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.

Mike Pence's Mission Accomplished

After the 2005 flooding of New Orleans, Pence's Republican Study Committee recommended  we privatize the school system. We did that. It also recommended several other things we decided to try such as .
Eliminate any regulatory barriers and other disincentives that block faith-based and other charitable organizations from engaging in the recovery and reconstruction process
Twelve years later, we see how these policy pursuits compound
Fresh Food Factor is run by the local chapter of Volunteers of America, a multimillion-dollar Christian ministry that runs halfway houses, shelters, food banks, drug treatment programs and housing projects nationwide, often with government funding. For right-wing champions of charter schools, such as Betsy DeVos, President Trump's controversial education secretary, Fresh Food Factor would be a shining example for the rest of the country: a religious group serving healthy meals at charter schools that chose to partner with a civic-minded contractor. Democrats would be happy to know that the food service helps schools comply with nutrition standards established by Michelle Obama -- standards that the Trump administration recently scaled back.

Despite its parent organization's name, most Fresh Food Factor workers are not volunteers like me. Employees who cook in the warehouse kitchen or serve students in schools receive wages that start at $9 per hour. Some work full-time, but the food service relies on part-time workers and a smattering of volunteers to fill the gaps. Besides managers and truck drivers, most employees are women of color, the workers commonly called "lunch ladies" who are inseparable from mealtime in public schools. As we wrap dozens of veggie eggrolls in sheets of shiny foil, one part-time kitchen employee tells me that she is not scheduled for enough hours to make ends meet and is looking for additional work, a common story in a local economy built on tourism and low-wage service industry jobs
There's a ripple effect at work. First break up the schools and in doing so break the teachers and their union. In the process you've also broken the support staff and their union as well.  You guys know this story by now, right? The ripples go out into the community at large.
The mass teacher dismissal in New Orleans was reflective of a trend that reached far beyond the classroom. Thousands of jobs that supported Black middle-class people vanished at a time when residents were recovering from an unprecedented natural disaster. Some displaced families have still not returned. In the years since, property values in New Orleans have skyrocketed and working-class neighborhoods have become hipster hotspots, putting increasing pressure on lower-income renters in a gentrifying city.
The few stable middle class jobs that remained in the city were gutted and wages and benefits were depressed by the very same forces that caused the cost of living to blow up and out of reach for those left struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, who benefits?
Volunteers of America has long been in the "affordable housing" business, using federal housing grants to construct residential buildings for lower-income, disabled and elderly people. The group's neighborhood development subsidiary in New Orleans, which was created specifically to replace housing post-Katrina, is a nonprofit that has its own for-profit subsidiary for building residences to rent out. Robert Silverman, a professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo who focuses on the nonprofit sector, said for-profit spinoffs of nonprofit housing initiatives are becoming more common, but profit incentives also raise concerns about "mission drift."

Volunteers of America is considered a church, so it does not have to file federal tax returns, and it remains unclear how top administrators and property developers are paid for their work.

"It's kind of a new trend that has been bubbling up over the past six or seven years, where a nonprofit will have a for-profit subsidiary connected to it," Silverman told Truthout. "Different rules and tax laws apply to each, but they use it as another way to generate revenue [for the parent organization]."
Donald Trump landed in Corpus Christi today to say stupid things on TV.  But Mike Pence is expected to head up development of the administration's recovery policy. We'll take Trump's advice and wait until later to hand out the congratulations on that.  

You're gonna like the Heckuva Job

It's gonna be the best, biggest, most beautiful Heckuva Job. You're gonna love it. Believe me. But later.
President Donald Trump said Harvey's destruction and flooding was a disaster "of epic proportions" as he visited Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday (Aug. 29).

"This was of epic proportions. No one has ever seen anything like this," the president said as he received a briefing from Texas state and local officials.

Trump also said his administration wants to handle the recovery "better than ever before."

"We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as this is the way to do it," Trump said speaking to reporters. Addressing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Trump said now is not the time to say congratulations.

"We won't say congratulations. We don't wanna do that," the president said, "we'll congratulate each other when it's all finished."
We  want to say Heckuva Job. We can't wait to say Heckuva Job. But we'll wait until it will be less infuriating. 

Always check first

I read this story and thought, well now everybody is going to get a Whataburger a tattoo.  But something told me that might already be a thing.

The beginning of the effort

The Vice President had a few things to say on Monday.
Vice President Mike Pence is stressing that the federal government will support Harvey recovery efforts going forward.

In an interview with Houston radio station KTRH Monday morning, Pence said the federal government will make the resources available to see Texas through rescue operations and recovery.

Pence noted that given the “magnitude of the flooding” that “it will be years coming back.”

The vice president stressed that President Donald Trump has been “continuously engaged” on Harvey, noting that it is still the “beginning of the effort.” He said details of Trump’s visit to Texas will be “forthcoming.”
We can't wait to see what that effort looks like once it really gets rolling.  The good news for Pence is, he's probably already got a template to work with.  He helped put it together after Katrina.
At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On 13 September 2005 – just 15 days after the levees were breached, and with parts of New Orleans still under water – the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” – 32 pseudo-relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.
Pence's group recommended the suspension of labor laws and environmental standards, a school voucher scheme, as well as a number of tax breaks and "incentives" benefiting the wealthy contractors and developers who turned a city's misery into profit. You know, standard disaster response type stuff. Some of the worst elements of what we still insist on calling the "recovery" of New Orleans after the flood can be traced back to the opportunism expressed in Pence's response plan. The smaller, whiter, tenuous, unsafe, unhealthy, and somehow unaffordable city we've built in the past 12 years owes much to that "pro-market" neoliberal blueprint.

Today, on the anniversary of the day that set us in motion toward this fate, we look out our windows (we aren't allowed outside) to see conditions reminiscent of, though thankfully not identical to, those of this day in 2005. We look just one state over, though, and find drama and devastation on a scale much more comparable to that in our memory. We also find Mike Pence telling us this is the "beginning of the effort" for recovery there as well.  That is already beginning to look familiar.

As surely as flooding disasters like Hurrricane Harvey are followed by health concerns and homelessness, they’re followed by calls to legalize price-gouging.

And sure enough, the waters were still rising all across the Houston area when the first such calls were heard. They came from conservative economists Tim Worstall of Britain’s Adam Smith Institute, writing in Forbes, and Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, whose piece appeared on the AEI website and at Newsweek. Both demonstrated the chief flaw of such analyses: They were based on irreproachable textbook economics, and showed no sensitivity whatsoever to how things work on the ground during a major catastrophe.
And this is just the beginning.  No doubt Vice President (for now?) Pence has plenty more in store for the next 12 years or so.


Monday, August 28, 2017

HUD, which still exists for now, says it will help

Ordinarily this would be a rote declaration from the HUD secretary in this situation, but nowadays you really can't count on anything so it's worth noting.
12:25 p.m.: HUD confirms it will help with Harvey aid

Homeowners and low-income renters forced from homes by the pounding storms or flooding will have assistance available via the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Today, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are beginning the process of recovering from Hurricane Harvey," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in a release. "As FEMA begins to assess the damage and respond to the immediate needs of residents, HUD will be there to offer assistance and support the longer-term housing recovery efforts."
HUD is where the CDBG money is... for now

The most high profile post-K HUD project, Road Home, ended up costing about $13 billion and dispersed grants to 130,000 homeowners. It did this at a maddeningly slow pace and via an absurd and torturous process mostly to satisfy and idiotic political prejudice against helping people who might not "deserve" help.  I'm sure Ben Carson will get all that straightened out, though.

Some numbers

I'm just trying to get an idea of the scope of this thing. These are early guesses and the storm isn't even over yet so this will change. It will likely change for the worse.

WaPo reports officials estimate some 30,000 people will end up in shelters as a result of the flood. This morning, USA Today reported a count of 5,500 so far.

Early this morning, FEMA director Brock Long said they're expecting 450,000 to register for federal assistance.  That's probably a low guess.  But for comparison sake, it's already roughly half of the 916,000 individual assistance requests resulting from Katrina and Rita combined.

Then there are the costs of rebuilding which will almost certainly become the subject of some sort of political standoff as congress goes to war with itself and the Trump administration over a number of budgetary issues next month.
The federal Disaster Relief Fund administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a balance of $3.8 billion at the end of July, of which $1.6 billion is already obligated, according to the most recent federal report. Trump declared Harvey a major disaster Friday, making Texas victims eligible for relief from that fund. But with damage estimates already rising into the tens of billions of dollars, the fund’s balance is almost certainly inadequate.

“All of our plans on disaster recovery are premised with the federal government coming in with a big chunk of short-term FEMA money and then a big chunk of long-term bailout money,” said Edward Richards, director of the Louisiana State University Climate Change Law and Policy Project. “With the budget coming up and the debt ceiling coming up, you could easily see this getting absolutely lost in the mix.”

One senior Democratic aide suggested that Harvey could help GOP leaders avert a government shutdown at the end of September, even though Trump threatened the shutdown as recently as last week. Adding hurricane relief to a spending bill that is otherwise unpopular among Republicans, the aide said, could help win GOP votes.

The White House had proposed an 11 percent cut to FEMA’s budget as a way to free up more money for the military. But GOP leaders had signaled they would ignore that request — at least for the next few months — and keep FEMA funding basically flat. They could come under pressure to boost FEMA’s budget, however, particularly because the Atlantic hurricane season is only about half over, and there could be more dangerous storms.

A related issue is the status of the National Flood Insurance Program. Its federal authorization expires Sept. 30, and it is more than $24 billion in debt. The program has a statutory borrowing limit of about $30 billion, and numerous new claims — which congressional aides say are likely post-Harvey — probably will require congressional action to ensure there is enough funding.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Why didn't they evacuate?

As always, there are many many reasons not to evacuate.  It's never a clear cut decision for an individual. Where will you go? How will you get there? Can you afford to go? Are you healthy enough to go? Can you afford to stay there? How sure are you of being able or allowed to come back? Also, what if evacuating literally kills you?
Houston area officials who urged people to stay home before the storm may have been remembering that the city government was strongly criticized after the disastrous evacuation before Hurricane Rita in 2005.

In the hours before Rita struck the Houston area in September 2005, government officials issued an evacuation order, and some 2.5 million people hit the road at the same time, according to the Houston Chronicle.

More than 100 people died in the mass exit from the city — almost as many as were killed by the hurricane itself.

Dozens were injured or died of heat stroke waiting in traffic for nearly a full day. Fights broke out on clogged highways. A charter bus carrying people from a nursing home exploded on the side of Interstate 45, killing 24 people inside
Therefore evacuation shouldn't be a clear cut decision for public officials to make. There's no such thing as a "mandatory evacuation." Or, at least, we shouldn't be thinking in those terms.  Give people the best information and advice. And, by all means, do whatever  is possible to help them go if that's the best thing.  But it's not possible or helpful to make them go.  It's also not helpful to blame them if they choose not to.

A big bathtub

$40 billion or thereabouts. At least, that was the estimate before the actual impact was known. Right now Houston is flooding. So that can't be good.

As we know all too well in New Orleans, when there's a lot of flood damage and insufficient flood insurance, the difference is mostly made up through HUD's Community Development Block Grants program. Louisiana's infamously administrated Road Home program was funded by CDBG, for example.

Presently, HUD is guided by the gifted hands of Ben Carson and, I guess, his wife.
At the Metropolitan Club, George W. Bush’s second secretary, Alphonso Jackson, warned Carson against cutting further into HUD’s manpower. (Many regional offices have shuttered in recent years.) Carla Hills, who ran the department under President Ford, put in a plug for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, noting that Ford had created it in 1974 precisely in order to give local governments more leeway over how to spend federal assistance.

The tone was collegial, built on the hopeful assumption that Carson wanted to do right by the department. “We were trying to be supportive,” Henry Cisneros, from the Clinton administration, told me. But it was hard for the ex-secretaries to get a read on Carson’s plans, not least because the whisper-voiced retired pediatric neurosurgeon was being overshadowed by an eighth person at the table: his wife, Candy. An energetic former real-estate agent who is an accomplished violinist and has co-authored four books with her husband, she had been spending far more time inside the department’s headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza than anyone could recall a secretary’s spouse doing in the past, only one of many oddities that HUD employees were encountering in the Trump era. She’d even taken the mic before Carson made his introductory speech to the department. “We’re really excited about working with — ” She broke off, as if detecting the puzzlement of the audience. “Well, he’s really.”

The story of the Trump administration has been dominated by the Russia investigations, the Obamacare-repeal morass, and cataclysmic internecine warfare. But there is a whole other side to Trump’s takeover of Washington: What happens to the government itself, and all it is tasked with doing, when it is placed under the command of the Chaos President? HUD has emerged as the perfect distillation of the right’s antipathy to governing. If the great radical-conservative dream was, in Grover Norquist’s famous words, to “drown government in a bathtub,” then this was what the final gasps of one department might look like.
Maybe Houston is the bathtub.  

And Trump's budget proposes we drown the CDBG program.

40-50 inches of rain

Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. Gonna need a big big, well coordinated search and rescue plan. I'm sure the current federal administration is on top of it...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

More drainsplaining to come

I've fallen behind a bit this week. Oyster wrote up a good synthesis on the S&WB follies about a little over a week ago that shouldn't be missed. There's much more to discuss here, obviously.

Free stuff

Today, the New Orleans DSA chapter will be out on the corner of Orleans and Broad replacing people's broken tail lights for free. It's a nice thing to do and it might help prevent a few unpleasant encounters with law enforcement. Details here.

Can we please stop praising Bill Cassidy?

Are we finally ready to get over our obsession over Bill Cassidy's "bipartisanship"?   You might think it would be enough now that he is continuing to lead the charge against the Affordable Care Act even after the defeat of last month's repeal effort. This week, Gambit highlighted the release of a CBPP report that's been in the works for a while.  The report shows the potential devastating effect of passing the latest version of Repeal/Replace Cassidy has been hawking.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, released a new analysis this morning evaluating the effects of the Cassidy-Graham amendment attached to the Senate's most recent health care plan. Should Cassidy-Graham form the basis of a new ACA repeal effort, as some have speculated it might, the report warns it may share many problems with earlier Senate plans. According to the analysis, under a Cassidy-Graham plan, Louisiana could lose $2.3 billion in health care funding by 2026.

"In general, the plan would effectively punish states that have been especially successful at enrolling low- and moderate-income people in the Medicaid expansion," the report said. (More than 400,000 people in Louisiana are estimated to be covered under the state's Medicaid expansion.) "It would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, radically restructure and deeply cut Medicaid [and] increase out-of-pocket costs for individual market consumers."

And yet any given afternoon this past month, we have been liable to find local commentators like Stephanie Grace here hopeful, as ever, that Cassidy finally has an opportunity to get together with some Serious People and "actually do some good."
While President Donald Trump has tauntingly threatened to let Obamacare "implode" by withholding key payments due insurers who offer policies on the law's exchanges, HELP chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic ranking member Patty Murray of Washington have scheduled hearings next month aimed shoring them up instead. So Cassidy — along with the two other Republican opponents of skinny repeal, Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who are also on the committee — may finally get to do something on health care.

Unlike all those repeal and replace proposals that died, this is an effort that would likely get bipartisan support. And more importantly, it could actually do some good.
What the "some good" that we're expecting to be done here could actually be, Grace doesn't say.  It is implied, though, that the aforementioned bipartisan support would be all the validation she or any of us should require of any policy. 

The week prior, Grace based yet another column on the ridiculous premise that, during the latest round of Obamacre Follies, Bill Cassidy represented some "less draconian" approach to denying people health care.  Grace asserts in that column, "There's a lot of work left to do in the middle," implying that Cassidy really wants to approach health care policy from what we are to presume is a reasonable, "centrist" position.  By framing the debate this way, Grace does her readers and anyone concerned about health care policy a disservice.  Cassidy is trying do work "in the middle." Therefore Casssidy's radical proposal to cut and block grant Medicaid is suddenly a "centrist" position.  In searching for a virtuous middle to praise, we've allowed the the bounds of the discussion to list still further to the right.

Also curious has been Grace's continual fascination with Cassidy's citing of the so-called "Jimmy Kimmel Test," which came into the vernacular because a professional celebrity interviewer told a story about how the pre-existing conditions provision of the ACA affected him personally.  Because no hardships actually exist in this country until they are experienced by millionaires on TV, Kimmel's name became attached to anyone wishing to express vaguely defined doubts about the various repeal bills.  The "test" itself was defined differently by different people. It could have meant a requirement that pre-existing conditions remain protected, but Cassidy never committed to such a thing so that didn't really happen.  Generally it just meant, let's not make Jimmy Kimmel immediately sad.

And the thing that makes Jimmy Kimmel the most sad is "partisanship."  Which made this an especially stupid test.
Note that Kimmel laid the blame for this “nonsense” at the feet of “partisan squabbles.” In his telling, the fault lies not with one of the “teams” but with the games they play in Washington, at the expense of the rest of us. But this is an untenable analysis of the political present.

Kimmel might have paused to ask exactly why the positive change in health care reform that he described occurred in 2014. If he had, he might have noticed that it was the result of another “partisan squabble”—i.e., a bill that the Democratic Party had pushed and passed and that the entire Republican Party had made it their singular mission to oppose.
All politics is a "partisan squabble." Politics is a thing what we have to do because we have serious disagreements about policy goals.  Some of us want to make quality health care available to everyone regardless of their material circumstances.  Others among us would prefer to give rich people huge tax cuts regardless of the consequences.  There's no "bi-partisan solution" to this.  There is conflict. From that conflict inevitably comes imperfect results and even what we might call compromise. But there are also winners and losers determined in the process. So it matters which "team" you are on. Which means, also, you have to be on one.

I suppose it's fine that celebrity muffinheads like Kimmel don't really understand this. But it's more difficult to understand how someone like Grace, whose job it is to write about politics, does not. Or that she pretends not to when it suits her or her paper's preference for promoting "bipartisanship" as a virtue unto itself. Media gatekeepers who trade in this delusion are not only obscuring the substance of the policy debate they describe.  By setting the limits of what is politically possible when the health care of millions of Americans is at stake, they may even be endangering lives.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Campaign pronounced dead

What is up with this?
Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse is calling off his re-election campaign, in which his only challenger is a convicted felon he defeated for the post 3 1/2 years ago.

Nearing the end of his first term in office, Rouse made the stunning announcement in a statement issued Thursday, long after the deadline to get his name off the ballot for the Oct. 14 race pitting him against Dr. Dwight McKenna, 75, publisher of The New Orleans Tribune newspaper.

Votes cast in favor of Rouse, who intends to complete his first term, will still count.

So, if he wins, he would have to hand in a resignation that would take effect at the start of his second term to avoid serving it. That would set up his deputy coroner as an interim replacement, until voters could choose a replacement during a special election which would most likely be held in the spring next year.

Nonetheless, Rouse on Thursday endorsed the idea of McKenna being his successor, going so far as to congratulate him "on becoming the first African-American coroner of our great city."
This office has a sordid history with regard to the role it has played in our famous systemic criminal justice corruption.  So it raises eyebrows when the coroner just up and quits like this.  The closest thing to a reason this article provides is that doing the work made Rouse sad. 

Just gonna bounce right off of Texas, then

Must be something to do with the border wall.

They grow up so fast

Harvey really came into his own there
Hurricane Harvey has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, with Category 1 wind speeds of 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday shortly before 12 p.m.

The storm is still on track toward the coast of Texas, expected to make landfall late Friday night or early Saturday morning as a Category 3 hurricane.
Almost makes you proud.  Honestly, though, this looks bad.
Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning were very favorable for intensification. Satellite images showed that Harvey was a large storm, whose high-level cirrus clouds were already spreading over extreme southern Texas. Harvey had an intense ring of heavy thunderstorms surrounding the eye, and solid low-level spiral bands were forming. The eye was just beginning to appear on both visible and infrared imagery at 10 am CDT. High cirrus clouds streaming away from the center showed the presence of upper-level outflow to the north and east, which was ventilating the storm and allowing intensification to occur. Wind shear was light, 5 – 10 knots, which is favorable for intensification. The atmosphere had a high mid-level relative humidity of 70%, and the ocean was very warm, with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of 30.5°C (87°F.)  This was about 2°F above average for this time of year. Warm waters extended deep into the ocean, providing a large reservoir of heat for the storm to draw upon. The outer bands of Harvey are visible on Brownsville long-range radar.
It's less bad for us, of course. Or at least it would be if we had any confidence the drainage system could handle, you know, a thunderstorm or two. We're still waiting for "clarity" on that, though. 
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu addressed Tropical Storm Harvey — forecast to be a Category 3 hurricane when it hits the Texas coast — and said more clarity would be offered on Friday regarding both the forecast and the city's pumping capacity.

Landrieu remained vague about what circumstances could trigger an evacuation, even as Harvey's rains are expected to start hitting the city this weekend.
Um, no, we are not going to have to evacuate for a thunderstorm no matter what they think they have to say in order to appear as though they are doing something. Mitch said today it's important that we all "lean forward" which is a thing he likes to say in these situations. I still don't know what that means.  Maybe it helps keep you buoyant.

On the other hand, if we get into this....

Only source on that so far is John Bel so let's not panic too much.  I mean, you know, pre-stage your assets and all if you've got them. 


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Starting QB will start at QB

Seems pretty obvious that the "QB competition" this summer was just Orgeron keeping his blue chip freshman happy.  At least, I hope that's all it was.  If Etling had not been named the starter this week, LSU fans would have been right to start worrying.

Now that that's out of the way, they can get back to what's really important. Like the new kitty, for example.  As to that, by the way, I fail to see why people choose to be mad. The tiger was in need of sheltering and now it will be well taken care of. Maybe this will be the last Mike. But that only makes sense if there are no captive tigers in need of quality care the next time the space is vacant.

But emails

The Advocate has been combing through S&WB internal communications to see if they can nail down who knew what and when. They emphatically state over and over in this article that they can't find any evidence that mayor's office was "in the loop" with regard to the pump problems. You can decide if you think that's actually a good or a bad thing. Anyway, we do know that, internally at least, S&WB was aware there were problems on the horizon.
“This is enough power to continue potable water pumping operations, but we will not have sufficient power capacity to perform any drainage pumping based upon SWB supplied power,” Becker wrote on July 28. “For the next several weeks, with the height of hurricane season approaching, we are going to be dependent upon Entergy power to operate our drainage system.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

It's doing what it was supposed to do

People who depend on public transit to get downtown to work in the fine restaurants and hotels there complain that RTA does a better job at getting tourists from those hotels to the those restaurants than at getting them to and from work.  RTA says the workers, "don't understand the system.

“The RTA commonly denies our claim that New Orleans public transportation is created in favor of tourists instead of the workers, but these statistics are clear. … The Rampart line cost $75 million, but it actually decreased access to jobs,” said Ashley Pintos, a member of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee.

Visibly exasperated, RTA General Manager Justin Augustine shot back that the Rampart line still brings riders to Canal Street, where they can transfer to numerous other lines.

He disputed RIDE’s claim that convenient access to more than 1,000 jobs was reduced when the Rampart streetcar came online, while acknowledging that the project, originally intended to take riders all the way from Canal Street to the Lower 9th Ward without forcing them to transfer to a bus, instead ended up stopping at Elysian Fields Avenue, due to limited funding.

“In terms of negative impact along the Rampart Street corridor, there is no negative impact,” he said.

“As I read the report, there are some things — and I’m not here to bash anybody’s report — but I think there’s a disconnect in terms of understanding how the system works,” Augustine said. “You hear people get up in public and then make statements as if they are fact.”
Augustine isn't quite right, though. The problem isn't that people don't understand the system, the problem is the system is working as intended.  We've explained this many times by now

Why the JP Sheriff's race matters

Ok that's kind of a dumb post title. The Sheriff of Jefferson Parish is one of the most powerful and consequential political offices in the state.  Of course it "matters" who holds it.  But there is one item buried near the bottom of this juicy Advocate profile of Shane Guidry I think is worth making note of.
Guidry and Normand served as co-chairs of Landry’s transition team. But the sheriff and the attorney general have been at odds over Normand’s refusal to have his deputies seek out and arrest potential illegal immigrants, in defiance of a demand by the Trump administration that Landry backs.
The outgoing sheriff, whatever else we may think of him, at least had enough clout to buck the preferences of State Attorney General and even the President of the United States with regard to one of their most cruel and highly politicized policy priorities. Given everything else this article says about Guidry's importance, not to mention Landry's ambitions, we can expect the pressure to victimize immigrants to increase. Will the next sheriff retain anything approaching Normand's independence?  That's a big question.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What did the mayor not know and when did he not know it?

An under reported bit of context to the whole drainage saga is Mitch Landrieu and Cedric Grant have been trying to dump Civil Service for quite some time now.
Human Resources Director Sharon Judkins told the board of directors Wednesday (Aug. 16) that the S&WB was short 290 people at the end of July, based on its budget for 1,500 employees. It also has 240 workers eligible to retire, including 121 who are participating in the agency's five-year deferred retirement option program, or DROP.

Those averages have plagued the board for months, if not years. In response, outgoing S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant earlier this year had tried to eliminate civil service requirements for all future employees. But he failed to sway the state Legislature.
It wasn't just Grant trying to lobby Baton Rouge for these changes. The mayor has a hand in that too. Mitch spent last week implausibly feigning ignorance of some basic information about the status of pumps and turbines.  Here he says he was never notified of a power failure back in March of this year.  But longtime subscribers to regular water service in New Orleans find this dubious given the near constant attention these issues have gotten from one boil order to the next throughout Landrieu's term in office. Even the most casual observers are aware there have been problems.

In fact, in his 2012 pitch for a rate increase, the mayor wanted to "be very clear" about the danger we were in
"I want to be very clear about this, the city is in a position of danger right now. The power plant at the Sewerage and Water Board has broken five times since Katrina," Mayor Landrieu said in an address back in 2012.
And this was after a 2010 post-boil order examination where new emergency protocols were supposedly put in place. 
But at a news conference a few days later, Sneed said that message didn't arrive for several hours and that it didn't include an official copy of the advisory, which Sneed insisted was needed in order to issue the alert.

"In the middle of the night, e-mail is good, but it needs to be followed up by phone calls to ensure that we got those messages," he said. "All those problems have been corrected, and we feel confident that the issues won't happen again."

St. Martin and Sneed said on Friday that they have changed their emergency protocols as a result. In the future, they said, they will call senior city officials at their home and cell phones -- or dispatch police to rouse them, if necessary -- when major problems occur at night.
So somewhere along the line we went from, "we will send a cop to knock on the mayor's door at 2 am if necessary," to, "nobody told the mayor for months that the turbines were on fire."  It's possible this happened after Cedric Grant took over. I guess Mitch really really trusted him for some reason.

Until he didn't.
Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant will leave much sooner than he indicated, possibly starting his retirement as early as next week, sources told WWL-TV Friday.

His departure would clear the way for a soon-to-be-named management team which apparently will be made up of at least five state and national experts from various fields.
Grant will be fine, as we are all well aware by now. He's got a big pension waiting for him. That's more than we can say for most of the S&WB line employees, though. And as city leaders move ahead with plans to "reform" municipal pensions or contract more and more work out, that's only going to get worse.

It's still highly likely that the incoming team of "experts in various fields" will favor more privatization, regardless of the "vehement denials" we read about here.
The state senator now plans to introduce a bill to put City Council members back on the utility's board of directors, which would undo changes in state law that he had helped Landrieu and the council make four years ago.

Morrell said Thursday (Aug. 17) that his proposal is a direct response to accusations that the Landrieu administration is attempting to privatize the 119-year-old public utility. The mayor and his spokespeople have vehemently denied any plans to privatize, saying they are hiring outside companies under temporary contracts to figure out what went wrong during the Aug. 5 flood and to help right the S&WB ship.

The final straw for Morrell came from an opinion piece by Jacques Morial, which was posted on The Lens website Wednesday. In it, Morial blasted Morrell and state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, for carrying legislation in 2013 to remove council members from the S&WB. Morial equated that action to a first step toward privatization.
J.P. might be taking this a bit personally. But at least he's pushing in the right direction now. He has to because Morial's argument is correct.  The recent reforms are fundamentally undemocratic and S&WB needs better public oversight than that. Morial actually proposed doing away with the board altogether. But if we can't have that, at least let's have more accountability to the citiznery and less to the freaking university presidents.

The move to push Grant out the door sooner in favor of yet to be named consultants, doesn't bode well, though. At the end of the day, it's still more or less impossible for the Mitch Landrieus of the world to imagine any solution that isn't heavily flavored with public-private partnerships.  When in doubt, contract it out.  And there's never more doubt to work with than in the middle of a crisis.  So far we're only vaguely aware of how this crisis impacts upper management at S&WB. They're "retiring" with upper management pensions.   The consequences for the employees there are likely to be far worse.

Congratulations to Jason on taking down Steve Bannon

No idea why anybody want to write for David Brock's bullshit outlet but, well, the timing on this was pretty sweet.
The Washington Post focused primarily on the bizarre fact that Bannon listed the Opechee Drive house as his place of residence, despite living in California. The article lightly touched on the state of disrepair in which Bannon left the house — including a bathtub apparently destroyed by acid.

But the truth turns out to have been much worse than that.

When Curtis first saw the house, the real estate agent, Beatriz Portela, told him the previous tenants “were not very upstanding people” and had “severely damaged” the property.

They had “put padlocks on all the doors, installed video cameras, and had ruined the bathtub, kitchen counter, and floor.”

Worse, though, was that it had been a “party house,” she said, known for frequent drug use.

Carlos Herrera, who owned the house with with his wife, Andreina Morales, painted a picture of what initially seemed to be a normal tenancy but soon evolved into an almost daily parade of debauchery and drug use, including run-ins with the police.

“The conclusion is she was probably cooking meth in here,” Herrera said of Bannon’s ex-wife. That would have explained the damage done to the bathtub and kitchen sink.
The Wa-Po story he references was pretty famous at the time. And I don't think it's entirely accurate to say it "lightly touched" on the thing that became a major conversation piece for months.  But it certainly was worth following up on.  I'm still not sure Shareblue is the appropriate venue for that follow up. Anything that appears there tends to be delegitimized regardless of the intent or professionalism of the reporter. This is not because of anything having to do with "bias" or partisanship. It is because David Brock is a dishonest propaganda merchant who nobody should produce content for.

In any case I am wrong because it clearly worked this time.
President Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, multiple White House officials told CNN on Friday.

Sources told CNN that Bannon's ouster had been in the works for two weeks and a source said that while Bannon was given the option to resign, he was ultimately forced out. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Bannon's departure, but claimed the decision for him to leave was mutual.
Of course, Bannon doesn't actually have to be in the White House anymore. Having won the 2016 election by helping to pull the center of American politics even further to the ultra right than it had been, his mission is already accomplished. In fact, by leaving now and setting himself up as the scapegoat he's actually helping to further institutionalize this latest re-positioning of the window. A significant segment of the press is bound to cast a post-Bannon Trump admin as more "moderate" in some way. And this,i n turn, is bound to give a newly independent Bannon room to go stake out territory further to the right. Meanwhile Steven Miller and Seb Gorka are still there.... for now, anyway.

More importantly, though, Paul Ryan is still hanging around waiting to put your grandma on a catfood diet just as soon as everything calms down enough to pass laws again. And, thanks to all of the above, he represents the "centrist" wing now.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Slow and store

Looks like there's a problem with the money pump.
In its most recent financial tracking report from June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development labeled the city of New Orleans a “slow spender” because it had yet to tap into the National Disaster Resilience Grant – an award the city won in January 2016 following a ballyhooed national competition.

More than $100 million of the $141 million New Orleans received is supposed to go to eight so-called urban water – or green infrastructure – projects across the Gentilly section of the city. Some add retention ponds to parks, water-absorbing landscaping and sunken-garden neutral grounds similar to those seen on Canal Boulevard in Lakeview.
The "green infrastructure" in question here is a number of projects in the city's Urban Water Plan which you can check out here. Interestingly these projects are based on the "slow and store" concept of water management which also turns out to be what's happening with the grant money.  Although, the reasons for this seem pretty understandable.
Hebert said it took a year to get a final agreement to use the HUD money. It was finally signed on former President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, Jan. 19. Then, Hebert said, the city was afraid to start spending its own money to get reimbursed by the feds because President Donald Trump announced plans to defund some HUD programs.

Hebert said the city didn’t feel comfortable spending any of the HUD money until the Trump administration gave final approval to the plan in June.

“We didn't want to encumber city funds before we got that document because we did not know what the Trump administration was going to do at HUD,” Hebert said.
That's a pretty reasonable approach given that the Trump Administration recently threatened to claw back $2 billion designated for street repairs.  But since it doesn't look like there's much of a federal infrastructure plan forthcoming any time soon, we might as well get on with things around here.

Anyway there's a fair amount of talk about this and other drainage issues in the new one of these.

They all look the same, eh, Tom?

Finally, the details about how out of it Benson really is are starting to leak.
At one point, Henry's attorney, Chris Williams, asked Benson why he had testified that Henry had been with him during the Saints' Super Bowl victory when Henry had not been working for him at the time.

Benson acknowledged that he remembered neither where the Super Bowl had been played — Miami — nor who his assistant was at the time.

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

"Who is this?" Williams asked.

"It's Rodney and a basketball player," Benson said. "Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he's a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no."

Williams said Anthony Davis.

Benson said, "Yes, that's it."
Before you get too worried, though, just remember that brain damage has been very very good for Benson over the years, financially speaking so this is probably fine.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Money for Bags

Michael Bagneris won what Tyler Bridges is calling the "Frank Stewart Primary." 
Michael Bagneris has won the Frank Stewart primary, and that could pay dividends for a New Orleans mayoral candidate who has lagged in the polls and in raising money.

Stewart, who built a nationwide funeral home and cemetery business that was sold in 2013, is not only supporting Bagneris but also organized a breakfast for the former judge last week with some three dozen friends and associates capable of writing big campaign checks.

“My candidate knocked the socks off all 38 people,” Stewart said Wednesday. “They all said he was so impressive that they would support him. I was overwhelmed.”

Stewart's profile in New Orleans politics got a lift earlier this year after he published full-page newspaper ads denouncing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his decision to push for the removal of four Jim Crow-era monuments, including the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle

I wonder does this mean we have to ask Bagneris about the monuments now? Actually, wait, we did do this. Or at least Bridges did in an earlier article.
Michael Bagneris, a former Civil District Court judge, lamented that the debate over whether to take down the monuments “divides the races.” He said Landrieu should have put the decision to the city’s voters.

“Everybody would have had a chance to express their view,” he said. “Whichever way it would have come down, people would have been satisfied.”

Bagneris declined to say how he would have voted.

Asked for a clarification of his views, he chose to have a spokesman issue a written statement. “At this time,” it said, “there is nothing further to say on the subject as it distracts from the real issue facing our city: solving the violent crime problem.”
Tut tut at the "divisiveness," fail to take a stand on the issue, and go full bore into "Murders Not Monuments."  That's some bold leadership right there. No wonder Stewart and friends are impressed. They also like a guy who isn't here to coddle the damn kids today.
Besides Stewart, Jay Lapeyre, another prominent New Orleans businessman, hosted a meet-and-greet with Bagneris at his Uptown home on Aug. 3 with about 20 friends. Lapeyre said that afterward he decided to support Bagneris and contributed the maximum $5,000.

“Michael has the personal accomplishments needed to understand how important it is to create opportunities that are aspirational for other people,” said Lapeyre, who runs a major manufacturing company and has headed powerful business associations such as the Business Council of New Orleans. “You can’t think it’s just about what do we need to do to make it more comfortable. It’s about how to challenge people, especially young people.”

Meanwhile, here is Peter Athas's debut column at the Bayou Brief. It's a brief summary of some recent mayoral elections with some good commentary on the candidates and their coalitions. I'm not 100 percent in agreement with Peter's characterization of certain people and events but it's a very worthwhile piece.  I've been looking specifically at 2002 as a comparable scenario to this election for a few months now.  Peter seems to agree with that.
There were two frontrunners at the start of the 2002 campaign: State Sen. Paulette Irons and Marc Morial’s respected police chief, Richard Pennington. Irons’ well-financed bid to be the city’s first female mayor fell apart because of a somewhat casual acquaintance with the truth, as pointed out by the Gambit‘s Allen Johnson in a piece entitled “The Perils of Paulette.” Irons was also the subject of an intense opposition campaign. As to the late Chief Pennington, he was a great cop, a nice man, and a terrible politician. His biggest mistake was allowing Dollar Bill Jefferson’s organization to run his campaign. White voters still took a dim view of the Congressman in 2002, and with good reason. His friends and relations spent the aughties looting the school board. Dollar Bill’s finger in the Pennington pie meant that the man who should have been the perfect racial cross-over candidate was viewed with suspicion by white conservatives and goo-goo reformer types alike. It didn’t matter that he’d reduced crime dramatically and cleaned up a corrupt department. Palling around with Dollar Bill killed his chances.
Typically, New Orleans mayoral elections end up being less about individual candidates and platforms and more about the interest groups and power player who coalesce behind the campaigns. In a year like this year, when none of the candidates is a dominant personality, the behind the scenes jockeying becomes even more important.  Broadly speaking, though, the pattern tends toward a struggle between two broadly defined power bases. And, yes, those broad bases have a lot to do with race. There's always a "black" candidate and a "white" candidate regardless of the actual races of the individuals.

To explain this a little, let's look back at this (rather hostile) Advocate article  from a few weeks ago about Desiree Charbonnet's donors. The article points out, as most people will, that Desiree is pulling in a large share of the donations from contractors who do business with the city. That's worth raising an eyebrow at. But it is also true that these firms always put money into elections and that they do this because they believe it's a way to remain in good standing with the winners. (Notice a lot of them are hedging their bets by dropping Cantrell a little money as well.) Still, yes, there is a pay-to-play aspect to this even if it is merely implicit. And, yes, this is quite obviously an inherent and pervasive problem not only in local New Orleans politics but in.. you know... politics everywhere you go.

Charbonnet was always going to be the primary beneficiary of this from the moment she got into the race. The reasons for this have to do with her family name, and her institutional connection to a system of political organizing and patronage. This system can justifiably be criticized for the climate of petty corruption and insider dealing it tends to engender. But keep in mind that it has also played a significant role in achieving some semblance of racial and economic parity in a city where the levers of power and influence were traditionally reserved for an insular class of white plutocrats.

So to bring this back to 2002, Pennington at that time, ran with basically the backing Charbonnnet has now.  It's more complicated than just that. But it was generally understood to be a continuance of the Morial administration and so everyone who was benefiting there would naturally want to stay the course.  Pennington was opposed by Ray Nagin who had the support of the "business community" such as the cabal of tech bros who founded Idea Village as well as the philanthropic clubs and old line Carnival types.  "Goo-goo reformers and white conservatives" aren't always in the exact same camp but they do tend to find each other during mayoral elections. When the runoff comes, they will almost certainly be on the same side.

Right now, though, the white vote is pretty loose and all three major candidates are scrambling to nail down what bits of it they can.  It looks right now like a the "goo-goo" side which I would define as middle class white liberals are still kicking the tires on LaToya while the plutocrats haven't been fully accounted for.  That is, until Bagneris started picking up a few of them this week.

Anyway, I hope all of this helps put this last quote from Bridges's article into context.  It's about where the players are lining up.. or at least where Bagneris would like them to. 
Asked if he made any promises to the businessmen at Stewart’s gathering, Bagneris said, “What promise would you give to any of the individuals? They are already independently wealthy. These are not contractors who need a city contract.”

Charbonnet, who had $645,000 in hand through mid-July, compared to Bagneris’ $180,000, has been criticized for taking numerous $5,000 contributions from city contractors.

Somehow Billy Nungesser is owned

Remember back in April when Billy begged for Trump's attention over monument removal? Totally ignored.  Today, though, Trump is all about some statues. Nobody ever listens to poor Billy. 

Anyway, we've just finished up our course in monument removal here. If America wants to borrow our notes, they are welcome.

Flip This Shipyard

I buy houses

So from this we gather there's probably another buyer in the works for Avondale. But first it's in the hands of this glorified house flipping concern.
Assuming it moves forward with buying the property, though, Hilco's past track record may offer a glimpse of its possible plans, such as entering a commercial joint venture for the site with another company or perhaps the Port of New Orleans, which has floated the possibility of such a venture in the past.

Other options for Hilco could include trying to sell off Avondale's assets piece by piece or simply flipping the property to another buyer.

Hilco is no stranger to New Orleans. One of its business units, Hilco Real Estate, has worked with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to auction vacant structures and lots. In April, it held a two-day online auction for more than 100 such structures and vacant lots, generating more than $2.5 million.
It looks like it's going to end up in the Port's hands. This would jibe with the conventional wisdom stretching back to the beginning of the Public Belt story, anyway. But first we've got to get some financial intermediaries a chance to collect some rents.

What was the Civil War fought over?

Today's Advocate literally cannot say it was about slavery.
The Civil War involved a central question of civil society. Would we be a nation bound by a common commitment to constitutional order, or a country compromised by the chaos of factionalism? The conclusion of that conflict, purchased by the blood and anguish of an America divided against itself, was supposed to make us whole once more.
The Civil War happened because people weren't bi-partisan enough, apparently.  Who writes the Advocate editorials? I just think if they're gonna blame "both sides" for the Charlottesville violence then they ought to at least put their name to it. 

Update: See also Chris Lehmann on the kind of Bothsidesism in evidence at the Advocate today
The above-the-fray notion that “both sides do it” is a species of magical thinking perpetrated by those with a deep institutional investment in upholding status-quo power relations: network presidents, centrist pundits, the Atlantic’s editorial politburo, and moguls of various monotonous description. So by both sociopathic personal temperament and class outlook, Trump has adopted the same blame-dodging as protective coloring (as it were).  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HANO's waiting list is the new normal

This article does a good job of demonstrating that the policy is deliberately creating the problem it has set out to create. More people desperate for less housing is what "the market" wants. The "public-private partnership model" is all about getting that done.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans's first experience with the public-private partnership model came when HRI converted the St. Thomas housing development into the River Garden neighborhood in 2004, anchored by the city’s first Wal-Mart.

HANO then began regularly leasing its complexes to private developers under a plan that was speeded up following Katrina, when many hundreds of units were flooded and otherwise damaged.

After Katrina, HANO demolished its Big Four projects — C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, Lafitte and B.W. Cooper, which accounted for about 60 percent of public housing in the city — in order to make way for new housing models. In some cases, by 2015, fewer than half the new units had rents comparable to those in public housing. Some were market-rate, and others were in-between.

As subsidized units declined, the number of housing vouchers for privately owned apartments rose — as did the waiting list for people waiting to get them.

There are 24,207 families on the local waiting list to receive vouchers, according to Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA. She said the problem could get worse under the budget proposed by President Donald Trump.

HANO, she said, would be severely impacted by a proposed 68 percent cut in public housing repair funds, a $300 million cut to the Housing Choice Voucher program and elimination of Community Development Block Grant funding.

And, of course, Ben Carson is here to tell us this is pretty much "Mission Accomplished."

Carson said that "lessons have been learned" about some of the developments built after Katrina, in that "early on, some of the contracts did not involve setting aside enough units as affordable units."

He also said that while "there's a lot of anxieties about budgets," he is working to make HUD "extremely efficient" with the funds now in place and to run things on "business principles" rather than "bureaucratic principles."

One way to do that, he said, is to continue to develop smart public-private partnerships when designing new housing models meant to incorporate low-income tenants.
Just so we're clear on what this means. When we hear municipal candidates talk this fall about affordable housing strategies based on pub-private-partnerships and set-aside requirements from luxury developments, it's worth remembering this is already the official Trump Administration policy.