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Sunday, August 28, 2016

"The whole ballgame"

Pretty good quote from Mitch Landrieu here.
There’s no guarantee the great flood of 2016 will attract a federal care package. It will be up to Congress to decide that.

But in New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s view, getting Congress on board with a program that bridges the huge gap between the losses suffered by property owners and the amount they’ll receive from their insurance claims is more than crucial. It's the “whole ballgame," the mayor said in a recent interview.
Article is about the need for a "Road Home" type program (yeah.. but one that works faster and better) to bring back South Louisiana after this year's floods. The key to recovery is pulling down federal money.  How much? A lot. 
It’s no stretch to say that the Road Home, warts and all, saved New Orleans after the disaster that struck 11 years ago this week. In the months after the storm, the scale of the damage, the realization that many devastated homeowners lacked flood insurance and the fact that many of the hardest-hit survivors were among the region’s poorest led to a surreal debate about whether New Orleans would ever recover, or whether parts of it should simply be abandoned.

In the end, Congress and the George W. Bush administration doled out $13.4 billion to underwrite the Road Home program. Affected homeowners, about 130,000 of them, got an average of $70,000 apiece.
I wanted to do a little napkintop math in order to figure how much might be needed this time around. But the terminology in this article makes it difficult. 
Some reports — such as one by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber — have estimated there could be as many as 145,000 flooded homes across the region, a number that would put this unnamed rainstorm within an order of magnitude of Katrina. (The federal government’s final estimates for Katrina damage in Louisiana were 515,000 housing units damaged, 204,682 of them severely or totally.)
Road Home money went to 130,000 "affected homeowners" out of "515,000 housing units damaged."  I don't know how to compare that to "145,000 flooded homes" especially when they throw in that "204,682 severely or totally" bit. 

130,000 "affected homeowners" funded by Road Home out of 515,000 "damaged" is about 25%.  But out of 204, 682 it's more like 63%. Are we asking to pay for 25% of "145,000 flooded homes" this year or 63% of them?  Assuming the average grant amount will be the same  $70,000 (it will probably have to be more) that means we're hoping for between $2.5 billion at the low estimate and $6.4 billion at the high end. 

In any case, we need billions of dollars on top of what's already in the pipeline. And we're not going to raise it via thousands of little GoFundMes. It will be up to Congress. That's the whole ballgame. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

There can only be one flag pin

The Louisiana Republican Party today considered and then set aside a scheme to restrict convicted felons (or anyone they don't like) from running in state elections with the little "R" next to their names. Some of them, it turns out, are embarrassed (or at least upset) that David Duke is running for Senate as a Republican this year. 
The proposed regulation would automatically prohibit felons from running for office as Republicans in elections after November, unless an exception was made by the state Republican Party's executive committee.

It also would allow Louisiana's Republican Party to block anyone from getting the "R," for Republican, with a name on the ballot if three-quarters of the State Central Committee voted to bar that person from running as a Republican.
They decided not to do anything, though. The rule under consideration would likely have caused legal headaches in addition to not actually doing anything about Duke anyway.
Even if the changes had been approved Saturday, they wouldn't have been made in time to block Duke, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to bilking his supporters and cheating on his taxes, from running as a Republican in the Louisiana Senate race this fall.
Besides that, the committee members can cry all they like but it doesn't change the fact that David Duke represents a sizeable portion of the Republican Id  and has for decades. We took a little time to explore this last year, in fact.  The nervous denials of the Republican state central committee are no different from the #NeverTrump movement of the national party in this regard.  These are the candidates and ideas they've built a machine pandering to. It's not so easy to just up and ditch them.

Republicans at the state and national level are currently trying to re-brand themselves out of the hole they've dug themselves. Which is why we're suddenly seeing the racist Wallace Dixiecrats, Reagan Democrats, and Limbaugh Dittoheads they've courted for years redefined as an unfamiliar alien force called the "Alt-Right" as opposed to some good and virtuous Republican Party that supposedly exists independently of all that.  It's disappointing that the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party is enthusiastically aiding the GOP in this re-branding effort. But that's a topic for a different post.

Anyway, all of this resulted in some amusing kabuki at the GOP meeting which the T-P covers in the article we began this with.
Duke did not attend the meeting, but his campaign coordinator, Michael Lawrence, did speak out against Republican leaders toward the end of the gathering, well after the rule change had already been deferred.

Lawrence, who was wearing a pin that included both the American and Confederate flags, started shouting that Villere had refused to let Duke speak to the crowd at the meeting. Villere, wearing his own pin with American and GOP flags, told Lawrence over the public address system that the gathering was a "private meeting" and Lawrence would have to leave.

Villere, speaking into a microphone, then called for security to take Lawrence out of the building when Lawrence refused to stop shouting. Five men in suits surrounded Lawrence and escorted him to his car.

Standing in the parking lot after being thrown out of the meeting, Lawrence said Duke planned to sue the Louisiana GOP if they passed any new rule that would block him from running as a Republican in future elections. He said Duke considered it a violation of his constitutional rights.

"Roger Villere has been running this organization like Fidel Castro for 12 years," Lawrence said.  
Just for fun we should see about sending Villere a Cuban flag pin.  

Disruption

Look at these entrepreneurs innovating a recovery out of the goodness of their own hearts.
But Mukul Verma, a BRAF spokesman, said recipients of GoFundMe donations are taxed on the gift, because the company is for-profit. Nonprofit gifts are not taxed.

GoFundMe donations are also not exempt from overhead costs that many critics associate with large nonprofit organizations. GoFundMe automatically deducts a 5 percent fee from each donation. Additionally, WePay, the system that GoFundMe uses to process payments, takes another 2.9 percent plus 30 cents from every contribution made through the site. So nearly 8 percent from every donation made through GoFundMe is skimmed from the top before any money reaches its intended recipient.

Waiting on the money copters

One thing about the flood is it might actually help with the budget a bit.  That will depend on the size and type of discretionary aid that becomes available. (The Governor is expected to make a specific CDBG ask soon.) But, in the meantime, it's probably a good idea to wait on the rest of this planning.
The group tasked with crafting a long-range plan for stabilizing Louisiana's turbulent state finances says it needs a little more time in light of catastrophic flooding that swept across Louisiana earlier this month.

The Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy was scheduled to have a final recommendation ready for lawmakers by Thursday. But this week its members asked legislative leaders to extend that deadline to the end of September.
It would be a mistake, though, to allow a sudden infusion of one time money to put the committee off its task of fundamental budget reforms.  Next year, the legislature should have to consider a more progressive tax structure with fewer special privileges carved out.  What a shame it would be if they find an excuse to not go as far as they should with that.  

The end of Errol's crusade

In the years following the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a new Carnival tradition has arisen.  Every Fat Tuesday evening, exhausted revelers settling in to watch (and to mock online) the Rex ball and Meeting of the Courts can witness the ceremonial questioning of the mayor about the status of the Municipal Auditorium. The flood forced the Rex ball out of its traditional venue and ball commentator Errol Laborde is determined to lobby annually for its restoration.

But what happens to this now decade's long tradition if Errol's question is finally answered?
Eleven years after the Municipal Auditorium in Louis Armstrong Park was flooded during Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans officials say a check from FEMA to pay for repairs could be coming soon.

After years of fighting over the cost of needed repairs, the city and FEMA entered arbitration this month to settle an impasse in the negotiations, said Hayne Rainey, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

That process is expected to wrap up in the next 90 days and could pave the way for a private developer to take over management of the site.
I guess then we can start asking who they're going to sell it to.

Friday, August 26, 2016

OPSB unification plan

The superintendent presented it last night. There's a description of that meeting and a copy of the plan itself in this story.
The mood was upbeat at McDonogh No. 35 High School Thursday (Aug. 25) as Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. presented a plan to unify the city's bifurcated education system by 2018.

Comprised almost entirely of independent charter schools, the new-and-improved district "will be the first of its kind in the nation," Lewis told an advisory committee, "dedicated to empowering families, empowering educators, ensuring equity and dramatically improving student outcomes."

But though the committee members lauded the 72-page document, they were anxious about -- what else. Money.
Of course budgets are a problem. But aside from that, we missed a real opportunity to make this process more about the nature of public education itself this year, when we ended up with only three of the seven OPSB seats contested in the fall election. 

That's a problem given the continuing hostility of charter boards toward teachers, and what may be the beginnings of a movement against charters more generally. New Orleans is again missing an opportunity to participate at the leading edge of the discourse.  Instead the plan reflects a will so stay the course. Rather than taking over the school system directly, the new OPSB will mostly just grant and renew charters.  Actually, the superintendent will do that.
Lewis might have an easier time holding schools accountable, because the unification law shifts power from the school board to the superintendent. It will take a two-thirds School Board vote, not a simple majority, to override "all decisions related to school opening, renewal and closure," the plan states.
Seems like a mistake.  

Shelter-at-home

This is the alternative temporary housing plan developed after Sandy.  Basically, they get you set up with necessities if it doesn't cost too much to do that quickly.
If a home can be back in a livable state with up to $15,000 in repairs, then the state will OK the work and a crew will be sent out to do the work.

The program only covers minor repair work: basic electrical and plumbing inspections; carpet and insulation removal; air conditioning and hot water heater repairs; and installing temporary bathroom fixtures, are among the types of tasks they will consider.

The program will also pay for mini-refrigerators or microwaves to be installed to serve as makeshift kitchen appliances.

Riley said that the state will hire a project manager over the weekend. An estimated four-to-seven general contractors will then be hired, and they are expected to then hire sub-contractors to help with the work.
Will be interesting to see which contractors they hire. Just remember they'll get what they pay for. 
But the program didn't come without complaints.

Stories soon popped up in the New York Post, New York Daily News and the Staten Island Advance with reports of "shoddy" repairs through the program.

All of them featured people complaining that government-funded repairs had left their homes with potentially dangerous conditions and in desperate need of additional fixes.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Squabbling Bensons still can't get it together

The judge has had to go and reintroduce the stick.
A federal judge has scheduled a Dec. 8 trial date in Tom Benson's lawsuit seeking to take away ownership in the Saints and Pelicans from his estranged family, after weeks of settlement talks failed to produce a final agreement.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo on Thursday (Aug. 25) scheduled the trial and denied a mutual request by Benson and lawyers for his estranged heirs' trust funds to extend a delay in the case.

Milazzo ordered the trial after meeting with the lawyers in her chambers for a status update.
I know it's still a long shot but boy would I love to see this thing actually go to trial.  It won't (probably) because to let it get that far would be the worst nightmare of practically every owner in pro sports.
A trial in the case is expected to make public details of internal NFL and NBA financial information, the financial performance of the Saints and Pelicans, and Benson's personal wealth were expected to be aired.
So they'll have to settle. But it would be fun if they didn't.

Substitute Sheriff

Looks like there's a new sheriff in town. Sort of, anyway.  Gusman picked his court ordered "compliance director" today; i.e. the guy who will supposedly do most of his job for him until the consent decree is lifted.
Gary D. Maynard, 73, essentially will become a surrogate for Sheriff Marlin Gusman, assuming operational control of the Orleans Justice Center as he seeks to implement a series of court-ordered reforms that have languished for three years. He will be known formally as the jail's "independent compliance director."

The sheriff, announcing the appointment at a news conference Thursday, touted Maynard's four decades of corrections experience and called him "a welcome addition to our team."
At no point during the press conference did anyone in attendance mutter the word, "Awwwwkwaarrd" under his or her breath.

For his part, Maynard says he's looking forward to the "big challenge." 
He also is no stranger to controversy, having served at the helm of the Maryland prison system at a time when more than a dozen guards were indicted for misconduct at the notorious Baltimore City Detention Center on racketeering and drug charges.

A federal investigation revealed that a group of corrupt corrections officers aided an inmate gang in smuggling drugs and cellphones into the lockup.

Maynard resigned his position in December 2013 to join the Criminal Justice Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides consultation to prisons and jails.

"I’ve been through some pretty bad situations and some riots and hostage situations," Maynard said. "I’ve always been drawn toward challenges. That’s what drew me down here. I think this is going to be a big challenge."
Eh.. probably not really, though. Sounds more like a dude who has already paid his "challenge" dues and is looking for one more gig from which to draw a pension before he retires all the way.  But who knows? When I'm 73 I'm sure I'll take up base jumping or something.

For Gusman's part, well, as ever it is all about budget leverage. 
Gusman said Thursday that Maynard also will serve as a "conduit to gain access to financial and operational resources that the Sheriff's Office has been denied for years."

Maynard's responsibilities will include crafting a jail budget that Gusman has said must include pay raises for his deputies, long a key point of dispute between the Sheriff's Office and the Landrieu administration in their fight over jail funding.

"Through our collective work," Gusman said, "we will achieve clarity on the budget needed to operate the Orleans Justice Center and meet the other items outlined in the consent decree."
Anyway so welcome Substitute Sheriff Money Conduit, I guess.  Good luck.

Too much nerd in football

Beyond just the fact that this college football rule change is designed to make trick plays less likely to succeed and thereby limit fun, just look at this picky bullcrap.
For an offensive formation to be legal during a regular play, at least five linemen must be numbered 50 to 79. No matter where they line up, these players are all always ineligible receivers (by number).

When an offense is lined up for a scrimmage kick (field goal, extra point, or punt), they get an exception and can have fewer than five. Some coaches have exploited that to trick defenses into covering the wrong players, or lulling them to sleep, before attempting a fake.

The rules committee tightened up the loopholes.

First, to get the numbering exception the offense must have either:
  1. at least one player 10 or more yards behind the line of scrimmage, or
  2. two players at least 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Until this year, they only had to have one player at least seven yards back, leading teams to have him take the snap and run. Now they have to be considerably more strategic with their fakes, if they want to take advantage of the "numbering exception."
If I could make one change to the rules of football at every level it would be to eliminate any and all stipulations as to which sorts of players can wear which numbers.  The formation already dictates which players are eligible receivers. Nobody cares what their uniform says. Football rules are written by obsessive compulsive nerds.

If Brandin Cooks went out on the field wearing number 77, I'm pretty sure somebody would cover him.  Just like if Zach Strief wore an "eligible" number, nobody would. People are aware that he can't catch. I don't care what he does in practice.
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. -- New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief ran toward the end zone on a supposed field-goal attempt during Tuesday's practice with the New England Patriots.

He turned around, and punter Thomas Morstead threw a perfect pass to Strief for a touchdown.

"Yeah, I'm one of the more dangerous tight ends on field goal in the league, I feel," said Strief, who's entering his 11th season as an offensive lineman. "I don't think they were quite prepared for us to do that, but I'm glad I didn't drop it. There's a lot of people out here, and I have a poor reputation in that department. So, it was good, and look it's fun (because) I don't get to touch the ball very often."
Fake field goals are already practically illegal in the NFL anyway.  Now the college game is catching up. 

The anti-recovery caucus

Economic downturn, budget crisis, and now a major disaster.  Louisiana has a lot of work to do digging out from this mess.
With the floodwaters still receding, the expected cost of the disaster is unclear. The Federal Emergency Management agency said it's too early to make any estimates, but judging from prior disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, the tally will be well into the billions. The Red Cross expects its costs to exceed more than $30 million, making it the organization's largest disaster response operation since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012.

"It's not anything we haven't seen in Louisiana before, it's just more of it," said Greg Langley, spokesman for the state task force managing the recovery. "It's unprecedented in its scope, in its magnitude, other than Katrina."

It all comes as Louisiana faces a $2 billion budget shortfall that required Governor John Bel Edwards to push through a temporary tax hike in March to avoid going over a looming fiscal cliff. "The fiscal condition of this state is not going to limit what we do to make sure that people get the assistance they need," Edwards said earlier this week.

Long term, Louisiana will benefit from billions in federal aid and insurance dollars coming its way.
How much federal aid is on the way?  Having been through this before we know the value of fighting for every cent.  Well.. some of us know, anyway. Unfortunately, some of our representatives in Washington are having difficulty processing. 
NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is facing a political problem as he lays the groundwork to seek billions of dollars in federal recovery aid for Louisiana flood victims.

Cassidy, the first-term GOP senator, was in the U.S. House in January 2013 when he joined 189 other Republicans to vote against a $50 Billion Dollar aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims.

At the time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, blasted the GOP House members for partisan politics at its worst. Now that Cassidy and fellow Louisiana Republicans Steve Scalise and John Fleming are asking for federal disaster relief and rebuilding grants for their state, some in the national media are calling them hypocrites.

But Cassidy says he’s being consistent.

“I voted for Sandy relief,” he said. “What I didn’t vote for was $20 billion or so tacked on as pork unrelated to Sandy relief…. I want this to be related to disasters, and obviously, we’ve had a disaster in our state.”
Because the one thing we need to make abundantly clear when we ask for help is that we don't think anyone should be trusted with it.  

Streetscapin'

OCH

Oretha Castle Haley Blvd August 2008

Here comes the beautification crew.  
The city began construction Wednesday on a $1.8 million project designed to make it easier and more inviting for people to walk and bike on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City.

The project, funded by federal grants, is the latest in a series of "streetscape" beautification projects officials have unveiled since Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010.

The work will stretch along O.C. Haley from Calliope Street to St. Andrew Street.

Crews will remove the neutral ground from Felicity Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, repair damaged sidewalks and install handicapped curb ramps at intersections. They also will add a bike lane and new crosswalks, plant new landscaping and repave the asphalt roadway, among other improvements, officials said.

That last paragraph offers more detail than did the mayor's press release yesterday. The only specific it offered was the bike lane.  I started to ask for more information but the mayor's office just tweeted the same press release back at me.




Oh well.  Anyway, one reason I wanted to ask about the bike lane is, although the city is quick to advertise the progress it has made in installing painted lanes in recent years, the so-called best practices have already moved beyond this style.
BOSTON (AP) — Bike lanes are evolving. Cities are increasingly changing them to make them safer in light of fatal crashes involving cyclists and cars.

From Boston to San Francisco and New York to Tokyo, traditional bike lanes running alongside vehicle traffic are being replaced in favor of “protected” lanes or “cycletracks,” where physical barriers like concrete curbs, planters or fences separate cyclists from vehicle traffic.

“For 50 years, we’ve just been putting down a stripe of white paint, and that was how you accommodated bikes on busy streets,” says Martha Roskowski, director of People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colorado-based advocacy group that’s calling for better designed bike lanes. “What we’ve learned is that simply doesn’t work for most.”
Basically, we've been doing it wrong and other cities are already finding ways to do it better. This OCH project might have been an opportunity for us to think about how to make a better bike lane. Instead we're just gonna keep congratulating ourselves. 
“Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard is one of our city’s great boulevards, with a rich and diverse history that is uniquely New Orleans,” Landrieu said. “Today, this corridor is seeing a resurgence, and our streetscape project will complement the major public and private investments that have already been made here and trigger even more development for Central City and beyond.”
Also, notice the way Mitch can't help talking about the "public-private" nature of the corridor's gentrification resurgence. It's nice of him to overlook the grifting but that's also a factor. In reality, the benefactor here is the federal government. 
Federal Disaster Community Development Block Grant money will pay for the project, which was designed by GEC.
This week marks ten years plus one since the flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  And we're still benefiting from the CDBG-DR investment delivered as a result. On Tuesday the Governor informed President Obama that his staff would be requesting CDBG funding to help South Louisiana recover from this year's devastating floods. The size of this request will be critical.  As long as we're running around making suppositions like this one by State Sen Francis Thompson, we might as well capitalize on them, right?



The more money we pull down from Washington now, the more streets we can "beautify" ten years from now.  Who knows, by then, we might even know how to make a proper bike lane. 

You guys worry too much

Or, at least, y'all worry about the wrong things.  Last night, Menckles dragged me out to Wal-Mart because some spaghetti convinced her beyond all doubt that we would certainly be needing hurricane supplies.  It's fine with me either way. I mean I'll go do some mall walking whenever. But I'm not about to freak out about a "storm" that doesn't even exist yet. Anyway, now we have more Pop-Tarts than we previously had so that's nice.

Meanwhile, as everyone is staring out into the Gulf, the real threat lurks much nearer to home.
A squirrel is to blame for thousands losing power in the New Orleans area on Thursday morning, according to Entergy New Orleans.

"Crews safely working to restore power ASAP after an animal got into our equipment," Entergy said in a tweet addressed to the East Carrollton area.

"It was a squirrel," the company added.

At the height of the outage, about 3,500 customers were without power.
This is actually the twist ending to "The Spaghetti Plot" by Agatha Christie. (sorry about the spoiler but it is)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wow they actually listened

RTA's route changes that will accompany the opening of the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar announced actually take into account rider feedback.
In dual wins for local riders who prefer buses over streetcars, bus routes that now run along North Rampart will continue to do so, although they’ll make fewer stops between Elysian Fields and Canal, and a proposal to cut off two other downriver bus lines at the French Market and force riders to transfer to streetcars was rejected.

“We heard from customers consistently that they want to get to Canal Street, particularly from the further-out neighborhoods in the Lower 9th Ward,” said CJ Bright, director of planning and scheduling for Transdev, the private company that manages the RTA’s operations.

The decision signals a shift in the RTA’s thinking. The agency’s past practice of cutting off some bus lines short of Canal Street so as to boost streetcar ridership has been heavily criticized, with some residents saying it favored tourists over locals, who prefer fewer transfers as they travel to work or other destinations.

Clamor rose in 2013 after the RTA opened its Loyola Avenue/Union Passenger Terminal streetcar line and made service changes to some nearby bus routes, forcing some riders coming from Uptown to get off their buses at the terminal and switch to the new streetcar line to get to Canal Street.

But this time, the RTA will preserve the North Rampart bus routes, including the heavily used 88-St. Claude/Jackson Barracks line. After it stops at Elysian Fields, however, that line will now stop only five times heading to Canal Street: at St. Bernard Avenue, Esplanade Avenue, St. Ann Street, Conti Street and Canal itself, Bright said.
It does raise the question of what the hell are the streetcars even for besides amusing tourists. But we'll at least accept that RTA is (grudgingly) willing to serve its actual "customers" for once. Although we wish they wouldn't call people who depend on a public service customers. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Will the pie explode again?

President Obama is slated to arrive in Baton Rouge this afternoon to survey flood damage and talk about recovery efforts.  We're still in the process of gathering data right now, but certainly there's going to be plenty of work to do.
While the final numbers won't be known for some time, Gov. John Bel Edwards' office has estimated 60,646 houses were damaged and 30,000 people rescued; other people escaped on their own. FEMA says 109,398 people or households have applied for housing help, and 25,000 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been filed. The American Red Cross called it the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey in 2012.

Now a new analysis offers another set of numbers. Ezra Boyd of Mandeville, who holds a Ph.D. in geography from LSU and runs the website DisasterMap.net, said Monday (Aug. 22) that as many as 188,729 occupied houses and 507,495 people -- 11 percent of the state's population -- were "affected" by the flood.
Last week, the Advocate reported the estimated cost of the damage at $20 billion. The same analysis suggests that "far fewer" than 50 percent of the homes affected by the flood were insured. Here's why that's a problem.
The federal disaster declaration triggers assistance for those whose homes and businesses have been damaged or displaced. Those who don't have flood insurance can still qualify for grants up to $33,000 for repairs. Temporary housing assistance will also become available
That's not going to cover rebuilding (and mandatory elevation) expenses in, dare we say, most cases. Unless more money is found (and we mean a lot more money) a regional economic recovery isn't likely to happen at all.. much less take only one year as this LSU economist seems to say
It could take a full year for southeast Louisiana to recover from horrific flood damage sustained during last week's historic rain event, according to one of the state's most trusted economists.

“You can count certain things (right now), such as the number of homes that were flooded, business that were flooded, public facilities such as schools that may have been flooded … then you start asking, ‘what are the real issues that are going to be coming over the next year?’” said economist and professor Jim Richardson to LSU University Relations.

Richardson, also a member of the state's Revenue Estimating Conference, said recovery expenses could generate a boost to local economies in the first year.

He predicted businesses would bounce back the quickest.

“Businesses, for the most part, will get back up and running quickly," he said. "Perhaps not some small businesses in areas badly hit like Denham Springs … but national chains will have resources and additional dollar amounts to get (going again).”
That seems pretty optimistic considering everything we've learned over the past decade in New Orleans. (Are we really even "recovered" now?  That's a different post.)  Furthermore, Richardson appears to be describing a consumer driven "recovery" where flood victims have access to the funds and credit necessary to do the consuming. Will they, though? There are problems. First among these problems is, Louisiana's congressional delegation sucks.
Louisiana's delegation could find itself seeking hundreds of millions of dollars for unmet needs just a few years after several of its members spurned such requests in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. And the delegation, which has few senior members, will be calling for cash from a tight-fisted Republican Congress during an exceptionally heated election season that will end with at least two and possibly three of its members leaving Capitol Hill.
The second thing is, Congress itself also sucks.
In major disasters, the assistance offered under the Stafford Act, which provides funds to both individuals and local government agencies to cover some of their costs, is often only one part of the equation. As of Friday afternoon, FEMA had already approved more than $7 million in individual assistance, which includes money for housing and other needs.

The rest is provided through supplemental funding from Congress, which dedicates money through programs like Community Development Block Grants to meet additional needs.

That extra money is going to be needed to cover costs that aren't met by insurance and to provide for other needs, such as providing vouchers to contractors who can gut houses.

But its availability is dependent on the willingness of lawmakers to go along with the plan, something that's hardly a sure thing.

For just one example of the gridlock in Congress, take the ongoing fight over funding to combat the spread of the Zika virus. In February, the White House requested $1.9 billion to battle the mosquito-born virus, which is present in Florida and could threaten other states, but fights over provisions tacked onto the bill have left it in limbo.
Thirdly... did we mention that our delegation sucks? Because they suck in specific ways that might cause others to have no sympathy with their appeals for help given their own behavior
Call it logrolling or one hand washing the other, a generally recognized fact in Washington is that if you want something for your district, it pays to agree to the same thing for another guy’s district.

That point may have been lost on three Louisiana congressmen when they voted against a $50.5-billion relief package for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. The 2012 storm ravaged coastal communities in New Jersey and New York. Now they’re in the position of needing the same sort of aid for their own state. How will that play out?

The three lawmakers, all Republicans, are Rep. Steve Scalise (currently the House majority whip); Bill Cassidy, who moved up to the Senate last year; and John Fleming. They’re all likely exemplars of another Washington truism: fiscal responsibility is great, until it’s your own district that’s getting fiscally hammered.
Despite so much cheery crap you may have read over the years about how the New Orleans economy "bucked the trend" during the recession because it had "resilience" and because hipster entrepreneurs showed up to make apps and open juice bars, the actual recovery.. such as it was.. depended on billions of dollars worth of federal spending. This meant FEMA reimbursement, new flood control projects, and hundreds of millions of dollars in community block grants.   
In the aftermath of Katrina, the federal government gave New Orleans a $411 million pot of CDBG disaster money. Designed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as “flexible grants to help cities, counties, and states recover from Presidentially declared disasters, especially in low-income areas,” such money comes with relatively few restrictions beyond guidelines that projects must “principally” benefit areas or groups wherein a majority of people live in households with low-to-moderate incomes. In New Orleans, with a median income of $37,079, that means funded projects must principally benefit households with an annual income between $18,500 and $42,000.
When Ray Nagin told us about "this economic pie that's getting ready to explode" in New Orleans, he knew the federal stimulus was coming.  We can have a separate discussion about whether the CDBG money really did "principally benefit" people with low-to-moderate incomes. (It didn't. But, again, that's another post.)  But we can say that it did stimulate the economic activity we typically associate with Post-K "recovery."  If the political will isn't there to, pardon the image, make it rain again, none of that other stuff is going to happen this time.

Here is a letter Governor Edwards submitted to the President today. In it he asks for, among other things, these items:

A reduction in the state's cost share for damages from 25% to 10%

$125 million for the Army Corps of Engineers in order to complete the Comite River diversion

Expedited emergency relief highway funding

A waiver of the state's $100 million annual obligation to pay for federal hurricane protection systems. (A big deal of granted)

And, finally, an as-yet unspecified amount in CDBG-DR funds.  This one is the real key and the one that will have the hardest time fighting its way through Congress. But if we want to make the pie explode again, that's how it will happen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Climate driven gentrification

We probably will never save the Louisiana coast from destruction.  But, as sea levels rise all over the world, coastal communities threatened by climate change might look to us for a vision of their future.  Unfortunately, as Zack Kopplin observes in this Slate article, the rest of the country is more likely to continue blaming us for our own predicament.
But because we, as a country, have collectively endangered our future by overusing fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean Louisiana has sacrificed its right to exist and its people should leave. Climate change could sink all of our major coastal cities, but Louisiana is being held to a different standard, because we’ve already been hit with so many disasters. We’ve suffered so much that people are tired of hearing about us. In fact, we’ve suffered so much that people outside of Louisiana assume that we want to leave.

But the thing is that we don’t. The people who do leave Louisiana after this flood probably won’t have left because they’ve decided it’s time to give up on their home. They’ll leave because they can’t afford to come back. Since many homes weren’t in a flood zone, most people did not have flood insurance. The Baton Rouge Advocate calculated that the average Federal Emergency Management Agency check would only come out to about $10,000. The FEMA money is “only to keep disaster victims safe, sanitary and secure,” the Advocate wrote. It’s not for repairs.

When you’re hit by a natural disaster, you can sandbag, you can stock up on candles and water, you can evacuate. The government and nonprofits can provide aid. What you can’t do is uproot your house or your community. Those things don’t move.

At least not without extraordinary measures. The U.S. is currently debating whether and how to relocate several small towns in Alaska that are existentially threatened by climate change, but we have no idea how we’re going to foot the bill. To move all of Louisiana would be an insanely expensive undertaking.
Alaska isn't alone in that. We're also already relocating people here in Louisiana at Isle de Jean Charles.
Looking out from the house he built in 1959 with lumber brought by boat to this island at the south end of Terrebonne Parish, Wenceslaus Billiot remembers when the view from his back porch was thick forest and solid marsh.

Now there is just open water.

With their homes growing ever more vulnerable to hurricanes, the 89-year-old Billiot and other residents of Isle de Jean Charles soon will have the choice of whether to stay on this slip of land or relocate, hopefully with their neighbors, to higher ground. This opportunity comes thanks to a $48 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to move the entire community. It’s a first of its kind for Louisiana and a test case for the choice other coastal communities will be facing as land loss continues: Leave or stay and be overwhelmed by storm after storm.
We are now coming to the time when Louisiana begins to feel the full consequences of decades of inaction over coastal loss.  While we're mostly beyond saving at this point, we can nonetheless serve other coastal regions threatened by climate change as well as posterity in general as a political case study. Don't expect our lesson to be especially inspiring,  though.

For some reason we expect the politics of disaster to be more heroic than they are in reality. Coastal loss is an existential threat to all of us. Therefore we expect its approach to unite us, to galvanize us, to bring us together to "get things done" as might happen in the plot of one of some superhero movie. But real life doesn't follow Hollywood logic. The plot does not arc toward climax. Instead it just sprawls about driven only by its own inertia.

Here's a story from today's Advocate about the flood mitigation systems that might have saved homes in South Louisiana this year if they had ever been built.
Officials spread the blame for the lack of progress, from the general — like lack of funding from the state or the federal government and sluggishness from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — to the excruciatingly specific — such as bickering over which specific areas can be set aside as wetlands mitigation to counteract the ecological damage to swamps caused by building the canal.
In other words, we are dealing with a lot of shit here and none of it ever gets dealt with neatly.  It's a wonder anything ever happens at all, frankly. But, as the saying goes, every crisis is an opportunity. Whether it's an opportunity to do good, though, is another matter.

Desperate circumstances do not, in fact, override political differences. On the contrary, they heighten contrasts.  What is a crisis, after all, if not a moment of high stakes decisions with lasting ramifications? A crisis brings with it opportunities to quickly force choices that might be politically unworkable during ordinary circumstances. And more often than not such situations favor the wealthy, the more connected, the factions already closest to the levers of power. This is the essence of the now familiar Shock Doctrine. We should understand it well in Louisiana having lived it for much of the past decade.

The mass evacuations forced by climate change Zack writes about in Slate are going to happen whether we organize them and compensate the refugees or not. But they also aren't going to happen all at once in a neatly polished drama. There isn't a moment when the whole population of, say, Houma just leaves together and turns out the lights. Instead the retreat comes piece by piece as occasional shocks like this flood cause everyone to reshuffle and reassess whether or not it makes sense for them to continue on living where they were.

And so the population gradually shifts away as homes and livelihoods wither and as individuals are essentially priced out of the area. Left behind in the interim are those residents and industries that remain viable. Witness a Louisiana coastal plan that will settle for protecting oil infrastructure rather than saving communities. Witness also the conversion of New Orleans from a living, breathing city to a tourist-centric boutique resort. Eventually it all washes away. But not before every last bit of profit is sucked out.

Think of it as a kind of environmentally driven gentrification if you want. But what is happening in practice is the costs of climate change are not being shared but instead are being paid in the broken lives of the poor in order to extend the viability of wealth for as long as possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

So much for that manpower shortage

Mitch on his failed police millage: "Just Kidding"
Meanwhile, Cicero and the GNOSF were coordinating with police at the state and local levels to make sure there would be enough crowd-control presence to manage Mardi Gras parades and a weekend of NBA festivities.

“There was never a hesitation,” Cicero said. “(They said), ‘Absolutely we can do that. We have the manpower and we want this.’”

The mayor’s office was closely involved — Ryan Berni, the deputy mayor for external affairs, was in regular contact with the NBA about the league’s needs from the city — as was the governor’s office, until recent days when flooding in Louisiana became Edwards’ priority.
About that whole flood being the priority thing.  Do they know people are going to desperate for housing?
As Freeman and his team opened the venue, Perry and the CVB worked with local hotels and their customers to free as much lodging space as possible for the weekend.

In addition to fans, the city needed to create space at high-end properties for players, owners and international visitors, Perry said. The NBA needs blocks of rooms for media, who also require workspace and a large ballroom for player interviews on the first day of the event.
Does the city need to "create space" for evacuees? It seems like it might.  As of yesterday there were 4000 people staying in shelters making them eligible for subsidized hotel rooms. Add to that the unknown number of people staying in cars or hotels currently.  FEMA has only contracted for 2700 hotel rooms so far so they're specifically asking people to stay with friends and family instead wherever possible.  
The governor said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for hotel rooms on a rolling, 30-day basis. Storm victims who are staying in cars, hotels, shelters, or their workplace are eligible, but not those staying with friends and family.
At this point we don't have a precise number of displaced available. But we do know from experience that the process of undisplacing them takes a very long time and long term planning is needed to meet their needs.  The NBA corporate crapfest is only six months away.  After Katrina, the need for continuing hotel vouchers extended beyond thatFEMA is offering to pay $160 per night during All Star Weekend. Probably the NBA is offering better.

The good news is, once the short term rental plan is approved, nobody will actually lives in New Orleans anymore so there should be plenty of leftover "Airspace" if it comes to that.

Railroaded

There's a lot going on right now but notice in the meantime Mitch is moving ahead with his plan to sell off the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. Kyle Wedberg, a key opponent of the sale, recently resigned from the NOPBR board. Also.. Veolia? Wow.
According to an off-the-record source, French based New Orleans RTA contractor Veolia Transportation has expressed interest in purchasing NOPB if the option for sale is eventually passed.

A source also suggested that the Mayor may be replacing Wedberg's Committee position with long-time Landrieu confidante, Emily Sneed Arata.  Arata has worked in some capacity with Mayor Landrieu since his tenure as Lt. Governor, including serving as Deputy Mayor of Communications under his first Mayoral term.  Sneed left her stint with the City in January of 2016 to take a job with Ochsner Health Systems.
In addition to her stint as Deputy Mayor, you might remember Arata from the time her husband was convicted of fraud in connection with one of the many many "Hollywood South" scandals to touch the politically connected classes in recent years.  But now she works for Ochsner so you can see things have gone downhill ethically. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Guess we keep an eye on that Atlanta transaction wire

Keenan ain't going on no IR.
Lewis was under contract for 2017, too, and told NOLA.com last week his goal is to play 10 seasons before retiring -- 2016 would be his eighth.

It's unclear exactly why the Saints released him now, but he spoke to ESPN about the decision Friday, saying he never meshed with new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Lewis also said in the report that he wants to join a team and show the Saints they made a mistake.

The problem

Lots of uninsured homeowners
Regionally, the data show there were about 52,896 flood insurance policies in effect – about half the estimated number of homes that flooded. But because some people with flood insurance did not experience flooding, the proportion of flood victims with flood insurance is probably far lower than 50 percent.

Not their fault. They weren't required to have flood insurance. Most of these homes have never flooded. This sort of flood really is a "nobody could have predicted" type of event.   But we're going to have to find the money to help these people.  And the puzzling over how that happens is only just beginning.

In the meantime, we're starting to see some of the temporary housing solutions roll out.
Help is on the way, at least temporarily, for people displaced by floods who are seeking housing and assistance buying food.

FEMA is offering temporary shelter assistance by paying for hotel rooms on a rolling 30-day basis for people who lost their homes in the flooding and who register their claims with FEMA.
So far they've contracted for 27,00 hotel rooms. The story doesn't say where those are, exactly. There are still 4,000 people staying in shelters. 

It's Friday and there's no McLaughlin Group

Maybe we're past the point when that alone is a big deal. But it is strange.
John McLaughlin, a former Jesuit priest, speechwriter for President Richard Nixon and conservative provocateur whose pugnacious style as a host of a political chat show helped usher in the era of impolite punditry, died Aug. 16 at his home in Washington. He was 89.
There was a time, though, (in the very distant past) when McLaughlin's terrible little show was essential viewing in our house. Looking back at it now, the Group was really just a circle of mainstream press hacks shouting superficial conventional wisdom at each other. It was also an early manifestation of the "Fair and Balanced" trope in medial really being a hard tug to the right. Paul Glastris wrote this about it earlier this week. (link and key graph via Atrios)
The show had been on for only a couple of years when I first arrived in Washington, and among the young liberals I knew it was widely loathed, though universally watched. The lineup of regular panelists–Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Jack Germond, plus Mort Kondracke or Eleanor Clift—was supposedly balanced. But in fact it pitting three hard right ideologues (including McLaughlin himself) against two center-left journalists, so the left side of the panel always seemed defensive and outmatched—which is exactly how it felt to be on the left in Washington during the Reagan years. Roger Ailes, the Fox News president recently ousted on charges of sexual harassment, is widely credited as a genius for creating the “fair and balanced” cable network, but it was McLaughlin who first figured out the winning formula.
And it was loud and without much substance. And it was only half and hour. After it was over, you couldn't easily go read and learn more or strike up a discussion about it online. This crap was the last word of the week.  But today everyone says it's the internet that ruined the discourse.

great

We're turning over the first weekend of Carnival next year to the NBA's corporate crapfest.
The NBA has decided to play its 2017 All-Star game in New Orleans, the league announced Friday.

The news comes a few weeks after the league took the game from Charlotte over a controversial law that some have criticized as discriminatory against the LGBT community.

The game is scheduled for the first big weekend of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. There is no immediate word on if the parade schedule and routes will be adjusted, however, Carnival activities are expected to play a part in the event.

"The combination of NBA All-Star with the first weekend of Mardi Gras will provide our residents, visitors and NBA fans an even more special experience," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Previously, when this event has been staged in New Orleans, not everyone thought it was such a "special experience."
In an unusual private takeover of New Orleans' pre-eminent public gathering place, Jackson Square will shut down tonight to host a private party for 2,500 people drawn from the ranks of pro basketball stars, politicians and other invited guests in town for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game.

The reception, featuring 20 food vendors, live music on three stages and a second-line parade, will honor volunteers, including NBA players, who are scheduled to participate today in 10 rebuilding projects across the city. The NBA has paid $5,000, plus a $2,500 deposit to cover damage and litter pickup, to rent the square and a pair of alleys next to St. Louis Cathedral, a mayoral spokesman said.

As part of a four-day basketball showcase expected to produce major economic benefits for the city, the "2008 Celebration of Contribution" party is expected to draw a cadre of famous customers to merchants' shops along Jackson Square. But musicians, artists and tarot card readers who peddle their services on the square's slate-lined streets are crying foul, saying the party is leaving them on the sidelines during a potentially huge payday.
I wonder how the street artists and musicians will feel about being pushed out during the first weekend of parades this time. We're supposed to be happy for the "tourism leaders" who made this event happen. It's hard to do that when those leaders freeze everyone else out of the money.  We're also supposed to be proud of the symbolic social justice victory in this move.  But, again, this thing where we all have to move out of the way for the benefit of the NBA's PR department makes that difficult as well. 

Decidedly nonpolitical

Ok, great
Trump's new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway suggested that the visit was part of a larger effort, like his speech on Thursday, to pivot to a more presidential phase.

"It's also presidential today to have him and Governor Pence going to Louisiana in a decidedly nonpolitical event," she told ABC's Good Morning America Friday," adding that they would be "going to help people on the ground who are in need."
Probably they are just there to announce the plans for Trump Tower St. Amant. Won't we all feel silly, then, for doubting. Anyway, if you see Trump out and about today, remember there is a protocol in these situations.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Who is to blame?

Not sure what it is the Advocate wants here... besides a few clicks, I guess. So bad on me for linking to it in the first place. Not that you haven't read it by this point. You have. Anyway, in the middle paragraph quoted here, they pretty much refute their entire editorial.
The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in flood waters was striking. It evoked the precedent of the passive federal response to the state’s agony in 2005, a chapter of history no one should ever repeat.

The president acted prudently in officially declaring a disaster for the flooded part of the state, a key step in advancing federal aid. We’ve been heartened so far by the active involvement of Craig Fugate, head of Federal Emergency Management Agency, a far cry from FEMA’s hapless Michael Brown in the days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was slated to visit Louisiana today to assess the damage.

But a disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the president at ground zero. In coming here, the president can decisively demonstrate that Louisiana’s recovery is a priority for his administration – and the United States of America.
Unlike the week-long bickering, doddering, cluelessness of the Bush Administration after Katrina, the feds responded to this year's emergency immediately. The President declared a federal disaster making individuals and local governments in 20 parishes eligible for aassistance. National guard has been active in search and rescue. FEMA is here doing work. DHS is here doing work.  The Governor says he has no complaints.




Hell, the Advocate editorial board even says in that article, they are "heartened" by all of this. But.. you know.. those darn "optics." Adrastos believes he sees the problem here and who am I to disagree?
If the Advocate editorial board deigned to read their own reporting, they would know that emergency response efforts are ongoing. This is all about an ultra conservative Obama hating editor seeing a chance to take a shot at him. The prime suspect is former Picayune and current Advocate editor Peter Kovacs who went on CNN to toot his own horn. On the behalf of Peters everywhere, I’d like to apologize for his malakatude.
On the other hand, maybe optics are a thing. Or, at least, maybe perceptions matter more than facts do to some people. Evidence of this might be found in a most discouraging conversation I had about the flood yesterday. Maybe I'm just not very good at explaining things. But the person I was talking to certainly didn't have much grasp of the facts.. or even the basic geography of the flood as it made its way through places within thirty miles of where we sat. Whatever I said about the weather event itself or the communities affected by it, I kept getting the same questions over and over. "Didn't all these people know it was going to flood?" "Don't they have insurance?" And, "Why is their drainage so bad?"

These aren't the sort of questions you get when someone wants to understand what's happening.  They're the sort of questions you get when someone is already thinking about the "optics" of who or what is to blame. Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do about people like that. But it's worth noting, not only that they exist, but that they live and walk among us. Some of them even edit our newspapers. But since we're being asked, let's try and address some of it.  We've already noted that Peter Kovacs would like to blame the President. But who else are we blaming?

Some of us are blaming climate change.  And that's fine so long as we acknowledge that we can't really establish a verifiable causal link. But here is what we can say.
On Monday, climate researchers and weather experts were in what’s by now a familiar posture — explaining that, no, this event wasn’t “caused” by climate change, but then again, it’s precisely the sort of event that you’d expect to see more of on a warming planet.

“Climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week’s Louisiana storm are expected [to] grow increasingly common in the coming years,” wrote the Weather Underground’s Bob Henson and Jeff Masters.

“Louisiana is always at risk of floods, naturally, but climate change is exacerbating that risk, weighting the dice against us,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, told The Washington Post. “How long will it be until we finally recognize that the dice are loaded?”
So just like we can't say "Global warming is false because it gets cold during winter," we also can't say, "This specific thunderstorm clearly happened because of global warming." But we can talk about how events like last weekend's are more likely to happen than historical statistics suggest they have been. And we can say that evidence links this to climate change.

About that event, by the way. See what happened was, it rained a lot.
The Louisiana Flood of 2016 was triggered by a complicated, slow-moving low-pressure weather system that dumped as much as two feet of rain on parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and St. Helena parishes in 48 hours. The record two-day rainfall in those areas had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year, the equivalent of a "1,000-year rain", according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, based at the Slidell office of the National Weather Service.

In the two-day period ending Saturday at 7 a.m., several parishes saw rainfall amounts equaling a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, a so-called 100-year event. They included including parts of Tangipahoa, East Feliciana, Washington, Ascension, Lafayette, Iberville and St. Martin
.
The flood's atmospheric origins can be traced to a mid-level low pressure system and a weak, surface-level low that got their start over the Big Bend region of the Florida Gulf Coast on Aug. 5. That's when the National Hurricane Center warned that storminess over Florida might drop into the Gulf of Mexico and form a tropical depression.

So is it reasonable to expect everyone to be insured against a "1,000 year rain" event?  Nope. But that's what we have this federal disaster declaration for.
The federal disaster declaration triggers assistance for those whose homes and businesses have been damaged or displaced. Those who don't have flood insurance can still qualify for grants up to $33,000 for repairs. Temporary housing assistance will also become available
Which, to be clear again, is why it's great that the Obama Administration is, in fact, doing its job in response to the emergency.  And, yes, I know that's not going to be nearly enough money.  There will be plenty of time to work on that too.

Also it should be obvious that two feet of rain in 48 hours is going to overwhelm almost any urban pump and drainage system. The massive pump and drain system that keeps water out of New Orleans boasts a capacity of 29 billion gallons per day.  In theory, even those "world class" utilities would have had to run at maximum efficiency to keep up with the deluge. They wouldn't have. In any case, it's just not reasonable to suggest that the flood was an engineering failure much less negligence or lack of civic foresight as I suspect the person I had to explain this to yesterday was implying.

It is reasonable, though, to ask how the next such event might be mitigated. Maybe there isn't anything we can do to stop the next 1,000 year flood from happening six months from now. But there might be ways we can prepare for it that hadn't occurred to us previously.  Maybe this I-12 lawsuit seems silly at first glance.  But maybe there is something to be learned from it too.

Finally, was there really any doubt that President would be along for a visit sooner rather than later? You know as soon as that is a safe and sensible thing for him to do.
Edwards said a presidential visit could cause additional problems for flood recovery efforts. Obama's motorcade requires many roadways to be shutdown -- and many local streets are still closed because of the flooding. Also, a presidential visit puts a strain on law enforcement. First responders shouldn't be pulled away to deal with Obama, when they are needed for search and rescue missions still, Edwards said.
In the meantime, we'll just have to make do with the opposite of safe and sensible. 
CNN is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will travel to Baton Rouge on Friday to tour damage from catastrophic flooding in Louisiana.

Trump supporters have called on him to visit Louisiana to see the flood-affected areas first-hand, but his campaign has not announced a scheduled visit.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' office responded to news of Trump's visit with a statement encouraging him to spend his time here volunteering or donating money to the relief effort.

"Donald Trump hasn't called the governor to inform him of his visit. We welcome him to Louisiana, but not for a photo-op," the statement read. "Instead we hope he'll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the Louisiana Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm."
Maybe Trump will visit with Peter Kovacs too.  You know, just for the sake of "optics."  

Gonna need a bigger cart

At least they're carpooling.
Cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams and offensive lineman Zach Strief were all carted off the field as the New Orleans Saints practiced with the Houston Texans Thursday.

There was no immediate word on the extent of any of the injuries.

Breaux limped off of the field following a passing drill. He just recently returned to being a full participant in practices.

Strief also was seen limping off and eventually getting on a cart that he shared with P.J. Williams.
Williams is saying it's just cramps. Something about the shock of reentry to the atmosphere after being up in the mountains.




What happens when they have to adjust to playing inside?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Well, he is the mayor

Everyone is all over Kip Holden's case lately.  I don't think it's warranted in this case.
Then there was East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, who introduced the first real note of public discord into the mix.

Holden wasn't happy that East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux sought to impose a curfew after reports of looting started cropping up — or, apparently, that Gautreaux asked the governor to issue an executive order when Holden declined to impose one.

Ok, so?  Kip is the mayor. He isn't required to impose a curfew if he doesn't think it's the right thing to do.  Curfews may have fallen into the default package of emergency response tools recent years but this doesn't make them defensible. A curfew is a constitutionally questionable and ham handed way of dealing with free people. Kip is perfectly within his right to question this course of action.  In fact it's worth considering that, as the people's representative, he's obligated to do so. 

But, oh noes, says Grace. He's introducing "discord." So what?  Disagreement exists. Kip has a valid concern. He is completely correct to give his legitimate concern a voice. It is disturbing enough that political and law enforcement authorities continually seek to squash dissent at crucial moments like this.  That we have a press who enable this tendency is obscene.  
So Holden called the city's media outlets and airing his grievances. He said the restrictions could impose a hardship on businesses and their employees, but also told WAFB that he had "no issue whatsoever" with the curfew itself, "just the way all of this has been handled." He added that he didn't "want to get into a back and forth about the sheriff and myself," which kind of makes you wonder what he wanted the audience to take away from the interview in the first place.

You've also got to wonder about the wisdom of second-guessing law enforcement leaders — or seeming to, anyway — who are pursuing what seem like perfectly in-the-box policies at times like this. That goes double for law enforcement in the East Baton Rouge Parish, where many deputies who've been out rescuing people, and who were already coping with a summer of stress, have seen their own homes flooded.
That bolded line. Seriously, what the hell? Always second-guess "law enforcement leaders." To do otherwise is dereliction. That we fail to question is exactly how an automatic curfew becomes an "in-the-box policy" in the first place. 

Still flooding

The flood is still making its way down toward the lakes today. As it does, more communities come under threat.
GRAMERCY, La. -- With the possibility of flooding, many said they aren't taking any chances.
"I don't want to get stuck in my house with water up to my chest with my kids,” said Chanda Waguespack. “I'd rather be safe than sorry."

At sandbagging distribution sites, bags were filled by the hundreds. One-by-one people came.

"I'm getting some for myself and I know some people who might need them, some relatives,” Terreke Grover. “You can never fully prepare, just like anything else you need to go with it and see how it goes."

NOLA.com is maintaining a list of ways you can help. There are many. Whether it's donating your time or supplies or non-perishable food or whatever money you can spare, please consider giving what you can. Most of us remember what this was like after Katrina. We're talking about devastation on a similar scale here. Much of what comes next will no doubt look familiar.

This week the President declared a major federal disaster covering over a dozen parishes. Here is what that means.
In Louisiana, emergency declarations were called for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav and Isaac, as well as the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, in which some debris fell on Louisiana. In all, presidents have called for 11 federal disasters in the state since 1977, including one ahead of floods in February and March this year.

A "major disaster declaration" is much broader and much more common in Louisiana. This uncorks federal cash to help with the most expensive part of any disaster -- the recovery. Aid comes in two forms: Public assistance covers costs incurred by governments and agencies responding to a disaster, and individual assistance for residents, families and businesses.

There have been 63 major disaster declarations in Louisiana, starting with the May flood of 1953.

The frequency of total declarations - emergency and major disaster - puts Louisiana somewhere in the middle of the pack among states. California, for instance, has had 253 total declarations in that same timeframe — mostly floods, earthquakes and wildfires — while Delaware has had 21.

But Louisiana has averaged more than one disaster a year since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Like I said, it's a familiar situation.  Next comes the challenge, not only of distributing immediate aid to victims, but getting them through the months and years long process of recovery.  That begins with registering for assistance through FEMA. As of this morning, over 40,000 people had already applied. That number will only grow. Many of them will need housing.
Remember the infamous FEMA trailer from Hurricane Katrina? The white-paneled, cramped travel trailers that thousands were placed in following the 2005 storm? The trailers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eventually determined had contained potentially hazardous levels of formaldehyde?

FEMA leaders say any temporary housing units placed here in the wake of the flood that has led to disaster declarations for 20 parishes won't be anything like that.

"This is not the FEMA travel trailers," FEMA head Craig Fugate said on Tuesday. "If we need to bring in any kind of temporary housing units, they are better than they've ever been. They are all HUD approved."

Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled what it called the "new and improved" FEMA trailer, which is a bit roomier and includes fire sprinklers in all units.
In addition to the "new and improved" trailers, FEMA can also offer rent or hotel vouchers. Recall that, the last time around, this was a much more convoluted and maddening system than it should have been.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina's mass migration, hundreds of thousands of people seeking long-term housing are learning the hard way that resettlement is not as simple as rental assistance. The Federal Management Emergency Agency provides families $2,358 intended to cover three months' rent, but has done virtually nothing to help them actually find permanent housing amid a dwindling supply of low-rent apartments in adopted hometowns across the South.

As a result, many of those struggling to escape emergency shelters and hotel rooms face a patchwork of disparate local programs. Depending on where they landed after the storm, evacuees may encounter useful city agencies readily handing out vouchers and advice, private aid groups of volunteers scrambling to keep up with demand, or little organized assistance whatsoever.
Many will also need apply for emergency unemployment benefits as well as disaster food stamps (DSNAP) which... well... already....  
The pre-registering process does not guarantee benefits, but is designed to save time, minimize long lines and prevent applicants from coming to registration sites without all necessary personal information.

Affected residents may pre-register here (though the website appeared to be out-of-service as of Monday afternoon) or pre-register by phone beginning Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 1-888-LA-HELP-U daily between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Applicants will need to give their name, social security number, date of birth for each household member, current address and parish of household, monthly income for each household member, and all checking, savings and cash on hand for each household member.

The Governor emphasized this week that it's important for evacuees to apply for assistance as soon as possible.  He didn't say this part but we learned the hard way last time that aid and sympathy for victims runs thin with time.

Meanwhile, a mini-controversy has developed over the question of whether or not there has been sufficient "national media coverage" of the flooding.  I'm not sure this is valid. For one thing, such coverage exists. The facts have been reported by most of the usual national news outlets in TV, print, internets, etc.  Clamoring for anything more only invites negative attention as combat political media go to make sport of the disaster. 

So if you want to hear conservative pundits and politicians argue that FEMA is too generous, go right ahead and demand more national attention.  If you'd like to hear Pat Robertson types talk about how God is angry at Louisiana or if you'd like to read David Brooks on North Baton Rouge's "blank slate" that's fine. Keep calling for more national press. Maybe you'd like to see the Presidential candidates get involved. I'm sure Donald Trump will have some helpful things to say.

If you'd prefer not to add that crap to the misery already in progress, though, maybe chill out with the press envy. Craig Fugate is here doing his job. The press is here reporting on it. That should be enough for now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

No need to force anyone out

Michael Moore thinks.. as so much of America has sort of suspected all along... that Donald Trump doesn't actually want to be President.
Trump was unhappy with his deal as host and star of his hit NBC show, “The Apprentice” (and “The Celebrity Apprentice”). Simply put, he wanted more money. He had floated the idea before of possibly running for president in the hopes that the attention from that would make his negotiating position stronger. But he knew, as the self-proclaimed king of the dealmakers, that saying you’re going to do something is bupkis—DOING it is what makes the bastards sit up and pay attention.

Trump had begun talking to other networks about moving his show. This was another way to get leverage—the fear of losing him to someone else—and when he “quietly” met with the head of one of those networks, and word got around, his hand was strengthened. He knew then that it was time to play his Big Card.

He decided to run for president.
And thus was born the post-post-post-modern performance art piece that has been the Trump campaign.

This would explain so much. If you weren't actually trying to become President, for example, you wouldn't create an experienced or robust national campaign staff, you would be totally fine with fact-free bullet necklace lady speaking for you on TV all the time, and you would definitely stage the bizarre RickRoll that was the entire GOP convention this year. After having sat through the entirety of that production, I described it as "a normal convention if it were put on by hipsters being ironic." The convention, like the entire campaign, can't possibly the product of people taking the work of getting elected President seriously.  Can it?

Maybe it can. But Moore doesn't seem to think so.  Of course, back in July, Moore also thought Trump was definitely going to win so make what you will of that.  But that doesn't necessarily mean he's off base here. It may very well be that Trump is looking for a um... ok well.. graceful isn't the word.. alternative means of exiting the race before his crushing loss in November. 
But, let me throw out another theory, one that assumes Trump isn’t as dumb or crazy as he looks. Maybe the meltdown of the past three weeks was no accident. Maybe it’s all part of his new strategy to get the hell out of a race he never intended to see through to its end anyway. Because, unless he is just “crazy,” the only explanation for the unusual ramping up, day after day, of one disgustingly reckless statement after another is that he’s doing it consciously (or subconsciously) so that he’ll have to bow out or blame “others” for forcing him out. Many now are sensing the end game here because they know Trump seriously doesn’t want to do the actual job—and most importantly, he cannot and WILL NOT suffer through being officially and legally declared a loser—LOSER!—on the night of November 8.
Is anyone really interested in "forcing him out" at this point, though?  For all intents and purposes, the 2016 Presidential Election is over. Dumping Trump now won't save it. One could argue that it might save a down ballot race somewhere but I really don't see that mattering much. Certainly the Republicans will hold the house. They aren't likely to lose much if anything at the state level. Maybe they're in trouble in the Senate but that was always going to be close.

Trump is sui generis. That works to the GOP's advantage going forward. They get to spend the next few years deligitimizing Hillary's win claiming it was the result of a black swan event or (probably some will also say) a grand conspiracy.  Then come the 2018 midterms where they win in waves.  But this year is done. They might as well punish Trump by making him suffer through the rest of it. Especially if he really does want out.