Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boutique strategy

In Saturday's Times-Pica-dot-com-media-thingy Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin wrote a scare piece that, when pared down to its bare minimum, reads: Because Detroit filed for bankruptcy last week, New Orleans has to make "tough decisions" with regard to its pension obligation toward firefighters as well as hours and medical coverage for city employees. 
By working closely with City Council, we closed a $100 million budget gap and cut millions in contracts, travel, take home cars, credit card use and overtime. We froze hiring, moved retirees from city-funded health insurance to Medicare, and furloughed every city employee for one day every other week.
Andy Kopplin makes $175,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Kopplin says, Mayor Landrieu is doing a terrific job! There is a "building boom" afoot. The Mayor personally "added 4,000 jobs" (no explanation of which specific jobs or how the Mayor "added" them).  The city is in the midst of a real estate boom.
Realtors say that the Uptown and Garden District neighborhoods attract out-of-towners relocating to the area through the burgeoning film, biomedical, digital media and software and creative industries. Tops on the list of their house demands: a place that looks and feels like old New Orleans, a historic home, a walkable neighborhood and access to retail districts like Magazine or Maple streets.

Casey said almost every good home listing in the area has multiple offers. Five buyers for a property is not uncommon. Even the most expensive houses on the market, for people relocating to New Orleans or buying a second home here, still look like a good deal to people from other areas of the U.S.

"Our big mansions are like lunch money," Casey said. "It looks so affordable to people from the West Coast or the Northeast."
This process is readily evident along  the Garden District-Central City  "cusp" where houses are being sold and renovated at an accelerated rate.  And, as far as I've been able to observe at least, the newly renovated properties are scarcely occupied.  There's one I know of that belongs to a young couple. But four others nearby are silent much of the year except for brief periods when they are in use either by part-time resident owners or short-term renters.

I'm sure there are some benefits to the rapid growth in real estate investment for the city.  Somebody has to pay those huge water bills, after all. Not to mention the police and prison consent decrees. Oh and there's the matter of shoring up local funding for flood protection maintenance.  Kopplin's Detroit comparison may be inappropriate, but this doesn't mean we don't have to worry about money in New Orleans. The city may be on the verge of a major revenue coup if it manages to wrest control of the Wisner property just as another Oil and Gas boom rolls in. But clearly another major revenue strategy involves cultivating a wealthier tax base.

Developer Pres Kabacoff articulates this in the recent film, "Getting Back To Abnormal." The film is about the 2010 municipal elections but a major side story involves the demolition of the "Big Four" housing projects on the east bank of Orleans Parish. Often public housing redevelopment is sold as an improvement.  We're told that "mixed-income" combined-use developments "de-concentrate" poverty and ultimately provide better services for the people the projects are designed to help in the first place.  In the film, Kabacoff dispenses with those talking points and says directly that poor people in New Orleans are, "a drag on the city's economy." The redevelopment plan isn't about improving their condition as much as it is about moving them out of the way.

Kabacoff shows up again in Katy Reckdahl's Advocate story this past Sunday about the coming redevelopment of the Iberville housing complex.
The plan is likely to spark a municipal renaissance, said developer Pres Kabacoff, a partner in the endeavor. Kabacoff believes the Iberville reconstruction is as important as the construction of the Superdome, the filling of the lakefront in the 1940s or the work done by his father, Lester Kabacoff, to revitalize the riverfront before the 1984 World’s Fair.

“Every 30 or 40 years, we do something dramatic in the city,” Kabacoff said. “And this is one of those projects.”
Eliminating this particular "drag" will spark a municipal renaissance! We mean another one. In addition to the one Kopplin assures us is already well underway. Soon a whole new swath of property can be open to vacation home grade investment.  Now that we have a better class of people moving in there, we can finally move that unsightly stretch of elevated highway out of their way too.

As for the people who we forced it on in the first place...

Mary McDaniel, 52, is in limbo while her Section 8 paperwork migrates through the HANO Section 8 department.

“We got our boxes packed. We’re just waiting for them,” she said, fretting that all of the good apartments downtown will soon be snatched up, leaving her and her neighbor Cynthia Jordan, also 52, “way far away, in eastern New Orleans or Chalmette somewhere.”

All residents receive Section 8 vouchers to help them pay rent on the private market. HANO has also hired movers and relocation advisers and is paying deposits for apartments.

But for many, the shift to vouchers will be difficult, predicts longtime Citywide Tenants leader Cynthia Wiggins, who heads Guste Homes in Central City and has been critical of Section 8 as a solution for the poorest public-housing families.

Inexperienced renters are more apt to rent from unreliable landlords who fail to keep up their properties, Wiggins said. Many residents will also find their bills — rent, plus light, gas and water — astronomical when compared with Iberville rents, which maxed out at $374 but could go as low as $50, depending on income.

Lifelong Iberville resident Morris Smith, 40, a kitchen manager in a prominent New Orleans restaurant, ended up in eastern New Orleans with his wife and daughter, who also work in hospitality-industry jobs a short walk from where they used to live. Unlike many Iberville residents, his family has a car, which they’re now juggling at all hours.

With nowhere to walk to, his wife feels sad and isolated. “She’s not feeling this distance thing,” Smith said.
In the Iberville, Smith was paying $373 in rent; he now pays nearly $850 in rent and utilities, putting the squeeze on other bills, he said.

Such struggles are seen across the nation, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology urbanist Lawrence Vale, whose most recent book, “Purging the Poorest,” examines national cutbacks in public housing. Because of that, Vale said, “I take little joy in the prospect of demolished public housing unless it’s accompanied by a clear commitment to finding better alternatives for displaced residents.”

And there's your urban renaissance in a nutshell.  Sure we'll build a "liveable" "walkable" community with lots of attractive entertainment amenities right around you.  But when we're done with that, we're gonna need you to move somewhere else.  Sure you can still come to work down here... oh but we're taking the nice road down too so get ready to sit in traffic.

In a city so invested in this sort of strategy, is it any wonder its line employees are receiving lectures from its well-paid executives about the "sacrifices" they'll be making?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Iconic re-structure

The bidding process over what happens to the WTC site isn't really about competing visions for the land.  All three groups are in agreement that public money should be spent on private hotel/condo development one way or another.  So the argument, such as it is, is really about who gets in on the deal. 

In this case, one of the parties appears to be willing to share the spoils with another.
The letter does not directly revise the The Tricentennial Consortium’s original proposal, but it makes clear that the group is hoping to amend and advance its troubled plan, if the city will allow it. The group suggests that it be allowed to work with the city on a new plan that includes the building and a long-term vision for the area surrounding it. Alternatively, the consortium said, it would like the city to consider allowing it to work with one of the competing bidders.
Not entirely sure but my guess is the Tricentennial group had the inside track and agreed to let Gatehouse in in order to stave off whatever PR flack they were getting as a result of their "Save the WTC" astroturfing.   We'll find out tomorrow.

Everything that goes robust, comes robust

Turns out John Georges also thinks the newspaper business employs too many people.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That's a wrinkle

I'm working on a more comprehensive post about yesterday's adventures with the Governor and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.  But this morning's Advocate brings up an issue I haven't considered in this editorial.
The scale of the lawsuit and its potential impact on public policy underscore the Flood Protection Authority’s obligation to conduct its business in the public interest. We must wonder if the authority’s strategy for advancing the lawsuit meets that standard.

The board did not publicly debate its decision to file the suit, a troubling move given the potentially sweeping consequences of the litigation. The board didn’t vote publicly to file the suit, although it did vote to hire attorneys who are now representing it in the litigation.

That omission raises troubling legal questions of its own. The board’s actions seem to violate the spirit if not the letter of the Louisiana Open Meetings Law.

Serpas Signal

After I watched that WVUE interview where a shooting victim talked about what isn't being done in New Orleans to help make it a safer place I checked my email and saw the latest notice about what is being done in the meantime.
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint on Thursday, July 25, 2013, 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.
Drive safely.


From WVUE's broadcast:
Cotton says what's missing is the outrage to help hold the corrupt accountable. "We're suffering needlessly, because there is enough money to help do significant work. But that money is not going in the right direction," she says "It's going to 6 million crime camera boondoggle hustles... And you know, it's going to S&WB rate hikes, where there are still no policies in place that protect us from being further swindled, waste and corruption. It's going toward programs we really don't know how to access."
FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If you happen to have some money to blow

The Lens is in the midst of a "Summer Fundraising" drive.  If you're reading any article on their site.. such as this one about today's City Council hearing on NOLA for Life issues. (Live-blogging at 1:00!)... you'll notice they've gone and got themselves one of those fundraising thermometer graphics and everything.  (Wonder how much that thing cost.) Anyway, if you feel like it, here's where you go to donate.

Meanwhile, this Friday there will be a benefit concert for Deb Cotton at the newest Freret Street venue Gasa Gasa. 

You can also still donate to Deb's medical fund by clicking here

Keep boiling your gas

Yesterday a funny thing happened. Someone asked me a question about the Uptown boil order and how long we could expect it to last. I began my answer with, "Well usually what happens with these is....." And that's when I realized that boil orders have become just one of those things we do now.

There's not even a definitive count of post-K boil orders in Orleans Parish. News accounts yesterday could only agree that it was somewhere between five and eight.  I can remember the first one pretty well. The others kind of blend together, though.

This morning, in the boil zone, there is little evidence of anything out of the ordinary.  I brushed and showered as usual. During past boil events, Menckles had stockpiled  coolers full of drinking water. This morning she just grabbed a coke from the fridge. The coffee shops are open. They have ice.

We're all used to the procedure. We've already used all the good jokes. This is just a thing that happens. This is a "usually."

And so is, by the way, this.
After a blowout occurred on a natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday morning, the rig caught fire when gas leaking from that well ignited, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement confirmed early Wednesday morning. No one was on board at the time of the ignition and no one was injured, according to BSEE.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Photos from the gas rig that blew today.

They erred on the side of duh

Over-abundance of duh.
State water safety standards require the S&WB to issue boil-water warnings if the pressure in the system, which normally is about 60 pounds per square inch, drops to 15 psi. St. Martin said pressure readings -- which are taken at 30 fire stations throughout the city -- never dropped below 16 psi, leaving officials in a quandary.

"We could not determine that, from the time of the initial break until those readings were taken ... if anyone in the immediate vicinity of the transmission main would have possibly had a drop in water pressure below 15 psi," she said.
It's always that last little statistically insignificant increment of measure that ends up being the doozy.  

Life immitates art

It's probably my fault.

All summer at the day gig I've been.. sort of.. teaching Earth Sciences to children for free. Nothing serious, mind you, just a few short talks about fossils or soil or geology with a powerpoint and some homemade props. It's only as good or as bad as the children's books and general Googling from which it is sourced.  If I wanted to go into teaching with those qualifications, John White would hire me on the spot.

Anyway so it happened that today's activity involved vulcanism. And since I've never left the 4th grade that means making stuff blow up.

Model volcano

I'm still inclined to just take this as a coincidence but it sure is strange that just as I was prepping this controlled blow-out, another one was well underway not too far from me.
A water main break in the Carrollton area is causing street flooding, and low water pressure in the Uptown area. The break was reportedly in the area of Spruce and Burdette Sts. The Sewerage and Water Board called the incident a large break, and did not immediately release a timetable for cleanup.
I read about the water main break just as soon as I picked up my phone in the morning. So between that and the fact that we're pretty much due for another one anyway, I figured there would be a boil order coming.  Sure enough, four hours later, 
The City issued a boil water advisory for much of the Uptown area. The area affected by the boil water advisory is bounded by S. Carrollton Ave., Maple Street, Loyola St. Jackson Ave. and the Mississppi River.
Of course I had already gone ahead and showered and brushed and so forth and was well on to making the volcano explode by the time the boil order was issued. But, like I said, I was expecting one anyway so I'm probably the idiot here. Jarvis Deberry might disagree.

But go ahead and take whatever precautions you think are necessary.  The New York Post recommends you wear blue latex gloves when handling your boiled water.

In the meantime, I'll try not to inspire the universe to emulate my goofy science projects while we... oh dear....

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Federal authorities say an uncontrolled flow of gas at a rig off the Louisiana coast forced the evacuation of 47 workers.

No injuries have been reported.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said it happened Tuesday morning about 55 miles offshore.

As of late Tuesday morning, the bureau statement said, gas continued to flow from the well, but no oil.
Not to worry, though. This is only the second such mishap this month so when you consider that it's no more or less unusual than a municipal boil water order it lends a reassuring sense of perspective.

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Monday and there should be content here

But it's an especially busy Monday so... sorry.  Finishing up a project from my assignment editor for publication tonight or tomorrow. Plus other things are happening.  In the meantime you can try NOLA.com for the latest breaking Royal Baby and/or Comic-con stories.  Or you can look in at The Lens where there's a wide-ranging round-up of locally and nationally relevant news waiting for you. It's your call. I won't tell you what to do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mid-summer spring cleaning

We're now less than 10 days away from the start of Saints training camp; the badly needed first hint of fall that breaks the summer monotony. 

One good way to start getting ready is listening to this recent Chronic podcast where Ralph Malbrough and Reid Gilbert get into the business of exorcising Bountygate. Soon it will be time to leave the Bountygate stuff behind and start getting some payback but it's worth delving back in one time just to regain the feel for how things are.  Reid's book is still available here, by the way.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why have they never learned how this works?

Brian Beutler, just... look, no.
But after that, I think there’s a good chance that the legislative assaults against the ACA will stop. That all depends on how smoothly the roll out goes. But if enrollment goes as planned, and the problems are minor and temporary, the whole question of repealing the law will take on a completely different character than it has right now. Right now, repealing the law entails rescinding some real, but fairly ancillary benefits. After January 1, voting for repeal will mean voting to kick a small country’s worth of people off of their health insurance.

That’s a bad vote to take. I don’t think Republican leaders are going to be super eager to take it. If that’s right, then the fight over Obamacare will change overnight. And that’ll be the first major political consequence of implementation.
No. That's never how it works. Republicans will gleefully "kick a small country's worth of people off of their health insurance" because that's what they do.  Then they will turn around and say these same people now have no insurance because "Obamacare failed" and this will be a winning argument. A lot of people who are currently angry at Obama will gladly accept a new reason to continue in that anger. 

Maybe they should try making a Hospitality Zone

City of Detroit files for bankruptcy.

Bad bad news.

Orr's spokesman Bill Nowling said, "Pension boards, insurers, it's clear that if you're suing us, your response is 'no.' We still have other creditors we continue to have meetings with, other stakeholders who are trying to find a solution here, because they recognize that, at the end of the day, we have to have a city that can provide basic services to its 700,000 residents."

This week, the city's two pension funds (which have claims to $9.2 billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities) filed suit in state court to prevent Orr from slashing retiree benefits as part of a bankruptcy restructuring.

Ambac Assurance Guaranty, which insures some of the city's general obligation bonds, has also objected to Orr's plan to treat those bonds as "unsecured," meaning they're not tied directly to a revenue stream and would receive pennies on the dollar of their value. Ambac, and other creditors, have threatened to file suit.

Sources agree that Orr's deal with creditors, widely reported to be Bank of America Corp. and UBS AG, to pay a $344-million swap with a $255-million debtor-in-possession loan, is instrumental in the timing of the bankruptcy filing.
Who gets paid first? Municipal retirees or Bank of America.  Can't wait to see how that works out.  Would it help if they opened a Booty's?

Serpas Signal

Hope everyone in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail has had an enjoyable time thus far. Hope you aren't having to do much driving between events.  Especially not tonight. 
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint, in Orleans Parish, on Thursday July 18, 2013, 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. 
Luckily, these days visitors to the newest and hippest downtown watering holes "street food" and craft cocktail driven "blogstaurants"  have all sorts of alternative transportation options

We regularly count the number of empty parking spots outside of Booty’s on busy nights. Even with a completely full house, 50 people eating and drinking inside, we consistently count between ten and as high as twenty spots open on the four blocks that Booty’s sits on the corner of. It turns out that the majority of our customers are coming to Booty’s on their feet, on their bikes, and by taxi (Especially astonishing to us, as taxis literally and uniformly refused to drive to Bywater for the year we spent building Booty’s.). Pedicabs and limousines (!!!) have even become frequent fixtures here, dropping off guests, but gridlocked traffic and a dearth of parking spots? Not so much.
Prior to the advent of Booty's (circa 2012) no cabs would ever go to Bywater! That is an amazing fact. Is there a way we can extend this development strategy to other neighborhoods?  What sort of social media based tapas and networking establishment could we build in Algiers that might encourage the next pedi-ferry start-up to go into business?  If I get to Booty's this weekend I'll be sure and ask.  I'm a little short on limo fare right now, unfortunately.  But, hey, free parking, right?

Messing with Texas

This was a pretty funny Lewis Black segment.  But I wish he would have taken the half second necessary to point out that these are actually Perry for President commercials and not just acts of random weirdness.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Xenophopic" hipster haters

Sound familiar? It's a common accusation aimed at New Orleanians less than enthusiastic about the sale of their city out from under them.   Here's an article about San Francisco
Carl Nolte, the old native son who writes a column for the (dying) San Francisco Chronicle, said this month of the future inhabitants of 22,000 high-priced apartments under construction, "These new apartment dwellers will all be new San Franciscans, with different values. In a couple of years we'll think of the progressive politicians, circa 2012, as quaint antiques, like the old waterfront Commies your grandfather used to worry about. This is already a high-tech city, an expensive city, a city where middle-class families can't afford to live. It is a city where the African American population has dropped precipitously, where the Latino Mission District is gentrifying more every day. You think it's expensive here now? Just you wait. These are the good old days, but it won't last. We are at a tipping point."

Mr. Nolte, you can tell, doesn't particularly like this. A guy named Ilan Greenberg at The New Republic popped up to tell us that we must like it—or face his ridicule. He writes, "Ironically, the anti-gentrifiers themselves undermine San Francisco's liberal ethos. Opposed to newcomers? Wary of people whose values you don't understand? Critical of young people for not living up to an older generation's ideals? It all sounds very reactionary and close-minded." The problem is that we understand Silicon Valley's values all too well, and a lot of us don't like them.

Adding newcomers might not be so bad if it didn't mean subtracting a lot of those of us who are already here. By us I mean everyone who doesn't work for a gigantic technology corporation or one of the smaller companies hoping to become a global monolith. Greenberg (who is, incidentally, writing for a publication quietly bought up by a Facebook billionaire) sneers at us for defending middle-class people, but "middle class" is just a word for those of us who get paid decently for our work. People at various income levels in a diversity of fields here in San Francisco are being replaced by those who work in one field and get paid extremely well. Small, alternative, and nonprofit institutions are also struggling and going down. It's like watching a meadow being plowed under for, say, Monsanto genetically modified soybeans.

Read the whole thing.

Sometimes people can be oh so dense

While we in New Orleans are concerning ourselves with whether or not we need to build an "Iconic Structure on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis" a friend from a parallel internet was good enough to share with us this cautionary tale from 19th Century London.
In 1889, Paris unveiled the magnificent Eiffel Tower. It was a worldwide sensation. London, meanwhile, was green with stiff-upper-lip envy. Not about to be outdone, city officials announced a competition for a grand monument of its own, and revealed 68 of the entries in a showcase catalog.
The designs are pretty funny. But most surprising to me was that one of them actually received the go-ahead. But then..well,
In the end, entry number 37 designed by Stewart, McLaren, and Dunn won the 500 guinea prize for their plan for a tower that, alas, still looked strikingly similar to its Paris counterpart. It called for a 1,200-foot oriental-style steel tower with panoramic views, and three different stages. The first stage was to be 20,000 square feet, including an octagonal central hall, and a 90-bedroom hotel. The second would have an additional 10,000 square-foot hall, and the third would have a restaurant and other vague amenities. Construction began in 1892 but stopped short at 154 feet, when the project ran out of money. And there the botched structured remained, known as the London Stump or Watkins Folly, until 1904 when it was demolished for safety reasons. In 1923, Wembley Stadium was built over the site.
Today the questions put to the three entities bidding to redevelop the Trade Mart site were made public.
Many of the questions directed at the Tricentennial Consortium centered on that project’s management, operation and financing.

The committee has asked for a list of owners, officers and directors in the alliance and for the name of the “developer entity” that would enter into a lease with the New Orleans Building Corp., the city agency that acts as landlord for the building. The question of who would operate the consortium’s proposed structure also was raised by the Bureau of Governmental Research in a report released earlier this month.
I suppose Stephen Perry or Ron Forman could fill out that list of directors. Not sure who is gonna keep Mitch Landrieu's eventual seat warm until his second term is up but I'm sure they can find someone.

As the debate over the Trade Mart site progresses, inevitably some booster will compare critics of the proposed Iconic Structure to the Parisian naysayers who once tried to say nay to the Eiffel Tower itself.  But  the Tricentennial monument is destined to be more like the failed London copycat than the Paris icon. Rather than an unprecedented testament of artistic vision, it would be a desperate and image-conscious attempt to import a pre-fabricated idea from somewhere else. And while we're used to seeing this sort of corporatized conformity of thought from Mayor Landrieu and his allies who run the the hospitality industry in this town, New Orleans probably deserves better than that.

Target marketing

A spam email I received this afternoon asks if I would like some help teaching my linebackers to "read and recognize" plays. And, you know, that's probably something I should consider.
No. 9: Can Will Smith make the transition from DE to OLB?

Will Smith is a 6-foot-3, 282-pound 32-year-old who has started 120 of 139 games in the NFL. The wear-and-tear and toll on his body has been heavy.

And he’s changing defensive coordinators one again, the fifth time since 2004 he has found himself playing under a new system and/or a new coach.
I'm still probably not going to buy the video, though. I don't think they're offering a discount if your linebacker happens to be as old and fat and... not a linebacker as Smith is.

Surprised it took this long

Since we've already seen the graft, labor exploitation, and political hubris characteristic of the national quasi-privatized education reform movement in Louisiana, I was wondering when we'd run across the inevitable academic fraud too.  Looks like we're there.

Moment of Zen

Watch Elizabeth Warren calmly fend off this multi-directional attack of screaming stupid.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sisyphus builds a levee

Sinking sections of eastern New Orleans hurricane levee prompt $1.3 million repair

The corps expected this area to settle significantly in a relatively short amount of time, and Gilmore said and "surveys of the reach (will) be taken annually for the first few years." The repair will raise the levee for at least five  to 10 years, he said. After that, he said, "a lift may be required to maintain the 100-year elevation."  The levee was actually "overbuilt," raised to between 18 1/2 and 19 feet, or 1 1/2 to 2 feet above the 100-year level, and is being raised to that level again.

And we're just getting into the fun part of the season.


McDonald's attempts to compensate for its below-sustenance wage business model by teaching its employees how to better manage their meager finances.  Let's watch what happens.
In what appears to have been a gesture of goodwill gone haywire, McDonald's recently teamed up with Visa to create a financial planning site for its low-pay workforce. Unfortunately, whoever wrote the thing seems to have been literally incapable of imagining of how a fast food employee could survive on a minimum wage income.
"Gesture of goodwill" my foot. Companies subject workers to this kind of condescending "training" all the time.  Department cutbacks having a negative impact on morale? Better schedule some customer service training to make sure everybody knows they're being held accountable for that bad attitude. Health insurance premiums going up? Put together a "fitness team" to remind your fat-ass employees just how much risk they add to the group plan.   There are countless examples of this. It's always a means of transferring blame from the employer to the individual.

McDonald's is a multi-national mulit-billion dollar business built on paying people less than a living wage.  Because our minimum wage laws are as weak as they are, what this ultimately means is government services subsidize these exact business practices.
Of course, minimum wage workers aren't really entirely on their own, especially if they have children. There are programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit to help them along. But that's sort of the point. When large companies make profits by paying their workers unlivable wages, we end up subsidizing their bottom lines.
And we know that doesn't sit very well politically as Krugman pointed out earlier today.  
What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea Party, called “losers.” If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold. 

So McDonald's blames these hapless minimum wage workers. The message is, "Look, we tried to teach these losers financial planning but they're all sponging off of the taxpayer anyway! Tsk tsk."

Chutzpah is definitely in this season

"Do the right thing," says BP.

On Monday the company launched a fraud hotline for “people who want to do the right thing and report fraud or corruption” in connection with the court-approved process of submitting claims for damages following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Tipsters can call the toll-free number (1-855-662-3728, or 1-855-NO-2-FRAUD) to anonymously report anyone filing fraudulent claims.


Picking up momentum.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - About 1,900 state employees received pink slips in the just-ended budget year, nearly as many workers as were laid off during the four prior years of Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

Lost hierarchy of land

It's probably the case that the city was always going to make a major play for the Wisner Trust land once 2014 came around. What wasn't necessarily going to be the case was that the administration leading the charge would be as ruthless as this one is.
Last Thursday, the City filed a motion in response to the Wisner heir's motion for partial summary judgement on whether or not the Trust was perpetual and if the Mayor, in his role as Trustee, has to obtain the advice of the Committee before he spends the City's portion of the money.  Mayor Landrieu and the City of New Orleans' counter-motion not only claims the Trust is dissolved, it claims the City and the Mayor are the sole heirs to the Wisner Trust properties and any monies generated by the assets.

That would exclude not only the heirs from their 40% ownership, it also eliminates Tulane, LSU (Charity Hospital), and the Salvation Army's interest in the Trust.

He wants it all....and he's going all in.
Expect counter-suits on behalf of the other parties. It's big pot of money they're fighting over. And it's bound to become an even bigger pot of money in years to come.


The climate's unhealthy, the flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later, the end will arrive.

But Reuters has other priorities.

From very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas. Being stubborn, and passionate about my climate change beat, I largely ignored the directive.

It was a strange repositioning of editorial focus for Asia, which has some of the world’s top polluters and some of the greatest environmental challenges taxing economies and governments.

In April last year,
Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.

Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters – the climate of fear.

Monday, July 15, 2013

James O'Keefe vs Jim Letten

Surely there is video of this incident. Surely we should demand to see it.

After leaving the Letten home, O’Keefe and at least five others then moved on to Tulane University, Letten’s alma mater, where Letten now serves as assistant dean for experiential learning at the law school, after resigning as U.S. Attorney in December following an online posting scandal that involved two of his top lieutenants.

Letten, a Republican, had recused himself from the Landrieu case because the father of one of the charged men was a federal prosecutor whom Letten knew. But O’Keefe was intent on confronting the former U.S. attorney anyway, tracking him down on the Tulane campus and accusing him of “ruining my life,” a source with knowledge of the incident said.

By now, Letten was aware of O’Keefe’s visit to his home. Furious, he unleashed a loud verbal tirade on O’Keefe. He also alerted various law enforcement authorities, including the FBI and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

According to a Tulane police report, O’Keefe and the others were “issued restricted presence letters” -- basically an order to clear off -- and escorted off campus. No arrests were made.

"So far"

So far, video of the altercation has not surfaced on O’Keefe’s web site or elsewhere online. Neither O’Keefe nor an associate at the web site immediately responded to questions about the incident.

Now is it safe to turn the news back on?

The conservative/establishment media whores who just spent the past month race-baiting America by shoving the Zimmerman soap opera in our face are disappointed that America didn't bite
Did police scramble in the wake of the verdict to prevent anything from going sour in the cities? Yes. It just seems noteworthy that very little went sour. "Urban blacks may riot when X goes wrong for them" is a perennial story, one that got written in the run-ups to elections in 2008 ("Police fear riots if Barack Obama loses US election") and 2012 ("New threats to riot if Obama loses the election"). An act of civil disobedience that blocks traffic—on a Sunday, not even rush hour!—isn't an act of fury that tears a country apart. Honestly, don't the panic-mongers remember what it felt like when peaceful Tea Partiers were accused of incipient anti-government violence?

Some crazy Twitter trolling has advised me that I should take a moment's pain here to spell out for everyone that I believe the Sanford, Florida incident to be a terrible miscarriage of justice. A young man was murdered because an armed rent-a-cop, informed by a set of pervasive racial prejudices and bullying tendencies, acted on his disgusting paranoia.  Said rent-a-cop went free because we have terrible laws regarding what stupid paranoid rent-a-cops are allowed to do with the weapons they are stupidly allowed to carry.

But even this horror is further perverted by the media whores who demand a circus and expect the worst from all of us. Apparently they weren't rewarded with the violent outrage they tried to manufacture. Sucks to be them.

No matter.  Eric Holder might bite and give them a stupid conspiracy theory as a consolation prize, though.

Zimmerman has perversely become a folk hero to some conservatives, many of whom also believe Holder wants to confiscate guns and is perhaps a Manchurian candidate operating DOJ on behalf of the New Black Panthers.

A federal Zimmerman prosecution would thus fuse two fringe views into one giant conspiracy theory. And it could happen.

Anything to keep the circus going.

If you're headed uptown you might want to take the bike

You sure won't get very far driving.
That project (Freret Street repaving) will join a series of others — a similar repaving of Broadway Street, the ongoing construction of a new drainage canal under Napoleon Avenue, the recent commencement of the same project on Jefferson Avenue, the upcoming start of another canal project on Louisiana Avenue, and the year-long repairs to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line — that place most of the major thoroughfares through the interior of Uptown New Orleans under some sort of roadwork.
Remember, though, if you are going to biking near frustrated motorists, you might want to give them some extra space. 


Lamar corrects the Times-Picayune's reporting on the voucher audits:
Ironically, the only reason New Living Word School was kicked out of the program is because it was one of the few schools that actually maintained a separate account for its voucher funds and one of only two schools in the entire program subjected to rigorous scrutiny.

Superintendent White's spin on this story is brazenly disingenuous; the two audits did not demonstrate the Department of Education's commitment to "accountability." If anything, in claiming that 116 of the 117 audited schools were in compliance, Superintendent White is implicitly promoting a system devoid of accountability and ripe for abuse. If New Living Word School had been savvy, it would have simply deposited its voucher money into its general account, and no one would be the wiser.

De La Salle High illuminati

This week's Gambit cover story (not yet online.... also not really a story so much as a series of blurbs from the staff) is one of those, Are You A Native Or A Transplant gimmicks that transplants tend to be so over-sensitive about.

Unsurprisingly, the "Where'd you go to high school?" issue comes up. But this has kind of fallen into the realm of the cliche' lately. It's one of many myths we still like to tell each other about New Orleans that doesn't quite reflect reality.

When it did exist, the high school question was a quirky means of making small talk with strangers.  New Orleans is an overgrown small town and most of us are socially separated by two to four degrees at most. Beginning a conversation with, "Where'd you go to high school" used to be a pretty reliable key to figuring out how you might know a new person or which people you know in common with them.

People still try to do this, of course.  But they're less likely to try and figure you out by way of your high school because, for one thing, the school system in New Orleans has been in such flux that it's no longer the static identifier it once was and, for another, post-Katrina times have brought such an influx of people from other cities that it wouldn't matter anyway.  If you're new to town, you're much more likely to hear someone warn you you'll be asked about your high school than you are to have the question put to you in earnest.

So I was all set to write that nobody actually cares about where you went to high school anymore. But then here's an Advocate feature on incoming U.S. Attorney Ken Polite where we learn,
He was born to teenage parents and raised, early on, in the Calliope and Lafitte housing projects of New Orleans and then in the Lower 9th Ward. He went on to become the first African-American valedictorian of De La Salle High School in New Orleans before going to Harvard University.
Polite's accomplishment there is noteworthy in and of itself, of course. But there's something else about this that's pretty remarkable. Jim Letten, the man Polite is replacing, is also a De La Salle grad.  As is Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizaro. As is Senator David Vitter whose (somewhat whiny) decision to not object to Polite's nomination has cleared the way for his appointment. The school clearly holds some mystical "Skull & Bones" type influence over the local criminal justice apparatus.

Cedric Richmond went to Ben Franklin. But he supports Polite anyway. In particular he supports Polite's stated intention to beef up his office's focus on prosecuting street crime even if this means a drop-off in the emphasis on public corruption. At least, Vitter strongly implied that it might mean that. Richmond disagrees but also takes the argument a step further.
“The last time I checked, public corruption didn’t kill a damn person in the city of New Orleans,” Richmond said. “Having 200-plus murders is absolutely unnecessary. And if the senator doesn’t have that concern, then that’s his problem.”
Please don't take this as a defense of David Vitter's catty remarks. But Richmond's statement here is not exactly true.  Public corruption can and does at the very least endanger lives. It can lead to the subversion of environmental protections, flood control structures, as well as the delivery of services that directly impact the lives and health of citizens.

Oh and sometimes public corruption just shoots people and burns their bodies in a car behind the levee.

But Richmond is telling us, in kind of a New Orleans way, that we shouldn't focus on that stuff because we're too busy fighting the war on terror, or something like that anyway. New Orleanians may not ask each other where they went to high school anymore but they're probably not as worn out on wanting to know who is stealing what from them. Or, at the very least, that question does still retain its relevance.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Isn't it a little late to be asking these questions?

These home elevation grants, might be a "boondoggle" just as Stacy Head blurted yesterday but all that was really clear from the Lens article that prompted her assertion was that Landrieu's City Hall hasn't been forthcoming with the information necessary to make a determination one way or another.  Yet this hadn't prevented Council from unanimously rubber stamping the requests.

Ordinances 29,586 and 29,587 are good examples of how difficult it can be to scrutinize the budget. They appear to be worth nearly $12 million in federal grant money, but they’re arguably worth only about $2.2. million. They appear to allocate nearly $1 million apiece for flood mitigation on a handful of homes. That turns out not to be the case, but the houses are still receiving large grants.

Ultimately, privacy restrictions on the grants make it impossible to determine exactly how the money is being spent, or whether it’s being spent wisely.

Ordinances 29,586 and 29,587 breezed through committee and onto the council’s consent agenda — a group of noncontroversial items usually approved en bloc — with little attention.

As written, the ordinances appropriate federal grant money totaling $11,798,031 “for elevation of second story conversion and wind retrofit of twelve residential historic structures.”

No more details were provided in the ordinances themselves, and no more from City Budget Director Cary Grant when he presented them to the council’s Budget Committee last month.

“Is there a motion? Second? All in favor? Aye. Ayes have it. Moving right along,” City Councilwoman at-Large Jackie Clarkson said as the committee voted on the item. That was the extent of debate on the two ordinances, which appear to allocate about $980,000 for each of the 12 houses. The ordinances are up for a final vote Thursday.
Funny how that changes as soon as it hits the news.  Guess Jackie's staff is going to have even more stuff to do now.

Oh what a funny thing it was that I did to them

Jackie is practically beaming with pride over pissing off her staff.

After a nearly five-hour council meeting on Thursday, Clarkson’s staff had had enough. They gave her a list of demands and told her they wouldn’t be coming in on Friday. “We had a very full agenda and I was giving a lot of orders and so they just got pushed to the wall,” Clarkson explained.

She insisted that everyone would be back at work on Monday after taking some time to cool off, but she made no apologies for plowing ahead in her last few months in office.

“I’m going harder than ever because I want to get so much done in such little time,” she said.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Self flagellation

The Lens may be looking at this the wrong way(Ha!) Given everything they've done to wreck the university itself, maybe the LSU board members are just trying to minimize the value of this political perk they're burdened with.

Occasional airing of the greivance

While they're busy figuring out how they're going to cut faculty, staff, and benefits more drastically, do our university presidents have anything else to do?  I mean, besides determine who runs every department in the city, of course.

Details of the plan include:
  • Reducing the board membership from 13 to 11 seats by eliminating three reserved for council members, some of whom in the past have meddled with the contracting process, and adding an eighth mayoral appointment. The mayor, who serves as board president, and two appointments from the Board of Liquidation, City Debt, the city's debt manager, will round out the final three seats.
  • Reducing members' terms from nine years to four and limiting them to two, consecutive terms. Current board members' terms will expire as soon as their replacements are appointed.
  • Creating a selection committee comprised of local university presidents and business leaders that will offer a list of three nominees for each future vacancy from which the mayor can choose an appointment.
  • Mandating that the mayor appoint at least one board member from each of the city's five council districts and that membership reflect New Orleans' gender and racial makeup.
  • Requiring the S&WB provide quarterly reports on its contracts to the council.

Why can't Jimmy read?

James Varney doesn't know how to read an audit. Writes a column about it anyway.
Mr. Varney obviously didn’t bother to read the audits. It was far easier for him to take Superintendent White’s word for it, shine up some fuzzy math, and recite a litany of conservative talking points on “school choice” than it was for him to actually do his homework. After reading the audits and then reading Mr. Varney’s column, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for the guy. 
You'd think that, as an educator, White wouldn't have wanted to encourage this behavior. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lawyers gonna lawyer

The most important thing I took away from  Gasland 2 which aired on HBO Monday night is we're not only on the way to becoming a third world democracy-in-name-only, we pretty much have been that for some time.

Industry does what it wants to do. People try to take them to court or lobby their representatives and get treated as "insurgents" literally.
Recordings of a gas industry conference at which public relations managers are told to study the Army’s counterinsurgency manual — because “we are dealing with an insurgency” when it comes to protesters and angry homeowners — are both hilarious and horrifying. Mr. Fox’s account of the Pennsylvania government’s hiring of a private company to monitor fracking protesters, an episode not widely covered outside the state, is particularly valuable.
And, in the end, whatever progress the "insurgents" think they might have made is eventually just vetoed by the puppet government anyway. (Seriously, this is exactly what happened.)

I think it's been a while since most of us mattered much at all as citizens.  We're getting less and less important as labor.  And we're getting to a place where we aren't even very important as consumers anymore either.  So the America we're moving toward is one where very large portions of the population are idle and poor and without prospect for much of anything except frightening elites.  But that's okay. They've got ways to deal with that.   
In a series of 2007 interviews explaining his motivation for launching Bulletproof Securities out of his existing real estate business, owner Tom Perrella (who we profile here) pointed to the example of 9/11. “We see things changing and the threats coming here. And it’s something that is going to be more frequent in the future … There’s no way our government can secure and protect with the situation we’re in. We’re trying to bridge the gaps between private security contractors and local government and law enforcement.”

Private security services are nothing new. But the trend to more paramilitary types of protection in an era of demonstrably diminished risk is something new. In addition, as our society becomes economically stratified, with a tiny segment living in a wildly different world than everyone else, you have some rational need for security but also the desire for security chic as another accoutrement of wealth or conspicuous consumption.

But  before we get too sidetracked, the point of all this is  I don't have much hope that the legal process will ever coerce BP to pay what is necessary to fix the dying Louisiana coast.  And given everything I just described above, I think I'm pretty justified there. I know the ongoing litigation is everyone's One Cause For Hope in this regard.  But all that we know about politics and precedent suggests that ultimately BP will be OK and we won't.

In the meantime, though, there's plenty of money to skim out of the process.  Yesterday Dambala published another post about suspicions that insider attorneys have been manipulating the claims process in a way that may ultimately squeeze out far too many legitimate claimants. I can't speak to that directly until I understand more about who precisely benefited from the supposed queue jumping. For instance, this commenter suggests that we look at the specific circumstances of the clients for clues as to why their claims were resolved when they were. 

But it is worth noting that Damabala's post was in response to a New York Times article where we find major media already siding with a multi-national oil company against the people of Louisiana. Dambala concludes,
Well, this poor, little company that is being taken advantage of has decimated the economy, ecology and culture of this state....and the damage continues to this day, with no end in sight.  If Mr. Nocera wants to fly down here and take a tour of the Louisiana coast, I'd be happy to show him the damage that has been done and what continues to unfold.  I can pull up over 100 blog posts on this blog, and others, that document it...much of it on video.  More importantly, I can drive him to the people that are suffering and show him the irreparable damage that's been done to our environment.

A distinction needs to be drawn between the lawyers/judge(s)/politician(s), that comprise the PSC/DHECC vis-a-vis the hard working people of the Gulf Coast, Louisiana folk, in specific.  These two classes of people mix like oil and water (forgive me).

What we have in this article, is a monkey howling in a tree, throwing turds at one pack of hyenas in defense of another pack.  Never mind the slaughter that's taking place underneath.
 The slaughter underneath, that's us. Get used to it.

Bubble bursting

I don't know but I suspect the sudden enrollment problem at Loyola may be the tip of the iceberg.
Loyola University is facing a $9.5 million budget shortfall for its next fiscal year because the number of students enrolling in the college next month is about 30 percent below the expected total, officials said Tuesday. In an attempt to reduce the deficit, Loyola President Kevin Wildes, S.J., said a hiring freeze will start Aug. 1 and voluntary severance and early-retirement packages will be offered.

Other possible budget options, he said, include hiring temporary employees to reduce the amount Loyola would have to spend on benefits, drawing down more from the endowment interest -- a move that would require approval from the board of trustees -- and reducing the time some employees work, with some going from 37½ hours a week to 30 hours a week and others going from 12 months a year to 10 months.
The universities are major employers in New Orleans. This is going to affect a lot of people.  And their operations are highly dependent on various forms of credit and subsidy much of which is drying up with negative effects becoming more and more evident.

Maybe Scott Cowen got out while the getting was good.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Morrell with less

Get it? Because.... see... okay I'm just gonna stop there.
A long-running financial feud between the city and Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell led to a stalemate late Tuesday when Morrell sent out a press release announcing that one section of court will be shut down because city budget cuts have made it impossible for him to staff it.

Uh oh

I know we may have to wait two or three years but I look forward to the day when we go to court to learn how badly this company has been victimized.

Natural gas is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from an oil and natural gas production platform off the coast of Plaquemines Parish, where the U.S. Coast Guard says a crew lost control of a well on Tuesday. Crew was safely evacuated after the well was unable to be brought back under control, according to the Coast Guard.

The well, located 74 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, is owned Energy Resource Technology Gulf of Mexico LLC, who reported the incident. Workers were looking to temporary plug the well when they lost control of the well, according to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard could not confirm how many workers were evacuated.

Monday, July 08, 2013

"Irreparable injustices"

BP says, once again, they're really the victim in all this.

Pip Brennan addresses his demoralized ex-employees

Actually, it's worse.

Pip’s entire July 6 statement reads:

"We did not close Brennan's restaurant. Its closure was a shock to us too. Concerned parties should call Ralph Brennan and or Terry White, the new owners of the building who are responsible for closing Brennan's restaurant, or Ted Brennan who caused the financial chaos that led to the building's sale. We had regained control of Brennan's only three weeks before the closure. Our goal is to reopen at 417 Royal Street or another location as quickly as possible and bring back all our employees."
Hey don't come to me if you want to get paid.  But, hey, can't wait to see you all at the new place!

Oh and also.

Because.. I know, right?

And your little dog too

The defendant, having just been convicted of witchcraft, howls a parting curse at his accusers.
Greg Collins, the hearing officer for the case, slapped Illies with a $150 fine plus a $75 hearing cost.

Both the fine and the hearing cost must be paid within 30 days of jackhammering the paving.

Illies said he plans to appeal and, in a parting shot, waved his arm toward the audience and warned that he is going to report unspecified code violations on his neighbors’ properties.

Two quick bits about tropical forecasts

First, when the storm is this far out, the models are telling us less about when and where the storm is going and more about what day in the week we should actually start paying attention to the models.

In Chantal's case, that appears to be Thursday at the earliest.

Second, when we do get into "spaghetti model" territory, it's helpful to remember that, a few years ago, Varg gave us a helpful pronunciation guide.

He should be about ready to jump anyway

How long has John White been with us now? We've already agreed that he's a bureaucrat of the traveling carnie variety; always looking to leap to the next gig before the consequences of his current grift become too apparent.  

 Back in May, Tom Aswell was speculating that White might be about ready to take the next step on up that ladder. Here's Lamar calling for his resignation anyway just in case that isn't what he already had planned.
I’m not trying to be purposely evocative or confrontational here, though I recognize I’m doing precisely that. Either way, Superintendent John White provided a stunningly naive understanding of these issues, a reflexive and patently dishonest reaction to his own negligent laissez-faire escapade on school vouchers: All they had to do was apply. No real auditing. No accountability or transparency. The mission was simple: Attract as many schools as possible, accept them into program, and answer questions later.
Usually the plan is to be on off to the next job before the questions get too annoying.

Monday morning procrastination link-a-roo

We begin this morning with a cosmological riddle.
People often say that time speeds up as we age, but if the latest scientific theory is true the opposite could well be the case.

The radical theory by academics suggests that time itself could be slowing down - and may eventually grind to a halt altogether.

The latest mind-bending findings - put forward by researchers working at two Spanish universities - proposes that we have all been fooled into thinking the universe is expanding.
The universe being  the huge place that it is, these effects may be localized relative to your point of view.  For example, in New Orleans, we're already aware that time begins slowing down around the beginning of July and virtually grinds to a halt somewhere between Independence Day and the start of football season.  This is also prone to happen at any given moment where Jackie Clarkson happens to be speaking.

Oddly, though, there are places when and where it is most certainly speeding up, such as the Monday morning interval between the alarm going off and whenever it is I'm supposed to be at work.  Today our standard Newtonian conception of time tells us that is 2 hours.  But here all I've done is glance at my phone and put on the day's first gallon of coffee to brew and over half of that has gone by.  One barely has time to even muster the resentment necessary to carry one's momentum forward into the day.

In pursuit of that end, though, here is some of the news one might glance at this morning.

  • This  New Republic article is titled Whatever Happened to Bobby Jindal? but it's really about how the longstanding animus between Jindal and David Vitter has shaped state politics over the course of Jindal's term in office. The article dates the beginning of the schism to the height of Vitter's lady troubles in 2007, but I'm pretty sure it goes further back than that and would have been inevitable under any circumstances.

  • The Advocate picks at some low hanging "government waste" fruit in the form of an occasional controversy over City Council members each getting their own sheriff's detail assigned ostensibly for their personal security but mostly to just drive them around places. Like most readers, I was hoping for a fun Marie Antoinette style quote from Clarkson here, but it turns out the closest thing to that we get comes from Susan Guidry.
    “I find it very comforting,” echoed Councilwoman Susan Guidry. “We’re going out all the time in the community. I think there are possibly some things I would not do at night” without the protection of an armed deputy.

  • According to Stacy Head, though, the deputies have other functions such as investigative reporting. Did you know, for example, that Head's driver blew the lid off of the NOAH scandal?
    For instance, Head said that Deputy Gregory Malveaux, who has been assigned to her for years, helped jump-start a celebrated investigation into New Orleans Affordable Homeownership, the city nonprofit whose leader has been charged with taking kickbacks. Malveaux drove around in 2008 and documented how various houses remained blighted even though NOAH had paid to fix them.

    He does similar work helping to put together cases against problem barrooms and corner stores.
    Oh and he's also shutting down your neighborhood bar for you. Forgot to mention that part. These guys have all sorts of uses. Not sure any of them are appropriate, strictly speaking but, well there you go.

  • Meanwhile, those of us without personal drivers might find other ways of getting around town. Like bicycling for example. This is a story from Boston but it picks up on an annoyance I've been talking about for some time in New Orleans as well. Other people riding bikes are pretty much ruining bike riding as a viable transportation alternative.
    Even as Mayor Thomas M. Menino continues his push to unseat cars as king in Boston, cyclists are starting to sound like drivers. They’re griping about rack hogs who take up more than one space. They’re avoiding areas where they know there won’t be a single rack, parking meter, tree, gate, fence, railing, or sign that’s not already hosting one or more bikes. And just like the very motorists over whom they lord with their zero body fat, they’re complaining if they have to walk more than a couple of blocks from bike parking spot to destination.
  • Paul Krugman hits on a favorite political theory of mine here. People are willing to accept just about any horrific conditions as long as they happen slowly enough to seem normal. Long term unemployment, for example:
    You might think that a persistently poor economy — an economy in which millions of people who could and should be productively employed are jobless, and in many cases have been without work for a very long time — would eventually spark public outrage. But the political science evidence on economics and elections is unambiguous: what matters is the rate of change, not the level.

    Put it this way: If unemployment rises from 6 to 7 percent during an election year, the incumbent will probably lose. But if it stays flat at 8 percent through the incumbent’s whole term, he or she will probably be returned to power. And this means that there’s remarkably little political pressure to end our continuing, if low-grade, depression.
  • Let's see.. what else? Oh look, the freedom seems to be spreading well in Egypt.
    Speaking to Al Jazeera, Gehad Haddad, a spokesman for Muslim Brotherhood, said that at around 3.30 in the morning, army and police forces started firing at sit-in protesters in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.

    “We have people hit in the head, we have bullets that exploded as they entered the body, cluttering organs and body parts” said Haddad.

    “Every police force in the world understands how to disperse a sit-in. This is just a criminal activity targeting protesters.”
  • Okay that should do it. We've wasted more than our share of elusive time and now have to go be late for work... unless there's some way to slow things down even further. Is Tommy Tucker on the radio right now?

    Saturday, July 06, 2013

    Tony Blair is "a strong supporter of democracy but..."

    Shorter Tony Blair: They elected some people we don't like so now we have to teach them how to do democracy better.
    I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge. When governments don't deliver, people protest. They don't want to wait for an election.

    In fact, as Turkey and Brazil show, they can protest even when, on any objective basis, countries have made huge progress. But as countries move from low to middle income status, the people's expectations rise. They want quality services, better housing, good infrastructure, especially transport. And they will fight against any sense that a clique at the top is barring their way.

    This is a sort of free democratic spirit that operates outside the convention of democracy that elections decide the government. It is enormously fuelled by social media, itself a revolutionary phenomenon. And it moves very fast in precipitating crisis. It is not always consistent or rational. A protest is not a policy, or a placard a programme for government. But if governments don't have a clear argument with which to rebut the protest, they're in trouble.
    As it turns out, though, we can really only determine who is "in trouble" according to whichever side the army happens to be on. In 2003 there were as many as 2 million people marching in the UK in opposition to the Iraq invasion. Tony Blair sent the troops anyway saying, unpopularity was "sometimes the price of leadership and the cost of conviction."  The consequences for Morsi were a bit greater than just unpopularity. The difference is sometimes the army goes where you send it and sometimes it comes to get you.

    But okay now, according to Blair,  the West can't be shy to "engage" as much as possible until everybody finally elects the right people.
    At its crudest, we can't afford for Egypt to collapse. So we should engage with the new de facto power and help the new government make the changes necessary, especially on the economy, so they can deliver for the people. In that way, we can also help shape a path back to the ballot box that is designed by and for Egyptians.
    That last line must be one of those of Sphinx riddles you hear so much about. Anyway, that whole "engagement" thing shouldn't be too hard seeing as how we pay for the entity that makes all the decisions in the first place.

    Up to date

    Given everything you hear about changes in acceptable mores with regard to things like tattoos, you'd think that "updating" your departmental policies on such would mean liberalizing them.  You would be wrong about that.

    A new tattoo policy getting under the skin of some NOPD officers, according to a local police union. On August 1, NOPD officers will no longer be allowed to have tattoos visible while wearing their uniform, according to a new policy.
    That NOLADefender article even goes on to cite a 2008 Pew survey  indicating that about 40% of all 18-25 year olds (prime NOPD recruiting stock) now have a tattoo.  Serpas must not be too worried about that manpower problem after all.  But, hey, at least we're up to date.
    Serpas said the new policy brings NOPD in line with police departments who have updated their tattooed policies. Department spokeswoman Remi Braden offered New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, the U.S. Capitol, Dallas, Des Moines, St. Louis and Tampa as examples of police departments who have policies restricting tattoos.
    Bullying employees based on superficial issues with their appearance really never does go out of style.  The enthusiasm for pushing particularly hard comes and goes, though.

    Update:  Meanwhile NOPD has the darnedest time firing anyone for drunk driving, fighting, or shooting up somebody's car. Likely will have no problem kicking you to the curb for tattoos, though.

    Iconic Structure

    What if we knocked down the Trade Mart and put up a big tiger cage? Has no one even given this the slightest consideration?

    Not saying, there aren't competing ideas, though. This one, for example, would preserve the "historic" building in place. 

    Thursday, July 04, 2013

    Happy Birthday, America

    Do better.
    "When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of its happiness: When these things can be said, then may the country boast its constitution and its government." -Thomas Paine 1791

    Brand awareness

    Try as it might to set us straight, BP just can't keep Louisiana on message.
    BP is going to the mat over a fishing closure in state waters off Plaquemines Parish over Fourth of July weekend. The British oil giant isn't happy with the state's decision to close waters to fishing because of oil finds. Following a state Wildlife and Fisheries hold on fishing near East Grand Terre Island due to the discovery of an underwater tar mat, the company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster accused the state of "perpetuating the myth" that Gulf seafood is unsafe.

    The worst kept secret in New Orleans

    That rumor that's been rattling around various grapevines about the City Hall move to Charity Hospital being more than just talk took on some form today.
    The city's Property Management Department on June 25 requested $300 million - an undefined combination of state capital outlay funds, FEMA hazard mitigation grants and city bonds - to pay for the move to 1610 Tulane Avenue.

    "The Civic Center will improve efficiency in city government by locating all city departments within one space and creating a better work space for the civil servants and reduce annual operating costs for maintenance," the request states. "The proposed project will assist in revitalizing adjacent neighborhoods and be within a 3-5 minute radius from the current City Hall."
    The proposed move would pretty much just take them around the corner so it's not too radical a departure. Still there are some aesthetic aspects of the current location that would be missed.  Even it is just a block away, Loyola Avenue is still a more prominent location with a more centralized feel to it. The idealized  mid-20th Century civic center at Duncan Plaza with City Hall on one side and the public library on the other will be lost.

    Also "lost" will be the cosmically appropriate Perdido Street address for City Hall. Although, if we have to trade in that joke, we can take some consolation in having the seat of city government move to the former location of the city's only level one trauma center.  I suppose that's the best we can hope for.  After all this was the administration we'll always remember for being so sensitive and humorless as to change the city website's url ; a typical Landrieu choice to crush joy in the interest of averting minor embarrassment. (Tip: you can still access the city's website by typing "Cityofno.com" into your browser. Try it sometime.)

    Still in all, I'm not opposed to the move, in theory. Charity Hospital is a nice building.  It should be given a prominent purpose deserving of all the grief extended over its post-Katrina vacancy. And since it seems to be the thing to do, maybe they can add some "iconic attractions" to spruce it up a bit. Like a new Brennan's, or another Skywheel on the roof. Feel free to add your own suggestions. Use your imagination. "Follow your NOLA" or whatever.

    I know a City Hall and a hospital are different functions but I should also point out that the $300 million requested here is far below LSU's assessment of the cost of repairing the damage to a building it decided to abandon after the flood. It's even below a much publicized preservationist alternative plan to repair the hospital (itself considered a fairly optimistic proposal at the time.)  Anyway it's likely they'll need more. Seems like there's always money in the banana stand convention center. Maybe that's where they'll look. 

    Wednesday, July 03, 2013

    Absolutely no good whatsoever will come of this

    Dambala has been hinting that this is what he's been working on for some time but yesterday he laid it all out. The short version is Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC) attorneys representing victims at the BP trial have been improperly manipulating the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claims Center (DHECC) process as well.
    There have been two major allegations that I received regarding, at least some, of the PSC attorneys using their position to gain an unfair advantage in the claims process and these two items I requested would provide very basic information that could confirm or deny the first of the two allegations.  This particular allegation is that, at least some, of the PSC lawyers manipulated the DHECC claims process to have their clients' claims processed ahead of other claimants.

    So far, none of my sources is willing to go on the record to back up these allegations but I have been provided with some information that leads me to believe there is fire underneath the smoke.

    I was told by three separate sources that a single PSC law firm received over $24 million out of $30 million in client claims processed in the first round of payments from the DHECC upon opening in June of 2012.

    As it turns out the number is closer to 27 million but I'll get to that in a minute.

    If true, this is a clear violation of the claims process.  When the DHECC was being structured by Judge Barbier during the transition period from Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), in item #10 of this order on March 8, 2012  he mandated that all claims should be paid in the order they are received.
    This is important for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that the amount of money to be paid out through the claims process is finite... although it can always be lowered.

    When this settlement process started with Feinberg and the GCCF, there was a number established by both parties on what the inevitable payout should be....20 billion.  When the process was shifted from the GCCF to the DHECC, I'm told there was literally an envelope delivered to one of the PSC law firms with a new number on it.  That number was the new ceiling and I believe it would coincide with the original 20 billion dollar ceiling established at the origin of the GCCF.  So subtract what the GCCF paid out, 6.2 billion, and I think you can get a pretty good idea at the number in that envelope handed to the PSC lawyers.

    I believe...I don't know...that the claims that are currently queued in the DHECC office far surpass the ceiling established by BP.  I believe the PSC lawyers knew full well the ceiling would collapse and if their claims were purposely pushed to the top, ahead of the natural order of the claims received in the office, well...you see my point.

    This breach of protocol is compounded by the fact that this group of lawyers, the PSC, were established to represent all claimants in the BP settlement process, not just their private clients.  So as a claimant, I shouldn't even need to hire a personal lawyer as the PSC attorneys were appointed by a federal court as multi-district litigators to serve me in the claims process.

    Anyway, there's a bunch more and, I suppose, there's a tendency to say "welp, lawyers gonna lawyer" or some such but there's obviously damage being done.

    And, of course, it's a PR gift to BP which they're already running with.
    Former FBI Director Louis Freeh will head an ethics probe of the organization that’s processing and paying oil-spill damage claims for BP Plc. (BP/)
    Freeh, a former federal judge, will conduct an external investigation to supplement an internal probe already under way of a staff attorney at the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program. The attorney was suspended after being accused of accepting fees from law firms while processing their clients’ claims from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
    Hope Freeh isn't too busy finishing his... whatever that was Tom Benson wanted him to do.. in order to figure this out.  Unless BP just wants to make sure the claims process and the trial is thoroughly smeared, in which case, mission accomplished.