Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pre-games and warm-ups

Parade season begins in earnest this weekend.  But we're already well into the swing of things.  Here are a few links and photos from the past few weeks just to get caught up.

These are from the Thoth "King's Caravan"walking parade through the French Quarter a few weeks ago.

Caravan float

You can look at this event two ways. On the one hand, it possesses the definite aspect of a Y'at-ish frat party and all of the embarrassingly boorish behavior such a thing entails. At its worst, you might think of it as the #KreweOfChad Senior Division.

Caravan on Canal

Caravan on Bourbon

On the other hand, an authentic, locally produced Carnival event presenting itself on Bourbon Street is a rare and welcome relief from a scene typically dominated by destination wedding parties and corporate faux-second lines. Sometimes it's good to go remind the tourists that even the "Hospitality Zone" doesn't belong entirely to them.

Bourbon Street

Plus it's always good to see these guys out there doing their thing.

Cross bearing

You can't have a good Mardi Gras if you don't have a chaotic mix of clashing lifestyles and opinions out on full display. I don't care what the FBI says about that.

Then, last weekend, one of the few serious cold weather spells we've had this winter meant it was time for Krewe Du Vieux. At least, that's what the forecast always calls for, anyway.

Krewe du  Vieux XXX

Krewe Du Vieux crosses Canal Street these days so we caught it in the CBD.  They told us the Governor was snowed under at DC Mardi Gras at the time, but we did see his bus parked out in front of the place that used to be Lucy's.

Purple Party Bus

Unfortunately most of my pictures from that night turned out really crappy.  Here's a look at Spank's "Clash of The Entitled" float, for example.

Clash of The Entitled

Their theme was #KreweOfChad inspired.  If you'd like to review the background there, a comprehensive history has recently been published.  Also this year be on the lookout for #KreweOfBrad.

I've got some better pictures from the Friday night parades I'll put into a later post. But it's already late on Saturday and I've got to shake off the hangover before the next things happen.  This week's Hunkderdowncast is sort of a Mardi Gras preview.  Maybe check that out in the meantime.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Congratulations, Rep Abramson

Moving up in the world.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Two New Orleans area lawmakers were chosen Thursday to lead the House committees that will be essential to deciding the fate of Gov. John Bel Edwards' budget and tax proposals.

House Speaker Taylor Barras announced his committee assignments, saying he thought the list contained a balance of leadership from various geographical, political and racial backgrounds.

"This is an outstanding group of dedicated public servants who are ready and able to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing our state," Barras, R-New Iberia, said in a statement.

Republican Rep. Cameron Henry of Metairie was named chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which crafts the state's budget and handles most spending bills.

Democratic Rep. Neil Abramson of New Orleans was chosen chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax legislation and state construction spending plans. Abramson was the only Democrat to vote for Barras as speaker, and the chairmanship was seen as a reward for that decision.
Thanks, for that Neil.  You're really helping
Gov. John Bel Edwards withdrew a key Medicaid expansion item from the a legislative budget committee agenda Friday morning (Jan. 29), hours after the Louisiana House announced its committee members would be mostly Republicans.

The Edwards administration was planning on asking the Louisiana Legislature's joint budget committee to approve the hire of an additional 248 employees at the Department of Health and Hospitals to handle Medicaid expansion. The hires are needed to fulfill one of the Democratic governor's top priorities to provide more access to health care in the state.

The yanking of the item may be a signal the Louisiana House will make it difficult to Edwards to execute Medicaid expansion. The governor has typically had a lot of control over who legislative leadership, but the Republican-controlled House is exerting more independence this year

Most underreported story in New Orleans

The long decline of UNO
For a half-century after its founding in 1958, UNO offered generations of middle-class New Orleanians an affordable pathway to a four-year college degree. But it has fallen on hard times during the past decade, beginning with the damage caused by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and continuing with deep budget cuts and admission requirements that have seen its student body shrink by half.

Like its peers, UNO got few favors from former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Over the past eight years, UNO’s state support has shrunk by more than half, from $74 million in 2008-09 to almost $33 million in 2014-15. The school’s overall budget has been cut by about 20 percent over that span, to $102 million.

Enrollment has followed a similar downward trajectory, from 17,142 students registered pre-Katrina to just 8,423 last fall — UNO’s smallest class since 1967. Over that time, UNO has gone from being the state’s second-largest four-year school to its seventh-largest.
That's a lot of dismal evisceration of programs and firing of people and whatnot.  It takes a real hero to accept the $325,000 salary plus perks such as a house and car to be the hatchet man in that scenario. Luckily, Peter Fos was available and willing.

It wasn’t long before he faced his first budget challenge: In his first year, the state cut its support by more than $9 million. Then, the new admission requirements took effect, further reducing an already low enrollment. He estimates that about 750 students could no longer enroll at UNO in fall 2012.

“You couldn’t have planned a worse scenario for me, to be honest with you,” he said.

To cope with less revenue, Fos made a number of controversial cutbacks, deep-sixing academic programs, eliminating hundreds of jobs and closing a popular on-campus day care center.

Mostly through attrition, UNO’s faculty has shrunk considerably, from 199 professors in 2005 to 91 professors in 2015.

As colleagues left and weren’t replaced, faculty members who stayed had to pick up added responsibilities — including teaching more classes — after going years without a raise.
Layoffs and people taking on more work without compensation. Meanwhile, Fos pads his retirement savings. But somehow he can't imagine a "worse scenario" for himself.  Who would even want that job now?
New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin is among five candidates under consideration to lead the struggling University of New Orleans. The group also includes several university provosts, including UNO’s.

Kopplin has served as the city’s first deputy mayor and chief administrative officer since Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010. Before that, he spent two years as a senior adviser at Teach for America and two years as executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency tasked with leading the state’s recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Makes sense. For one thing, it's one of the few jobs available in town that would represent a pay raise for Kopplin. Plus his Teach For America experience shows he knows what it takes to separate tenured education professionals from their jobs.  Add to that the fact that the university presidents end up making almost as many municipal administrative decisions in New Orleans as the Deputy Mayor does and you can see why this is a good fit.

Get ready for Carnival

A Mardi Gras preview show where instead of Mardi Gras music they put in some Queen and a rare spoof of a Bauhaus song. What kind of idiots would even do that?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trouble in Motwanivania

A big building burned down on Canal Street Wednesday.  You might have noticed since it's been all over the place all day so I won't rehash it. Here is something worth paying attention to, though.
The four-story building in which the fire originated is owned by New Orleans developer and retailer Mike Motwani through his real estate company Quarter Holdings LLC. Motwani could not be reached for comment at his Magnolia Enterprises office, which operates T-shirt and souvenir shops. Quarter Holdings owns a total of 16 properties in the French Quarter and Central Business District, including seven on Canal Street.

"The key to not having a fire turn into a tragic fire like this is to have an alarm system, commercial buildings particularly," McConnell said. "Having an alarm system that would have reported something like this in its incipient phase would have made a huge difference for these buildings. Unfortunately, we know it burned for an hour and a half before we were called to the scene.

"I think every building should have a fire alarm in it. Whether you can pass legislation to do that or not, I don't know. But, to me, if you're a business owner and you're not putting an alarm in that's going to report that fire and get it to us early, you're putting your livelihood at risk."
In other words.. and at the very least.. Gee what a swell landlord Mike Motwani is! But also what a great neighbor he has been
Over the years, Motwani has often tangled with city officials. A 2008 Times-Picayune story described him as “the man whom local preservationists, city regulators and even economic development gurus love to hate.”

Among other reasons, the article cited Motwani’s “repeated flouting of government regulations, his failure to maintain some of his buildings and his gobbling up of Canal Street properties to open cut-rate stores that impede efforts to upgrade Canal as a shopping destination.”

Motwani owns a number of T-shirt and gift shops and is a controversial figure in and around the French Quarter, partly because of his penchant for such types of businesses but also because he often has flouted development restrictions. Some of his buildings are occupied on the ground floors by liquor stores and shops geared toward tourists, while upper floors are vacant or used only for storage.
The tastefulness of Motwani's businesses is a subjective and complicated question, of course. But the neglect of his buildings is a different matter.  The safety hazard alone is pretty well evident.  It's a significant thing, too, since his many holdings constitute Motwanivania, one of the major NOligarchies we keep track of here on our downtown map.

Motwani's territory overlaps with Sidney Torres's French Quarter private policing zone. (Mr. Torres is currently somewhat out of favor in his own realm. But this is only Act II of that particular Shakespearean history.)

Speaking of which, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are more plot twists to come in the drama of the Motwanivania fire.  There may, for example, be more to this than meets the eye.

Are the monuments down yet dot com


 There's another lawsuit now.  Can't imagine this will take very long, though.  Check back soon.


We cannot afford freedom anymore.
Eric LaFleur, the chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s finance committee, is in charge of vetting next year’s budget. He says that the public defenders “have certainly got our attention,” because some “bad guys will go unprosecuted if they don’t have a lawyer.” But the likelihood of more funding for indigent defense, he says, remains slim. “They can draw attention to their plight, but the basic fiscal situation remains the same: With the budget deficit we have, people who commit crimes are still a low priority.”
No big deal. It's just basic habeas corpus we're talking about here.  And we gotta make sure we protect that Hollywood South tax credit in the meantime. 

The condescension has really become overwhelming

Happens every election cycle.  
Today I read for maybe the 10,000th time an assertion that supporters of Bernie Sanders are unrealistic, that Bernie Sanders supporters will all be disappointed if they elect him because he won’t be able to bring the change he’s promising, that Bernie Sanders’ policies will be “just another example of Democrats making promises they can’t keep,” and so on and so forth. And I’d like to briefly dispel a misconception about people who support Bernie Sanders as the next president of the United States:

We’re not stupid.
The grown-ups love to go around telling everyone they have no business caring about grown up stuff.  It's almost as if the grown-ups didn't really think participatory democracy was all that great a thing.  But we're used to it.  Happens all the time.

It does get a little old, though, watching the predictable manner in which all the young, smart, kids grow up to be the establishment stooges their self-centered ambitions always demanded they should become.

See also.
As so often happens, those who fancy themselves dissident gate-crashers (which apparently can include someone who is a Nobel Prize-winning tenured economics professor, at Princeton until somewhat recently; an advisory board member of the nation’s largest corporations; and effectively, a life-tenured New York Times columnist) quickly assume the role of vigilantly guarding the gate once they realize they were admitted all along. So congratulations to Paul Krugman on his power of decreeing who is a Serious Expert and announcing that the label applies only to those who want Hillary Clinton be the next president, but not Bernie Sanders.
The problem with people who decide they are going to do politics and public policy as a career is they very quickly conflate ideas about what's good for... well, themselves and their careers... with what's actually, you know, good. Which is why no one who is actually interested in politics should ever go into politics. The second you make it about you, is the second you corrupt your ability to see it as about anyone outside of that. And that's when you start telling the rest of us how stupid we all are.


Things are gonna get a whole lot worse before they get better, Louisiana. 
Nucor Corp. appears to have moved on from its plans for a multi-phase $3.4 billion steelmaking complex in St. James Parish.

The company’s fourth-quarter earnings report includes writing off $84.1 million spent on engineering and equipment related to a blast furnace project that “will not be utilized in the future at our St. James Parish, Louisiana site.”

Nucor made the decision on the blast furnace during the fourth quarter, the company said.

Nucor has already built the first phase of the project: a $750 million, direct reduced iron plant at St. James that employs 170 people.

In the short term, though, maybe we're making fiscal progress?
The state had promised the company $160 million in incentives if all the phases were built. In order to collect, Nucor had to provide its final investment decision to Louisiana Economic Development by the end of 2015.
It's hard to tell because the "dynamic scoring" of the budgetary impact of these incentives is so much politically loaded bullshit. According to the models favored by LABI et al, it's always good to give all of our money away to "job creators." Still, $160 million in corporate welfare that won't happen now has to help a little bit, maybe. 

On the other hand, so much for "Qatar on the Bayou"

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Shep is back in!

Well, okay, the election is over now but the saga of Derrick Shepherd's attempt to qualify for office has finally concluded. Turns out, next time, he can run after all.
A law that prevented Derrick Shepherd from running for office with a felony conviction on his record was declared invalid Wednesday (Jan. 27) by the Louisiana Supreme Court. "I'm so happy to be validated," Shepherd said, describing himself as "on cloud nine."
Technically, the court ruled that the law was passed in an invalid fashion due to a discrepancy in the wording of the bill that passed the legislature compared to the ballot measure approved by voters. So the ruling isn't really based on any sort of voting rights principle. 

Perhaps it should be, though.  If people want to vote for or against a convicted felon, why should they not have the right to do so?  That's an argument for a later time, though. We'll have to make it again should the legislature take the issue up later this year.  But for now, Vote For The Crooks if you've got 'em.

Speaking of which, might we have Derrick Shepherd to kick around in the meantime?  Maybe!
But he also might take a shot at running for federal office, which does not have the same prohibition. He said he's received calls encouraging him to run for U.S. Sen. David Vitter's seat.

"I never thought about running for United States Senate, but hey, it's something to look at," Shepherd said. "When the Supreme Court validates you and tells you 'You're right, you can have a second chance,' maybe the people of Louisiana would agree and allow me to have a second chance, too."

Municipal finance reform

This is BGR's pet project so it's worth noting that the mayor is signaling at least a measure of support here.
As Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature try to right the state's finances, Landrieu repeated his call that a larger share of gambling, hotel-motel and sales taxes generated in New Orleans remain within the city limits rather than head to Baton Rouge. He also agreed with BGR that New Orleans' own tax policies and priorities should be reexamined.

The watchdog group in a November report had questioned the spending rationale of a government that dedicates more than four times the tax dollars to tourism and sports as it does to potholes and broken streetlights.

BGR's "analysis of the money coming into the city and the money going out of the system is exactly right," Landrieu said. Over time, tax prioritizing "all gets out of balance and it gets all out of whack and it doesn't make any sense."
But he was there to sell them on yet another dedicated tax millage for police and fire services so who knows how sincere he is.  And that's fine, I'm not convinced BGR's notion that we should just blow up the whole thing and start all over is such a great idea anyway. But it will be fun to talk about when they finally release a report on the matter.

Mitch also couldn't help but tell them this.
At another point he pushed the audience members to be more involved in the city's school system, which he predicted could return to the Orleans Parish School Board from state control within the next three years.

"You've got to make sure that when those schools come back here that the School Board that's in place, that the individuals that are elected to run that School Board, and the structure that they have to run, and the governance model is exactly right, or we will lose ground on probably the most — oh no, clearly the most significant building block that's going to help New Orleans go forward because everything has to go through the schoolhouse door," Landrieu said.
Which raises the question, is that even really going to be true anymore?  In a city we're turning over to tourists and part-time residents where nobody actually lives, does it really matter that much if there are any schools? 

Parked money

For people wondering why The Rent Is Too Damn High, here is a somewhat fair analysis published by the real estate industry site Curbed. You have to read a while to get to it but this is something to pay some attention to.
The advent of the "non-primary" housing unit—an apartment or home purchased as an investment rather than a residence, often by a foreign buyer—is perhaps the most talked-about factor in the mix that created the era of the $5 million home. Both Yu and Gabriel pointed to significant foreign money coming into real estate in Los Angeles and along the Southern Coast, specifically in places like Orange County. Absentee owners' purchases have also been a contentious aspect of New York's luxury real estate market.

For the global top one or five percent, investing in another home is fairly wise, explained Pendall. Right now, it's hard to make money on your money. Likewise, he told me by phone, Baby Boomers earning $1,000,000 or more a year might find holding another home in any of these cities a good use of funds as their children become self sufficient and their expenses decrease. "They have the investment value in mind."
For a lot of bad reasons I don't have the time for right now, it's becoming relatively less profitable for investors to send money after other fake money in the stock market than it is to pull money out and park it somewhere. One of the places people like to hide money is in luxury real estate. 
Concerned about illicit money flowing into luxury real estate, the Treasury Department said Wednesday that it would begin identifying and tracking secret buyers of high-end properties.
The initiative will start in two of the nation’s major destinations for global wealth: Manhattan and Miami-Dade County. It will shine a light on the darkest corner of the real estate market: all-cash purchases made by shell companies that often shield purchasers’ identities.

It is the first time the federal government has required real estate companies to disclose names behind cash transactions, and it is likely to send shudders through the real estate industry, which has benefited enormously in recent years from a building boom increasingly dependent on wealthy, secretive buyers.

The initiative is part of a broader federal effort to increase the focus on money laundering in real estate. Treasury and federal law enforcement officials said they were putting greater resources into investigating luxury real estate sales that involve shell companies like limited liability companies, often known as L.L.C.s; partnerships; and other entities.
It's a good sign that the feds are starting to look at the impact of dark money on the housing markets of "destination cities" like New York and Miami. It would be nice to see that investigation expand into New Orleans where theland rush has also been heavy in cash transactions.... particularly in the market for "second homes." 
Another growing trend: Wealthy families buying condos, especially larger two-bedroom units, as a place to spend a few months out of the year and invite friends along.

Prices are up. Bouler said. For example, a condo purchased for $175,000 in 2005 just sold last week for $283,000. Most of the demand is focused on a price range of $300,000 to $500,000, he said.

As interest in French Quarter listings has increased, driving prices up, the demand has rippled out into all part of the city, he said.

He has also noticed condo owners are less likely to give them up. A doctor who finished medical school and moved away, for example, is opting to rent his condo rather than sell, Bouler said.
In the meantime, though, the city, in fact, may be looking for ways to take advantage of all this parked money and vacuum as much tax revenue out of it as they can. Which is why City Council is going to approve the short term rental legalization next month.  There's a lot of money parked in New Orleans real estate right now. Council doesn't really care if it's driving working people out of their homes. All they want is a taste. 

All of your joys are now your job

This is an article about basketball. But really it is about the nightmare world we are all sinking into.
In hopes of optimizing physical performance, teams have begun to collect more detailed biological data. This is presented to the players and the public in its most flattering light, which is as a movement towards improved player health. And while that’s true enough, it’s not the end of it: a team cares only about the health of a player’s body insofar as it can remain a productive body, and the team finally seeks to gain more information about the body only to improve its performance in labor.

This new information requires players to practice and train a certain way to maximize their bodies’ productivity. As a result, the workday lengthens, and the workplace is everywhere. The offseason requires longer hours and more intense training to ensure better performance; the team now knows about what a player is eating, how they’re training, how much they’re sleeping. The next step, naturally, is mandating it, in the interest of best practices and productivity. Somewhere in here we confront a maxim regularly espoused by a good friend of mine: that capitalism can turn even the most wonderful activity into the most miserable job.

Everyone who works for a living knows how this goes. Eventually the techniques of power disappear from view and appear, instead, in the form of self-discipline and individual responsibility. The goal of the institution is to produce a subject who welcomes the increasing demands. Under this system, each player’s actions speak to his character rather than the forces being used on or against him. Ultimately, the rules and techniques produce your great work rather than the other way around. You are simply a vehicle of efficiency, productivity; in fact, your agency, your life, are only recognized in your potential to impede efficiency, to throw the whole system off. The last thing that is left up to you is the opportunity to fail in your duties.
The new economy is flush with redundant labor supply.  In order to keep up, we're told we need to commoditize our private lives. This could mean "sharing" our homes or our cars or our free time to meet the on-demand needs of of the leisure class.  It could even mean sharing our most intimate personal habits in order to meet the demands of employers or insurers in ways similar to what the NBA has modeled here. Get ready to sell more and more of yourself. Capitalism demands it.

ALICE does actually live here anymore, for now

Almost half the city.
Almost half of New Orleans families don’t earn enough to meet their basic needs.

That’s a finding of a report due out Wednesday from the Louisiana Association of United Ways. Though other United Way affiliates have released similar statewide reports, it is the organization’s first comprehensive examination of poverty in Louisiana.

The study was compiled with the input of five national researchers and a 19-member Louisiana advisory committee, including a representative from the Data Center, a local nonprofit research group that periodically examines the effects of poverty in and around the city.

It zeroes in on families who earn incomes under the federal poverty level, as well as those who live above that threshold but do not earn enough to cover basic costs like housing and food.

It describes the latter group as “asset limited, income constrained, employed,” or ALICE for short. These families often don’t receive enough public and private financial assistance, researchers said.
Meanwhile, Mitch Landrieu is at BGR this morning trying to sell his police and fire tax millage and addressing other budgetary issues.

Ha ha ha! You are all parasites!  Very funny. Suffice to say nobody at the BGR breakfast is likely to be among the 47% described in that report. To them, the key to eliminating poverty has always been simply to remove the poor people.  The city is working on that right now, in fact.
A plan legalizing short-term rentals to visitors throughout the city but prohibiting residents from renting whole units in residential areas throughout the year gained the approval of the New Orleans City Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The commission voted 6-1 in favor of a set of rules that largely follow the recommendations of its staff.

Because the Planning Commission’s recommendations are not binding on the City Council, Tuesday’s vote represented simply one more step in the long-running debate over what place rentals through websites like AirBnB have in New Orleans.

After council members debate and approve their own version of the document, it will go back to the City Planning Commission for another vote. After getting that approval, it’ll head back to the council for final approval.
Council has discretion to remove the whole unit ban amendment and there's little doubt they will do that. Better to have a city full of revenue generating "units" than actual citizens with needs to serve, right?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Oh my God how could he do that!

The incomparable Jon Bois has a Saints story to tell

The toppling party is back on

Lee Circle

Start the clock.
A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday cleared what may be the final barrier in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s controversial push to take down four public monuments related to the Confederacy.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier denied a request for a temporary injunction from the plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at keeping the monuments in place. His ruling said the plaintiffs failed to show that removing them while the lawsuit played out would cause irreparable harm, or that taking them down would ultimately break the law or violated the Constitution.
As the article goes on to point out, this isn't surprising to anyone who may have followed the hearing. Barbier was not especially receptive to plaintiffs' arguments among which was the suggestion that the monuments should not be removed because they are, in fact, very heavy.

Very quickly now the question shifts from whether the monuments will be removed to when they will be. And that's a touchy subject now what with all the death threats and suspicious firebombings and whatnot. I just hope that doesn't put too much of a damper on things. 

I'm worried now that the city may choose to sneak them away in the night some time like one would the Baltimore Colts. The monument removal is too momentous an occasion for that. We should do it in the daytime, there should be a party, and everyone should be invited to celebrate.  Maybe just before or after this weekends parades would be a good time.

Speaking of steps we'd like to skip

It's tiresome that we have to go through this awkward stage of marijuana sorta legalization.  In order to arrive at a common sense policy (if we ever do.)
Smoking a joint in New Orleans could be treated like a minor traffic infraction if an ordinance drawn up by City Councilwoman Susan Guidry becomes law.

The proposed change builds on Guidry’s previous effort to have police de-emphasize arrests for possession of marijuana. An ordinance passed in 2010 allowed officers to issue summonses rather than arrest those with small amounts of the drug.
Not to come down too hard on Guidry’s idea  (it's good to push the envelope as much as one can) but until the state legislature moves for full decriminalization,  you're going to end up with some confusing scenarios. This kind of officer discretion, for example,  looks like an equal protection or racial discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen.
Officers would still be able to make arrests under the more punitive state law instead of the municipal code, something Guidry suggested could be used in cases where a known drug dealer is caught with only a small amount of marijuana on him. State law allows for a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail for a first offense when an offender has more than 14 grams of marijuana and up to eight years in prison for a fourth offense.

If the ordinance is passed by the council and signed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, officers would be able to choose whether to use the city ordinance or the state law when deciding how to deal with suspects found in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Because nothing the city does can override state law, officers would always be able to choose which one to use in any given case. Guidry said having the two sets of laws would allow officers to continue to make arrests if they feel the situation warrants it.
Yeah, see, that is.. not ideal.  If you're gonna get into these weeds, you might as well go ahead and legalize it altogether.

Next step

Back during the intra-party arguments over Obamacare, one key point the problem side frequently made in order to keep us crazy lefties on board was that, while Obamacare would be problematic, it was self-defeating to "let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Obamacare was progess. It was a "first step" on the way to single payer.

Well, here we are. We're ready to take the next step now. If you're inclined to tell us we need to wait, you probably haven't had to deal with an insurer lateley.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The parking is too damn high

And the system is designed to entrap people.
NEW ORLEANS – Harold Dale and other folks who live and work in the 1100 block of Decatur Street love having what they call an “oasis” parking spot in front of Molly’s on the Market.

Dale, a night manager at the bar who also lives upstairs, parked in the spot on a recent Sunday when a city tow truck hitched up his van and started to take it to the impound. Dale was working at another job down the street, so his coworkers at Molly’s pleaded with the tow truck driver, pointing at a sign indicating that a bus stop ran from in front of Dale’s vehicle to the corner.

Molly’s bartender Jessi Vojt tried to explain that the “Pay to Park” zone doesn’t start until a few feet behind Dale’s van.

“It’s a free spot,” she said.

It didn’t work.

And even though Dale won $181.25 back from the city the very next day, when a hearing officer admitted it shouldn’t have been towed, the tow truck driver was back to tow more cars just a few days later.

“I think that they probably know (it’s a free spot) but they just write the tickets and tow the cars and just hope that 90 percent of the people probably won’t fight it, and I imagine that’s the case,” Dale said.
They got me a few months ago under similar circumstances. I still don't know why I was towed but I tend to think people who contest fines or complain to the manager in restaurants are entitled assholes so I just paid the fine and let it go. But that notwithstanding, it's pretty clear the city is running a scam on people.
Other complaints include missing signs, like one end of a Freight Zone marked on Constance Street behind the Cotton Mill condominiums, where residents have been getting towed a lot lately. There’s a Freight Zone sign on one side of a service entrance to the building, but nothing on the other side of the driveway. Rainey acknowledged that the other Freight Zone is missing and said the city Sign Shop was in the process of making a new one to get it installed.

And then there are paperwork issues. Cotton Mill resident Julie Egren got a notice in the mail last August saying she owed $80 on a parking ticket she got in July… July 2012. She said it was the first she heard of it.

And Dr. Juan Gershanik paid a $20 fine this month when he tried to contest a ticket he got on Poydras Street – another cluster of signs confused him because a Street Cleaning and Parade Route sign were placed in front of a Bus Stop sign facing away from the street. He lost the appeal, but then the city sent him a collections notice for $60 and claimed it had no record of his $20 check.
But we're supposed to be okay about that because, according to the fashionable progressive orthodoxy,  cars are bad.  Sure we're ripping people off. But now we get to sell it as enlightened urban policy.


Bart's effort at bonfire advocacy in his Mid-City Messenger column this week is going about the problem all wrong.  Sure, this is a fine examination of the city's overzealous suppression of a disruptive folk activity. And I guess that's half the battle.
There have been some other efforts to keep the tradition alive. On the last day of 2014, some unknown folk hero bought out the remnants of a Christmas tree lot, set a bonfire, then ran away. While the authorities were busy extinguishing that blaze, he or she set another one elsewhere on Orleans Avenue, and another, and another. Four illegal bonfires in one night!

Maybe that’s why the City doubled down on their efforts this past December, leading to the spectacle of numerous cops policing the avenue to stop any sign of a bonfire, while all over Mid-City people were blasting firecrackers with impunity.
Bart's solution, though, insofar as he offers one, is disappointing.
For example, take my little family. In lieu of the bonfire, we light a single candle in front of our house round midnight on New Year’s Eve. With whatever friends are present, we run around the candle in a circle three times. Our luck has been steadily improving. I’m happy to say I learned this magic ritual right here in Mid-City.

Just imagine if everyone here did something similar. It would be like a miniature, distributed bonfire. It’s probably illegal, but no one could ever shut it down, and we’d be known once again as the luckiest neighborhood in the city.
Now that is endearing and all but it's a little too much quiet acquiescence for my liking. In this outcome a community event is driven off of the streets and splintered among an undetermined number of isolated households.  It's difficult to see that as any sort of victory. Besides that it doesn't really even solve the problem of securing legal permission from the city. I think there might be a better way to sell them on that.

Instead of challenging the city to chase us around putting out our little illegal bonfires, why not offer them a piece of the action?  As Bart's column demonstrates, the Mid City bonfire is just the sort of authentic "only in NOLA" experience today's culture-savvy traveler will pay a premium to experience.  And if we've learned anything over the last decade, the best way to preserve the unique cultural identity of New Orleans is to commoditize it.

Mid City residents should adopt their disruptive ritual to fit the increasingly legitimatized contours of the so called sharing economy. Call it Airbnbonfire. For a fee, visitors can participate in the "miniature distributed bonfire" of their choice. This will allow them a glimpse into the "real New Orleans" folk culture created by natives but only truly appreciated by leisure travelers in touch with their inner Bourdain.  Next, the city will approve a framework for licensing and, of course, taxing these activities and, voila, the practice is now perfectly legal!

Still, there are going to be critics who say too many bonfires saturating a neighborhood might be a problem.  The fires may, for example, prove a threat to residential quality of life in the form of noise, litter, and, of course, the second-hand smoke.  There's also the possibility that legalized Airbnbonfires might limit the stock of affordable housing available in a neighborhood by, you know, actually burning it down.  But, since we're well on the way to turning all of that into Short Term Rentals anyway, it's unlikely that anyone who actually still lives here would even notice.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How much is parking downtown now?

I mean, I know they jacked up the meters and the fines and everything because penalizing working people with regressive fees is how civilized society operates and all these days. But I'm still wondering if it has to apply to, like, everybody... you know?
In the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 12, Edmonds again recounts her story about the parking contract as a motive for the alleged retaliation and harassment she experienced. But she also claims a pattern of racial discrimination by city officials, saying there was a “palpable racial animus against her and other Black employees, perceptible to many.”

Edmonds referred questions about the suit to her lawyer, Dominic Varrecchio, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

The suit claims that the alleged racial animus became noticeable after she “refused favors for certain politically connected White superiors, favors involving the impoundment of illegally parked vehicles and her refusal to waive fees and charges for politically connected Landrieu Administration employees and friends.”

If you're in The Club you can do whatever you want

The thing about these ostensibly do-gooder entrepreneurial non-profits is the minute you hold one of them accountable for being the vanity-driven grift vehicles they all are, then you expose the whole lot of them to similar justice.  And since we're talking here about the heroic leaders of neoliberal "New New Orleans" it should be obvious that accountability is never going to be part of the equation.
NEW ORLEANS – Grammy-winner Irvin Mayfield’s jazz orchestra appears to be reneging on a promise it made last May to give back the money it received from a public library charity headed by Mayfield and his business partner.

An investigation by WWL-TV exposed $1.03 million in payments from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at a time when Mayfield and his longtime friend and business partner, Ronald Markham, were in charge of both agencies.

Public outrage was strong and swift, leading to the resignation of both Mayfield and Markham from the Library Foundation. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for the money to be returned, and within a few days, the Jazz Orchestra board, led by Audubon Institute chief executive Ron Forman, agreed to raise the money to pay it back in full.
We wrote about this phenomenon at length last year.  Here's the key point from that post.
Again, Irvin Mayfield, himself, isn't the actual problem. He is a symptom of the problem, though. The problem is the post-Katrina ascendance of neoliberal "volunteer entrepreneurism" in rebuilding the "ultimate libertarian city" prescribed by Glassman. The club members who've worked so hard to bring the Glassman vision to life are hard-pressed to admit it, though.
You can't really understand the problem by treating one case in isolation.  This isn't about one person's theft in particular.  It's about an entire class of elitist 'treps stealing from the very notion of the public trust as a whole. Which is why Mayfield/Markham are confident in their defiance. They're correctly gambling that the establishment would prefer to let them off the hook rather than risk upsetting the whole system.

Peace in our time

Rita and Gayle

Well, not fully. But the Bensons are halfway there.
Three days before Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson was scheduled to be privately questioned by his estranged daughter Renee’s attorneys, he and Renee reached a settlement Friday afternoon in their year-old battle over control of a family trust fund in Texas, according to an attorney in the case.

Terms of the settlement are confidential, said Bennett Stahl, a San Antonio attorney who represented Renee Benson in the dispute. But he said the agreement renders a scheduled Feb. 1 trial moot.
The trust fund dispute is separate from the controversy over the sports teams succession but getting this half settled at least suggests that the time of uncertainty is coming to an end.  At the same time, though, it suggests that Team Rita-Renee might have a stronger hand than people are giving them credit for.  Look how they bullied their way into this settlement. 
Friday’s settlement came a little more than a month after Benson offered to resign as the trust’s steward as long as a neutral party was appointed to that role. It also came after Hardberger and Bayern issued a report to Rickhoff saying they did not believe the trust owed Benson any money.

Rickhoff had recently ordered Tom Benson to face questioning by Renee Benson’s attorneys in San Antonio. The questioning originally was supposed to have started by Thursday of this week, but that was postponed to Monday.

Friday’s agreement makes Monday’s deposition unnecessary.

Benson’s side objected to his being questioned by his daughter’s attorneys, and mediation talks didn’t begin until shortly before Rickhoff handed down his order.
Even though a judge has already determined that Benson is "mentally competent" to run his affairs, he doesn't actually want to have to put that... um.. competence on display during court proceedings.  As long as Team Rita can threaten to make that happen, they've got a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, for those of you still looking to take down Bronze Tom, you may now direct your lobbying efforts toward Former Governor Meemaw.  

Friday, January 22, 2016


Oooh that's gotta hurt.. maybe.
New Orleans Democrats have formally denounced one of their own, saying that state Rep. Neil Abramson’s failed bid to become speaker of the Louisiana House and his eventual vote for a Republican candidate cost his party the chamber’s top leadership position.

The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee this week adopted a resolution that “rebukes” Abramson’s actions in the speaker’s race and urges voters in his Uptown district to “reflect on the actual fiscal and policy costs of those unfathomable decisions.”

The resolution had been in the works since last week, when members of the Executive Committee called a special meeting to hash out what they described as Abramson’s betrayal of his party and governor during the speaker’s race.
I love it when we get political "rebukes." They don't come around very often and nobody knows what they mean.  They don't seem to have any binding effect on anything and can be revoked whenever convenient.  They are the sternly worded letter of organizational politicking.

My favorite political "rebuke" of all time was delivered in 2006 during a New Orleans mayoral debate by one of the challengers, Reverend Tom Watson, to incumbent Ray Nagin.  Watson was very loud about it. I wrote this after having watched it on TV.
The classic moment of the campaign came later when Rev. Tom Watson challenged Nagin to explain his "double talk" meaning his tendency to contradict his own statements depending upon the make up (race) of his audience. Watson admonished Nagin not to "apologize for being a black man." Watson also challenged Nagin's assertion that the state is "holding up" reconstruction funds and let fly at Nagin with all of the fire and brimstone he could muster here declaring, "Ray Nagin is the problem! Ray you are lying! You are a liar!" At one point in this exchange Watson actually used the words "I rebuke you." Nagin's response to all of this was even better. During the reverend's tirade Nagin affected to bless Watson making the sign of the cross and shouting, "Pastor! God bless you!"
Sounds serious, right?  Naturally Watson went on to endorse Nagin in the runoff that year in what has to be the most dramatic un-rebuking of all time.

Anyway, at the very least this precedent would suggest that a "rebuke" really isn't the most serious sort of penalty a body can incur. In Abramson's case I suspect it might even be exactly the sort of briar patch he'd been hoping to get thrown into in the first place. Last week, we speculated that Abramson might be trying to engineer a bit of a break with the local Democrats (or even find an excuse to switch parties altogether.) He's term limited in his House district and may be eyeing a step up to a much more heavily Republican Senate seat.

If that's true, it might help explain why Abramson would welcome a benign little public feud with OPDEC like this. His (and his wife's) odd behavior on social media, though, is a bit harder to explain. The following is from a column written by a 22 year old opinion writer for the LSU student newspaper who has been critical of Rep. Abramson. Lamar had to publish the column at his site because Ms. Abramson has apparently prevailed upon the school to censor it.
But there is always an excuse for Abramson. Recently, his wife Kim took to Twitter to argue with me over her husband’s pitiful record. Here is our full interaction

Because she didn’t like my characterization of her husband, Kim Abramson, a lawyer, emailed Jerry Ceppos, the dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and called the editor-in-chief of LSU’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Reveille, claiming she sought to “politely correct me” and reported my “harassment” to Twitter. 

In “politely correcting me,” Mrs. Abramson called me a liar, told me to “get a life,” and attempted to get me fired me from my job as an opinion columnist for The Daily Reveille.
Since Lamar published the article, the Abramsons have gone on a bizarre social media purge, locking down or deleting their own tweets (including some the student tried to quote in the Storify above) and blocking anyone who shares the story.. including Lamar and a few newspaper reporters who referenced it. It's a strange way for public figures to go about doing damage control. In fact, their reaction has probably given the whole dust-up more legs than it would have had otherwise.

So why? Well, as many others have pointed out, Mrs. Abramson (like a lot of us do) tends to throw a little more of her personality into her social media presence than she probably ought to at times. Her overreactions, particularly to criticisms of her husband, have become minor Twitter legends over the years. It's at least a little bit understandable that a red-blooded person might behave this way. We are none of us perfect and who among us has not said things we'd rather take back when we're worked up?

But this time, in light of everything else going on, I wonder if maybe this reaction is more calculated. If Abramson wants to run for Senate, he will have to do so either as a Republican or as a Democrat visibly on the outs with the local Democratic establishment. It follows also that he may like to be seen as visibly defiant of the Democratic governor as well as certain factions of the press and, of course, the "miserable democrats... who eat their own," as Mrs. Abramson characterizes her Twitter sparring partners. (John Georges once famously referred to such persons as "dangerous people" on the internet.)

Or maybe it's all just a tone-deaf wreck.  Guess we'll find out over the next few years as Abramson either learns to make nice with everyone or goes on to earn or issue further "rebukes."

Reconcentrated poverty

Imagine that.
Housing advocates are warning that many poor families relying on government housing vouchers are ending up in pockets of poverty and crime far from the city center — evidence that a decision to demolish large public housing complexes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina hasn't worked.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a housing advocacy group, released a report on Thursday (Jan. 21) that said all-too-often households receiving housing vouchers are concentrated in "a small number of census tracts" far from jobs, services and good public transportation.

The center urged the Housing Authority of New Orleans to look at methods to help families using housing vouchers to move into low-poverty neighborhoods.

The study said there are about 18,000 voucher households in New Orleans, making up about a quarter of renters, and that about 25 percent of those households have ended up in a handful of census tracts in eastern New Orleans and across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter in Algiers. Those neighborhoods are also overwhelmingly black and marked by low income, the report said.

"Voucher families are disproportionately stuck in farther flung, segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods with little access to public transit, jobs, or the kinds of opportunity that help families break the cycle of poverty," the report said.
Hey that's pretty remarkable, right? All that talk about how we needed to bulldoze public housing and move people out of their neighborhoods because we were saving them from "concentrated poverty" was bullshit?  You don't say!

Except we did say. We have been saying for years and years. But it's all just shouting into the void.  "New New Orleans" does what it wants with no shame or accountability.  The rest of us just have to go be resilient somewhere.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Resilience District

No idea what it means. But they will say they it's happening in Gentilly
The city of New Orleans Thursday (Jan. 21) won a $141 million grant to create a "resilience district" in Gentilly.

The city's project was selected after a 16-month National Disaster Resilience Competition held by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which asked cities and states to pitch projects aimed at creating resilient housing and infrastructure.

The money will be used for several related projects in Gentilly in the hopes of making it a "national model for retrofitting post-war suburban neighborhoods into resilient safe and equitable communities of opportunity," the city said in a statement.

Specifics on the projects will be released next week, the city said.
Not sure what, if anything, it will have to do with "housing" or "equitable communities of opportunity" but I'd bet they're going to try and see if they can build some of the stuff outlined in the Living With Water plan.  Guess we'll know next week.

Who will buck the trend now?

Tuesday afternoon, the Governor and his staff unveiled plans for closing the $750 million "gap" in this year's state budget and an expected $1.9 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle. Some people were disappointed to learn the primary tool chosen for that job would be a regressive sales tax hike.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing to increase the state sales tax by 25 percent on April 1 -- adding an extra penny to the existing 4-cent-per-dollar levy -- to get the state's immediate budget crisis under control.

The Democratic governor said his predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, left the state's budget in such disarray that hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases would be needed to keep public education and health care programs from devastating cuts.

"The need for additional revenue is now and it is acute," Edwards said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 19). "This administration will remove the smoke and mirrors and provide the facts about where we are and where we need to go."
But before we go all apoplectic about how John Bel done hauled off and betrayed us all and whatnot, let's consider the actual circumstances here. The most obvious circumstance being the fact that Bobby Jindal did, in fact, leave a wreck behind him.  Lamar revisited that for us here this morning.
In his eight years as governor, Bobby Jindal never met a tax cut he didn’t support. “Louisiana isn’t a poor state,” he said frequently on the campaign trail in 2007. It wasn’t true then, and most certainly, it’s not true today. His reflexive, obstinate opposition to any and all taxes combined with decreases in the price of oil (which provides a significant portion of the state’s revenue) created a perfect storm. Louisiana was his great experiment in the Grover Norquist School of Economics, and it failed miserably.

Hospitals and emergency rooms were shuttered. Hundreds of thousands of working class citizens were denied access to health insurance due to his refusal to accept $3 billion in federal support for Medicaid expansion. Millions were drained away from public education in order to prop up a string of fly-by-night, unaccountable voucher schools.

We spent millions more litigating against marriage equality and public records disputes and unconstitutional laws regulating access to abortion. We burned a fortune building sand berms that disappeared almost as quickly as they were constructed in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

In the last several years, we’ve squandered billions in order to lure large employers into Louisiana, an investment that has remained largely elusive and has done nothing to improve the state’s bottom line. We repealed a law, which had only recently been enacted through a popular statewide referendum, that closed the loopholes on double-dipping federal and state tax deductions, costing nearly $300 million a year in revenue.
So, yes that is a mess. And it's not a mess that can be immediately swept away in one session.  In fact, when it comes to figuring out how to resolve the $750 million hole in this year's budget, the options are limited in the extreme. Of course we would love to reinstate the Stelly Plan and set a more progressive looking state income tax bracket.  Of course we would love to revisit many of these notorious tax credit "incentive" giveaways.  We'd like to look at some of these odd special sales tax exemptions as well. We'd even be open to the idea of eliminating or reducing the federal income tax exemption claimed by state taxpayers (although I'll admit I'm skeptical of that one.)

Unfortunately all of those options require more legislative ju ju.. and in some cases constitutional amendments than there is time to accomplish in the February session. And either way, nothing you can do with income taxes is going to help with the dire need to come up with $750 million by June of this year. The sales tax hike is the only arrow in the quiver capable of hitting that target. No one is happy about that but it has to be done.

The good news is the Edwards people appear to understand this.  In fact, they're already talking about causing it to expire as soon as more palatable fixes can be put in place. 
The Edwards administration says it considers the sales tax increase a "bridge" measure that would be rolled back once other revenue sources for the state government are secured. Other tax hikes -- such as those on cigarettes  -- are intended to be permanent.

Trying to fill a $750 million budget gap in the last quarter of the fiscal year puts significant constraints on what can be done to raise more money or cut services. Many of the things Edwards discussed on the campaign trail as potential budget fixes -- including getting rid of ineffective tax credits and exemptions -- won't bring in money quickly enough to solve the immediate problem.
Not that that will be easy.  In the almost certain to be worsening economic climate, revenues of any sort will be more and more difficult to find.  And now that the recent oil and gas boom has gone bust, don't expect to read too many articles about how Louisiana is "bucking the trend" this time around.
Four south Louisiana businesses sent new or updated layoff notices to the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the past week, a move that could affect more than 580 employees.

Companies involved are the Noranda alumina plant in Gramercy; a Noble Drilling Inc. facility in Galliano; Trinity Marine Products in Madisonville; and Garden City Group in Hammond.
All this is to say that if the Edwards administration lives up to its promise to remove the "smoke and mirrors" from the state budget process, we should expect to be dealing with more bad news and bad choices for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How cunning

While explaining that he believes that Donald Trump's success in the Republican party does not mean that establishment conservatism is dying, GOP strategist Rick Wilson dismissed the "childless single men" who support Trump's presidential bid.

"The fact of the matter is, most of them are childless single men who masturbate to anime. They’re not real political players. These are not people who matter in the overall course of humanity," Wilson said of Trump supporters on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes."
That's  fine. Keep telling your angry backlash voters they don't matter. Good luck to you.

Good morning

Let's have a look at that weather, shall we?
The world’s financial system has become dangerously unstable and faces an avalanche of bankruptcies that will test social and political stability, according to a leading global banker.

William White, chairman of the OECD’s review committee and former chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements, who suggests the stresses in the financial system are now "worse than it was in 2007."

Speaking to the UK Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard before the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, White warned that macroeconomic ammunition to fight further economic downturns is essentially “all used up”.

“Debts have continued to build up over the last eight years and they have reached such levels in every part of the world that they have become a potent cause for mischief,” he told the Telegraph.

“It will become obvious in the next recession that many of these debts will never be serviced or repaid, and this will be uncomfortable for a lot of people who think they own assets that are worth something.”
Well that's disappointing.  Maybe don't go outside for  while.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The way we live now

Happy Mardi Gras
The officials said they have not received any specific, credible threats of terrorism. But hundreds of additional law enforcement officers from the FBI, State Police and surrounding parishes will help direct traffic and monitor suspicious behavior.

The FBI also has installed temporary cameras to monitor the celebration, presumably along the major parade routes and in the French Quarter, though FBI officials would not say how many or where the cameras have been placed. They also largely kept mum about how the added technology will enhance the crime cameras now in place at hundreds of area businesses and homes, citing security concerns.

“Assume that you are being filmed wherever you are and whatever you’re doing,” said Jeff Sallet, the newly appointed head of the FBI’s local office.
And people are fine with this. Apparently, this is what people enjoy now. 


Gayle Benson:
Tom Benson's former personal assistant, Rodney Henry, says Benson's wife repeatedly harassed him on the job and made racially derogatory remarks before having him kicked out of the Saints organization, according to a court filing Tuesday (Jan. 19).

Henry in 2014 heard Gayle Benson say, "I hate that black son of a bitch and am going to get rid of him," according to the filing, among other incidents described in the lawsuit.

Running out of Idiocracy jokes

Especially problematic given the moratorium on reality TV jokes already in place.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee who became a Tea Party sensation and a favorite of grass-roots conservatives, will endorse Donald J. Trump in Iowa on Tuesday, officials with his campaign confirmed. The endorsement provides Mr. Trump with a potentially significant boost just 13 days before the state’s caucuses.

Night buses

Seems like a step in the right direction.  Especially since the parking is too damn high downtown.
Nine routes would add overnight service under the proposed changes: No. 39 Tulane, No. 47 Canal-Cemeteries streetcar, No. 52 St. Bernard-Paris Avenue, No. 55 Elysian Fields, No. 63 New Orleans East Owl, No. 84 Galvez, No. 88 St. Claude, No. 94 Broad and No. 114 Gen. DeGaulle-Tullis.

Weekend service is to be increased or begun on other lines: No. 10 Tchoupitoulas, No. 27 Louisiana, No. 51 St. Bernard-St. Anthony, No. 57 Franklin, No. 60 Hayne and No. 102 Gen. Meyer.

Some lines will also get longer routes or changes to the route map.
They also say they're adding an airport express service. All of this sounds good but clearly isn't enougb. Which is why it's a good idea to reward somewhat good behavior by going down and yelling at them some more if you have the time.
The new services, which are expected to come online in March, will be discussed at a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the RTA headquarters, 2817 Canal St.

Hey speaking of politicaly motivated arson

Here's the latest development in the monument drama.
A Lamborghini was found burned to the ground at a Baton Rouge company that only last week pulled out of a New Orleans contract to remove monuments related to the Confederacy after the owner had received death threats, New Orleans TV station WDSU reported Tuesday.
Quite the step up in class from just burning crosses, I guess. Probably the Trump effect in play there. On the other hand it's weird that this would happen after the firm had already pulled out of the deal. So who knows what the actual motivation is here. In any case I'm pretty sure Lamborghini fuel doesn't melt steel monuments so we should at least take that into consideration.

What about Batt?

Trump's Louisiana roster seems to have changed.
Earlier this month, Trump’s campaign sent out a news release announcing former New Orleans City Councilman Jay Batt as chairman of his campaign here.

But on Tuesday, Team Trump sent a news release announcing Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta and former State Rep. Woody Jenkins are serving as his Louisiana chairmen, and Jeff Crouere and Brian Trascher will serve as state co-chairs.

The latest release makes no mention of Batt or the announcement re-do.
Those names fit pretty well anyway. Crouere is blowhard, Jenkins is a lunatic and an adviser to Skrmetta's most recent opponent had his house firebombed.   But what gives with Batt backing out?  Not very Trump-like. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Night Debateball

It would be nice if the Democrats would get on stage when more people are watching. We know they're keeping a low profile on purpose but I think it's a mistake to let the Republicans dominate the media month after month they way they have. It skews the entire frame of the election toward the right.

Anyway tonight might be a good time to start watching the Democrats if you haven't been.  The race there is starting to feel more competitive lately with Sanders picking up an endorsement from The Nation and Hillary sicking her daughter on him this week.

Don't be surprised at all, by the way if Bernie wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. But also don't expect that to matter much ultimately.  But that just underscores the import of getting the Democratic debate into the public eye while it's still sort of competitive.  Voters need to see and hear about the issues Democrats are concerned about while they're still talking about them.  Otherwise, come November, the whole thing will just be a personal referendum on Hillary.  And, well, good luck with that.

There will be plenty time to fire John White later

Right now they just don't have the votes. It's as simple as that.
Edwards’ new stance stems in part from the fact that self-styled education reformers, who often clash with Edwards’ political allies, retained control of BESE after last year’s elections.

It would take eight votes on the 11-member board to replace White and eight to hire a new superintendent. No such supermajorities exist now.
Update: I missed this commentary from Crazy Crawfish a few weeks back.  He points out that the Edwards people may already have to many wolves in the hen house and that Edwards has already traded BESE away to "ed reformers" in exchange for help with the upcoming budget session.  That sounds like bad strategy. 
John Bel, I was told if I wrote a blog about this, you would never ever see it and that I needed to go through the proper channels (like the ones that have already failed me to date).

Let’s see if that’s true or another lie.

It appears to many on the outside that you seem to have taken the side of education reformers, and taken great pains to include them in your Kumbaya moment while also excluding around 50% of the population that hates Common Core and John White and his policies.

We were screwed over by corporations and billionaires from out of state and we looked to you to help make it right.  That’s not what many of us see happening.  I feel my trust has been abused, but to be fair I have not spoken to you and you may not be aware things aren’t being seen as going smoothly outside your circle.

They took Sidney's toy away

The whole enterprise is a waste in so many ways but it is at least a little bit fun to watch Batman throw a fit about not begin allowed to play Batman anymore.
Torres was known to bird-dog his squad and gripe loudly when he found officers slacking off. He was paying them $50 an hour at the time and expected his money’s worth. Simms said he leaves it mostly to the NOPD to discipline their own. He said he’ll boot officers from the program only if they twice fail to show up for a shift without calling.

“You have to recognize — Sidney, myself, anybody — these police officers do not take direction from us. My job is not to supervise the officers. These officers are taking their direction from the NOPD 8th District sergeant,” Simms said.

That’s not what Torres quite envisioned when he created the patrols as a nimble answer to crime troubles in the city’s six-by-13-block historic heart as the number of New Orleans police officers kept falling.

Torres said he set out to show the city how to bring accountability to the NOPD by closely tracking officers on patrol — doing policing as a business. The mobile app got more public attention, but real-time GPS tracking was always the bigger deal, said Torres, who now fears his task force has fallen victim to lax oversight.
The most dangerous aspect of the whole quasi-privatized police adventure is that it takes this comic book notion that the only way to achieve law and order is by empowering one ass-kicking rich dude to make everything work.  It was almost funny back when Ed Blakely was playing this role in urban planning.  It's less funny when the fascist dude gets to play policeman.   But since we're also flirting with idea of electing one President right now, none of this should shock us.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Piss every gift right on off the continental shelf

Ever get the feeling we will never solve this problem?
After the flood of 2011 pushed record amounts of silt-laden water through the Mississippi River valley, coastal activists lamented the fact that no river diversions were in place to capture some of the sediment to help rebuild Louisiana’s marshes.

Five years later, there’s another flood, and even though the state is closer to getting a large river diversion built to reroute sediment from the Mississippi River to coastal wetlands, nothing is in place yet.

“It is frustrating when you look at the satellite images of this event, and the 2011 event, and see the amount of sediment that the river carries,” said Chip Kline, acting executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities.

For example, with the recent opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway to relieve pressure on river levees in New Orleans, much of the sediment is flowing into Lake Pontchartrain instead of into eroding wetlands.

In the last five years, the scientific and engineering knowledge about diversions that direct sediment from the Mississippi River into surrounding marshes has advanced greatly, but the state is still years away from construction, said John Lopez with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

“Things are coming together, but it’s unfortunate it’s not faster despite many people’s effort,” Lopez said. “Basically, our capacity to take advantage of this high water is the same as 2011. Why? The wheels of progress are slow.”
Which is to say, the wheels may as not even turn.  We will never "save" the Louisiana coast.  The political will does not exist and will never exist to do the things necessary to make that happen.  All we ever have the political will to do is accommodate the shifting needs of the oil and tourism industries and the office holders it employs as they suck what profit they can from the dying region.  Whatever happens to the people who live there is irrelevant.

This is not the first time

This particular State Representative's spouse regularly punches down at critics online. This incident might be the most egregious example but it's not the first.
Although he has relied on a political consultant to communicate his message, Abramson’s wife Kim has fiercely defended her husband on Twitter. Shortly after I published my initial story, Ms. Abramson attempted to silence and intimidate a 21-year-old student reporter at LSU for sharing and commenting on my story.

Ms. Abramson, a lawyer, contacted the Dean of LSU’s Manship School and the head editor of LSU’s student newspaper alleging that this young reporter was “harassing” her and her husband. An LSU official responded with a vigorous defense of the student’s right to criticize those in power. (I am in possession of these records, but because they involve an undergraduate, I will defer to the student before publishing the content in its entirety).

Rep. Abramson is a shareholder in a law firm representing large oil and gas companies and has been previously accused of illegally using his influence as a legislator to benefit his clients, including BP. It’s not too difficult to figure out what this is really about.
This kind of thing has happened so regularly, in fact, that I've often wondered whether the Abramson's might be happier switching parties. That seems like it would be problematic for them given the  political hierarchy of Orleans Parish, although, electing a Republican in Abramson's district is not an inconceivable notion.

But I'm pretty sure Abramson is term-limited in the House anyway.  In which case, he may be interested in running next in State Senate District 9 where sanctimoniously arranging to have oneself run out of the party by a bunch of New Orleans "liberals" might look pretty good. If that's the case, then Mitch is certainly playing his part.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also weighed in on Democratic state Rep. Neil Abramson’s vote against Democratic state Rep. Walt Leger’s bid to be speaker of the Louisiana House.

“Walt Leger would have been a great speaker,” Landrieu said. “He has a history of bringing people together across party lines. For him to have lost this race in this way was a missed opportunity for bipartisanship. For him to lose it with the help of a democratic member of the New Orleans delegation is inexplicable.”
Except, I think we may have just explained it.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

What we value

The underfunded Orleans Public Defender's office has reached a crisis point.
The office responsible for providing free legal services to defendants in New Orleans who can’t afford lawyers will start turning clients away this week. The city’s public defender’s office warned last fall that this day was coming. And it came on January 12, when the office announced that it would have to stop taking on indigent clients charged with serious felonies, particularly those facing life sentences. The office no longer has enough staff or resources to handle the heavy load of criminal cases coming across its desk, a problem largely attributable to a paucity of funds from the state.

“Our workload has now reached unmanageable levels, resulting in a constitutional crisis,” said Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton in a January 12 press release. “OPD’s caseloads far exceed national caseload standards, and we simply don’t have the capacity to ethically represent the most serious offenses.”
Now the ACLU is suing, well, they have to sue the office itself, for constitutional violations caused by the funding crisis. 
It’s an odd lawsuit in the sense that the ACLU doesn’t believe that the defenders are at fault.

The ACLU is asking a judge to find that the waiting list violates the plaintiffs’ rights to counsel, due process and equal protection under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. If a judge agrees, says Buskey, that will put the state legislature on notice. If the legislature doesn’t get the message, he says, they can ask the judge to insist on adequate funding.

“We want to highlight the fact that there are people right now suffering while we go through all these funding shortages,” says Buskey. “Our hope is that by doing that we really put pressure on the state to fix this inherently unreliable user-funded system.”
Currently the public defender is funded primarily by traffic fees which, in and of itself, is a problem. But it's especially bad when there isn't enough of that revenue to go around because, well..
The ACLU alleges that some defenders in the state have pressured sheriffs to increase traffic enforcement. According to Al Jazeera America, nearby St. Charles Parish benefits from eight major highways crossing through and has plenty of traffic ticket and court cost revenue to fund its public defender budget.

Public defender offices around the country complain of inadequate funding. In Louisiana, public defender offices representing poor people in Winn, Lafayette, and St. Bernard parishes have also reported wait lists, says Buskey.

“The right to counsel is an empty constitutional promise without adequate funding,” emails Cardozo School of Law professor and ethics expert Ellen Yaroshefsky, who testified in November on behalf of the defenders. “Clients languish in jails and plead guilty (often when they are not) when competent lawyering might have secured their release. They rarely see their lawyers and they may be found guilty at trial because of lack of money to investigate a charge. It is an impossible situation for lawyers who care deeply about providing zealous advocacy and certainly for the clients who are in dire need of counsel. It is the responsibility of the courts and the legislatures to insure that the system has some measure of integrity in providing right to counsel. Poor people of color—the overwhelming number of accused– have the right to counsel that should not be merely an empty promise.”
Anyway so we're scrambling to figure out how to establish and maintain a constitutionally sound criminal justice system.  One would think that the city would be able to find some money somewhere to cover this crucial gap, at least until the legislature can act on the problem. Here's a speech from 2010 where Mayor Landrieu tells us the city budget is a "moral document because it says everything about who we are and what we value."

Turns out right now what we value is being able to dig up enough money to make sure the guy who accepts the fees and bribes or whatever from the French Market vendors is all set
NEW ORLEANS – The sudden resignation of the city’s French Market Corp. director last week was met with disappointment from people who hailed him as a transformative leader.

It also fostered an odd secrecy Tuesday night as the Landrieu administration blocked WWL-TV’s attempts to ask ask the public agency’s independent board about Jon Smith’s departure on the heels of a $35,000 retroactive pay-raise approved in hopes of keeping him in place.

Smith arrived from the private sector to lead the French Market Corp. two years ago, and his brazen style had an immediate impact. He called some of the trinkets sold by market vendors “garbage” and demanded improvements.

Residents in the Upper Pontalba Building, one of the French Quarter properties owned by the autonomous public agency, said Smith fixed many problems in the historic building. He also implemented revenue sharing with the city, raising millions more for city coffers through use of the agency’s parking lots.

He polished the agency’s tarnished image shortly after a criminal trial exposed former director Kenneth Ferdinand’s lavish use of a public credit card.

“We never know we’re living in a golden age until it’s over,” said Justin Winston, head of the Flea Market Vendor Committee, told the French Market Corp. board at an emergency meeting Tuesday to address Smith’s resignation.

The board, too, was taken by surprise. Especially since it was just four months ago that they voted to give Smith the maximum pay raise allowable. The raise was also retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, giving him a lump-sum payment that increased his 2015 annual salary to $147,000.
So that's a problem.  Maybe it's a bigger problem than the Public Defender's constitutional crisis. I really can't say what Mitch's people are thinking anymore.  If I had to guess, though, I'd offer the possibility that the Mayor has elected to allow this all to come to a head in the hope that it will spur the state toward a more permanent structural fix.  In the meantime, though, defendants are still stuck on that waiting list.  Unlike Smith, they aren't going anywhere for a while.