Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quite the snooze button


Seriously, after this non-response to Macondo, what type of “wake up call” would actually make us alter the terms of the state’s abusive, perhaps lethal deal with Big Oil? What will it take for Louisiana’s leaders to truly embrace risk reduction and environmental safety as the top priority for our coast?

Last year an oil disaster occurred off the shores of a slow-motion coastal loss disaster, and a year later our Congressional leaders have decided their top political priority is railing about gas prices and the lack of oil drilling in the gulf. It’s madness, I say.

Really, at this point, I can't imagine a "wake up call" we couldn't snooze on through. If oil industry leaders decided to walk into every home in Louisiana and kick the family dog for three hours a day, the inevitable political response would be a demand that we furnish them harder or spikier shoes with which to do it.

Sticking with the sell-off

Bobby Jindal will go to the mat for his scheme to privatize the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits.

Administration officials say privatization would bring in a one-time payment of $150 million and save $10 million a year in administrative costs through the elimination of 149 jobs. But a bipartisan list of critics say the numbers don't add up.

State Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, has promised to hold weekly hearings of the Senate Retirement Committee until he gets certain questions answered. The Louisiana Democratic Party has taken a stand against the proposal, and House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, said the sale likely would lead to increased premiums for beneficiaries as the buyer seeks to recoup its investment.

The administration is in the process of hiring a financial adviser to assist in the sale after negotiations to hire the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs for that role broke down earlier this year.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Boring Thursday night on the Twitter

It's been fun

I know, Reggie. I'm pissed off that the Saints didn't draft Heyward too.

Since he hasn't done much to clarify this statement or maybe even walk it back (which is different from walking it out), I guess we can now add passive aggression to our long list of Reggie Bush annoyances. Actually, no, it's not passive aggressive, it's downright bitchy.

Great addition

Never mind the confusing grammar that suggests Ingram was a great addition to the Alabama Saints. What a backhanded "congratulations" that is. Bush's version of being less rude is actually a stronger indication that he doesn't expect to be in that backfield with Ingram. It basically translates as, "Good for you, girl. You'll love it down there. Tah"

Mitch Landrieu as Scott Walker

Only difference is here there aren't any decent unions.
The mayor also plans to embark on an overhaul of the antiquated civil service system this year. The plan, he said, is to "release" city employees and hire them back into newly defined positions, a process that could prove politically difficult.

"We're going to have real performance measures and real ways to measure their performance so that we get merit-based growth," he said, adding that in the end, the city may have "a slightly contracted work force because fewer people can do more work effectively if you get technology moving in the right direction."
Translation: Fire everybody, have them re-apply for temp positions without benefits.

Hey, something's gotta pay for James Carter's "war room", right? I hope the war room is at least as cool as those extendable police towers you see on Bourbon Street. I've always wanted to ride in one of those things. Probably would make a great tourist attraction, really. I think if you hired one of Serpas' in-laws to charge people five bucks a head to go up in one of those, you'd fix your budget problems in no time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scheduling errors

First, I have to sit inside all day long on what's surely the last day of nice weather we're going to have until November. Then they go and schedule Hornets-Lakers Game 6 directly opposite the NFL Draft.

I especially don't get the decision to move the draft to prime time on a Thursday. Wang does a good job of kvetching about it here so I'll just let you go read that. But when you're done can you come back here and maybe try to tell me what the NFL is thinking? I've been trying to see their side of it for over a year now and I can't even figure out how that side might be articulated.

Over the years, I've mellowed a lot as far as having a strong opinion about the Saints' draft strategy is concerned. It's gotten to where I'm okay as long as they don't pick anybody from Notre Dame or ramble too long about the "upside" of "fluid hips" and such.

But this year is different. This year the Saints may have an opportunity to draft the son of one of the great idols of our youth. Chances like this don't come around every year. Maybe in a few years the Saints will get a shot of one of the many young Hilliards running around college campuses right now or maybe some day Baylen Brees will be out there. (Not Bowen, though. Saints fans will remember he's caused enough trouble already.) But this is Ironhead Jr. we're talking about. If he's on the board and you pass him up, you just permanently suck.

Sure, the scouts are only moderately impressed
The problems with Heyward stem from what appears to be a very inconsistent motor. If he doesn't get a good jump on the snap (or if he doesn't get his hands where he wants to off the line of scrimmage), he can be thrown off and become one-dimensional. He will simply lunge forward, push and not really attack with any awareness of where he is going or reading the play. Furthermore, he does not have any finesse with regard to moves to pass-rush and he's content to bull rush his opponent all game long. He needs to work on his hips and use his athleticism to his advantage more often. Some scouts may even go so far as to say he simply doesn't have that instinct to go all-out and attack his opponents.
Oh noes! He "has to work on his hips"! But, look, don't worry about any of that. Just ask yourself how likely it is that anybody is going to Marshawn his way through a defense with a Heyward out there and you'll see some of where I'm coming from.

Where's the Bruce certificate?

It's never a good idea to set one's hungover mind upon the absurdities of the political silly season just after a Hornets playoff loss like Tuesday's. But it was precisely this mistake that, yesterday morning, cast me into such a deep rabbit hole that I was not only later for work than usual, but almost decided against stepping outside altogether.

It began just as I had just flipped my old beaten up shower radio to WWL where Tommy Tucker was celebrating the President's impromptu birther shower. Tucker, in addition to pushing an online poll which told us 70% of WWL listeners still don't believe the President was born in the U.S.A., conducted much of the morning's call-in show using Bruce Springteen's "Born in the U.S.A." as bumper music. And that's where the trouble started.

Sure, you think at first. Cheap joke, not very original, but good enough for talk radio. But that's before you think about the actual content of Springsteen's song. Often misunderstood (once famously so by the 1984 Reagan campaign) as a nationalistic anthem by people who don't actually listen to the words, Born in the U.S.A. is, in fact, a song about the lost American working class being used to fight its country's imperial wars and then abandoned to "end up like a dog that's been beat too much".

As I thought about this yesterday, I found myself struggling to decipher what Tucker was trying to tell us. Since it's undoubtedly Obama's U.S.A. birth we're talking about here, was Tucker saying that Obama has been similarly abused by a nation's broken promises? That didn't seem very likely so I decided I'd try to think like a talk radio listener and puzzle out some hidden code in the lyrics the way Glenn Beck might.

What was it that Tucker wanted me to know the President had "spent half his life just covering up"? Wasn't this whole thing, after all, about Obama's "little hometown jam", in the first place? Where is his hometown anyway? The birth certificate says Honolulu but perhaps his arrival there was really the result of his being sent off to a foreign (to him) land. It's all very suspicious particularly when we consider this "brother at Khe Sahn" and the woman in Saigon. Where are those birth certificates?

Obviously there's more going on here than we've been told. But then when I returned to the problem of why all of this information about a President presiding over three simultaneous foreign wars was coded into a song about the mistreatment of veterans, I had to let it go. I'm trying to keep my head from exploding more than once a week these days and the NFL draft is tonight and... well, you can see my problem there.

From a political strategy standpoint, I think I understand what Obama was doing yesterday. On the one hand, it's easy to question the wisdom of engaging with crazy and long-debunked conspiracy theorists at all. It certainly doesn't appear to discourage them. And it's even easier to point out the silliness of calling an early morning press conference and drawing a whole day's worth of attention to something you yourself are declaring to be a "waste of time."But Obama isn't really wasting his own time here. And he's certainly not engaging birthers in constructive dialog. He's campaigning. Specifically he's aiming his campaign message at what he considers his base.

No, Obama's base isn't crazy libruls like me who want to end the wars, build infrastructure, put people to work, and give everybody free health care. His base is made up of voters who are less concerned about doing anything useful than they are about feeling superior to crazy right wingers. As Glenn Greenwald put it a few weeks ago, this is why Obama is an ideal guardian of the status quo.

Conventional D.C. wisdom -- that which Obama vowed to subvert but has done as much as any President to bolster -- has held for decades that Democratic Presidents succeed politically by being as "centrist" or even as conservative as possible. That attracts independents, diffuses GOP enthusiasm, casts the President as a triangulating conciliator, and generates raves from the DC press corps -- all while keeping more than enough Democrats and progressives in line through a combination of anti-GOP fear-mongering and partisan loyalty.

Isn't that exactly the winning combination that will maximize the President's re-election chances? Just consider the polling data on last week's budget cuts, which most liberal commentators scorned. Americans support the "compromise" by a margin of 58-38%; that support includes a majority of independents, substantial GOP factions, and 2/3 of Democrats. Why would Democrats overwhelmingly support domestic budget cuts that burden the poor? Because, as Yglesias correctly observed, "just about anything Barack Obama does will be met with approval by most Democrats." In other words, once Obama lends his support to a policy -- no matter how much of a departure it is from ostensible Democratic beliefs -- then most self-identified Democrats will support it because Obama supports it, because it then becomes the "Democratic policy," by definition. Adopting "centrist" or even right-wing policies will always produce the same combination -- approval of independents, dilution of GOP anger, media raves, and continued Democratic voter loyalty -- that is ideal for the President's re-election prospects.

The most dangerous thing about modern Democratic presidents is that they employ "fear mongering" tactics, such as Obama's "look how crazy the birthers are" press conference in order to convince voters to accept an ever-rightward policy drift as the perpetual "lesser evil" often with horrifying results.

Take, for example, this exchange in a recent interview between Bill Moyers and David Simon.

Bill Moyers: Many people could see what you saw simply if we opened our eyes. And yet the drug war keeps getting crazier and crazier, from selling guns to Mexico’s drug cartel to cramming more people into prison even though they haven’t committed violent crimes. Why don’t the policies change?

David Simon: Because there’s no political capital in it. There really isn’t. The fear of being called soft on crime, soft on drugs. The paranoia that’s been induced. Listen, if you could be draconian and reduce drug use by locking people up, you might have an argument. But we are the jailing-est country on the planet right now. Two million people in prison. We’re locking up less-violent people. More of them. The drugs are purer. They haven’t closed down a single drug corner that I know of in Baltimore for any length of time. It’s not working. And by the way, this is not a Republican-Democrat thing, because a lot of the most draconian stuff came out of the Clinton administration, this guy trying to maneuver to the center in order not to be perceived as leftist by a Republican Congress.

Bill Moyers: Mandatory sentences, three strikes—

David Simon: Loss of parole. And again, not merely for violent offenders, because again, the rate of violent offenders is going down. Federal prisons are full of people who got caught muling drugs and got tarred with the whole amount of the drugs. It’s not what you were involved in or what you profited from. It’s what they can tar you with. You know, a federal prosecutor, basically, when he decides what to charge you with and how much, he’s basically the sentencing judge at that point. And that’s, of course, corrupting. Again, it’s a stat.

While Clinton benefited from looking not-too-leftist, he didn't suffer politically at the hands of his base as a result of the destructive "draconian" policies he implemented to achieve this position. Why? Because the Republicans at that time were doing crazy things like shutting down the government and making up shit to investigate the Clintons for, accusing them of murder, drug smuggling, etc. No one on the left could raise any objections, though, because... well then the crazies win or something.

Similarly Obama's three wars, his indefinite detention of terror suspects, his unwillingness to take on the banks, his Nixon-Romney version of health care reform, his extension of the Bush tax cuts, all of this stuff gets recast as mainstream Democratic policy solely because the only alternative is Paul Ryan's Medicare privatization, or Donald Trump's birther crusade.

And that's why Obama called that press conference yesterday. To reinvigorate the perception that he's all that stands between us and the abyss. Democratic voters who lived through the Clinton years and are now seeing the pattern repeat may find Springsteen's voice ringing in their heads once again.

I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All-clear from the taint sniffers

I'm too old and too set in my dietary ways to avoid this stuff regardless but here's a green light anyway.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Recreational and commercial fishing has been reopened in the Barataria basin, the coastal area hit the hardest by the massive BP oil spill.

Officials say tests show it is safe to fish in Barataria, an important seafood estuary. Parts of the basin were closed to commercial fishermen until Tuesday's announcement.

So far I haven't had any ill effects to report, of course, your results may vary.

The truth is....there are a lot of sick people along the Gulf Coast. One year later, this spill has not disappeared. This spill is producing major health problems across the Gulf region. Whether those health effects are from direct exposure or seafood consumption....or both...we don't have enough independent research to provide honest, scientific answers. That is by design.

Shorter Ben Bernanke

Gleaned from the Tweeter Tube:

The Fed can't do anything about inflation because of the gas prices and the Mid-East unrest and stuff. Also they can't do anything about employment because they have to worry about inflation.

Also they've done a lot.

Did I miss something?

Bobby Jindal is still going to sign the birther bill, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The things Bobby Jindal doesn't want to talk about

It's a long list.
But during 21 minutes at the House podium -- long by this governor's standards -- Jindal steered clear of any mention of the controversial contingencies included in his $24.9 billion budget proposal. There was no mention of selling three state prisons to private operators to generate $86 million in one-time revenue.

The governor said nothing of a constitutional amendment that would steer tobacco-settlement money to the TOPS scholarship program. He didn't mention the accounting maneuver of taking general fund money from colleges that will make up for money with tuition hikes.

He did not mention calling for state employees to contribute more to their retirement. And he didn't explain the more than $200 million in promised "efficiencies" in state agency operations -- an opaque budgeting device that House Speaker Jim Tucker says essentially means the Jindal budget isn't balanced as the Constitution requires.

Nor did he mention his administration's plan to privatize the agency that manages state employee group benefits. Jindal plans to use the group benefits office's half billion dollar surplus to help fill this year's state budget gap at what will likely be a greater cost to the state in the long term. It's not a strategy that seems very forward-thinking, efficient, smart, or any other random buzzwords you might cull from any given Jindal stump speech.

Meanwhile, Jindal doesn't mind telling you he is dropping the cigarette tax from 36 cents to 32 which is, of course, very very principled.

Update: Finally a little push back and even signs that Jindal may put off the prison privatization plan for a while... if only the Making Shit Up Revenue Estimating Conference will go along.

Upperdate: The former director of the OGB, who Jindal just fired apparently for not going along with the privatization plan, spoke to a Senate committee today.
Teague was fired from OGB on April 15, just as questions about the potential sale of the agency were getting louder. And when he testified Tuesday, he appeared much less convinced than Rainwater about the financial benefits of the proposed plan. By many accounts a popular and competent administrator, Teague referred to OGB as "we" several times during his testimony.

"Fully-insured [insurance] plans are simply more expensive than self-insured plans," he said.

Teague also said the agency's large surplus fund -- which was accumulated during his tenure -- would be part of any sale, but expressed bewilderment at the math of such a deal.

"You give up 520 [million dollars], and you're going to get back 150 [million dollars]?" Teague said. "I don't understand how that works."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Naming rights

How many of you knew that Congo Square had been officially renamed Beauregard Square?
According to widely accepted historical tradition, African-American slaves were allowed to gather on Sunday afternoons in an open field just outside the city, at a spot known by various names including Place Congo.

The slaves and free people of color used this space to market goods, to socialize and to sing, make music and dance, maintaining their cultural heritage as well as social cohesion. White New Orleanians and visitors to the city would go there to witness African-American music and dance.

Nicole Webre, Palmer's legislative director, said author and historian Freddi Williams Evans contacted Palmer's office several months ago to point out that even though the space is widely known today as Congo Square, it is still officially named Beauregard Square.

It was given that name in 1893, the year Beauregard died. A native of St. Bernard Parish who lived in New Orleans most of his life, Beauregard -- known as Gustave or G.T. in his lifetime -- initially seemed on track for significant success in the Civil War. He accepted the surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861, marking the start of the war, and three months later commanded the victorious Southern forces at the war's first major battle, First Bull Run in Virginia.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that a Jim Crow era city government tried to obscure the cultural and historical significance of this place by slapping the name of a Confederate general onto it. But it's hard to get something like that to stick in this situation. Some things are permanent. It would be like trying to get people to call the Superdome "Entergy Field" or some such thing if the naming rights ever are sold.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Actual real life events vs pretentious nostalgia-fanstasy

If you're watching Treme tonight instead of the Hornets, you are precisely what is wrong with New Orleans right now

Can't change history, can't go back

A lot of people have nostalgic longings for the return of a ground-level N. Claiborne Avenue but I wonder if all of the nostalgic longers understand that the city they're creating will never be the city that the previous generation destroyed.

No one is proposing that we connect Eastern New Orleans to the city center via cheap, accessible, and efficient public transit. All they're proposing is that we cut off the, admittedly imperfect, highway access that currently exists. Despite what the self-congratulatory literature pumped out by yuppie professional planners would have you believe, the future of the American city will not be a golden age of compact, "walkable" development. Instead it will be something much more like the model in evidence in the third world where the elite live in compact fairly well served (through privatized and quasi-privatized agencies) neighborhoods and the rest live in isolated shanty towns on the outskirts. Cutting off Eastern New Orleans by chopping down the Claiborne expressway is a small part of that process. I'll maybe feel differently about it the day somebody shows me the monorail that will replace it.

Absurd town

Some day Demo Diva will run for office, no doubt.
She gets particularly irate when the city does not approve requests to demolish buildings she thinks need to come down, especially if her company has the contract to raze them.

Must be some kind of riddle

NYT ends this article on quantitative easing with a leading question, but seriously I don't know what they're so confused about.
A study published in February found that interest rates decreased, but only for companies with top credit ratings. “Rates that are highly relevant for households and many corporations — mortgage rates and rates on lower-grade corporate bonds — were largely unaffected by the policy,” wrote Arvind Krishnamurthy and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, both finance professors at Northwestern University.

Another indication of its limited success: Borrowing has not grown significantly, suggesting that corporations — which are sitting on record piles of cash — are not yet seeing opportunities for new investments. Until they do, some economists argue that the Fed is pushing on a string.

“What has it done? It has eased credit conditions, it has pumped up the stock market, it has suppressed the dollar,” said Mickey Levy, Bank of America’s chief economist. “But does the Fed think that buying Treasuries and bloating its balance sheet is really going to create permanent job increases?”
Um... no. Of course they don't think that. Nor do they care all that much. The policy has propped up the stock market and asset prices and that's all it was intended to do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get ready for more condos in Tuscaloosa

BP agrees to $1 billion advance payment for restoration projects I know, it's an impressive headline but look.
Louisiana and other states will each be given $100 million. NOAA and the Interior Department also will be given an initial $100 million. The remaining $300 million will be divided between NOAA and Interior to be used for projects selected by them from proposals submitted by the states.

The first $500 million will be forwarded within 45 days, with a second $500 million provided in six months.

The projects must meet other requirements outlined in the agreement with BP and be approved by a Trustee Council that includes representatives of all trustees.
So to start with, Louisiana, the state in possession of the most vulnerable coastline and facing the most dire and complex coastal crisis gets $100 million on its own. Considering the enormity of the challenge to the Louisiana coast, that really isn't going to go very far.

After that, we have the opportunity to compete with the other states in coming up with proposals for little shares of the remaining $300 million. Given the dedication and initiative typically displayed by the Governor's office, let's not hold our collective breath waiting for a robust menu of funding proposals to come streaming forth.

Meanwhile, as we've seen previously, the competition tends to get awfully creative in these situations. But maybe I'm being too pessimistic. For all I know we could get a whole new Borders out of this deal.

The big sell-off

Even in tough times, the lesson here, I guess, is never run your department at a budget surplus. It attracts way too many predators.
But critics of the governor's plan contend that any financial benefit will be a one-time thing. In the long run, they charge, privatizing will result in higher costs for employees, the state and, therefore, the taxpayer. Some have even suggested that the plan is a way for the state to get its hands on part of the agency's sizeable surplus, which Louisiana law prohibits from being used for "cash flow purposes" or any other purpose "inconsistent" with the administration of the department that generated it.

A few days after Jindal unveiled his budget, blogger and local reporter Tom Aswell, who was at the time still an employee of the state's Office of Risk Management (which was itself privatized last year), reported that investment bank Goldman Sachs had helped write the OGB's Request for Proposals. He says the only bid that came back for the advisory role -- and the $6 million fee -- was from Goldman. Among the questions TPM has posed to DoA, with no response so far, is what, if any, involvement Goldman Sachs had in the request for proposal. TPM has also reached out to Goldman for comment. Aswell also wrote that an employee at the DoA, who did not want to be identified, had informed him that, as part a sale of the OGB, the state would receive $150 million to $200 million of the surplus, with the rest going to the purchaser.

Easter Weekend Recipe Resurrection

It must suck to be an actual practicing Catholic during Holy Week. While there are zillions of time honored, piously meatless recipes in circulation, I can never resist the temptation to finish them off with soul corrupting quantities of delicious delicious pork flesh. Last year, on Good Friday, I made this gumbo z'herbes which seems pretty traditional except for all the hamhocks and pork seasoning I stuffed in there.

Gumbo Z'herbes

Recipe and more pictures at the bottom of this long post.

Bonus un-veggied food porn: Last night, I tossed some pasta, green beans, and carrots in a bagna cauda. Typically, bagna cauda is meant for vegetables but, as you can see here, I couldn't help throwing more pork at it. It's okay, though, because it's green onion sausage.

Pasta with sausage, carrots, and green beans tossed in a bagna cauda

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Blowout Day

Seems like just yesterday we were talking the parallel hazards of deepwater drilling and natural gas hydrofracking.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is at a natural gas drilling site in Bradford County where, officials said, crews were fracking when a well blew out near the surface.

A massive operation is underway in Bradford County to deal with a spill at a natural gas well in LeRoy Township near Canton.

Also, and too, as well

Ken Feinberg is still an asshole.

Happy Unvanished Day

Oil still there? Yep, just checking.

Big numbers on the ocean floor

The legacy of this century in the Gulf.
More than 3,200 oil and gas wells classified as active lie abandoned beneath the Gulf of Mexico, with no cement plugging to help prevent leaks that could threaten the same waters fouled by last year's spill.

These wells likely pose an even greater environmental threat than the 27,000 wells in the Gulf that have been plugged and classified as "permanently abandoned" or "temporarily abandoned."

Also, as well

Still fucked a year later. Gonna be that way for a while.

And also people are sick

What Pat said

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guess we will have to ask for more advertising money

Oyster sacks down by 100,000 after oil spill
PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) -A report from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources indicates the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill a lot to do with Mississippi fishermen selling 100,000 fewer sacks of oysters last year than then did in 2009. That's one of the main reasons why fishermen feel like they've been on a roller coaster ride since the oil spill.
Admittedly this is kind of a crappy news article.
Last year was before millions of gallons of oil poured into the gulf. The leak has been plugged, and everybody says gulf seafood is safe. Yet, Tommy Dennis says uncertainties remain about the seafood industry's immediate future.
Not everybody says that. In fact, the health of the entire Gulf ecosystem as well as the health effects of consuming the seafood drawn from it will continue to be watched closely for many many decades. Not that will keep BP from drawing any conclusions it deems convenient.

BP says it's not responsible for paying to reseed oyster beds.

But, by all means, let's continue to reap the benefit of all this advertising.

Welcome Back to the Gulf

Still Unvanished

The oil is, of course, still there.

Keeping up with the Trump

It's not the attempt to out-Birther the Birtheriest Birthers that makes Bobby Jindal so pathetic. Rather, it's what it reveals about where he still regards himself as a national political figure that should worry us. When you're being taken less seriously than Donald Trump, it may be time to scale your master plan down just a wee bit.

Do not sip this poison *Updated*

Note: It turns out the HHS "action" banning the use of dispersants was actually a "Yes Men" prank which I fell for. I should point out, however that my source on this was the Gambit's Twitter feed which means... you know... they fell for it first. So there. The rest of the information cited in this post is not a prank, however, and only goes to further the hoaxters' point.

One year after BP turned the Macondo disaster into a massive chemistry experiment, the US Department of Health and Human Services has made a decision.
HHS also announced a ban on the use of dispersant in the U.S., similar to bans on dispersant in the United Kingdom and other countries.

Residents in the Gulf Coast region have reported a variety of health complaints associated with the oil spill, from coughs and respiratory problems to headaches, dizziness and skin rashes. Equally important are the mental health issues facing those affected by the oil spill in these underserved communities.

The plan, announced near the one-year mark of the oil spill, not only responds to the current health needs of the Gulf Coast region, but also the potential for future oil spills. The HHS Action Plan draws from the Coast Guard National Response Center’s 2009 data detailing more than 2,500 reported oil industry accidents in Louisiana’s coastal waters that year and spilling more than 50 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. On shore, oil industry facilities have averaged 10 accidents a week in recent years, according to reports filed with Louisiana authorities. These accidents released 21 million pounds of pollution and 22 million gallons of oil and associated waste in a 5-year period.

The HHS Action Plan also takes into account the effects of ongoing toxic exposure from industry. “Where people live, learn, work and play affects their health as much as their access to health care,” said Sebelius. “We have to confront the social, economic and environmental factors that have made people along the Gulf Coast so sick."

A year ago when Propublica reported on the potential hazards associated with the dispersants BP was using, one frustrating aspect of the story was the fact that the public's right to know exactly which chemicals were being sprayed onto their food supply was trumped by NALCO's right to keep that proprietary information secret.
But the dispersants contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish and migrate great distances.

The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses.

“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade-off – you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t -- of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”

A parallel example of this can be found in the increasingly controversial practice of extracting natural gas through the process of hydraulic fracturing.
As late as 2000, shale gas was just 1% of American natural-gas supplies. Today, it is about 25% and could rise to 50% within two decades. Estimates of the entire natural-gas resource base, taking shale gas into account, are now as high as 2,500 trillion cubic feet, with a further 500 trillion cubic feet in Canada. That amounts to a more than 100-year supply of natural gas, which is used for everything from home heating and cooking to electric generation, industrial processes and petrochemical feedstocks.

The effects of the "shale gale" are also being felt in the rest of the world, changing the economics of the liquefied-natural-gas business. Its impact on international energy relations could be significant. Some proponents believe that the U.S., once thought to be short of natural gas, could even become a natural-gas exporter.

It is a revolution that has progressed in stages. Hydraulic fracturing uses the concentrated pressure of water, sand and a small amount of chemicals to promote the flow of oil and gas in a reservoir. Mitchell Energy's breakthrough was to apply one particular approach—"light sand fracking"—to break up what had seemed impermeable: hard shale rock.
Last week, a Congressional investigation found that oil and gas companies involved in hydrofracking operations are introducing millions of gallons of hazardous chemicals into groundwater supplies.

Some ingredients mixed into the hydraulic fracturing fluids were common and generally harmless, like salt and citric acid. Others were unexpected, like instant coffee and walnut hulls, the report said. Many ingredients were “extremely toxic,” including benzene, a known human carcinogen, and lead.

Companies injected large amounts of other hazardous chemicals, including 11.4 million gallons of fluids containing at least one of the toxic or carcinogenic B.T.E.X. chemicals — benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The companies used the highest volume of fluids containing one or more carcinogens in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
But the picture remains incomplete because, as is the case with dispersants, some of this information is commercially sensitive.
The E.P.A. is conducting a national study on the drinking water risks associated with hydrofracking, but assessing these risks has been made more difficult by companies’ unwillingness to publicly disclose which chemicals and in what concentrations they are used, according to internal e-mails and draft notes of the study plan.

Some companies are moving toward more disclosure, and the industry will soon start a public database of these chemicals. But the Congressional report said that reporting to this database is strictly voluntary, that disclosure will not include the chemical identity of products labeled as proprietary, and that there is no way to determine if companies are accurately reporting information for all wells.
In the meantime, depending on where you live in the US, you may want to restrict your water intake for a while. You know, at least maybe for a year, maybe longer after which perhaps the feds, very quietly, of course, might take minor action.

Eyes glaze over

Brentin Mock, once again, lays out the importance of the Gulf Coast to a wholly uninterested nation.
America can't afford to keep the Gulf on injured reserve for too long, though. The Gulf Coast supports a $34 billion tourism industry and supplies the nation with 40 percent of its seafood. This is a working coast of fishermen, energy producers, restaurant owners, hotel managers, shipbuilders and tour guides. The Gulf generates a gross domestic product output of $2.3 trillion each year and employs more than 20 million people.

It's not trivial for the thousands of families who make their livings on fishing, oyster harvesting and shrimp trawling. These families are black, white, Cajun, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Croatian, Mexican and more. The continuing economic and environmental damage of the BP spill has been distributed without discrimination.
The crisis of the spoiled and crumbling Louisiana coast has been ongoing for longer than most South Louisiana residents have been alive. Before the flood, even most of us had unconsciously resigned ourselves to the immutable fact of it. Since then, the only real change there is we're more likely to agree that it's more immediately frightening than it used to be. The rest of the country isn't even there yet.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making it right

BP says it's not responsible for paying to reseed oyster beds

For fuck's (or any other uncivil phrasing's) sake

What about this do people not get by this point?
Beyond that, are we dealing with children here? Is one of our two major political parties run by people so immature that they will refuse to do what the country needs because the president hasn’t been nice to them?

But the main point is, what are we supposed to have a civil discussion about? The truth is that the two parties have both utterly different goals and utterly different views about how the world works.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wait. Where?

Haven't seen one of these in a while. Which neighborhood? Perhaps both?

New Orleans, LA – As required by the Louisiana Supreme Court, the New Orleans Police Department is issuing a public advisory regarding a DWI Checkpoint that will be established tomorrow in the Warehouse District.

The New Orleans Police Department’s SOD Traffic Section will operate a DWI Checkpoint on Friday, April 15, 2011, in the Lakeview area, beginning at approximately 9:00 P.M., and concluding approximately 5:00 A.M. Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have proper documentation, i.e., proof of insurance, and a valid driver’s license if requested.

Superintendent of Police Ronal Serpas said, “I would like to remind all drivers to drink responsibly and if going out with friends, make sure someone has agreed beforehand to be the designated driver.”

If you do have to be out drinking, Serpas recommends alternate transportation such as the one the chief demonstrated today. Video below.

A subsequent NOLAinfo "alert" clarifies that this checkpoint will occur in Lakeview.

My only regret is that no artists were asked to "creatively demolish" them

Central City houses featured by HBO's 'Treme' meet the wrecking ball

Update: This is interesting. David Simon tells us the Treme producers, at the behest of local "active preservationists" (unnamed in Simon's letter), wrote to the Mayor two weeks ago about these buildings. The implication is that both the Mayor's office AND the "active preservationists" sat on the letter until it was released in the press this morning. Does that make any sense to anybody?

Can I please be Gerrymandered out of "Faubourg Stacy"?

Perhaps then I can resume my panhandling in peace.

New Orleans City Council to discuss redistricting at 6 p.m. meeting

It will be Family Dollar

Makes more sense than any of the "buzz" to this point, anyway. Also nice to see yet another bank branch is going up across the street. It will be caddy corner to the new bank branch that just opened.

"Spillionaires" and ramen noodles

We are nearing the end of Food For Fines week at the library. For those of you who are not familiar with this event, each year, in conjunction with National Library Week, (Yes! Going on right now! Why have you not captured the magic?) each library branch accepts non-perishable food donations to Second Harvest and grants a waiver of library fines at a rate of one dollar per item donated. It's by far the most popular week of the annual library calendar.

That is to say, it's the most popular week during every week except the actual week itself. At any time of year other than during National Library Week, any patron informed of fines on his or her card will invariably respond (after a moment of affected surprise), "Hey when are y'all doing the can goods?" Sometimes he or she will even complain that "doing the can goods" only one week out of the year, and especially not during the specific week when the inquiry is placed, indicates some sort of failure of commitment on our part. Many patrons return to this point as they visit throughout the year informing us at each non-payment-of-fines transaction that they are saving up for the food drive. Thus nearly every reminder of fines in any amount is met with subtle hints at our inadequacy combined with a testimony to the magnificence of their good intentions.

Here's how such these good intentions are typically manifested. They are manifested in ramen noodles. Because ramen noodles purchased at the Sam's Club in big 24 packs offer the best value per in fines waived per item donated, they're typically the product most frequently contributed during the week. This becomes more true in proportion to the number of times the donor has proclaimed his or her intentions throughout the year. You may think that the people donating multiple 24 packs of ramen noodles are perhaps not fully apprehending the spirit of the food drive in the first place, but you have to at least give them some credit for showing up. Because aside from the ramen noodles, this week, mostly what we've gotten is crickets.

Oh and there have been other insects too. This morning, as we were accepting a box of ramen noodles, we were momentarily startled by the appearance of a very large cockroach. My old roommate Consuela used to call these "soldier roaches" because they're larger, more aggressive, and tend to fly more readily than regular household roaches do. Typically they live outside. I'm guessing this one just hitched a ride in with the food box. Efforts to smack it into submission using the Gambit Spring Restaurant Guide were unsuccessful which only reaffirms our belief that the alphabetical list of local eateries is the least useful of the fifty dining guides the Gambit publishes each year.

Anyway so there's a large angry insect hiding somewhere in the building creeping everyone out right now. Which, I suppose, is as appropriate a state of mind as any for sharing this week's BP-related links:

  • American Zombie: More Cries for Help

    Last Saturday I spent the day at Dr. Michael Robichaux's farm in Raceland talking with well over 60 offshore workers, fisherman, and family members who are experiencing extreme health effects from the BP oil spill. Many of the workers who came into direct contact with the oil and the dispersant, Corexit, are experiencing similar health problems ranging from mild sypmptoms to life threatening conditions. It's not only the men who were out on the Gulf during the spill that are sick, family members are experiencing health problems as well. Even people who swam in the ocean are stricken.

  • MSNBC: 1 arrest as BP bars door to Gulf Coast protesters
    LONDON — Police arrested one person who traveled from the Gulf Coast to attend a BP shareholder meeting in London and four others were refused entry Thursday, according to an msnbc.com editor at the scene.

    The five were among a group from the U.S. who went to the meeting to tell the company's shareholders about the ongoing plight of people in the area following theDeepwater Horizon disaster last year.

    They were acting as proxies for people who have BP stock, but nonetheless were prevented from entering the hall where the meeting was taking place at the vast ExCel center in London's Docklands district.

    "They're scared of us, that's why they didn't let us in," one of those refused entry, Tracy Kuhns, told msnbc.com. Barataria Bay, La. resident Kuhns, 57, runs a family fishery business with her husband.

  • NYT: Gulf’s Complexity and Resilience Seen in Studies of Oil Spill
    For all this effort, it will take time for some of the consequences to manifest themselves. It was three years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, for example, that the herring fishery suddenly collapsed.

    During the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as the slick was spreading, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service moved about 28,000 eggs from turtles’ nests on at-risk beaches in Alabama to the coast of Florida. While 51 percent of the eggs hatched — roughly consistent with normal survival rates— it will be another two decades or so before the hatchlings that survive come back to Florida as adults to lay eggs. Only then will anyone know how successful the rescue effort really was.

  • ProPublica: ‘Spillionaires’: Profiteering and Mismanagement in the Wake of the BP Oil Spill
    Some people profiteered from the spill by charging BP outrageous rates for cleanup. Others profited from BP claims money, handed out in arbitrary ways. So many people cashed in that they earned nicknames -- "spillionaires" or "BP rich." Meanwhile, others hurt by the spill ended up getting comparatively little.

    In the end, BP's attempt to make things right -- spending more than $16 billion so far, mostly on claims of damage and cleanup -- created new divisions and even new wrongs. Because the federal government ceded control over spill cleanup spending to BP, it's impossible to know for certain what that money accomplished, or what exactly was done.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I've got some context to add later to this Glenn Greenwald post but no time right now. So just go read it. Greenwald has been more right on about the Obama Presidency than just about anyone paying any attention to it and this post very well demonstrates why that has been the case.
Obama's most loyal supporters often mock the notion that a President's greatest power is his "bully pulpit," but there's no question that this is true. Reagan was able to transform how Americans perceived numerous political issues because he relentlessly argued for his ideological and especially economic world-view: a rising tide lifts all boats, government is not the solution but is the problem, etc. -- a whole slew of platitudes and slogans that convinced Americans that conservative economic policy was optimal despite how much it undermined their own economic interests. Reagan was "transformational" because he changed conventional wisdom and those premises continue to pervade our political discourse.

When has Obama ever done any of that? When does he offer stirring, impassioned defenses of the Democrats' vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It's not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It's that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn't try because those aren't his goals. It's not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it's that he doesn't use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire.


In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.

My that certainly is a bold... wait a minute, aren't the Bush tax cuts already renewed through the remainder of Obama's term?

Update: The answer is they will be back up for debate in the thick of the next election. Like Digby, I am highly skeptical of this promise.
If Obama keeps his word this time and refuses to extend the Bush tax cuts and they are able to get Republicans and conservative Democrats to sign on to real tax hikes in an election year, I will be stunned and gratified. I can guarantee you that Norquist and the boyz are going to hang it around politicians' neck --- his entire reason for being will be called into question. So it's a big deal --- indeed, it's an act of hara kiri for quite a few Republicans. Maybe they're just that patriotic, who knows?

Are you threatening me?

Feinberg tells his critics their complaints "border on defamation."

I've got tickets to the circus of delirium


The governor wants it his way or no way because any plan that does not have two districts running south from Shreveport and Monroe would imperil the re-election prospects of the region's two Republican congressmen, and, worse, would degrade Jindal's national standing in the GOP.

That was the reason, more than his affinity for north Louisiana, why Jindal early-on committed to the congressional delegation's plan to preserve the northern districts and protect all incumbents, except for rookie GOP Congressman Jeff Landry of New Iberia, the lone dissenter.

I can never decide what's worse about Bobby Jindal's obsession with his "national standing in the GOP." Is it his blatant neglect of his duty to (and, I know, don't laugh) responsibly govern the state of Louisiana? Or is it his delusional sense of his own national importance? Outside of Jindal and his own circle, who in Republican politics actually takes him seriously anymore? I mean, isn't PBJ even possessed of the political self-awareness necessary to understand that he's no Donald Trump?

Anyway, despite the height at which the bar is set for delusional megalomania, you do have to give the Jindal team some credit for trying.

Timmy Teepell, self-proclaimed “Road Scholar” and on-again, off-again Chief of Staff for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, has finally revealed what the fight over the I-20 district is actually about: Nancy Pelosi. Quoting from The Town Talk:

“I don’t want to give Pelosi a vote,” Teepell said. “We don’t think it makes sense to have one horizontal district that goes across the top” of the state “because a district like that just becomes another vote for Pelosi.

“Pelosi did a number on us the last time she was speaker,” Teepell said.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"It's kind of like MMS (Minerals Management Service) all over again."

Nuclear Energy

Quote is from this Gambit article which looks at the state of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Burnell says funding for the NRC has ebbed and flowed over the years. It increased during President George W. Bush's second term, reflecting that administration's interest in nuclear power. According to the NRC's website, however, the agency faces an 18 percent cut in net appropriations for 2012, wiping out a $25.6 million increase it received in 2010. The cuts include $8 million from the Nuclear Reactor Safety Program, which is responsible for continuous oversight, licensing and other duties that ensure reactors operate safely; and $20.7 million from the Nuclear Materials and Waste Safety Program, tasked with the transportation and extended storage of radioactive waste. It is not immediately clear what impact Congress' cuts will have on the affected programs.

The NRC is dependent on the nuclear industry for 90 percent of its funding. Olson argues that while Congress has an oversight role in approving the budget, "Ultimately the industry pays its regulator, and you tend to work for the people who pay you, and there has not been strong evidence of independence on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, particularly in the last 20 years."

The article also investigates the reliability of back-up power systems at nuclear power facilities in our region. The findings aren't all that bad. For instance, it's noted that there are redundancies in available power generation systems that have performed properly at Waterford during Katrina and at River Bend during Gustav.

On the other hand, this was concerning.
Compared to all other factors that could lead to a meltdown, a "station blackout" at River Bend posed a greater proportion of risk — 88.2 percent — than at any other plant in the country, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's most recent report, published in 2005.
And this was just plain odd.
An Entergy spokesperson says the chance of a meltdown now stands at one event per every 1 million years. Nevertheless, representatives at the NRC and Entergy could not say why the comparative threat of a blackout at River Bend ranked so high in the first place.

A "station blackout" type scenario is the cause of the failure at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant which today was upgraded to the highest level designation on an international severity scale for severity of radioactive accidents.

Oh well that's perfectly... WHA?

Roger Simon:
I don’t think Barack Obama will have a hard time defeating his Republican opponent in 2012, barring a financial meltdown or a major foreign crisis. It’s a Democratic opponent he should worry about.
Raise your hand if you feel secure on the "financial meltdown" front. Meanwhile I'll count the wars again to see if anything has changed this week.


From this morning's blast of inane and mundane press releases the city regularly treats subscribers to its NOLAinfo alert system to.

Superintendent Serpas to Test DriveSegway Before Turning It Over to Sixth District Police

(April 11, 2011)- New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas will demonstrate how NOPD officers in the Sixth District will get around a bit easier and a lot faster on a brand new Segway that’s being donated to the Department by First NBC President and C.E.O. Ashton Ryan, Jr.

The Segway is one of several tools that First NBC plans to donate to the Sixth District Station in an effort to help the community and strengthen ties between the neighborhood and the police department.

Who: Superintendent Ronal Serpas, First NBC President and C.E.O. Ashton Ryan, Jr.

What: First NBC gives a Segway to the officers of the Sixth District to help in their fight against neighborhood crime

3335 St. Charles Avenue

When: April 14, 2011, 5pm-7pm

Subscribing to this "alert" service is starting to feel like experiencing daily tests of the Emergency Broadcast System only in inbox-stuffing spam form. Had this been an actual emergency, officers would have left the Segway at the station and immediately tazed the nearest marching parade.

Anyway we've obtained this exclusive footage of the chief rehearsing for his big presser.

“Praying? I mean, seriously, that’s what they do.”

I don't know.. sometimes I just...

Monday, April 11, 2011


Churchy people propose tightening liquor laws as a magical remedy for the city's murder rate. Are promptly laughed out of room by responsible city leaders. What? Oh wait, no, the city leaders are all for it.
Grooms-Williams said the church has a history of boycotting or pushing out businesses they see as detrimental to their Treme community. After boycotting a grocery store next door that sold liquor and cigarettes to minors, the church bought the property when the place closed and turned it into a church parking lot, she said. Grooms-Williams said congregants also protested a nearby motel that rented rooms by the hour, which also closed.

NOPD Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Deputy Police Chief Marlon Defillo, New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, state Sen. Edwin Murray, state Rep. Austin Badon and Treme's NOPD district Commander Robert Norton were all present and spoke after the march.

The worst thing about the redistricting fight

Every time I read about it, I have to look at a map of the State Senate Plan which, despite being the most sensible among all of the bad possibilities, will never be enacted. On the other hand, Lamar's third map in this post is something I hadn't seen before.

Woke up one morning, saw a rooster strutting by my house

On the front page of my big city newspaper this morning I find this big city story about feral chickens.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Ruby Melton's 9th Ward enclave has welcomed a new species of neighbor: clucking, crowing, prancing chickens that dart across streets and nest in the trees.

"We don't have stray dogs any more," said Melton, 68. "But everyone I talk to has stray chickens."

Most people figure that the wild birds descended from domesticated fowl that escaped backyard coops after the storm. Since then, the population has boomed, with the local SPCA chapter now dispatching officers weekly to catch feral chickens, spokeswoman Katherine LeBlanc said.

There were two photographs accompanying the article. The first ran on the front page. Note the caption.

Seventh Ward Rooster

Never mind that bit about getting to the other side. It's the fact that we are looking at a "7th Ward Rooster" in this photo that raises the most questions. For example, one wonders which label "7th Ward Rooster" records with. Did he ever feud with Messy Mya on Youtube? What happens when 7th Ward Rooster meets 14th Ward Coyote? Can't go well for the rooster, even if he does have large talons. Surely the thug life must be fraught with hazards when you're a chicken.

As if to drive the point home, the T-P also saw fit to run this photo of "7th Ward" fowl suspiciously fleeing what appears to be a murder scene in the background raising even more questions about the Monday edition of our big city paper. Even if you are going with a "wacky slice-of-life" story, do you really need the murder scene photo? And while we're at it, what is 7th Ward Rooster even doing on the front page (albeit below the fold) in the first place? Was there nothing more pressing than loose chickens to report on this morning? Actually don't answer that one.

Mommies in crisis

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What about a no-placard clause?

If local businesses are going to have a harder time making business interruption claims, maybe the city will have to re-think its ridiculous tiered re-entry plan.

Bitter fish in crude oil sea

Quotables from this week in BP

Former Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, was asked recently why Congress had refused to give the White House BP oil spill commission the subpoena power it wanted.

He said it "probably has everything to do with some not wanting the truth or maybe fear criminality might be found. ... But that is speculation on my part. Why wouldn't the Congress not want the truth? There was no holding back when the Congress was investigating a loose blue dress years ago. And that dress didn't damage the Gulf, the environment, the coastal wetlands, people's lives and livelihoods. But they wanted the truth, and that usually required a subpoena."

Bob Marshall Writes about fishing lodge owner Ryan Lambert's experiences.

"The fishing industry has always lived side-by-side with the oil industry down here in Plaquemines Parish, and they've always told us that if anything happened, they would take care of the problem -- they would repair the damages and they would make us whole -- and I believed them," said Lambert, whose Cajun Fishing Adventures Lodge is one of the state's largest.

"Well, they lied. About everything. They didn't take care of the problem, and they're not taking care of us. Guys in my business weren't made whole. A lot of them are starving. And now that the national media is gone, BP couldn't care less.

And also

"The only out-of-state bookings I'm getting are old customers who just want to show their support."

That new business has dried up, even after Lambert's Cajun Fishing Adventures was named one of the top five fishing lodges in the nation by Sportsfishing magazine.

Even the thrill of that honor was tarnished by BP, he said.

"BP had the audacity to put that on their website, like it was a positive thing showing the Gulf Coast was coming back -- thanks to all their efforts," Lambert said. "That just made me crazy.

"What we people should know is that all the millions they spent on those TV and newspaper ads about making things right is a lie.

"And what people in this state should ask themselves is: If a giant like BP isn't making us whole, what do they think is going to happen when the smaller fish in that business have an accident?"

Welcome Back to the Gulf

Saturday, April 09, 2011

I, for one, am pleased

Aside from the pseudo-celebrity spectacle, I'm very interested in seeing what happens when the Kerns' and their elite clients' finances and business relationships are scrutinized in court. Call it a fishing expedition.

Out of bucks and out of blame

Too bad
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two fair-housing organizations in New Orleans, along with five African-American homeowners, have lost a round in federal court in their lawsuit claiming discrimination in the Road Home hurricane relief program.

They had claimed that the Road Home program used a grant formula that violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

The lawsuit argued that it was unfair for the program to base grant amounts on pre-Katrina market value, as opposed to actual rebuilding costs.

An Appeals court in Washington on Friday vacated a preliminary injunction issued in the case after analyzing the arguments and saying the plaintiffs have failed to show that the likelihood that they can win the case on its merits. Federal and state officials are defendants in the lawsuit.

The Times-Picayune's David Hammer wrote about this suit back in October.

For years, fair housing advocates have complained that the Road Home’s use of home values to calculate grants amounts to racial discrimination because it means families in economically depressed neighborhoods, which are typically majority-black, get less money to repair their homes than someone with an identical house in an area where values have appreciated.

I don't know what grounds the court used to decide that this grant formula doesn't amount to racial discrimination as defined by the Fair Housing Act, but in any event it is clearly a poor method of meeting the applicants' actual needs and a central reason the Road Home has been such a failure.

Hammer's story ends with this quote.

For Johnson and others, responsibility for that lies at the feet of the original LRA.

“It was incompetence on that LRA board,” she said. “You know, Andy Kopplin is now deputy mayor and he has to deal with the blight in this city. Well, when he sat up there in Baton Rouge, they created that blight because they didn’t give people enough money to rebuild.”
The people in charge now are not the ones we've been waiting for.

The railroad doesn't have to do anything

So they won't.
Getting Norfolk Southern to the table, however, may not be easy, judging from a response the company sent to The Lens this week. When asked if they would consider granting a right-of-way for a streetcar to cross Press Street, Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband highlighted the same safety concerns that have historically halted conversations. “We are opposed to an at-grade railroad crossing at Press Street because it would create an unsafe situation for both streetcar and freight rail,” he said.
Like we were saying last week, railroads have a tremendous amount of power and can basically do or not do whatever they feel like. Mostly they feel like running hazardous freight through populated areas without assuming much liability for the risks involved in that.

What they don't do so well in this country are transport projects like inter-city high speed passenger rail or even making minor accommodations for local public transit initiatives like figuring out how get one streetcar line across Press street.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Colossal failure

First read at this deal indicates that the Republicans are the big winners.

This means the legislative politics in America have whipsawed over the course of a year from whether and how to provide universal health care in the United States, to which social programs ought to be cut or annihilated. That the focal point of policy on Capitol Hill is on what should be cut -- and not when to cut, or whether cutting is even wise -- illustrates just how brief the progressive moment lasted after Obama's election in 2008. It also represents a colossal failure of government.

To the extent that the United States does have an immediate fiscal problem, it can be traced to three causes -- two systemic, one acute, and none Obama's fault: Bush tax cuts, unfunded Bush administration spending policies (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Medicare Part D) and plummetting tax revenue following the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession.

These problems helped Obama get elected. They also required him and Democrats, politically, not to let the public forget where the problems came from. When they failed at that, Republicans took an albatross that rested rightly with them and hung it around the Democrats' necks.

That analysis is far too charitable. We didn't elect Obama to "not let the public forget where the problems came from" We elected him to do something about them. At every turn, however, he has failed to do much more than shrug.

That "whipsaw" Beutler refers to didn't happen on its own. It happened because the President squandered his momentum and his mandate early on. The health care debate (if you can call it that) boiled down to a recently defeated Republican party remaining united and resolute that insurance companies remain in charge and the recently sweeping electoral victor President providing zero leadership in counterpoint to that resolution.

Similarly the budget fight appears to have ended in Obama and Reid folding while they still held the best cards. The Republicans would have lost more politically in the event of a shutdown. They should have been the side forced to bend over backward to avoid one. But somehow this President operates under a kind of anti-strategy where no advantage is gone un-squandered. Tonight on the Tweeter Tubes I wondered, as I often do, if they even care. In response at one point I got this.
hard to have a strategy when your party's voters want social spending and your party's bosses want the rich to keep getting richer.
And there's your Democratic party in a nutshell, folks. Are you ready to capture the magic in 2012?

Update: So disgusting

Boehner, of course, could afford to speak plainly. He’d not just won the negotiation but had proved himself in his first major test as speaker of the House. He managed to get more from the Democrats than anyone had expected, sell his members on voting for a deal that wasn’t what many of them wanted and avert a shutdown. There is good reason to think that Boehner will be a much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton.

So why were Reid and Obama so eager to celebrate Boehner’s compromise with his conservative members? The Democrats believe it’s good to look like a winner, even if you’ve lost. But they’re sacrificing more than they let on. By celebrating spending cuts, they’ve opened the door to further austerity measures at a moment when the recovery remains fragile. Claiming political victory now opens the door to further policy defeats later.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Next time we'll write them down on a bar napkin or something

Glorious new age of things with no paper trail.
and nobody can audit them because, and I quote the county clerk, "my office forgot to save the spreadsheet."

Mississippi Republicans, is this is or is this ain't your consititiency?

Nearly Half Of Mississippi Republicans Think Interracial Marriage Should Be Illegal
Americans nationwide are evenly divided over the issue of same sex marriage. But Republicans in Mississippi are divided over a wholly different wedlock issue: interracial marriage.

In a PPP poll released Thursday, a 46% plurality of registered Republican voters said they thought interracial marriage was not just wrong, but that it should be illegal. 40% said interracial marriage should be legal.

In other words 46% loudly declared, "That's not MY culture and heritage!" I'm hearing many added that interracial marriage, "ain't even old timey!" although the poll did not address that question specifically.


Just so crude
Jindal's budget includes $85.7 million in health-care expenses for poor and indigent that depends on lawmakers agreeing to separate legislation that would sell the prisons in Avoyelles, Winn and Allen parishes to private operators.

Administration officials have said the deals would raise short-term cash and save the state money over the long haul. But the plan has stirred up strong opposition in central Louisiana, where prison workers fear the loss of their jobs or the lower wages and benefits that would likely spring from privatization.

And now, Bernie Sanders

Ship was sinking

More context on how we came by our new head of RSD.
Former publishing executive Cathie Black, who was Mayor Bloomberg's controversial choice to head the city's public school system, will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, NY1 reported today.

The decision comes just a day after another deputy schools chancellor -- the fourth high-level education official to quit the system since Black's appointment as chancellor in November.

Deputy Chancellor John White -- who oversaw initiatives on teacher effectiveness, classroom innovations and labor policy -- was tapped on Wednesday to take over the troubled schools in New Orleans.

White (who is white) was a deputy to Black (who is white)* who became notable for such quotables as
In January, Black, whose lack of education and government work has been controversial from the get-go, joked about using "birth control" to stem school overcrowding during a meeting with concerned downtown parents.

She also likened her hard choices to those of a Holocaust victim from the novel and movie "Sophie's Choice."

Apparently Black was such a disaster in New York that people were jumping ship all over the place.

After all, when her predecessor Joel Klein handed over the reins last November, he declared, “I also am comfortable in saying I’m leaving you the best team ever assembled in education.” Mayor Bloomberg also emphasized that he was confident that Black could get past her lack of education experience by leaning on her deputies.

Now four of those deputies have left or are about to. John White, deputy chancellor for talent, labor, and innovation, is set to be named superintendent of schools in New Orleans. Santiago Taveras, deputy chancellor for community engagement, left earlier this week for the private sector. Eric Nadelstern, a top educator who had been with the department for nearly 40 years, retired abruptly n January. And Photeine Anagnastopoulos, the department’s finance guru, tendered her resignation the day after Klein’s.

*Not making any racial insinuation. Just riffing on a longstanding T-P tradition of informing us of the racial extraction of various newsmakers.

Update: Much much more from Liprap

Distinction without a difference

Being hauled before a Kanga-Kafka court for no discernible reason (other than, perhaps, the padding of blight inspection statistics) doesn't really amount to "more courteous" treatment even if they don't yell at you as much.
One cited citizen showed up to testify that not only were renovations under way at the house in question, but he no longer even owned it, having sold the place 10 months ago. Fearing he’d be fined anyway, he brought along photographs documenting the new owner’s rehab work.

Another property owner came in wondering why his $400,000, fully-tenanted house had been cited. Was it because his renters were messy? The case manager scratched her head as she looked at photos snapped by the city’s inspector. Wasn’t that a television in one of them – a television in a house that was supposed to be empty? And the code violation? Good question.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Freedom bombing for free

For the moment, anyway.

MILITARY Active-duty personnel would continue to work and earn pay during a shutdown, but would generally not receive paychecks until Congress appropriated money at some later date.

You're welcome.

Also the funny part:

FINANCIAL REGULATION A shutdown of much of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is unlikely to affect the operation of the financial markets. Stock exchanges and other markets themselves enforce rules that temporarily halt trading in the case of wild price swings.

The man for the job

Is it me or is the most frequently sought after quality in school administration these days a talent for telling the local community to shove it?
On the other hand, White's critics in New York echo some of the complaints heard in New Orleans: that school officials will show up to hear parents' concerns but rarely act on them.

Irene Kaufman, one of the founding members of a group in New York called the Public School Parent Advocacy Committee, said White met with parents mainly to "beat the drum for Joel Klein's agenda."

She added, "A lot of us found him to be very condescending."

Leonie Haimson, a parent in New York and a founding member of the group Class Size Matters, said White has often told parents one thing and gone ahead with another. She described a case a year-and-a-half ago in which White assured parents in Manhattan that a new computer learning program called "Quest to Learn" would not take up existing school space. Haimson said it ended up in the gym at Bayard Rustin High School anyway.

"He has no interest in other stakeholders," Haimson said. "He has no respect for parents."

In a nutshell

Nobody has a clue

Opening line

Was 17 but now 16 and, you know, further adjustments will be forthcoming.
Weather forecasters at Colorado State University are predicting an above-average hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean. The forecast issued Wednesday is a slightly scaled-back version of the one released in early December.

Researchers now predict 16 named storms in the Atlantic, instead of 17. Nine of those storms are expected to turn into hurricanes, five of them major.
All of our forecasts are always "above average".

Process of elimination

Good to blow off the best ideas as early as possible so we can get down to the real business of creating something that everybody hates.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"Locals' Lagniappe Day"

I'm so old that I can remember when the whole French Quarter Festival was created specifically to entice locals to come back to the Quarter.

Oh well. We'll always have Mumkinfest.

The city we were

I'm trying to pin down the actual complaint in this Lens story about recovery spending.

In August, when Mayor Landrieu announced his plan for spending New Orleans’ hard-won recovery dollars he warned a famously tradition-bound city that the time had come for change. “It’s especially important that we stop thinking about rebuilding the city we were and start creating the city we want to become,” he said, echoing his inaugural address.

A review of how the Landrieu administration is spending the city’s $411 million pot of discretionary recovery dollars, however, reveals a reality that doesn’t quite match the mayor’s rhetoric.

According to state records, the lion’s share of the discretionary Disaster Community Block Development Grant dollars – a total of $226 million of the $319 million that’s been obligated thus far — is going, not toward the invention of a smarter, more forward-looking city, but toward rebuilding streets and buildings, and for urban revitalization efforts in downtown areas that did not suffer the worst of Katrina’s wrath.

I don't feel like unpacking all of the complications of the post-flood planning, charetting, scheming, screaming, conspiring, and subsequent misunderstanding, ignoring, and half-implementation of all of the above. But for our purposes here, I'll say that at the time I thought there was far too much talk about "blank slates" and "reinventing" going on when it seemed to me the actual problem at hand was the "city we were" was the, you know, actual victim and as such deserved primary attention. In my view this would have meant spending as much time and money as possible rebuilding streets and buildings and other "mundane" (Lens' term) business of making the people affected whole again.

Obviously others felt differently. Some of them, no doubt, for well-meaning reasons, but many I think for less well-meaning reasons managed to refocus the discussion on things they didn't like about the "city we were" and inappropriately seized upon an opportunity to grind their axes a bit. Call it Shock Doctrine if you must, although I think the process was more chaotic than the sinister implications of that term. Not that there weren't sinister actors but that's digressing too far into matters I already said I don't want to unpack.

What's happened as a result of the confusion is that five and a half years later we really are faced with the dual challenges of rebuilding what we initially neglected AND investing in creative ways to create "multiplier effects" and re-grow a city we've allowed to shrink. Given that, it's hard to read through that article and not come away thinking that the city is right in trying to balance those priorities. Of course we'll disagree about what that balance should be and about the specifics of how it's being achieved. But even if we were completely happy with all of that (which we are not) it's safe to say we're going to need to have more money dumped on us. And I don't think that's about to happen for anybody in this political climate.

Anyway, if your first goal upon returning to post-flood New Orleans was to build a smaller city with a higher cost of living that is more dependent on tourism than ever you've got your wish. Happy?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Carpetbaggers are real

Quickly becoming the story of the day.
The houses that form the unusual art space were already in states of decay when Kirsha Kaechele, the glamorous globe-trotting creator of the project, first adopted them and dedicated them to artistic experimentation. At the time, KKProjects seemed to represent the sort of outside-the-box thinking that could breathe vitality into imperiled historic neighborhoods in the bleak post-Katrina recovery period.

Now, ironically, the site, between Music and Arts streets, is worse off than it might have been. The spectacular vault door is gone, leaving a gaping cavity in the former art gallery, which a neighbor complains has become a trash-strewn haven for squatters. One of the other art houses has been demolished, though the lot where it stood is still heaped with debris. Two more of the houses are boarded up and tangled with vines.
Frankly, I don't see the "irony" here. Capitalizing on the misfortune of others is what these people do. Haven't we figured this out yet? I mean her next move was to Australia fer chissakes. How obvious does this pattern need to be?

And also this.

Kaechele said that her boyfriend, David Walsh, a professional gambler, art collector and businessman she met at an art fair in Switzerland, has recently established the Museum of New and Old Art in Tasmania.

She described the remote museum as a trove of everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to a work by Damien Hirst, the English artist known for his series of dead animals preserved in tanks. The works are all displayed in a sunken four-story bunker. Kaechele says she’ll be living in an apartment accessible through the museum’s mummy room.

Upon which Superdeformed wins the day
How do you even get into that lifestyle? She must be a Super Villain!