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Monday, December 31, 2012

So Happy New Year

2012 was so terrible for so many reasons. I'm not going to catalog them tonight.  Feels like I've been saying this at this time every year for the past few but thank God that is fucking over with.  Maybe better luck this time around.

Black eyes

Rope-a-dope?

This afternoon, President Obama made a brief statement to the press wherein he expressed optimism that a deal on the so-called "fiscal cliff" was being finalized.  Republicans reacted badly to this.

So badly, in fact, that we're now told the House will not vote on the deal at all tonight. This is interesting because, in a sane world, this would be exactly what the Democrats should want to have happen.  Once the artificial imperative of the fiscal cliff apocalypse has gone the way of the Maya, the new discussion is about passing what will certainly be a massive and massively popular "Obama tax cut" for working and middle class Americans. 

Surely the Republicans aren't throwing Obama into that briar patch unless they're certain he won't take advantage.  They're pretty stupid but I'm not sure they're that stupid.

Gambit did some nice things in 2012

This was not one of them.  Can't imagine anything more lame.

Les Mileserables

For many many reasons, the 2012 football season cannot end soon enough. LSU fans, it appears, have already bailed.

As of this afternoon, about 6,000 of the 16,000 Chick-fil-A Bowl tickets allotted to LSU for Monday's game remained available, says LSU Sports Information Director Michael Bonnette. "We're hoping that as we get closer to game day people will change their minds and find their way to the game," says Bonnette, who arrived in Atlanta with the team on Wednesday.
Very uncharacteristic for the travel-hardy LSU fan base.  But not so surprising considering how badly they were screwed by the bowl selection process. 

The SEC protected championship-game loser Georgia by convincing the Capital One Bowl to take the Bulldogs; allowed the Cotton Bowl to choose Texas A&M over LSU; and discouraged the Outback Bowl from taking LSU (for a first-ever game with Michigan) to avoid a Chick-fil-A Bowl rematch between South Carolina and Clemson. Had the SEC urged the Cotton to take LSU over A&M — the Tigers beat the Aggies and are higher ranked — and sent A&M to the Chick-fil-A, it would have been a more equitable arrangement.

Instead, LSU is left to make its fifth trip to the Chick-fil-A since 1996 and 11th trip to Atlanta in that span to play a game that, despite an excellent matchup, has failed to whip LSU fans into a ticket-buying frenzy.

Can't blame anyone for not wanting to be in Atlanta for New Year's Eve.  But LSU fans have been trying to fast forward out of 2012 ever since the concluding minute of the Alabama game.

Fiscal bluff

I guess the question I keep coming back to with regard to the negotiations over the fake "fiscal cliff" crisis the congress has manufactured is this.  On whose behalf is Barack Obama negotiating?

Krugman is asking if Obama is "The World's Worst Poker Player"  here. 
Is it really possible that Obama still doesn’t understand that every time he does this — especially if it comes just a few days after stern statements about how he won’t give it — it just reinforces the Republican belief that he can always be bullied into submission? If he cuts a bad deal on the fiscal cliff today, he more or less guarantees that just a few weeks from now Republicans will go all out on using the debt ceiling to extract more concessions.

It's an easy case to make and it's been made before.  Way back during the stimulus debate we frequently characterized Republican negotiating technique in these terms. 



In point of fact, though, they're actually much sillier than that.

Yet, somehow, something they're doing must be working. What else could explain their success at backing Obama this far off of a major pillar of his campaign platform?

But after Obama won on a platform that was barely about anything aside from letting those tax cuts expire, it seemed inevitable he’d get it done. It was his due.

To the GOP’s delight, that no longer seems to be the case. In the Obama-Boehner negotiations, the White House offered to raise the threshold from $250,000 to $400,000. McConnell, in his negotiations with Harry Reid and now Joe Biden, has been trying to raise that to $500,000. It’s clear to the Republicans that they will get past the fiscal cliff with a smaller tax increase than they thought. Perhaps much smaller. Huzzah!
Could Obama really be this poor a "poker player"? Probably not. Which is why Krugman's question actually misses the point.

It's silly to speculate about whether Obama is a "bad poker player" who just needs a little backbone or a smarter strategy. That kind of talk is like me claiming I'd make a better interim Saints coach than Joe Vitt. (I would be better than Aaron Kromer but that is immaterial.) Obama clearly knows how to negotiate and how to be President. The question we should be asking is, who is he representing in that office? 

Because from here it looks like he's protecting the wealthy and privileged at the expense of the majority of Americans who depend on the so-called "entitlement" programs which have been a backstop against desperation for nearly a century. Here Digby, one of Obama's most consistent critics along these lines, still grants him too much.

Apparently the White House is telling Klein that they fully intend to hang tough on the debt ceiling, you betcha. No way, no how are they going to negotiate. I might find that believable if the President wasn't obviously still chasing his white whale of a Grand Bargain (which he reiterated just yesterday on Meet the Press with his statement that cuts to programs that are "really important to seniors, student and so forth have to be part of the mix.") It has been obvious that the president seeks to cut the so-called entitlements since he first talked about it in 2009, saying that "everyone's got to have skin in the game." That's the danger we've faced from the beginning. And it's only because the Republicans don't want their fingerprints on it and the Democrats risk being mau-maued out of office by those same hypocritical Republicans that it's so difficult for him to get it done.

Just like it's a mistake to assume the President is simply bad at negotiating, it's just as erroneous to assert that he is interested in reaching a "Grand Bargain" with Republicans merely out of some hollow Hollywood fetish for Bi-partisanship for its own sake.   Yes, that's how these things are packaged and sold to the credulous audience but it isn't what motivates the actors. 

Instead, the only way to properly understand what's happening here is the President and the congress are working hard to protect wealth and privilege at the devastating expense of the rest of us. The way this usually works is the Republicans make the hard sell through a series of petulant fits while the Democrats polish the job off adding an imprimatur of reasoned pragmatism.

And so President Obama is, in fact, an excellent poker player after all.  But it's us and not congressional Republicans who are being bluffed.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Better lock up the Vicodin closet at Saints camp

Gambit: Payton and Saints agree in principle to new five-year deal

I know of at least three books written (or ghost written)  about the 2009 Saints season.  One by the quarterback's PR team, one by the once and future coach, and one by a transplant from Louisville looking to cash in on fan nostalgia.

But the long saga of 2012 would make for far more interesting reading, if treated properly.  Not sure who we should give this deal to. I'm guessing Sean Pamphilon has several medium-sized blog posts he could submit for publication immediately but that doesn't sound exactly right.  Joe Vitt comes to mind, but his material is more suitable for a "Shit Joe Vitt Says" daily tear-away calendar of quotations... which should also definitely be published but we still don't have our epic chronicler. Sean Payton's sabbatical is already over. Who the hell is going to write this thing?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

No #spon Zone

If  Drew Brees's face can sell us Jimmy Johns and NyQuil and boy bands and such, I don't see how this is really any worse.

From WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge:
A Louisiana mother has a warning for other parents after her teenage son had a bad reaction from smoking what she's calling a new synthetic drug.

Mary Hughes is on a mission to protect other kids.

It all started this past weekend with a little plastic bag of a product called "Blue Brees." The Denham Springs mom said her 16-year-old son got it as a present and smoked it, which led to a scary night.

"His eyes were basically real droopy," Hughes said. "His speech was very slurred. He had no emotion. He barely could stand and absolutely no emotion, so 'Zombieland' was really correct. He was a zombie."

Hughes admits her daughter, who is of age, bought the product at a store called Zombieland.
Assuming Brees has no contract to receive payment for his.. um.. endorsement here, this might actually be an improvement. On the other hand, the symptoms exhibited by the young man in this story scan awfully close to Brees's performance at Atlanta this year so maybe there is a connection after all.

Still, it's probably not an official NFL licensed product which means 1) It's probably not an approved supplement and so could violate the league's drug policy and get somebody in trouble. ... sort of like Adderall used to do.  And 2) you absolutely cannot sell it within the confines of the "Clean Zone"

NEW ORLEANS -- As New Orleans prepares to host the Super Bowl, the city is also preparing to enforce temporary rules inside a so-called "clean zone" surrounding events leading up to the big game.

Host cities agree to adopt "clean zone" ordinances to help control activities that conflict with NFL sponsorships and the integrity of the game.

City approval for things such as temporary structures, signage and advertising are tightly regulated in the zone.

The zone boundaries include much of downtown, the French Quarter and the CBD.

"These clean zones are areas that are free of temporary ambush marketing, signage and events and other recognition of conflicting sponsors of the NFL," said New Orleans Sports Foundation President and CEO Jay Cicero.
In other words, NFL marketing agreements will dictate the kind of signage you can display at your home or business, as well as what sorts of products you can distribute,  if it is located within the "clean zone" I guess because the NFL marketing agreements take precedence over constitutional niceties during Superbowl week.

This doesn't mean we can't figure a way to test the limits if we're creative.  According to the city's information packet about the "Clean Zone"
Any temporary signage approved by the City shall be required to consist of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification.
So if any downtown business wants to display a banner that reads "Mitch Landrieu is Roger Goodell's bitch" it's probably okay to do that so long as 60% of the background consists of NFL logos.  The downside is if the city happens to cite you anyway I'm pretty sure your only recourse is to appeal to Paul Tagliabue because, again, NFL is the ultimate civil authority during Super Bowl week.

Also one footnote to this article worth highlighting is this.
"These clean zones are areas that are free of temporary ambush marketing, signage and events and other recognition of conflicting sponsors of the NFL," said New Orleans Sports Foundation President and CEO Jay Cicero.

The city forced ambush marketers to remove Coke and Power Aid advertisements from sidewalks in a similar clean zone during the NCAA Final Four Basketball tournament earlier this year.

That's interesting because, at the time, we were under the impression that the city's move against the Coke ads was based on citizen outrage at having the public sidewalks used as an advertising vector.  But, according to the WWL report, they were actually just enforcing their corporate agreement with the NCAA.  Guess we should have known. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Golden age of punting

Being the best during an era distinguished as the best in memory has got to count for something.

Morstead leads the NFL with a 44.4 net average, which is far more important than gross punt average which only accounts for how far he actually punted the ball. But Morstead is no slouch in gross punting average as he ranks second in the NFL booting the ball 50.5 yards per punt.

San Francisco's Andy Lee holds the single-season all-time record for best net punt average at 43.99 setting the record last season. Morstead does rank third all-time on the same list with a 43.11 net average in 2011.

Maybe they should try dressage

The Advocate wants you to know that some legislators enjoy owning horses.  Okay.

Your big political opportunities are never what you think they are

This is from a long article about American gun culture written by Richard Hofstadter in 1970.

In 1968, after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., there was an almost touching national revulsion against our own gun culture, and for once the protesting correspondence on the subject reaching senators and representatives outweighed letters stirred up by the extraordinarily efficient lobby of the National Rifle Association. And yet all that came out of this moment of acute concern was a feeble measure, immensely disappointing to advocates of serious gun control, restricting the mail-order sales of guns. It seems clear now that the strategic moment for gun controls has passed and that the United States will continue to endure an armed populace, at least until there is a major political disaster involving the use of guns.

Gun control advocates believe they have another "strategic moment" on their hands right now.  Don't expect any better results this time around either.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Passing on a link I don't have time to comment on

Because, you know, holidays and such still in effect. 

But here's Moseley on the long history of intrigue at the US Attorney's office.

What today could have been like

If only the stupid Mayans had gotten something right for once.



Or


Not as ridiculous as it seems

Of all the things Wang is asking Mr. Bingle for here I think Ravens over Giants is probably going to be the most difficult to deliver.  But the rest of it just isn't as ridiculous as you might think.  The Bears are a whiny wreck right now. The Vikings are a one-man offense. The Giants were just shut out by freaking Atlanta. And Dallas still has Tony Romo.

They're all quite capable of losing 2 in a row. But, honestly, I think most of us are just asking for one in a row so that we don't have to end the year watching this insult of a football season compounded by a game without any hope of counting.

Crappy Carnival coming

How many corporate second lines and NFL sponsored street closures were approved while this request from locals to stage a real parade was being ignored?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

City Santa, Country Santa

I realize the whole Santa myth is highly implausible.  But that somehow doesn't stop Mrs. Claus from holding me up in traffic on the way to work.

Mrs. Claus

Like any photo of Santa or Nessie or Big Foot or Sean Payton this shot is grainy.  I wish I had done better.  You can see more detail in the larger version.  Her trike is adorned with a black and gold canopy. There is a message on the back (in black and gold lettering) which reads, "God gave his only begotten son Jesus Christ."  The license plate reads "#1 FAN" There is a boom box in the rear basket which was tuned to the "smooth jams" station.

I tailed her for five whole blocks before she finally meandered far enough to the side of the road for me to pass. I didn't have time to determine what she might have been drinking that morning which unfortunately leaves this report incomplete. 

Meanwhile, there's still time to visit Celebration in the Oaks where you can watch the Cajun Night Before Christmas light show.

Make crawl, alligator

The lights are synchronized with a recording of the one-time auto dealership ad turned holiday classic read by an obviously shameless individual putting on a fake accent.  I have no idea what would possess a person to participate in such an activity. But if you happen to find it completely unavoidable, these alligator-reindeer make a pretty decent craft accompaniment.

Reingator


Still going to be on a very reduced holiday posting schedule here for a few more days. Here's a quick list of things I've been reading this week.

Bobby Jindal is scrooge-ing health care in Louisiana even worse than we thought.

Wal-Mart is a corrupting influence... on the freaking Mexican government.

The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.
In the "age of austerity" cuts to higher ed are making college less and less affordable for most of us.

As we come up on the end of the year, Alex Parnee's annual "Hack List" is always a good place to reflect on your crappy political press. 

The City Council is back to being a completely elected governing body.  Somewhere in the draft folder there's a post about the election results that will eventually see the light of day in one form or another.

Same goes for the bridge tolls referendum.  This lawsuit may be ill fated but that doesn't mean someone shouldn't be filing complaints somewhere regardless of how impotent they may be.

And the... um... doubly same goes for the football writing in this space which has more or less been serving out a suspension for much of this season.  I haven't had the time to even get my late-in-the-week recaps done on time recently.  If it weren't for Twitter, football might cease to exist altogether.  But, I promise, there's at least one more Saints post in the hopper that will show up before (or perhaps just after) the end of the season.

But since this is a "links" post, allow me to direct you to where you can find some quality writing on this week's game here, here, here, and also many other places you might care to look. 

In the meantime, here's a scene from late in fourth quarter last week. We visited Misters Cl10 and DillyBerto and their funny hats in World Famous Section 635 to watch the so-called "worst defense in NFL history" complete a 5 takeaway shutout of a team it also executed a goal line stand against this year.  It was good times.

Section 635

Happy Holidays.  Back in a few days.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Speaking of snake oil salesmen

There's now a New Yorker profile (CORRECTION: Not a "profile" More accurate to say the story credits him) on the guy Fred Heebe hired to pretend he cracked Sal Perricone's Enigma machine or whatever.

Of course this is mostly bullshit. Heebe clearly had information about Perricone from someone inside the US Attorney's office long before he hired the Mr. Language Carnie to help pad his lawsuit.

Update: And now Perricone, who has already owned up to having authored many of the NOLA.com comments in question, says that Heebe's psychic is full of shit anyway.




Russell's story isn't up yet but I gotta run.  Will post it when I see it.

Update: Here you go.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

But can they decorate it for the holidays?

Advocate:

State highway officials plan to start early next year with a six-month study into the feasibility of an alternative route around an 8-acre sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish.

Though carrying just 6,000 vehicles per day, La. 70 cuts through isolated swamp and provides a key connector between La. 1 along Bayou Lafourche and parts west and south, including Pierre Part and Morgan City.

The growing sinkhole is 1,200 feet south of La. 70 South between Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne.

Current estimates have the sinkhole, believed to have been caused by a failed Texas Brine Co. LLC cavern in the Napoleonville Dome, about 640 feet across from north to south and 690 feet across from east to west.

The highway study is the initial step the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development takes to consider a proposed highway before basic design begins, DOTD officials said.

I hope Texas Brine will at least be asked to cover the cost of this study plus whatever work it eventually recommends.  Our own sinkhole mitigation project last week was limited only to making the local vegetation more festive.  We spent about twelve dollars.

Celebration In The Sinkhole

Most of the ornaments have already been picked off of the bush so we're wondering if maybe we should refresh it a little. I'll ask DOTD to come out and assess it for us.

Men, not laws

When all is said and done with regard to the US vs Fred Heebe saga, all of the little dramas will inevitably add up to one thing.  The US Attorney's office messed with the wrong guy and that guy was able to blow up the whole office from the inside. The lesson to be learned is there are people whose status immunizes them from prosecution and then there are the rest of us.  I assume Jim Letten's successors won't mistake them again. 

See also:

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal appeals court has ordered a new trial for a former New Orleans police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a man whose body turned up after Hurricane Katrina.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out David Warren's convictions Monday, saying a judge should have separated his trial form other officers charged in the death of 31-year-old Glover. (See the ruling)
Again, the lesson is there are those of us who are under suspicion just for being outside, or driving across town, and there are those of us who are allowed to burn bodies behind a levee.

Update: Some people might be reading this as the Glover verdict reversal having resulted from L'affaire Perricone. That's not what I mean. Only saying that some of us are privileged with more legal leverage than others and here are two examples of that.

And Upperdate: The Glover ruling is, on second thought, probably a bad choice as an example here.  The overturned convictions are in regard to very specific issues.  The court wanted Warren tried separately and only took issue with one aspect of McRae's verdict.  Of course, these appeals have benefited from access to better lawyers and more sympathetic judges than most of us would.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Enterpreneurial City Halls" Across America

We're pretty deep into the holiday chaos right now and I haven't had time to post as much here. But before it gets away I wanted to mention, this recent NYT series on government "incentive" subsidies to businesses.

A Times investigation has examined and tallied thousands of local incentives granted nationwide and has found that states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies. The beneficiaries come from virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains. 

The cost of the awards is certainly far higher. A full accounting, The Times discovered, is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards. Nor do they know if the money was worth it because they rarely track how many jobs are created. Even where officials do track incentives, they acknowledge that it is impossible to know whether the jobs would have been created without the aid. 

“How can you even talk about rationalizing what you’re doing when you don’t even know what you’re doing?” said Timothy J. Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich. 

The Times analyzed more than 150,000 awards and created a searchable database of incentive spending. The survey was supplemented by interviews with more than 100 officials in government and business organizations as well as corporate executives and consultants. 

A portrait arises of mayors and governors who are desperate to create jobs, outmatched by multinational corporations and short on tools to fact-check what companies tell them. Many of the officials said they feared that companies would move jobs overseas if they did not get subsidies in the United States.

Most of us are familiar with the grift pro sports franchises play on municipalities where they regularly threaten to move if they don't receive a new package of inducements, or a new stadium from the local taxpayers. Fewer of us realize, though, that, rather than an aberration, this sort of thing is standard business practice across a wide variety of industries.

The Times feature comes with a database of "incentive" programs broken down by state. Such giveaways currently amount to $1.79 billion or roughly 20 percent of Louisiana's budget. The biggest slice of that goes, of course, to oil and gas in the form of allowances and exemptions from state severance taxes.

Another significant chunk of our state budget  goes toward the so-called "Hollywood South" package of incentives. Earlier this year a report released by the Louisiana Budget Project concluded that these incentives are expensive and unproductive.
The Louisiana film tax credit program—born in 1992 and vastly expanded in 2002—has mushroomed into one of the nation’s costliest. 1 As the state’s investments in education, health care, infrastructure, and other critical services have faced a series of severe cuts, the subsidies paid to Hollywood continue to grow—29 percent over the most recent fiscal year. Louisiana paid $231 million in credits in 2011-12, bringing the state’s total film spending to more than $1 billion over the past decade.

Unfortunately, the returns to the state on this investment, like many of the movies made here, have been a flop. While the subsidies have helped create film industry jobs that weren’t here before, many of these positions are temporary and have come at a steep cost to taxpayers, who paid an average of more than $60,000 per direct job.
We've also witnessed the havoc the Hollywood South program has wreaked on the New Orleans Saints, on the Blaine Kern family, even on the cost of providing essential flood protection to New Orleans.

Worse yet, as the LBP report says, the competition between states and municipalities to offer the most attractive inducements to industries creates an incentive for our political leaders to become ever more compliant in this effort.
Since Louisiana began subsidizing the film industry, more than 40 other states and Puerto Rico have followed. States are throwing money at film productions, trying to outdo each other by offering bigger and better subsidies. “The rapid spread of film tax subsidies across the country is a classic case of a race to the bottom,” wrote Robert Tannenwald in a report for the Center on Budget and Policy riorities.14 In 2008, Michigan created numerous film tax credits for up to 42 percent of total expenditures, and Georgia increased its own state tax credit by up to 30 percent. A year later, Louisiana raised the investor credit from 25 percent to 30 percent and eliminated a planned phase-down.

Mitch Landrieu, in his former capacity as Lieutenant Governor as well as his current role as Mayor, has made appeasement of exploitative industries such as film and tourism his professional specialty.   Earlier this month, when Landrieu said he wants to create "a more flexible, entrepreneurial and forward-leaning City Hall" this is basically what he was talking about.

According to the Times feature, the entrepreneurs who have benefited the most from City Halls leaning in their direction have been the consulting firms who lobby on for more "flexibility" on behalf of the industries who benefit from tax incentives.  This is from a recent NPR interview with the NYT feature's author Louise Story.

It's a very lucrative business for them because every award they get for a company, they typically get to keep about 30 percent of it for themselves. And one of the things that was an interesting theme I heard across the entire country was economic development officials, the local officials, would tell me they to some degree relied on the private consultants to tell them what the companies wanted and to tell them which companies were looking around.

But these consultants are not neutral. They're not going to say oh, you know, all the company wants is X, Y, Z, and they'll come for that bare minimum. They're going to say they want 10 times that because their financial incentive is to get as much as possible.
Recent years have been a boom time in New Orleans for consultants. The Boston Consulting Group has worked with the Landrieu and Nagin administrations on the Hospitality Zone package and on the ongoing disastrous privatization of our public schools. Landrieu's civil service reform effort has been aided by Public Strategies Group hired through a combination of city funds and contributions from local plutocrats.
To bring PSG on, the city last May entered into a partnership with Baptist Community Ministries (BCM), which controls the mixed public-private “New Orleans Innovation Fund” that pays the firm’s costs. If it had contracted the firm directly, through a Requests for Proposals process, PSG would have had to enter into a competitive bidding process. However, as Kopplin pointed out, by using the fund, which has a maximum value of more than $500,000, BCM is able to solicit outside donors — such as the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, which has contributed — therefore reducing the city’s end of the costs.
This is not to say that all governmental consulting is a racket. But the conflicts of interest inherent in the behind the scenes function these firms have in public policy formulation place it very much in that neighborhood.  Clearly they play a key role in securing and protecting privileges in our tax code such as those enumerated by the NYT feature. 

Currently a state legislative commission is looking at means to reform the state tax structure. According to reports, the commission is looking specifically at the efficacy vs cost of incentive programs. Sounds like a step in the right direction.  According to the NYT database, Louisiana could recoup up to $628 million in lost revenue by  taking back only the gifts it makes to Oil and Gas and to Hollywood, the two largest beneficiaries of state tax privileges.

Why, then, are we reading that the commissioners are focused instead on these much smaller clean energy incentives?  Probably has something to do with "entrepreneurship" or "forward-leaning flexibility" or something.  I'll wait for the consultant's report. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Serpas Signal

Looks like another school shooting is going to dominate the national news for the next several weeks. Not looking forward to the superficial arguments over whether gun laws are strong enough, or whether the kids play too many video games, or listen to scary music. I'd say the most likely policy response will probably involve hacking into everybody's email or tracking their habits and tendencies with cameras 24 hours a day but we already do that for the most part.

And, of course, it's always good to have this technique in the toolbox.

The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint, in Orleans Parish, on Friday December 14, 2012, beginning at approximately 9:00 P.M. and will conclude at approximately 5:00 A.M.  Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Today Joe Vitt Said

Actually today this time.  Scud edition.







2012 has been one long year of scuds and hunkering.

Update: Full story here

Standard operating procedure

How much oil is dumped into Louisiana's Gulf waters every year?  Probably much more than we ever learn about.

Another oil company is poised to plead guilty to falsifying the amount of oil it spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s nothing on the order of the 2010 BP spill, in which BP admitted to lying about how much oil was spilling, but the charges against W&T Offshore show there are others trying to pull one over on the pollution police.

Federal prosecutors in New Orleans charged W&T Offshore with tampering with water samples and polluting the gulf in 2009.

Today Joe Vitt said

Okay well actually at an earlier date, Joe Vitt said:

Offering to take a lie detector test, Vitt challenged versions given by Williams and Cerullo. Vitt vowed to sue Cerullo and described Williams as "narcissistic." He referred to both as disgruntled former employees who were fired, even though, publicly, the Saints said Williams' departure for St. Louis was by mutual agreement. Vitt depicted Cerullo as incompetent and said he missed work numerous times and offered bizarre, fabricated excuses for his absences.

Vitt was asked whether he oversaw Cerullo's attempts to destroy evidence related to bounties, which the NFL determined the Saints sanctioned from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars offered for hits that injured opponents and knocked them out of games.

"No. The answer is no," Vitt said. "Cerullo is an idiot."

Many are commenting.  If you read only one commentary today, make it this one. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Taking risks

Salon: 

Though many gay marriage advocates cheered the Supreme Court’s decision to take up Proposition 8 and DOMA on Friday, a few were wary of the Court’s decision to hear both cases at once.

“There is no question that it is a risk,” said Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, the Daily Intel reports. “If they nationalize it and reject it, that’s going to take decades to come back to the court.”

Katherine Franke, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality, told HuffPo’s Lila Shapiro that because the lower court’s ruling on Proposition 8 was very narrow, she would have preferred if the Court just decided to take up DOMA. ”I’m not thrilled. I would have preferred they took the Windsor case alone.”
But hey, you know, marriage itself is kind of a risk in the first place.  Tonight I'm going to stand in what because of our stupidity will be an extra-legal ceremony... or maybe I'm accomplice to a murder-like event depending on whom you ask. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The corruption was always sophisticated

In his parting interview, Jim Letten takes the opposite view of that once expressed by former New Orleans Inspector General Robert Cerasoli who told us our corruption wasn't as "sophisticated" as what you see in other cities.

Letten's comments suggest otherwise.

Letten admitted that the timing of his departure is awkward. The date was not entirely of his choosing, and it comes at a time when several major cases are deep in the pipeline. One case that is nearing a possible indictment is the not-so-veiled bribery investigation of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

But just as New Orleans’ criminal landscape is always full of surprises, so, too, was the unexpected chain of events that led to Letten’s departure.

We have the weirdest problems, the strangest challenges, the damnedest struggles. So, maybe, just maybe, this event is consistent with that,” Letten mused.

Maybe the truth is we really were always "so far behind we're ahead" at least as far as sophisticated corruption goes.


Update: Posted this before I noticed Moseley's latest column about Letten and his "damn struggles" is up at The Lens.  Go read that now. 

And while we're at it I should also point you to this AZ post where Dambala raises a question that's been on my mind a lot since the whole Perricone affair broke.
Final question...why the hell would anyone, ever again, remotely consider commenting on Nola.com?  Even if you're not a DOJ employee.  This is a serious question, I'm not just asking it to dis Nola.com.  I'm asking this question because I think we now have an enormous deterrent for people who have information on corruption to anonymously comment in online, public forums and I think that hurts our democracy.
Over the past year to three years, we've definitely seen a retreat from the high level of civic engagement we had been seeing from everyday internet users.. particularly in New Orleans but elsewhere as well.

I think there are a number of contributing factors to this chill.  Today's social media tools are more geared toward promotion of commercial rather than user-generated content. Meanwhile amateur opinion has become less fashionable as we've become more and more saturated with it. Plus there's been a fair degree of (I believe unwarranted) push back from professional journalists who have come to see their most engaged readers (i.e. bloggers and commenters) as more and more of an annoyance.
The Perricone story has only served to reinforce that trend.

So while the past decade witnessed a brief flourishing of messy but democratic discourse, we seem now to be heading back to a place where the public sphere is dominated by elites writing for other elites about elitist priorities.   And that, not the downfall of a false hero like Jim Letten, is the real bad news this year.

Federal City

Federal City

Quite a city of juxtapositions we've become.  Our school boards and our public health services are all being farmed out to privatized management.  The streets are policed by several private security outfits. We've tried and will no doubt try again to grant taxing authority to tourism magnates.

But what hasn't been privatized has been taken over by the Feds.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and U.S. Department of Justice officials announced a long-awaited agreement on Tuesday for federal oversight of the city's notoriously shoddy and dangerous jail. The 49-page consent decree amounts to a blueprint for reforms and staffing fixes at a jail facility where 38 inmates have died over the past seven years, where escapes are commonplace, and where safety and sanitary conditions are routinely compromised, critics say.

Signed and submitted to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk for approval, the document marks Gusman's office as the latest local agency in New Orleans to succumb to outside oversight.

But despite having either sold everything off or turned it over to outside direction, the cost of everything just keeps going up and up and up. Funny how that works.

"The change is it's getting worse"

The above would make a great title for a book about the early 21st Century. Anyway, read this.

RT: You blew the whistle on the agency when George W. Bush was the president. With President Obama in office, in your opinion, has anything changed at the agency, in the surveillance program? In what direction is this administration moving?

WB: The change is it’s getting worse. They are doing more. He is supporting the building of the Bluffdale facility, which is over two billion dollars they are spending on storage room for data. That means that they are collecting a lot more now and need more storage for it. That facility by my calculations that I submitted to the court for the Electronic Frontiers Foundation against NSA would hold on the order of 5 zettabytes of data. Just that current storage capacity is being advertised on the web that you can buy. And that’s not talking about what they have in the near future.

(via)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Governor Transparency

If you're thinking that joke is old, obvious, and not funny anymore, you are correct.

(AP) — Top officials in Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration used personal email accounts to craft a media strategy for imposing hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid cuts — a method of communication that can make it more difficult to track under public records laws despite Jindal’s pledge to bring more transparency to state government.

Emails reviewed by The Associated Press reveal that non-state government email addresses were used dozens of times by state officials to communicate last summer about a public relations offensive for making $523 million in health care cuts. Those documents weren’t provided to AP in response to a public records request.

Jindal, now in his second term, has become a leading voice among Republican governors and is considered a potential presidential candidate. His administration’s emails fold into a national debate over the use of personal email accounts by government officials to discuss official business.

The issue was a prominent one during the administration of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
 The Palin punchline there is a bit fresher, though.  Maybe we should keep that one going.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Celebration In The Sinkhole

We were in a festive mood this afternoon so we decorated the bush that's been growing out the two and half year old pothole on the corner.

Celebration In The Sinkhole

Of course now that it looks nice, I'm sure the city will be out to fill the thing in ASAP.


Update: One day later we awoke to discover that half the ornaments including the star have already been removed.  This has to have happened between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 AM.  We choose to believe that someone really really needed holiday decorations at that time.

You'll be important to the important people when you die

NOLA Media Group's Ricky Mathews compiles a "community roundtable" of advisers "to point us to compelling stories and inspire us to write editorials."  Of course the Knights of the NOLA.com Roundtable are all establishment insiders. 

We believe these sessions will be invaluable to our work. We expect to gain insights we otherwise might not have. We expect to be prodded and, sometimes, chided. We expect input from Roundtable members to point us to compelling stories and inspire us to write editorials. And we expect our readers to benefit from the collective wisdom of this group.

At long last representatives of Entergy, Audubon, Touro, Tulane, Charter schools, and the Chambers of Commerce for Jefferson and Orleans Parish will have a real voice around here. We look forward to benefiting from their wisdom.

On the one hand we could say that at least they're being transparent.  It's always been a matter of course that the T-P's natural disposition is to serve as an establishment mouthpiece.  But there are degrees of brown nosing and, from the looks of things, NOLA Media's Ricky Mathews is a Class A talent there.  Back in May, as news of the changes at the TP  was still breaking, Gambit's Kevin Allman wrote,
Across town, Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a general statement of support for the paper, noting he had been a T-P paper boy in his youth and saying, "I look forward to talking with new management and others who have a stake in the future of The Times-Picayune to discuss how we can help the newspaper grow and not diminish."

That probably sounds like music to the ears of Mathews, who is said to be a guy who courts those in power — a stark contrast to Phelps, who avoided public relationships that might become conflicts for his newspaper. In Alabama, Mathews was the head of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC), created in 2010 after the BP oil disaster. The commission, a project of then-Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, was funded entirely with BP funds. Mathews used AL.com to promote both the CRC and its subsequent nonprofit arm, the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council, in chatty stories under his own byline. Some Picayune employees worry that Mathews will not hesitate to become involved in Louisiana politics in ways that Phelps shunned, at least publicly.
I get that there's some value to cultivating access to influential sources, but Matthews strikes me as someone who very badly wants to be in the club, so to speak, and will do anything to please the gatekeepers of club membership. Maybe he should by them each their own Loving Cup coffee mugs to use when they sit together at the Roundtable.

Update: I guess not everybody knows the song in the title here. Hard to find a good version on YouTube. This will have to do.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Disaster Capitalism

Not sure Blakely even wanted the job in the first place.  Why wear the bullseye as the guy everyone holds accountable when you can just wander the rubble collecting  speakers' fees wherever you find them.

This can't be the way it ends

I can't make myself believe the Saints will be eliminated from the playoffs this weekend. This football season has been too strange and has contained far too many twists to fade away gently.  There's no way this thing puts us out of our misery without stringing us along to the final week.

Now when we get to that final week I'm sure it will go badly in some way probably involving Steve Smith and a shiv or something.  But this week, we got this.  I mean, we have to since we're apparently cheating again and whatnot.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Quotes of the Day

Edwin Edwards:
"Sit by the river long enough. I did," Edwards said in a statement passed along by a longtime friend. The ex-governor and ex-convict was referencing one of his most famous bon mots, which he used memorably in May 2000 after his conviction for extorting riverboat gaming companies.
 And perhaps more appropriately from that same NOLA.com blurb.

"If the saint had killed a dragonfly instead of a dragon, nobody would remember him," Edwards said in an interview. "But when you do something like convict Edwin Edwards, after all the other people have tried for 20 years, it puts a feather in your hat. Whether you did it right or wrong, honestly or by the rules or not, is immaterial. It's a success story and I tip my hat to him."

H.L. Mencken (The actual Mencken) via NOLADefender

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth—that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

Galatoire's as tapas

I like Rene's Galatoire's theory here. In the set up, he addresses the "Tapas/Small Plates" fad in a way that helps explain the frustration with it I was trying to express earlier this week.
Few things are misunderstood in the American dining landscape more than "tapas." Just the name is confusing enough to allow restaurateurs to fool an unsuspecting public. Tapas has come to mean smaller portions served at three-quarters the price of a normal plate. It's a great con if you can get in on it. Next time you split a hamburger or only serve your friends three small shrimp, call it tapas and people will swoon towards you like Hemingway to booze.

I am no authority on tapas, but my idea of tapas is that of a free form experience built mainly around drinking and socializing, and lastly eating. The food component is mostly small snacks delivered here and there, quick bites of something salty or sweet, or savory or bitter. Eaten alone, with strangers, or in the company of friends, tapas describes a style of dining more than the dishes served. Tapas are ordered at a set pace - yours. You choose when to switch from sherry to beer or anchovies to foie gras. There may be a menu, but more than likely you pay it no attention. The bartender or waiter guides you as you order. After a few bites, you move on to a different topic of conversation, drink, or food.
The problem with the "small plates" trend you run into nowadays is most diners are still really looking to have an appetizer and an entree. But presenting a menu in "tapas" format  tricks rubes like me into ordering more items than we really need or expected to pay for when we sat down.  What Renee describes as an hours long sampling of food at a relaxed pace gets compressed into a standard turn of a restaurant table.  And because each item appears to be reasonably priced on the menu, the bill ends up being a sort of death by a thousand cuts. Thus the unsophisticated diner (Hello!) can wobble away from such an experience uncomfortably overstuffed in the belly and light in the pocket.

The rest of  the post is about how Galatoire's (if done correctly) isn't like that... and therefore Galatoire's is deemed "Worth it."  Since we're almost done with 2012 and I assume the series is ending. I'd like to take the opportunity to say again that I've very much enjoyed reading the "Is it worth it?" posts at Blackened Out this year.

I find I don't always agree with the verdict in these reviews but, as Renee says in this comment thread, that's maybe to be expected.
This has been a point of contention throughout the whole series. Namely, that my opinion isn't supported by what other people perceive to be the status of the place in question. The main idea behind this series was to actually go eat at these places no one every really eats at and to judge the food, ambiance, and experience as objectively as possible. I am not saying you are incorrect for not liking Mother's; but what I am saying is all of these places have gotten one meal. YEsterday that meal at Mother's happened to be very good.

I'll buy that. Furthermore I'll add it's even beside the point of the series anyway.  Instead, what's made these posts essential is they're based around the concept of locals maintaining their claim on their own celebrated institutions. Or at least, the idea is that locals should see these places as viable dining choices rather than always chase after the newest trend. New Orleans is still unique among popular tourist destinations in that a heavy proportion of its cliches still have actual meaning for the people who live there. I think we're always a little bit in danger of killing that culture but we haven't quite done it yet.

It's good for us as a city and, hopefully good for these restaurants to remind themselves that local reputation matters.  Otherwise, they really are nothing more than the "tourist traps" they're often accused of being.


Tomorrow never knows

Today could have been a very different sort of day for Ray Nagin.

Jindal: Let's have a fiscal cliff every year!

Of course if you want to create an annual crisis that forces you to privatize health care, cripple public education, and put scores of people out of work then I suppose you would think this is a good idea

In his op-ed, Jindal proposes that, as part of the budget negotiations, Republicans press for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The reason the “fiscal cliff” is scary is that it theoretically entails reducing the budget deficit next year by half a trillion dollars — a contractionary effect strong enough that, if left in place (which it won’t be), would send the economy back into a recession.

But of course if we had a balanced budget amendment in effect, we wouldn’t be implementing half a trillion in immediate deficit reduction. We’d be implementing a trillion in deficit reduction. And such fiscal cliffs would become a regular feature of American budget policy.
In other words, Jindal is arguing for something that would make the job match his resume.

Update: Left out the best part.
Bobby Jindal, in an op-ed today, seems to think the metaphor is not overwrought enough “Today it’s the fiscal cliff, but that surely will not be the end of it; next year it will be the fiscal mountain, after that the fiscal black hole, and after that fiscal Armageddon”
So Jindal has found a way to incorporate Creation AND Armageddon into public policy.  We're still waiting to see the practical application of his exorcism skills but that must be coming. 

Serpas Signal

Speaking of American Fascism...
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint on Thursday, December 6, 2012, in Orleans Parish. The check point will begin at approximately 9:00 P.M. and will conclude at about 5:00 A.M. Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc., available if requested.
So if you're out drowning your sorrows with Letten.. or celebrating with Fred Heebe... just be aware.

Is Jim Letten go?

Looking that way.

NEW ORLEANS —
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten will step down from his post at the U.S. Attorney's Office, sources tell the WDSU I-Team.
Quoting the great American Fascist parable of our day:

Commissioner James Gordon: The Joker won. All of Harvey's prosecutions, everything he fought for...undone. Whatever chance you gave us of fixing our city dies with Harvey's reputation. We bet it all on him. The Joker took the best of us and tore him down. People will lose hope. 

Batman: They won't. They must never know what he did.

In the fascist parable, the so-called "best of us" has just murdered five people. But the heroes decide it's best to build up and celebrate his phony reputation instead.  Expect plenty of that from the heroes in the NOLA commentariat in the coming days.

Moesley's latest column on this business begins with a helpful thought.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Things that won't be finished before the Super Bowl

We were in Bywater this evening to check out the "Robot Parade" put on as part of the Automata NOLA kinetic sculpture exhibit at the Ironworks Warehouse.  As it turned out there wasn't a whole lot of parade to the Robot Parade. Not a lot of robots either.  We saw exactly two robots pass us in the procession.  Of those two, only one was able to make much progress without frequent encouragement from its operator's foot.

The exhibits were pretty cool, though. And the outing gave us a chance to finally try Maurepas Foods where I am happy to recommend three of the six dishes we tried there.  This is becoming a familiar experience for us with "small plates" restaurants.  The format encourages us to order a whole bunch of stuff which is nice because it feels like we're getting a broad sampling of the menu.  But often, as was the case here, we end up with more food than we really needed. And no matter how much we enjoy the good dishes in that mix, the ones we don't care for as much, end up hurting the overall experience... not to mention unnecessarily over-inflating the bill.

It's frustrating because it leads us to think less about how good the bright spots were and more about how much better the meal would have been if we had ordered only those things.  The good thing is we know exactly what we would and wouldn't order if we end up going back.  And what's good here is worth going back for.  I just feel like I paid a heavy price figuring that out.

Before dinner we climbed the flood gate at Piety Street to sneak a peek at the Downriver park portion of the "Reinventing the Crescent" project. There had been some expectation that the park would open before the end of the year, or perhaps by the Superbowl deadline everything else in town is supposed to be spit-shined in time for. From the looks of things, they're probably going to miss that.

Crescent reinvention in progress

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Instead of MFP, next time try taking a rib

In essence, the judge ruled that, rather than draw from funds determined by the MFP formula meant for allocation to the public school system, Bobby Jindal's voucher program will have to.. um.. create its own money. Perhaps by speaking it into existence out of the ether.
Kelley, who issued a 39-page written ruling, said from the bench that Act 2 and SCR 99 unconstitutionally divert to nonpublic entities “MFP funds that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools.”

The judge also said in court that the act and concurrent resolution unconstitutionally divert to nonpublic entities “local funds included in the MFP that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated” to public schools. Local funds refers to tax dollars.

“While the Court does not dispute the serious nature of these proceedings nor the impact and potential effects on Louisiana’s educational systems, vital public dollars raised and allocated for public schools through the MFP cannot be lawfully diverted to nonpublic schools or entities,” Kelley wrote in his ruling.

“This Court does not propose to foreclose the State from establishing educational programs that are funded outside the constitutional limitations of the Minimum Foundation Program,” he added.
More from Lamar here. 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Conflicting reports

According to one source, there is "no end in sight"

But others maintain the inevitable approaches.

Expect more skirmishes

I appreciate Lunanola's work keeping us informed about this. And I'm pleased to see that this ordinance has been withdrawn (for now). But this deserves a quick comment.

Finally, I’m hoping that this becomes an opportunity for an inclusive and collaborative effort. These repeated skirmishes are tiresome for everyone; can we please move on, into new territory?
Nice thought but... nope. Politics is all about "repeated skirmishes." And Mitch is nothing if not a "my way or no way" guy. The goal is to be able to lease Jackson Square for private functions, filming, and corporate events on a regular basis. They'll be back with this within the next few months.

"Enterperneurial City Hall"

Interesting word choice.
Landrieu issued a statement later Friday saying that his administration supported the council's amendments. "As we have noted," he said, "this 2013 budget, like 2012, is going to be a challenge. In 2013, we will continue our strategy of cutting smart, reorganizing and investing. We're going to keep our nose to the grindstone to create a more flexible, entrepreneurial and forward-leaning City Hall so we can get the biggest bang for the buck and deliver the best services we possibly can for our residents."
Maybe he really doesn't understand that jamming all this empty business buzzspeak into his pronouncements implies that we're being governed by money.  But, no, I think he really means that and just thinks we're too stupid to notice or care.  He's probably right about that.

Meanwhile he's helped Mayor Leslie Jacobs privatize our public schools. He's helped Mayor Sean Cummings and Mayor Joe Canizaro turn our city into a luxury condo resort. And he's helping Mayor Kevin Wildes steal civil service protections and benefits in order to create a more corrupt political  crony-based "entrepreneurial" city workforce.

All of these Mayors are getting a lot of "bang for their buck" lately. It's an entrepreneur's dream.

Update: Of course City Hall has been a haven for the "entrepreneurial" class for years.
As a five-year statute of limitations looms, federal authorities are closing in on former Mayor Ray Nagin, unveiling a bill of information on Friday that charges businessman Rodney Williams with bribing the former mayor. Sources with knowledge of the case have said that "Public Official A" listed in the documents is the former mayor.
Mitch has a slightly more polished and phony  (more corporate perhaps?)  style than Nagin did but it's essentially the same.  Frankly I prefer Nagin's honesty though.

Nagin also talked about growing up in a lower middle class family, watching his father work as a custodian at City Hall, attending Catholic and public schools, and eventually plodding a career in business and eventually politics.

"Politics in New Orleans is the dominant industry, so I decided to get in," he said. "Besides tourism, politics dominates everything. I just think it's part of our legacy and our history. Politics is definitely a sport and something that the citizens pay attention to."

Politics and tourism are the dominant "industries." If you look at it this way, Nagin the upstart is really much more the "entrepreneur" than Mitch who just kind of took over the family business.

Sports and politics

I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea to cover politics "like it's sports".  A large number of us follow both with basically same part of our brains. (They're the two things, I'm most likely to post about, anyway.)

There are a number of valid theories as to why this is so but the best is both satisfy a populist democratic impulse to analyze and participate in shared civic exercises.  The difference there is that one of these exercise has real life consequences while the other exists for entertainment purposes only.  Sometimes, however, I do wonder which of those is which.

In any case, I'm as frustrated as anyone that the substance-free kind of reporting Politico does continues to thrive at a time when so many superior alternatives are available.  In sports terms it's the equivalent of ESPN delivering 24/7 Tebow or Jeff Duncan's failure to question Roger Goodell.

It's not actually more difficult or cost prohibitive to deliver a smarter product. In fact many many smaller-budget organizations and individuals can and do on a regular basis. But the big boys almost always seem most interested in giving us something stupid.

Probably not psychosomatic

Spent all day yesterday with a crippling fever and flu-like symptoms.... which can happen on any given Friday or Saturday morning, of course, but it's kind of scary when you know it has nothing to do with being hungover.

Anyway here's the quote of the day this morning.

Jonathan Vilma:  "here's a recap of yesterday's hearing "blah blah blah blah bounty bullsh** still dragging on blah blah blah witchhunt blah blah blah blah"