Sunday, April 30, 2017

He really is Boss Hogg

Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, the reigning Stupidest Corrupt Person In Louisiana, is in trouble again. This time there's no Iraqi Oil Minister, no eBay scheme, nothing about monuments. Swamp Molly isn't even mentioned.  No, this is actually the worst news for Billy in that it's one big petty graft dump.
The FBI, which investigated Nungesser during his first term as parish president, has shown new interest in a series of contracts and public works projects carried out during his tenure, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Separately, the cash-strapped parish government has filed a flurry of lawsuits seeking to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars it says were lost to a "pattern of fraud" and Nungesser's "thirst for absolute power" during his eight years in office, which ended in 2014.
There's Parish resources directed into building a marina he owns. There's little favors done for friends and family. It's usually the little stupid stuff like this that they actually get you on. Ray Nagin is in jail for granite countertops, basically.

But with Billy it always seems like there's so much more. In addition to the stuff we alluded to at the top, there's a Canal Street brothel connection to discuss. But mostly we'd like to see him held to account for the way he sold Plaquemines Parish to energy and chemical companies in order to "save" it. And, of course, he managed to enrich himself along the way. It's easier to go after the petty corruption.  But there's plenty of karma in the balance as well.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Who does and doesn't trust our criminal justice system

Of all the things that one could say about Orleans and Jefferson Parish District Attorneys and their fake subpoena tactics this week, City Councilwoman Susan Guidry got to the point most directly.
The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office acknowledged Thursday that it, too, has sent fake subpoenas to reluctant witnesses to get them to talk to prosecutors. The practice will stop immediately, the office said in a written statement.

The admission comes a day after the Orleans Parish DA’s office abruptly announced it would end the practice after The Lens informed the office that it was about to publish a story reporting that legal experts said the practice is unethical, if not illegal.

Criticism of the practice in New Orleans mounted Thursday. Two City Council members said the fake subpoenas, as well as other aggressive tactics by the DA’s office, probably have eroded the public’s faith in the criminal justice system.

No wonder people in our community don’t trust our criminal justice system,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said at a meeting.
The fake subpoenas are bad. But they're really just the tip of the iceberg as The Lens also pointed out this week with regard to Cannizzaro's activities
Cannizzaro’s office has been accused of overly aggressive tactics. Prosecutors frequently use the state’s habitual offender law to secure long sentences, even for nonviolent crimes. They have charged witnesses with perjury if they recant their testimony.

And earlier this month, the watchdog group Court Watch NOLA found several cases in which the DA’s office obtained arrest warrants for victims of crimes because they did not cooperate with prosecutors.

New Orleans City Councilman and defense attorney Jason Williams said the use of fake witness subpoenas fits into a pattern of overzealous prosecution.

“I can only imagine how dangerous this could potentially be,” he said. “If older assistant district attorneys are encouraging younger, less experienced [assistant district attorneys] to do this, it creates a culture.”
That "culture" of prosecutorial licentiousness runs deep in Louisiana. And it is enabled by a political culture too often content to look the other way. The DAs and Sheriffs are powerful people. They're currently in Baton Rouge lobbying against a set of modest, humane, and broadly supported sentencing and parole reforms meant to reduce the state's obscenely bloated prison population.  They haven't succeeded quite yet but give it time. DAs and Sheriffs are dangerous people.

We mean that literally. Some recent high profile examples include these Iberia Parish beatings, the  as yet unsolved murders in Jennings. Here, also from The Lens is an op-ed by William Barnwell about the prisoner abuse in Louisiana via the practice of solitary confinement. Notice who he singles out.
Popular support for the lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to sentencing has begun to lose ground nationally among both conservatives and liberals. Even Louisiana, appalled  by both the inequity (close to 80 percent of the people we incarcerate are African American) and ineffectiveness of mass incarceration — not to mention spiraling costs — has begun to inch toward reform. But the problem is compounded by hardened district attorneys who seek maximum punishments and by parish sheriffs who lobby to keep their jails full because their budgets depend on the income from the state for each jailed person.
"It's no wonder people in our community don't trust our criminal justice system." The power to protect and serve the public is habitually abused to terrorize the defenseless while the power to prosecute or just as importantly not to prosecute is abused in ways that protect the establishment. Next week sometime we're expecting an announcement that there will be no civil rights prosecutions in the murder of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police. But officials are being extra careful about how and when they make that announcement because they are worried about the tension that arises in a community when nobody trusts the criminal justice system.

The proposed reforms in the legislature are a nice start should they pass. And, despite its problems and imperfections, the NOPD consent decree has probably been of at least some help. But if we're serious about addressing this head on, we should recognize that the abuses which lead to a lack of trust in the criminal justice system are bound to repeat as long as the classes who benefit from it maintain political power.  Which means, once again, in order to fix the policies, we have to first go out and do the politics.

Today there is an election for Civil District Court.  That may seem disconnected from the criminal justice stuff above but it really isn't. Politics is always about more than just the one office at stake in any election.  Instead it is about building and testing the strength of coalitions.  Every election is an opportunity to see which side can maintain power and influence. This race in particular is a fairly strong litmus test in that regard. It's a citywide race coming just a few months ahead of a major municipal election. And it could provide an early read on some of the dynamics that will be in play then.
Saturday's runoff for a seat on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court bench will be decided along racial lines, if last month's primary results offer a clue.

The battle is sketched in black and white as attorneys Rachael Johnson, 40, and Suzanne "Suzy" Montero, 53, make their final push for votes, with a slender turnout expected for the only contest on the Orleans Parish ballot.

Montero, who is white, won nearly 88 percent of the white vote and just 2 percent of the black vote on her way to claiming a spot in the runoff, according to an analysis by University of New Orleans political science professor Ed Chervenak.

Johnson, who is black, came in 600 votes behind Montero while taking 80 percent of the black vote and 7 percent of the white vote.

Montero won 45 percent of the overall vote, to 43 percent for Johnson. Attorney Marie Williams, who is black, trailed with 11 percent, mostly from heavily black precincts.

"When you have a biracial election, a very low-stimulus election where we don't have a lot of information about the candidates and their qualifications, people tend to fall back on shortcuts like race," Chervenak said.
Now, Chervenak is not being entirely honest here.  He might mean to say the average voter may not have followed the news very closely. But anyone who has will have all of the information we  (his word) have about the candidates, which is plenty. Here is a the usually excellent Antigravity election guide to this race. There's a few more points one could add. And I'm disappointed that they end on a no recommendation. But besides that it's a quite good sampling of the information we all have.  But let's take at face value that we do have a low profile but citywide election between a "Who is White" and a "Who is Black."  That should tell aspiring mayoral candidates a little bit about the relative strengths of each block.

That isn't all we'll be watching, of course. Beyond just race, we're looking at how the influence of specific interests and individuals can be brought to bear in 2017. For example the Johnson campaign is being handled by powerhouse politico Karen Carvin while Montero's is supported by PR work from Cheron Brylski. Both of those names will be all over the fall elections.  Montero seems to have had a bit more money to play with. She's certainly had more ads flying around TV and social media sites. But where this really gets interesting is where the endorsements start to line up.  Here is a quick list of people whose names have appeared on Montero's fliers and ads over the past few weeks.

Charles Foti
Jackie Clarkson
Peggy Wilson
Harry Connick Sr.
Suzanne Haik-Terrell

And, of course, these two beloved friends of the people.

Leon and Stacy heart Suzy

What we have here is a fine sampling of the small section of our community who actually likes the criminal justice system just fine the way it is. Before you go vote today you may wish to think about whether you care to see such people emboldened by the results of a citywide contest. Today's election doesn't directly have a lot to do with that issue. In a vacuum it's about which one of these equally qualified individuals could be a Civil Court judge. They both could. That's why Antigravity doesn't endorse either.  But politics doesn't happen in a vacuum and a single office alone isn't really the point. It never is.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Speaking of things we called two years ago...

We sure showed him, didn't we?

As George W. Bush once famously complained during a debate, being President is actually hard work. Trump thought it would be easier.

He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is.

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
He's also right, of course. This is a terrible job that only a complete narcissistic psychopath could even want.  So he's mostly qualified. But the best fit is usually with the Type A overachieving nerd kind of  narcissistic psychopath.  Trump is more the entitled lazy douchebag kind. 

EPCOT Circle

We are begrudgingly grateful to Mitch Landrieu for not getting in the way of a decades long people's campaign to take down the city's Jim Crow era Confederate monuments. It's good that it's finally happening.  What we would very much appreciate now, though, would be for him to shut up and stop making it all about him.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu mounted a passionate defense of his approach to removing the city’s monument to the Battle of Liberty Place during an interview Thursday, insisting that credible threats of violence ruled out holding any kind of ceremony or doing it in the daytime.
The problem, and this is the problem with all political big wigs, is Mitch is starting to act as though he has ownership over the issue just because he happened to be the mayor when it came to a head. I hope he doesn't go too far with that, though because his idea for what to do with Le Circle in the future is terrible. 
He also offered an idea of his own vision for the sites.

He said the circle around the Lee column could be turned into a fountain with statues representing various aspects of New Orleans’ people and culture and renamed Tricentennial Circle in honor of the city’s 300th birthday next year.
For the record, I called that two years ago. The dude is pretty predictable.   
If we are going to do this, though, it's important that we, unlike the Saints fans in the picture above, take it seriously.  Mitch already makes me nervous when he throws his Tricentennial fetish in there. If we take Lee down and replace him with some sort of generic piece of modern art and christen some boring "Tricentennial Circle"  that will almost make the thing not worth doing.

It's not enough to just take down the Confederate monument and sanitize the space with post-modern nonsense. We need to imbue it with an appropriate positive historical and cultural significance in equal measure to the negative image we are supplanting. My first thought is to name it for Homer Plessy, though maybe you guys can come up with someone as deserving.

Just don't leave it up to Mitch Landrieu and his band of bland "New New Orleanians." They'll either do something inappropriately benign or name it for some pastor they're all indebted to politically.
We have to come up with something better than this.  Otherwise, Mitch is going to ruin the whole exercise. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How did we get here?

Bobby gave all the money away to his friends and now there isn't any money
For 30 years, Louisiana had enough money in its various accounts to shift around dollars temporarily and cover the bills without resorting to a short-term loan. But the money available to do that was spent when Gov. Bobby Jindal was in office, as he and lawmakers tried to avoid new taxes and spending cuts.
Doesn't look like anyone has a plan to find any more money any time soon. Certainly the Republicans in the House are happy to sit back and force the Governor to keep cutting stuff every year until that inevitably causes him to lose the next election.

Welcome, Jazzfest visitors

Just popping in to clear up a bit of residual confusion you might have picked up reading that one Vogue article.  If you're looking to "experience New Orleans like a local" today, the thing you absolutely should do today is get nekkid and climb up to the top of an electrical tower.

New Orleans Police, firefighters and EMS paramedics are trying to rescue a naked man who climbed 140 feet up an Entergy pole in New Orleans East.

A little after 9:30 a.m., 911 dispatchers received a call reporting that a man had climbed the tower, which is near the 4500 block of Jourdan road, near Downman road.
That might be a little far out from one of our "iconic" neighborhoods where you are probably renting a formerly affordable appartment. But maybe you can convince an Uber driver to take you there. You did want to see how the locals live, after all.

Leave Jazzfest alone.. this time

The infamous Crawfish Monica
How much would you pay to know your overrated pasta is safe?

It's super fun to troll our favorite over-priced magnet for the pretentious "authenticity tourists" currently pouring into the Airbnbs near you.   But I gotta say, this time we're not going about it in the best way.
Even for the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Louisiana food service inspections come cheap.

The state Health Department charges $25 -- in total -- to inspect the dozens of food and drink vendors during the seven-day event. To put that in perspective, there was enough food and drink prepared at the 2016 Jazz Fest to serve the 425,000 people who attended it  -- even with major acts on one Saturday afternoon canceling their performances.

State law sets the $25 maximum. But now Secretary Rebekah Gee wants to raise it.

Rep. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, has filed a bill to let the Health Department charge $37.50 -- per vendor -- at Jazz Fest and other events. Jazz Fest has about 80 food booths, so the agency's compensation could rise to about $3,000, under Harris' House Bill 520

Like I said, I'm no fan of doing special favors for Jazzfest. But this is bad. Safety inspections are a service provided by the Health Department which is a public agency operating for the public benefit. It's fine to charge a fee in order to cover some of the costs of providing this service. Such fees should be minimal, though.  And we shouldn't expect them to cover all of the cost. Usage fees like this run contrary to the notion that public agencies should operate for a collective purpose rather than on a pay-to-play basis.

Here is where you really get a sense things are going the wrong direction.
Gee, who works for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, said bumping up the price of health inspections would help her $12 billion agency operate more like a business -- as Republican legislators have repeatedly suggested.

Um, no. That's not cool at all.  Government agencies, particularly those government agencies charged with vital functions such as ensuring public health and food safety.. should not seek to "operate more like a business."  One gets the impression that Gee is just throwing lawmakers' own rhetoric back in their faces with this. But, then, that's how bad policy becomes standard.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

ACA repeal never died

They've always had all the time in the world to keep trying.  And they do have to keep trying. Sooner or later they're going to pass it even if they do that on accident. They're getting closer.
Two deep-pocketed conservative groups announced their support Wednesday for an amendment to the American Health Care Act, signaling a change that could sway conservative congressional votes.

Freedom Works and Club for Growth, who both opposed Republicans’ first effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, announced Wednesday that they would support the bill if it included an amendment penned by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) of the conservative Freedom Caucus and Rep. Tom MacArthur of the more moderate Tuesday Group.

Business as usual

Kind of interesting that the CAT died in Baton Rouge at about the same time that the BAT died in Washington.
As of late Tuesday, the plan did not include Mr. Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure program, two of the people said, and it jettisoned a House Republican proposal to impose a substantial tax on imports, known as a border adjustment tax, which would have raised billions of dollars to help offset the cost of the cuts.

I often wonder if our friends in the performative liberal #Resistance would be better served to emphasize the ways in which the Trump Presidency is actually pretty normal.  Which is to say it's everything you would expect from a normal Republican administration. Which, again, is to say it's a horror show.

In fact the pretense that it isn't a normal horror show actually normalizes the horror that much more.  When Democrats pretend that supply side "voodoo economics" hasn't been alive and well throughout their own reign of business tax credits, welfare-to-work incentives and "public-private partnerships" they only obscure the nature of the abuses they've enabled.  When they rally to the defense of still more Wall Street cronyism  they cause one to wonder just what it is they're even fighting Trump for in the first place. You even hear more than a few pining for the good ol' Bush years these days.

But there's very little the current Republican administration is actually delivering that distinguishes it at all from the previous one. Trump's travel ban has been struck down repeatedly by the courts. His border wall isn't going to be funded by Congress. The only thing he's really come through on as far as his right wing base is concerned is the Gorsuch appointment. (And even that is as much Mitch McConnell's win as it is Trump's.)

Where the rubber meets the road, though, this is really just Bush all over again. There is an aggressive, reckless foreign policy. There are federal regulatory agencies captured by Big Oil and international finance. And, of course, there are big tax breaks for rich people.
Republicans are likely to embrace the plan’s centerpiece, substantial tax reductions for businesses large and small, even as they push back against the jettisoning of their border adjustment tax. The 15 percent rate would apply both to corporations, which now pay 35 percent, and to a broad range of firms known as pass-through entities — including hedge funds, real estate concerns like Mr. Trump’s and large partnerships — that currently pay taxes at individual rates, which top off at 39.6 percent. That hews closely to the proposal Mr. Trump championed during his campaign.
And, yeah, that's pretty darn infuriating. You can tell because it's helping the DNC sell #ResistTM T-Shirts and stickers by the truckload.  But if they were actually interested in maybe making it stop, they might try being more honest about how deeply ingrained  and insidious the regime really is and has been.

Corexit bugs

Didn't BP's dispersant spray already demonstrate that this is probably a bad idea?
Whether releasing wax moths on the world’s surplus plastic really is a sensible approach to the problem is not yet clear. For one thing, it has yet to be established whether the caterpillars gain nutritional value from the plastics they eat, as well as being able to digest them. If they do not, their lives as garbage-disposal operatives are likely to be short—and, even if they do, they will undoubtedly need other nutrients to thrive and grow. Another question is the composition of their faeces. If the droppings produced by eating plastic turn out to be toxic, then there will be little point in pursuing the matter.
Either they're making the problem worse that way or the plastic eating moths will get out of control and become the formosan termites that destroy modern civilization.  Obviously we should hope for the latter scenario. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

And the number one reason Louisiana might actually abolish the death penalty is...

The Governor has no position on it.
For his part, Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is championing a slate of criminal justice reform bills this session, said he has is not wading into the death penalty debate.

Last week, in an interview with reporters, he said he would watch the debate unfold but was not going to take a position.
Nobody gets any cred for just voting No as a reflex. They might actually have to think about it. Which, you know, on the other hand, maybe that's not such a great idea. 

The curiosity that killed the CAT

Kind of a weird little coalition of opponents here.
The committee voted after people representing large oil companies, large chemical companies, a local pizza chain, Rouses Supermarket and pulp and paper manufacturers testified against House Bill 628. Two dozen others indicated their opposition without testifying.
Oh well. On to the next comic failure. Or over the edge, which is always a possibilty.
The committee’s vote will force Edwards and legislators to find another way to raise enough revenue – and propose enough cuts in government spending – to head off the looming fiscal cliff when $1.3 billion in temporary taxes will fall off next year.

Ok but what about Swamp Molly?

Billy Nungesser has some things to say in the interest of putting the record straight.
Regarding the Pontalba apartments, I, like my recent predecessors, have used the apartment for public uses associated with the mission of the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. This includes hosting legislators, visiting guests of the state, other state officials, and any museum-related purpose requested by the state museum board. Chester stayed rent free for several weeks while looking for a permanent residence. On my watch, I have ensured that the residential and commercial spaces were leased in accordance with state law. As an elected official, I am ultimately responsible to the public, and to ensure the apartment was being used for appropriate purposes, made some internal management changes regarding the apartment.

The most often cited and inaccurate accusation is that I was going to sell museum art and artifacts on eBay. Legally, I can’t and I wouldn’t. Any sale, transfer, or deaccession of art or artifacts in the museum collection must be approved by the board per its bylaws and in state law.
Okay but that is NOT what he told us last week when we called him. (about 10 or 15 minutes into the first segment)

Also Billy doesn't have anything to say in his column about the monuments solution we offered him.  He sounded pretty enthusiastic on the phone. 

Just give us our money

Score one for the #FixMyStreets trolls.
A state representative is proposing to redirect about $16 million a year in taxes from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to an independent board that would spend the money on fixing streets in New Orleans.

The proposal, by state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, would take the revenue from two existing taxes away from the center. The taxes, a 1 percent tax on hotel rooms and a quarter-cent sales tax on food and drinks sold citywide, were put in place by the Legislature in 2002 to fund an expansion of the Convention Center that has not taken place.

“I understand that tourism is one of the backbones of our economy, but our city can’t crumble around our tourism district,” said Hilferty, a Republican whose district includes Lakeview and parts of Metairie.
Yeah get 'em! We've been clamoring about this for years. This is revenue raised off the backs of restaurant, hotel, and casino workers, musicians, cab divers, everyone who makes the "tourism economy" go. That includes pretty much all of us who make this place our home. Even if you aren't a celebrity chef or a busker with heart of gold or whatever, you probably take in your share of parades or Saints games or you know that one way to cook that one thing your grandma made.  It takes a whole city to "bear a culture." We're all New Orleans. Some people are in the business of selling a version of our life to tourists. We deserve to share in the benefits of that.  Some stupid board of political insiders shouldn't get to decide....  oh wait a minute... 
The money would be overseen by a nine-member board including representatives from each City Council district, to be be appointed by the state lawmakers from those districts, plus representatives of the city’s Department of Public Works, the Sewerage & Water Board, the Regional Planning Commission and Louisiana Associated General Contractors.
Oh dear... always a catch. Have to say, though, if we're choosing between rackets, this might be the slightly better one. 

Welcome aboard to more broken guys

First Te'o and now this. It's like a dented can sale or something.
Adrian Peterson, arguably one of the best running backs since the turn of the century, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Saints, according to an ESPN report.
Uh uh. I think that's what they said about Earl Campbell when Bum picked him up off of a junk pile and brought him here too. You know that farm you tell your kids the family pet went to live on when he has to be put down? That's the Saints.

In other words don't be surprised if they still decide to draft a running back early should the right one be available.

Keep tweaking that CAT

We said at the beginning that the CAT looked like a way for the Governor to try and lure the Republicans into doing some horse trading instead of just saying "No" to everything. It hasn't been easy, of course, but maybe there's still some time.
Edwards has been willing to entertain amendments to his proposal, especially if it increases his chances of getting it voted out of the conservative House Ways and Means committee.

The amendments to the commercial activity tax -- contained in House Bill 563 -- include one that would make manufacturing corporations pay more than under the current proposal. Another alteration that would allow "pass through" entities -- such as limited liability companies and partnerships as well as some trusts and estates -- pay less. The governor's team backed the manufacturing change and has been willing to go along with the alteration for "pass through" entities to make the legislation more appealing.
Honestly, though, the rest of that doesn't read like there's much cause for optimism. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Constitutional Convention Gambit

Neil Abramson is the Chariman of the Louisiana House Ways and Means Committee. His charge there is to guide potential solutions to the state's ongoing budget impasse through the legislative process. For example, this week, Ways and Means is conducting hearings on the Commercial Activity Tax proposal.  The CAT is central to the governor's fiscal program this session.  But because its most recent form is unlikely to raise anything like the amount of revenue the governor has targeted, there will be plenty of work for the committee if it wants to tweak the thing into shape.

It's uncomfortable for Abramson, though, because this puts him squarely in the middle of a fight between the Republicans who gave him the chairmanship and a governor who is in the same party as he is. (It's a long story.)  Tax reform is a major priority for John Bel Edwards this year.  But with Republicans already eyeing the next election cycle, they're less inclined to be of any help to him with every passing session.

So it's a difficult job; the kind of job a smart politician always finds a way to avoid doing. Or at least, the smart ones find a way to avoid blame if a thing gets done wrong.   Neil, as it turns out, is a pretty smart politician. His preferred solution is to have the legislature punt the whole thing to a (theoretical) constitutional convention instead.
When asked which plan or approach he favors, Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, has been telling colleagues that he prefers his own plan, which includes just one bill—his House Bill 456 to call a limited constitutional convention.
We've just spent several months conducting hearings on credits and exemptions, waiting on recommendations from a fiscal reform task force, and figuring out just what a Commercial Activity Tax is and how it might work. (Or how it might not work, as the case may be.) Thanks, but no thanks, says Neil. Better to just blow the whole thing up and start over.  For someone who cultivates a moderate-conservative reputation, that's kind of a radical step.

To be fair, Abramson isn't alone here.  Clancy DuBos is also highly enthusiastic. In a recent op-ed Clancy suggests a convention may be the only solution to legislative "gridlock."
Given the gridlock between the Republican-controlled House and Gov. John Bel Edwards, the prospects for long-range, comprehensive fiscal reform are dim. Heck, it would take a minor miracle to get a small gasoline tax hike out of the House, even though a clear majority of Louisiana voters support that idea as a means of putting more money into the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

That’s one reason why state Rep. Neil Abramson’s bill to convene a limited-purpose constitutional convention deserves serious consideration. If lawmakers can’t even agree on the simple things, maybe a constitutional convention can address the big picture. Abramson doesn’t quite frame his argument that way, but that’s the reality.
But this doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense.  Clancy doesn't explain, for instance, what sort of gridlock busting magic the convention delegates might posses that the legislators lack. Abramson's bill would elect the delegates from the existing House districts.  Unless they are specifically barred from serving there, it's possible the House Reps themselves could end up being most of the delegates. And, of course, the same lobbying interests will exert as much influence at a convention as they would at any legislative session.  So whatever the venue, we're essentially left with the same set of people (or close to it) having the same arguments over the same issues. The only difference, really, is the convention delegates, serving only one term in office as it were, wouldn't be accountable to the voters in any meaningful way.  Even if that somehow does help lessen the "gridlock," is it really what we want?

For his part, Abramson isn't actually making this claim. He was nice enough to talk to us a bit about it on Twitter the other day. There, he emphasized the process by which a convention could rewrite fiscal parameters all at once rather than through the multi-step process of passing laws and amendments.

While Neil's argument has the advantage of being more grounded in reality, it still isn't much more convincing that Clancy's.  Each asks us to assume that we can bypass the political arguments around fiscal policy.  Unfortunately there are fights that need to be fought one way or another.  Changing the rules of the game can only do so much as long as the players and their motivations are the same.   Better to just haggle it all out in the most democratically accountable way that is practical. And I'm not convinced a constitutional convention is best in that regard.

Worst toppling party ever

Crescent City White League
White League commemoration panel of the "Liberty Place" Monument

Way to suck the fun out of everything, Mitch
Early Monday morning crews removed New Orleans' Liberty Place monument commemorating the failed rebellion of a white supremacist militia, the first of four statues slated to be taken from their public perches.

The unannounced removal marks the beginning of the end of a debate that has roiled the city in the nearly two years since Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for the removal of the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place and more prominent statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Of course we're glad to see this happening, finally. The process has taken almost two years. But also, I agree with Malcolm Suber here.
Malcolm Suber, one of the organizers of Take ‘Em Down NOLA, showed up mid-way through the removal. While he said he was glad the monument, one of about a hundred statues and street and place names the group has called to be removed as symbols of white supremacy, he has previously called for the statues to come down in daylight, with notice and a public celebration.

“The thing I’m amazed at is these people are wearing helmets, flack jackets and covering their faces,” Suber said of the workers removing the monument. “Why should that be necessary in a democratic society?”
Everyone, including and especially those of us who have advocated for taking the monuments down, should consider this an insult. Those who argue that all that matters is that they're coming down now are missing the point. These monuments are symbols. Their installation was a political act affirming white supremacy. Their removal should be an equally potent political act refuting it. We've just gone through an exhaustive democratic and legal process to make this happen. Mitch's action delegitimizes that.  By "sneaking around" as Adrastos puts it here,  the mayor "gives the appearance of wrongdoing when they’re doing the right thing."

Of course there have been threats and it's fine to be concerned about safety. But it's also important not to give power to phantoms and NOLA.com commenters by allowing such people to cower you like this. The terrorists are winning. Mitch Landrieu has allowed them to deny the monument removal the dignified civic air it deserves. He has allowed our valid political and legal process to end in what will be perceived as an underhanded authoritarian act.

As the T-P's Tim Morris also points out, it's an action that also raises questions about basic government transparency.  
There is plenty of evidence that concern for public safety is warranted. But how do we know if the high level of security and secrecy is appropriate? How much information should be kept from the public? Government secrecy is at odds with basic democratic principles. As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, "an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment."

Will the remaining monuments be taken down under cover of darkness? With snipers posted nearby? What are the snipers' orders? Is this level of military-like protection needed?

There are so many things we don't know.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said the removal will be privately financed, but will not disclose who is signing the check. Is one person covering the complete $600,000? Who decides what happens to the monuments? What will replace them?

We deserved better than this. We deserved a proper toppling party.  On the other hand, let's at least give props to the city for doing this on something called "Confederate Memorial Day."
Or it is that in some states, anyway. Louisiana actually observes this on June 3. That might be a good day to take down the final monument and give us our celebration then. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Future's so bright.
The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan. But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing.
It's interesting that the unraveling of the American economy has played out on about the same timeline and pace as the dangerous effects of climate change have become more readily manifest. Both events have played out such that we've raised two generations (Xers and Millenials) under a cloud of dread.

It's not apathy, though. There are plenty of smart, motivated, and mobilized people desperate to do something.   But when we're being honest, nobody expects matters improve regardless of what we do. That's what I worry about most; that what we think of as even the most intolerable of conditions are actually quite sustainable; that oppressive political systems can succeed for extended periods of time as long as the elite classes remain at consensus; and that we haven't even begun to test the limits of our endurance.

Man vs Nature vs Lunch

There is a breaking wildlife emergency at City Park.
New Orleans City Park Police worked by boat and from shore Saturday morning (April 22) to remove a husky, 5-foot alligator from a lagoon just outside the New Orleans Museum of Art.

City Park Policeman Greg Joerger said when the agency encounters alligators roaming the park or swimming in the lagoon, they try to relocate the reptiles because of how populated the area is, especially around the springtime.

Joerger said small children often congregate near the lagoon, and park patrons don't realize the small water body is sometimes home to alligators.

"People go there thinking it's just turtles and fish, and it's not," Joerger said. "That's lake water."
"Husky"? Good looking out there and not fat shaming the gator, y'all.  Stay woke.

It's the time of year when nature attacks from all angles. Must have something to do with Earth Day. There are huge black crows nesting on our street right now. They are extremely territorial and given to swoop down at perceived intruders. The caterpillar activity is reaching a critical mass. This morning two of them tried to knock me off my bike. And now the gators, who we should have known were up to something, frankly, are making their move.

Well the standard procedure in this monster movie scenario is we convene a panel of scientists who can figure out how to... oh wait... they're busy today.

Meanwhile, the situation continues to deteriorate.

God bless our first responders. They are bravely enduring quite a taunting at the moment.
"Right now he's showing off," Joerger on Saturday said of the elusive gator. "He's hungry."

Just before 12:30 p.m., Joerger said, City Park police abandoned a previous strategy involving a kayak and were working to get a bigger boat.

New Orleans 2017 in a nutshell

Exhibit 1:

Maybe the tweet embed is a bad format here. This is the part the mayor may not have read.
Douglas S. Noonan, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, has studied cultural districts and questions their effectiveness as urban policy. Such areas “usually don’t do much in terms of alleviating poverty or bringing in new jobs,” he says. “Their largest impact probably has been in terms of increasing property values.” That, in turn, leads to what some refer to as the SoHo effect: People of means like the big, open loft spaces that developers renovate—supported in Maryland by tax credits—which leads the artist population to be priced out.

The reality, says Dr. Noonan, is that “cities are competing for people who are drawn to cultural areas, who tend to be rich or upper middle class. It raises the question of why is government supporting this group of people.”
The answer, of course, is the neoliberals who direct urban policy are rich or upper middle class and therefore believe cities should work in ways that suit them. For the upper class careerists in government and politics, the work is primarily about promoting and enriching themselves and their friends. Whatever notions you may have about social justice or participatory democracy are seen, at best, as means to suit their ends and at worst, as annoyances to be put down.

Here, for example, is Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni (and we'll call this Exhibit 2) on Twitter congratulating "smart and capable people" like Suzie Terrell's daughter on their having found jobs in the Trump administration
Julie Radford — who like her boss is a mother of three young children — was chosen to work for the first daughter after being recruited in February by Powell.

A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Radford, 34, first connected with Powell as a consultant to Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which was overseen by Powell in her previous job. Based in New Orleans, Radford oversaw Goldman Sachs’ entrepreneur-boosting programs in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

As a supplement to that background, please enjoy this 2013 video from Aspen where Mitch Landrieu and Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein chummily talk up the 'treps. At the end of the day, everybody here is on the same page. Solutions and good governance come from the bankers and capitalists. The politics stuff is just a bunch of noise.

Democratic Party professionals are doing pretty well raising money off of their #Resistance brand. So it serves well to kayfabe for the cameras as principled anti-Trumpers whenever the opportunity arises. But, really, these elite careerists all have more in common with each other than they do with anything most of us experience in our daily struggles.  We're getting ready to kick off a new round of municipal elections in Orleans Parish.  Seems as good an opportunity as any to start thinking about ways to change that.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Who are we? Why are we here?

The Democratic Party has no idea what it is for.
Shattered is sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton campaign who were and are deeply loyal to Clinton. Yet those sources tell of a campaign that spent nearly two years paralyzed by simple existential questions: Why are we running? What do we stand for?

If you're wondering what might be the point of rehashing this now, the responsibility for opposing Donald Trump going forward still rests with the (mostly anonymous) voices described in this book.
The problem here is that most of the people in charge of the Democratic Party figure the thing runs just fine the way it is. It doesn't really matter how many elections they lose as long as they are supporting the right, corporate friendly candidates to keep the donor money rolling in, everything is fine.  This is a machine that can run forever. If the elites running the show raise enough money to keep themselves ensconced in their roles, nothing has to change. 
Washington politicians tend to view everything through an insider lens.

Most don't see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of "whip-smart" organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.

It's fine with them that the party doesn't really stand for anything. That's actually kind of bad for the brand, frankly. 

Also, the Clintons are so nice. Can't imagine why people get such a negative impression...
This traced back to 2008, a failed run that the Clintons had concluded was due to the disloyalty and treachery of staff and other Democrats. After that race, Hillary had aides create "loyalty scores" (from one for most loyal, to seven for most treacherous) for members of Congress. Bill Clinton since 2008 had "campaigned against some of the sevens" to "help knock them out of office," apparently to purify the Dem ranks heading into 2016.
These people are still running things. And they have clearly learned nothing. 2018 should be lots of fun.

Protections and responsiblilites

What would Jesus drive?

I don't see anything in here that offers any "new protections" to bicyclists or motorists.
Bicyclists in New Orleans will get new protections — and some additional responsibilities — under a package of ordinances passed unanimously Thursday by the City Council.

The new rules, recommended by the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, explicitly prohibit motorists from driving in designated bike lanes or harassing cyclists, clarify that pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks and require that bikes must be equipped with lights or reflectors plus bells or other devices that can provide an audible signal to those nearby in emergency situations
In effect, all this really does is provide a new pretext for police to randomly stop people just for being outside. It's stop and frisk on wheels. So, you know, stay in your lane because they are serious about that stuff these days.

Another problem with bicycle policymaking in general is that it always combines the worst possible panders to the motorists who hate bicyclists with the worst possible panders to the bicyclists who love bicycling a little too much. Bikes and cars are different in the same way that cars and pedestrians are different. Cars are big and dangerous and the rules and infrastructure should protect everyone else from them. This is different from simply demanding that all vehicles on the road should have to follow exactly the same traffic laws.  That doesn't make any sense no matter how cranky and loud drivers tend to be about it.

Meanwhile here's every cycling activist asking to be saddled with "additional responsibilities."

Stop doing that. Nobody cares. There are many great and good reasons to get around the city by bicycle when you can. But these are the top two.

1) It is convenient to be able to tie up anywhere instead of worrying about where and how expensive the parking might be.  But a look around town will show you the universe of arbitrary rules is offering less and less protection there.

Do not lock to post

No Parking Bikes

Securing of bikes

No bike parking

Obnoxious signage at Muriel's

2) It is the best way to avoid getting snagged in one of these.
NEW ORLEANS -- Police will be looking for drivers under the influence Thursday night.

The New Orleans Police Department is conducting a sobriety checkpoint at an undisclosed location from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(FYI: The "undisclosed location" was Louisiana and Tchoup last night, if the reports are to be believed.) Now that police have got a reason to watch for non-compliant bicycles just like they go after expired brake tags, I guess this advantage is going away too.  Maybe the best answer is just for everyone to never leave the house. 

Also, what kind of protection does a "bell or other device" offer that just saying "excuse me" with one's own voice can't?  Let's leave the horns on the trains where they belong


You can still go 12-4 after starting 0-4, right?  Happens all the time. Although,  if they do start 0-4... and the schedule strongly suggests that is possible... it might get the coach fired during that Week 5 bye. Yay, 4 months til football season.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hard headed attorneys

Believe it or not the legislature has a better than even chance to accomplish something significant this session. A package of modest criminal justice reforms could, according to the task force recommending them, reduce the state's prison population by 13 percent and save about $300 million in the process. Louisiana is frequently cited by human rights organizations for its first in the nation incarceration rate.

Unlike the governor's surely doomed tax reforms, much of this stuff can probably pass. Some of it, in fact, probably has to. Here, for example, is the context behind Dan Claitor's bill to curb life sentences without parole for juveniles which just made it out of committee this week.
The legislation is largely motivated because the state is in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

One court ruling, Miller v. Alabama found that life without the possibility of parole for juveniles was considered cruel and unusual punishment and could only be used for the rare, incorrigible cases of juvenile convictions. A subsequent decision Montgomery v. Louisiana found that the prohibition on life sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively. 
Another reason for optimism, the broad support for reform from conservative groups and individuals who, in the past, one would assume to hold a lock-em-all-up position. Here they all are at a recent breakfast hosted by the Kochs' organization.  The Advocate report on that event also links to a part of the recent Reilly survey of Louisiana residents itself titled. "Large Majority Favors Criminal Justice Reform."  So there's significant momentum.   The only remaining obstacle... the Louisiana District Attorneys.  We mentioned this the other day, but don't take it from us. The Kochs' people are also bewildered.

Law enforcement generally start off opposing such efforts in other states, said Mark Holden, the general counsel for Koch Industries Inc. and the featured speaker at the event. But he expressed surprise that Louisiana’s district attorneys are uniformly opposed to the revamp.

“Deep red states like Texas and South Carolina and Georgia passed it and found that it works for them,” Holden said in an interview. “You’d think that they would find comfort in the experiences in those states.”

The two brothers that head Koch Industries contribute liberally to conservative causes and have pushed criminal justice reform as a way to lower crime as well as save money for cash-strapped state governments.
When you find yourself positioned to the right of a majority of Louisiana voters, the Kochs as well as David Vitter and Tony Perkins who were also in the room that morning, maybe it's time to rethink things.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The world that made Juicero

It is our world. The one we are living in. And it is the worst.
When we signed up to pump money into this juice company, it was because we thought drinking the juice would be a lot harder and more expensive. That was the selling point, because Silicon Valley is a stupid libertarian dystopia where investor-class vampires are the consumers and a regular person’s money is what they go shopping for. Easily opened bags of juice do not give these awful nightmare trash parasites a good bargain on the disposable income of credulous wellness-fad suckers; therefore easily opened bags of juice are a worse investment than bags of juice that are harder to open.
Everyone is laughing at the juice bag juicer. But the premise, that idiots will pay a premium for anything if you sell it to them in the right context, is one of our most cherished core values. Here, for example, is what was on sale in the "South Market District" (itself a crass marketing invention) just last Friday.

& smiles

They actually don't care if we go off the "cliff"

The big flaw in the budgetary game of chicken we've been playing all year is this.
The question of what to do with tax exemptions will be central during the 60-day regular session — which began its second week Monday — with lawmakers needing to figure out how to solve next year's fiscal cliff caused by the expiration of a temporary one-cent increase in the state sales tax as well as a host of temporary tax breaks.

No one — not even anti-spending conservatives — has put forth a credible plan to end the fiscal cliff through spending cuts alone in the $9.5 billion part of the budget financed by state taxes, royalties and fees.

Edwards has proposed making up $800 to $900 million of the fiscal cliff by having the state impose a corporate tax on sales, a plan that business lobbyists oppose and that has found little favor among legislators.
"Anti-spending conservative" lawmakers don't actually care what gets cut and how badly as long as they don't have to do the cutting themselves.  They're just there to protect the exemptions and privileges that benefit their narrow constituencies.  If they leave a big hole in the budget, the governor has to fix it. If they refuse to find him any revenue, he has to cut everything.  There's really no way for them to lose this game. 

Update: John Bel is giving the commencement address at LSU next month. I guess by that point he can talk about why the fiscal cliff is making him close the university and sell the land to Exxon or somebody. Will be some good "optics" there, for sure.

Butler Watch: Begin The Buttling

Soon, all of our problems will be solved and all of our questions answered.
The New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, if they so choose, can officially discuss trade terms for cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Butler signed his restricted free agent tender from the Patriots Tuesday, according to the NFL transaction wire.
My favorite thing about Butler that we've learned so far is that, in the great tradition of high profile corners the Saints have acquired over the years, he's actually not very good.  
The biggest knock on Butler is that he isn't an ideal 1-on-1 matchup against some of the bigger receivers that dominate the NFC South -- such as Julio Jones and Mike Evans -- at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. That's one of the reasons why New England decided to spend $13 million per year on bigger free agent Stephon Gilmore this offseason -- which opened the door for Butler to possibly be traded.
For those of you who were afraid you might only get to see the Saints fleeced by the Patriots one time this offseason, here is your big break. Please be ready with your number 11 pick when you get to the front of the line.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The STR based economy


Did you know the real estate market of the French Quarter was entirely dependent upon short term rentals? Bob Ellis seems to think so
Ellis said he's never seen so many for-sale and for-lease signs when he walks through his neighborhood, and some landlords and owners are worried. "There are a ton of people that have vacation rentals here," Ellis said. "That's how they offset the cost of owning a home here. It's going to be extraordinarily hard on people, and I think that's why you see so many listings right now."
Now look who's worried about STR regs and their effect on real estate prices.  Isn't that something. It's only a tragedy when rich people make slightly less money, of course.  Nobody cares if your rent is too damn high.

As funny as that is, though, I'd like to call attention to this little bit that may not be mentioned often enough. 
There is one exception to the French Quarter ban -- the Vieux Carre Entertainment District in the liveliest section of Bourbon Street, a seven-block stretch where city officials hope property owners will develop the vacant upper floors of their buildings into homes.
LOL "homes." Sure. Anyway, remember this as we continue reading and talking about how the city's plans for Bourbon Street.  A city street converted into a quieter, more restricted entertainment courtyard (perhaps where the bars even close) might make those "homes" more appealing to the luxury tourists who live in them.

Speaking of which, I still haven't figured out how these.. I guess.. barricades(?) are supposed to work, exactly. I only noticed them during French Quarter Fest.  I kind of want to race them downhill somewhere.

Yellow wheelie bollards

Spoiler alert

This is just a typo. And if I had to bet, the mistake is a Business Report editor's and not Alford's. (Update: It was Alford's typo and he's corrected it. We're still going with this joke, though) Unless it's, like, a Freudian typo, or maybe Alford knows something we don't know about Neil.
But the bigger concern for the administration is not members of the House Democratic Caucus. The real worries reside on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which could inflict more damage on Edwards this year than any other legislative group or faction.

When asked which plan or approach he favors, Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson, R-New Orleans, has been telling colleagues that he prefers his own plan, which includes just one bill—his House Bill 456 to call a limited constitutional convention. Coupled with the new conservative votes added to the committee recently, via the appointments of Reps. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, and Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, the Ways and Means Committee looks like a one-stop shop of horrors for the Fourth Floor.
As far as we know Neil hasn't switched parties just yet, although nearly everyone expects it's something he's considering if he wants to run for State Senate in the next election. In the meantime, he's taking his current job as seriously as we might expect. As Chair of Ways and Means, Abramson is responsible for managing the session's most vital task.  His committee's actions will determine the shape and scope of reforms to the tax code the governor has asked for. But, as Alford discusses in this column, the governor's agenda is rapidly losing momentum. Neil's solution is to take no position on any of it and punt everything to a "limited constitutional convention," whatever that is.

It's possible the situation could change now that the details of Edwards's  CAT tax proposal are out of the bag (sorry). This could become an opportunity to start making a more compelling argument. John Bel says, and the Louisiana Budget Project has backed him up on this, that the overall effect of his plans should amount to a tax cut for 95 percent of Louisiana families. This is premised, however, on the assumption that multiple moving parts come together more or less according to what he has asked for. For example, the LBP report singles out a proposal to lower income tax rates while eliminating the federal deduction without which, the entire scheme falls apart. And look how hard that is to accomplish.
This part of the proposal is critical for making Louisiana’s overall tax structure more equitable. Without eliminating the deduction for federal income taxes paid - which if passed by the Legislature would also require a vote of the people - the overall tax package would not improve Louisiana’s regressive tax system.

So it's not surprising that both friends and enemies are skeptical. But it's not even the ostensible Democrats like Abramson who are at the root of the problem. They're really just following the lead of the House Republicans. And, as Stephanie Grace writes this morning, those Republicans seem pretty well set on leading everybody over a "cliff."
The thinking behind the Legislature's decision a year ago to bail out the current budget with a stopgap emergency plan was that it would be forced to come up with a more stable framework this year. That was the idea behind the temporary increase in state sales tax, which took effect immediately but will drop off the books next year, creating what's become known as a $1.3 billion "fiscal cliff."

Right about now is when they were supposed to be staring it down.

This is the last fiscal session before the tax expires, which means it's the last time lawmakers will be able to raise taxes in a regularly-scheduled session as opposed to a special session. And the next fiscal session two years from now will hit just as everyone's running for re-election, which makes raising taxes on some — even if the proposal includes reducing them on others — especially daunting.

Rather than coming together and tackling the challenge once and for all, though, the opposite could happen.

Politically, the Republicans have no incentive to do anything but keep saying no. If the legislature fails to act and the "fiscal cliff" causes more budget cuts, they and the voters will just blame the governor. Poor John Bel's only real tool he has left is to keep threatening to make everyone stay after school. But, after a while, even that loses its stroke. The cumulative effect of one failed special session after another every year is the appearance of ineffectual leadership.

Still, it does look at this point like that's next on the governor's itinerary.  What choice does he have? Who knows what the future may hold for Neil, though... regardless of whatever spoilers and hints Alford may be laying for us.

Where is my invite?

I kind of feel like I should get at least a bit of nod having pushed the toppling parties for well over a year now.  Maybe I can bring a casserole or something. Anyway, yes, let's do this.
As the City of New Orleans decides whether to award an over-budget contract to remove four Confederate monuments, Take 'Em Down NOLA is moving ahead to envision a public party for the monuments' removal.

It should be "one of the greatest celebrations this city has ever seen," the group's co-founder Michael "Quess" Moore said at a press conference Monday (April 17).

Fears of violence have shadowed the city's planned relocation of the statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at the City Park entrance and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Mid-City, and the Battle of Liberty Place monument near the foot of Iberville Street.

But surely, Moore said, a city that can throw second-lines for celebrities could and should publicly mark an advance in "the greater struggle for racial and socio-economic healing."
They had a second line for the opening of a goddamned COSTCO. You'd think they could pull together something for this. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Public space, private space

Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner had a novel solution last week for constituents upset over his vote to allow Internet Service Providers to scan, record, and sell information about all of their online activities.
In the video, first made public by the liberal super PAC American Bridge, Sensenbrenner responds to a woman asking about Congress’s decision to roll back Obama-era internet privacy laws.

“Well, you know, nobody has got to use the internet,” Sensenbrenner told the woman.
It's hard to imagine anyone would find this credible in 2017.  Of course people have got to use the internet. At least anyone who wants to live anything resembling what we would consider a normal modern life has to use it. We use the internet to do our work. We use it to apply for work. Even the most menial jobs hire via online application. We use it to apply for loans. We use it to apply for benefits. We use it to apply to school. We use it to do our taxes. We use it to talk to our friends, family, and neighbors. We use it to read the news.  We use it to watch TV. The internet is in our TVs It's in our phones. It's in our cars, our speakers, our air conditioners and microwaves (sort of, maybe).

Look, this is stupid. It's a self-evident fact that the internet is a necessity, not a luxury for anyone expecting to engage in even the most modest of lifestyles. Unless you are a retired Jedi living off the grid in a cave, you're gonna have to use it for stuff.

The implication thrown around by people like Sensenbrenner or by Jason Chaffetz who wants you to choose between your iPhone and health insurance, is that not everyone deserves even the most modest of modern lifestyles and that it's fine if our public policy actively excludes people from that.
Sensenbrenner's iteration is a direct denial of the notion that the internet should be regulated as a public utility. Republicans especially, are heavy into denying that even public utilities should be regulated as public utilities these day. The disastrous results there should be a clear enough warning against further privatizing the public commons on the internet.

Under the regulatory regime signed into law this month, ISPs, the police, advertisers, and anybody who can pay for it, get to know everything about what you do on the internet... which is to say, they can know pretty much everything you are up to ever. Even day to day activity as passive as reading and searching, is fodder for commercial exploitation or state inquiry. Meanwhile, it isn't quite the same the other way around.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The White House announced Friday that it would cut off public access to visitor logs revealing who is entering the White House complex and which officials they are meeting, breaking with the Obama administration’s practice and returning a cloak of secrecy over the basic day-to-day workings of the government.
So even as the private lives of individuals are exposed to a wider scope of surveillance and commercial exploitation, the public records of the public's business conducted in the public's spaces becomes even more opaque. This is what happens when we abandon the idea of public goods and services. Everything that can be appropriated by the rich and powerful will be.

I thought about all of this again when I saw this weekend that the AZ story about Tom Benson's theft of La Salle Street had been picked up by WWLTV. Remarkably, a security guard tried to run the TV station's photographers out of the space as they tried to shoot some footage there.
Meanwhile, public access to the street has been blocked at times, usually for private or special events run by the LSED’s property management contractor, SMG. That has added to confusion about whether the 1400 block of LaSalle remains a city street. When WWL-TV set up a camera this week on what used to be the LaSalle Street roadway, a security guard from the Zelia-owned Benson Tower office building told the photographer he couldn’t shoot video there.

“Actually, all this is private property. It’s not a street,” the guard said, his voice captured on video.
Even if any of the pretense were true, if the street was clearly Benson's private property, that's some high level arrogance. The open air environs of perhaps the city's most iconic building are gonna draw photographers. Here are runners lining up for Saturday's Crescent City Classic just aiming their little camera phones any old direction. Hopefully they didn't accidentally land on anything classified.

Line up

By the way, I finished in 48:31. That's my best time in over a decade. Maybe not entirely relevant information, but it was bound to come out sooner or later given the realities of today's internet. Race organizers fit each runner's number with an RFID tag and post the results on their website even thought Jim Sensenbrenner keeps telling them they don't have to.

Just give us our money

This month's Antigravity features a look at how little of the bounty produced by the city's "economic engine" actually gets allocated to benefit the city’s residents. As others have been pointing out for years, most of the tax revenue generated through the the hotel/motel tax only goes right back into tourism related infrastructure and marketing. And, of course,  the industry itself is more accurately described as an inequality where a small circle of politically powerful owners and speculators squeeze profits out of low wage, non union workers.

Oddly, the AG article skims these issues and focuses too much on lauding  the conservative "reform" non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research and its crusade against any and all dedicated tax allocations. BGR's proposal to just blow everything up and start all over is problematic from a policy standpoint It's a sloppy, almost Trump-like move to flip the table and declare a big do over. Also, from a political standpoint, many of these dedicated millages are the on the books through direct ballot referendum. To simply invalidate all of them at once would be as undemocratic as it is unwise.

There are better ways to identify and address specific ills in the tax structure.  In this case, our objective should be to pry our public money out of the hands of the oligarchs who run the tourism racket. Let's focus on that for now.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Getting close to the end of an era

Stuart Fisher is almost out of options.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Thursday declined to take up a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans over the former World Trade Center building, a legal challenge that has held up redevelopment plans for more than a year.

A company called Two Canal Street Investors Inc., one of the losing bidders for the redevelopment project, argues that the city's process for selecting a contractor ran afoul of state law.

He's still got one more trick shot to try in bankruptcy court but...  well, it was a helluva run, wasn't it?

Leon's hard line

Leon Cannizzaro just wants to protect you from the "flock" of dangerous weed smokers. But unfortunately a "stupid" law won't let him do that.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro called a city ordinance that lowered penalties for pot possession “stupid” during a talk at a meeting of the Rotary Club of New Orleans on Wednesday.

Speaking in response to a Rotarian’s question, Cannizzaro suggested that both marijuana users and dealers will flock to the city in response to the ordinance, which made first-offense marijuana possession punishable by a $40 fine.

“Stupid legislation, that’s all I can say about that. If you wanted to change the law, go to Baton Rouge and make it uniform throughout the state of Louisiana. Don’t have a special provision which decriminalizes or lessens the penalty for marijuana, a crime, in the city of New Orleans,” Cannizzaro said.
He does know that some of our legislators have been trying to push statewide decriminalization for years now and making only headway, right?  He has to know that. He should know since the Louisiana District Attorneys Association played a role in undermining the last serious attempt in 2015.  The DAs are loathe to give up any coercive tool they can use to beat pleas and testimony out of people as Cannizzaro himself demonstrated just this week.
New Orleans victims advocates are against the use of material witness warrants to force victims of domestic abuse and sex crimes to testify in court.

However, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says in some rare cases, it's necessary to put a victim or witness in jail to get a dangerous criminal or sex offender off the streets.

"If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to...keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I'm going to do that," Cannizzaro said.

Tuesday, the judicial watchdog group "Courtwatch NOLA" released a report, taking issue with the use of material witness warrants.

"What kind of picture this paints for folks coming victims that are scared and want to come forward, to call police and talk to law enforcement if they know they are going to be incarcerated," Courtwatch NOLA Executive Director Simone Levine said. "We think this is a real disincentive."
This year the DAs are standing in the way of more substantial criminal justice reform for similarly bullheaded reasons.
Louisiana sends more nonviolent people to prison, per-capita, than any of its neighbor states. And this difference is not driven by crime. Louisiana has a similar crime rate to South Carolina and Florida, for example, but sends nonviolent offenders to prison at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida.

When they hear this fact, the district attorneys balk. They say that many of those people have pled down from violent charges; they say that others have committed additional crimes in the past and therefore should be considered dangerous. They make these excuses and claims without data in an attempt to distract from the task force's comprehensive and data-driven assessment of our state's criminal justice system.
Leon and pals want to be able to arrest you for holding weed, throw you in jail if you are afraid to testify, and  keep  you in jail for a long time for the crimes you might have committed other than those you have actually been convicted of.  All of this flies in the face of public sentiment, by the way, which appears to be lining up in favor of reform.
Large majorities favor three criminal justice reform proposals included in the 2017 Louisiana Survey: Shorter sentences for people convicted of non-violent crimes (75 percent); more alternatives to prison – such as drug treatment or rehabilitation programs – for people convicted of non-violent offenses (86 percent); and abandoning mandatory minimum sentences in favor of more flexibility for judges to determine sentences (72 percent).
Maybe the sentiment of the "large majorities" will prevail in the legislature despite the hard line taken by Cannizzaro and the DAs. But you never know with those guys. They are pretty famous for passing "stupid legislation" in their own right.