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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Boil Order Decade

Sewerage and Water Board work site
It's such a routine event at this point, we'd barely notice were it not for the recent flooding.

The Sewerage & Water Board has reversed course from earlier Wednesday morning (Sept. 20) and issued a precautionary boil water advisory for the east bank of New Orleans.

A "power fluctuation" at a Sewerage & Water Board power plant was responsible for low water pressure throughout the city, officials said.

The mayor's office, which now handles communications for the Sewerage & Water Board, had initially said the boil water advisory was not being issued "at this time" and that water pressure had been restored as of of 8:07 a.m.

At 8:09 a.m., the city's NOLA Ready website posted an update saying the boil water advisory was being issued. More details are coming, according to a  subsequent statement from the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, the everlasting turbine repair job just got another bump
The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans plans to spend another $254,000 on a massive, multi-million contract to rebuild a badly damaged electrical turbine at its Carrollton power plant.

The extra money is the 15th time the price has increased on the refurbishment of Turbine 4, a repair job that has stretched on for more than five years. That raised questions at the board's finance committee meeting Monday (Sept. 18).

"Five years is a little bit of a stretch," said Alan Arnold, a board member attending Monday's committee meeting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Who was traded for Jimmy Graham?

Max Unger and... well, that's about it.
Stephone Anthony's time in the Big Easy has come to a close.

The New Orleans Saints announced on Twitter that Anthony was traded to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick in 2018.
What do you think? Is it a conditional 7th?

In other news, there is still this thing I have mostly written up about the 2017 Saints. We're two games in already but it still is all valid and timely. If I finish it this week, it will be, anyway. Meanwhile, everybody hold on to your "butt's"
"I'd say nobody is hanging their head. This is what we hoped for and envisioned to start the season. It's not like we're getting our butt's kicked. There are oppurtnities to make if we make them we win. There is an understanding that these are the things that we need to do in order to win. Let's make sure we accomplish those things," Brees said.
Is it not like that? In what way is it not?

FNBC is looking to "lawyer up"

Some of the principles at the failed First NBC bank are starting to worry about the legal trouble they find themselves in. From the looks of things, they planned for this very scenario ahead of time.
Well before the bank failed, it took out five insurance policies aimed at protecting bank directors and officers from personal liability for bank business, court filings show. The company held roughly $60 million in insurance policies.

On Tuesday, attorneys for First NBC Bank founder and former CEO Ashton Ryan Jr. and former Chief Financial Officer Mary Beth Verdigets appeared before Magner after filing motions for their clients to begin collecting money from insurance policies, long held by the bank, to cover their mounting legal costs.

Magner deferred making a ruling on the insurance policies. At least one former bank official raised questions about how the proceeds would be tapped.

"People are getting demand letters, and they need to lawyer up," said William Aaron, a New Orleans lawyer who was a director of both the bank and its parent company. "The question is, is the court going to be a gatekeeper every time somebody needs to lawyer up?"
The Advocate reported a few weeks ago that a federal grand jury is looking into the bank now but we don't know what specific charges might be under consideration. We already knew that the bank collapsed as a result of Ryan's suspiciously risky bets on post-Katrina rebuilding tax credits that never paid off for the institution itself.

In the meantime, the scheming appears to have financed ventures benefiting some interesting public figures. Irvin Mayfield secured a pile of money from them he could throw into a pit. LaToya Cantrell bought a house which either she or the bank botched tax payments on for a while.  Then there was this elaborate scam where FNBC financed the "tuition rebate" portion of Bobby Jindal's school voucher program.
The tuition donation program is less generous but more flexible than vouchers, and it has grown fast after a slow start. Following an approach adopted by some other states, it relies on the tax code to direct money to private schools rather than the state appropriations that fuel vouchers. Last year, the tuition donation program allowed about 1,700 Louisiana children to attend 167 private schools, double the enrollment of the year before. Donors to the program are set to recoup about $7 million in taxpayer-funded rebates from last year's scholarships.
The program has been tweaked some in recent years. But it's still a means by which private schools and participating "donors" are heavily subsidized through an elaborate tax credit shuffle.
The basic setup is the same. Donors underwrite part, but not all, of a child’s private school tuition. Later, donors get back 95 cents for every dollar they give. And they can write the whole thing off as a charitable donation on their federal taxes.

Starting Jan. 1, though, donors to the program will no longer get recompensed via a state rebate that's paid out of general state tax collections.

Instead, donors will be repaid in the form of a credit on their state income taxes. That’s in line with how 16 other states already organize their own private school choice programs. Their tax payments then will be redirected out of the state treasury and into the hands of Louisiana private schools to offset student tuition.
The changes to the law will also limit participants to organizations who pay Louisiana income taxes. This will be sad news for some of the out of state participants who had been benefiting such as Chick Fil A and, yes, believe it or not, the Atlanta Falcons.

Anyway, getting back to FNBC, there's so much going on there that it's hard to pin down just what the Feds might be looking into. But you can see why they might be looking to being to lawyer up. You can also see why they might be reaching out for friends and allies who could still help them. One wonders, for example, if John Kennedy might be one such person.
WASHINGTON — In a Capitol Hill battle over the financial industry's use of arbitration clauses in contracts to limit class-action lawsuits, a key undecided Republican has attracted the attention of bank lobbyists and consumer advocates.

That person is U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana's recent arrival in D.C. with a seat on the Senate's banking committee. So far, as the debate has started to percolate, Kennedy has kept his cards close the chest on how he might vote on a Republican-led effort to scrap an Obama-era regulation making it far easier for customers to bring class-action lawsuits against banks, credit-card companies and other financial institutions.
Kennedy is playing coy for now because he likes being feted by finance lobbyists, no doubt.  And maybe FNBC is more worried about criminal prosecution at the moment. But we're pretty sure John will be there, if not for FNBC, then for whoever the next fraud looking for legal protection might be.

Tonight's Mayor Show

Tonight at Loyola. 7 PM.  This is the housing-themed one so if you are going ask them all why they love short term rentals. Ask LaToya several times.  Ask them if they think turning your home into a hotel should be a condition of your loan.
Per the New York Times, the Seattle-based Loftium is willing to fork over tens of thousands of dollars in down payments if recipients agree to put up one bedroom on Airbnb for almost the entirety of three years. Those who take Loftium up on the deal would be required to list the Airbnb for all but eight “freebie” days a year and split the profits, with the startup taking about a two-thirds cut. If the room goes unoccupied, Loftium covers the revenue shortfall.

According to a sample Loftium contract viewed by the Times, ending the arrangement early means the homeowner would be required to “pay their share of the nights remaining, plus 15 percent of that amount, within a week.” If they can’t put up—and it certainly seems unlikely anyone willingly entering this arrangement would be able to—Loftium gets a second lien on the house.

Update: Advocate has a live stream if you can't make it.

The new season of Detectorists took a bit of a turn

No, Drew, this is definitely not what this means.
Ward finished off his one-minute response by showing off a 1971 Mardi Gras doubloon he found while cleaning out the drain in front of his house.

“That means that not only did Mitch not clean the catch basins, neither did his dad,” Ward said.

Why is Troy Henry running?

I can't figure it out.  He's not polling well. He decided late to get in and was never going to crack the top two. As it turns out he doesn't look like a threat to get into to the top three.  But he's pulling some support from somebody. I can't figure out the angle.

Simple as that

Cassidy: Y'all are on your own.
Cassidy acknowledged that his legislation will cut federal spending on health care. He said states that think they need more money should raise their own taxes to pay for it.
Republicans control 32 of 50 state legislatures. Let's go ask them how they feel about raising taxes to make up this gap
Block grant funding in 2020 would be $26 billion, or 16 percent, below projected current law federal funding for Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies.  The block grant would grow by only 2.0 percent annually, well below medical cost inflation and even general cost inflation.  By 2026, block grant funding would be $83 billion, or 34 percent, below projected current law federal funding.  States would be forced to sharply scale back coverage as these block grants became increasingly inadequate.
Maybe Cameron Henry has some ideas about that.... 

Is Mitch still a kingmaker?

Here is Grace musing over whether Mitch will endorse a mayoral candidate and, I guess, when Cedric Richmond will endorse Charbonnet in the mayor's race. (He's already working on her behalf.) She throws in a mention of the governor's endorsement of Jay Banks in the District B race but that's a separate matter. Edwards isn't interested in being a kingmaker in New Orleans. Mitch and Cedric are, though.  And the test of their relative strength is an interesting sidebar to this election.

Mitch and Cedric command different power bases. But they also overlap and sometimes complement one another so you don't often see a direct contest between the two of them. This may become a bit of one if Mitch decides to endorse LaToya.  I don't think he's going to do that, though.  I'm sure Mitch likes Cantrell just fine, but it's not clear whether an explicit endorsement from him helps anybody right now.

The game right now is all about finessing the white vote.  In New Orleans that means two things. First, candidates appealing to younger more liberalish white voters should present as ostensibly progressive in a banal, "good government" "business friendly" sense of the word. Say "technology" and "innovation" a lot regardless of whether you actually mean anything by those words.  This sort of thing is Landrieu's bread and butter but there's a problem.  Because candidates also have to tell white voters they are "tough on crime."  And because the New Orleans white vote is shot through with latent, intractable racism, Mitch's role in helping take down Confederate monuments is somehow imagined to have caused the crime rate to worsen.  So if "Monuments Not Murders" Mitch openly gets on board with a mayoral candidate, it's not obvious how that might play.

Mitch has support with black voters too, of course. But given that Cedric Richmond is going to be able to deliver a significant portion of that to Charbonnet, Landrieu's value as a kingmaker should be his ability to deliver white voters. But it's not clear how he's going to do that without a fair amount of subtlety.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Mistakenly"

Whoops!
Grease that's a byproduct of restaurant cooking is supposed to be trapped before water leaves the drain system. And even if it does escape -- usually the product of a faulty or overfilled grease trap -- it's supposed to go into the closed sewer, not the stormwater system, where it can clog and stink up catch basins.

One source of some of the grease has been identified: Red Fish Grill, the longtime Bourbon Street restaurant that's part of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. Construction workers found dirty water -- often described as grey water -- pouring out of pipes that were connected to the storm drain. The Sewerage & Water Board was called in and determined that Red Fish Grill had been mistakenly connected to a storm drain.
Aren't they supposed to meet some sort of standard for grease discharge though? And they have to pay the disposal contractor a disposal fee by volume, right? And I'm pretty sure S&WB is already under an EPA consent decree to get all this in order.  But here's a Brennan just dumping shit into the storm drains. By mistake, of course.

None of the jokes are landing

This was supposed to be a very important municipal election.  It was supposed to be an opportunity for organized push back against the obscene acceleration of hyper-capitalism and exploding inequality and have been grinding New Orleanians into the dirt in the post-Katrina years. Instead it has been the most insidery business-as-usual snooze fest imaginable. Somehow even the entertainment division of the mayor's race feels like an exercise in going through the motions.

How did this happen? Where did the joy go? There should at least be some joy.  Look at all these oddball candidates.  There's a grifter in a top hat who literally wants to build monorails. There is a guy who is running pretty much because he read one pop management theory book.  There is a lady who wears sparkly boas and talks about gladiators and space aliens and the like. There's a guy who is intentionally running as a joke candidate for the fourth time and he's actually kind of the sane one. This should be, at least in some way, entertaining. It isn't, though. It's flat and tired.

If we're going enjoy the comic relief part of the program, we first have to feel invested enough in the main even that we need to be relieved.  But, for the most part, we're not invested. The election is happening in near perfect isolation from the voters who would seek to engage with it. The principal candidates are focused on the donor circuit and their own inside baseball. Their policy positions are hollow iterations of cynical condescension.  When there's no hope that any outcome in an election can benefit anyone but wealthiest elites, there's no drama that needs to be cut with comedy.   One could argue there is a Dadaist statement to be made here but so what. Absurdism is a great lens for politics but it only has value if one can imagine a rational counterpoint worth aspiring to. The joke candidates this year, then, aren't really jokes. They are insults.

The situation is so bad that our clarion call for reengagement comes to us this week via Clancy DuBos, is inspired by something Newell Normand said, and praises the work of two upper class business community organizations. There's just no hope, is there?  Certainly not if this is any indication
Less than six months into implementation of the city’s short-term rental (STR) ordinance, the leading local proponent of expanded STRs is raising money for some City Council candidates “who have pledged to work with us,” according to an email sent by the pro-STR Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP). In the email, ANP makes clear that the organization seeks to expand the “footprint of inclusion” for STRs and increase “both day count and occupancy permitted” in the city’s STR ordinance.

An ANP email sent last month titled "Call to Arms and Action-All Members City Wide" asked the group’s members and supporters to help raise campaign money by attending fundraisers for two council candidates in particular — District C incumbent Nadine Ramsey and District A hopeful Aylin Acikalin Maklansky, who until recently served as Ramsey’s legislative director. In addition to hosting fundraisers for Ramsey and Maklansky, ANP and its president have contributed to several other council candidates directly.

"Both are Equally important to our futures," the email said, "as their contending opposing candidates have announced anti-STR sentiment and prioritized restrictions going forward if elected. Please make every effort to contribute online and if unable to attend. Support your future by supporting those who have pledged to work with us."
There's definite political engagement happening here. It's just all on the wrong side, unfortunately. The pro-Airbnb team is pushing to expand short term rentals in New Orleans as soon as this December. With a show of strength in the fall election they should be able to get whatever they want passed. We've previously noted the odds-on favorite in the mayor's race is more or less on board with them.  I wish I had a joke to end on here but, well, it's not funny anymore.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Permanent temporary penny

That "fiscal cliff" is still looming. Doesn't look like we're any closer to the equitable fiscal reform lawmakers promised would come when they voted for this "temporary" sales tax As we continue to watch them argue about this, there are two things to remember about the sales tax. 1) It is an unfair burden on the state's poor and middle class. 2) It is bolstered by support from powerful (and traditionally Republican) lobbying groups.
Some Republicans said they voted for the extra penny in 2016 only because they assumed more fiscal reform would be put in place before it the temporary tax expired. Comprehensive reform hasn't happened, largely because the Legislature hasn't been able to agree on a permanent solution.

"I will be voting no on the penny, I can assure you of that," said Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson. "All I hear about is the penny, and I don't think they have the votes to keep the penny on."

Havard and (State Sen J.P.) Morrell said business lobbyists are pushing for keep the extra penny tax because their business clients have exemptions from it on some big purchases. Further, if the sales tax stays in place, it makes it less likely that other taxes on businesses will be implemented or that tax exemptions for industry will be eliminated.

"People who have sales tax exclusions are simply convinced we are going to tax everyone else," Morrell said. "The reason that some people are bullish on the sales tax is [that] they don't have the sales tax."
The true genius here politically is that, because the Republicans don't actually care whether or not we go over the fiscal cliff, they aren't about to lift a finger to do anything about the special exemptions Morrell is talking about there. This way they leave Democrats cornered as half hearted supporters of the hated sales tax. And, of course, they're all too happy to pin that on the Governor.
(State Rep Cameron) Henry, who helps build the annual state budget as House Appropriations Committee chairman, said he expects Edwards to engage in fear mongering over the next few months. He predicted that Edwards will threaten to cut the popular TOPS college scholarship program and services for disabled people if the Legislature doesn't raise taxes. These programs have been cut since 2016, when the state last faced a billion dollar deficit, and Henry said the governor threatened to cut them as "a tactic" to pressure legislators into raising taxes.

He also implied that the governor, though not most legislators, is pushing the idea of keeping the sales tax rate at 5 percent. Edwards has indeed said he might be open to extending the 5 percent sales tax rate beyond June 30, but only if it was again done on a temporary basis and passed alongside permanent taxes that would kick in once it expired.

"It will be the permanent, temporary penny," Henry said in the video. "I think anyone who falls for that is really doing a disservice to their state and their constituents.
A "permanent temporary penny" suits Henry just fine, of course. It gives him an issue he can complain all about all day even as he has no incentive to actually do anything about it. All of which is why next year in the legislature will be exactly like the previous two. It's a permanent strategy meant to make this governor's term as temporary as possible.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Down ballot stuff

There are three existing millages up for renewal on your October ballot. They make up less than ten percent of the overall budget but they are important. 
Henderson stressed that the renewal does not amount to a tax increase, and that a failed vote would likely mean painful budget cuts for schools.

A school of 600 students, for example, would lose roughly $500,000 out of its operating budget if the propositions fail.

"It is reasonable to think schools would need to cut teachers, reading interventionists and other kinds of support staff," said Adam Hawf, an assistant superintendent. "And you would almost certainly see an increase in the ratio of students to teachers."
Next year also brings in the "reunified" OPSB although that still will mean a mostly chartered system. 

Bill's bad bill is bad, still

I think maybe now, Cassidy just wants to be the guy in the news. It doesn't look from the outside like he's making any progress. But he sure thinks he is. Anyway he's having a great time.

Cassidy cited a Thursday closed-door Republican lunch as a turning point in favor of the bill.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll get there on the Republican side,” he said, calling the midweek discussion what "may have been my best day as a senator."

“We’re probably at 48, 49, and talking to two or three more," he said.

An aide to Cassidy said later that they still believe there’s a path to 50 votes, even without Paul’s support.

Cassidy and Graham are also expecting Senate Republican leadership and possibly President Donald Trump to lend support in the coming days, to push it over the finish line.

“I’m hoping that the president will show the same enthusiasm to repeal Obamacare that President Obama showed to pass it,” Graham said on Wednesday.
Cassidy's plan is dogshit, by the way.  And since there's no substantial difference between this and the last repeal plan, they're going to face the same issues trying to pass it. Maybe McCain will maverick the other way next time or something. But that's not likely. 

John Bel Backs Banks in B

It's a bit out of the ordinary for a governor to endorse a city council candidate or, really, anybody at the municipal level.  John Bel likes this guy, though.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards pledged Friday morning to help Jay H. Banks win the District B seat on the New Orleans City Council, but said he does not intend to make an endorsement in the hotly contested mayor’s race.

Edwards appeared with Banks at a prayer breakfast Friday morning at Delgado Community College. After an introduction by representatives of several different faiths, Edwards praised both Banks’ character and his decades of public service in city government.

“You may not think there’s much tie-in between the governor of the state of Louisiana and a district councilman in New Orleans,” Edwards said. “But the truth is, it takes teamwork at all levels.”

A moment later, however, Edwards said he would not be endorsing in any other city-level races.

“You won’t see me involved in any other race in New Orleans,” Edwards said. “But I felt the need to be here for Jay, just like he was there for me.”
This has to be good news for Banks that he has the backing of the state's highest ranking elected Democrat as well as the Chair of the state party. Unfortunately they allowed her to speak too. 
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson was among the speakers, and she among her praise for Banks’ readiness to lead District B, she also took a thinly veiled jab at Seth Bloom’s disclosure of a past opioid addiction.

“It is important that you have people who can spend full time on this, and not have to be focused on recovery in other ways,” Peterson said. “We all have issues. We all have times when we have suffered, and our families have suffered. People have depression, people have other issues in their family, and those need to be tended to very carefully. I don’t take that lightly, but in this role, with what we are facing in this community, we need somebody who is competent and is of the community, and who has character.”
Come on, man, there are plenty of legitimate things to go after Bloom for and this personal (and frankly, humanizing) issue is what we're gonna fixate on?  Do better. When Michelle Obama told Democrats to "go high" this is not what she meant.

Also it's pretty funny that Derrick Edwards was in the room watching the party big wigs who haven't lifted a finger to help his statewide campaign spend their morning on this district level council race. That must have been fun for him. 

Original intent

Your District B Council candidates have no idea what the "original intent" of the short term rental liberalization the current council passed a year ago. 

Seth Bloom, former Orleans Parish School Board member, said short term rental policies should be uniform across the whole city but wasn’t sure if the 90-days policy was too strict or not strict enough. Short term rentals were originally meant for people with a guest house or an extra room, Bloom said, but it’s expansion to whole home rentals requires more regulation.

They weren't.
Catherine Love, a doctorate of veterinary medicine and environmental conservationist, said the short term rental ordinance just creates a new tax and leaves neighborhoods in disarray. She said current policies force the responsibility of affordable housing on residents, though it’s a governmental issue that should be handled by the government.

The original intent of short term rentals was to create a source of income for people to keep up their homes and prevent blighted property, Love said. But now, density restrictions and homestead requirements are needed to prevent any further disruption of communities.
It wasn't.

Short term rentals have been exploding in New Orleans and in many other "destination cities" around the world because real estate investors and landlords see higher profits renting to luxury travelers than to people who actually live there.  Under our current law, a single owner or company can buy of multiple properties and manage them all as hotels. That's where the money in this is and that's the "original intent" of the current regime. 

Other cities are recognizing the damage this has done to their neighborhoods and are starting to push back. New Orleans is, as always, behind the curve and will continue to be so as long as LaToya Cantrell and Seth Bloom are around to misrepresent the "original intent" of their friends who profit from displacement.  Or, in Bloom's case, they're here to tell us there's nothing we can do about it and that we should get over ourselves.
Though more regulation is needed – and possibly smarter policies – Bloom said short term rentals are here to stay.

“AirBnBs are here, they’re across the country, we’re not unique enough to ban them completely,” he said.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Can't get out of their own way

The state Democratic Party would have us believe that one relatively unknown first time candidate is single handedly holding them all hostage.
Handwerk said several other Democrats were interested in running for treasurer but that it is difficult for a Democrat to get into a runoff if more than one member of the party is on the primary ballot; the Democratic candidates split the party vote. Edwards made it clear that he intended to stay in race, regardless of who else entered it.

"Leading up to qualifying for the Louisiana treasurer race we had several interested folks, but we all knew it wasn't viable to have more than one Democrat in the race and Derrick Edwards was already running and one of the first to qualify," Handwerk said.
That is ludicrous. Either run a bigger name candidate or back the one you have. If the reason there's only one Democrat is because there can be only one then, for chrissakes, you need get behind the one. These were your rules to begin with. Live by them. 

That isn't what they're doing, though. Instead they're out working to elect a Republican.
At least a handful of high-profile New Orleans Democrats appear to have decided that (State Senator Neil) Riser is an option, possibly because Schroder has made clear he will probably attack John Bel Edwards' budget and tax proposals if elected. Schroder also withdrew his support last year for state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, in the House speaker's race, rubbing many New Orleans Democratic legislators the wrong way.

Thus state Sens. Troy Carter, Wesley Bishop and JP Morrell, all Democrats from New Orleans, organized a free-lunch meet-and-greet for Riser at Dooky Chase's restaurant Tuesday. Bishop's involvement is particularly noteworthy, as he is vice chair of the state Democratic Party.
They say they're doing this because they think Riser "is honestly running just to be Treasurer," instead of turning the office into a trolling platform the way John Kennedy did for 17 years. Riser hasn't actually said this is his plan, though.  As we explained yesterday, there's really not much of a point to just being Treasurer. People run for this office because it leads to things.  That the Democrats can't get out their way in time to seize an opportunity like that and build their own party's strength is no reason to pretend otherwise.   

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"There's been no overt campaign"

Interesting little story here about a meeting between incumbent Coroner Jeffrey Rouse and challenger Dwight McKenna brokered by US Rep. Cedric Richmond just prior to Rouse's dropping out of the race.  McKenna (who has run for this office before in rather flamboyant fashion) is now unopposed. That could change only if Rouse somehow ends up winning reelection even without campaigning. He would then, supposedly, resign setting up a whole new election.  So.. some people might still be interested in bringing that scenario about.
It is not clear if McKenna anticipates an organized effort to re-elect Rouse — who is white — against his wishes. So far, McKenna's candidacy has drawn some questions in the media, but there's been no overt campaign to deny him office.
No "overt campaign," OK. But if you're looking for a slightly less overt campaign against McKenna, you don't have to look very far. Just keep reading. 
He would be the first local politician in recent memory to be elected after serving time in prison for a felony, having been forced off the Orleans Parish School Board in 1992 when he was convicted in federal court of tax evasion.

"McKenna ... will always be best known as a tax cheat," The Advocate's James Gill wrote earlier this month.

The Times-Picayune's Tim Morris wrote a column titled, "Vote for the quitter. It's important."

What are they up to?

The Governor has been busy meeting with various business groups and, here, with Republican lawmakers to discuss tax policy ahead of next year's "fiscal cliff" disaster. All parties to these meetings seem like they're pretty optimistic.  But nobody will say exactly what's on the table.  Keep an eye on this.

Make it stop

See what we've got here is a choice between a "liberal" plan and a "moderate" plan.
WASHINGTON -- Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont plans Wednesday (Sept. 13) to unveil his bill for creating a system where the government provides health insurance for everybody. Moderate Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and his Republican colleagues plan to release details of a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law.
Of course there is nothing "moderate" about Bill Cassidy or his plan to gut Medicaid.  But still this framing persists.

And now it is getting a bit chippy

You're probably going to get one of these mailers.
A political action committee opposing the New Orleans mayoral candidacy of former judge Desiree Charbonnet has launched, raising the stakes of the election with the potential for increased negative campaigning and so-called dark money.

It is unclear who is funding the group, which has filed papers with the state ethics board as "NotforsaleNOLA.com PAC I.E. Only PAC." But the website that launched Wednesday (Sept. 13) makes it clear that the group is supporting a single cause: Defeating Charbonnet, the best-funded candidate in the race.
The PAC's ads go after Desiree for, well, for being Desiree. Which is to say she is a scion of an established New Orleans political family and organization. There are good and bad connotations to that. I elaborated on those a bit last month.  Desiree's allies come out of an older New Orleans political tradition of organization and patronage. It's both good and bad. That side is typically opposed, though, by a whiter deep pocketed, and generally worse side that pretends its own system of privilege constitutes "good government." That's the divide that defines most citywide elections. It's starting to shake out that way again. 

It's not exactly that, of course. Every election is different. And the individual candidates have their own strengths and weaknesses (mostly weaknesses in this field) but we'll get into that stuff later on. 

All about Mitch

The juicy rumor this morning is that Mitch Landrieu's PAC interviewed LaToya and Desiree last night with an eye, one supposes, toward deciding which to endorse, or at least support in some way since an explicit endorsement might not be not be the most welcome gift to any candidate.

Anyway, as Grace kind of points out here, it looks like Mitch has already partly decided on the basis of what's best for Mitch.  In this case, that would be snubbing his opponents in the previous two elections.

The letter Alford quoted omitted Michael Bagneris, the former Civil District Court judge who ran a harshly critical challenge against the mayor when he won reelection in 2014, as well as businessman Troy Henry, who ran against him in 2010.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Making the groceries

It takes a lot of public money to build a boutique grocery store. Robert needs a little more, in fact.
RobĂ©rt’s Fresh Market is asking for a tax break for the store it plans to reopen at St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues, telling city officials that renovations have been costlier than expected.

Representatives for the company on Tuesday asked the city's Industrial Development Board for a 10-year freeze on the site's property taxes, which otherwise would likely rise sharply after the store is back in business. They said that without the freeze, the store wouldn't even break even until its fourth year of operation.
They're asking to do a $33,000 PILOT which would mean about a $2 million per year tax break over ten years. They'll probably get it. It's how everything gets done in this city. Notice, though, they've already gotten plenty. 
The 27,000-square-foot grocery store and 14,000 square-foot retail outparcel are being funded with a mix of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits and financing from the HOPE Federal Credit Union, which specializes in fresh food initiatives.
It's a good thing the city and state aren't hard up revenue or anything. Not when there are so many of us poors running around paying the highest sales taxes in the country. We're a generous people. We take care of our landlords and business leaders first.  Somebody should tell Amazon about this. Maybe they'll figure it out. They do groceries now too, right?

Why are the Democrats ceding the State Treasurer's race?

What does the Louisiana State Treasurer do all day?
When Louisiana voters choose a new state treasurer this fall, it's likely they won't have much information about what the person will actually be doing. Of all the elected positions in state government, the treasurer's duties might be the most opaque.

The treasurer can't do much without the permission of the Legislature, governor or other Bond Commission members. The position doesn't call for much direct interaction with voters, either.

Yet the treasurer handles billions of dollars in public money. And John Kennedy was one of the state's most popular elected officials during almost two decades in the job, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Both Kennedy and Mary Landrieu moved on to the Senate from the treasurer's perch.
That article goes on to helpfully describe the Treasurer's duties which basically amount to coming into the office every few weeks to sign some checks. Ironically, it's the relative lack of importance that makes this such an attractive office to ambitious Louisiana pols. The responsibilities are few and thus accountability is negligible. But it's a statewide office so just the process of getting elected to it is a significant networking and base building exercise.  The successful candidate establishes contacts and name recognition in every corner of the state. He or she then has access to a big public platform from which to advocate for, well, whatever gets more attention, ideally.  It's basically politics for politics' sake and a pretty nifty stepping stone to higher office.

So it's a discouraging measure of the state Democratic Party's impotence that it hasn't jumped at the bench strengthening opportunity provided by this year's vacancy.  Rather than promoting an up and comer from its own ranks or, failing that, at least supporting the Democrat who did qualify to run, the party leadership is playing defense.


Quick roll call on that host committee. Bishop is the 4th District State Senator and a Vice Chair of the State Democratic Party.  Morrell is the 3rd District State Senator and for a time was said to be considering a run for mayor. Carter is the 7th District State Senator and has been a mayoral candidate and city councilman in the past. There's a Democrat running but these guys don't care about that. They're promoting Republican and fellow State Senator Riser because they see State Rep. John Schroder as a more significant threat.  Most of us, though, would see little difference in Schroder or Riser getting a term as the state's official concern troll.  Here is what a Riser complaint agenda would look like.
If elected, Riser said he would continue to fight for gun rights, restrictions on undocumented immigrants and for divesting from countries that might support terrorism. The treasurer has nothing to do with gun laws or immigration, which Riser admits, but he said he would use the position as a platform to advocate for causes that he supports.

"I'll be outside the treasurer's course and scope as an individual defending the 2nd Amendment rights," he said.
Probably as election day gets closer we'll hear more about how smart and strategic all of this is.  But really it's just another missed opportunity for a state party continuing to suffer from a lack of depth and purpose. 

"1,351 days without owning a winning record"

Deadspin's Barry Petchesky has the most cutting analysis of last night's Saints season opener.  The factoid above was what stood out the most.  There's more. I've got a "preview" post that is late but should keep well enough to publish later. But for now, the reality is this is where things are.
Brees will want to be paid next year, wherever that is, and he deserves it. With the likes of Derek Carr and Matt Stafford inking deals that will functionally pay them more than $28 million a year, Brees is in for a significant raise, even if at age 38 it would likely be for just a couple of years. The franchise tag for a quarterback in 2018 is expected to be around $24 million, so slapping that on Brees would represent a discount for New Orleans—but that’s off the table, thanks to the clause in Brees’s contract. The Saints may well decide this team will be better off letting him walk, and finally entering a real rebuild. And that’s probably the smart play: A “win now” strategy is pretty self-defeating when, for the fourth year in row, the Saints likely aren’t going to win.
I should point out Petchesky is wrong to blame Brees's contract for the "cap hell" scenario.  That's always been money well allocated. But it's true that his presence encourages the "win now" urge to trade draft picks and make foolhardy commitments to Junior Gallette, CJ Spiller, Jairus Byrd, etc. etc.  So, yeah, "cap hell" but not specifically because of Brees. Maybe that's a distinction without a difference, though. The effect is the same. Ultimately, for "win now" to make sense, you have to.. you know.. win.

Today I guess the most disappointing thing is this. After all the reshuffling of personnel, the Saints could have at least found a new and more entertaining way to suck.  Instead we saw yet another episode of Opposing QB Is A Hall Of Famer For The Day thanks to the Saints' apparently irreparable, defense.  That's boring now so we're going to have to find ways to entertain ourselves on the way to (hopefully) an historic fourth consecutive 7-9 finish. Guess we should get to work on that.

Monday, September 11, 2017

They shouldn't be playing the London game anyway

If I were king of football, we wouldn't be disrupting teams' schedules and inconveniencing their home fans by shipping them off to London every year.  It's especially a hardship on the Dolphins now given that they're also playing 16 weeks with no bye.  But we know the NFL doesn't care about any of that so.. it's off to London.

#NeverForget

Bill Cassidy is still trying to kill Medicaid for some reason.
WASHINGTON — For months, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy has poured his time into possible replacements for the Affordable Care Act. And he's continued to plug away, even after most other Republicans moved on to other priorities after this summer's dramatic defeat of their proposal to overhaul Obamacare.

A deadline for Republicans to undo the healthcare law on a party-line vote in the Senate, widely viewed as their only shot at repeal, looms at the end of the month. The exact language of Cassidy’s plan remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, some of his Republican colleagues have sounded skeptical notes about its chances.

Yet Cassidy, who plans to unveil a new draft of the bill he’s been writing with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Monday, struck an optimistic note in an interview this week.

Probably because of bipartisanship or something.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Never open anything up

So it turns out that those S&WB bills people have been complaining about recently were indeed the bullcrap we thought they were.
About 4,700 customers — roughly 3.5 percent of all S&WB accounts — were essentially charged double for the same month of service: once based on an estimate of how much water and sewer service they used and another based on an actual meter reading.

Officials do not yet know how much the overcharges amount to.

The S&WB often relies on estimates when determining how much to bill, something that Erin Burns, a spokeswoman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said is caused by “a shortage of meter reading personnel and a high turnover rate in the department,” which prevent the utility from having enough staff to read each meter every month.

For the thousands of customers affected by the overbilling, an estimated bill was entered into the system just before the meter was read, leading to a double bill, Burns said in an email.

That's one way to avoid a new stormwater fee, I guess.  Any way you can raise funds is good, though, because the costs do tend to expand over there.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Sewerage & Water Board could have saved millions of dollars if it had purchased a brand new turbine to power some of the city’s most important drainage pumps, rather than spending the last five years in a costly – and so far futile – effort to repair a 1920s-era piece of equipment that it purchased, used, more than 50 years ago.

That’s WWL-TV’s conclusion after reviewing a cost analysis by one of the Sewerage & Water Board’s consultants, along with dozens of contract and billing records from the ongoing refurbishment of nettlesome Turbine No. 4.
The contract kept getting loaded up with decisions to refurbish rather than replace components. The excuses for those decisions are looking less and less credible. And, as much as we hate to give credit to Stacy Head for anything, this is a pretty good line from her that works on multiple levels.
It’s clear that the board was caught off-guard almost immediately by the difficulties fixing Turbine No. 4. At a January 2013 committee meeting, then-deputy superintendent Madeline Fong Goddard told board members, “Turbine 4 was opened up by the contractor and found to be sadly very damaged and not easily repairable.”

To which Councilwoman Stacy Head, then a member of the S&WB, interjected, “Never open anything up!” and laughed.
Well the whole can of worms is open now. That's probably less good than it seems, though.  I get the impression that we're not on a path to weeding out the corruption and inefficiency so much just contracting the corruption and inefficiency out to Veolia.  They've already moving in over there. It's probably only a matter of time before a more formal relationship is established. That might depend on who the next mayor is. But it's difficult to tell what the current candidates might think about the question.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Evacuation is not fun

Sign wavers
Well wishers above I-59 display encouraging signs to people evacuating from Hurricane Gustav in 2008

Everybody's needs and situation are different.  We always try like hell to keep from leaving. But if you have to go, you have to go. It is not fun out on the road, though. I don't even want to think about what it's like being stuck in this.
Residents of the Miami area and the Florida Keys streamed north in packed vehicles Friday, anxiously rushing to dodge Hurricane Irma as the deadly storm took aim at the state after devastating the Caribbean.

The dramatic mass exodus from South Florida could turn into one of the largest evacuations in US history, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are home to about 6 million people combined.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

LaToya loves STRs

Imagine espousing a housing position so wrong that even of Stacy Head thinks you are off-base.   
City Councilwoman Stacy Head said the request on Laurel Street, particularly, takes two housing units off the long-term rental market and converts them into tourist housing. Head said she supported the legalization of short-term rentals in commercial areas, but did not intend to convert residential neighborhoods to commercial zoning to allow them to proliferate.

“This seems to be in conflict with your cry for more affordable housing,” Head said to Cantrell. She explained later, “I do not believe we should allow the creeping into neighborhoods that are otherwise residential by changing the zoning to commercial.”

The short-term rental issue should not be blamed for the city’s lack of affordable housing, Cantrell shot back. That, she said, was the result of intentional efforts by city leaders after Hurricane Katrina.

Affordability and the crisis that we’re in in the city of New Orleans is not because of short-term rentals,” Cantrell replied. “It’s because the issue of housing was not a priority in the post-Katrina environment. Resources allocated for the city of New Orleans, millions in fact, were reallocated because there was sentiment coming from policymakers in this city that New Orleans was on the path of having too many affordable units.”

Should we try and puzzle out what LaToya means by that botched line about "policymakers" and "too many affordable units"?  It's not clear even she knows what she means. Cantrell, like all of the major candidates in this dumb JV election, is a herd animal. None of them is running for mayor to advance some grand cause. They're just here because they've risen far enough within their own social/civic spheres to get the sense that this might be their turn at the top. Sure, there are issues and stuff that voters might want to hear about. But the candidates exist at a remove from all of that so they rely on staff, and survey research, and friends and advisors to tell them what to say.

Not that that helps a whole heck of a lot. In the case above, we assume someone has told LaToya a "mistakes were made" version of the past decade of housing policy she and her allies have presided over. Sure, all we did was knock down public housing and  build a bunch of nice things for rich people but "the sentiment coming from policymakers" was that was the right thing to do.  It's an ironclad rule of establishment politics that it's fine to be continually wrong about everything so long as you are wrong for the right reasons. That is, so long as you are also the right people. In LaToya's circle, landlords and real estate developers are always the right people.

And that must be why she's still listening when the same right people are telling her short term rentals really aren't a problem.  Evidence to contrary abounds. We like to think we've done a decent job keeping track of that on this here website.  The Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative has been studying the local market since the passage of the local STR law and will present its findings on September 27.  That's a free event, if you're interested.

For what it's worth, Desiree Charbonnet who, make no mistake, is also an empty husk of a candidate grasping to say whatever words test the best among strategically significant demos, has published a contrasting position on STRs on her website under a big bold red heading

SHORT-TERM RENTALS CAN MAKE THINGS WORSE

Technological advances have produced a spike in short-term rentals (via AirBnB, VRBO, etc.), which can change the character of neighborhoods and remove affordable rental housing from the market. New Orleans is a city where 60% of residents rent, so the damaging effects are profound and make a citywide impact. In short, housing policy is not just about buildings; it’s about the very social fabric of our city. It’s also not just about new construction, but also about helping people stay in their neighborhoods.
Yes, that is poorly framed.  "Technological advances" aren't causing the problem.  The technology in question is just the internet. STRs are spiking and housing is unaffordable because we have an unhealthy economic system based on asset ownership and regulatory arbitrage rather than on sustainable, equitable wealth creation. The problem is that our elected representatives are deliberately enabling this. Having said that, Charbonnet is proposing to tie STR permits to homestead exemptions which is something City Council specifically voted not to do last year. It's not the most daring plan but it is something. So far it's the closest thing to a substantive conflict between two candidates on a critical issue so it's worth following as the public forums ramp up.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Probably opened the Stargate or something

Careful. Who really knows what those old turbines are capable of?
New Orleans firefighters had responded to an apparent fire at a New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board facility in the Leonidas neighborhood Wednesday afternoon.

The facility is located in the 8800 block of South Claiborne Avenue. Smoke could be smelled in the air outside the facility, although it was not immediately clear if there was damage, or how significant it was.

New Orleans Homeland Security Chief Aaron Miller and Mayor Mitch Landrieu were both on scene speaking with fire personnel.

One nearby resident said he heard what he thought was an explosion, followed by smoke before firefighters arrived.
So the testing is going well, it would appear. The other day the mayor said, "Every day we get stronger and soon we'll be back … in a better place than we have been in a very long time." Are they absolutely sure they aren't trying to open an interdimensional portal in there? Because that's probably the easiest way to get to "a better place" at this point. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Worst ever

I like to take a lot of what comes out of the New Orleans Inspector General's office with a grain of salt. After all, it's as much a political instrument as any of the public bodies it reports on.  That doesn't necessarily mean what it produces is worthless. Only that a lot of it isn't always what it might seem.  Anyway, the language Quatreveaux uses here is certainly attention grabbing.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux ratcheted up his criticism of the Sewerage & Water Board on Friday, calling it "the worst government entity I have encountered in 40 years as a government manager."

Quatrevaux previously had issued numerous reports critical of the board's business practices and has called for it to be folded into city government rather than remaining a quasi-independent agency.
I mentioned  Quatrevaux's S&WB concerns last week here. There are many. You can read his summarizing letter to the mayor here.

Meanwhile, David Hammer has started looking into some long-running issues with the state of those infamous power turbines.
On Aug. 16, WWL-TV asked Landrieu, who is also  the president of the Sewerage & Water Board, why the Turbine No. 4 repairs have taken so long.

“That particular (turbine) had to be completely refurbished, not just fixed. And it was in the process of getting fixed,” he said. “It was supposed to be finished in December. So, one of the things we did was ask them to work really hard and move it up to six weeks. It’s not like you can just snap your fingers and move it up three years.”

But the project was never supposed to take more than a year in the first place.
So what I've been given to understand about how this stuff works is when the contractor makes a decision to "refurbish" rather than "replace" a specific part, that changes and extends the contract. This turbine is a very old piece of equipment with lots of specialized and/or obsolete components so there are plenty of opportunities to make that sort of decision. Sooner or later we're talking about a lot more money and time than was probably necessary in the first place. So long as it gets spread around to right people and nobody gets hurt, it's all "honest graft."  Unfortunately, as it turns out, it's kind of important that this particular piece of equipment gets fixed on time and correctly so......

Triggers

LOL Bob Breck made a "typo".
Before I begin…let me correct a typo from my last blog.  I mentioned a Cat. 6 hurricane.  There is no such thing.  The top end of the scale is Cat. 5.       My bad, but perhaps it’s how I feel about the strength of this storm? 
This hurricane goes to 11, apparently.  Bob was never one to shy away from feeling the weather at us.  Neither, by the way, has anyone on your social media feed where it seems everyone has decided we can steer the storms away from us through sheer force of our collective emoting via hyperbolic typos similar to Bob's.  I know it's a big storm, y'all. And I know everyone is jumpy because another big storm just hit. But the same rules apply to this one as any other.  The models are only as good as the models ever are and no prediction beyond three days is even worth looking at.

Of course, that won't stop your local officials from overreacting in the extreme, as is their wont.
The typical trigger for a local evacuation has long been the approach of a storm with Category 3 winds or greater. But that threshold has been lowered to a Category 1 with heavy rain-making potential, in light of the city’s diminished drainage capacity, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said.

“We are prepared to execute what we would normally execute for a Category 3 or higher. We are prepared to pull those triggers on perhaps a Category 1 with a lot of rainfall,” said Christopher Guilbeaux, an assistant deputy director with GOHSEP.

New Orleans would likely also clear out if any rain event — with or without strong winds — is forecast to bring 20 inches of rain to the area, according to GOHSEP.

The thing to understand about the timing of an evacuation call is it's as much about protecting officials from criticism as it is about protecting the public from harm. In fact there is no simple solution to what might be the best, safest decision for everyone. Not every individual in the path of a storm faces the same danger. Maybe some are less likely to flood than others. Some are not in the best condition due to health, age, etc. to up and run without difficulty. A lot of people simply can't afford to go and stay away from home for very long.  Not to mention, every storm is a unique event and the factors that determine what is the safest way to react are different every time. By imposing a too rigid evacuation protocol, officials run the risk of putting many in greater danger than necessary.

So the "triggers," as the mayor's office all but comes out and says here are arbitrary.
GOHSEP’s revelation of the triggers being considered appeared to peeve Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which has been hesitant to publicly cite new thresholds for evacuations as repairs are being made to the city's pumps. Instead, administration officials have said they would consider storms on a case-by-case basis.

And city officials on Friday said any previously announced threshold for evacuation could change, depending on a specific storm’s track, strength and character. They also said that they, not the governor's office, should be considered the final authority on when and whether citizens should leave.
From the looks of things, though, the Governor's office is going to err on the side of covering its own ass. Just something to take into account if and when we have to interpret their actions as Irma or whatever storm that gets into the Gulf next approaches.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Friday news pump

We're getting an update from S&WB this afternoon after their meeting.
NEW ORLEANS, LA. - City officials are scheduled to give an update Friday on the status of repairs at New Orleans’ drainage pumping stations.

Members of the Sewerage and Water Board will hold a special meeting to discuss repairs and possibly appoint a new interim director. The meeting starts at 1 p.m.

The meeting will include the leadership already in place at the S&WB as well as the team Mayor Mitch Landrieu put in place to lead during hurricane season. The mayor is confident that the team will make necessary changes within the S&WB.
Right, so Paul Rainwater gets introduced as the Coach O of the board for now. Watch for that today.


Meanwhile, LaToya Cantrell gave a speech this week about the city's drainage issues.  Obviously this is going to be a top theme in the campaign now given the events of last month. And I suppose we should be relieved to see infrastructure displace crime as the number one issue. At the same time it's hard to feel encouraged. This isn't a case of new priorities emerging thanks to an engaged electorate or a diligent press. And we sure as hell aren't benefiting from strong candidates. Instead, the campaign narrative has refocused because a disastrous flood happened.  Are our politics really only capable of producing nothing but cynical reaction?  Actually, don't answer that.

As for Cantrell's "plan," it's a big mash up of the hottest takes from the last few weeks. If you've heard your friends, neighbors, or media personalities do any drainsplaining lately, odds are LaToya has a shout out to something you've heard about.  Get more money from the Convention Center, lift the property tax exemption from nonprofits, fold S&WB into City Hall, levy that (highly questionable) stormwater drainage fee we wrote about the other day.  She even suggests finding money somewhere in the WTC redevelopment deal which is something Desiree Charbonnet highlighted in her housing plan. It's dubious whether any of these ideas is readily workable. Some of them are not even good ideas.

But that isn't the point.  This isn't a coherent policy document. It's a big kitchen sink campaign flier. All it does is list things people might like to hear while promising not to tax them too much "until later." 
The Landrieu administration has begun to design a fee built on how much rainwater runs off private properties into the public drainage system. Cantrell said she would support such a fee, but her approach would single out universities, hospitals and other nonprofit entities exempt from city property taxes.

It would not include tax-paying property owners until a later stage, she said.

"This is something I believe will be significant to improving the revenue source and stream to ensure we improve the overall infrastructure of our city," Cantrell said.
People like that. The wealthier property owners LaToya tends to favor like that, especially. They also like prison labor. Maybe we can give them that and clean storm drains.  Is that asking too much?  Maybe not. 
She pitched using local inmates, through a partnership with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, as "boots on the ground, helping, again, improve our infrastructure," but she didn't elaborate on what type of work they would do.
Something for everybody in this plan. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What do people do all day?

What do people do all day?

I had been planning to say a few things last week about this Gambit cover story but, well, a lot of worse things have been happening.

I've got pretty much the same bone to pick as everyone else who commented, though.  It looks like it wants to be an article about the high cost of living in New Orleans but the framing is basically, "Oh noes, it's super hard for well educated, young, ambitious professional types to get started on their dream six figure career path in this city!" It's tone deaf to say the least.

The reason that happens is pretty simple to explain.  Gambit's business model is about selling ad space to local businesses whose products and services match the tastes of young, ambitious professional types. That's why we find such people as the protagonists of this story. Unfortunately, that doesn't make the story immediately relatable for the rest of us plebs even though we're actually the ones being erased from the landscape by stagnant wages and skyrocketing rents.

The second issue with the story is stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs of living are a crisis facing working class people in cities all over America.  It's not a uniquely New Orleans failing. But it has to be written this way because Gambit caters to a sensibility we can call the NOLA inferiority complex. It's a widely held belief among upper middle class whites especially that there's something extra dysfunctional about New Orleans which sets it apart from what you might find elsewhere. I've never been convinced this is the case. But it has long been a popular rationalization among young, ambitious, professional types when the wider national job markets they have access to by virtue of their class privilege incentivize them to move away. It's the negging undertone we find in every "leaving New Orleans love letter." 

There's more to say, especially after the story was referenced by an even bigger insult of an article that appeared in CityLab this week. But that's already too much. Maybe we'll come back to it. In the meantime, please do see this "Labor Day" post by the author of the Gambit piece which I think serves as a pretty good follow-up.  Yes, she still insists that New Orleans is "unusually difficult" for the yuppies. Never mind that.  But look past it and you'll see...
But it does indicate that — as national studies and reports have suggested — the greater workforce is changing rapidly, and our conception of what "regular Americans" do for work may be a little outdated.

Most Americans do not work in factories, or in coal mines. Only some people work in professional fields such as business, technology or law. By far the most common jobs for Americans are service-sector jobs, whether that be in retail, food service or customer service; office assistant jobs such as secretaries and clerks; or jobs in the growing field of health care and caretaking. Caretaking and food service in particular make up two of three of the fastest-growing jobs in America, according to a recent edition of the Current Population Survey — construction jobs were in the top spot.

The takeaway is that it's way past time to stop thinking of service-sector jobs as temporary gigs for people in high school or part-time workers. Certainly early labor advocates would have argued for workplace protections and better wages for people in these fields, who now form the backbone of the American workforce. And the same standard should hold true in health care, where many aides, assistants and home care workers aren't well-compensated relative to better-credentialed nurses and doctors.
That's the story right there. The work most people are obliged to do does not sustain most people.  The problems of some recent Tulane grads weighing the costs/benefits of maximizing their value in the national market vs the charms of consuming the local "culture" really are a world removed from it.

I think we can all remember what this was like

NOAA satellite photos show flooded neighborhoods in Houston and Galveston.  I remember clicking through file folders of these some 12 years ago trying to find the one that might show if my place was ok.  It was the first time a lot of us who had evacuated started to really process the scope of what had happened; block after block, neighborhood after neighborhood just totally underwater. It was devastating.

At least now there's this easy to use map interface.  The kids today don't know how lucky they are.

Floating balls of fire ants are having a moment

Good for them. It's about time.  I still can't believe we didn't think about this during the whole Zephyrs renaming episode.  Baby Cakes is still good in that it's funny that their bad idea to change the name failed on them like that. But if we had remembered this was available, things might have been different. 

Who is going to throw them something?

Drainage project damaged my home

Signs like the one above were posted along Napoleon Avenue during Carnival this year. A few months later, they printed a similar format which claimed SELA had also "ruined my Jazzfest." That was confusing. Maybe the sight of a crack in the wall distracted these homeowners and made them sad as they watched the parades pass from their front porches.  Not sure that would "ruin" things for me but ok.  How it affected their Jazzfest is anybody's guess.

In any case, it's looking more and more like the mayor is going to have to throw them something after all.
The Sewerage & Water Board has lost its latest attempt to blame federal contractors for damage to homes along the Uptown New Orleans routes of several new underground drainage canals.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday (Aug. 28) that the Sewerage & Water Board couldn't hold liable federal contractors hired under the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program, or SELA.

That leaves the embattled city agency staring down a possible $86 million payout to roughly 275 plaintiffs.

Appellate judges Thomas Reavley, Edward Prado and James Graves agreed with a lower court ruling that the Sewerage & Water Board had failed to prove the contractors hadn't followed federally agreed-upon plans when installing the canals.
We don't want to go too far in the direction of defending the Sewerage and Water Board, but it should be said they're in kind of a tight spot in this situation. SELA is a federal project overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps, though, is immune from litigation as are any contractors employed to do the work so long as the Corps signs off on the specs.  So, if you are an aggrieved property owner looking to get paid, you're going to have to get it out of S&WB.

But, uh... to put it lightly, they've got their own problems these days. And according to the mayor, at least, those problems are going to require a whole new source of revenue.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said a new millage for drainage is a possibility, but there's also been a movement to create a more complex fee structure that would credit property owners for the amount of water-permeable property they have. Owners of properties that absorb rainfall would pay less than someone who generates more runoff. For example, a lot with a large lawn or another retaining features would face a lower fee than a parcel with an impermeable surface.

The Bureau of Governmental Research endorsed stormwater fees in a February report. It pointed out that while New Orleans is "one of the nation's most stormwater-challenged cities," it doesn't have a way to collect money directly from property owners who use its drainage system.
It's not clear what they're actually going to propose yet. One talking point they've run up the flagpole is the possibility that a new drainage fee could circumvent exemptions which keep nonprofits and religious organizations from paying property taxes. That's been a longstanding issue in municipal politics. Fittingly enough, though, it's one of those issues everybody complains about but nobody ever mitigates. You, know, like our regularly apocalyptic weather.

Anyway, it seems to me if broadening the tax base were really what they were after here, they'd attack that directly.  Most likely this is just another push to raise revenue via regressive fees instead of through property taxes. That's pretty much been the bread and butter policy choice throughout the Landrieu years especially. According to the somewhat unreliable BGR, they're going to need $54.5 million in new revenue over the next decade and it has to come from somewhere.

According to the also somewhat unreliable Inspector General, though, S&WB's problems go far beyond figuring out how to raise more money.
The current drainage crisis that has gripped the S&WB gave Quatrevaux another platform to bolster his case. In his letter, he listed a series of investigations his office has done in the past five years that he said exposes the shortcomings of the agency's management. They mainly focused on accounting weaknesses that may have made the agency vulnerable to fraud and abuse.

"The recent drainage failures demonstrate that an organization cannot perform poorly in finance and administration yet perform well in operations," Quatrevaux wrote.
I'm not sure what to make of some of Quatrevaux's arguments. I'm especially wary of the way he tends to point his finger at S&WB line employees and I have absolutely no truck with what I see in some of this as an attack on their pensions and benefits.  Having said that, he raises some troubling issues with regard to management practices; i.e. sloppy accounting, reliance on overtime in place of adequate staffing,etc. This passage makes the most critical point.
It is logical to consider how the many problems of the S&WB might be solved by organizational restructuring. From a theoretical view, there is a continuum from city control on one end to privatization at the other. But what is the S&WB now? It is not a city department but an independent entity that is legally impervious to city controls. The S&WB sits halfway down the continuum from city control to privatization, neither fish nor fowl.

The fundamental problem with the Sewerage & Water Board is that it is an institution impervious to change—it has ossified. Its celebrated independence permitted decades of technological progress to bypass the S&WB. Fees or millages increased when the inefficiencies could not be paid with current funds. The problem is structural, and the passing characters—mayors, directors, members of the S&WB—almost irrelevant.

A turnaround in such an organizational culture would be very difficult to achieve: the S&WB must be replaced with a modern organizational structure, one that makes elected officials responsible for the organization’s performance.
A similar argument was made by Jacques Morial a few weeks ago in this Lens op-ed. Morial agrees with Quatrevaux's recommendation to fold S&WB back into City Hall.  But while Quatrevaux's letter is focused on getting us to a more efficient management structure, Morial adds an appeal to more direct democracy. Morial pulls no punches in his piece.  He is especially critical of a recent structural reform backed by Landrieu and BGR.
The gist of SB 47 was to expel the City Council from the S&WB’s board of directors. For years, three members of the Council had been seated on that board. In their place, the bill established a system whereby directors would be appointed by the mayor from a list of nominees put forward by the presidents of local universities.

While all the men and women who have served in recent years as presidents of local universities are honorable, civic-minded leaders, their responsibility is to their institutions and their boards of trustees. These academic leaders are not accountable to the voters in any way, notwithstanding their noble service to the community and the vital role their institutions play in our city.

Leading the charge to purge the S&WB’s accountability to the voters was the august Bureau of Governmental Research, founded by social elites in 1930 as an anti-populist organization with a secret membership roster, not unlike the exclusive carnival krewes whose members comprised the group. But the BGR is neither representative, nor credible. Many of its board members do not live in New Orleans. Not a single African American serves on the BGR’s staff. Its board members have been awarded no-bid contracts with city agencies, and have been appointed by Landrieu to city boards or commissions. At least one of its officers has been embroiled in his own ugly conflict-of-interest scandal.
We aren't exactly sure what the new fee proposal will look like yet. But anything mayor pushes with heavy BGR backing is worthy of heavy scrutiny.  If Quatreveaux is to be believed, it's worth questioning just how steep such a measure really needs to be. Whatever the amount, I suspect we'll be looking at an attempt to impose a regressive fee based on a notional measure of drainage "usage" rather than a more progressive property millage.  After all, it would be shame if those Napoleon Avenue property owners went through all the trouble of making the mayor and S&WB "throw them something" only to find they were footing a fair portion of the bill themselves.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

People like brake lights

I keep coming back to this article Jonathan Swarz wrote back in January. Trump was about to take power and many Americans exhausted by the 2016 were having a dark teatime over it.  What do you do when it's all gone to shit?  This seemed like a good thought to start with.
When and where are the next Democratic and Republican Party meetings in your neighborhood? You don’t know, because neither the Democrats nor Republicans are political parties in the historical sense. Mostly they just demand we send them money and then yell at us about voting every few years.

While it has almost passed out of Americans’ living memory, parties used to have regular, local meetings where everyone got together, yammered about politics for a while, and then drank beer. Elections were the culmination of what parties did, not the starting point.

A healthy political party would foster community and provide people with concrete things to do between elections. Mike McCurry, one of Bill Clinton’s press secretaries, once suggested that Democrats should turn themselves into a pool of neighborhood volunteers “so that when people are trying to accomplish something, they would say: Call the Democrats, they always have people.”

Or they could get members involved in a local fight for a $15 minimum wage. Or helping women get a safe abortion. Or restoring funding cuts to local colleges. Or whatever members decide. That’s politics.
Well we still don't have political party that functions in any way like that.  But we have seen several organizations spring to life in recent months who are trying. One such example is DSA.  Here's your New Orleans chapter at work last week.
How does repairing brake lights aide DSA's mission?

In a few ways: There's the aspect of helping people avoid any kind of interaction with the justice system, so keeping people from getting tickets and everything serves the mission of prison abolition and all that, which we've gotten started with.

Also, there's also an aspect of building power outside of the electoral politics system. In New Orleans, it's really hard to create change through regular electoral politics because it's so closed, and it's hard to break into it. Doing service like this is a way of making that change on the outside, and helping people meet their basic needs in a way the government will not.

Helping people meet basic needs like that helps us build a stronger working-class base. To get a ticket for a brake light can ruin your whole month, it can ruin a few months, it can ruin your life for a longer than that. It's such a small thing we can do to change that for people.
Fixing brake lights is a small thing. But it's a nice small thing. It's a great way to start breaking through the morass of the media horror show and reconnecting the political and the practical. Politics is about bringing people together to help them get the things they need and like. People like brake lights. Why not start there?

Let's hope we don't regret this

The Saints briefly thought about cancelling tomorrow night's final fake football game against the Ravens. That would have been fine. Cancel all the fake games. They are bad. Football is dangerous anyway. At least this could have been a chance to set a precedent. Even if the NFL thinks thy absolutely have to have pre-season, maybe this could show they don't need four weeks of it.  But, oh well.




Good luck. Just remember this when everybody breaks a leg tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are you better off than you were 12 years ago?

I love this ridiculous city.




It's Katrinaversary 12 today. I guess I've mentioned it a little. But mostly, and rightly, our attention has been focused on Texas where they're reliving a version of our tragedy for us.  What Harvey is doing and how it's doing it, is different from what Katrina did. But there is a lot about the experience that is resonant including the slow motion unfolding of events.

Katrina blew through in one morning, but the disaster occurred over the several days that followed as levees failed, water rushed in, rose and sat there while people waited days for relief. The terrible President showed up and made a bad speech. It would be another month before most of us were allowed back.

Harvey arrived near Corpus on Friday.  The water is still rising in Houston right now. The terrible President is there giving bad speeches.  They're on a familiar track. We don't know how much it will cost or how long the "recovery" period will last there.

In New Orleans, we threw a big victory party after a nice round ten years. But that was really just for appearances.  In reality, there still isn't anything about life here that doesn't trace back to the flood in one way or another. Although we style ourselves "recovered" we're really still dealing with the disaster. I'd argue there have been more failures than successes along the way but people don't like to hear that kind of talk.

Still it's reassuring that we're sable to laugh at our own dismal state of affairs more often than not. The little banner at the pump station was the most inspiring image I came across on this anniversary. So, despite everything that's gone wrong and is currently going even more wrong, it is true that some version of this city convincingly similar to what we were before still exists.  Maybe that's the best they can hope for in Texas now.  But I hope they'll do better.