Saturday, February 28, 2015

What is the opposite of muckraking?

You hear a lot about how the professional media no longer exercises standards or decorum or whatever it is our supposedly anarchic, wisdom-deprived, gatekeeperless environment is missing now.  I think civility is another one.  We don't have that anymore either apparently.

Still somehow, we manage to keep a pretty good handle on which stories we are definitely not going to cover.
From the very beginning- the moment that public records surfaced revealing that Bill Cassidy claimed to be working in Baton Rouge on the same days he was voting in DC and that he failed to submit 75% of his time sheets (despite the explicit demand that he account for all of his work)- the Louisiana media has been absolutely, shamefully, epically derelict in its duties. They refused to ask the tough questions. They refused to hold him or LSU accountable. Two days ago, LSU released a report that it conducted itself; they called it an audit, and they implied it cleared Dr. Cassidy.

Crazy all the way to bank

The key to understanding CPAC.. and by extension the Republican Presidential primary... and, I guess, by extension our entire corrupt and broken political system... is you have to first know is that almost none of it has anything to do with public advocacy. Most of it is about making money.
The commerce of conservatism has never been more robust. And here at the right’s biggest trade show, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, just about everyone is selling something.

Political figures’ seeing financial incentives in keeping their names circulating as presidential hopefuls is nothing new. But the merging of political and profit motives has gotten to the point where many Republicans say they fear that their nominating process has begun to look like a machine for generating and heightening brand awareness.

“There are a lot of reasons for running for president,” said Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News. “And getting to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue often isn’t one of them.”
You might think it's fun to gawk at so much right wing crazy in one place but most of these people know exactly what they're doing. What kind of an idiot would actually want to be President, anyway? The smart.. or at least shrewd.. ones  are just building a brand they can parlay into something much easier and more lucrative.
Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, won the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses in January of that year. Two months after winning the prominent early presidential derby test, he left the race. In September 2008, Huckabee became the host of an eponymous TV political commentary program on Fox News.

Huckabee is not the only Republican on the national stage who later went under the TV lights – former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a Fox News contributor. Any hopes for Huckabee, who left his show earlier this year to consider another run for the presidency, and for Palin that such regular national TV exposure could reboot their White House ambitions, have so far proved elusive at best.

The popular use of the town hall meeting political structure in New Hampshire, familiarly employed by Christie in New Jersey, works to Christie’s advantage, the source said. A strong showing in the “Live Free or Die” state’s primary could seal the deal for the birth of a lucrative post-politics media career for Christie, in the event that he does not reverse a polling trend that shows a thorny path to the presidency.

Life imitates art.. or vice/versa

This is a float from this year's Knights of Chaos parade. The brawling figures depicted are our friends Gayle Benson and Rita Benson Leblanc.

Gayle and Rita

This is a story form today's Times-Picayune/NOLA.com thingy.
The pregame encounter occurred in front of dozens of friends and guests of the Bensons and quickly escalated after Rita Benson LeBlanc, whom sources described as the aggressor, approached Gayle Benson.

At one point, the two sources who witnessed the incident said, Rita Benson LeBlanc, then 37, grabbed Gayle Benson by both shoulders and shook the then-67-year-old repeatedly during a confrontation that lasted several minutes.

"She (Rita) was shaking her (Gayle) to emphasize her point and to be heard," said one of the sources who was in the suite and witnessed the incident. "It was pretty ugly.

"I remember the pyrotechnics going off in the stadium (during pregame player introductions) and thinking fireworks were also going off in the suite."

The problem

Everyone is worried about what "looks cool" as opposed to what works for people.
Vision Zero, a policy pitched by non-profit transportation advocacy groups Bike Easy and RIDE New Orleans, aims to educate the public and improve public infrastructure with a goal of eliminate traffic-related death. Vision Zero started in Sweden and has been adopted by American cities like New York, San Francisco and Houston.

Brossett said creating a safe infrastructure for all kinds of roadway users is important, especially with the population of the city expected to grow, but that government agencies can’t do it alone. “One life is too much to lose,” said Brossett. “…Whatever your mode of transportation is, it should be respected and the law should be abided by.”

At-large Councilman Jason Williams called the ordinance “a huge part in making our city what we want it to be.” Williams said New Orleans takes pride in how “cool” it is, but such committees are the basis of improving the city to making it “look the way we want it to look.”
Well, it should be noted also that Brossett is interested in making people "abide by the law" which roughly translates into, "Let's figure out more ways to fine bicyclists." This is different from just doing stuff that makes biking safer like paving streets and redesigning intersections and.. even.. sometimes.. if you're doing it correctly, bike lanes. 

But we don't do bike lanes correctly in New Orleans. We just paint stripes on roads where we think it might look cool to have them.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Now you don't have to go

Here are two entertaining links to kick off the weekend. Each involves a report from somewhere you, thankfully, will never have to visit.

First, here is Jeb Lund who went to CPAC this week so you don't have to.
I eventually leave the room and start heading to the other side of the Gaylord, where former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Montana Representative Ryan Zinke answer the question: “When Should America Go to War?” And, folks, lemme tell you, it is all the dang time.
And, even more frightening, here is Matt Taibbi at the NFL scouting combine.
In the old days, the draft was an unknown event that took place in hotel banquet rooms, sometimes during the season. Old-timers like former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt tell stories about teams that used to “pick up a pay phone, call a school, and say, ‘Hey, we need a tackle; you got anybody good?’”

Screw that now: The new reality-show format subjects the draft entrants to a hilarious nine-week stretch of goofball obstacle courses and campy personality tests that collectively play out on TV like a cross between Battle of the Network Stars and the Miss America pageant, with a faint but troubling whiff of 1830s slave auction mixed in.

Because they said so

Another judge just goes along to get along with Mitch.
A judge sided Friday with Mayor Mitch Landrieu in his fight with city employees about the overhaul of municipal personnel rules, finding that city employees failed to prove they were entitled to sue.

Friday’s ruling against the Concerned Classified City Employees, an organization made up of active and retired city workers, is the Landrieu administration’s second major courtroom victory over employees seeking to overturn the new rules. Judge Robin Giarrusso’s ruling leaves intact Landrieu’s Great Place to Work Initiative, which was passed by the city’s Civil Service Commission in August.

In December, Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julien found that a lawsuit filed by the Fraternal Order of Police to block key parts of the initiative was premature.

Giarrusso did not explain her legal reasoning for the ruling, which was preceded by brief arguments from the plaintiffs’ attorney Arthur Smith, as well as lawyer Gilbert Buras for the commission and Greg Feeney for the city.

The good (and bad) news is Sean Payton is still Sean Payton

The coach who wrote a screenplay about improving football games through the use of an X-Box, is still talking about improving football games through the use of virtual reality.
BOSTON -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has an idea. And now, for the first time in NFL history, it's a realistic possibility.

Imagine a young quarterback walking into a room at the Saints' practice facility. He straps on a headset, flips a switch and plays a virtual game against the Atlanta Falcons' defense. His vision is filled with current Falcons schemes and players, who move and react based on data compiled by the NFL's "Next Gen Stats" program.

"The challenge we have all the time is that it's the one position where there's only one of them in the game the entire time," Payton said Friday during an appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "The game ends, and how do you get those guys snaps, real-time snaps? Much like we develop pilots -- they do a lot of simulator work -- I think the opportunity exists [in football]. Especially when you're able to accurately show movement with chips, exactly how it unfolds with the defense."
Eventually we'll get to a place where all football happens in the virtual realm.  Although the brain damage may still be as severe as ever. 


Jindal's last minute LoomisMath today notwithstanding, the state budget wreck he's created is going to cause a great deal of pain.

The pain will be particularly bad for university students in the form of higher fees and university employees in the form of.. unemployment.

Also badly hurt will be approximately 57,000 uninsured patients who depend on New Orleans area community clinics.
The program is essentially a waiver of Medicaid eligibility for people who are age 19 to 64 and whose are at our below the federal poverty level, but who don't meet the current Medicaid eligibility requirements. Their incomes, for example, must be less than $11,496 per year for an individual or less than $23,556 for a family of four, for example.

"I know that these clinics provide valuable services," Nichols said during the budget hearing before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget in Baton Rouge. But Nichols said the state has provided the match over the past several years with the hope and expectation that the local government would find a way to support it.
This could be alleviated if the state were to accept the expanded Medicaid provision of Obamacare but... Bobby Jindal doesn't think free money from the feds makes fiscal sense. This helps explain why we're in this position in the first place. 

Public schools will also be badly hurt by Jindal's proposals.  Although, we can't help but notice that his pet voucher program makes out okay in the process.
The governor’s public schools budget includes a nine percent increase in state aid for vouchers, to $46.1 million.

Vouchers are state aid for some students to attend private schools if they meet income and other requirements.

The program, which used to be limited to New Orleans, was expanded to a statewide effort in 2012 as part of Jindal’s public school overhaul that year.

The additional funding would allow another 679 students to qualify for vouchers.

About 7,200 students are taking part this year.
There's much much more pain to be described, of course.  The papers do a good job of filling you in.  As you read through that, though, keep in mind that it can, and very likely will, get much worse once the Legislature begins to tug at it.

Jindal's proposal relies heavily on lawmakers' willingness to claw back $526 million in refundable tax credits. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of business and industry lobbyists mobilizing now to save their special favors. 

On the other hand, it could open the door for discussion about reigning in the largest and dumbest tax giveaway in the state.
Morrell said in an interview last week that the overall goal was "comprehensive reform" of the current iteration of the film tax credit program, which in its current form works like this: a project becomes eligible for motion picture tax credits once its in-state budget exceeds $300,000 worth of expenditures. Once finished, the film receives a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase of eligible, in-state goods and services and a 35 percent credit on local labor. The credits are then refundable by the state at 85 percent or transferable.

However, the state does not currently budget for this credit, so how much cash the state is on the hook for it can vary from year to year. 
Last year this program cost the state at least $250 million.  So if you're looking for change under cushions, that sounds like a good place to start digging.  Tom Benson probably has the rest but that money is all tied up in legal wrangling right now. He's trying to free it up, though.  The sooner the better. Otherwise the lawyers eat it all.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How do you get to be the sole trustee of a dissolved trust?

It makes me wonder if Mitch is deluded or simply unaware of the reality.  It seems like he thinks he owns everything, including Port Fourchon, and he thinks he's going to do whatever he wants with it.  What he wants, as I suggested back at the beginning of this battle, is to sell the land while he's still in office using the proceeds however he sees fit.  And by the looks of many of the donation recipients he sees fit to pay off his peeps and lucrative voting blocs (I have more coming on that issue soon).
How much for all the land? When Jason first started writing about this, Mitch selling the whole thing off at once seemed like the most likely outcome to me.   Starting to look more likely.  And, hey, maybe it's the right thing to do.  It's all gonna melt into the sea, anyway, right?

LSU finds that LSU acted appropriately

Well.. okay, then.

Nobody actually lives here

This is a new report from The Data Center (formerly the New Orleans Community Data Center... they re-branded to higher ambitions.. or something).  It tells us that 39% of children in New Orleans are living in poverty.  
The child poverty rate in New Orleans is fully 17 percentage points higher than the national average. Moreover, it is higher than in many comparable U.S. cities. Among the 39 cities with populations between 275,000 and 600,000, New Orleans has the 9th highest child poverty rate. This is particularly concerning given that many of the cities with higher child poverty rates, such as Cleveland, are not experiencing an economic renaissance as in New Orleans.
An "economic renaissance" with 39% child poverty.  How does that work?  According to this report, if you actually live here, things are as shitty as they've ever been. 
Given that 82 percent of New Orleans families with children have at least one working parent, how could it be that 39 percent of all New Orleans children live in poverty? The answer may lie partially in the large number of low-wage jobs offered in the New Orleans area. A larger share—12 percent—of full-time, year-round workers in the New Orleans metro earn less than $17,500 per year, as compared to only 8 percent nationally. And female workers who live in the city of New Orleans itself are more likely than male workers to earn low wages. According to 2013 Census data, more than 64,000 working women in New Orleans earned less than $17,500 in the prior 12 months through either full-time or part-time work.
There is one key difference, though.  If the overall population of children is any indication, it turns out, significantly fewer people actually live here.
Roughly 78,000 children under 18 years of age live in New Orleans as of 2013. This is a sizable drop from 2000 when over 129,000 children lived in New Orleans.i While the number of children in New Orleans is significantly smaller than pre-Katrina, the poverty rate unfortunately is not. The child poverty rate in New Orleans dropped in 2007 but has since increased to the same level it was pre-Katrina. Today, 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty.

The city's post-Katrina strategy has had nothing to do with alleviating poverty and everything to do with removing the poors. And it's working. It works especially well for the people who actually matter, anyway.  Developers and realtors are doing great.
The cost of buying a home in the New Orleans area climbed for the third year in a row in 2014. And it was not just the city, but the suburbs as well, that saw gains.

Meanwhile, in the city proper, the latest figures showed that the market has gotten so hot in more desirable neighborhoods that buyers have started scooping up even the more run-down properties. The price of homes in poor or fair condition last year spiked in certain ZIP codes.

Across the region, sales of single-family homes in average or better condition climbed 3.1 percent, to $114 per square foot, last year, compared with $110 in 2013. Those figures compare with an average price of $102 per square foot before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Considered another way, a 2,000-square-foot home now sells for an average of $228,000 in the metro area. It would have sold for an average of $220,000 last year and $204,000 before the storm.

Nobody lives here.  Or at least the shrinking number of people who do live here can't make ends meet.. particularly the few people who are still trying to raise families here. But demand for housing has never been stronger. What is happening?

New Orleans is becoming a smaller, more expensive playground for the wealthy.  This is not an accident of history or the will of the invisible hand of the free market. It is happening because that is what our political leadership wishes to happen. All they're interested in is more and more nice things for rich people who don't live here.
NEW ORLEANS -- The long-vacant Rault Center building at 1111 Gravier St. recently sold for $5.5 million.

The developer plans to turn the building into a 185-room boutique hotel.

The old New Orleans Public Service Incorporated building at Union and Baronne sold last month for $11.6 million.

It is also expected to be transformed into a hotel.

New Orleans City Council member LaToya Cantrell says momentum is growing across the CBD.

"Across the board, what I envision is a real tipping point that's happening," said Cantrell. "It's prime real estate in the heart of the city of New Orleans and it gives me great, great confidence that we're moving in the right direction."
I don't think LaToya is dumb. So I have to assume she is fully aware of the sort of lie she is telling when she asks us to conclude that downtown development is primarily about creating a "neighborhood."
"Basically, what we're see happening there is the development of a brand new downtown neighborhood which is what we're about, we're about creating a collection of great neighborhoods downtown," said Weigle.

"We do have more people moving to the CBD," said Cantrell. "They're moving into a mixed-use community. So, you can live, work, play and also worship."

There is now hope the stars aligned for the long dormant Plaza Towers at Howard Avenue and Loyola Avenue will make a comeback.

New Orleans developer Joe Jaeger recently purchased the 45 story skyscaper.
It's former owners spent $11 million removing asbestos and mold from the building.

"We've seen the growth occur along Loyola Avenue, as it relates to the Hyatt, of course," said Cantrell. "Now we have Dave and Busters coming on line there. The redevelopment in terms of the streetcar line. Plaza Tower is the only development in my mind that holding it back and now we have someone who's going to be responsive and responsible for bring it back, back into commerce."

Hotels, pied-a-terres, short term rentals, and..... Dave & Buster's, I guess.  But not many families with children, of course. Those kind of people can't afford what we're building.   But, hey, it makes money.  And it generates tax revenue. It's a shame that nobody actually lives here but that's part of the deal. 

Eventually they will kick you off the internet anyway

Just not today.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, in a 3-2 vote, approved the reclassification of the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act.

Though expected, the vote was greeted with cheers—applauded as "the biggest win for the public interest in the FCC’s history"— from supporters of net neutrality, the concept that says online traffic should be relegated to fast or slow lanes determined by the large telecom companies who control much of the nation's digital networks.
All it takes is for a future administration to reverse this hiccup. And that is inevitable. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Vampire Squids

They sucked out all the money.
“The health of the financial system might matter less for the real economy than it once did,” writes J.W. Mason, an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College who wrote the paper, "because finance is no longer an instrument for getting money into productive businesses, but for getting money out of them."

If it holds up, that has some pretty serious implications for how the Federal Reserve should go about tending the "real economy" in the future.

Here’s the data at the center of the report: In the 1960s, 40 percent of earnings and borrowing used to go into investment. In the 1980s, that figure fell to less than 10 percent, and hasn’t risen since. Instead of investment, borrowing is now closely correlated with shareholder payouts, which have nearly doubled as a share of corporate assets since the 1980s.
In other words, finance has been a drag on rather than a booster of wealth in the real economy since before someone my age would have even opened his first bank account.  Still, for whatever reason, we're supposed to keep playing the game.  Why?

Probably pink salt

Every state house has at least one witch-doctor nowadays.
Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R) plans to introduce a bill she said would provide more options for cancer patients — but actually relies on what medical experts call a myth, Think Progress reported.

“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, salt water, sodium cardonate through that line and flushing out the fungus,” Fiore said on her radio show over the weekend. “These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”
On the other hand it's no worse than buying pink yogurt cans in October

More cops does not automatically equal safer city

I want to be a police officer

The number of police is a "measurable," though, so every story about how safe people feel inevitably includes a line like this.
Among the rise in violent crime, New Orleans averaged more than one non-fatal shooting per day -- 398 -- in 2014, compared to 322 in 2013 -- a 24 percent increase. A WWL-TV report in January discovered the NOPD had 1,148 commissioned officers, well off its target of 1,600.

While less than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the NOPD, 77 percent said they felt safe in their neighborhoods -- compared to 81 percent in March of 2014 -- though only 44 percent said they felt safe in outside of their neighborhoods in the latest survey.
Would there have been fewer shootings if there were 1,600 NOPD?  It's hard to see how one relates to the other.  There were plenty of NOPD available to respond to a shooting at the Muses parade this year.  But there's not a lot their concentrated presence could have done to prevent it, unfortunately. 

Still, everyone is clamoring for more cops... real ones and fake ones too. So much so that this month the city council agreed to allow NOPD to reduce its hiring standards in order to help it meet its hiring goal.  This might not be such a great idea.
Research conducted by Jason Rydberg and Dr. William Terrill from Michigan State University provides evidence that having a college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance. The study also discovered evidence that educated officers demonstrate greater levels of creativity and problem-solving skills​, wrote Mark Bond, criminal justice faculty at American Military University (AMU).

“A formal education teaches critical-thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of criminal justice at AMU. “These are vital to officers on the street and those involved with community policing, especially since discretion plays such a large part in officer-citizen contacts. The policy and procedure books agencies use can only cover so many situations and scenarios—the rest is up to the individual officer.”
It's unclear whether more police will actually be beneficial.  But we've already moved on to asking whether more bad police will help.  Should be fun finding the answer to that one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nobody actually lives here

Ikea  coming soon

Occasionally we look around at real estate listings like this one   or this one.  and this one and scratch our heads. Where is the money coming from?  No one has sufficiently explained it yet. 

I have no idea what's going on myself but I do have suspicions, particularly where it involves the short-term rental market.  There are renovations happening all over my neighborhood recently. Every time one is completed, that property then becomes host to an ever-rotating series of visitors. During Mardi Gras, it was particularly striking. I used to get to know the neighbors during parades.  In recent years, I've been talking more to tourists staying for the weekend in what used to be the neighbors' homes.

Of course from the city's point of view this is all good news. In the coming weeks, City Council is going to look into making all this underground activity legal.  Higher property values, higher tax collections, fewer actual residents to have to deliver services to.  Lots of money to be made in real estate, I guess. But nobody actually lives here anymore.

Almost a quarter of the way there

The over/under on number of years before BP pays any Clean Water Act fines (if any) over the Macondo spill is 20.  It's been 5 already.
BP is challenging a January ruling over the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill as it seeks to lower its civil penalty for the disaster. BP faces up to $13.7 billion in federal fines.

The notice of appeal, filed Monday (Feb. 24) in New Orleans, comes days after U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected BP's attempt to lower the maximum fine for the spill.

Barbier ruled Jan. 15 that 3.19 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day gusher. The ruling was based on evidence presented in October 2013 in the civil trial over the spill.
Remember, the ruling they're appealing was already a lazy "split-the-baby" decision by Barbier and a big break for BP in and of itself.  

Also, Louisiana is waiting on that money to help fund crucial coastal restoration projects with only the very survival of its most populated areas at stake... oh who are we kidding, it's never gonna happen. 

Uh oh

Y'all, I think Mary Landrieu's reelection campaign might be in real trouble now
(Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama issued the third veto of his presidency Tuesday to reject legislation that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, escalating a battle over the project between the White House and Republicans in Congress. 
Some Canadian oil might have a slightly more difficult time getting to international markets, I guess. For a while, anyway. Why is this even a thing to people?

Everybody hates Bobby

Weird guy camps out on White House lawn and makes paranoid speech about mooslims or something.
WASHINGTON -- Gov. Bobby Jindal continued his attacks on President Barack Obama, proclaiming just outside the White House Monday (Februrary 23) that Obama is "unfit to be commander in chief" based on his refusal to commit resources needed to defeat and kill radical Islamic terrorists.

"I take no joy in saying that," Jindal said after he and other governors met with the president for nearly 90 minutes. "I don't say so for partisan or ideological reasons."

But he said a president who cannot call the enemy "radical Islamic terrorists," or is willing to rule out ground troops, except for very limited missions, isn't leading the United States to victory over a brutal enemy that he says only can be stopped by killing them.
In other news, Osama Bin Laden is still dead.

In other other news, Bobby Jindal's Presidential campaign is still dead in the water


Sounds like a broken record at this point but Hollywood South is just one big corporate entitlement.
The program is certainly popular and fun. It draws movie stars to our midst, attracts good publicity and puts locals to work.

But it’s also distorting, and not just in the way that Petal and Smith were able to so easily exploit.

Their crime would not have been possible if the program didn’t provide tax credits to moguls who don’t even accrue tax liability in the state, a situation that creates a separate marketplace to buy those credits and sell them to locals who do owe taxes; that’s what Petal’s company, LIFT Productions, was set up to do.

In fact, it’s distorting to refer to the payouts as tax credits at all because the state often just cuts checks to players that exceed their tax bills.

Subsidies is more like it, and generous ones at that.
I don't know exactly who Grace thinks it's "fun" for, though. It's probably not fun for the university system.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Math is stupid

Bobby Jindal doesn't want to be in the "Party of Stupid," right?
State officials don’t even agree on how Louisiana got into this budget mess.

Jindal insists the bulk of next year’s shortfall is because of the nosedive in oil prices and its impact on Louisiana’s treasury through lessened severance taxes and mineral royalties. He told a crowd at a recent Baton Rouge event that the state’s financial problems are “largely due to the decline in the price of oil.”

The math doesn’t back up the governor’s assertion, no matter how many times he repeats the explanation.

Louisiana’s income forecasting panel dropped next year’s revenue projections by about $300 million because of plummeting oil prices. The larger problem for next year’s budget is the use of $1.1 billion this year in patchwork financing.

The dollars come from one-time legal settlements, redirected account balances and insurance payments that aren’t expected to appear again next year. Jindal and lawmakers used the money to pay for ongoing programs, so when the dollars disappear, the state must come up with a new way to pay for those items if it wants to continue the services.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

BTW Public schools still failing

Maybe it seems like a small thing, but you really should appreciate the occasions when the big city papers admit this.
Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans’ infrastructure, the city still faces myriad problems, including a failing school system, broken-down streets and federal consent decrees mandated for the city’s jail and Police Department. But topping the list, according to New Orleans City Council members, are two issues: an income inequality that continues to crush the city’s poorest residents and violent crime.
It's taken a while for them to notice but the school system, even after all the "reform" and privatization, is still failing. That's progress.

Here's a recent article by Kristen Buras.  She wrote a book about the charterization movement in New Orleans. (You don't need to buy it. $125, yikes!) The new system still fails to serve its students.  But, in another way, it can be considered a success.
The CEO of Future Is Now, a charter operator in New Orleans, was paid a salary of $250,000 when John McDonogh High School, seized by Future Is Now despite community resistance, posted a performance score of 9.3 on a scale of 150. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that taxpayers received their money’s worth.

In 2012, students from various historic high schools in New Orleans that had been taken over and chartered issued a list of demands to the Recovery School District.

“A lot of money has come to New Orleans for education reform,” they protested, “but none of it benefits the children.”
Buras is speaking Monday evening at Tulane if you're interested.  

Anyway, thanks again to the Advocate for noting that the system is still failing even as an aside to a story about something else. 

That something else, by the way, was a public forum on crime and inequality held by three city councilmembers.  I don't know if they invited the others or not but Jason Williams, Nadine Ramsey, and Jared Brossett are the most vocal councilors regarding inequality.  It's probably just a coincidence that they are the three shortest tenured on the council.... right?
“Affordability is a big issue in this city,” Brossett said, citing rising property taxes and rents, which worsen the burden created by low wages paid in several industries in the city. Together, these issues make the cost of living in Orleans Parish the highest of any parish in the state, he said.

“Income inequality — I don’t need to tell y’all this. It’s vast. I mean, we were compared to Zambia, as far as income inequality,” he said. “That is ridiculous, as we are part of one of the richest and strongest nations on this planet.”

The impetus behind Brossett’s proposal, added Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey,was a disparity between white and African-American workers in New Orleans that seemed to be getting worse over time.

“It’s always interesting to me to read in magazines and news articles and in press releases about all the wonderful things that are going on in our city,” Ramsey said. “But we all know that this economic boom is not being shared across the board in all of our communities.”
This is going to be an important year with regard to these sorts of issues. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of talks like this one.

Why are we cutting higher ed?

Here's a typically territorial clash of the tiny titans between Pat Connick and Austin Badon.
Resurrecting tolls on the Crescent City Connection could return to the Legislature's agenda this spring if a measure to merge Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans also is revived, a legislator said.

Calling it a "shot across the bow,'' state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, warned that he may push to reinstate the tolls, if Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, pushes to combine the schools. Connick opposed the tolls renewal in 2012.
Yeah, it's petty. No, it's not going to amount to anything. Still it's worth noting why Pat Connick thinks we're currently gutting higher education in the state of Louisiana.
He pointed to the decision by Southern University's governing board to combine the jobs of system president and main campus chancellor to streamline the organization. Southern is facing a $15 million deficit next year.

"This issue has never been addressed by the Legislature. It's been pushed under the rug and ignored,'' Connick said, adding Louisiana has too many public universities. "That's why we are precisely where we are today, cutting higher ed, cutting health care.''
No. We're cutting higher ed and health care because Bobby Jindal has wrecked the budget in pursuit of a career in national politics.  But thanks for your concern. 


I dunno, $1.2 million over 10 years still seems a pretty cheap price for this.
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
But I've never quite understood the market scale for bribery and/or consultancy fees... or really the difference between them in the first place. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015


There have been so many Uncle Ricos caught up in the Hollywood South tax credit scams by now, it's difficult to keep track of them all. Malcolm Petal was the original Uncle Rico, though.  Things turned out OK for him.
A bribery scandal that rocked Louisiana’s burgeoning film industry in 2007 may cost state taxpayers another $6.5 million.

An independent arbitrator has ordered the state to fork over that amount in disputed film tax credits to Malcolm Petal, a former New Orleans lawyer who was convicted of paying off the state’s film commissioner in exchange for millions of dollars in tax credits based on inflated expense reports.
Petal did five years in prison for bribery.  It's nice when you get out and find your investment paid off after all.  Meanwhile the state is going broke.
State lawmakers on Friday criticized but did not reverse nearly $61 million in cuts that Gov. Bobby Jindal levied across state agencies to close a midyear deficit.

More than 135 state workers will be laid off. Open hours at state museums and parks will shrink. Three state historic sites will close. Plans to expand a program that provides home-based aid to people with developmental disabilities will be scrapped. Fewer dollars will be spent on transportation supplies, drug abuse education and law enforcement training.

Like Uber but for feudalism

This is some very exciting disruption right here.
Sidney Torres IV, the New Orleans businessman who made headlines in recent months for his television commercials blasting Mayor Mitch Landrieu over French Quarter safety, said he is putting up his own money to staff and equip the patrol for at least the next three months.

"I'm very confident in this," Torres said by phone Friday (Feb. 20). "If it works, and I have a good sense it will, funding is not going to be a problem."

The pilot program calls for three off-duty NOPD officers to patrol the Quarter in all-terrain vehicles equipped with lights and sirens. But unlike a similar plan to place off-duty NOPD officers on patrol along Bourbon Street, Torres' plan includes a smart-phone application designed to connect citizens and visitors of the Quarter directly to those patrols.

Those who download the free app, which Torres said is in its final stages of development, would be able to report in a few taps of their phone screen a crime being committed -- or suspicious activity -- to the nearest patrol officer.  A photograph could also be submitted through the app, Torres said.

All reports would also go to the NOPD 8th District, which includes the French Quarter.
It's an app that connects  smart phone users who notice "suspicious activity" directly to Sidney Torres's privatized police force.  What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Iconic Tower 2: The re-iconing

The new WTC bids were published yesterday.

A city selection committee will begin negotiating Friday with five developers vying to take over the vacant former World Trade Center office tower at the foot of Canal Street and turn it into a mixed-use hotel and residential complex.

The committee will have to decide which of the plans — submitted in response to a request for proposals and all of which propose some combination of hotel and residences — would provide the best value to the city. The five respondents will make formal presentations to the selection committee on Feb. 27.
The last time we went through this process, all of New Orleans got into a fight over whether it was best to tear the building down and whether or not the redevelopment should involve the construction of an "iconic structure" whatever that is.... possibly a giant napkin ring, according to some drawings.  Anyway, none of it mattered since the winners in that long process couldn't agree with the city on the actual value of the building so the mayor just declared a do-over. 

And here we are now with five new proposals for a "99 year lease" on the property. None of them propose an "iconic structure" or giant ferris wheel but each has its own hook, so to speak.   The Four Seasons proposal includes a "cultural attraction." The Hotel Alessandra proposes a "wine laboratory" as well as a ... something.. featuring Kermit Ruffins who was involved with one of the proposals last time around.

If I'm reading between the lines correctly, though, this looks like a decision that will come down to either Pres Kabacoff's HRI proposal or Daryl Berger's Conrad Hotel group.  Each of those proposals involves actors in the failed "Tricentennial Consortium" bid which the mayor clearly favored last time around.

HRI's proposal includes relies heavily on tax credit financing and includes
An interactive visitor attraction called the New Orleans Experience and operated by Mercedes-Benz Superdome manager SMG would occupy the building’s 31st floor.
An interactive visitor attraction called "The New Orleans Experience" that isn't the actual city of New Orleans even though it is located directly inside of it sounds very Dizneylandrieu-ish to me. Let's go read more about that. NOLA.com published the actual bids proposals.  This is from HRI's.
Integral to our philosophy will be a world-class, innovative, and inter-active visitor attraction on the 31st floor that celebrates New Orleans' cultural history. This attraction, aimed at local residents as well as visitors, will rival the impact that Manhattan's famous New York Experience did for the Big Apple serving as a memorable, entertaining, intellectual gateway to New Orleans. We're teaming up with Unified Field, the nationally renown inter-active design firm based in New York who helped make the World War II Museum here so exciting, to ensure that this experience is a "must-see" When completed we expect the New Orleans Experience to host 500,000 visitors annually.

Yes, it could have been better proofread.   The New York Experience, by the way, was a film that ran from 1973 until the late 80s in New York until the rent got too damn high to support it anymore. I guess you could say it was "iconic" in its own right. Although it did have its critics.
The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau wrote in, too, complaining that Mr. Russell had made it all too realistic. Mr. Boyars said the bureau pleaded for 15 years to drop the mugging scene. ''I asked the powers that be,'' Mr. Boyars said, referring to his bosses at Trans-Lux. ''They said, 'No, it's part of New York and if there's no crime and grime in the ''New York Experience,'' it's not the New York experience.' '' 
Something tells me we don't have to worry about Pres Kabacoff's hotel producing a film with that sort of visitor-unfriendly realism involved.  Here is a look at the trailer, in fact.

While HRI involves SMG and Pres Kabacoff Conrad has all the other important people involved.
The proposal also contemplates the larger redevelopment of nearby riverfront property, including connecting both the Morial Convention Center and the former WTC building to the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel, connecting the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk to Convention Center Boulevard and making “significant aesthetic and practical enhancement” to Poydras Street.

The development partnership behind the plan is led by local developers Joe Jaeger, Darryl Berger and Roger Ogden plus Xavier University President Norman Francis.
Because they propose to connect the Convention Center via the "Whale Lot" on Convention Center Boulevard, I figured Conrad was most likely to feature a monorail in their proposal.  The defunct "Tricentennial Consortium" had a similar idea and featured one in their renderings.

Tricentennial Monorail

The Convention Center has already proposed a package of street redesigns which could accommodate these plans as well. Also, I think Kabacoff owns the Whale Lot. So even if Conrad wins, then, so does HRI.

Conrad does have one sorta-iconic thing in mind.

Conrad Video Wall
The design element will incorporate state-of-the art lighting and kinetic digital effects to bring drama, life and a unified sense of identity to a space that has been sorely lacking same since its creation. In addition to integrated LED lights for animated content, there will be opportunities for projected video art similar to that experienced last year during LUNA fete last year where video images were projected onto the facade of Gallier Hall.
The Krewe of Endymion previewed this "Video Wall" feature for us last Saturday.

Anyway if you care to wager on this round,  I'd put my money on Conrad. Every one of these "lease" agreements has various kickbacks built in, of course, but Conrad takes it that one extra step.
On top of that, the 2 Canal team is promising to donate $1 million to Xavier University and $250,000 to the mayor’s NOLA for Life Initiative.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pro Bono Publico.. but not so much publico

I think this was actually part of the Rex proclamation this year. Did anyone snag a copy?
Fox host Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery suggested getting rid of the nation's public schools during a discussion on Thursday's "Outnumbered."

Kennedy's comments came during a segment about an Oklahoma bill, approved by a House committee, that seeks to eliminate AP US History. The bill asserts that the current iteration of the course doesn't show "American exceptionalism," instead highlighting "what is bad about America."

"There really shouldn't be public schools, should there?" Kennedy said."I mean we should really go to a system where parents of every stripe have a choice, have a say in the kind of education their kids get because, when we have centralized, bureaucratic education doctrines and dogmas like this, that's exactly what happens."

S&WB may have found the deduct box

This announcement is a bit sudden.
Two busy blocks of Magazine Street — between Second and Fourth streets along the Garden District and Irish Channel — will close for excavation Friday “until further notice,” the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans announced.

Both the 2500 and 2600 blocks of Magazine will be closed in both directions, as will the intersection of Third Street that runs between them, the announcement states. Traffic will be detoured around the area, the notice states.

“The Sewerage and Water Board will be excavating the street for an assessment of underground infrastructure,” the release states. 

What do they think is under there?

Bull market for consultants

Obviously, somebody's found a way to make money on this mess.
Councilwoman Stacy Head, the driver behind the pressure for changes, has been pushing for the board to bring in an outside consultant to help analyze the fund and walk the board through potential solutions.

The board had been hesitant in previous meetings, but it acquiesced Wednesday, voting to invite Head's preferred consultant, The Kapoor Company, to make a presentation on the pension fund and possible reforms.

It's not clear who would pay for the group's work should the board formally hire the company.

Kapoor is the same consultant that has been providing research to a working group created by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to find a sustainable plan for the firefighters' pension system, which is badly underfunded due to bad investments and the mayor's refusal to fully fund the system.

A banner year

The backdrop of potential cuts and political pressure couldn't have made it easier for the board to learn about the fund's drab returns in 2014, a banner year for Wall Street.

If you have a 401(k) or an equity mutual fund, you probably did well. The S&P 500, an index of blue-chip stocks, closed at a record high 52 days in 2014, finishing the year with a gain of 13.69 percent when dividends are taken into account.

The pension fund, however, increased in value by only 4.7 percent.
Stacy's consultant is going to recommend that we basically trash the retirement fund in order to "save it." It won't be necessary but that's really not the point.

David Vitter is Team Gayle

Good to know
Here's the rest of Vitter's PAC financials.

Danger Exploding Area

Edwin Edwards may soon encourage you to "buy some dirt."
Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards won approval Thursday from the Louisiana Real Estate Commission to apply for a real estate broker’s license.

The vote was 7-2.

The decision came after Edwards, 87, appeared before the commission to explain why it should allow him to prepare and sit for the licensing test. As a convicted felon, Edwards needed the permission of a majority of the 11-member commission to proceed.

Edwards said he thought the brokers license would help as he “works with some friends of mine” in the engineering, architecture and construction business trying to develop property along the Interstate 10-12 corridor from Lake Charles to Slidell.

He said the area is “ready to explode and development has already started.”
One thing that won't be exploding in the area is that Sasol plant Bobby Jindal said was going to blow us back to the 19th Century. ... at least not for now.   But there are plenty other highly poisonous and volatile industries situated along the corridor so Edwards definitely knows what he's talking about there.

Fun fact of the day

I know we're talking about the Texas wing of the Benson empire here but still... Renee Benson's restaurant is called, "Uptown White" 
Entangled in a legal battle with her father, Renee Benson — the daughter of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson — has closed a restaurant she owned outside of San Antonio.

A note on the Facebook page for Renee Benson’s Uptown Blanco Restaurant said it would be “temporarily closed for maintenance and repairs” for the next few months, beginning Monday. It added that the 7-year-old restaurant hoped to reopen in the future.

They do not suspect wrongdoing

Newell Normand Salutes Law Enforcement

That's a Krewe of Alla float from this year's parade on February 8. Technically parades aren't supposed to run ads for politicians. Not sure if "Sheriff Newell Normand Salutes Law Enforcement" crosses the line there but it does run right up to it.

Normand's office has trouble figuring out what crosses the line in other cases too.
Jefferson Parish law enforcement officials said Wednesday that they do not suspect wrongdoing on the part of an undercover sheriff’s deputy filmed last week punching a high school student in the face repeatedly as he attempted to detain the drunken teenager after a parade.

A widely circulating cellphone video, viewed tens of thousands of times online, raised questions about the degree of force used by the deputy, Detective Nicholas Breaux, who delivered four right hooks to the teen’s face as he lay on the ground, allegedly resisting arrest. A booking photo of the teen, 17-year-old Brady Becker, a student-athlete at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, showed two black eyes and other injuries to his face in the fracas.

Is there a chance the track could bend?

City Park is run by monorail scammers.
According to the suit, Hood told DeViney and City Park chief financial officer Kevin Cox that the Tilt-a-Whirl ride needed work performed by a dedicated hydraulic repair service, and recommended the Belle Chasse-based company Hydra Force. The suit says the executives cited "budgetary concerns" in denying the recommendation, and says DeViney told Hood he was instead hiring the Lacombe-based company Mardi Gras Decorators to perform the work. The suit says Hood objected, informing his superiors that Mardi Gras Decorators was not qualified to perform the hydraulic repairs, and that the ride would be in violation of state safety standards.

"Nevertheless, DeViney and Cox insisted Mardi Gras be hired to perform the repairs," the suit says.

Next, the suit says, the braking system of the park's miniature train was discussed. Hood told his superiors that the train's current braking system did not comply with the newest National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials safety standards and needed to be replaced. The suit says DeViney and Cox refused, again citing budgetary concerns, and that Cox told Hood to "find a way around that" and to "do what you have to do" to make the ride operational.
These mini-trains will run on time. We don't care who we have to run over to get there. 
Hood was fired nine weeks before an Easter Sunday incident at the amusement park, in which a 3-year-old boy hunting for Easter eggs wandered into the path of the miniature train, which was unable to stop before striking the child. The boy sustained serious lacerations to his legs and multiple abrasions to his body, according to the spokeswoman for New Orleans EMS. The lawsuit does not mention that incident or any others resulting in rider or spectator injuries at the park.

So what now?

In a guest column in today's Advocate, John Barry asks now that the SLFPAE lawsuit has been stopped, what happens now?
First, the industry said it was ready to work collaboratively to solve the problem, if only that nasty lawsuit wasn’t in the way. So, industry, when are you going to collaborate — not building 300 acres, but on a scale commensurate with the many billions of dollars of damage your own studies concede you’ve done?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wonder if he was trying to sell condos for next Mardi Gras

Because, if he's wondering where all that trash came from in the first place...
Robert Ripley said he was “deeply disappointed” in the company’s work. Black garbage bags were stacked 4 feet high in front of his Royal Street office on Lundi Gras, he said. The real estate agent said the situation was so bad he could not meet clients there.

“It was just so embarrassing that I had to meet them at another office,” he said. “You kind of expect it to some degree on Tuesday because it’s just so difficult to get through, but not on Lundi Gras.”

Ripley said the mountain of trash had been removed by noon Wednesday, but a trash can across the street from his office remained overwhelmed and surrounded by garbage bags.

“I would have expected it to be gone and fresh-smelling and a beautiful day on Royal Street,” said Ripley, adding that he was concerned he will face a similar trash pileup in April during French Quarter Fest. “I hope the city can figure out how to do it because these people are overloaded and clearly understaffed.”

Certainly seems to be the way to get rich lately

Edwin Edwards is always looking for an angle, you know.
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards is seeking to become a licensed real estate agent in Louisiana, the 87-year-old former four-term governor and federal inmate said Wednesday.

Edwards, who lost a congressional bid in December to Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, said he plans to appear Thursday in front of the Louisiana Real Estate Commission as part of the application process to obtain his real estate license.

"It's one of the things -- one of the options -- I want to do," he said of selling real estate.

Mickey Loomis has a secret plan

 Oh dear. I hate when they start talking like this.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New Orleans Saints have a plan to get under the NFL salary cap by March 10 and an offseason checklist to improve on last year's 7-9 season, general manager Mickey Loomis told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune in an interview at the NFL Combine.

"I wouldn't call it easy, yet we know what our plan is," Loomis said. "And we've known what it's going to be for some quite time -- in terms of just getting under the cap."
Unless it has something to do with un-freezing Renee Benson's trust,  the secret plan probably isn't going to be too mind-blowing.  Re-do some deals, part with some vets, probably lose Ingram in free agency.  It will all make sense in the end and I'm pretty sure the team will be allowed to participate in the 2015 season.


Sec of State's office is laying off 24 people and cutting back hours at several state museums.
The remaining $119,000 cut involves the museums, forcing the layoffs and reduced hours. Schedler expects the cut to be carried over into next year, when the state has even deeper budget problems.

Local communities trying to keep the museums open are being encouraged to offer ideas.

“Anyone or any group that has a specific interest in assisting our museums or outreach efforts in any way should step forward now,” Schedler said.
Sounds like there's about to be a shitload of bake sales. 


No-brainer cassidy
This was an interesting Chaos float. The conservative Knights of Chaos seemed to be saying they believed a vote for Bill Cassidy was a "no-brainer" but also that they kind of think he's stupid. 

In a move that surprises zero people, the man who made Bill Cassidy a Senator receives Bill Cassidy's endorsement for Governor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said he’s backing his fellow senator and Republican David Vitter in the Louisiana governor’s race.

During a question and answer session with the audience following his luncheon speech Wednesday to the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Relators Commercial and Investment Division, Cassidy was asked who he was supporting in the governor’s race.

A perfectly cromulent Mardi Gras

Ashes to go

Ash Wednesday for us can be one of two things.  It can be CLEAN ALL THE THINGS DAY or it can be the beginning of a long deliberate process of recovery.  It looks like this year we are leaning toward the latter approach.

This year's Carnival was.. pretty good.  For the most part, everything worked the way it was supposed to.  This means there were none of the huge dramatic disappointments that sometimes happen. But also there were none of the fantastic cathartic surprises we always hope to run across. Still, what that means is it was a regular Mardi Gras and regular Mardi Gras is pretty great.
Carnival time is the ultimate casual excuse to just go outside with little purpose other than to just see people. During parade season, I see pretty much every person I know at least one time. Some of them I see at my house party. Some of them I see at other people's house parties.  Some of them I see at the parade. Some of them I see in the parade. Some I see from the parade.   All of this is to say that every year we celebrate a weeks-long city-wide party that serves to reestablish and reinforce our connections with our friends, family, and neighbors, and what could be better than that?

Well, for me, at least, it could be better if I made the time to write it all down as much as I used to. One regret I have about Twitter is that it has become my go-to place to talk about the fun things that are happening (most especially during Carnival and during football season) and so I'm less likely to end up blogging about those things. And that sucks because these are the good times and I'd like to remember what was good about them.

This blog exists in the first place so that I can have an easily searchable record of the things that are happening which I'd like to talk about with people.  Twitter is great for talking to people about what's happening but it's also great for tossing those happenings down the memory hole. For whatever reason I tend to toss the happy moments down the Tweeter Tube and keep the heavy stuff over here.  So what ends up getting posted here looks more and more like a depressing catalog of this city's terrible politics and seemingly hopeless long term environmental situation.  Those things are important, of course, but they aren't the whole picture.  

Anyway, I'm going to try and fix that by re-capping Carnival in a series of posts I've already kept some notes for anyway.  So, if you're sick of that stuff by Ash Wednesday (and who wouldn't be?) consider this a word of warning that there will be some tl;dr stuff upcoming.  Don't worry, though. I don't expect it to interrupt the regular griping too much.  

The good news, from a memory hole standpoint, is that I took more pictures than ever this year.  Menckles bought me a new camera recently and I brought it to almost every parade.  So at least I have some evidence that the past several weeks actually happened.. even if some of that evidence is in the form of battle scars. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lords of Misrule


The post-Katrina decade has been a decade of wish fulfillment for our city's gentry.  It has been a "Shock Doctrine" style recovery where a crisis provides the opportunity for a dismantling of the social contract and the building of the less diverse and more exclusive resort town the city's upper classes only dreamed of previously.  

In other words it has been the Pres Kabacoff decade.
New Orleans is transforming. The city's poorly constructed levees meant that when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it devastated the city, bringing in floodwaters that forced out residents and flattened neighborhoods. It also created an opportunity for developers and politicians to remake it anew. After the storm, New Orleans was often described as a "blank slate," which was problematic given hundreds of thousands of residents still lived within city limits. But for those who could afford to buy, demolish, and build, the term held some truth to it.

One of those people is Pres Kabacoff. He's one of the city's largest developers. His development company, HRI Properties, is focused on "inner-city revitalization" and he's done everything from convert loft buildings to develop entire neighborhoods from scratch in cities across the country—including St. Louis and Dallas. Kabacoff has a vision for New Orleans that has made him the center of a lot of controversy; he wants to see it "revitalized," which for many longtime residents and critics is just another term for gentrification.
It's sad that pointing to examples of Kabacoff being terrible is starting to feel kind of boring.  We've been at that for a long while now.  I suppose it's something that gentrification critics like Peter Moskowitz a) exist at all and b) are finally seeing what Kabacoff and the "New New Orleans" are all about.   On the other hand, it is at least 10 years too late.  Oh, and it won't make any difference.  I guess it will sell some books so that's nice.

Anyway, here is Kabacoff, for like the millionth time, saying again in public that the best way for cities to tackle poverty is to get rid of all the poor people.
The trick is to get market rate to come. The affordable will come. But if the market rate doesn't come, you end up with all the affordable and the issues they tried to unwind with these programs like Hope VI. On the affordable side, probably a third of those people you would love to have as your neighbor, another third—the kind of people who if their refrigerator stops working their life falls apart—if you can get them stable, you want them, and a third you just don't have the social staff to deal with the issues they're bringing to the table.

When we do developments, it's usually its one-third market, one-third workforce, and one-third former public housing—mothers with children on food stamps and all that stuff. There's a mixture of people. How do we afford to do the affordable piece? You need a lot of subsidy.
How well is your fridge working?  Because if that's a question that worries you in the least, Pres thinks you probably ought not to live here anymore. Again, none of this is new ground for Kabacoff or for the political class who listen to and work closely with him.  It is embedded deeply in the city's long political history of racial and class animus. Katrina provided the plutocracy with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some things that were not politically possible before then. Kabacoff admits that freely.

How did Katrina remake New Orleans' housing model?

There's always a question of dollars—you get less rent, your building costs aren't different, so you need subsidy. The city got a lot from Katrina and BP. About $100 billion came through here after Katrina. That's juice that no other city really got. What we did is went to the state and federal government in concern; we knew the federal government would dump money here and without it we wouldn't be sitting here today. But we were concerned that they would just create housing projects again and concentrate the poor and we would be right back to where we were, which was a declining city. So I tried to influence the federal government to increase the tax incentive for affordable housing so it so it wasn't just for people making 60 percent of median income but 120 percent. That worked. Now, instead of making $20,000 you could make $40,000 to $50,000 in affordable housing, just to have a broader group, so when you did use subsidies you'd not only be dealing with the very poor but the working and middle classes.
Our policy choice in urban development has been to redirect funds away from combating poverty and providing services and instead put them towards subsidizing for-profit real estate development.  This is the essence of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" theory.  Where a crisis like Katrina could have been an  opportunity for societal soul-searching and a commitment to rebuilding a community that works for everyone, it was instead an opening for grifters to make off with a greater share for themselves. And, of course, for a city's Ancien Regime of plutocrats to settle some old scores.

I'd love to talk about how darned clever it was.  But the truth is anyone who knew anything about the city's politics prior to Katrina knew exactly what was going to happen.  On September 9, 2005, for example, I noticed this quote from James Reiss.. which really should be more famous than it is.
The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."
Before, Katrina, removing "the teeming underclass" was not something that could have been accomplished politically.  There were too many of  us and enough of us still voted. But with a crisis... with a "blank slate" mandate, all sorts of things became possible.

Suddenly you could just fire all the teachers and replace them with a byzantine system privatized education. Rather than pay any sort of political price, the architects of such a coup find themselves lavished with the highest of pseudo-civic honors.

"Of course, (being Rex) is tremendous to one's ego, but when you really put it in perspective, you see a continuum of those who have preceded you and those who come after you. ... My job is to uphold the traditions of the Rex organization but to keep it relevant for today and tomorrow."

The best example of that latter attribute, Hales said, is the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, which is the outgrowth of a December 2005 email from Brown in which he wondered about ways to give Rex a significant role in rebuilding a city that had been battered by Hurricane Katrina and then drowned when the levees failed.

The foundation takes its name from Rex's motto, which means "For the Public Good" in Latin. Since 2007, the foundation, which receives nearly all its money from members' donations, has given more than $3.5 million in grants to charter schools, charter-management organizations and other education-related initiatives.

"That doesn't just have Christy's fingerprints; it has Christy's heart," Hales said. "How good is that?"

Because the foundation was started as New Orleans was struggling to recover, Hales likened Brown to the businessmen who founded the Rex organization during the grim days of Reconstruction.
They say this city is changing. But in some ways, it's the same as it has ever been since "the grim days of Reconstruction."  Then, as now, wherever you find the white upper class reasserting itself in New Orleans, you can be sure to find Rex's fingerprints and heart involved in that somewhere.

Happy Mardi Gras. Let's hope the King's ride isn't too chilly.