The case was originally assigned to Civil District Judge Robin Giarrusso, who recused herself because her son is Councilman Joe Giarrusso. It was reassigned to Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott.
In any case, all they really have to do is keep making the argument over and over.  Their organization has enough money and influence that eventually the right councilperson will take them seriously and they win. Because that's what always happens.

In a way, the damage has already been done. Several years of STR proliferation has supercharged the already out of control speculative real estate market in New Orleans exacerbating the housing crisis. This is reflected in the sticker shock experienced by homeowners all over the city after this year's quadrennial property reassessments. HousingNOLA's Andreanecia Morris writes in this Lens op-ed about the impact of those assessments on renters, who will have the cost of tax increases passed on to them, as well as the city's most vulnerable homeowners.
One of the challenges in dealing with the affordable housing crisis is the fact that some people don’t understand that it affects everyone. The biases many people have lets them (namely middle-class homeowners) believe that they are immune. Those who own their homes are not exempt from the impacts of our city’s affordable housing crisis. HousingNOLA’s data driven process has addressed tax issues from year one. Gentrification of historic neighborhoods and increased market pressure across the city have driven increased property values every year since Hurricane Katrina. Only seven out of 72 neighborhoods include census tracts which did not see an increase in housing values between 2013 and 2017. The median home value in New Orleans has increased by twenty-five percent since 2014, according to MLS data. There is ample data to demonstrate how vulnerable Orleans Parish homeowners are to any significant changes in their tax rates:
  • Forty-one percent of homeowners are cost burdened—with nearly a third of owner-occupied households earning an annual income that is below the median income;
  • Forty-four percent of owners have paid off their mortgage or inherited their home;
  • A third of homeowners are over the age of sixty-five. Eleven percent of all homeowners in Orleans are cost burdened senior citizens.
Unfortunately, the mayor doesn't seem to have much sympathy for housing stressed residents She's also asking voters to approve a whole new 3 mils on this fall's ballot. On top of that, she appeared at a city council budget hearing this week to urge the council to "roll forward" its millage in order to capture the maximum revenue windfall from the higher assessments. She has been talked down to asking for a 50 percent roll forward in recent weeks despite having predicted "dire consequences" for not taking the full amount.  Councilmembers were not very receptive.
Council members have argued that while the city needs more funding, residents are being squeezed out of the city by higher costs of living. They argue that higher property taxes would not only be a risk to lower income homeowners, it would also be a burden to renters because  landlords are likely to pass those costs on to their tenants.

“The message we’re receiving is the city is increasingly unaffordable to live in,” Palmer said.

She again stressed that there could be other sources of revenue the city is leaving on the table. She brought up the amount of money the city could be losing because of homestead-exemption fraud and suggested hiring more sales tax collectors to make sure the city was getting everything it was owed.

In recent months, the council has also discussed cracking down on exemptions for nonprofits and manufacturers that get state tax exemptions. The council also recently created a task force to look into the possibility of creating a parcel fee for property owners.
Yeah, hey, speaking of nonprofit exemptions, here is a pretty big one in the news this week.
There have been multiple efforts to redevelop Charity since the state opted to close it in favor of building the new University Medical Center on the other side of Interstate 10.

The most recent attempt has been underway for more than 2½ years and has largely been led by the Real Estate and Facilities Foundation. That process resulted in officials last year picking 1532 Tulane Partners, a joint venture between the New Orleans-based CCNO and the Israeli company El Ad, to undertake the huge project.

The company said it has been doing due diligence on the property and refining its plans since then.

The redevelopment is expected to cost about $300 million, which will be partially funded with a variety of tax credits. Because LSU will retain ownership of the property, it will be exempt from property taxes.

The lease calls for 1532 Tulane Partners to pay LSU $11.85 million up front and yearly payments for the duration of the 99-year lease. The payments will start at $250,000 a year and increase by 10% every 10 years, eventually totaling about $39 million.

The money from the lease will be divided between the Real Estate and Facilities Foundation and the university itself.
So 1532 Tulane Partners pays LSU to lease the building, takes advantage of various public subsidies and tax credits to renovate it, and none of the money ever gets back to the city. We must be getting something nice in return for that, right?  What are they putting there anyway?
The former hospital building will include about 390 residential units plus retail shops and restaurants.

Tulane University will serve as the anchor tenant in the complex, renting a significant amount of space in the building for student housing and offices, Maurin said.

Plans for the project also include renting about 150 residential units to Sonder, a short-term rental company that already has significant operations in New Orleans. That would be about 50% more units than would be allowed for the property under short-term rental rules the City Council passed earlier this year, which bar renting more than 25% of the units in commercial buildings to tourists.

While the development plans do not need any city approvals because it is state property, the project will have to comply with the city's short-term rental rules, Maurin said. 
That's confusing. How is it they are already breaking the rules they say will have to comply with?  It doesn't say here. Maybe they're planning to be pre-grandfathered in.  Whatever it is, I'm sure they'll get whatever they want while the costs of maintaining the city government continue to fall on those who can least afford to pay. Because that's what always happens.

Where's Frank Scurlock's proposal?

Not a lot of imagination in these bids on developing the new Disney By Convention Center Wonderland. Here they are.
The Domain Companies, run by Matthew Schwartz and Chris Papamichael, gained a local reputation for projects that include the South Market District, a $500 million development along Loyola Avenue that includes properties like The Standard, which has apartments, restaurants and other street-level retail.

River Park Neighborhood Investors is led by Lou Lauricella, a local developer known for projects that include the Elmwood Center, the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Palace Theaters.

Atomic Entertainment is helmed by Adam Rosenfelt, a movie producer ("Mr. Brooks," "The Barber") turned developer, whose projects have included the $100 million mixed-use revitalization of the Pullman Yards in Atlanta.

Provident Realty Advisors is led by Dallas-based Leon Backes, whose projects include the Preston Hollow Village, a huge, two-phase mixed-use project in North Dallas.

The Woodward/Carpenter consortium is working on the $350 million redevelopment of the former World Trade Center building on Canal Street into a Four Seasons Hotel.
These are respondents to an RFQ so we don't have any detailed bids yet (at least nothing public.) But I think it's safe to say each of these groups would build something that looks a lot like South Market does right now. About the best thing we can say about that is BOORRing! The worst we can say is here comes another round of publicly subsidized luxury apartments and retail in a city with worsening inequality and an affordable housing shortage.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pragmatism your way out of this

Guess what the latest research on the impact of climate change says.  You will never guess, I am sure.  Go ahead, though, take a second and just throw something out there. Did you say, it's worse than previously thought?  Okay but that seems like a long shot. How could it be any worse? 

Alright alright, yes, it is worse.
Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities. 

The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.
Yikes! And take a look at the graphics that accompany that story. The maps predict that  Mumbai, Bangkok, Shanghai, several other huge world cities could be submerged in a mere 30 years from now. They didn't publish an infographic map of New Orleans here but I am pretty sure we would hate to see it.

The article does mention us, though. Because, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people all over the globe are at risk, we are still the world's poster children for this problem.  Kind of makes you almost proud a little bit.  Is proud the word?  
The new data shows that 110 million people already live in places that are below the high tide line, which Mr. Strauss attributes to protective measures like seawalls and other barriers. Cities must invest vastly greater sums in such defenses, Mr. Strauss said, and they must do it quickly.

But even if that investment happens, defensive measures can go only so far. Mr. Strauss offered the example of New Orleans, a city below sea level that was devastated in 2005 when its extensive levees and other protections failed during Hurricane Katrina. “How deep a bowl do we want to live in”? he asked.
So we're either going to have to seriously bulk up our coastal defenses, or start planning to move everybody out of harm's way as safely and equitably as possible. Either way that's going to cost a lot of money.

Who is going to shoulder those costs?  It should probably be the people who have spent the past 150 years or so putting us in this situation in the first place, right?  Not so fast, says the Times-Picayune-Advocate-Georges! This is from their endorsement of John Bel Edwards. They liked his "pragmatism" but disagreed about some things.
Such pragmatism is what Louisiana needs. There are, after all, many problems to solve, and we haven’t always agreed with the governor’s approach to the state’s underlying challenges. Louisiana needs a governor who supports tort reform and will stand up to trial lawyers and teacher unions. Lawsuits against energy companies put our state at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting investment.
No time to mitigate that apocalypse. Not when there's "investment" to attract.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Steve Scalise's script armor

I read this Stephanie Grace column a few times and I still can't figure out why we're supposed to expect there is a difference between Steve Scalise and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.
Matt Gaetz is widely considered a camera-hogging fringe player in Congress. The second-term Florida Republican has called the Black Lives Matter movement a “terrorist organization,” and recently accused Democratic colleagues pursuing the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump of acting like “rabid hyenas.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is the House Minority whip, the second-ranking Republican in the House. That makes him someone whose presence in any situation confers a certain status, an implied assertion of importance and seriousness. Or it would, if Scalise weren’t becoming more and more prone to behaving like Gaetz, his partner in last week’s embarrassing storming-of-the-secure-hearing-room stunt.
What does she mean by "becoming"? Scalise has always been this way.  The self-described "David Duke without the baggage" has addressed gatherings of white supremacists, he has advocated putting guns in schools, he voted against the Martin Luther King holiday.   Why are we surprised to find him working closely with Gaetz on a stunt to defend Donald Trump from the consequences of his many crimes? If these guys aren't cut from the same mold, I don't know

The only difference between them Grace identifies is the "implied assertion of importance" imbued upon Scalise by virtue of his seniority.  But just because an asshole has risen to a position of greater power, does not make that person any less of an asshole.  Isn't that the reason we are considering these impeachment proceedings in the first place?

But equating power with dignity often seems like company policy over at the Advocate.  Have they published an "Our Views" on why people shouldn't have booed Trump last night yet?  Buzz me when it comes out. 

Delicious but deadly

Don't let your kids eat the lead dirt.
The amount of lead in the topsoil of playgrounds, yards and other neighborhood spots may be the best indicator of how likely children are to have high lead levels in their blood, according to a new study from Tulane University.

The study, conducted by Howard Mielke, a Tulane geographer and environmental researcher, upends a common notion that young children have the highest chance of lead exposure inside their homes because of lead paint or pipes.

Instead, research that ties blood lead levels to soil lead levels suggests an underestimated source of exposure is in outside play areas, where young children often engage in what experts call “hand-to-mouth activity” — in other words, inadvertently eating dirt.
The good news is Mielke's more recent study shows a significant drop in lead levels in both soil and blood samples. So things have gotten better.  He also says remediation is relatively easy to do. These Central City residents are hoping it is, anyway.

He's running!

Last week the New York Times gave us one of those obligatory "Democratic Donor Class Is Panicked" articles that start coming out every quarter or so once we reach this stage of the Presidential pre-primary. Oh no are the candidates "too far to the left"?  Why haven't the piggies begun to rally around Amy Klobuchar's stern lectures about what they can't have yet?  Somebody has to do something about this. Who could we call on?
Would Hillary Clinton get in, the contributors wondered, and how about Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor? One person even mused whether Michelle Obama would consider a late entry, according to two people who attended the event, which was hosted by the progressive group American Bridge.
Hey you know that might work. Uncle Joe's exploding eyeballs may have embarrassed the hell out of everyone by yelling at Warren on stage last week.  But here is Hillary with her idea to yell at a completely different person instead.  Should they give that a go?   Maybe.

But hey, look who else appears in this article for some reason.
“I can see it, I can feel it, I can hear it,” Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor, said of the unease within the party. He said he thinks Mr. Biden is best positioned to defeat Mr. Trump but called the former vice president’s fund-raising “a real concern.”
It's a "real concern," but like a lot of these establishment Democrats, Mitch is still a Bidenite. Or, at least, he is until he is given permission not to be anymore.  When Joe finally accedes to the concerns of his fundraisers and drops out of the race, all of the career supplicants backing him out of obligation will be free to adopt whatever the next company line might be.

The early odds may have had them all landing on Kamala. But, more recently, one could argue they may cynically gravitate toward Warren.  Right now that seems like a logical evolution of the evergreen strategy of co-opting and crowding out the left. See this excellent analysis by Matt Karp for more on that.
Yet while she is sometimes described as an “economic populist,” Warren’s chief function in the primary race against Bernie Sanders has been to take the populism out of progressive economics. While formally embracing much of Sanders’s 2016 platform, the Warren campaign distinguished itself not by underlining the necessity of popular struggle, but by advertising the comprehensive wonkery of her policy agenda: “She has a plan for that!” Warren’s planfulness is Democratic savior politics in the style of Obama or Hillary Clinton. It does not summon the will of the masses; it says, “Chill out, she’s got this.”

The emphasis here is on the reasonableness of the plans, not the boldness of the demands. Even Warren’s most daring stroke on this front, a 2 percent tax on fortunes over $50 million, elicits chants of “two cents, two cents!” — with the campaign and its supporters alike practically fetishizing the modest limits of the request.

When Warren does vow to challenge the power the wealthy, her rhetoric often works not to stoke the popular mind against America’s inequality but to naturalize it as a fact of national life: “In America, there are gonna be people who are richer and people who are not so rich. And the rich are gonna own more shoes, and they’re gonna own more cars, and they may even own more houses. But they shouldn’t own more of our democracy.”

This isn’t economic populism; it’s closer to a folksy progressive riff on “there is no alternative.” Nor does such a cabined understanding of “democracy” — a question of fair procedures, walled off from the world of material goods — open much room for questioning the tyranny of bosses under capitalism.
Speaking of never questioning the tyranny of bosses, the New Orleans Times-Picayune-Dot-Nola-Dot-Com-Georges-Advoco-Gambit tells us that Mitch Landrieu is back in town to "formally launch" the same foundation he already formally launched a year ago.
Landrieu will formally launch the E Pluribus Unum initiative on Friday, an effort with influential backers including former President Bill Clinton that seeks to reshape the country's conversation about race. The goal, he says, is to more effectively reach out and help people gain a better understanding of racism in modern America.

The message is geared mainly toward the white community.
Mitch has been running around the country meeting with Lauren Powell Jobs, with Bill Clinton, with scores of corporate donors to see how much money he can pile up in the name of talking to white people about racism. That can't possibly mean he's even remotely within the universe of potential emergency Presidential candidates Democratic donors are supposed to be casting about for at the moment. Right?  Well just to be sure let's ask.
With years of work ahead to make a go of his new foundation, Landrieu brushed away suggestions that he might be seeking a position in the administration of any of the presidential contenders, using similar language to the incalculable times he was asked whether he had aspirations for the Oval Office.

“I don’t have any expectations of being in the next president’s cabinet,” he said.
Pretty cryptic! Maybe he's still waiting on the right call.  On the other hand, if Karp is correct about corporate Democrats warming up to an accommodation with Warren, it would mean that the Biden-Harris-Hillary-Mitch mode of centrist campaigning is no longer the new hotness.  But old habits die hard. Let's see how they feel after the convention.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Apocalypse fatigue

Golden rain debris

What if we had a hurricane tropical storm post-tropical system and nobody hunkered down?
Post-Tropical Storm Olga left tens of thousands of residents and businesses without power in metro New Orleans on Saturday, including at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, as wind gusts nearing 60 mph blew through the area, downing trees and causing other damage.
Not exactly total chaos, then.  Sure, there are a lot of power outages. But, really, that's always a possibility regardless of severe weather.  In fact, it happens so frequently, that a City Council committee just voted this week to fine Entergy $1 million for negligence.
At issue is Entergy’s move to partially defund its power distribution system four years ago, which council members and even the utility’s own representatives have said led to that system’s decline.

In 2013, Entergy diverted about $1 million in maintenance funding that had been slated for that system to other priorities. With less funding to perform repairs, equipment failures and resulting power outages soon became increasingly common in the city, Entergy Vice President Melonie Stewart admitted at a council meeting last year.

The utility also decreased the amount it spent on capital additions to the distribution system by about $21 million from 2014 to 2015, according to an analysis by the council’s consultants.
The Olga-related outages seem to have caused some headaches at the airport too. But compared with the headaches travelers are about to experience just getting to the new airport this doesn't seem too different.

Still, it's fair to say Olga was significantly stronger and more impactful than several storms whose approach have occasioned multiple emergency press conferences and shelter-in-place orders in recent years. According to the tweets, the howling winds woke at least half the city up in the middle of the night.  It woke me up. I thought there might have been a tornado or something.

In any case it was probably the biggest overnight surprise storm since Hurricane Cindy suddenly ballooned to life in 2005. Cindy knocked out power to over 250,000 homes which is significantly more than the 70,000 or so currently attributed to Olga.  But there were no evacuation orders and everybody went to work the next day anyway. A month later came Katrina and we've rarely been this casual about even the lightest of threats ever since.

So it's unusual for us to have been this cavalier about any tropical system. The most likely explanation is we didn't mean to be.  Olga developed and landed so quickly there wasn't enough time to go into panic mode let alone much information as to what we ought to panic about.  Another explanation is that we're just so dang tired of the world coming to an end every other week.  At least we thought the last post-tropical weather thingy was going to blow the death cranes down on everybody. After that, we're kind of ruined for these un-storms for a while.  It's getting to where if nothing has to be exploded, it's probably not that much of an emergency. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Out of sight out of mind

Apparently it is worse than they would have expected.
Mark Benfield, a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at LSU, led monitoring of visible marine animals, called megafauna, for about a year after the Deepwater Horizon spill. He found the lack of vitality seen in the video "disturbing."

The video offers the first glimpse of the site since visual inspections ended in 2011.

"Given the amount of time that's passed, I figured that the site would look normal or well into recovery," Benfield said. "I was surprised."
Recall that BP's primary response to the Macondo disaster was to spray the slick with a chemical dispersant called Corexit.  Workers exposed to the chemicals during clean up operations also complained of serious health problems. Their symptoms were positively liked to that exposure.   As early as 2012, it was found to have caused major disruptions to the Gulf marine food chain.
In April 2012, Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was finding lesions and grotesque deformities in sea life—including millions of shrimp with no eyes and crabs without eyes or claws—possibly linked to oil and dispersants.
The shocking story was ignored by major U.S. media, but covered in depth by Al Jazeera. BP said such deformities were “common” in aquatic life in the Gulf and caused by bacteria or parasites. But further studies point back to the spill.
A just-released study from the University of South Florida found that underwater plumes of BP oil, dispersed by Corexit, had produced a “massive die-off” of foraminifera, microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain. Other studies show that, as a result of oil and dispersants, plankton have either been killed or have absorbed PAHs before being consumed by other sea creatures.
But the important thing to remember about Corexit as it relates to the sea floor anyway, was its purpose. It wasn't intended to clean up the oil so much as it was to sink it. Get it out of sight and out of mind as fast as possible.  Seems like that strategy is still paying dividends. 
The video and study were only possible because researchers were near the site for an unrelated project.

No one is funding research into the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the surrounding sea floor, said Craig McClain, director of LUMCON. Getting money for deep sea research can be difficult because it's "out of sight, out of mind," he said.

But damage to the sea floor ecosystem can permeate through the food chain to commercial fisheries and disrupt the process by which oceans pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the deep sea.
All we have is a brief glimpse of the undersea wasteland around the well head. No telling how bad it really is.

The time Teddy Bridgewater saved the world

We're all trying to read the tea leaves as to which quarterback is starting this weekend. But either way, expect the fans to show some love for the Teddyth Man.  It's probably too early to start talking about putting up a monument next to the Gleason statue or anything. But maybe keep the "Teddy" chant going all year even if he doesn't play anymore. I was pretty optimistic when The Teddy Era began but 5-0 was probably more than I was expecting when I wrote that. Anyway, it's been fun. Seriously. Here's Ralph.
If this Sunday is indeed Teddy's final start as a Saint (or if the Chicago win was), it's been fantastic. It'll be an achievement that will be remembered for a long time by Saints fans.

I can make a case that what Teddy Bridgewater has done the last five weeks is as great a quarterbacking achievement any non-Drew Brees Saints signal-caller has managed. Teddy Bridgewater starting 5-0 as Saints quarterback in 2019 was the darndest thing we ever saw, and it will be something we yammer on about in 2050 to grandkids probably.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

That's our good ol' psychotic boy

Does Drew Brees has to make every single thing into a hyper-competitive game of some sort?  Yes, of course.
Brees, during a weekly chat with WWL Radio, has said he wants to beat the 6-8 week timeline he was given.
It's the last week before a bye. The team is 6-1. Teddy is doing a good job in the meantime. There's no reason to "beat" the doctor's professional recomendation other than just plain being a weirdo.

Will Eddie Rispone "tort reform" Hard Rock victims out of their fair share?

The city says the demolition, clean up, and recovery operations following the Hard Rock hotel collapse have cost something on the order of  $400,000 per day. That's bound to be a sensitive issue, particularly now that we are heavy into budget season. The mayor assures us, though, that we're going to make sure we're covered.
The presence of police, firefighters and other city workers on the site has been costing taxpayers about $400,000 a day Cantrell said Monday, pledging that those costs would be recouped once the “responsible party” for the disaster is found.

“We’re making sure every step of the way the liability is with the responsible party, and that is not with the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said.

Determining responsible parties is going to be critical in this case because, unlike many of the disasters we are used to around here, this one won't draw any help from FEMA. The city has also set up a "resource center" at  the Main Library for workers and business owners who were affected by the disruption.  Also there is an intake survey for businesses to fill out online here. Presumably, even the "disrespectful" businesses are allowed to do this.
Despite a week-and-a-half-long interruption to daily life at one of the city’s busiest intersections, Cantrell said displaced residents and many business owners have shown patience. But she also said some businesses had been "downright disrespectful" and impatient in the face of closures and evacuations. She didn't name any of them.
Inevitably all of this is headed to court where the city and various other aggrieved parties will look to hold Hard Rock, the developer Mohan Kailas, and the primary contractor Citadel Builders accountable for damages.  Multiple lawsuits have already been filed.  Because Citadel and its subcontractors had been in the practice of misclassifying workers, many victims and families may not be eligible for healthcare or worker's comp benefits.   In the absence of federal disaster relief, legal action is likely the only recourse for everyone.

Meanwhile, the statewide election is into its runoff stage. Republicans are on the verge of capturing legislative supermajorities and possibly the Governor's office. One of the animating issues for them this year has been "tort reform."
Oil and gas isn’t the only business sector trying to attribute Louisiana’s problems to trial lawyers The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has long been engaged in demonizing trial lawyers as the bane of Louisiana business, while they’ve waged a campaign for “civil justice reform”, as they’re now calling it. LABI has long been the primary financial backer of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, which claims to be “a citizen watchdog group dedicated to stopping lawsuit abuse that threatens local businesses and jobs.”

The remaining Republican candidate for Governor happens to own a large construction industry firm himself.  He has some pretty strong opinions about the rights of injured workers and governments to sue companies who have caused them injury
Rispone, who compared himself to President Donald Trump, pointed to Louisiana’s natural resources, including oil and gas, that he said should be bringing the state jobs.

“Lawsuit abuse is killing thousands of jobs,” Rispone said. “You know that better than anybody.”
The soon to be governing power in the State of Louisiana defines the only available path to remuneration for disrupted small businesses, compensation for depleted public finances, justice for injured workers, and reparations for a despoiled environment as "lawsuit abuse" and wants it obliterated. 

Once this radical faction is in office, will it move to obstruct justice for the Hard Rock victims? If so, who will speak out for them? Don't count on the Advocate editorial board.  In its endorsement of John Bel Edwards, the paper offered a few issues on which it continues to disagree with him.
There are, after all, many problems to solve, and we haven’t always agreed with the governor’s approach to the state’s underlying challenges. Louisiana needs a governor who supports tort reform and will stand up to trial lawyers and teacher unions. Lawsuits against energy companies put our state at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting investment.
Once the dust blown about by a building collapsed by criminal capitalism has settled, and the damage incurred by its several victims endures, don't expect much sympathy from the local media monopoly. Not when there is still "investment" to attract and unions to crush, anyway.