Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back once we've unclenched our jaw

Usually being super-annoyed helps with the blogging but today it's just not happening. Will try again tomorrow. Try to behave yourselves in the meantime.

Prohibited activity

The "culture" bubble

You have to read through a lot of bullshit happy talk to get to it but GNOCDC's Allison Plyer's contribution to this Forbes article makes it worth sharing.
Yet despite all positive signs, it may be too early to proclaim, as some boosters do, a “New Orleans miracle.” After all, the city’s population remains over 100,000 below its depressed pre-Katrina levels. There are still over 47,000 vacant housing units in the city, many of the uninhabitable, notes Allison Plyer, who runs the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Overall, the recovery remains stronger in the suburbs, many of which suffered less damage from the storm. The share of regional population living in Orleans Parish, where the city of New Orleans is located, has slipped to 29% compared with 37% in 2000. Jefferson Parrish now has more jobs than the city across all income categories.

Plyer believes the priority for the entire region lies in restoring the higher-paid blue-collar and middle-class jobs that for decades have disappeared from the city. Young tech and media firms can help gentrify parts of a city, but they are not sufficient to provide opportunities to the vast majority of its residents. To do this, Plyer suggests, the region will have to focus more on “export” oriented jobs in industries such as energy, manufacturing and trade.

Critically these fields can provide decent salaries for a broad swath of workers. Right now, Plyer adds, 45% of the workforce earns less than $35,000 a year, one byproduct of the domination of the generally low-paying tourism industry.

Yeah well try telling that to the Mayor who is apparently content to keep on selling that "culture".

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The part where Clancy tells us what it all means

It's kind of like the end of a Harry Potter novel. Only Clancy isn't a wise old homosexual man in a long purple robe and nobody gets any chocolate frogs. But we live in Chocolate City already so I guess we can overlook that. Oh and that thing we learn at the end is something we knew throughout the whole story anyway.

Lesson No. 1 — Don’t try to run government like a business. This is a lesson for us all. Businesses are dictatorships; our government is a democracy. The two are not designed to work the same way. The next time you hear some puffed-up businessman saying we should run government like a business, remind him that Greg Meffert and Mark St. Pierre were successful businessmen — and ask him if he likes how they ran things. If nothing else, we now know the danger — and the folly — of running government like a business.

Adding: Of course this is far from the end of the story. It's like splitting the novel into separate movies or something.

Cause celebe

Look, I'm as upset as the next post-medieval person that the State of Louisiana insists on teaching magic in science class, but I didn't agree to make the whole story about a political player's type-A kid's extra-curricular project. Stop enabling these people.

Are you better off than you were 5 years ago?

Sounds like a campaign slogan.

The National Weather Service has released new storm surge models for Southeast Louisiana and the models show the New Orleans metro area is better prepared for a hurricane this year, as opposed to five years ago.

Lockout contigency plan

If we are, in fact, still not ready to play football as scheduled this fall, we can always have more raffles. Maybe a Bingo night or two.

Also can we stop with the articles praising the Saints players for their unique display of "leadership" for running around the Tulane campus in shorts? They're far from the only team with a portion of its roster staging informal workouts right now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

That's a pit?


That's my friend Daisy's dog. When she was a puppy about 7 years ago she wandered into the East New Orleans Library where we both worked. SPCA was pretty sure she had escaped from a pit bull breeder so Daisy adopted her.

During her first two years, I spent a great deal of time with Susie. I used to go on walks with them around their LGD neighborhood where the local kids were always impressed striking up numerous conversations by asking us "That's a pit?" Daisy and Susie both moved to California after the flood.

We were never sure what Susie's exact lineage was but she was pit enough for our purposes anyway. Susie was very friendly and loved to bite things affectionately... although also quite painfully. She loved people, cats, sticks, ice cubes, tennis balls... if it was a thing in the world, Susie loved it and wanted to demonstrate her love by crushing that thing in her enthusiastic jaws. Once she tore up the wooden floorboards in Daisy's apartment just out of boredom. I still own articles of clothing frayed by her teeth.

Today I learned she has cancer. I've been looking around the remnants of Daisy's old NOLA era blog for Susie stories. Daisy wrote something about Susie almost every day back then. This was a pretty good day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The fact of the matter is, when you break the law and do things that at the end of the day are not right and not fair, you get caught."

Right, so this is Jim Letten pontificating on the St.Pierre conviction and... wait... what?

Oh actually it's Drew Brees in his extended comments on the NFL owners and their bad faith scheme to impose a lockout that is starting to seriously threaten the upcoming season.

"I can point to about five different things to prove to you that they were ready to lock us out. They opted out of the last year of the [CBA] deal; they hired Bob Batterman [who oversaw a lockout of NHL players]. They tried to take the American Needle case to the Supreme Court to basically give them an antitrust exemption or single-entity status, but were defeated 9-0; they established new TV deals to pay them in the event of a lockout, but we were able to put a freeze on that money because they did not negotiate in good faith and broke the law. And they had an internal NFL document that was leaked -- a decision tree -- that said smack dab in the middle of it 'financial needs in a lockout.' That was in 2008, OK? So you're telling me that they had no plans to lock us out and really wanted to get a deal done? I don't think so."

Really great stuff from Brees. Go read it.

Perhaps they will find him adorably charming

Twitter has been telling me the St. Pierre jury is ready with a verdict for the past 45 minutes now. Still waiting.

Update:Guilty. All 53 counts

Hostage crisis

Interesting stuff coming out of the Orleans Parish teachers' mass firings lawsuit against OPSB and LA Dept of Education. The school board defendants are saying the state was basically running the show since it had already placed management consultant Alvarez & Marshall in charge of the board's operations before Katrina. Also former board member Cynthia Cade is alleging that just after Katrina, former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige was holding her hostage.
Cade said Paige and Picard lobbied her to back these changes in leadership. She insinuated that Paige allowed her to evacuate to his Houston home after Katrina in exchange for her support. Picard called Cade while she was at Paige’s home and asked for her assistance in supporting Paige and Roberti for leadership positions.

Cade said she had told no one that she was staying with Paige. “I felt my privacy had been invaded,” she said of Picard’s call. “I didn’t think it was anyone else’s business that I was staying there.” Cade said that Picard told her over the phone that he knew she “would do the right thing to help the district.”

Still not at peak Walgreens

Look, if they're going to build them anyway, we might as well let them sell liquor, right?

Justice delayed

Defendants in oil spill litigation want claims for economic damage to be dismissed
BP attorney Andy Langan told the court that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is very clear: anyone harmed by the spill must present a claim to the responsible party, and that claim must be denied before an aggrieved party can sue in court. "They're not supposed to be in court right now," Langan said of the more than 100,000 individuals who have filed claims in the litigation because of economic losses they suffered.

Langan said the claims should be dismissed, but that they should be dismissed with prejudice so that aggrieved parties have the option of coming back into court and filing a claim if the Gulf Coast Claims Facility can't solve their problems. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility is the entity supervised by Kenneth Feinberg that is handing out $20 billion from BP to those who suffered losses as a result of last year's oil spill.
Gonna go out on a limb and say Feinberg won't "solve their problems."

Another day in paradise

Morganza Floodway flow underestimated; several bays closed to adapt
After learning it had incorrectly estimated the flow of Mississippi River water through the Morganza Floodway structure, the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday and Wednesday closed three of the structure’s bays, slightly reducing the gush of floodwater into the Atchafalaya River Basin.
Something about that phrase, "incorrectly estimated the flow of the Mississippi River water through the Morganza" that makes the ears perk up.

Also this.

New Orleans criminal court files retrieved from landfill

Because... sure.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bitchy Mitch

Just a pattern I'm noticing in the Landrieu Administration's temperament whenever they feel like they've lost control of the script.

The Lens April 14, 2011: *
The mayor opened with a snark-filled aside to preservationists who were present, asking if they had “any money.” Later on, he said one in the group, Sandra Stokes, lived in Baton Rouge. Stokes, who used to live in Baton Rouge, now lives in downtown New Orleans. He asked the others where they lived, his tone implying that they did not live in areas that share Central City’s blight problem. “People show up at the last minute and say ‘Please don’t,’ well, we are moving on in the city of New Orleans,” the mayor said later. “The day is over that we are going to have discussions about air.”

Gambit May 17, 2011:
Gambit asked Landrieu about Serpas' August 2010 "65-point report," which the chief issued as a benchmark for promised reforms. Among its claims were two items relating to paid details. Item No. 52 read, "The NOPD, by October 1, 2010, will implement procedures that will track and document every off-duty paid detail hour worked by every officer, ensuring compliance with existing and future regulations." The item was marked "In Place," which seemed to indicate Serpas had cleaned up the paid detail system almost two months ahead of schedule.

"That's not what it said," Landrieu said when asked why the paid detail reform seemed to have been checked off the list. Nevertheless, Maj. Edwin Hosli, the 8th District commander who ran Anytime Solutions LLC, a company that managed the traffic-cam details, was clearly violating written departmental policy by doing so. Furthermore, Anytime Solutions received the paid-detail work in September — one month after the NOPD had written that "compliance with existing and future regulations" was "in place."

The Lens May 25 2011:

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s new Criminal Justice Coordinator was unaware of the district’s meeting this afternoon. Former councilman James Carter addressed the committee, saying his focus is on reducing the murder rate among young African American men. Landrieu spokeswoman Devona Dolliole forbade Carter from speaking directly to The Lens after Carter had delivered his address. Standing between Carter and a reporter, Dolliole said, “He is not taking questions.”

“Why are you being so rude?” Dolliole said, when the reporter attempted to ask Carter directly if he knew about the meeting, and if he planned on attending. “He does not know about the meeting. Let him find out more information and get back to you.”

Much has famously been made of Nagin's and his deputies' penchant for arrogance and snippiness in the face of friction. How long will it take before we recognize these people aren't any better?

* Actually in this case, I'd say the Mayor probably had a point. But he was clearly being a dick about it.

Flood ending?

3 bays closed on Morganza Floodway

The definition of Kafkaesque

Wired: There’s A Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says
“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information.

Of course, there are always "other places to get shrimp"

Just not here this year.

See also

In an e-mail response to concerns raised by Young and Council Chairman Chris Roberts, Feinberg said he is considering "some compromise options" to keep the offices open one day per week or having a special "claims day" every few weeks. "I am sensitive to your concerns and will propose some approach to deal with those remaining claimants who, more than a year after the spill, are still filing claims and seeking information," Feinberg wrote. "This is simply a numbers problem along with considerations of alternative claim sites and efficiency."

Young and Roberts said they want both offices to remain open five days a week with reduced staffing through the summer.

Roberts said many commercial fishers waited until the shrimp season was underway before deciding whether to file additional claims.

"I find it a little ironic that just as the shrimp season has opened, they're looking at closing their claims office," he said. "I don't think BP is trying to make it right as much as they are trying to run from their obligations."

Smirking thugs

In mid-2006, when the American Zombie blog began the questions about St. Pierre's use of a yacht for parties for Meffert and Meffert's access to a corporate credit card, St. Pierre had the blogger investigated. An email presented by prosecutors showed that St. Pierre found out the then-anonymous blogger's name, Jason Berry, as well as the names of his wife and children.

"The only thing we don't know is his address and social security number," St. Pierre bragged to his friends via email.

Berry was in the courtroom watching as his family information was displayed on a screen for the jurors. He said he received anonymous threats on the subject before, but seeing it in court took it to a new level.

"It's still scary," Berry said in an interview outside the courtroom. "It didn't hit me until I saw my childrens' names and my wife's name on the screen."

Click the smirk for the rest.

Update: More for Slabbed

Speaking of value, the Hammerman also reveals something that is important to a newspaper reporter circa 2011 as he took a shot at Jason’s reporting near the end of his piece. Never mind that American Zombie was literally months ahead of the traditional media on this but he evidently got a minor detail in grand the scheme of things wrong in his cutting edge reporting on Meffert, the credit card and the sex yacht. IMHO it is a clear signal of the type of mindset that guarantees the continued evolution of the print media in a way the Hammerman evidently dreads. I think Noladishu said it best for those of us on the new media side of things via twitter:

# of bloggers threatened by St. P: 1. # of TP reporters threatened:0. Badge of honor, there.

In addition, there's the obvious contradiction in the fact that although St. Pierre was snooping into Berry's personal life, he takes offense that anyone would be similarly curious about just who that "Tammy" person was.
"I'm not sure why she used the name 'Tammy' but she didn't want people to know she was my wife.... Is that against the law? A lot of people do it," St. Pierre testified.

Prosecutor Matthew Coman asked if St. Pierre tried to stop his wife.

"There was no reason to stop her; it was all about getting the truth out," St. Pierre said.

"The truth?" Coman shot back. "She gave a fake name!"

"Who doesn't call the radio and doesn't want to be known?" St. Pierre responded.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I hope they pass it

Just because it will be fun if they can make Jindal veto this.
BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana's billion-dollar-plus revenue shortfall notwithstanding, some lawmakers in both chambers suddenly have a fever for repealing the state's personal and corporate income taxes.

Don't get me wrong. It's probably not the world's greatest idea. Although the below-mentioned Foster Campbell ran for Governor in 2007 proposing to drop the income tax and replace it with new severance taxes on oil and gas companies which actually would be pretty nice, one gets the impression that this Legislature is a little too industry friendly to let something like that happen.

More likely the budget gap would be made up through a combination of horrifying cuts to education and health services as well as hikes in various "fees" here and there. Especially now that the silver bullet scheme of selling aborted stem cells on eBay is safely out of bounds.

Sunday School

I missed this one a few days ago. Apparently somebody woke up Foster Campbell for a minute there.
The governor notes that the existing Trust Fund principal would not be threatened. He told lawmakers earlier in the session that he views TOPS as a better long-term investment, using the Biblical parable of the talents as an illustration. "I think it would be a mistake to bury this money in the ground," he said.

That drew the hypocrisy charge from Campbell, who noted that Jindal, when he served as health secretary for Gov. Mike Foster, opposed then-Attorney General Richard Ieyoub's decision to pursue the suit against tobacco companies as compensation for health care expenses for smokers. "Now he wants the money to get out of a budget jam," Campbell wrote.

"As politicians we need to be careful when we quote the Bible," Campbell wrote. "Gov. Jindal said keeping the Millennium Trust Fund whole was like 'burying our talents in the ground.' Elsewhere in the Book of Matthew, Jesus expresses disdain for hypocrites, going so far as to call them 'serpents' and 'vipers.'"

Due process is so outdated

According to the Indiana State Supreme Court your 4th Amendment protections are no longer necessary* because, you know, prison isn't all that inconvenient anymore anyway.**

In his appeal, defense attorneys suggested that his first jury had not been instructed of the defendant's right to resist unlawful entry by police -- a cornerstone of the modern legal system that goes all the way back to the Magna Carta. The defense insisted everything following the reputed unlawful entry by police was the result of an illegal search and that officers had neither a warrant nor probable cause to enter.

The case ultimately reached the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled last week that current "public policy" is not conducive to resisting entry because civil protections have arisen to mitigate the threats of pre-industrial prison life -- threats like indefinite detention, violence or disease from unclean, overcrowded facilities.

Does Mark St. Pierre know about these threat-scrubbed post-industrial prisons we all enjoy these days? Seems like he's spending a lot of money on lawyers to avoid one.

*Link via Hurricane Radio

**Offer not valid in California.

Making crime adorable

The cute little icons make the new NOPD crime map look like something you can play on your Wii.

Update: I realize the disclaimer says that "users must not consider the information reliable" but perhaps we have our first (not entirely reliable but still perhaps helpful) key to tracking down the Serpas checkpoints. Here are all the DUIs mapped during the past week.

The most recent announced checkpoint was "Uptown" May 21 9:00 PM to May 22 5:00 AM. Unfortunately for us... although perhaps fortunately for motorists that evening... the arrests do not appear to cluster anywhere in what we would consider the Uptown area during that time frame. Bears watching, though.

What does the law say about intent to bribe?

From Mark St.Pierre's testimony.
"In open areas of the yacht there was dancing (by the strippers)," St. Pierre testified. "Unfortunately, I did participate in that. I'm sorry I did it. I've apologized to my wife. We took things too far. We got out of control.

"It was not a good time in my life and I'm sorry for it, but I'll tell you this: It was never meant as a kickback or a bribe for anybody."

Update: The rest of this amounts to a game of "What did the lawyers know and when did they know it?" Although maybe a good rule of thumb would be, if you have to hire a big law firm and ask them if what you're doing in illegal, you're probably doing something illegal. This is particularly true if part of what you're doing involves paying for sex acts on a boat.

I'm going to ask my doctor if I can eat 20 bacon donuts a day for six months and not have a heart attack. The doctor might say, "It's possible." Can I sue for malpractice?

Upperdate: Starting to believe those who say the government's real target in all of this is Ciber.
Ciber's president for state and local contracts, Ed Burns, "asked me and (Imagine employee) Dwaine Hodges to go to San Francisco to assist them with their (bid)," St. Pierre testified. "I would have done that for Northrop Grumman. If any (Government Services Administration) vendor wanted facts I would have helped with the facts."

St. Pierre's NetMethods also got government contracts working under Ciber in other locations, such as Cook County, Ill., and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in Jackson, Miss.

In fact, while the government alleges that money St. Pierre made from the city of New Orleans through Imagine was used to pay Meffert a first NetMethods check of $38,000 in October 2004, St. Pierre said that came from direct business NetMethods already had in Mississippi.

St. Pierre said that Meffert named NetMethods and they formed it as a way for the two friends to be in business together outside the city of New Orleans, even while Meffert was a city official.

"Ed Burns always considered us strategic partners," St. Pierre said. "To me, that meant I'll help you where I can and you help me wherever you can. We knew our future at the city would not be a long future. So our goal was to build our business outside of the city."

Please resubmit this plan

Uptown Messenger: Freret streetscape slated for June start, Claiborne in August, city says
Two long-awaited Uptown street-beautification projects are poised to begin this summer after issues with their contractor delayed them from an expected spring start, officials said Monday afternoon.

The $500,000 streetscape upgrades on the Freret commercial corridor are set to begin in June, and $2 million worth of similar work on South Claiborne is expected to start in August, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant told City Councilwoman Stacy Head during a meeting of the city’s Public Works Committee.

Banners, streetlights, trees, yadda yadda. Come back when you've got a Blue Dog or a Mr. Peanut and we'll talk.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bad omens department

Sporting News preseason magazine ranks LSU No. 1

Someday maybe we'll have a hospital



Not willing to waste a crisis, they decided a flooded city was a perfect "opportunity" to fire thousands of unionized teachers.

The RSD under recently departed Superintendent Paul Vallas has received wide praise for rapidly improved test scores at the charter schools, even as critics say increased school choice in the system has left the most vulnerable students further behind and forced special-needs students to struggle to find schools to accommodate them.

Nationally, the system has been painted as a model for reform. "Rapid-fire reform," said Luis Miron, director of Loyola University's Institute for Quality and Equity in Public Education.

"It was evolutionary, not revolutionary, to the extent Orleans used the opportunity of a perfect storm -- let no crisis go wasted -- to do what other states and localities were going to do inevitably down the road," Miron said. "They did that so they could rid themselves of benefits like bloated pensions and give principals the power to pay at whatever level they wanted. On the professional side there was a severe cost to that."

Also, gotta love the way our modern discourse reflexively describes any pension as "bloated".

Update: See also, No Child Left Behind From the Rapture

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do rail cars actually "screech"?

NOLA.com headline says, "St. Charles streetcar track renovation comes to screeching halt" Now I associate "screeching halt" with the sound the rubber tires on my Tercel make sometimes just after I look up from tweeting while driving. Which, by the way, is something I'm not allowed to do while Menckles is in the passenger seat. Which, in turn, is probably the only reason I was paying enough attention last night to notice these temporary fences on Carrollton Ave.
Shortly after crews arrived along the Carrollton Avenue segment of the line to erect temporary fences, remove sod and dump gravel, Augustine said, company officials "started making excuses, giving us multiple reasons why they couldn't proceed."

After several failed efforts to restart construction, he said, the RTA received an April 28 letter from Smith Railway seeking to void the agreement.

Augustine, who said the RTA has not paid the company "one red cent," has since notified Smith Railway that the company is in breach of its contract.
So just last night I was wondering about the progress of this track replacement project. Neat the way stuff just pops up like that sometimes. Can't wait to find out what this is about.

Oh and last night we were on our way to Panchita's for dinner which was freaking amazing so shame on everybody who let me go this long without trying that.

Update: For further evidence that shit I happen to be wondering about ends up being in tune with the news zeitgeist, pick up a Gambit this week for a review of Panchita's.

Don't forget Billboard Ben

This morning James Gill's column is titled "If only Ray Nagin had lost the New Orleans mayoral election in 2006" In it, he pins blame for the dumbfounding tragicomedy of the second Nagin administration on the Meffert-St. Pierre cohort and their willingness to raise campaign money under the table.

Hardly anything that Meffert, St. Pierre and their associates installed ever did work. They were billed as the young thrusters who would bring the city's antiquated IT systems up to whiz-bang standards. Meffert left City Hall several months after the 2006 election, while St. Pierre and his associates remained as contractors.

By the time Landrieu took over, we had not only malfunctioning crime cameras, but email systems that had insufficient storage space and regularly crashed. The financial tracking system had gone haywire. Records were still stored on an aged mainframe.

If only Nagin had lost that election in 2006, as, indeed, he feared he might. That's why he told Meffert to raise $250,000 pronto. Meffert then turned to St. Pierre, who kicked in $100,000 by handing cash to various minions who then each made a $5,000 contribution, the maximum allowed by law. The use of proxies to evade the limit is illegal, but St. Pierre isn't worried about such trivial infractions right now. He is in some serious soup.

So Gill's thesis is not without merit. But it's also incomplete. Meffert and St. Pierre weren't the only big contributors to the Nagin campaign that year to end up with legal difficulties.

Longtime S&WB member Benjamin Edwards sentenced to 21 years in kickback scheme
Published: Thursday, June 24, 2010

Initially a Nagin skeptic, Edwards became an ardent supporter, pumping $270,000 into Nagin's 2006 re-election -- roughly one-sixth of what the Nagin campaign itself spent. He was the board's longest-serving member at the time of his resignation.

In pleading guilty to wire fraud, Edwards acknowledged receiving part of a $63,279 payment made on Feb. 15, 2006, by a major Sewerage & Water Board contractor, MWH of Colorado, to Management Construction Consultant Inspection, which was secretly controlled by Bruce Edwards.

It's one thing to say, as Gill does, that a few corrupt bugs in the technology department can wreak a lot of havoc on a system. But it's appropriate once again to ask if those bugs were actually more of a feature.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I'd like to put Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson's name out there for Pullitzer consideration this year. Every time NOLA.com runs this picture of Mark St. Pierre's smirk,

the reader knows the accompanying article is going to be hilarious.

Mark St. Pierre's former corporate lawyers advised him he may have broken the law by treating his boss at City Hall to entertainment on a yacht, purchased largely to host biweekly poker parties, replete with strippers. But even after doling out that sober advice, the same attorneys continued to try to find ways to help St. Pierre and the city official go into business together.

Also, as Oyster points out, this story also tangentially involves the Ashley award. It's a veritable prize mine.

Not with a bang but with a shrimp loaf

As far as I can tell the only business around here with a firm plan for the rapture is Casamento's.

Casamentos Rapture

So far this morning, I've helped a man in a Jesus hat apply for a Pell grant and have helped a lady request some books by a "good Christian author" to be delivered next week. Should these folks really be worried at this point?

Also, after taking a moment to think about it this morning, I've concluded that if, later today, the Earth were to shake, the dead were to rise, and that guy who dances and preaches on Canal Street every day were suddenly swept off into heaven leaving behind only a pair of headphones and a rainbow colored umbrella hat, I honestly can't say my reaction would amount to more than a shrug. You'd think that having one's entire cosmological concept suddenly overturned should mean something but I personally just have too little invested in this particular reality to worry too much when it all goes to hell... even if it literally does so.

At least then we won't have to spend the summer hanging on every NFL lockout update when we know there won't be any agreement until well after the zombie apocalypse clears out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Still playing bumper barge

"At least three" of five barges sink. They're saying three sunken barges were carrying grain. The other two were carrying sulfuric acid. Keep an eye out to see if those details get revised.

It's like the rainbow after the flood

T-P: When swollen Mississippi River subsides, crawfish will be easy pickins
Their abundance largely will be due to the added oxygen in the waterway after decomposing vegetation has been flushed out, said Robert Romaire, a Louisiana State University AgCenter professor who studies crawfish management.

Randy Bourque, 34, already noticed a difference while out in the river Thursday morning. He was out to extend the lines on his traps to accommodate the rising tide.

“During Easter, the Holy Week, it was like a sewage pit out there, smelling, completely black,” Bourque said. “Now everything’s clean, and them crawfish is shedding and getting pretty.”

Higher oxygen levels will keep much more crawfish alive longer than during a typical year, and as more water is expected to remain in the river for longer, the crustaceans also will have much longer to grow, according to Romaire.

While Romaire anticipates a possible wild crawfish season extending as late as August — typically it ends in June — Bourque dreams, “Man, I hope we can fish the whole year.”

So hey great. Crawfish bumper crop. It'll be great news to see the price of crawfish going down just as every other commodity affected by the floodway gets more expensive. So if you're sitting on that design for crawfish based substitute for soybeans, corn, sugar, or maybe even a crawfish powered automobile, now would be a good time to speak up.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"License to steal"

Just when you think the St. Pierre trial can't get any funnier, today we get this testimony from Greg Meffert and Mark St. Pierre's attorney Danny Drake.
Central to St. Pierre's defense is that he had a "reasonable reliance" on Drake's advice that what he was doing was legal. But the defense is no good if the advising lawyers don't have all of the relevant facts or if their advice isn't followed.

Referring to notes he took at the time, Drake said he wrote down that Meffert had used the credit card for $50.

Drake said he had no idea the card charges actually amounted to $130,000, or that St. Pierre had paid Meffert $38,000 in October 2004.

He also didn't know that Meffert had persuaded Nagin to issue an executive order exempting technology contracts from the city's bidding rules, at least not until prosecutor Matthew Coman showed it to him a few weeks ago.

"That's a license to steal," was Drake's shocked reaction.

In 2002, as Nagin was preparing to take office, T-P reporters Frank Donze and Gordon Russell wrote,
Listen to the small circle of friends and advisers that Nagin has drafted to help him assemble his administration, and you might think the age of techno-government is about to dawn in New Orleans.
Did it ever!

Something called Mississippi River monitoring

Today the Carrollton gauge says 17.1 feet. But Bobby Jindal thinks that bringing you this information is a waste of money.
The deeper flaw in Jindal’s resort to GOP talking points was that he got the math wrong. Only $7 to $14 million of the $140 million he cited actually went to “volcano monitoring.” The rest of the funding in that line item supported other U.S. Geological Survey projects such as equipment replacement, mapping, and upgrades to “stream gauges in Louisiana and other states that will provide emergency planners with better real-time information …”

You read that correctly. According to Jindal, one of the premier examples of waste in the trillion-dollar stimulus package was a program that, in part, monitored river and stream flooding. A state still recovering from disastrous hurricanes and floods watched its top spokesman complain to the nation about scientific instruments that monitor things like volcanos and floods.

As we’re witnessing all too vividly right now, when the Mississippi river rises too far above flood stage, its swollen tributaries get backed up, and they begin flooding as well. Stream gauges keep track of river height and velocity, so we can predict crests and overflows before they occur. These are nice instruments to have, if you’re concerned about things like public safety. The 2009 version of Bobby Jindal dismissed them as “wasteful.”

Right on cue

Mississippi River flooding update: Gov. Jindal asks feds for economic assistance

Life in the Truman Show

I can name more than a few Facebook and Twitter folk who just naturally spend all day plugging products for no obvious reason already. The funniest example of this in my mind is one particular friend who has a habit of tweeting out some love for the NBA or NFL while watching games. As in, literally, "Ready for tonight's game! Let's go NBA!" Seriously, who roots for the league? I mean, I enjoy electricity but you don't see me walking around in an Entergy jersey.

Anyway the fact that we're all being turned into virtual billboards and that most of us are happy to go along with it shouldn't surprise anyone by now.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Uh oh, there'll be no UGNO

On balance I'd have to say I was opposed to the UNO-SUNO merger although I'll grant that I can understand some of the theoretical arguments in favor of it. It's possible that it could raise the value of a SUNO degree. I understand that UNO might like to be out from under the LSU system.

But I doubt those benefits would have been best realized under this plan which always looked to me like an overall divestiture of resources from higher education in New Orleans. I am very much in favor of anything that makes as much university education as is desired available and affordable to anyone who wants it. Sounds pretty straightforward but, believe it or not, not everyone agrees with me there. Certainly not Bobby Jindal who was a big supporter of the merger which ought to tell you enough about its merits right there.

Today's edition of why I'm getting so many gray hairs

Today I helped a former mayoral candidate understand that you can use the "Enter" key to insert carriage returns into the text document you are working on.

Partitioned Public Education

Caste-based segregation of the school system has always been what the charter movement was all about. Anyone who tells you different is either blind or an asshole.

House Bill 421 by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, would allow corporations to secure spots on charter governing boards and reserve student enrollment slots for children of employees. To qualify, a corporation would have to donate the parcel on which the school is built, donate an existing building for the school's use or pay for major renovations to an existing school building. The corporation could lay claim to up to half of the enrollment spaces in the school and control up to 50 percent of the seats of the governing board. The measure includes a caveat that the bill could not be used to displace students who are already enrolled.

The committee's 12-2 vote sends the bill, which Gov. Bobby Jindal supports, to the House floor.

Good God the thing passed committee 12-2. Of course we already knew most of the slots in the Louisiana Legislature are wholly owned corporate property. I guess they're just applying that model to the schools.

Seepage and sand boils

I've been reading about levee saturation and seepage in various spots over the past few weeks. When this happens, we always get some version of the following disclaimer.

The clarity of the water is the biggest indicator on just how safe the seepage spot may be. Clear is okay, say officials, where as a more muddy mixture means that water from the Mississippi River is actually taking part of the levee with it as it seeps through—ruining the flood protection.

Levee district officials on the West Bank say all the seepage spots they've seen are emitting relatively clear water, that is except two somewhat murky spots the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently investigated and found not to be a threat. On the East Bank, inspectors haven't found any signs of seepage in Jefferson Parish, but are watching 3 in Orleans and 8 in St. Bernard. All so far, they say, show clear water.

Since all Mississippi River water is, you know, pretty muddy to begin with, I'm wondering how we are to define "relatively clear water" in terms of seepage.

The water in this video, for example, which I'm told was shot in south Baton Rouge looks pretty muddy to me.

Quote of the century

John Labruzzo: “I have no objection in principle to what she is trying to do except she’s picking on one segment of the community.”

Click here for context.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meff Memories

Meffert after his civil trial guilty verdict in 2009.

Though I am relieved that the jury saw through some of this witch hunt, I'm disappointed that a majority of the jury found that I may have been liable for a small portion of the accusations, and we have a strong appeal underway. I am not giving up: the truth will win out and our significant advancements will be reinstated as the record of my service to the city I love.

This verdict and trial attest to the injustice of a politically-motivated newspaper partnering with profit-driven plaintiff lawyers. This unholy alliance destroyed my reputation and my ability to make a living for my family; clearly, the justice system can be manipulated in the name of money and politics.

The paper’s actions went beyond bad journalism in its efforts to deprive me of my civil rights. The newspaper obviously feels it is an authority higher than our legal system, even betraying the public trust, and I am forced to pursue legal recourse against them for intentional damage.

My family has suffered relentless, intentionally erroneous and mean-spirited attacks by the newspaper attempting to prejudice a jury. This indecent alliance aborted journalistic objectivity and misled our justice system.

Together as a family we will attempt to rebuild lives that have been irreparably damaged. I remain grateful and humbled by the steadfast love and support of my wife, family and many others.

In 2007 Meffert gave a famously embarrassing interview to Garland Robinette which might still be available via the audio link in this post from Oyster. I can't check it right now. It might be worth your while to track down, however. Oyster's summary:
Meffert stumbled and bumbled so badly, he made Robinette sound like George Plimpton.

Also see this breakdown of the interview a few days later by Dambala.

Congratulations to Saints Hall of Famer Sammy Knight

What can we say? This guy was just a damn good football player. Knight joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent at the start of the ill-fated and eminently strange Mike Ditka regime but eventually proved to be the best thing to come out of those years. Maybe not the greatest athlete and certainly not the fastest guy out there, Sammy was still pretty much everything you wanted in a free safety. Smart, tough, always around the ball with an uncanny knack for taking it away. Saints fans who got to see Darren Sharper play like this for one full season should understand the kind of impact player Knight was over the course of 6.

As the Saints approached the Super Bowl during the 2009 playoffs, we got in the habit of building altars just prior to the start of each game. We made sure to include Sammy's jersey in these and, as we all know, there's been no arguing with the results.

Superbowl Altar

Today's must-read

Go see what Dambala is working on.

There are two house bills and a corresponding senate bill that have been proposed this Louisiana legislative session by a handful of oil and gas-crony legislators that will essentially absolve oil and gas companies from existing and future lawsuits in regards to contamination and pollution created by their operations on both public and private land. And yes that includes the BP spill.

Book of the moment

In his recently published Lincoln in New Orleans The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History Richard Campanella attempts to retrace the young Abraham Lincoln's journeys downriver as a flatboat merchant and to describe the New Orleans he encountered during his visits.

Back in February, Campanella summed up the book for the Times-Picayune's Mike Scott.

His trips to New Orleans stand out not only as the longest journeys of his life, but also as his only first-hand exposure to the depths to which slavery pervaded Southern society. These trips, it's no exaggeration to say, were significant.

At the same time, though -- through his compelling narrative and accessible writing style -- Campanella presents a vivid snapshot of life on the river and in New Orleans at the time. "What the book does is it uses Lincoln as a history docent, to guide us through how that river economy worked via the flatboat trade, and how New Orleans figured into it," Campanella said.

"(The goal was) to kind of re-create city life as experienced at the pedestrian level, because that's what Lincoln was at that point. He was a curious, eyes-wide-open pedestrian, a visitor."

There are competing theories as to the actual dates of the flatboat trips. Campanella's analysis puts Lincoln's arrival in New Orleans around mid May, quite possibly on today's date, actually. It's an auspicious book to have picked up just as the city's collective attention has been more focused on the river than it has been in some time.

With so much talk lately of loose barges wreaking havoc on the river I went downtown a few days ago to watch with great interest as several barges came hurtling downriver at top speed. Boats running with the current have to haul ass in order to maintain control.

As the river approaches Esplanade Avenue, it makes a sharp bend to the east. According to John Barry, it's a particularly dangerous curve.
The turn is so sharp that the water surface on the outside of the bend rises a foot higher than on the inside, as if banking around a racetrack, and the currents generate such force that they make this bend the deepest spot on the river, 240 feet deep.

Foot of Esplanade
Esplanade Avenue Wharf (the outer rim of Barry's "racetrack") seen from the street side. In 1927, a large sand boil erupted right around here somewhere.

With this in mind, it's startling to watch the tugboats fly barges directly at the Esplanade wharf only to dig into this hairpin turn and still manage not to go all Bright Field on us at the worst possible moment.

Campanella describes several safety hazards associated with the flatboats docked along the New Orleans riverfront. During the high season, the boats crowded the banks became a kind of floating marketplace. But the longer the boatmen lingered in the dock living and sleeping on board, they could become a sanitary nuisance as well as a fire hazard. Also most flatboats were dismantled by their owners at the end of their usage and the wood sold off although it seems that not every boatman was as expeditious in removing their craft as the city would have liked. Campanella cites several actions by the City Council to tighten the regulations in this manner including this ordinance from 1831.

That part about threatening to "set adrift" flatboats not dismantled 48 hours after unloading put me in mind of the threats against offending vessels recently echoed by the councilpersons of today.

Runaway ships are a big concern for the city's water treatment plant. Officials with the Sewerage & Water Board have asked the Coast Guard to keep an eye on the area to make sure barges don't run into the plant's pipes.

“We can't afford to have barges running loose breaking levees. That's unacceptable now,” said City Council President Jackie Clarkson. “We had to tolerate barges going astray in Katrina, in Gustav, in Rita, and we won't tolerate it anymore. We made laws, we're going to sink them, and we should.”

I'm still not clear on how Jackie intends to sink a runaway barge as it slips on a high current toward the levee. At first I thought maybe the cannon at Washington Artillery Park would be the way to go but you'd have to be one hell of a shot with that thing.


Why I'm getting so many gray hairs

People come in here and say things to me like, "When we were in New York we did a Sex in the City tour."

Whole new meaning to the name Silicon Bayou

Stephanie Grace tweets from the St. Pierre trial:
Meffert admits St Pierre bought yacht for him to use as "perk."Also paid for strippers who'd "perform sex acts" on the boat. Weekly.

Update: More from Meffert's testimony
But Meffert took the story a step further on Wednesday, saying the promise of a more permanent, larger contract was the "carrot" for Ciber to take the initial contract, in which they simply turned most of the money over to St. Pierre's company.

For that so-called "5.5 contract" -- so called because Ciber got to keep 5.5 percent as a management fee -- to be a permanent deal, it had to be offered through a competitive process. Meffert said he arranged for St. Pierre and Ciber to work together to come up with the requirements for bids, thus assuring that Ciber would win the work.

"So they were literally able to have the answers before the questions were even posted," Meffert explained. "It's not open and fair. This was done to make sure Ciber would win the contract."

Upperdate: But..um... yeah back to the strippers.

On Wednesday, Meffert told a federal jury of eight women and four men that St. Pierre, the defendant in the trial, paid for strippers to come to the yacht on a weekly basis and perform sex acts on Meffert, St. Pierre and some of the other City Hall technology team members who worked for St. Pierre.

"They would strip, take their clothes off during the poker games, and sometimes perform sex acts," Meffert said sheepishly. "On me and on everybody. (St. Pierre) paid for myself, himself and sometimes some key Imagine partners or whatever."

Meffert said St. Pierre would also finance Meffert's bets in poker games on the boat. He said there would be two games per trip, each with a $100 buy-in. He never had to pay for any of it, thanks to St. Pierre. Even if St. Pierre wasn't in attendance, he would have his friend, welder Jimmy Goodson, who later became Meffert's driver, pay for everything.
I like that David Hammer takes a moment to inform us of the number of women on the jury before going into the frat party stuff. Nice touch.

Note also Dambala has been saying for some time now that Ray Nagin took a few party cruises on the boat himself. Was he on any of these deluxe package trips? Must be one of "Katrina's Secrets"

Must not be the list item that counts

What's missing from this Gambit blurb is whether or not the follow-up question, "What do you believe it to have said, then?" was asked.
Gambit asked Landrieu about Serpas' August 2010 "65-point report," which the chief issued as a benchmark for promised reforms. Among its claims were two items relating to paid details. Item No. 52 read, "The NOPD, by October 1, 2010, will implement procedures that will track and document every off-duty paid detail hour worked by every officer, ensuring compliance with existing and future regulations." The item was marked "In Place," which seemed to indicate Serpas had cleaned up the paid detail system almost two months ahead of schedule.

"That's not what it said," Landrieu said when asked why the paid detail reform seemed to have been checked off the list. Nevertheless, Maj. Edwin Hosli, the 8th District commander who ran Anytime Solutions LLC, a company that managed the traffic-cam details, was clearly violating written departmental policy by doing so. Furthermore, Anytime Solutions received the paid-detail work in September — one month after the NOPD had written that "compliance with existing and future regulations" was "in place."

Serpas' list is here if you'd like to see it. Item 52 is written exactly the way Gambit represents it.

Levees protect city to 20ft, but do they have birth certificates?

Why the hell is Orly Taitz in Baton Rouge today?

More where that came from

Bin Laden actually pretty much indifferent to your freedoms, "way of life", etc.

Which is why you can rest assured we're well on the way to making more Bin Ladens right now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Big Jim"

More big fun at the St. Pierre trial. The testimony here is from an employee of St. Pierre named James "Big Jim" Goodson who, if his various responsibilities (bodyguard, driver, landscaper, bag man, pimp, maintenance specialist) are described accurately, can best be likened to a Bond villain's henchman. I think my favorite line is the one below in red.

The government showed the jury a paper trail of most of the payments on an overhead projector. Goodson testified that St. Pierre had him give $5,000 to Nagin's re-election effort in May 2006 and confirmed the payment was in the form of a check to GNOR. He said he didn't know what GNOR was, but it's likely the Greater New Orleans Republicans, who openly supported Nagin's race against then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

That may help explain earlier testimony from former New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert, who said that Nagin's campaign asked him to raise $250,000, and that when he enlisted St. Pierre to raise $100,000 of it, he met the target by reimbursing others so he could exceed the individual $5,000 donation cap without being detected. Campaign finance records don't show that much money coming into Nagin's campaign coffers from sources associated with St. Pierre, but Goodson's testimony shows some of it went to other campaign committees that supported Nagin.

There's such a wealth of elaboration on the Greater New Orleans Republicans and their "strategic" relationship with the Nagin campaign that I had trouble finding the appropriate place to direct you to start with this if you're new to it. Try this YRHT link.

Also, this explains a lot about why the crime cameras didn't work so well.

And Goodson, who said he could build "about anything," eventually did hands-on work for city technology projects. He constructed crime cameras for the cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Gretna, Westwego and Savannah, Ga., he said. And he would climb to uncomfortable heights to hang the equipment, he testified.

Traditional flooding

Maybe this is picking a nit but is "traditionally" the correct word here?
Susan Maclay, president of the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, explains on Friday, May 13, 2011 why they were opening a previously existing gate, which was in the past used to pump water out of the space between the old and new levee, and allowed water to flow into the area between the old levee at Algiers Point and the new levee at Algiers Point near the ferry landing to equalize pressure on the Algiers Point levee. The area flooded was occupied by a tenant who leased the space and ran a riverfront folklife village out of it and also contained a vacant parking lot for the former Algiers Landing Restaurant which was torn down years before. The area traditionally floods on its own in periods of high rain.

Shouldn't that be, "..the area typically floods on its own.."? Tradition suggests that the flooding is some sort of social ritual passed down to the area by its forebearers. Now I've heard tell of long-standing social rituals performed by humans in that particular location over the years to which I suppose we could apply the term tradition. But that's another story altogether.

Hey, is Ron Paul still a dick?


Ron Paul: I Would Not Have Voted For The 1964 Civil Rights Act

Ron Paul Tells Mississippi River Flood Victims To Build Their Own Levees

Okay, just checking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flooding right along

Via WBRZ this is amateur video of deer running out of the way of the floodwaters 4 miles south of Morganza

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stream too heavy for Corps to handle

That is, the Corps' Ustream viewer is apparently overloaded. Try WWLTV.

Live stream

Again, the pun, it kills me.

Army Corps Ustream here.

Also WBRZ has the press conference here.

And now they're done.

Corps is planning to open the first bay on the Morganza today at 3:00 PM. They expect to eventually have it open to about 1/4 of its capacity and to leave it open for three or four weeks.

Yesterday the Corps published this map of the expected rate at which floodwaters will arrive in the Atchafalaya basin.

Morganza Floodway Travel Times

Morganza to open "sometime after 2:30"

But first, the obligatory press conference. Then maybe a blessing or someone could sing the national anthem or something.

The Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled news conferences at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. today to discuss opening the Morganza Floodway to divert water from the swollen Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin, greatly reducing the risk of catastrophic flooding downriver in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

No time has been set for opening the spillway about 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, but it is not expected to happen until after both news conferences, a corps spokeswoman said.

Update: Front of NOLA.com right now:

Not expected to open

Note the "Morganza is open" bit is a broken link.

It's to be fun, still, New Orleans

While I very much adore Wang's new nickname for Reggie Bush, I never actually thought "Tweetness" was done in New Orleans just yet. I could still be wrong but it does look like he's come around to staying.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Movie time

Morganza to open within 24 hours

Fallout maps here.

This afternoon I took some more pictures down by the French Quarter riverfront where the water has clearly come down about a half a foot in the past few days.

Here is the river gauge at the Natchez steamboat landing. The glare is a bit much but the gauge is stained up to about the 16 ft mark. The water below it has recently come down.

15 1/2 feet

In 1927 an unelected cabal of New Orleans banking and business interests decided to have the levee dynamited below the city at Caernarvon thus flooding out people in Plaquemines and St. Bernard. It wasn't necessary to do this, of course, but the cabal couldn't pass up the opportunity to demonstrate to out of town investors that the city's fathers would do whatever it takes to protect their money.

And that shouldn't surprise anyone who pays attention. In the wake of last year's disaster, for example, the city fathers behaved much the same way by making image their primary concern. We'd like to think the same kind of thinking doesn't bleed into the Corps' decision matrix regarding the spillway but these things are never so neat.

Warshed away?

From yesterday's press event

2:46 p.m. Susan Macclay of the West Bank levee district says her agency, like its east bank counterpart, is monitoring the levees 24 hours a day.

She describes three areas of concern: an old stretch of levee in Algiers Point that was under improvement when the river started rising that now is off-limits; a section of levee in Oakville in Plaquemines Parish that was temporarily lowered as part of construction and has been fortified; and a section of levee in the Todd Shipyard that is lower than adjacent sections and where, if the river gets to 18 feet, the levee district may have to install Hesco baskets.

Actually it's the batture they're worried about in Algiers. Varg has a picture.

I sort of remember the development on that space being controversial a few years back but I can't quite recall the circumstances.

Anyway, historically speaking, this isn't all that unusual. The river has been creating and reclaiming land along the batture forever. And the property rights to that land have long been points of contention. See this linked excerpt from Richard Campanella's Time and Place in New Orleans for the most frequently cited example of this.

Navigating flood regions

I live, work, shop for groceries, and spend the great majority of my free and social time within about one mile of the Mississippi River. The hospital where I was born sits about half a mile away from its bank and the campus where I spent my college years sits right up on it. And yet, like many New Orleanians, I only actually see the river occasionally.

I didn't grow up in deepest darkest Uptown, so I haven't spent much time at the Butterfly park behind the Zoo. Likewise I don't live near the bike trail that starts around the parish line either but NOLA.com's James O'Byrne does and his description of his 25 mile ride along the levee to the Bonnet Carre spillway is well worth your time.

Most of the New Orleans riverfront, however, has long been separated from the population by port facilities, railways, and of course levees and floodwalls. Which means that for many of the neighborhoods along the river, the view of this "strong brown god" (cribbing Eliot's phrase from O'Byrne's reference) is, well, limited.

Tchoupitoulas riverfront

So even those of us who live our lives in the shadow of this awesome natural force still have to seek it out if whenever we want to have a look. Here's a slideshow of everything I've ever tagged "Mississippi River" on Flickr. Most of these are taken at Woldenberg Park and the Moonwalk in the French Quarter. These areas have only been made public access points to the river within the most recent generation. A few pictures were taken from the top of the levee near the foot of Carrollton Avenue Uptown, and a couple are from the roof of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel which I discovered last weekend no longer permits non-hotel guests to access the observation deck.

Yesterday, the Mayor, along with an assortment of Corps of Engineers spokesmen and emergency officials (some of whom appeared in camouflage fatigues for no discernible reason) held a press conference. Their message to the public:

1) Don't panic. We're completely safe. We frankly don't even know why we have to come out here and tell you this.

2) Everybody is urged to stay off of the levees this weekend because even though we're completely safe and everything is fine, you um... wouldn't want to upset the delicate situation we're all in by standing too close.

3) If you're on the levees this weekend you'll probably see some interesting things that we would like you to report.

The public was given a phone number to call when they see whatever it is they're not supposed to be out there panicking over. Natually, I'm planning to go out to the river today at some point. That is, I am if this rain stops which, of course, is something else I'm sure we shouldn't be worried about.

Failure to read my own blog

Blogger must have had to wipe out the most recent posts in order to fix whatever the problem was. I don't actually remember what they said so I'm not putting them back. I did have a longish draft that I'm not happy about losing but oh well.

Meanwhile, lookout below.

Update: Oh shit. There was all sorts of Meffert stuff as well as Jackie Clarkson threatening to sink ships on the river. Dammit. Way to wipe out a fun week in New Orleans, Blogger.

One more thing. I did notice that AZ had a funny and long commentary on the Meffert trial up yesterday. I hope he preserved it somewhere so it can be restored.

Update: Thanks to Bullet's Google reader, we've managed to restore the all-important Jackie post. See below.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Um... neat.

Despite the work, some levees are already seeing seepage, including behind the French Market in the French Quarter.

“It's never been a problem,” Spencer said. “It's always clear, no sediment and that kind of thing, so we monitor that area in Orleans.”

Council flotsam

Right now the Corps is briefing the City Council on the river situation. T-P's Michelle Krupa is live-blogging the meeting.

Points of interest so far:

If the river gets to 18 feet or higher, they're going to close the floodgates along the riverfront. Also they're asking people to stay off of the levees as much as possible. From a purely selfish point of view I'm disappointed. I was hoping to get a chance to take a few more pictures this weekend of the high water. It may be that I don't get to do that now. Leigh got a shot this morning of the French Quarter gauge and it's already a foot higher than it was last weekend.

Also what does this mean, exactly?

"If Morganza isn't opened quickly enough, we have Avondale Shipyards," she says. The facility's electrical infrastructure is at 18 feet, which means the shipyard -- and its 3,000 workers -- would shut down. A nuclear power plant in St. Charles Parish also could be affected, she says.
Referring to the Waterford 3 plant, of course. In what way do they mean it "could be affected"?

Oh but here's my favorite bit. Just a little while ago I read this story on WWLTV's site about river traffic.

A runaway ship could cause major problems.

"They're going to drag the anchors at some point. Some of them will even pop the anchor chains. If that was to occur with this historic level of river, the ship would be at the top of the levee and it would take very little for that ship to punch a hole in the levee," said Michael Rooney, president of the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association.

And then just now in Council chambers, here's Jackie Clarkson.

City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson arrives and lays into barge owners and operators who don't moor their vessels, vowing that the city will sink all untethered vessles.

"We can't afford to have barges breaking loose, breaking levees," she says.

And suddenly we have this image in our mind of Jackie standing in Washington Artillery Park in her blood-red blazer firing the antique cannon at river barges. This pleases us greatly.

Oyster suggests this may be the image we're describing.

Stop now Read this

NOLA.com's James O'Byrne details his bicycle ride along the swollen Mississippi.
It's just after dawn when my ride begins, and soon I reach the Orleans-Jefferson line near Riverbend, where there remains a small community of homes on the Mississippi River batture, that narrow strip of land that sits between the base of the levee and the water's edge, mostly forested and usually dry, except in the springtime when the high water comes.

It's a foggy morning on the river, as usual at this time of year. Even when there's no fog elsewhere, the river fogs over, as the warm humid air of late spring contacts the much cooler river, chilled by the recently melted snow and cold northern rains rolling to the Gulf of Mexico. On the river, the tankers' tall superstructures poke out of the low fog banks, moving back and forth like skyscrapers floating on a cloud.

At the Riverbend, the water is lapping at the floorboards of some of the batture homes. A man wades in three feet of water in his yard to tie his propane tank to the trees, so that it doesn't float away. I ask him, literally in passing, if this is the highest he has seen the water. "Nope, '73 was higher," he recalls of the flood that sparked the first and only opening of Morganza. "But I know more water is coming."

Well that settles it

Basically either the Corps is going to open Morganza this weekend or the river is going to open it for them.
Ironically, much of the Atchafalaya Basin would still flood if the spillway is not opened, according to the new map, because the Old River Control Structure will be sending twice as much water from the Mississippi into the basin as it normally does. Meanwhile, the river will still overtop the relatively low Morganza floodway structure even if it's not opened, and several other levee failures could occur between Morganza and Baton Rouge.

Also this is interesting. The most critical time for levees may be after the water goes down.

Even if the river doesn't go much over 17 feet at New Orleans, a level reached at noon Tuesday, levee officials will be keeping careful watch when the river begins to drop, now not expected until mid-June, Turner said.

"If the river begins to fall rapidly, we could have incidents where saturated levees slide into the river," he said.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flood stage

The river is now at 17.04 ft in New Orleans. (scroll down)

See also:

(John) Barry said the levees in the metro area are about seven to eight times stronger than those further north.

"The levees we have in the lower portion of the Mississippi are by far the strongest in the U.S.," he said.

He said a key ingredient to their strength is the soil deposited from the river.

"When water runs over it, it actually compresses it, making it tighter," Barry said. "And even if the levees get overtopped, you can run Niagara Falls over it and they won't break."

Ritual de lo Muppetto

Meffert's testimony in the St. Pierre trial.

Disgraced former New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert testified Tuesday in federal court that vendor Mark St. Pierre wined and dined him and treated him to nearly weekly strip club visits totaling $20,000 in 2003 and 2004.

Meffert said the money for what he called "ritual" Tuesday and Thursday night visits to Visions Men's Club in eastern New Orleans ultimately came from his department in City Hall, thanks to the contract work Meffert made sure St. Pierre's firm Imagine Software got.

So in his deposition, when Meffert says, "Sometimes I'd pay for myself, sometimes they'd pay" what he really meant was it didn't matter since the money ultimately all came from the same place anyway.


Via Atrios, who also sums things up well, this Wonkette writer says:
The fact that the headline of every major newspaper on May 2 wasn’t “Alright. Time For Us To Go The Fuck Home!” is the only reason you need to distrust American Journalism.

Stick an emergency turbine in the spillway

Entergy system being strained across 4 states
Power provider Entergy Corp. said Tuesday that storm damage in Arkansas, combined with high-water threats from the Mississippi River and hot weather are putting a strain on its four-state electricity system.

Paul Pastorek is resigning

So says City Business

Since the guy he just hired to run RSD used to work for a magazine executive, I nominate Margo Dubos to replace him.

Incompetent corruption

I half expected Kevin Houser to be in this story.

A City Hall technology contractor bought suite tickets for Mayor Ray Nagin and his wife to attend the New Orleans Saints' first NFC Championship Game appearance in 2007, but the tickets turned out to be invalid, the company's executive testified today in a corruption trial.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Regulatory capture

Everywhere you look

Although the agency says plants are operating more safely today than they were at the dawn of the nuclear industry, when shutdowns were common, safety experts, Congressional critics and even the agency’s own internal monitors say the N.R.C. is prone to dither when companies complain that its proposed actions would cost time or money. The promise of lucrative industry work after officials leave the commission probably doesn’t help, critics say, pointing to dozens over the years who have taken jobs with nuclear power companies and lobbying firms.

Cleaning up after the con

Road Home wants its money back. Of course tracking down where it went in the first place is a complicated enough task.

For more than 90,000 of the 117,785 Road Home grant recipients who elected to rebuild their homes, the three-year deadline to finish their work has passed. The state is in the midst of assessing how many have complied and if they haven’t, why.

Some owners appear to have absconded with the money. But others were coerced into paying off mortgages or were ripped off by unscrupulous contractors. Some were waiting to start repairs until they collected a separate hazard mitigation grant under another state-run, federally financed program, which didn’t start paying in earnest until late last year. Still others were caught short when the Small Business Administration swooped in at the closing table and intercepted their Road Home grants to pay off SBA disaster loans.

To start with, Road Home's flawed formula left homeowners in less marketable neighborhoods with insufficient grants to cover the cost of rebuilding. Next, the insufficient grants were further diminished by claims from mortgage lenders and by SBA. In many cases what's left is quickly eaten up by fly by night contractors. Certainly some folks had the resources or credit to run this gauntlet and come through okay but it doesn't look like a system designed to help most do that. And now the State wants to identify the people who couldn't so we all know who to blame.

Pretty neat although it still looks like that money is long gone by now.

And rising

Corps releases maps projecting flooding if Morganza Spillway opens
NEW ORLEANS – The Army Corps of Engineers has released some inundation maps to show the anticipated impact to areas if the Morganza Floodway is opened to combat the rising river levels in the Mississippi.

The map shows the amounts of floodwater that can be expected in the areas around the floodway.

A decision to open the spillway had not been made as of midday Saturday, but could come soon.

The Bonnet Carre’ Spillway is scheduled to open Monday, pouring water from the River into Lake Pontchartrain.

The Corps is encouraging people in the areas projected to be affected by an opening of the Morganza to get information from their local officials. Areas on the map include: Pointe Coupee, St Landry, St Martin, Iberia, Iberville, St Mary, and Terrebonne parishes.

I got a few pictures of the river at Woldenberg park in the quarter today.


It's high.

Mississippi River

Almost up to the top of the rocks here.

High River

I'm pretty sure I've seen it a few feet higher at least once before this year. According to the stick in the water it looks to be about 14 and a half feet right now.

14 1/2 feet

If I get a chance I'll try and check it out again during the next few days to see if it gets any higher. They're saying they're going to open the Bonnet Carre spillway on Monday. I'm not sure how immediate the effect of that will be.