Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NOPD response

When you've got armed robbers on the loose, the thing to do is set up a trap to catch people with bad tail lights and expired brake tags and stuff.

The NOPD Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, to 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 1, 2015. Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc.
Notice how they've moved it up to 7:00 so they can get the happy hour crowd... you know if  they robbers don't get them first. 

Nobody actually lives... anywhere on your block or any of the blocks around you anymore

Probably the most important thing to note from last night's City Planning Commission hearing on short term rentals is the strident terms in which the landlords phrased their demands.  What they'd like to do is create blocks and blocks of absentee owner rentals.
James Uschold, attorney for the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, said his group has recommended that zoning rules be changed so that each block can automatically include up to 20 bedrooms rented out as short-term rentals. Another 10 bedrooms could be used for the purpose as a conditional use.

That's where the landlords are on this point. They believe short term rental opponents are discriminating against nobody's right to actually live here. That they make this demand so unequivocally is worth remembering when this issue makes its way back to City Council. Back when Council punted on this issue in the first place, Stacy Head said she didn't want to put up with the "irrational behavior, vitriol and outright lies,” of critics warning against this very thing.

Stacy's plan under development at the time would have allowed STRs under the pretense that they would help remediate "blight" before eventually reverting back to regular long term rental housing... probably.. maybe.  They key to selling that, though, was the conceit that landlords turning block after block of a neighborhood into a de-facto hotel was an absurd notion.

Well, now here they are just up and saying that's exactly what they want to do.

 If you have time to watch the video from the meeting, here that is.

The CPC is still taking written public comment until November 30. Here is how you submit those.

Department of Fear says Be Afraid

Here comes the freaking batsignal again.
After a summer-long string of high-profile crimes in New Orleans — including increasingly brazen assaults, shootings and robberies during daylight hours, as well as the second armed robbery of customers at an Uptown restaurant during dinner service — District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell seems to have had enough. Cantrell issued a statement late this afternoon notable for both its brevity and its exasperation:

After yet another week of armed robbery, rape, and assault, I am at a loss. Our city stands on the verge of a tipping point of violence, much like what occurred after the notorious Louisiana Kitchen murders in December 1996. The people of this city came together as one, stood tall, rallied for change and we got it.

The truth is, right now, there is not a single time or place that is safe, and we cannot remember the last violence-free day in our communities. We are failing as a city to defend and protect our citizens. To turn back this tide of terror, we must demand better.
What that demand is, and to whom it should be made, was not specified.
No one is safe! We must demand better! As the last line of that Gambit post indicates, Cantrell's statement... beyond being the latest tip that she's probably already running for mayor.. is but a hollow echo of the overheated overreaction you might expect from Uptown to the perception that crime is "out of control" even if it isn't.

Here are two stories that ran in the Advocate this weekend. This one, Man shot in Central City, clocks in at 64 words including the sentence, "No further details were provided."

This one is much longer
Two masked men burst into the Uptown restaurant Atchafalaya with handguns Thursday night, relieving diners of their cash and bringing to a boil a simmering sense that even the finest restaurants in New Orleans are not safe from crime.
"Even the finest restaurants!" Nowhere is safe. Did anyone get shot or hurt?
Once inside, the men ordered several of the eight to 10 staffers and roughly 15 patrons present to turn over their money and property. The men hit the bar’s cash register as well and then left, running toward the river.

No one was injured.
Did the cops arrive in a timely fashion, at least? 
In marked contrast to the Aug. 20 armed robbery at Patois, where owner Leon Touzet said it took police almost a half-hour to arrive, officers arrived at Atchafalaya in about two minutes.

“The cops were here on a moment’s notice,” Tocco said. He said he was “very impressed” with their quick response and professionalism.
Oh okay.  That's encouraging, right? It's still too bad that this happened, of course. But nobody got hurt and it does seem like it's being taken seriously so it's not the end of the world or anything. It makes for a compelling story, I guess.  But I'd hardly say it means nowhere is safe. That's clearly unproductive political hyperbole..

oh wait there's more
Even though response time did not appear to be an issue in the latest robbery, the recurrence of such a brazen crime again sparked outrage on social media and in political circles.

This is out of control,” Mary Sonnier, a chef, posted on Twitter. “@MayorLandrieu when are you going to address the crime problem? We (citizens) are scared.”

“The truth is, right now, there is not a single time or place that is safe, and we cannot remember the last violence-free day in our communities,” City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “We are failing as a city to defend and protect our citizens.”

Armed robberies are on the rise throughout the city, according to statistics compiled by former city crime analyst Jeff Asher, who writes a blog about crime for The New Orleans Advocate. There were 693 armed robberies reported in 2013, then 931 in 2014, and, as of now, the city is on pace for 943 armed robberies this year.

Asher's statistics may not mean exactly what that says, though.  An interesting discussion about that developed on Twitter Tuesday beginning right about here if you're interested.

But let's get back to the inevitable political nonsense we can already see developing. "When will the mayor address the crime problem?" Where have these people been? It's practically all he ever talks about.  On Tuesday, after another high profile robbery at a place Uptown whites are usually comfortable, he was talking about it again
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is calling in the federal government after the latest daring mass armed robbery at an Uptown establishment.

Three masked men with guns robbed patrons and the register at the Monkey Hill Bar, 6100 Magazine St., about 10:15 p.m. Monday. Although police were not ready to definitively connect that hold-up to strikingly similar ones in recent weeks at the Patois and Atchafalaya restaurants, Landrieu said he sees a “conspiracy” at work. Now he is seeking federal prosecution for the conspirators.
So, yeah, he's all cowboyed up over this thing. Mitch's schmaltz is a bit much to take, honestly. He even used the phrase "I can feel your pain," during this appearance.

But whatever we may think of his hammed up style, it's fair to say the mayor "addresses the crime problem" all the time. He keeps his murder binders on his coffee table. He throws money at NOLA4life. NOPD manpower may be down, but Mitch has gotten them a raise and has launched aggressive recruiting efforts.  He works to find creative ways to fund experiments like NOLA Patrol, a beefed up State Police presence in the Quarter, and... whatever the hell Sidney Torres is up to.  As the surveillance footage of the Uptown robberies attests, there are cameras all over the place. Mitch is definitely doing stuff.  A lot of that stuff is questionable but there's a difference between that and just ignoring crime. It's clearly a high priority.

Frankly, though there's really not a whole lot the mayor and city council can do about crime directly.  They can demagogue on it all day... and they certainly do that. They can do a lot of politically easy but ultimately  unproductive things.  They can spend 60% of the overall city budget on public safety as they did in 2015. They can encourage "stop and frisk" policies like what State Treasurer John Kennedy recommended last week.  They can jail everything that moves which would certainly keep Sheriff Gusman happy.

None of that stuff is going to improve public safety as a whole. And it certainly won't be very good for the city's budget or the overall quality of life. But none of that is the point. The point is satisfying the immediate political anxiety of those concerned about the perception that crime is "out of control" because some restaurants were robbed.

And, look, crime is not good. It's not good that people are being robbed or shot or having their tax dollars committed toward building $2.2 billion in net worth for a man who does nothing but count the receipts generated from our gross obsession with brain destroying gladiatorial combat.  Crime in New Orleans is a problem. It's not especially worse now than its ever been, though.

And this is why it's important to understand that the outrage we've seen this week isn't about whether our city is safe from crime overall. Rather, it's more about who feels threatened and whether or not the noise those people make matters politically.  As I was picking up my Monday morning coffee this week, I couldn't help overhearing the Garden District regulars sitting around their table talking about the terrible terrible state of things. Serious looks on everyone's face as one of them says, "In New York they showed they could reduce crime when they were allowed to do profiling."  Everyone nods. Everyone also sighs because, to them, this "profiling" is the kind of "common sense" solution that will never get a chance to work its magic because.. reasons.. civil rights... liberals.. whatever... will never let it happen.

But these are the people who get listened to. The paranoid, racist, barely coherent reactionaries are the people who really matter. If they don't feel safe, "even in the finest restaurants" as the Advocate chose to put it, then none of our political class feels safe either.  When probable mayoral candidate and Uptown councilperson LaToya Cantrell says, "there's not a single time or place that is safe," that's who she's trying to appease. They're afraid and so we all must officially be afraid. At least until the crime stories go back to the neighborhoods we expect them to be in.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What even is a "hipster"?

Trends are dumb and boring people with social ambition are often suckers for expensive trends that make them feel cool or important or "creative" or whatever.  So, sure, I guess that's annoying. 

But, really, pop culture is just inane by definition and has always been thus.  So it's really not worth anyone's time to obsess too much over whatever specific inanity is currently in fashion. Or, at least, it's not really worth blaming fashion for the real life problems we associate with it.
The original definition of gentrification, as coined by Ruth Glass in the 1960s, was not about extravagant beards, coffee houses and fixies – it concerned housing opportunities, and the lack of them: an area is being gentrified when the housing options of the middle-classes expand and those of working-class communities diminish, leading them to be displaced elsewhere. There is a cultural dimension to the process too, but it’s an accompaniment to the main event.
Even if you hate hipsters, the problem with your city is not hipsterism. It's economic displacement. 
Capitalism can’t get enough of hipsters and creatives; not least because it needs them to sustain itself – a revealing press release I found issued by a “hipster property agent” earlier this year began: “Hipster boutiques and eateries are sliding further into the City [of London] … there’s a growing appetite for independent shops and cafes. This is driven in part by people’s obsessions with London’s creative scene and a growing apathy for identikit high streets and mainstream brands.”

Hipsters are the honeytrap, the property industry’s stimulus package; that doesn’t mean they get to eat all the honey. That sticky privilege belongs to landlords, to property developers, to local councillors moving seamlessly into well-paid jobs in “development consultancy” – in the end, not to young white men with beards, but middle-aged white men in suits.
Trendy yuppies are pretty terrible, but that's their business. If they weren't also being used as waypoints for real estate profiteers, they wouldn't really bother me at all.

Quick and dirty on the 0-3 Saints

We all kind of knew this would be a transitional season. Lots of rookies, especially on defense. To our credit as a fan base, we adjusted our expectations accordingly.  Just about every "season preview" from local commentators in the press and on the internet had them winning between 6 and (a few on the sunny side) 9 games.  So we were ready for this.  It makes Monday morning Twitter cooler discussion easier when people aren't out on the ledge.

And it's playing out according to expectation so far. The Saints are good enough where we thought they would be good enough. Even without their starting quarterback, they can move the ball well enough. The defense is downright terrible but will probably improve slightly as the young players mature, as Keenan Lewis returns to playing status, and... if Jairus Byrd ever returns to this dimension.

This team is incomplete. But you can kind of see them building something that might compete in a year or so. That makes people anxious because the quarterback is going to be 36 years old soon and his shoulder is, in football years, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  But that special anxiety aside, we already know what this team is going to be like. They're young, they're flawed, but they'll probably improve a bit as the season goes along. At some point they'll win a game or two they "aren't supposed to win" and we'll enjoy that. It will still be fun. Just hang in there.

UpdateHere's Malbrough's column. Pretty much the same theme. 
Saints played about as well as they could on offense, but the defense couldn't pressure the quarterback or create turnovers consistently, so what we saw in Carolina might be their ceiling and that's not comforting at all. The 2015 New Orleans Saints are officially like your five-year-old's tee ball team; They try hard and can be entertaining if you aren't worried about results. I'm weirdly at peace with this, probably because the alternative would just make me miserable.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bobby is doing ok

Nate Silver says his campaign is right on track to show well in Iowa, anyway.
I’m not sure Jindal benefits from Scott Walker’s recent exit from the Republican race, exactly, but I do think the Louisiana governor is a sleeper pick to win the Iowa caucuses.1
Of course, there's the question of what comes after that.  Actually, I already wrote this post on Thursday.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Uh oh

Bobby Jindal's awful hospital privatization scheme turns out to be awful.
BATON ROUGE — LSU is seeking to end its deal with the private manager of its Shreveport and Monroe hospitals, two years after hospital operations were turned over to a research foundation as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to privatize the state's charity hospital system.

The university system sent formal notice Thursday to the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, or BRF, that it considers the hospital manager in breach of its contract. It gave the foundation until Oct. 5 to withdraw as hospital operator.

"We have exhausted all avenues to resolve our differences amicably and now must take action that we hoped would not be necessary," LSU System President F. King Alexander said in a statement.

In a July letter to the research foundation, Alexander said BRF had not established a sustainable financial model for the hospitals, had damaged the LSU Shreveport medical school's reputation and threatened the stability of both the medical school and the hospitals.
Bobby probably didn't plan for the awfulness of the thing to come crashing down quite so quickly, though.  I wonder who, if anyone, in the BRF is disappointed in the efficacy of a contribution to Believe Again or America Next.

All the boil orders

Total of fifteen "incidents" leading to nine boil orders (east and west bank combined) over a period of five years.

Pretty good data to display up on Cedric Grant's $30,000 "interactive whiteboard"

Shep is back out!

If I'm reading this correctly, it looks like Derrick Shepherd is disqualified from this election, but his challenge to the law that disqualified him may still be upheld.
Like Enright, the appeals court panel did not take up the substance of Shepherd’s argument against the law, though he has another case that is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Shepherd won that case at the state level when Baton Rouge Judge Wilson Fields ruled on Tuesday that the law barring felons from running was unconstitutional. The state has said it will appeal that ruling directly to the state Supreme Court.

"Like a hybrid car"

This is an accurate analysis but probably not the image the Jindal campaign would have preferred.
And Teepell believes Jindal's relentless campaigning in the Hawkeye State will pay off.

"This race will take a lot of twists and turns, but voters in Iowa take their responsibility seriously," he said. "Retail politics are very important in Iowa."

Perry's and Walker's campaigns flagged when their finances ran dry. Though Jindal has raised considerably less money than either of those candidates — about $10 million combined with the super PACs that support him — he's running his campaign like a hybrid car sips gas.

"I think it was (Democrat and former House Majority Leader) Dick Gephardt who said, 'Presidential campaigns don't end; they just run out of money,'" Teepell said. "Perry's expenses were too big. Walker raised a lot of money but built too big of a machine.

"We started out this thing by building a lean mean machine with a slow burn rate and low overhead."

Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said Jindal's strategy has been clear from the start.

"Everything for him begins and ends in Iowa," Cross said. "He has to make a good enough showing there to move on. If he doesn't, it's over."
So Jindal is banking on a big showing in Iowa... which could happen. He's polling... not great but pretty OK there, comparatively speaking.  Still, what happens after that?  According to a FOX poll released today, Jindal is registering "_" nationally.

Fox poll

Hit big in Iowa and then maybe that changes.  But it's far from automatic. If he doesn't pick up any momentum from there, what happens? Will there even be enough money to keep going?  Well, sort of.  There's definitely money, anyway.  The cronies have seen to that.
This is one of the many connections between Jindal's presidential contributions and Louisiana boards: contracts and money. Those connections came into focus earlier this month, with the publication of a story by the Huffington Post about Jindal's supporters.

"Some of these folks are giving money for access," explains Jeremy Alford of the political news site LaPolitics.com.  "Access doesn't come free; it certainly doesn't come cheap."

The most given for Jindal's presidency was by Galliano businessman Gary Chouest, who in one day this year wrote Jindal's super PAC a $1 million check. In 2008, Jindal announced the state would invest $10 million in the port of Terrebonne, which would help Chouest's company expand its operation.

So why are these powerful business people donating so much money in support of Jindal's presidential ambitions?

"That's a great question," Chervenak says. "It seems like a lot of money to give to a candidate who has no absolutely no chance to become president."

Jindal has a presidential campaign account.  But that account has limits on the amount contributors can donate.  So many are sending their money to two other accounts: Believe Again, a super PAC, and American Future Project, a 527. Both were created to support Jindal's presidential bid.
In theory there exists a wall of separation between the campaign account and the Super PACs.  But it's never been made clear just how strong that wall of separation really is. As Scott Walker's campaign began to sputter, there was some talk of testing the boundaries.
In the meantime, at the super PAC supporting Walker, Unintimidated PAC, top officials were preparing something revolutionary. Keith Gilkes, a former Walker chief of staff who was a leader of the super PAC, was legally barred from coordinating with the campaign. But in August, he began asking donors pointed questions about the campaign’s finances. He concluded that the situation was dire.

The super PAC, which had about $20 million available, looked into hiring field staffers in South Carolina and other early states — preparing to take over many communications and political functions from the campaign, rather than staying in the traditional role of running TV ads.
Walker's campaign ran out of money. I wonder what happens to that $20 million now.  There's no way to know. If nothing else, Super PACs are a pretty good way to grift money away from rich people who think they're buying "access."

Getting back to the Jindal story, it's still at least credible that the possibility of access is what they're selling over there. 
"He could end up in a secretary's gig," Alford suggests. "He could end up higher up with the [Republican National Committee]. He could end up with an influential nonprofit, maybe even his own. So I think that there's a back end to consider on this, that, you know, maybe they're not paying to have access to the future president but to whatever position Bobby Jindal ends up in after this race."
But in most of the cases Zurik catalogs in this story, these are collections on favors already paid out. For example, 
Roy Martin of Alexandria gave $25,000 to Believe Again. Martin's companies have received more than $80 million in incentives and tax breaks from the state, including some approved a month after this donation.  
There are more if you'd like to read on including,
The owner of this TV station, Tom Benson, donated $25,000 to Jindal's super PAC
Yeah, neat.

Maybe Jindal's campaign is officially sipping gas "like a hybrid car."  But from the looks of things his PAC donors are the ones getting the real good mileage.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is this what John Kennedy was talking about?

This is a pretty aggressive sounding stop and frisk.
NEW ORLEANS -- Michael Baugh said he had just closed up his family's hair salon Friday night when two Louisiana State Police troopers approached his truck, looking for a man waving a gun.

The troopers never did find a gun, but by the end of the confrontation, Baugh was rushed to the University Hospital emergency room with multiple injuries.

Baugh, 26, suffered chipped front teeth, a gash in the back of his head that required staples, a broken right wrist and a laceration the length of his back.

"I told them that it wasn't me. And I was falsely accused. They were saying that it was me," Baugh said. "It was mistaken identity."
You may recall that this is not the first person the state police have beaten the crap out of in New Orleans. Recall a few years ago, Troopers also attacked and beat the teenage son of an NOPD officer in the Quarter.

A proposed hotel tax on the October ballot would fund the Troopers' continued presence in New Orleans where they can maintain this level of public service.   

It's barely even newsworthy anymore

Sewerage and Water Board work site

This might be the seventh to tenth one of these since 2010. I've seriously lost count.
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans east bank is again under a boil water advisory.

The water board announced the precautionary boil water advisory Wednesday evening, two months after an advisory in July lasted nearly 48 hours.

The water board plant experienced a power surge and lost pressure, according to a spokesman, which caused the plant to drop below 15 psi.

The advisory is in effect until further notice. The water board hasn't given a timeline for when the advisory may be lifted.
I think we all know the drill by now.  

The rent is too damn high

Audubon Hotel

Rents are too damn high all over the country and they aren't coming down any time soon.
Recent research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners, a real-estate research and investment organization, suggests that over the next 10 years, the rental population in the U.S. will climb by about 4 million people. (That’s actually a conservative estimate compared to the Urban Institute’s projections.)

The researchers estimate that the current rental crunch—the one where vacancies are around 7 percent, about half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their salaries on housing, and one quarter spend 50 percent or more—is only going to get worse over the next decade. Even if housing prices and income rise as quickly as inflation (about 2 percent annually) the number of severely rent-burdened Americans (those paying 50 percent or more) would increase by 11 percent over the decade, to over 13 million people in 2025.
Another thing we're going to find out over the next decade is that the policy response (such as it is) has been wholly inadequate to meet the problem.  Household incomes are not growing.  That's something we've understood for a long time.  Often we just allow the banks to fake their way through that by recklessly extending credit.  We still do that, actually.

But an interesting thing happened the last time that blew up in everyone's face.   The banks who created the credit fraud, ended up owning a lot of housing stock as a result.
The proposed merger of Starwood Waypoint and Colony is a bet that the percentage of Americans who own homes will remain unusually low. While the foreclosure crisis has receded, toughened lending standards have pushed millions of Americans out of the homebuying market.

Higher interest rates would increase borrowing costs and make it harder for some renters to buy homes.

The Federal Reserve decided last week not to raise short-term interest rates from near zero, where they have held since 2008, but the central bank is expected to revisit the matter later this year.

The U.S. homeownership rate is at its lowest level in nearly 50 years, falling to 63.5% in the second quarter, according to the Commerce Department.

In contrast, single-family rentals now add up to 13% of overall housing stock, up from 9% in 2005, according to a report by Moody’s Analytics.

Rents have been climbing steadily, though some analysts and investors question how long it can last, especially in areas with weak wage growth. Many of the rental homes scooped up by big investors are in those parts of the U.S.
In some cases, banks are finding out that they kind of prefer being landlords to financing home ownership.
It was widely deemed a temporary play: Large-scale investors buying thousands of discounted foreclosed properties during the worst of the housing crash and turning them into single-family rentals. When home prices recovered, they would surely sell them for a hefty profit. The housing market is recovering, albeit more slowly than expected. Foreclosure volume is way down and home prices are way up, but these investors are not selling.

They are buying more, and now they are buying new.

"I actually think that we're coming into perhaps the most compelling three or four years that I've seen since I've been in the business," said Doug Brien, CEO of Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust.
There are a number of negative effects we can focus on here
Banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms have been amassing those real estate holdings for a few years now, but their plan for wringing profit out of the rental market is just starting to draw real scrutiny. The New York-based hedge fund Blackstone Group is now the nation’s largest landlord after purchasing over 40,000 foreclosed family homes for the purpose of renting them out.

While firms like Blackstone often farm out the day-to-day management of the rental properties to third-party companies, those intermediaries are often also based in faraway states. Some have a track record of being unresponsive to basic things like broken sewer pipes, as the Huffington Post has reported. The banks and their intermediaries may neglect basic upkeep of these properties. In that worst-case scenario for renters, local and attentive property managers and building supers will get replaced with “Wall Street-based absentee slumlords,” in David Dayen’s phrase.

On-the-ground concerns for communities and renters go beyond neglect, however. The rising influence of financial titans turned local landlords could threaten all sorts of public services. In the case of Huber Heights, OH, the hedge fund Magnetar Capital has become the largest landlord in the whole town and is using that influence to try to extract lower property tax charges from the town — a change that would undermine funding for schools and other public services for locals, but boost the bottom line of the Illinois-based financial giant. (Magnetar’s dodgy past dealings from the subprime era also underscore an unsettling dynamic to Wall Street’s entry into the rental market: the same companies that helped turn homeowners into renters through mass foreclosures are now preparing to make even more money off of the same rental demand they helped create.)
But essentially we're looking (again) at a case of financial intermediaries serving to further concentrate wealth among the investor class rather than help purpose it toward the betterment of individual lower or middle class households.

A reasonable policy response might attack that problem directly; perhaps by writing rules that de-commodify housing or at least limit banks' capacity to act as mega-landlords, or by imposing rent controls in neighborhoods threatened by gentrification, or even by building more public housing. 

Of course, we are doing none of that.  Instead we are, as The Advocate editorial board says, waiting for "the market" to fix everything for us.  But why would it?  Incomes are stagnant. But we already know that the local labor market is decoupled from the local real estate market.  We also know that the market for affordable housing is tightening but all we seem to do is build more and more nice things for rich people.
Developers building condos on the site of the old Hubig's Pie factory in the Marigny are now turning to a plum piece of riverfront property in the Bywater.

MK RED, a partnership of Michael Bosio and Kyle Resmondo, plans to build a 55-foot, $8 million condo building with 16 residences on vacant land near the Piety Street archway bridge into Crescent Park.

They bought the property at 3200 Chartres St. in August for $1.35 million.

"It's everything going on in the Bywater," Bosio said. "You have great food locations down there. You have the new park and of course, the views. You get the whole city skyline."
In the Bywater, of course.  But also Uptown.
Phyllis Landrieu, a former Orleans Parish School Board member and aunt of the mayor, plans to replace two small homes at the corner of St. Charles Avenue with a 57-foot-tall condo building with 10 units inside. Landrieu and her supporters said that the two “ranch-style” homes are out of character with the grand nature of St. Charles Avenue, and that the proposed building will enhance the avenue’s appearance.

Landrieu’s building would be adjacent to another condo building in the same block, and it was residents of that structure who provided the most opposition to her proposal. They said they had a petition of 90 neighbors in opposition, and argued that the new building will take up too much of the lot and be too close to their building.

Elsewhere uptown.
Chris Jones, his wife Jessica Walker, and David Gindin described their vision for the redevelopment of the Audubon Hotel to the Coliseum Square Association as a 30-room boutique hotel designed to attract a younger, more international clientele. Their renovation will actually reduce the number of rooms in the building somewhat, because the older floor plans had shared bathrooms, and they intend to put a bathroom in every room.

The hotel does not have room for a restaurant, but its front desk will double as a small bar, Gindin explained. It will also be staffed 24 hours a day, he said.

“I think that’ll contribute a little bit to the security of the area,” Gindin said. “That part of St. Charles does have some issues, but part of the problem is you have an abandoned building there.”
Hey.. it's "back in commerce" and good for "the security of the area." That seems to be all we care about lately. What we don't care much about, though, is whether or not we have an affordable housing strategy. This is trickle-down economic policy.  It will help enrich some New Orleans developers and some out of town investors and.. as you can see.. some Landrieus.  But, no matter what the various mouthpieces and politicians involved tell you,  it is not going to help relieve the problem of too-damn-high rents in New Orleans.

Shep is in! (sort of)

At least, for now he can run.
Derrick Shepherd’s hopes of running for his old state House seat on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish were temporarily bolstered Tuesday by a Baton Rouge judge who struck down a 1997 constitutional amendment that forbids convicted felons from running for public office until 15 years after finishing their prison term.

That ruling now heads straight to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Even if you don't like Shepherd (and there are plenty reasons not to) you should still have the right to vote against him. The law may end up standing, eventually. But it is a stupid law.   Why didn't Edwin Edwards try this?

How safe do you feel?

Today is the last day to register to vote in the October 24 elections.  In addition to the exciting task of picking a Governor (apparently Gambit doesn't care about that one) as well as a slate of local representatives and statewide officeholders, voters in the French Quarter will decide whether or not they want to authorize hoteliers to keeps State Troopers and as well as the quasi-privatized NOLA Patrol and French Quarter Task Force on permanent retainer.
It's been about 200 days since the latest round of Louisiana State Police troopers arrived to New Orleans, focusing their patrols on the French Quarter and beyond.

Edmonson held a news conference on Tuesday saying their efforts have been a success, with troopers responding to more than 4,100 calls of service since March.

"We just went over the 1,200 arrest mark, when you look at the illegal weapons we've seized right here in the French Quarter & surrounding areas," Edmonson said.

Right now there are 50 state troopers patrolling the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods. Edmonson confirms the assignment runs through January of next year.

"[For example] on a $100 purchase it would be a quarter. That money would go towards funding Louisiana State Police staying in the French Quarter over the next five years," said Ryan Berni with the Landrieu administration.

On Oct. 24, registered voters in the French Quarter will be voting on a proposed quarter-cent sales tax for the Vieux Carre.

"The money from the sales tax itself would actually go to funding the state troopers. There's also money that will be matched from the hospitality entities," said Berni, who also confirms if the sales tax passes, it would open the door for the hospitality industry to match funding for Nola Patrol and the French Quarter Task Force.
Why do the hotels want their own police? It probably isn't because they want to offer a benevolent service in the interest of public safety. Besides, crime in New Orleans has been on more or less a steady decline for over a decade.
In 2004, violent crime rates in New Orleans were almost twice the national average. By 2013, both local and national violent crime rates had fallen by 17 and 21 percent respectively.
Crime is down

Excepting a brief post-Katrina spike, violent crime has been falling in New Orleans (and around the country) for most of my adult lifetime.

And yet popular paranoia only continues to rise. Mitch Landrieu works his red binders into every interview as a prop. We clamor for more and more surveillance everywhere.  David Vitter recently took full advantage of the racial dog whistle implied within every politician's talk about street crime by tying it to efforts to remove Confederate monuments.

The hysteria scans closely with the so-called "war on cops" myth being propagated by right wing critics of the post-Ferguson protest movement against police violence. In fact 2015 is on pace to be the "second safest year on record" for police.
According to data available from the “Officer Down Memorial Page” on the annual number of non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities, 2015 is on track to be the safest year for law enforcement in the US since 1887 (except for a slightly safer year in 2013), more than 125 years ago (see top chart above). And adjusted for the country’s growing population, the years 2013 and 2015 will be the two safest years for police in US history (see bottom chart above), measured by the annual number of firearm-related police fatalities per 1 million people.

The two charts above reveal a picture of increasing police safety in the US that is much different than the narrative we hear all the time in the media about a “war on cops” and increasing risks of death for America’s law enforcement. From a peak of more than 100 police shootings in every year between 1969 to 1980 (except for 1977 when there were 97 deaths), firearm-related police fatalities have been on a downward trend for the last 35 years, falling to only 31 in 2013 and now on track to reach 35 by the end of this year (based on 24 police deaths during the first 251 days of 2015). We can see the same downward trend in annual firearm-related police deaths adjusted for the size of the US population (bottom chart), which will make 2013 and 2015 the two safest years for law enforcement in US history.
Meanwhile, according to a database maintained by The Guardian, police have killed 855 people in the United States so far this year.

And yet, last week State Treasurer John Kennedy said in a speech that law enforcement in New Orleans needs to be "more aggressive."
But then he got to his prime concern, crime in New Orleans.

"We all know that we don't feel as safe as we should, and I will tell you that people are not going to come to, move to, or invest in a place where they don't feel safe," Kennedy told the group. saying there is a solution.

"We need to figure out a way how to get the guns, and the dope and the thugs off the street,” he said. "The very first part of that plan ought to be an aggressive stop and frisk policy in New Orleans. We need to back up our cops."
Kennedy may or may not be aware but Mike Edmonson says the State Police are already doing this anyway.  Despite this, and despite what the numbers might tell us about how safe we actually are, Kennedy says the real problem is "we don't feel as safe as we should."  We can't have that. Certainly, the hoteliers can't have that, anyway.  And so to assuage those bad feelings, we're going to be more "aggressive" and we're going to pay the State Troopers and Sidney's not-cops to help us do that.

That is, unless French Quarter residents vote against the tax increase.  They say they're for it. Or, at least, their self-appointed spokes-orgs say they like it, anyway.
French Quarter advocates and business owners support the new tax.

“This is not good just for the French Quarter, but the entire city,” Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates citizens group, told the council.
So, that's not encouraging.  Maybe it will sound better after Cheron Brylski finds them a black spokesperson to say it for them, though.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jeb will not be the nominee

This is a pretty good look at Trumpmania right here.
A new PPP polls shows Trump, not surprisingly, at the head of the GOP pack. But when PPP created head to head match ups with the other contenders, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio and Walker all beat Trump and in most cases handily. Except Jeb. Trump beat Jeb.
Trump will not be the nominee. He's a placeholder for whichever candidate finally locks down the non-Trump Anybody But Jeb vote.  Because that's really what this is all about. And it could be pretty much any of those other jokers.. although it won't be Carson and it probably won't be Carly. 

What else they got?
If there was a winner of the kids table debate on Wednesday night it looks like it was Bobby Jindal. He has a 56/19 favorability rating, which makes him the 5th most popular of the GOP contenders in the state. And his 4% standing at least puts him in the top 10 in Iowa and ahead of main stagers Kasich and Christie. We'll see whether this boost for him is a broader thing or just Iowa.

National Voter Registration Day

That sounds like a fun activity. What time is the parade?  Anyway, if you're interested in participating in the October 24 primary in Louisiana, your last day to register is tomorrow.  Here is the rest of the 2015 election calendar.

In the basement at the Alamo, maybe

I sort of agree with Owen about the "anonymous donor" paying for monument removal.  It's still technically a public expense, the public has a right to know where the money came from.  On the other hand, I can't stop laughing at how incredulous he is at the notion that throwing stuff in a closet constitutes some sort of prohibitive hidden cost.
Kopplin also noted that storing the monuments would be done at a city-owned facility at no additional cost. Apparently, the city has a huge amount of excess commercial-grade storage around at all times that is otherwise lying fallow. That strikes me as a clear admission of gross waste from an administration constantly pleading poverty, but, you know, whatever.
Storing them is not going to be an issue.  Although, I should point out that Varg has been offering to do this for a fee since this controversy first started making news. 

Anyway, they should come down. There shouldn't be any shame in paying to take them down.  Unless there's something the "donor" has to hide.  But what?

Why do media companies hate journalism?

After all this time, that's really what all this boils down to
The Internet has done nothing to newspapers compared to what their corporate owners have done. The Internet took away an easy source of revenue nobody had to think about.

That’s all the Internet did. The rest of it, the cuts and the equating “less” with “not enough” and the justification and the trend-chasing and the flailing and the insulting readers and potential customers and the clueless bitching in the trades and the corporate weasel-speak, that was ALL a business management issue. We spent a decade having blogger ethics panels and not a goddamn minute having boardroom ethics panels, and this is the result.

And for that, firings aren’t the answer and paywalls aren’t the answer and hyperlocal isn’t the answer and writing endless wanking editorials about “digital first” aren’t the answer and for the love of Our Lord Baby Jesus the First Keyboarder cutting production days and cancelling home delivery aren’t the answer because Jesus God, people just want a good paper.
Ownership does not value the product based on whether or not its fulfills its mission. Ownership doesn't even care about whether the product is sustainable over time.  Ownership only values the product based on whatever the margins were last quarter... or at least whatever the groupthink tells them will squeeze more out of less. Liquidate it all, if you have to. See if they give a shit.

Public institutions should probably own their own buildings

I know that's not new-age entrepreneurial public-private partnershippy enough for some folks, but, see, since the private partner's interest (making money) is fundamentally misaligned with the tenant's  (serving the public) this is a thing that might happen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Tahir Square

Empty pedestal actually seems strangely appropriate.
If the New Orleans City Council votes to remove four controversial monuments from public display, at least one reminder is likely to remain: the pillar that supports a bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee 60 feet above Lee Circle.

That word comes in an updated report to the City Council by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.
The report also increases the estimated cost of removing the monuments, which Kopplin has said will be paid by an anonymous donor, by $18,000. The new estimate, including a 10 percent contingency fee, puts the price tag at about $144,400.
Maybe just leave it that way for a while. An empty pedestal makes a kind of statement.

In the late 1940s, Egypt’s King Farouk had a huge granite pedestal erected in the middle of Tahrir’s wide traffic circle. The pedestal was intended for a statue of Farouk’s grandfather and the square’s namesake, khedive Ismail. The statue took longer to produce than the pedestal, however, and when the statue of Ismail finally arrived to Egypt in the summer of 1952, it was too late — the monarchy had been overthrown.

The empty pedestal nonetheless remained in place for decades, as a colossal reminder of the failure of Egypt’s monarchy. After Gamal Abdul Nasser’s death in 1970, there was talk of finally placing on the pedestal a statue of the fallen president, but that idea never materialised either. The pedestal was finally removed in the mid-1970s during construction of the Cairo Metro.

Was there any football news today?

I'm sure something happened somewhere. Something about a one-armed man or whatever.  Kind of puts Benson's hotel out of the news, I guess.

Goodbye, Scott

He leaves very much the same as he entered. As a national disgrace.

None of these people is on your side

It's fun sometimes to see the inside baseball these cynics are playing.
The memo discusses efforts to get the Fraternal Order of Police and former Police Superintendent Warren Woodfork to come out in opposition to a proposal by Ramsey that would loosen restrictions on bars within restaurants in the Quarter, and it suggests that on some issues VCPORA and FQC should pin their hopes on the courts, rather than trying to defeat them at the council.

“It does appear we have more hope to get favorable support in court than before the council as our votes continue to dwindle and the Ramsey coalition gains strength,” Brylski wrote.

The “Ramsey coalition” apparently refers to Council President Jason Williams and Councilmen Jared Brossett and James Gray. Councilwomen Stacy Head and Susan Guidry have opposed several of Ramsey’s proposals.

Brylski also suggests Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s support might be difficult to get if she thinks she is seen as voting too often with Head and Guidry, the only white members of the seven-person council.

The memo recommends the Quarter groups continue to look for a black spokesperson. Brylski said that suggestion is aimed at combating the perception that the groups are “whites-only groups,” something she said might be hampering their effectiveness.

“It seems to be of particular concern to Nadine,” Brylski said. “She’s communicated in different ways to some of these groups that she doesn’t feel anything in common with them. Really, that’s just not true, but if that is the barrier, let’s get across it.”
Ha ha, yeah we can't have the perception actually matching the reality or anything like that.

Okay, well, to be fair "whites-only" is probably a little bit of an exaggeration.  But it's worth pointing out that VCPORA and FQC are like any neighborhood association in that they are comprised of politically active property owners.  They aren't necessarily "whites-only"  but they do tend in that direction.  More importantly, they are inherently conservative organizations.  Their membership's top concern is typically crime.. at least insofar as crime happens near their property. Their typical solution is to make it difficult for poor people to live in or visit their neighborhood.  They don't like anything they perceive as possibly encouraging that. This is why they actively seek to shut down every bar or live entertainment venue they can get their sights on.

They also aren't very fond of rental property, or affordable housing of any sort showing up within their jurisdictions. I know this is confusing since we find these groups leading the fight against the plague of short term rentals which we know to be pricing renters out of the city right now. They happen to be on right side of that issue but only for very narrow purposes. Neighborhood associations don't really care about renters.  They just don't like having tourists trashing up their lawns.

The other point this stopped clock of conservative NIMBYism happens to be correct about is that Nadine Ramsey really does appear to be in the pocket of developers and tourism lobbyists.
Putting aside the merit of the amendments, it's become painfully clear Councilperson Ramsey is catering to monied interests at all cost.  The question...what is that cost?  District C neighborhoods are by far the most volatile and threatened in "New New Orleans", it doesn't appear they have a sympathetic ear with their current councilperson who was willing to circumvent public discussion and the democratic process in order to jam power brokers' agendas, like Chris Young's, down our throats.
Sure, sure.  The more important takeaway here is that  there are "monied interests"  on various sides of these development questions. Politics in New Orleans boils down to this. Pick whatever gentrification poison you prefer at the moment.  Roughly stated, the power play is between a set of profiteers who would turn the whole city into Disneyland and a different set of plutocrats who would shut down every bar and kick out all the poors if they could.  If any of the rest of us benefit from anything any of these people do, it's only by accident.

He really is T-Bobby


It's pretty adorable.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle is now an elected utility regulator. But until a couple of years ago he was one of Jindal’s closest aides and was allowed to wander the halls of the governor’s suite of offices on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. But he, like other cabinet secretaries, usually had to go through the chief of staff to get an audience with Jindal. Few could just pop their head into Jindal’s office and ask if he had a minute or two.
Precocious little T-Bobby wandering the halls is a nice image.  But did Bobby know he had given free rein of the house to a gad-dang Obama lovin' librul?   Well.. according to David Vitter, anyway.
The Vitter campaign commercial against Angelle says he has a lot in common with President Barack Obama. It says he was a Democrat for 31 years — Angelle switched to the Republican Party in 2010 — and features several photos of Obama and Angelle simultaneously. The spot also says Angelle took positions on the Public Service Commission that were favored by the Obama administration.

Vitter’s super PAC, Fund for Louisiana’s Future, also launched an attack ad against Angelle that suggests he did nothing to prevent the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What's going on in Bensonville?

Tom's got some kind of plan sitting around in the office
Mr. Benson will soon break ground on a $20 million community sports center next to the training base used by the Saints and the Pelicans, a team he bought in 2012. He is exploring whether to build a luxury hotel and retail complex next to the Superdome. For good measure, he gave $10 million to refurbish the stadium next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He attended the groundbreaking this summer.
Maybe my memory is fuzzy but I don't recall seeing much discussion of this proposal locally. Where would this complex go?

The beatings will continue until The Future Of Journalism Arrives

And, of course, by beatings we mean people getting fired
Managers at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune carried off an expected round of layoffs this (Thursday) morning, firing some of the paper's longest-serving reporters alongside more recent hires. In a statement released after the firings, NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews said the firings included "28 full time and nine part time content staffers," or "21 percent of the overall content operation's full-time employees."

James Varney, whose career spanned nearly 26 years at The Times-Picayune, was among those fired, as was Paul Purpura, who began at the paper in 1999 and worked a variety of beats in his 16-year tenure. John Pope, whose career began at the old States-Item in 1972, no longer will be a staff writer, but will continue to contribute to the paper.

Andy Grimm, who was hired away from the Chicago Tribune to cover federal courts, also was let go, as were reporter Ben Myers and graphics reporter/editor Dan Swenson. Benjamin Alexander Bloch, who covered coastal parishes and the Gulf of Mexico, was fired, as was Dinah Rogers, the paper's assistant photo editor and a 24-year employee.

Music writer Alison Fensterstock, a former Gambit music columnist, was let go, as well as Cate Root, who posted about events around town and covered the city's burgeoning comedy scene. David Lee Simmons, a former Gambit staffer who covered the entertainment scene, also was fired.

Lyons Yellin of Gambit's TV partner WWL-TV reported that "almost all" the prep sports staff was let go.

It's a real shame nothing ever happens in New Orleans that people might want to read about. But "the market" probably knows what it's doing, right?

Here's what it's doing. Sorry to lift most of Athenae's post here but.. look.
Let’s review: They knifed a bunch of dedicated people in the back, made home delivery incomprehensible and inaccessible, switched up their printing schedule three times in a year, and then blamed their customers for not throwing money at them. That has tits-all to do with the business culture or incremental changes, and everything to do with you guys being morons who could screw up a popsicle stand on the hottest day in July.
It’s certainly not news that America’s newspapers have been battered by the Internet and the recession. Over the past decade, the nation’s 1,300 daily newspapers have lost about 25 percent of their revenue and an equal percentage of their daily subscribers, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
Which still does not tell me if that leaves them with enough revenue to do their jobs. “Less” is not “insufficient” and it’s incredibly lazy to use the two terms interchangeably. The conventional wisdom is not the same as fact.

Farhi goes on to note that cutting print has meant cutting the thing that makes the money, but somehow that didn’t factor into his assessment of the Advance strategy (if you can call “let’s hope nobody notices we’re just greedy bastards because the Internet is here for us to blame” a strategy):
Asked whether the “digital-first” strategy is succeeding, the normally voluble Mathews pauses. “I don’t think you can say that,” he replies. “There’s not a finish line that any of us see in the near future.”
But hey, at least it’s BOLD!
The "finish line" is we keep firing people until it justifies our decision to transition from profitable journalism to.. what we're sure will be.. more profitable online advertising.  We're sure that will work as soon as we complete the consolidation of all our local reporting by veteran journalists with specific beats into one streamlined "content staff" serving clickbait to the greater Alabama region.

Is the rent too damn high?

The rent is quantifiably too damn high.
The City of New Orleans has changed drastically from 2000 to 2015. This section examines key demographic trends at the city and neighborhood level. The metrics included in this section are of particular importance to the housing market and the health of neighborhoods.

Between 2000 and 2015, the City of New Orleans experienced substantial shifts in population, households, income and housing. Among the significant changes are:

•The population decreased by 28%, and households decreased by 21%.

•The African American population has declined 34% (112,315 African American residents) since 2000. In 2013, 60% of the city’s population is African American, down from 67% in 2000.

•The average size of households dropped slightly–by 6%, from 2.48 people per household in 2000 to 2.33 in 2013.

•The proportion of single households or households made up of unrelated people rose by 2%, the number of people living alone has increased by 6%, and the number of non-family households has increased by 7%

There was a significant decrease in the percentage of the population under 18, while the portion of the population between 19 and 34 years of age rose.

The city’s poverty rate remains incredibly high at 28% (100,605 residents living in poverty), an overall increase of 2% since 2000.

Median household income remains unchanged since 2000, at approximately $37,000.

•The proportion of high-income households increased dramatically,while the proportion of very-low income households rose slightly.

•Educational attainment increased, with a particularly sharp drop in the percentage of individuals who did not complete high school.

Housing costs rose dramatically for both renters and homeowners. Home values have increased by 54%, and rents have increased 50%

•Homeownership rates remained unchanged,decreasing from 46% to 45%, still well below the national average of over 60%.
Those are bullet points from the Housing NOLA preliminary report.  The project is continuing to host meetings and collect data toward creating a set of policy recommendations to deal with the worsening housing problem in New Orleans.

The Advocate gives the notion that this might be a good idea, a soft endorsement. 
Affordable housing is going to be a challenge in New Orleans, and not only because of the impact of the 2005 storms and flooding. There is also a need to connect people with jobs so that the entire community can benefit from growth and rising prosperity.

The market will, we believe, respond in time to the need for more affordable housing, but a coherent HousingNOLA plan for the next decade could be a strong strategy for bringing all the players into the game.
"The market" is responding by driving up the cost of living for everybody.  Maybe someone should do something. 

Derrick Shepherd has some good points

Have to admit his campaign push to restore citizenship rights to ex-offenders is not a bad cause.
Shepherd, a former state senator and representative whose 2008 felony conviction and two-year prison term for money laundering seem to prevent him from running for the District 87 seat, was still upbeat despite 24th Judicial District Judge Stephen Enright’s morning ruling to disqualify him.

“I’m optimistic. That’s the best word for it,” Shepherd said, with his appeal and a separate constitutional challenge to the law that prohibits him from running both slated for decisions next week.

“I respect his ruling; I just think he’s incorrect, and I look forward to them hearing the merits of the constitutional argument,” Shepherd said. “I just want to tell everybody who’s praying for me that the fight isn’t over yet.”

Assuming he defies the odds, early indications are that Shepherd’s campaign will focus on a story of redemption and that, rather than run from his admission that he took $140,000 from the sale of fake bonds, he’ll embrace it as a mistake he’s determined to atone for.
Because I like democracy, I'm pretty much with him... right up to the part where he thinks he ought to be elected to something. Then, not so much. 

They figured out where Cousin Kenneth got that badge

Turns out the Orleans Parish Sheriff's department gave it to him.  They aren't very clear on why they would do that, though.
Police say the purported victim in that case identified Landrieu as the man who emerged from a Cadillac DeVille in the Lower Garden District with a six-pointed brass star pinned to his collar and a gun in his hands.

The man on the other end of the gun, who has not been named, told police that Landrieu ordered him to pull over and said that his “boys” were going to search the man’s car and possibly arrest him.

Landrieu claimed earlier this week that he “could” be a commissioned reserve officer or deputy, although he declined to state with which agency.

Marc Ehrhardt, a spokesman for Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office, said Landrieu was named as a special reserve deputy by former Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau — one of a slew of honorary commissions that Valteau and other local law enforcement leaders have handed out over the years to friends and celebrities.

Ehrhardt said the title, which comes with a badge that reads “Honorary” on the back, continued for Landrieu and others after the civil and criminal sheriff’s offices were merged in 2008.

He said the honorary deputies volunteer for a program to help lost kids during Carnival and at some community service events, including the sheriff’s celebrated Easter egg hunt and Thanksgiving dinner.
As far as we know so far, the man Cousin Kenneth held at gunpoint was not carrying any Easter eggs.

Anyway, all of this is buried inside of a completely different story about a man who is not quite a police officer claiming authority to pee on things. 
Police arrested Kevin Migaud, a 26-year veteran of the force who retired more than a decade ago, in May after he was accused of urinating on the sidewalk in the Irish Channel and then flashing a badge and a weapon at a woman who complained about it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bobby's still got friends

Even after getting smoked by Lindsey Graham in the kiddie debate Wednesday, it's good to know Bobby's still got people he can rely on.  
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal held a post-debate fundraiser in New Orleans Thursday evening, raising $350,000 for his presidential campaign.

The fundraiser was held at the home of Landfill magnate Fred Heebe on St. Charles Ave.

Ethics Review Board might need an ethics review

Hard to take the Dragonslaying seriously when the Round Table can't comply with open meetings laws.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Opening Week

No, this is not about the Saints season opener. (I'll get to it. Really.) It also happens to be Opening Week at the shiny new Orleans Parish Prison. It was a big draw. They're packing them in over there.
The first two busloads of inmates passed through the giant metal doors of Orleans Parish's new jail facility Monday (Sept. 14), in what Sheriff Marlin Gusman called "the end of an era."

"This has been a long time coming," Gusman told reporters a few minutes before the yellow school buses and deputy SUVs pulled up to the new 1,438-bed, $145 million jail building dubbed "Phase II."
It's September in New Orleans so it may be difficult to distinguish this scene from the one that happens every fall where loads of school buses deliver young people to their designated institution of draconian spirit-crushing discipline. The secret to telling prison from school, though, is the schools are more strict about contraband.

Even with the new school opening, Principal Gusman is under scrutiny again regarding his selective admissions policy.
The latest disagreement came over the shipment of some local prisoners to facilities in north Louisiana by Gusman. The city said the move sent some local prisoners who had court dates and needed to meet with lawyers about four hours away. Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, on the Eyewitness Morning News, suggested Gusman send more of the state inmates being housed here to north Louisiana.

Gusman countered by saying that the group of prisoners moved out included some state prisoners, but that those who remained were prisoners participating in a re-entry program that required them to meet with local counselors.

“The old way of doing it was letting them out at some state facility in the middle of nowhere and giving them a bus ticket and saying, ‘we hope you don’t come back,’” said Gusman.

Kopplin said the re-entry program could easily be moved to the facilities up north and that continuing to prioritize some state prisoners over local prisoners causes local taxpayers to pick up the tab, which he said was about $30 per day, per prisoner over what the city already pays to run the jail.

“We have plenty of room in the sheriff’s facilities for all the people we are responsible for in New Orleans,” said Kopplin. “What we don’t have room for is all of Bobby Jindal’s prisoners in our local jail.”
Turns out there's still plenty of room for Bobby Jindal's prisoners at the Governor's Mansion. But in New Orleans they pretty much have to go in the jail. Even the semblance of "house arrest" is bound to make the mayor's people uncomfortable these days. Kopplin has a point, though. If Gusman is choosing to house state prisoners in the new jail while shipping local inmates awaiting trial to points north, that doesn't make sense for anyone but Gusman.

Beyond just being a worse deal for local taxpayers, it's also a shitty thing to do to pretrial defendants and their lawyers
Further complicating matters has been the sheriff’s indefinite relocation of some 250 pretrial inmates — many of whom face serious felony charges such as murder — to jails several hours away in East Carroll and Franklin parishes.

Gusman has said those inmates would not fit in the new jail. But several defense attorneys said they were blindsided by that move, which will greatly restrict their access to their clients.

“I think it’s a little early to tell how much of this (confusion over court appearances) is due to the shipment upstate and how much of it is due to the transfer to the new facility,” said Colin Reingold, special litigation director for the Orleans Public Defenders Office. “It didn’t sound like (the Sheriff’s Office) had a solidified system for knowing where the inmates were housed in the new facility so they can efficiently bring them to their court appearances.”

Another defense attorney, Kevin Boshea, said he learned over the weekend that Clifford Williams, a client of his scheduled to stand trial Tuesday in a second-degree murder case, had been among the inmates sent several hours away last week. He filed a last-minute motion to postpone Williams’ trial.
Unfortunately, the extra mileage is hardly the worst obstacle the Public Defenders Office is faced with right now.  There's also this thing where the city won't give them any money to operate.
A New Orleans judge Friday (Sept. 11) postponed for more than two months a hearing he called to examine whether poor people charged with crimes in his court are receiving adequate legal representation.

Criminal District Court Arthur Hunter sought Friday's hearing last week, after reading an op-ed piece in The Washington Post written by New Orleans public defender Tina Peng, who wrote about lack of funding for public defenders.

But Hunter postponed a discussion on the matter at the request of Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton, who said he's involved in ongoing discussions with the Louisiana Public Defender Board on whether the current funding woes are "an aberration."

Bunton asked that the hearing be reset for November, and Hunter agreed to scheduled it for Nov. 18.
If you hadn't seen the Washington Post article, you might still have heard about this. John Oliver covered it a few weeks ago.
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that "any person ... who is too poor to hire a lawyer cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him." But as John Oliver explains in his latest Last Week Tonight report, the public defender system has been warped beyond recognition – leading to underfunded departments, pressured guilty pleas and the absurd notion of being billed for a supposedly free attorney. 

Here is that segment.

Oliver mentions an ongoing fundraising campaign for the OPD's office this week. In addition to the crowd-funding effort, which you can donate to at that link, there is a series of public events you might like to attend listed on that site as well.

Of course, we shouldn't have to provide for minimum constitutional standards in our criminal justice system this way.  But that's what it's come to. Anyway there are worse ways to fund a public defender's office.. like, say,  the one we have already.
The public defender's office is partially funded through the collection of traffic tickets in Orleans Parish and is expected to get $300,000 less this year. Bunton said if the deficit is not resolved in the short term, it's going to cost taxpayers in the long term to house people awaiting their day court.

"We are the only state in the entire country that funds district defenders through local fees, local court fees and that system really just doesn't work," Louisiana State Bar Association President Mark Cunningham said.
Setting aside the perverse incentive built into such a system, we're never going to squeeze enough money out of people this way.  We know because we are trying.
A group of people convicted of crimes in Orleans Parish lodged a federal class action lawsuit Thursday claiming that the dozen judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and court staffers routinely violate the law by jailing people for failing to pay fines and fees without giving them a chance to plead poverty.

“The result is an illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust modern debtors’ prison,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit claims the court has authorized illegal arrest warrants for failing to come up with the money without giving defendants “notice of how or when they would be released or when a hearing would be held.”

It claims that the half-dozen named plaintiffs, and others like them, are deprived of a constitutionally mandated hearing over their ability to pay.

The suit describes an “illegal scheme” in which convicts are jailed until they pay their fines and fees or are forced to post a preset $20,000 bond. The suit claims the judges have a conflict of interest in doing so, because the court’s Judicial Expense Fund is filled largely with those moneys.
Oh yeah, the judges depend on this racket for their budget too. Anyway, when I noticed the State Treasurer was in town this week advocating for more aggressive police tactics I thought he was just demagoging our overblown hysteria over street crime in order to impress out of town voters. But, on second thought, maybe he's just offering fiscal advice.   Need more money? Go shake some fools down.

Where has this ever gone wrong?

Deputy cousins

If you follow local politics you've probably already met the Mayor's Cousin Gary.  He's become an occasional vanity candidate in recent election cycles. Most recently, Cousin Gary challenged (sort of) Congressman Cedric Richmond in what was less a political campaign that it was a series of dueling  lawsuits.  In 2012, he ran near the back of a crowded City Council  At-Large field distinguishing himself by his creative plan to rid the city of its hated traffic cameras.
"When I say we're going to get rid of those traffic cameras, those traffic cameras are going to be removed," he said. "I am going to personally remove them if I have to personally go get a garbage truck from the department of garbage and go run them over with a garbage truck."
The Landrieus are a publicly Catholic family so naturally there are a lot of them.  Gary isn't the only one prone to road rage.
Kenneth Landrieu, a cousin of Mayor Mitch Landrieu who was arrested Monday in an alleged road rage incident last week in the Lower Garden District, said Wednesday that he acted out of fear when, according to police, he whipped out a gun and drew a bead on another driver.

Landrieu, 52, faces counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and impersonating a peace officer, a lesser count that he said he expects to be dismissed.
Cousin Kenneth also brandished some sort of badge that he has for some reason that is unclear.
Landrieu, a first cousin to the mayor and the brother of former congressional hopeful Gary Landrieu, said that until the incident Thursday, he was, “as far as I know,” a commissioned reserve officer in good standing at a local law enforcement agency. The 6th District officers who arrested him “knew or should have known that,” he said.

He refused, however, to disclose the agency for which he volunteers but said he turned in his badge pending the outcome of the criminal case.
The Advocate hadn't pinned down which agency had given Cousin Kenneth his badge when that story ran.  I know we've got like 700 Deputy Mayors running around already. Do they have badges?