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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hurricane season begins Saturday

Get ready to see any number of newspaper articles, radio features,  TV commercials,  online polls, etc. on the question of whether or not you'll decide to evacuate this year. Everyone has different reasons for staying or going and different plans for executing that decision.  Like I just said, you're bound to read about 500 or so of those over the coming weekend.  Mostly it comes down to the expected safety, hassle, and expense of packing and leaving vs that of staying put.

To help inform that process, Matt McBride has spent the past six or seven months FOIAing the Corps  for emails related to the operation of the pumps and gates on the outfall canals. In the first what he says will be a multi-part report on his findings, McBride concludes,
The Corps entered Isaac with five of the eleven gates at the London Avenue site not completely secured, including one that was utterly unsecured; the Corps was relying on gravity to keep it in place. Put simply, the Corps had closed the barn door at the London Avenue canal (the weakest canal structurally speaking), but they hadn't bothered to lock it. The possibility of storm surge loosening the gates was apparently too inconceivable for the people directly responsible for making sure the city was protected. Procedures - such as calling out divers that were supposed to be on call, or failing that, dropping massive sandbags - were simply brushed off. It is in-the-moment exchanges like this that undermine whatever bluster the Corps puts out about safety being their top priority. 
For someone like me who has to consider evacuating in a car that's basically 75% duct tape right now the decision matrix has a high tolerance for these sorts of improvised safety features built into it. In other words, I'm still not going anywhere unless Ronal Serpas sends a whole SWAT team of bomb robots in to root me out. Your mileage may vary, of course.  And this is just one more thing to consider.

More memories

Happy Birthday, Bayou Corne Sinkhole.  You grew up so fast.

Quickie cost/benefit analysis

The NOPD consent decree will finally be allowed to go forward when we reach the point where the cost of legal fees associated with appealing it exceed the cost of actually implementing it.

NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a emergency stay in the federal case concerning the consent decree over the New Orleans Police Department.

The temporary stay puts the case on hold, and eliminates a meeting scheduled tomorrow to announce a monitor for the consent decree.

The appeals court will next look at whether to grant or deny the city's  motion to vacate, or toss out, the entire consent decree.
Also... memories:
Landrieu, standing beside more than a dozen community leaders, said at a news conference that he wants the Justice Department to come in and do an assessment of the NOPD and the criminal justice system.

Landrieu said he anticipates that the federal assessment would eventually result in a consent decree, a move that could mean federal oversight for the troubled department.

“It is clear that nothing short of a complete transformation is necessary and essential to ensure safety for the citizens of New Orleans,” Landrieu wrote in his letter to Holder.
At the time, the above item caused our friends at The Lens to opine,
This represents the mayor’s clearest statement on the possibility of federal intervention. He is not interested in negotiating a half-loaf relationship with the Justice Department to appease anybody associated with the incumbent regime. He wants the Civil Rights Division to use its authority to sue the department to mandate reform measures under court order. While the city may negotiate the terms of a settlement once that lawsuit is filed, there would be very little wiggle room once that consent decree is on the books.
Yeah well... not so much that, really. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Debt racket

What's in your wallet... and will it prompt your bank to sell you to a bounty hunter?

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the architect of last year’s $25 billion national mortgage settlement, is leading a multi-state investigation of these so-called debt buyers and overall debt collection practices, according to his office.

Debt buyers often purchase just a spreadsheet with names of delinquent borrowers from banks after accounts become more than 180 days past due, Holland said. Judges, he noted, grew alarmed by the number of cases involving debt buyers that lacked proof of outstanding debt or that contained generic testimony.

Land racket

Happens according to slightly different circumstances in different cities but, for the most part, yep, pretty much.
The lie is that schemes like Teach For America, charter schools backed by venture capitalists, education management organizations (EMOs), and Broad Foundation-prepared superintendents address black parents concerns about the quality of public schools for their children. These schemes are not designed to cure what ails under-performing schools. They are designed to shift tax dollars away from schools serving black and poor students; displace authentic black educational leadership; and erode national commitment to the ideal of public education.
Which is fine because..
As the nation’s inner cities are dotted with coffee shop chains, boutique furniture stores, and the skyline changes from public housing to high-rise condominium buildings, listen to the refrain about school reform sung by some intimidated elected officials and submissive superintendents. That refrain is really about exporting the urban poor, reclaiming inner city land, and using schools to recalculate urban land value. This kind of school reform is not about children, it’s about the business elite gaining access to the nearly $600 billion that supports the nation’s public schools. It’s about money.

Pulling more cars from the bayou today

WWL's Paul Murphy is tweeting photos.
Of course I hope this helps them find Monette. But also... hey how did all those cars get down there? And who is working those stories? 

Go back to bed. The grown ups will take care of you

Gonna be a busy day for me.

Go read this Evgeny Morozov review of Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen's terrible book. Here's a decent blurb to get you started.

The goal of books such as this one is not to predict but to reassure—to show the commoners, who are unable on their own to develop any deep understanding of what awaits them, that the tech-savvy elites are sagaciously in control.
Then go take a look at Glenn Greenwald's column from over the weekend about that Obama terror speech all the respectable media tell us is so historically significant. 

What Obama has specialized in from the beginning of his presidency is putting pretty packaging on ugly and discredited policies. The cosmopolitan, intellectualized flavor of his advocacy makes coastal elites and blue state progressives instinctively confident in the Goodness of whatever he's selling, much as George W. Bush's swaggering, evangelical cowboy routine did for red state conservatives. The CIA presciently recognized this as a valuable asset back in 2008 when they correctly predicted that Obama's election would stem the tide of growing antiwar sentiment in western Europe by becoming the new, more attractive face of war, thereby converting hordes of his admirers from war opponents into war supporters. This dynamic has repeated itself over and over in other contexts, and has indeed been of great value to the guardians of the status quo in placating growing public discontent about their economic insecurity and increasingly unequal distribution of power and wealth. However bad things might be, we at least have a benevolent, kind-hearted and very thoughtful leader doing everything he can to fix it.

No matter how uncomfortable things become in your digitized, privatized, terrorized, war-drone future, you can always rest comfortably knowing there are enlightened elites making all of your decisions for you.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The FEMA bubble

Not gonna last forever, people

The population of New Orleans was 369,250 as of July 1, 2012, an increase of 25,000 people since April 1, 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau cities and towns population estimates released earlier this week.

Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans-based demographer and consultant with GCR Inc., calls the data good news but says New Orleans still has a way to go before hitting its pre-Katrina population.

The population of New Orleans in July 2005, a month before Katrina hit, was 454,000, he said.

Rigamer said the city could be back to pre-Katrina levels by 2020.

“What’s going on in New Orleans is you started out with decreased base from Katrina and you are also seeing a lot of federal money pumped into the city,” Rigamer said. “There is a lot of recovery spending occurring right now. A lot of FEMA projects under way.”
Eventually that stimulus is going to run dry.  In the meantime, are we building a city that will sustain economic opportunity and affordable living for a growing population on into the future?  Probably not.

(GNOCDC's Allison) Plyer also said post-Katrina housing in New Orleans, while lower in cost than major cities such as New York City and San Francisco, is more expensive now than in the past.

“It’s no longer inexpensive to live here. Between taxes, insurance and utilities, the cost of living is higher now,” Plyer said.

And that's all probably by design too.  The people making the decisions now will be perfectly fine after the "boom times" start to stagnate. After that, it's a long coast until the levees eventually break again.  At which point it'll probably be time to strike the set here anyway.

Bad blogger

I basically took all of Friday off from the internet.  It's a thing that happens more and more frequently. It's okay. Nobody pays me to put stuff here. (Which is one way the editorial direction of this site is different from say WVUE.) But there are some longish drafts in the backlog that I'm hoping to finish up soon regarding football, the Mother's Day shootings, and the Trademart site proposals.. among other things.  I think there's even a Jazzfest post that will never see the light of day in there somewhere.

Eventually some of that will get posted, but not before a thousand other things happen which become the next batch of unfinished material for the next several months. Maybe it would be different if I never had to work or go outside or if people would stop talking to me. Case in point, it's taken me over three hours of heavily distracted writing just to type these two paragraphs.  But then what is life if not a never-ending cycle of overwhelming bullshit you'll never get a handle on? 

But just to see to it that it doesn't all go for naught, here are a bunch of links from the past few days I want to put somewhere familiar and searchable so I don't completely forget about them later.

  • Slightly less reliable than walking: I don't have anything against streetcars but, as I've said a bunch of times, they're far from the most efficient means of getting around town. This is especially true given the plans for new lines in New Orleans... and in other places...appear to emphasize amusement rather than transit in their design.
    Not everyone shares in the excitement. Writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week, transit planner Jarrett Walker tempered emotions by questioning how useful the streetcar will really be. The piece is behind a paywall, but suffice it to say that Walker answered his rhetorical question with: not very. While everyone hopes the streetcar will "make people value transit as a whole," writes Walker, the fact is the Atlanta streetcar won't run frequently enough to improve mobility:
    The Atlanta streetcar line will only be 1.3 miles long from end to end, and a streetcar will come every 15 minutes if everything's on time. So if you just missed one, should you really wait? Or should you just start walking?
    That article comes via The Lens, by the way, where they've lately gotten into the habit of posting a link round-up... kind of like this one but better... five days a week. If you click here you can read them pat themselves on the back for it just before they ask you for money.


  • Do the collapse:This week a bridge on a major Interstate highway collapsed in Washington State just five years after another bridge on a major Interstate highway collapsed in Minnesota. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers one out of every nine of the 600,000 and some odd bridges in the U.S. are rated "structurally deficient." And yet here is a chart showing us that spending on public infrastructure is sitting at a 20 year low. Something seems wrong with this picture.


  • Help wanted TEPCO is having trouble maintaining the staff necessary to keep the melted-down Fukushima nuclear plant from becoming unstable.
    Construction jobs are already plentiful in the area due to rebuilding of tsunami ravaged towns and cities. Other public works spending planned by the government, under the "Abenomics" stimulus programs of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is likely to make well-paying construction jobs more abundant. And less risky, better paid decontamination projects in the region irradiated by the Fukushima meltdown are another draw. Some Fukushima veterans are quitting as their cumulative radiation exposure approaches levels risky to health, said two long-time Fukushima nuclear workers who spoke to The Associated Press. They requested anonymity because their speaking to the media is a breach of their employers' policy and they say being publicly identified will get them fired.

    On the other hand, so much disaster rebuilding should have the Japanese "bucking the trend" for years and years to come. So, congratulations.


  • David Vitter still quite loathsome: David Vitter being loathsome.
    Yesterday, Sen. Vitter of Louisiana offered up an amendment to permanently drop anyone ever convicted of a violent crime from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Democrats in the Senate obliged him. The amendment is for a farm bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate.
    I know! Let's take food away from violent criminals and see what happens.


  • Also loathsome: Pretty much everyone in Congress and the entire corrupt legislative process.
    WASHINGTON — Bank lobbyists are not leaving it to lawmakers to draft legislation that softens financial regulations. Instead, the lobbyists are helping to write it themselves.

    One bill that sailed through the House Financial Services Committee this month — over the objections of the Treasury Department — was essentially Citigroup’s, according to e-mails reviewed by The New York Times. The bill would exempt broad swathes of trades from new regulation.

  • Efficiency! Privatization plan promises to throw money away at a more impressive rate.
    The total operating expense associated with the privatization of nine LSU hospitals will hit $1 billion during the new fiscal year, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Thursday.

    That’s more than is in the current year’s budget — $955 million — for the state to operate the charity hospitals.

  • Tourism racketeers and their shadow government: Maybe will have to be less shadowy. Although probably not.
    Judge Ethel Simms Julien of the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans ruled today (in response to an amended petition filed last week by Justin L. Winch of Smith Stag, LLC, regarding the matter of Winch v. Perry, et al.) that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) “is subject to the Louisiana Public Records Act as to the expenditure of public funds.”


  • Whoops! Dambala has a whole bunch of Wisner stuff up including this possible typo... which is nonetheless an interesting typo.


  • Whoops! On Friday, NOLA.com reported that Roman Harper signed a new deal with the Saints which lowered his cap number and extended his contract by a year, basically guaranteeing that Harper will be a Saint this season at least.
    The next day we got...


And finally, there's this.
 Jefferson Parish officials unveiled final design for the Al Copeland Concert Gardens Friday, featuring a statue of the fried chicken magnate, and a serenity garden.
The words "Al Copeland serenity garden" could refer to anything from an oxygen bar to a shark tank with black light to a helicopter full of rose petals. But thanks to park officials and the Jefferson Parish council, we're left with something more... um.. tasteful. 
The centerpiece of the Concert Gardens is a statue of Copeland, who died of cancer in 2008.  Building Popeyes from an Arabi storefront to a fried chicken empire, Copeland's exploits also propelled him near the top of the list of New Orleans' infamous characters. The statue will feature speedboats, no doubt a remembrance of his record-seeking and fast living, as well as a box of fried chicken in the man's own hands. Those looking for a remembrance of his fistfight with Robert Guidry will have to stick with the Times-Picayune archives.
You'll also have to check the T-P archives if you're at all interested in Anne Rice's opinions on the Copeland aesthetic.  She probably won't be issuing any statements on the memorial serenity garden, but once upon a time, she did have a few things to say about the living Copeland's architectural taste.

COPELAND FRIES RICE, PLANS TO SUE
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, February 8, 1997
Author: LYNNE JENSEN 

On the eve of New Orleans' highest-profile holiday of the year, two of its highest-profile celebrities have launched a bitter public feud that appears headed for the courts.

Best-selling vampire novelist Anne Rice doesn't like former fried-chicken king Al Copeland's taste in architecture, and she took out a full-page ad in the Lagniappe section of Friday's Times-Picayune to say so.

Sunday, Copeland strikes back with a double-page ad denouncing her "rude, unwarranted personal attack."

In her ad, Rice expresses aesthetic disdain for Copeland's new Straya restaurant on St. Charles Avenue, which also has drawn criticism from the City Planning Commission. She calls the archway and art deco flourishes adorning the converted car dealership showroom "nothing short of an abomination."

In his "Dear Anne " ad, Copeland defends the building as "a fine merger of contemporary and classic design," points out the economic value of his renovation and concludes, "See you in court."
Straya has since been altered conceptually to become Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro. In large part, though, the decor (and the menu for that matter) remains very much  as it was in the late 90s. The Copeland-Rice feud went on for months  although it was pretty much over when James Gill declared Copeland the winner on February 12.

THE RICE VERSUS COPELAND FRACAS
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA)- Wednesday, February 12, 1997
Author: JAMES GILL

The aesthetics debate between the fried-chicken king and the vampire novelist must rank as the most entertaining spectacle of this Carnival season.

Al Copeland was the clear winner, whether his new Straya's restaurant on St. Charles Avenue be regarded as the "eyesore" that Anne Rice denounced or the "fine merger of contemporary and classic design" of which he declares himself proud.

Rice's habit of running large newspaper ads to trumpet her views is not one that should be discouraged, but she might as well spend a few more bucks and hire an editor.

The errors of grammar and punctuation are bad enough, but the pompous tone she adopts, referring to herself, for instance, as " Anne Rice , private citizen," must have left many readers determined to dine at Straya's as soon as possible.

Gill goes on there to recommend that Copeland "quit while he's ahead" in the PR battle, but Copeland had already gone on to sue Rice for defamation anyway.

COPELAND BITES BACK WITH LAWSUIT
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Tuesday, February 11, 1997
Author: LYNNE JENSEN

Restaurateur Al Copeland made good Monday on his promise to sue vampire novelist Anne Rice over her newspaper ad denouncing his architectural taste.

The suit, filed in Civil District Court, claims that Rice 's biting commentary on the design of his new Straya restaurant on St. Charles Avenue "is libelous and defamatory," exposes Copeland to "contempt, hatred, ridicule or obloquy" and could cause him "to be shunned or avoided" by other New Orleanians.

The suit, which does not ask for specific damages, comes after several days of verbal dueling between the two local celebrities.

In her recorded message, Rice repeats her opinion that the peach-colored, art deco restaurant is "hideous" and says her opinions are "fully protected by the Constitution."
Rice's continual harping on her "constitutional rights as an American" might have been the tackiest aspect of the entire affair. And that's saying something when Al Copeland is involved. Anyway, the lawsuit was eventually dropped. I don't know how much money either party dropped on it before that happened but we do have some figures on their ad buys. Rice spent $3,864 on her attack. Copeland, never one to be outdone in the arena of conspicuous consumption, put in $15,920.  That's very nearly 20 grand on what, in today's oeuvre, would have been one afternoon of Twitter feuding.  So of all Rice's frivolous concerns here, speech becoming any less free was probably the least of them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This ain't Battle Bots

Nonsense
The president, in his most expansive public discussion on drones, defended their targeted killings as both effective and legal. He acknowledged the civilian deaths that sometimes result — a consequence that has angered many of the countries where the U.S. seeks to combat extremism — and said he grapples with that trade-off.

“For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live,” he said. Before any strike, he said, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”
So here's a question nobody is asking yet. We're obviously well on the way to replacing the bulk of our workforce with robots.
It is time for not just economists but roboticists, like me, to ask, “How will robotic advances transform society in potentially dystopian ways?” My concern is that without serious discourse and explicit policy changes, the current path will lead to an ever more polarized economic world, with robotic technologies replacing the middle class and further distancing our society from authentic opportunity and economic justice.
And that's bad enough as it is. But add to that the fact that robots are transforming warfare in similar ways.

So then once everyone's army is made up of expendable machines, doesn't that mean the only "targets" of any value will be civilians? It would be fun if we could settle all the world's disputes via remote control, but the whole history of warfare would indicate nothing gets decided until some folks are dead. And if all the folks are non-combatants... well... I guess all war is really just organized terror. And, yes, I realize that's probably the same as it has ever been.

Never boring

Extremely active hurricane season possible, acting NOAA administrator says 
The 2013 hurricane season, which begins June 1, could be extremely active, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting Thursday that there will be 13 to 20 named storms, including 7 to 11 hurricanes. Of those, three to six could be major hurricanes, Category 3 and above.

NOAA predicts an above normal and possibly extremely active hurricane season, said Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator.
 In 2011, the T-P ran a pretty interesting graphic attempting to measure the accuracy of these predictions. The sample size there isn't very good but the trend appears to show that they're getting better.

Mission accomplished

There's a class of itinerant professional administrators who spend entire careers jumping from place to place selling new policy gimmicks to public institutions and then bailing before they have to deal with the question of whether or not their product actually benefited anyone.  All that matters is that they've implemented a program and gotten their name everywhere. Then it's off to start over at the next gig. 

Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White is certainly one of these people.  And now "rumor has it"  his tour of duty in Louisiana  is coming to an end as bigger and better resume padding opportunities loom.
Rumors have persisted for several days now that White would be leaving his post at the end of the current legislative session, which must adjourn by June 6.

Those rumors reached a new pitch on Wednesday with word that White would be headed “for Duncanland” in June.

For those unfamiliar with the Obama cabinet, “Duncanland” would be Washington where Arne Duncan serves as Secretary of Education.

Before joining the Obama administration, Duncan served as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools whence controversial former Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas came.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pigpocketed... and other items from the police blotter

Responding to various criticisms of Chief Serpas's violent crime statistics which appear to suggest that New Orleans is doing pretty well... except for all the murdering, the Inspector General's office has promised to evaluate the Chief's numbers independently.
Criminologists say the city’s reported rates of such assaults — and violent-crime rates overall — are suspiciously low given New Orleans’ stubbornly high murder rate, which in recent years has been the highest in the nation. Morrell, saying the numbers “don’t make sense,” filed a resolution Monday asking the legislative auditor to scrutinize the data more closely.

Experts have said that aggravated assault rates tend to rise in tandem with murder rates, as both crimes are essentially the expression of similar violent impulses. But that hasn’t been the case in New Orleans, which reports a rate of assault much lower than many other comparable cities.
Recall that Serpas's tenure as police chief in Nashville was also marred by similar allegations of statistical "fudging."
Under federal rules, police can tell the public that they solved a crime only if they've made an arrest -- or cleared it by what's called an "exception."

Exceptional clearances mean they've got a suspect, they know where the suspect is, they've got enough evidence to charge the suspect, but they cannot proceed -- usually because either the DA or the victim doesn't want to prosecute.

"When I blew into town in 2004," Serpas said, "these people didn't know who I was from Adam and they were clearing cases by exception the way they had been clearing them forever. When we found out, we fixed it."

Yet, take a look at what Metro police told the TBI.

Beginning in 2006, the number of crimes against persons and property that were cleared by exception -- essentially just written off -- outpaced the number of crimes cleared by arrest.
In any case, this isn't the best time to try telling New Orleanians their violent crime problem isn't as bad as they think it is.  For one thing, the Mother's Day shootings are still very much on everyone's mind. Tomorrow night, there will be a benefit concert held on behalf of the victims.

And just this morning, we opened our internet to find three more reports of brazen criminal activity.  Here's a brutal mugging caught on video in the 400 block of Carondelet Street downtown.  Last night, Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo was carjacked in front of his own home. Sadly, according to Judge Marullo, it's "just part of the scene"
"This is a very typical situation," Marullo said after spending a few hours on the bench Wednesday. "I hate to say it: It's nothing unusual."
 And then there's, perhaps, the most shocking assault of all.

The New Orleans Police Department is asking for the public’s assistance in locating a stolen statue of a pig in a chef’s outfit. The statue was stolen on the morning of May 1, 2013 during Jazz Fest weekend.
Pig missing


If the pig remains missing for much longer, the police may try trolling Bayou St. John again. There's always the neatest stuff down there. But if he does happen to turn up, we might suggest replacing his crawfish sign with one of those "NOLA For Life" signs you see around town.  Nothing better than to help a victim become part of the solution, you know. 

Meanwhile, this afternoon, a City Council committee meeting is attempting to determine just how effective that solution is.
Landrieu has touted NOLA for Life as a “comprehensive plan to end murder and violent crime in our city.” In addition to Ceasefire New Orleans and the Mayor’s Strategic Command to Reduce Murders (a program inspired by the Milwaukee model), SOS NOLA  Midnight Basketball and a new multi-agency gang unit are among programs under the NOLA for Life umbrella.

City budget documents for 2013 don’t include a NOLA For Life line item or separate items showing how parts of the plan are funded.

In a May 20 email to Morse, provided by Fraser, Guidry requested information that would help with a cost analysis of the program.

“Please get this information to me today, so that I may have time to review and prepare for Wednesday’s meeting.  As we discussed, this would be the data collected regarding the cost of each of the programs and the effectiveness, the performance measures used, etc.,” Guidry’s email said.

But according to the rest of that Lens article, Council hasn't yet received a full accounting of  NOLA For Life's multifarious funding sources and program goals.   It does include some statistics. Still, I keep coming back to criminologist David Kennedy's prediction that NOLA For Life would bring about a "real difference" in violent crime "within six months"  Whatever else these programs might have accomplished in that time, it's difficult to convince anyone they've met that goal. 

The Lens is "live-blogging" the hearing right now as I type this.  You can follow those notes at the bottom of the article linked here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Band back together

War


The Advocate is hiring more ex T-Pers.

Longtime New Orleans political columnist Stephanie Grace and Times-Picayune reporter Laura Maggi are the latest names to join the New Orleans edition of The Advocate.

Grace, who declined a job offer from The TImes-Picayune last year following the paper's restructuring, will return to print three times weekly with a column that will appear Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. (Most recently, she has written a series of cover stories as a contributor to Gambit.) Last week, James Gill, another veteran T-P columnist, jumped to The Advocate, where his column appears twice weekly.

"I'm back to doing what I always did — writing about local and state politics — and really excited to be part of the conversation in Baton Rouge," Grace told Gambit this morning. "I'm picking up where I left off, and surrounded by some of my favorite people who happen to be great journalists."
It's hard to deny that the New Orleans newspaper war is a compelling story. But it's important to note that so far it's basically a story about one paper being brought back from the dead.. much of it anyway.

From an overall employment standpoint, it's still a negative. A lot of people lost their jobs when Newhouse decided to gut the T-P.  Aside from the high-profile hires The Advocate is poaching, most of those jobs aren't coming back. And, of course, the overall quantity of reportage on public affairs in New Orleans is about the same or somewhat reduced. And even that is likely reaching only a fraction of its former audience.

Still, it's good to see these people back in print on a regular basis.  And if Stephanie Grace's fact-based but generally conventional wisdom driven columns about local politics are indicative of some nefarious "left wing bias" at The Advocate, well I guess we'll just have to live with that.

Speaking of John Georges and "left wing bias" here is some terrific nostalgia for you

In case anyone is reading who needs context on that last link, it's not really Geroges displaying anything other than rank cynicism. He was speaking to the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee in a clumsy attempt to win a mayoral endorsement. Of course everyone in the room understood Georges was insincerely pandering (condescending, really) to the audience and so nobody took anything he said seriously. Also, a less ridiculously goofy delivery probably wouldn't have hurt matters.

There once was a time when politicians could get away with radically altering their rhetoric and  positions according to whatever audience they were trying to sucker. But this episode clearly demonstrated just how different circumstances have become.  Because modern media allows us to see more of the picture, pols who alter themselves this radically from one speaking engagement to the next are seen as the hypocrites they are. (Of course, all politicians are dirty ugly hypocrites but few of them are this blatant about it anymore.)

The fact that he was embarrassed by his own words in this recording prompted Georges, at a later stage in the campaign, to bemoan the existence of "dangerous people on the internet." And thus a meme was born. And now this champion of free speech owns a newspaper.  Neat.

Scandal!

In which big scary bullies direct the "chilling" powers of government against specific non-profits for purely political reasons. No not the one you're thinking of. This one.

Maybe not doomed?

These time lapse films of coastal erosion in Louisiana are alarming. But somehow I had been expecting them to be even more depressing than they are.  And the last one featured that shows the rapid land building in Atchafalaya Bay is actually kind of encouraging.  Maybe there's still time to do something. 

Mistakes, I made a few

Buddy Caldwell:
“I just gotta do things my way,” he said. “I'm from a small town and you gotta know people, and you know if you've had contact with them if they've got a certain skill set.”
Also it turns out that the BP trial, which anyone will tell you  is of paramount importance to the future of the Louisiana coast, is soul-crushingly boring. 
The contentiousness came to a head last month when Barbier interrupted testimony to accuse Kanner of falling asleep at the plaintiffs’ table.

“Wait one second. Would somebody tap Mr. Kanner and wake him up? Mr. Kanner, are you awake?” Barbier said.

“Yes, your honor,” Kanner responded.

“Did you get enough sleep last night?” Barbier continued. “If you need to get up and walk out and get some air, you can do it, but we need to keep you awake, OK?”

We asked Caldwell what he thought of Kanner allegedly sleeping on the job, and the attorney general said he “should be sleeping” because the state shouldn’t have had to participate in that part of the trial anyway.

Then, he took another swipe at the judge.

“I'm not concerned at all because (Kanner) couldn't have been sleeping more than 30 seconds and the judge is sleeping part of that time, too,” Caldwell said defiantly.
Not that this should surprise anyone.  Environmental law is pretty boring.  Just ask David Rainey.  Rainey had been convicted of charged with obstructing a congressional investigation into the Macondo spill.  Yesterday, that conviction charge was thrown out more or less on the grounds that the certain details, such as the rate at which oil was gushing into the Gulf, were too boring and inconsequential to merit an accurate accounting. 
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt cited two reasons for dismissing the obstruction of Congress charge against David Rainey, who was BP's vice president of exploration for the Gulf. First, Engelhardt said the indictment failed to allege that Rainey knew of the pending congressional investigation he was charged with obstructing.

"Because it is an essential element of this crime that the defendant knew of this inquiry and investigation, the indictment must allege such knowledge. It does not," the judge wrote in his 44-page ruling. "Even construing the allegations strongly in the government's favor, it is simply impossible to ascertain from the indictment whether this essential element was presented to and found by the grand jury."
Of course no one should have expected Rainey to understand that his flow rate estimates, crucial as they will be to the second phase of the trial, would ever garner any interest from federal investigators. But then, according to Judge Englehardt, "using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice" anyway so maybe all of this is moot.

Correction So the post title here is more appropriate than I intended. For some stupid reason I wrote that Rainey's conviction was thrown out. In fact he was never convicted of anything. The charges were dismissed. No idea how I could have been so stupid. I would guess I confused the case with the Danziger allusion I wanted to make. Anyway bad mistake.Very sorry.

Quote of the day

Greenwald:
Any journalist who doesn't erupt with serious outrage and protest over this ought never again use that title to describe themselves.
And yet there are many out there shrugging it off. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Doomed

This morning, The Advocate picked up this article which ran at The Lens last week about how the lack of a comprehensive plan for inter-state management of the Mississippi River threatens Louisiana's efforts to combat land loss at its delta.
While some rivers, most notably the Colorado, have long been subject to legal agreements parceling out water to its users, the Mississippi has been left to a laissez-faire style of management: Each state takes what it wants as the river flows inside its borders.

That lack of oversight, long an economic concern for southeast Louisiana, is growing into a mortal fear due to this scientific consensus: The region’s only hope of staying above the 4.3 feet of sea level rise expected by century’s end is to get the river’s fresh water and sediment back into the region’s sinking marshes.

That means the river’s water and sediment are now considered life-saving resources. And having 30 different, self-interested management plans preceding Louisiana’s needs could be a prescription for disaster, coastal scientists say.
So, in large part, developing a plan to use river diversions to save coastal Louisiana will involve establishing consensus policy from among powerful industry groups in oil and gas, shipping, and agriculture, operating in 31 states not to mention satisfying the needs of cities up and down the river who depend on it for municipal  water supply. Piece of cake, right?


The robustness of e-lending

Author Ursula K. Le Guin put up a short post this morning about e-book lending that should get some attention. 
While most small presses sell all their books freely and happily to libraries, the “Big Five” publishers continue to be terrified by the idea of letting public libraries have their e-books, and to punish libraries for even trying to get their e-books to customers.
Public libraries are facing challenges similar to those seen in journalism with regard to new media. Digitization should be making information cheaper and more accessible to more people now than at any time in human history.  But thanks to greedy gatekeepers like the "Big 5" (Really, "Big 6" Le Guin leaves out Penguin.) publishing companies, access is becoming stratified through artificial scarcity.
And here are some truly remarkable figures:
In October, 2012, a certain best-selling book sold in print for $15.51.
If you bought the e-book on Amazon, the price was $9.99.
If your public library bought the e-book, they paid $84.00 for it.
If you're a consumer who can afford an e-reading device or smart phone and data subscription, and can afford to pay for books regularly, and don't mind paying for permission to access something that exists in a "cloud" rather than actually taking physical and legal ownership of it, then you're doing okay.

Otherwise, you're doing significantly less well.  But central to the mission of public libraries is enabling access to information for everyone including (perhaps especially) those of us who are doing less well.  With regard to ebook lending, this means fighting a long and frustrating battle with publishers and digital wholesalers. Last August, popular librarian blogger Sarah Houghton summed it up well in this widely circulated post.
I feel that we in libraries are actually doing a disservice by offering what’s “barely good enough.” We give people the false impression that they can get their eBooks through their libraries. How many libraries are upfront with information about how we can’t/don’t offer books from the most popular publishers? How many libraries are upfront with the limited formats people can get on their devices of choice? Instead, most libraries tout their subscription to a single eBook service like it’s the second coming. We say “we have eBooks!” and “they work on most devices!” without listing the caveats, perhaps hoping that people won’t notice until they’re already chest deep in the browsing or download process and only then see what the limitations are. Why in hell are we covering for a bad situation? Who gains from us putting the happy face on the dismal eBook situation in libraries? It’s certainly not libraries–we haven’t gained shit. It’s certainly not our users–in fact, they’re the biggest losers. It’s the publishers who gain–who choose to license to libraries under any terms whatsoever (they get our money and we accept crappy prices and use limitations). And it’s the middleman companies who gain–who whore themselves out for the highest profit, lying to both sides by telling the publishers that libraries are screwing them and the libraries that the publishers are the ones doing the screwing.

In the meantime, though, libraries will have to make choices regarding which combination of electronic and print resources best serves their communities. To return to the journalism comparison, the danger here is that some libraries will go the NOLA.com route, throwing out print collections and jumping all the way into digital before the technology and the legal environment has reached a point where it expands rather than constricts their ability to function as democratizers of information. In such a case, it's difficult to imagine there'd be anything John Georges could do to mitigate the damage.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Serpas signal

It has been a tiring week. I really hope this is the last Mitch-and-Serpas-flex-their-muscles-for-the-cameras event we see for a while.
New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas confirmed Shawn Scott as the second shooting suspect. In 2007, Scott pleaded guilty in possession of cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to five years probation. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin and was to serve an eight year sentence. He was out on parole until December 2015. Like his brother Akein, Scott was charged this morning with 20 counts of second degree attempted murder. (A person was trampled by the crowd following the shooting and has been identified among the victims, hence the 20 counts of attempted second degree murder.)

"Shawn has a lengthy record and has demonstrated his contempt for New Orleans," Serpas said.
Why should the Chief be content to simply have apprehended the perpetrators of a heinous attempted murder that seriously injured several innocent people?  In Serpasland, it's always better to go on TV an add some weird faux jingoism about "contempt of city".

Perhaps there is some cathartic value in shunning all those whose hearts have betrayed the incorporated municipal jurisdiction that is our beloved homeland. But it probably doesn't fall within the purview of the police to carry out this action in their official capacity.

Serpas is just adding a condescending insult to the very real wound.  Please just arrest the kids and shut up. Nobody needs to hear the pandering bullshit about imaginary treason or whatever on top of it all.

Oh and this isn't very helpful either. 
The New Orleans Police Department’s Traffic Division will conduct a Sobriety Checkpoint in the Orleans Parish area 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.  
Meanwhile, for those of you who do not wish to follow the Chief's example, here are some positive and constructive actions you can take in the wake of the Mother's Day shootings.

You can attend a benefit concert, buy a T-shirt, or just contribute to a newly established United Way fund set up to help  the victims of violent crime in New Orleans.
Gambit’s Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, Tipitina’s Foundation, United Way of Southeast Louisiana and Silence Is Violence have joined forces to host a special benefit concert for the 19 victims of the May 12 shooting. The concert will be next Thursday (May 23) at Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave., and will feature local brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, and other musicians and entertainers. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the benefit are $40 in advance and are available online via Ticketweb.

The organizations also announced formation of The 19 Fund, a special fund-raising effort to aid the 19 victims of the May 12 shooting — and future victims of violence in greater New Orleans. The 19 Fund was the brainchild of representatives of the four nonprofits as well as several concerned citizens who volunteered to help victims of the shooting. The mission of The 19 Fund is “to help victims of violence heal physically, financially and emotionally.”
Also, friends and family of Deb Cotton have established a fund to help her with her medical expenses.  The link to donate is here. I've put up an attractive button on the sidebar of this site in case you feel like donating next week or some other time in the future.

Thanks. And drive carefully. 

Please pack your wetlands and go

I hope everyone has been keeping up with this series by WWNO and Bob Marshall on the decaying Louisiana coast.  Only in New Orleans can something like a steady drumbeat reminder that the very land we're standing on is dissolving rapidly into the sea start to seem like a pedantic annoyance after a while.  And this is why Marhsall's writing is so valuable.  He doesn't sugarcoat anything. And this jars the immediacy of the emergency out of the droning of the science.

The Gulf of Mexico, aided by sinking land and rising seas, has been swallowing this region at such a horrifying rate that a coastline that was a long-day’s boat ride away just 30 years ago could be at the city’s back door in 50 years.

What is arguably the greatest environmental and economic disaster in the nation’s history is racing toward a tragic climax that few of the tourists who flock here know about — and that Congress has shown little interest in addressing.

It is a struggle with massive environmental and economic implications for the nation. Yet those involved in this fight now candidly admit two points:

They are losing.

And if they don’t stage a comeback, most of the land in this part of the state will be under water by the end of the century, resulting in one of the largest permanent human migrations in the nation’s history, and one of its worst economic calamities.

Today's installment focuses on the manifold acceleration of the erosion process brought on by oil and gas exploration.
Most of southeast Louisiana, shut off from the river sediment that had built it over thousands of years, was now on a long, slow walk to the graveyard, a process that would take centuries.
It would take that long because sediment-starved deltas have two other ways to offset subsidence: the annual cycle of plant growth provides its own type of sediment, and the high tides — and even storm surges — bring in sediment from near shore deposits.

But even those lifelines were about to be broken.

Around the time those levees were completed a new threat to the region was gaining steam, one that would compress that centuries-long death march into a sprint of just decades.

The oil and gas industry had learned that the layer of wetlands along Louisiana’s coast covered enormous wealth. In a few short decades, more than 50,000 wells would be drilled, thousands of miles of canals dredged, and tens of thousands of miles of pipelines laid.

Soon, the wetlands began falling apart. Ponds became lagoons, which became lakes, which became bays — and the coast began receding northward.
Because oil and gas are the primary culprit in this crime, much effort has been expended in trying to get the industry to assume the cost of recovery (if recovery is even possible at this point.)

Jazzfest Presented By Shell

But this is an elusive aim since the oil and gas lobby is... well, they're oil and gas. 

Now, with the state urgently seeking $50 billion to fund the master plan it says can save some of what’s left, environmental groups have called for the oil industry, which already pays some fees, to be held more accountable for the damage it caused.

But the industry says its activities were permitted by the state, and besides, it’s already done its share.

“We feel we’re playing our part in this endeavor,” says Lyons of the Oil and Gas Association. “Taxes or things like that, over and above that, I think that would be inappropriate.”
 Fortunately BP spent the summer of 2010 wreaking unspeakable havoc on what was left of the coast. And so now they just very well might be compelled to make a significant contribution to the rebuilding effort
For BP, a finding of gross negligence would mean the company might be liable to the U.S. for as much as $17.6 billion in Clean Water Act fines, as well as unspecified punitive damages to claimants who weren’t part of a $8.5 billion settlement the company reached with most private party plaintiffs last year.

Today the state released a list of projects they are ready to fund with this money. How much they see is still in dispute, of course.

Meanwhile, many will recall that there's never been much trouble getting BP to fund a marketing campaign or two.
More than 100 nonprofit organizations and government entities will share almost $44 million in BP funds to promote Gulf Coast tourism and the seafood industries impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the court-appointed oil-spill claims administrator said Wednesday. 
This week we became aware of only the latest application of this money.
State and local tourism offices will pay a total of $375,000 to sponsor the upcoming New Orleans-set season of the Bravo cooking-competition series “Top Chef.” The split: $200,000 from the Louisiana Office of Tourism, $175,000 from the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
 The state’s “Top Chef” contribution will come from a recovery fund established by BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, said Jacques Berry, communication director for Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who oversees the state’s department of culture, recreation and tourism.
The NOTMC money, by the way, comes from locally generated tax revenue so there's that as well. But that is and is about to become a huge digression so we'll leave it be for now.

What's particularly saddening about the fact that BP settlement money is going toward bribing television producers while the Louisiana coast is fading away is that the only reason anyone paid any attention at all to it this week is because it became the subject of a celebrity food fight on Twitter.

A report that circulated yesterday via nola.com and Eater National revealed that the Louisiana Office of Tourism money that was part of the deal that got Top Chef New Orleans done was $200,000 of BP cash for promoting Louisiana that was distributed following the the Big Oozy.

(Anthony) Bourdain promptly thought of another idea, and Tweeted it out to Andy Cohen, who doubles as a Bravo exec and host of Watch What Happens Live.
Click the  NOLADef link to follow the blow by blow of the Twitter war. It got goofy. They dragged Wendell Pierce into it. Then they pulled David Simon into it. Then David Simon got mad at everybody. Nothing good came of it.  Rene had a funny way of summing it up
So if you are scoring at home. A New York food personality, a Baltimore newspaper man-cum-director, and a St. Louis exile who traffics in human reality are lecturing each other on the proper usage of funds received by Louisiana from a British company. This is either a punchline to the worst joke in history or a set-up for a Mark Twain quote. Now this may sound xenophobic, but it is quite presumptuous of people who don't live here to tell us what we can and can't do with our money. Sure, we may be jaded at the end of tourist season with outsiders, but really can you just leave us alone?
 This should have been an argument between citizens and the tourism racketeers mishandling their money.  But then.. this happened.   Maybe we're the ones being grossly negligent.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why didn't they just check the comment section?

I thought our experience in New Orleans would have demonstrated that when federal prosecutors want to track down a leak, they don't have to go through all this rigamarole. Eventually it all just comes out in the local Newhouse online publication. Fred Heebe can put them in touch with a decent forensic linguist if they don't already have one.

Meanwhile go read Greenwald who makes two excellent points. One is that the Grown Up press is awfully late to the game acknowledging that the Obama Adminstration has surpassed and lapped Bush/Cheney several times over in abuses of basic civil liberties.
For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".
The other, is that you can never overestimate the capacity of establishment so-called "liberals" for craven hypocrisy in these matters. 
This is such an under-appreciated but crucial aspect of the Obama legacy. Recall back in 2008 that the CIA prepared a secret report (subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks) that presciently noted that the election of Barack Obama would be the most effective way to stem the tide of antiwar sentiment in western Europe, because it would put a pleasant, happy, progressive face on those wars and thus convert large numbers of Obama supporters from war opponents into war supporters. That, of course, is exactly what happened: not just in the realm of militarism but civil liberties and a whole variety of other issues.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Very precise scouting

Saints college scouting director Rick Reiprish on first round pick Kenny Vaccaro
"Looking at the film, he stood out as being an outstanding player. Then you watch him on the practice field and kind of get the feeling that you were seeing a special kind of player at that position."
That is very impressive in that it leaves an impression on you. Maybe not a great one, but still.

Also, despite his short career in New Orleans, Chuck Muncie was pretty outstanding at standing out while he was with us.   

Chuck Muncie, a three-time Pro Bowler who was the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick in 1976--but whose career was derailed by drug abuse--died Monday of a heart attack, the New Orleans Saints have confirmed. Muncie played with the Saints from 1976 through the first four games of the 1980 season before being traded to San Diego.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Quote of the Day

You know if I were to go back through the near decade's worth of "Quote of the Day" posts on this blog and sort the quotes according to their originators, I have a strong suspicion the greatest number of those will have come from James Gill.
James Gill, whose acerbic wit and incisive columns about Louisiana politics and peccadillos have appeared in The Times-Picayune since 1986, is the latest T-P name to jump ship to The Advocate.

"It's very hard to make out a quote, because quotes are all bullshit," Gill told Gambit tonight. "But I am delighted to go to the highest bidder, I am happy to be renewing my association with [former Times-Picayune managing editor, now Advocate editor] Peter Kovacs — and I am delighted we have a newspaper war again after so many years."

Course Choice is the new "con-profit"

All you need is a list of names and SSNs, apparently. And neither seems all that hard to get thanks to John White. 

More than 1,100 Caddo and Webster students have signed up to participate in what some say are questionable Course Choice programs. According to parents, students, and Webster and Caddo education officials, FastPath Learning is signing up some students it shouldn’t — in many cases without parent or student knowledge.

A free tablet computer is offered to those who enroll, and some educators believe that’s all the potential enrollees hear. Money to pay for the courses comes from each school district’s state-provided Minimum Foundation Program funding.

Turns out your commodified soul really ain't worth all that much

More people should be reading Morozov these days.

Lanier proposes a system of ubiquitous surveillance, with cameras, databases and all. Since we can’t get any privacy, we might at least get paid. “Commercial rights,” he notes, “are better suited for the multitude of quirky little situations that will come up in real life than new kinds of civil rights along the lines of digital privacy.”

Following Lanier’s logic, any correction in the market system — say, price adjustments based on changing demand — would require that extra profits be transferred to consumers. But should you expect a supermarket to send you a check simply because you chose to buy one brand of milk over another? Probably not. Why treat Amazon differently?

To some, the very idea that our every decision is a piece of data to be monetized might seem appalling — and rightly so. What exactly is “humanistic” about Lanier’s vision? Its chief hero seems to be, to borrow a phrase from philosopher Michel Foucault, an “entrepreneur of the self,” always eager to cash in on some personal trivia.

Just quit the file and start a new game of Sim City

The town of Sorrento is considering just giving up after 60 years as an incorporated community.  There are a number of odd little facts in that story but the most interesting concerns an unusual type of election law.
The first step to dissolve any municipality of fewer than 2,500 residents requires a petition signed by both a majority of the registered voters and the approval of the largest landowners. That petition must then be presented to the Sorrento Town Council, which would declare a special election.

Like the petition, the election would require a majority of voters weighted by property tax value.
I don't think I've ever heard of an election where the votes were "weighted by property tax value" before.  In New Orleans, you get extra votes for stuff if you happen to be a university president or a hospitality lobbyist but that's a little bit different.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Horrible

Mother's Day second-line shooting on Frenchmen Street leaves about 12 people injured

Just trying to enjoy a Sunday afternoon.

Update: By now I'm sure most people are aware Deb Cotton was among the 19(!) people injured.   I'm sure she won't want this to be a story about her.  But it is one that she has been closely familiar with for a while.  I can't think of any individual whose work has done more to promote and celebrate the current generation of New Orleans backstreet parading culture than Deb has with her writing and videography. She very recently launched a new magazine site focused on music and street culture.

By now, also, I'm sure we're all aware that this story has made news around the whole world today.   I'm a little puzzled as to why that is, exactly, although the bizarre phrasing of this AP report provides a hint.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Gunmen opened fire on dozens of people marching in a neighborhood Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans on Sunday, wounding at least 19 people, police said.

The FBI said the shooting appeared to be “street violence” and wasn’t linked to terrorism.
Nobody was worried some sort of international plot was at work but thanks for putting us at ease about that, I guess.

Not that anyone is at ease. Especially not the Mayor and Chief of Police now that violent crime in New Orleans is back in the international headlines. Here are some videos of them saying tough guy things. Expect some sort of symbolic "action" within the next few days.  Maybe more "NOLA4Life" ads.

Or worse, they could end up blaming the parades themselves instead of the actual crime problem.  Deb wrote about this tendency a few years ago for Gambit.
In response to shootings that occurred at second lines in '06, Superintendent Riley raised social aid and pleasure club parade permits to six times their pre-storm amount of $1,200, a fee hike that was not applied to White Mardi Gras clubs even though similar incidences of shooting have occured during their parades such as the Muses parade in ’04, the Bacchus parade in ’07, and the Krewe of Crescent City parade in ’09. The ACLU fought and won several cases on behalf of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force and parade permits for the SAPCs were eventually reduced to $1,985.
The Fox news article is not an isolated incident of a bias reporter getting it wrong. The local mainstream media in New Orleans has a long history of racial bias against the Black community in general and second line culture in specific. One would think that weekly parades which tie up traffic in large swatches of the city for four hours at a time would at the very least merit local media announcements of parade routes and times. With the exception of this blog, which I published on Nola.com before migrating it here to Gambit online, the local media by and large ignores social aid and pleasure club culture - except in instances when it attempts to equate second line parades with lawlessness. In a city that has a majority Black population, it begs the question of motivation behind the press’ wholesale omission in coverage of a century old African American tradition that hosts annual half day parades every Sunday for nine months out of the year. The fact that these events rarely get positive coverage in the mainstream media is consistent with the attitude of neglect and ostracism that catalyzed these benevolent societies back in the 19th century with their mission of providing assistance and resources to the Black community during segregation.

Upperdate: More from Gambit here. It looks like  they're planning to organize a benefit for the victims of today's shootings.

Make believe

As long as we're going to make believe any of these tax credits are in real jeopardy here is the plan.  
The new plan makes at least $63 million in tax break reductions, cuts spending by more than $100 million and relies on state revenue collections improving by $90 million.

Modifications would be made to the motion picture tax credit program. The Jindal administration would be urged to put an emphasis on collecting sales taxes on Internet sales. Vendors would only be able to keep a portion of state sales tax collections on the first $3 million in annual sales.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

More Fiscal Chickenhawkery

Look at 'em fly!
The new plan projects raising $200 million a year – of the $526 million it would bring in overall per year – by launching a tax amnesty program that would last for nearly three years.

Budget experts question the plan.

“It’s a very risky way of balancing the budget,” said Jim Richardson, a Louisiana State University economist who sits on the four-member Revenue Estimating Conference that is about to meet to determine how much of the higher-than-projected revenue collected by the state Treasury can be spent. “I don’t see any way our conference can buy into that figure without more information.”

“Any way you cut it, it’s one-time money,” said C.B. Forgotston, an attorney and longtime budget expert whom the Fiscal Hawks have regularly consulted. “It goes against what the Hawks have been preaching. It’s also highly speculative. It’s a best guess of who will choose to pay.”

Under the amnesty program, people with outstanding tax bills could pay without incurring penalties or interest they’d normally face, at least for the first year.
Guess the anti-Jindal revolution wasn't all that big a thing after all.

At least they'll get plenty of chances to practice

Here's the latest on that Rube Goldberg style "barge gate" on the intracoastal waterway that was designed to just sit closed for 10-15 years at a time but then we later found out would have to be open and closed with alarming regularity. 
The misjudged current tolerances have led the corps to declare that the structure should be closed 96-hours – four days – before a storm is expected to make landfall in the area.

“Basically, we’ll be closing this thing any time a tropical disturbance or even a low-pressure system is in the Gulf,” Turner said. “We’re not leaving anything to chance because the risk to the community we’re protecting is simply too great.

“We’re going to keep working with the corps to get this all squared away before hurricane season” — which begins June 1.

The Bomb Robot has X-ray vision

Not that this does any good.
Lewis called the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office and deputies closed off both sides of St. Bernard Highway from Mehle to Friscoville Avenues at about 1:30 p.m. The stretch of highway wasn't reopened until around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The Sheriff's Office sent in a bomb robot that X-rayed its contents but could not make a clear determination of what was inside. So, out of precaution, deputies took the bag to a nearby vacant lot and safety detonated it based on proper procedures.
Because the X-Ray vision cannot see through backpacks, the cops went ahead and set off an explosion... for safety. But, like I always say, you can never be too careful protecting Arabi's donut shops from disgruntled customers.
Lewis said the man had come in the last couple of days and "every day there have been some problems" with him wanting "wanting a free drink, or always something." On Wednesday, Lewis said that the man walked out without paying his check "and then he leaves a bag and it made you wonder."
In any case, finding random pieces of junk and exploding them continues to be a... um... booming business for area bomb squads and their robot friends.
Authorities are investigating a suspicious device found on the side of the National World War II Museum at 945 Magazine St., New Orleans police said in an email.

Officer Garry Flot said SWAT team members have the device and are trying to determine what it is. He said police used a robot to get the device.
Once they determine what the device (shower radio, bicycle tire, turkey sandwich, whatever)  might be, they plan to hold a public detonation later that afternoon along the riverfront.  Citizens may attend the celebratory safety explosion ("Boom Boom en Blanc: Flashmob with a Flash" ) for a modest fee of $40 per person which will go toward funding the NOPD consent decree reform.  If you are going, though, please leave your backpacks at home.

Update: The "mystery device" at the museum was, in fact, fireworks a "weathered" discarded bottle rocket.  So, yeah, I guess the party is definitely on, then.

Fiscal Chickenhawks

Jindal is probably going to end up with more or less the budget he wants. Or at least, a budget that protects most of the special tax privileges put in jeopardy by a proposed deal between Democrats and so-called Republican "Fiscal Hawks."  Here's why.
The Fiscal Hawks-Democrats’ plan released Monday night would produce $527 million by shaving nearly 30 tax exemptions by 15 percent apiece to raise $329 million, cutting spending by more than $100 million and using higher-than-projected tax revenue that the state treasury has collected. Doing this would eliminate the one-time and contingency spending for annual expenses, they say.

House Democrats overwhelmingly support the plan, by a 42 to 3 count, according to one survey of their members Wednesday. But a tick sheet of House Republicans from Tuesday night showed that the three-pronged attack by Jindal, the business community and the state Republican Party left only 25 votes in favor and 33 opposed.

“It would appear they’re getting pounded,” state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, the Democrats’ House leader. “We’re holding up our side.”

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Backblogged

I've been too busy to keep up the Yellow Blog as much as I'd like to lately.  So there's a backlog of stuff I'm going to hang here over the next few days just so I'll have a halfway decent chance of remembering it later. (That's mostly the purpose of this blog, anyway.)

For example, there's this thing that happened earlier in the week.

Sean Payton isn’t just a coach anymore.

Now he’s a doctor.

Payton spent his weekend at in Charleston, Ill., where he received an honorary doctorate of public service from Eastern Illinois University, his alma mater. The school had previously retired his No. 18 jersey in 2010.
 This is memorable primarily because of the photo.



But also because I was momentarily baffled by the "Public Service" degree. It turns out that it has something to do with his charitable foundation which is nice, I guess, although I'm pretty sure every pro athlete and coach has one of some kind.

Honorary Doctor of Pharmacology, though. That would have made some sense.

Yes, please

I don't have anything to add here. But, more like this, please.

WASHINGTON -- Students taking out government loans to help pay for college should pay the same rock-bottom interest rate that the Federal Reserve charges big banks, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed Wednesday.

When it rains it Khodrs

So yesterday we learned that Hicham Khodr had just purchased his fifty ka-billionth restaurant on Magazine Street.  Today we're finding out that he may have to deface an icon he already owned.
Camellia Grill, a dining landmark on South Carrollton Avenue, may have to go by another name after a recent court ruling that found the restaurant's owner in breach of a licensing agreement.

On Wednesday, a civil district appeals court ruled that the restaurateur, Hicham Khodr, lost the right to use the Camellia Grill name and logo on the business that he bought from Michael Shwartz in 2006.
Frankly, I've never been a huge fan of Camellia Grill.  I know it has a certain sentimental value for deep Uptowners and probably for kids who first found it as Tulane students.  But it's pretty much just another diner. And there are other, better diners in town. 

It's not terrible, of course. And, for what you pay there, it's probably "worth it."  But mostly what they're selling there is the name. Sucks for them if they can't sell that anymore.

This seems somewhat significant

Pulitzer winners leave Times-Picayune for The Advocate
Four leading reporters and editors from The Times-Picayune, including Pulitzer Prize winners who covered Hurricane Katrina, signed up to work for The Advocate Wednesday, a week after businessman John Georges bought the daily newspaper and promised to beef up its operations in New Orleans. 
Aside from James Gill's and Jarvis Deberry's columns and the still quite robust sports coverage,  I'm having a hard time coming up with much reason to look at the T-P anymore.  The Advocate still has a long way to go to get to where it can cover as much ground as it needs to.  It also needs a more active website with the capacity to post breaking news throughout the day. 

Sooner or later John Georges is bound to do something screwy with his new toy but for now he's building a better one; one that looks like it's trying to be a serious newspaper. While he's doing that, I suppose it's worth supporting that effort with reservations.

As for the overall "state of journalism" or whatever in New Orleans, I think we're probably slightly worse off than we had been.  There are still good people doing good reporting but it's reaching a more fragmented audience. I know there's some effort to mitigate that via resource sharing and "alliances" and stuff but it's not quite what it ought to be. Not yet anyway.   Maybe a decent daily paper will help there.

Update: Hmm... looks like Georges may have opened a vein.

"If Gordon and Martha go," a city reporter told Gambit Saturday night, "we all go."

The temp pump decade

The controversial temporary outfall canal gates and pumps have been in place for 7 years now.  Already they're near the end of their intended life span.  You may recall the several problems experienced during last year's Isaac emergency including one pump that caught on fire and another that had to be started by a dude climbing out to pull the ripcord when it failed to start automatically.

Anyway, get ready for another 3-5 years of running these on bubblegum and duct tape. The contract to build the permanent structures has only just now been finalized.

A $614 million project to build permanent canal closures and pumps to keep storm surge out of New Orleans’ three outfall canals is expected to begin this fall, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Until that work is finished, interim closure structures built in 2006 will continue to be used to protect the Orleans Avenue, London Avenue and 17th Street canals from a 100-year-level storm surge.

The work will take 45 months to complete, according to the corps, meaning New Orleans will go through several more hurricane seasons with the temporary pumps and structures, which the corps has said have a limited lifespan.
Hurricane Season 2013 begins in less than a month.  Time just flies, doesn't it?