Wednesday, October 31, 2018

When what never happens happens

We spent last Saturday in Baton Rouge participating (I guess) in the homecoming festivities on the LSU campus.  By that I mean we did some tailgating and watched a football game from high up in the Tiger Stadium terrace while the first somewhat legitimate cold front of the year was blowing through. Which is to say we got rained on. That's supposed to happen never.

Anyway here is the classic view of your state capital skyline. There's the Capitol building in the center. That's where all the laws are passed. To the right is the oil refinery where most of those laws are conceived. In the foreground, of course, is the football stadium where everyone's attention is focused while all that goes on.

Baton Rouge skyline

It was a good day stumbling around campus. Here is the Tiger band passing in front of the Pentagon dorms on its march to the stadium.


Tiger eye drum

And here is the Valley Shook tailgate tent from where we bummed a bunch of pulled pork, smoked chicken, mac and cheese, grits, and.... look there was a lot of stuff and I was too busy to take any nice pictures of it.

Valley Shook tailgate

Which is fine because Zach promotes his own work well enough already.

Finally, here is the sign that asks visitors to help preserve Louisiana's cultural heritage by staying off of the Indian Mounds. Naturally, the children climbing the mound in this picture had taken one of these signs down and were using it as a sled.

Please protect our.... Oh

LSU's football team is pretty good this year. Not great but pretty good. This doesn't necessarily mean they've been overachieving.  It's fine to put them Number 4 in the country (UPDATE: now number 3 in the playoff ranking) for now but let's not expect them to finish there. There isn't one thing they do dramatically better than anyone else in the country.  There's no breakaway threat on the offense. The defense doesn't have a dominant, unblockable pass rusher.  They do have a fairly outstanding middle linebacker but that guy isn't available to start this week against Alabama despite the Governor's efforts.

Anyway, like we were saying, there's not any one dominant trait about this LSU team that frightens people. Instead their success this season has been in their ability to do a little bit of everything pretty well. They don't make mistakes. They don't commit turnovers. They don't miss a lot of tackles. This is going to sound nuts but I think the most apt way you could describe LSU this year is as.. extremely well coached? Not a lot of people outside of Louisiana want to hear that. But Ed Orgeron is officially on the Coach Of The Year watch list now. And if the team the writers had picked to finish 5th or 6th in their division ends up a one or two loss team come bowl season, then that's going to be really hard to argue against.

Of course, we all know what that means if they finish with one loss. It means, as Scott Rabalais puts it, they would have defeated the black hole.
Saturday, just about every college football fan not present is going to wish he or she could experience a night like this in Death Valley, and just about everyone not wearing Alabama crimson is going to pull for LSU. Pulling for the Tigers to upset the status quo, knock off the big dog, aggravate the stuffing out of Saban. Maybe make him throw his headset until it breaks.

An LSU win, as improbable as it may seem, could save this college football season from the black hole that is Alabama.
Is it reasonable to expect this pretty good.. but not great... LSU team is capable of that? Probably not.  But there is also a powerful tendency toward magical thinking with regard to what sorts of things are and are never possible in Tiger Stadium.  And who are we, who sat there ourselves on a rain soaked Saturday evening only last week, to deny the fun of that to anyone?

Mary Shelley's Ron Forman's Monster

It is my greatest regret of the year that I didn't have time to finish typing up an overlong post to preview this Saints' season.  It ended up, like so many of these big ideas I never have time to develop anymore, getting thrown up at the last minute as a bare bones twitter thread.  This is a thing that happens a lot and I'm starting to think I need a word to describe it.  FailTweets isn't really adequate since every tweet is a kind of failure in the first place.

Anyway I said the Saints would win 10 games. That's still looking like a good bet.  But I didn't get to tell the story I wanted to tell in the unfinished post. I'm keeping the draft because I think it's an important story which may come up again later. It is a story about Valerio. That tragic hero of this summer's incident at Audubon already has my vote for New Orleanian of 2018 for a number of reasons I'll be happy to go into when the time comes. The point, for now, is I think about him a lot.

Valerio pumpkin

I posted that photo of my little gourd tribute to our boy and his fallen animal comrades to social sites last night.  It didn't take long for people to recognize the image.  Its creator certainly got it anyway.

But, while there was obviously some humor intended in the reference, I noticed some reactions from people who inferred a gratuitous or even exploitative vibe there.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  There is a natural humor in Valerio's story, for sure. But humor is closely related to tragedy, subversion, and catharsis. All of these are part of the story.  They are also elements of horror which is why this is a Halloween story.

Valerio's story is a story about doomed resistance. It is about the hubris of our attempt to tame the natural world.  It is about the thin, uncomfortable line that exists between order and chaos; particularly when that order is built on suppressed injustices. It is a tragedy born of righteous defiance gone awry.  There are themes present which hint at the inescapable consequences of colonialism, of the despoiling commodification of nature, and of the capitalist exploitation that drives it all. To contemplate the tragic horror of Valerio and his (I hesitate to use the word victims. Really they are all victims) we are forced to question our own role in its creation. The scariest monster stories aren't really about monsters.

Well, Happy Halloween. Here are some pictures I took this year at the St. Charles Avenue Skeleton House and later at the Magazine Street "Ghost Manor" Clever stuff but I didn't see any jaguar pumpkins.

Mourning Call

Boo Brees

Ghost Manor pumpkins

On to 2019

Yeah so the midterms aren't over yet but it's never too early to start watching the next election(s).  At least, that's what the money people do.  And, as we all know, those are the people who determine how these things turn out so let's watch that, I guess.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy hasn’t yet said that he’ll be a candidate for governor next fall, but some of his fellow Republicans aren’t waiting to line up for him — or against.

First Lane Grigsby, a Baton Rouge businessman and big-time Republican donor, let it be known that he’s not impressed with Kennedy’s brief tenure in Washington. Grigsby told The Advocate’s Mark Ballard that he thinks Louisiana’s junior senator, in office less than two years, isn’t ready for the Governor’s Mansion.

“Louisiana needs leadership, not another politician looking for another lily pad,” said Grigsby, who is backing the only announced Republican challenger to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, fellow contractor Eddie Rispone. “(Kennedy) hasn’t done much yet but appear on Fox News.”
Man, losing the Grigsby primary to Eddie Rispone is a slap in the face, alright. But Kennedy is still signaling he could run.  
Publicly Kennedy has said how much he likes his Senate job. “But, it’s hard to stomach what is happening to Louisiana right now,” Kennedy said in prepared statement. “Private sector job growth is among the lowest in the country. Too many of our kids can’t read their diplomas.”

Armed with an internal poll showing that he could beat Edwards, Kennedy is making the rounds of funders to say he agrees with them that Edwards’ policies are bad for Louisiana’s economic future, then adding that Rispone is largely unknown and can’t beat the Democrat.
Meanwhile rivals like Jeff Landry and his allies have been trying to "clear the field" of formidable candidates and it's looking now like Grigsby is on their side.  So it's with that in mind that we should consider the persistence of the "Kennedy might not run" rumors that float about the subtext of a lot of these stories lately. Is that line coming from Kennedy? Or is it coming from someone trying to discourage him?

Update: It says here that John is going to make up his mind by December 1 so mark your calendars.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The sky is falling, though

This is from a Secretary of State canidates' forum held last night at the LSU journalism school.  State Rep. Rick Edmonds is not the only candidate playing to right wing paranoia about "voter fraud" but he is being the loudest and ugliest about it.
State Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, staked out a position as the most conservative candidate on the panel, particularly when it came to election-related issues. In his closing statement, Edmonds said that “elections are being threatened all over the nation.” He said that thousands of “illegals” -- the way he described undocumented immigrants -- were participating in elections in Texas and California even though they are ineligible to vote.

There has not been any proof of widespread voter fraud in any major American election recently -- and Edmonds offered no proof that people are voting in Texas, California -- or any other state -- who shouldn’t be. His statement prompted some indirect criticism from Free. “I understand that there are alarmists everywhere. It makes me very sad that they try to scare people into thinking that the sky is falling,” she said directly after Edmonds finished speaking.
So that's not good.  I did want to drop in here to correct Democratic candidate Renee Fontenot-Free about one thing, there.  The sky may very well be falling. There are serious threats to the integrity of our elections out there. But they aren't coming from the sources Edmonds fantasizes about.  Instead they are coming from Edmonds himself and people like him all over the country.  Free would do well to take the threat more seriously.

Today is the last day to do early voting

The early voting seems to be more and more popular with the kids. I'm too lazy to do it so I will always be jealous of you guys who have been going every day this week. The early voting period ends today at 6 pm.  See the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters site for more information on how all that stuff works. 

Anyway, I know I've been promising to say some stuff about what's on the ballot (apart from the random blurb here and there.) But I was waiting to see some of the better voter guides come out before I decided if there was anything to add.  Here, today, is the New Orleans DSA guide.  It's pretty okay. They don't specifically endorse anybody so I like that. 

More later from me, maybe.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Foot shoulders

That is a Charles Rice Special.
In October 2017, two weeks before a key council utility committee meeting, Rice sent a text message to Yolanda Pollard, communications manager for Entergy, asking how many people Hawthorn would be able to get for the meeting. Pollard said Hawthorn had secured “50 people and 10 speakers.”

“If Hawthorn can get more people I will pay,” Rice responded. He followed up a few minutes later, saying he didn’t care about the cost. “This is war and we need all the foot shoulders [soldiers] we can muster.”

Hours later, Pollard said that Hawthorn would send 75 people and 10 public speakers, all wearing pro-plant t-shirts. The cost would increase from $23,000 to $29,000.

“Deal,” Rice responded.
Also, on a previous episode of "A Charles Rice Special"....

Being PJ

Ever have one of those days when it feels like everyone in the worlds is watching every single thing you do and it all makes them very very disappointed? So disappointed, in fact, that even when it is you who does the one or two good things that make all the difference for everyone, hardly anybody notices.
This time, the defense made the play. Or actually two.

First, Alex Anzalone and P.J. Williams combined for a tackle that caused a momentum-shifting fumble in the second quarter.

Then Williams returned an interception for a touchdown that all but sealed the redemptive 30-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
That's our boy PJ Williams last night. PJ Twitter (still trending as we type this morning) has been a wild ride.  But as happy as the ending may seem, let us also recognize that even congratulations come with qualifications.

And in the moment of even our greatest triumph over adversity, the universe is bigger than merely ourselves and the struggles of one Williams can seem trivial compared to those of the next. 

Marcus Williams walked out of the visitors' locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday clutching a football.

It was the game ball, presented to him after the Saints' 30-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

It was Williams' return to the place where his missed tackle on a Stefon Diggs catch ended New Orleans' season last year in the playoffs. But for Williams, this game wasn't about redemption.

This game was about his grandfather, Richard Glennon Boyd, who died of cancer on Tuesday. Boyd was 79.

"I know he's proud," Williams said. "He told me he was proud of me before he left and I know he's still looking down on me and watching over my shoulder."

Saturday, October 27, 2018

What is John Bel doing in Israel?

The Governor took off with a host of state officials and press in tow for the middle east this week to attend meetings with government and business leaders there. The meat of their trip would appear to be centered on "cybersecurity."
Edwards says the trip stems from his position as co-chairman of the National Governors Association’s Resource Center for State Cybersecurity. The NGA’s cybersecurity conference will be held in the Shreveport area in May 2019.

Edwards says Louisiana can learn from Israel’s work and research on cybersecurity.
Previously Edwards declared October to be "Cybersecurity Awareness Month"
saying also that we should all be very afraid during this time.
"There are more threats out there than you can imagine," Edwards said during a proclamation-signing ceremony on Thursday. "If you think about it too much, you almost can't even sleep at night."
The problem a lot of us are having, though, is we can't be properly freaked out if they won't tell us what it is we are supposed to freak out about.  Edwards refused to identify any of these specific threats that were keeping him up at night.  There was a guy there from something called the "Cyber Innovation Center" who said only that "Our adversaries are extremely capable," and "The threats are real."

Who knows what they mean by that?  From the looks of things the "threat" they've been most concerned with this year has been environmental activists mildly annoying the progess of construction on the Bayou Bridge pipeline. 

We do know Edwards and his entourage are hoping to come back from Israel with all sorts of new ideas about stuff to throw money at just in case that helps. That probably has something to do with explaining the anti-BDS order the Governor signed in May.  Wouldn't want anybody's scruples over supporting a terror state get in the way of contractors doing business.  That would really keep some people up at night.

Are we absolutely certain this wasn't Kenneth Landrieu?

Those cereal box badges are everywhere.
The unidentified man approached the lawn-care workers and identified himself as a police officer, showing a badge described as a silver star featuring a pelican. He then began questioning the workers about their employer, their places of origin and whether they had any marijuana or cocaine in their possession, the NOPD said.

The robber next called both men over to their work truck and began patting them down and frisking them. He then reached into their pockets and took their wallets, police said.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Do we even know how to Mardi Gras anymore

One of the nice things about Chewbacchus getting huge in recent years was the way it drew some of the crowd off of the Uptown route on the first Saturday night. Those of us who have spent the past decade or so arguing for a more diverse Carnival schedule with parades in different neighborhoods felt vindicated by this, admittedly anecdotal, evidence in our favor.

Well now the cops have had enough of all that.
The popular Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus Carnival parade will roll on Saturday, Feb. 9 in 2019, two weeks earlier than its usual slot on the Mardi Gras parade calendar. Brooke Ethridge, the co-captain of the science fiction-oriented parade, said that she was made aware of the change during a routine check-in with City Hall.

Ethridge said that a city representative informed the krewe that some parades would be moved to earlier dates in order for the New Orleans Police Department to provide the best security.
So weird that with all their fancy new predictive policing and stuff they still aren't able to handle some people walking down the street on a pre-published route for a few hours. 

What do police even do?

This was never really true but there are some old fashioned folks still among us who prefer to think the police should investigate crimes when they happen and otherwise stay out of the way.  Maybe help some old ladies cross streets every now and then.  I guess it's still okay to do the wobble at Mardi Gras. Maybe let's try to get away from that if we can, though.

Again, it's never really worked that way.  American police forces have always existed primarily to protect rich people's property. This has meant everything from tracking down runaway slaves to quashing working class labor and political organizing efforts. Chiefly the police exist to enforce order, most often by means or threat of violence.

There's a quote most often ascribed to Huey Long on the question of whether or not we'd ever have fascism in America. Huey is believed to have said,  "Of course we’ll have it. We’ll have it under the guise of anti-fascism.”  Today we have as violent and sophisticated a police surveillance state as we've ever had. We've allowed it to grow under the guise of "anti-violence."
The city had been using the software since 2012. But in March, former mayor Mitch Landrieu declined to extend the Palantir agreement for a fourth time. And current Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she would not revive it.

Cantrell has kept that promise, but documents obtained by The Lens show that her administration is in the beginning stages of developing a new tool for identifying likely victims and perpetrators of gun violence, partnering with the same criminologist whose research formed the foundation of the Palantir software.

The tool is being developed by the New Orleans Gun Violence Reduction Council, which Cantrell created in May.

In an August op-ed published by NOLA.com, Cantrell said that the council’s central task is “to come up with a plan to execute the violence reduction recommendations produced by my transition team.”
See we have to train cameras on you 24/7 and plug everything we know about you, your friends, your shopping habits, grades, work life, etc. into our algorithm that predicts the future in order to protect you.  This isn't about keeping you in line. This stuff is for your own good, don't you know? Here please enjoy a relaxing session in our meditation room. It's right here behind the metal detector.
Steps from the walk-through metal detector inside New Orleans City Hall are a few beige recliners in a small, softly lit room, where an attached office allows social workers, ministers and other faith-based volunteers to lend an ear to the public and connect people to the city’s spectrum of care.

On Oct. 25, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, city officials and area faith leaders cut the ribbon for a “meditation room,” what Cantrell says is a “safe space for our people to come, to reflect, even to seek counsel if they need it.”
Don't be afraid. We want you feel supported and safe and... wait a minute... looks like we're going off script a little bit.
Another council member, Nathalie Simon, suggested increasing law enforcement resources and capacity for deterrence. “If we solve more crimes, less likely to feel like you can get away with it,” the meeting notes say. Simon is a special council at Laitram, a Harahan-based manufacturing firm.

Even in the absence of an official role in the program, it’s unclear if there’s anything that would prevent the NOPD from accessing the data and identities produced by the new program for its investigations.
Alright we just want to keep you in line, okay?  Does that mean the police have their eyes and ears on everything you do or say? Maybe. "It's unclear if there's anything that would prevent" that.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Programmed and managed

The primary story here is that there are apparently new rumors about where the mayor might be thinking about moving City Hall to.  But we can't get much clarity on what those are.  We can know that such plans might involve Duncan Plaza, though, because they are affecting the timeline for renovations there.
Recalling a recent conversation he had with Mayor LaToya Cantrell, (Downtown Development District Director Kurt) Weigle said he was told the city may need Duncan Plaza's land to move or expand City Hall.

"Generally speaking, we understand the mayor is looking at all options to improve or move City Hall and until a final decision is made, there could be some role for Duncan Plaza to play in that," Weigle said. The plan is for Duncan Plaza to be under construction next year, but he added that he's not sure of the timeline the city is on to make a decision on City Hall.
The Duncan Plaza redesign has been in the works for a few years now.  We keep hearing about how "outdated" the current look is but I've never understood what that means.  The article lists ways to improve the drainage and lighting that sound pretty good.  But, fundamentally, a park is still a park. It's an open public space where people are free to come and go and enjoy.  Weigle seems to have different ideas about that, though.
Weigle said the district sees the reimagined Duncan Plaza becoming a highly active space, hosting frequent exercise classes and events.

"Parks that are highly programmed and highly managed become successful," Weigle said.
In other words,  it will be "programmed" in the sense that a lot of things happen for which the city and DDD can collect fees. As for "managed" one can't help but read into that a deliberate attempt to keep the homeless and other undesirables out which has been a major obsession for city government for some time now. 

Leon isn't going to run

I mean it's early but think about it.
But whether he will face off against Cannizzaro, who will be 67 in 2020, is unclear. The district attorney, who is nearing the end of his second six-year term, has not said publicly whether he will seek re-election. On Wednesday, he declined to answer questions on the matter directly, instead referring an Advocate reporter to his spokesman.

The spokesman later issued a statement that did little to clarify Cannizzaro's plans. The statement said that "the job aspirations of others are immaterial," and that Cannizzaro and his staff "remain focused on doing our jobs of prosecuting criminals, enforcing our laws and advocating for the many crime victims of New Orleans."
I know I know.... just gonna focus on the process.. etc.  Great way to get in the mood for Bama Week.  But, again, what are the odds that a guy already passed retirement age is going to want to run in what looks to be a tough election and then have to go back and do six more years of  grinding away at The Process?  I wouldn't, would you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Most haunted house stories are about gentrification

This seems sort of in line with that.
Since moving to New Orleans five years ago (a span about which Juarez is both forthright and somewhat abashed), he's seen similar patterns of displacement. The genesis of "The Subletter's Omen" was the unexpected loss of a Mid-City neighbor, “Ms. Audrey,” who was forced to relocate to Kenner when her rent jumped from $750 to $1,350.

"She'd been on our block for a long time," Juarez says, "someone who was always on the porch, talking to people, feeding the cats. Now there's an Airbnb there. The house next to us is an Airbnb too, and on the corner is a giant place that's been divided up into four Airbnbs. And this is Mid-City, not Bywater! I felt in a way that when we lost Ms. Audrey the neighborhood lost its heart."

That painful farewell became the opening of “The Subletter's Omen.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On to 2020

Yeah yeah I have a bunch of stuff to say about the November 6 elections. But, in Louisiana, we're really looking ahead to next year's state government races which will more or less kick off as soon as the midterm results are in.  And, then, of course, there is this.
City Council President Jason Williams told a packed New Orleans Film Festival audience Tuesday night that he’s in the 2020 race for Orleans Parish district attorney.

Williams, 45, made plain what many political observers had long expected: that he’ll take another run at a position he sought a decade ago, when he ran a distant third to Leon Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro, who is nearing the end of his second six-year term as district attorney, has not said publicly whether he will seek re-election.
That's a whole cycle and a half away but it's something everyone has been waiting to talk about.  As DA, Leon has been just about the purest embodiment you could conjure of the brutality and injustice our legal system visits on the poor and vulnerable.  A lot of people will be champing at the bit to get after him.   At the same time, he's possibly the toughest and most savvy politician in the city. If he decides to run for reelection it will be because he believes he can win.

As for Jason Williams, it's possible that he could have been mayor if he'd decided to try for that last year.  But he's had an eye on this race for a long time.  He's been increasingly disappointing as a councilman lately so this move might work out for the best all around.   It's true a lot can happen in two years. But if this race happens, it will get a lot of attention. 

Also for all their differences Jason and Leon do share a number of allies in common.  So if they do face off, people will have some interesting choices to make.  Which is why it wouldn't be surprising to see Leon find a graceful way to move out of the way at some point. Remember his name came up in the conversation for that US Attorney appointment recently.  That didn't happen but it was notable that he was apparently open to making a jump.  Keep that in mind.


Is this... Fidel Castro?  No.. is it.. Noam Chomsky? No... well shit... is it even Bernie Sanders or something?

Nope. It is freakin' Paul Volcker saying this stuff right now.
“The central issue is we’re developing into a plutocracy,” he told me. “We’ve got an enormous number of enormously rich people that have convinced themselves that they’re rich because they’re smart and constructive. And they don’t like government, and they don’t like to pay taxes.”
Holy crap, right?  Or, maybe not.  Maybe we ought to just keep on going with the status quo. That's what the local pundits say in their endorsements, anyway.  They know best. 

Property > people

At least 16 self-storage projects are in some phase of development in the New Orleans area, according to real estate investors and industry analysts. The boom will add well over 1 million square feet of new storage space — enough square footage to cover all of Canal Street from the Mississippi River to Interstate 10.

The recent boom in New Orleans is part of a national trend, driven by shifts in the real estate market, low interest rates, and the search by investors for a high-yielding investment that will hold up even in recessions.

The $32 billion dollar self-storage industry has grown by roughly 4.5 percent annually in recent years, significantly faster than the broader economy. In the last year, investors have added $4 billion in new storage spaces.
I especially love the image the Advocate chose to illustrate the extent of the square footage since the river-to-I10 is also a rough description of where most of the above sea level land is located around here.

Anyway, the city of New Orleans... like much of the country... is in the throes of a desperate affordable housing crisis.  Meanwhile capital has decided the best, highest, use of scarce real estate is building big lifeless crates to store things rather than house people.
That has helped push up rental rates on existing spaces. Real estate consultant Kevin Hilbert said investors have begun waking up to the fact that rents on some local storage units “are on a par with” suburban luxury apartments.

“Some storage companies can get $300 a month for a 10-foot by 10-foot unit,” he said. “You can get a pretty nice apartment for $3 a square foot.”

And self-storage, which generally consists of a warehouse divided into “rooms” of varying size, requires only a fraction of the maintenance and other costs that apartment buildings incur.

Real estate investors typically borrow most of the money they use to invest in properties, so low interest rates are allowing them to borrow cheaply.
Not a thing wrong with that market-driven system, right? Not according to  City Planning Comissioners Robert Steeg and Walter Isaacson who had this to say when considering a modest inclusionary zoning plan this month.
Commissioner Robert Steeg asked the CPC staff whether the city would be better “using a carrot rather than a stick” to attract affordable development through tax incentives, and whether there are “any empirical studies or data driven analysis as to which of those two methods works best.”

Isaacson also asked whether the “large amounts of new housing units proposed and coming onto the market” may end up dropping prices into affordable ranges “just by market forces.”
Market forces are going to have us all living in orange metal sheds, I guess, but that's the best we can do.

Update:  This afternoon your friends at CPC just voted to pass a recommendation to allow the Motwani-Sonder STR Strip on Canal St.  on up to City Council. As we've noted previously, the councilmembers don't seem to give a shit about protecting your housing stock from predatory capitalism either.  A lot of people have spent several years and a lot of hard work trying to convince them to give at least a little bit of a shit.  That hasn't worked.  I honestly have no idea if anything will.

Upperdate:  Okay now we can see why this all passed CPC so easily today.  The mayor, the DDD, and a few council members already had the fix in on it
Cantrell took a more critical view of the state of Canal Street. She remains concerned about cleanliness and the presence of vagrants often seen sleeping in the street.

"We have great, great space -- we know that and it's historic. But we have to do better," Cantrell said. "Even with pressure washing the buildings, you drive Canal Street, it's nasty. ... It still feels grimy."

Weigle said that in addition to Sonder's deal involving the three Motwani buildings, the Downtown Development District is exploring creative ways to get other buildings back in commerce. On the 800 block of Canal Street, Weigle said there's a plan to combine the vacant upper floors of three separately owned buildings into a new entity that would preserve the property rights of the first-floor owners who want to continue earning revenue from their respective retail spaces.
Love tooo preserve the retailers' property rights. But not nearly as much as we love "quality of life enforcement." 
Basically, they're gonna scrub the buildings down, hollow them out, and turn them all into vacation rental properties which they will protect the investment value of by aggressively rooting all us drunks, panhandlers and bicyclists out of the neighborhood.  This is Dizneylandrieu on steroids and I'm all out of answers as to what is to be done. For a minute or two we were kind of hoping it would make a difference if we just asked our elected reps to remember the poor folks a little bit when they made their land use decisions. But it's clear they don't give a shit.  Not sure what happens next. 

Bitter fish in crude oil sea

It's yet another busy week of trying to figure out how to find the NOAA page that tracks caravans or determining the racism content of soup.  Also there's early voting happening so a lot of concerned defenders of democracy are occupying their day screaming at "millenials" or Susan Sarandon or whatever they imagine the problem to be other than just the racist Republicans and corporate Democrats who are actually on the ballot. Oh and the Saints just traded for a (THE WRONG) cornerback so... yeah.. lots of stuff going on.

Which is one reason we may have missed this.
An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history. 

Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.
Is the biggest oil disaster in history better or worse if it happens over a period of fifteen years rather than six months?  Also how does one draw so much less attention than the other?
The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations, according to a lawsuit that eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan. The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north of the Taylor site in 2010.

The Interior Department is fighting an effort by Taylor Energy to walk away from the disaster. The company sued Interior in federal court, seeking the return of about $450 million left in a trust it established with the government to fund its work to recover part of the wreckage and locate wells buried under 100 feet of muck.
It's "largely unknown outside Louisiana," according to the Wa-Po.  But that doesn't mean it's constantly on everyone's mind here either.  Sure we get an occassional update. But it's remarkable that the Taylor spill has been relegated to the middle-to-back pages in the local press all these years.

It's not like the media doesn't know who they are... what with all the "iconic" philanthropy and whatnot

Monday, October 22, 2018

Kicking you off the internet

They've almost figured out the trick now.
For corporate media, the story of Russia covertly influencing the country promotes a climate where they can re-tighten their grip on the means of communication by accusing alternative media on both left and right of being Russian-sponsored “fake news.” As previously reported (FAIR.org, 8/22/18), under the guise of protecting readers, big media companies like Google, YouTube and Bing have changed their algorithms, resulting in devastating drops in traffic for reputable alternative media sites. Alternative media has been deleted, de-ranked, de-listed and de-monetized, effectively sidelining them. In response to ostensible Russian meddling, media giant Facebook announced last week (Washington Post, 10/11/18) it had shut down over 800 US accounts and pages for “inauthentic behavior,” a term even more nebulous than “fake news.” Included in the 800 were several police accountability watchdog groups and other alternative media, adding to its recent (temporary) deleting of TeleSUR English. 
It's been a tumultuous transition period in the media business. The most distortive trope we have to describe it would have us believe "the internet killed journalism."  But that's not anything like what's been going on.  Capitalism has been killing journalism for a long time.
Commercial journalism was never really great to begin with, of course. But as its practitioners experienced the same erosion of wages, benefits, and job security Americans have been subjected to as steadily worsening rates since the 1970s, they elected to tell that story as though it were a special circumstance unique to them.

Which is how we end up with confused narratives about the wonders of "disruption" which we only realized too late would turn out to be horrors.
It is only now, a decade after the financial crisis, that the American public seems to appreciate that what we thought was disruption worked more like extraction—of our data, our attention, our time, our creativity, our content, our DNA, our homes, our cities, our relationships. The tech visionaries’ predictions did not usher us into the future, but rather a future where they are kings.

They promised the open web, we got walled gardens. They promised individual liberty, then broke democracy—and now they’ve appointed themselves the right men to fix it.

But did the digital revolution have to end in an oligopoly? In our fog of resentment, three recent books argue that the current state of rising inequality was not a technological inevitability. Rather the narrative of disruption duped us into thinking this was a new kind of capitalism. The authors argue that tech companies conquered the world not with software, but via the usual route to power: ducking regulation, squeezing workers, strangling competitors, consolidating power, raising rents, and riding the wave of an economic shift already well underway.
It looks like the books reviewed in that article are pretty interesting.  But it's also absurd to pretend nobody saw any of this coming.  But if we do not pretend then we have to grapple with the fundamental problem of a media industry dominated by billionaires and mega-conglomerates. We're not going to do that so instead we're going to kick you off the internet. That'll fix everything for sure. 

Oh yeah I forgot to link to Alli's podcast on the blog this week

Here it is.  Recorded Thursday and came out Friday so it's still pretty fresh this time around. I guess we've had a sports weekend since then.  More on that in a bit.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Sad Leon is the real victim

John Bel's criminal justice reforms took his allowance away. Emphasis added here by me for fun.
Cannizzaro also complained that the funding wasn't being used to help victims more, specifically that it wasn't being given victims' programs operated by district attorneys.

"We must also be sure, in the rush toward criminal justice reform, the most important demographic is not forgotten or neglected. I speak of the victims of these offenders," Cannizzaro said. "I am hopeful that as justice reinvestment moves forward, that the victims of violent crime and those that advocate for them, will receive a more equitable share of the funds."

Most of the offenders affected by the criminal justice overhaul -- including those who have had their sentences shortened in 2017 -- didn't commit crimes that involve victims. The focus of the criminal justice overhaul was on prisoners who committed nonviolent crimes. Over half of the crimes committed in Louisiana are nonviolent offenses without victims, said officials with the Department of Corrections.

Victims services also are getting a boost in funding thanks to the criminal justice overhaul. The law requires that 20 percent of any savings that is pumped back into the criminal justice system from the criminal justice overhaul be spent on victim services. Edwards announced this week that $1.7 million more is available for victim assistance because of the prison population reduction, though it's not going to programs run by the district attorneys.
The most significant way in which the reforms affect victims of violent crimes at all is in the form of the nice little funding boost it provides for victims services.  Leon doesn't care so much about that as he does that he isn't seeing any of the money himself.  Sounds like somebody's got a victim complex.

By week five or six, your roster is finally set

I really think the Saints  have been treating the first quarter of the regular season as sort of a training camp extension in recent years. In the first two weeks they shuffle a bunch of guys on and off of the roster. I don't think the defense really knew what it wanted to do for the first few games last year but sorted things out in the third or fourth game.  The same thing might be happening this year.  They still don't seem to know who the punt returner is.

Also, the Ingram suspension and the cautious recovery of Cameron Meredith have dramatically altered the offense already. It was nice to see Tre Quan Smith start to come on a little bit against Washington.  Looks like they're going to need more of that now.
The Saints have lost their deep threat.

New Orleans placed Ted Ginn Jr. on injured reserve on Thursday, which will keep him on the shelf for at least eight weeks, if not the rest of the season.

The wide receiver has been battling a knee injury and was seen in the locker room on Wednesday wearing a thin sleeve. With him out, it is likely that Tre'Quan Smith will receive more playing time moving forward.

Ginn appeared in the first four games of the season and collected 135 yards on 13 receptions. He was out during last week's game against the Washington Redskins, during which Smith saw his most extensive role and finished the game with three catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
So, the important point here is, we're still not sure who is even on the 2018 Saints yet.  It's nice when you can kind of accidentally end up 4-1 while figuring all that stuff out.  

The boil order decade

It happened again
Residents in the Lower 9th Ward have been asked to boil water if they intend to use it after a pump was taken offline at a Sewerage and Water Board plant.

People in that area are asked not to drink, make ice or brush their teeth with tap water until further notice.

Water pressure in the area dropped below 20 psi, which automatically triggers such an advisory. The pressure dropped after a pump at the Carrollton Water Plant was taken offline about 8 a.m., and another pump was brought online.

Other area of the city were not affected. 
This thing where they lose pressure at Carrollton but it only affects the Lower Nine is relatively new. I think this is the second one this year. What causes that?   

Thursday, October 18, 2018

No more $1000 bike tickets

Well, maybe that's not a guarantee.  But we do know you aren't required to register your bike anymore so there's some positive news.
For private citizens, bike registration is now voluntary, though the cash fee to do so will jump from $3 to $5 on Jan. 1, 2019.

“Bicycle registration was initially put in place to ensure the safe return of citizen’s property, and we hope people will continue to utilize the program,” said Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, who authored the ordinance, in a statement.

The ordinance also moves bike registration management from the purview of the New Orleans Police Department to the Department of Safety and Permits. Under the NOPD, registration has been a cumbersome process for those without proof of purchase for their bikes.
Someone will still have to explain to me how registering your bike helps you with "the safe return of your property."  At least please show me someone who got their bike back because of that.

"Bond angels"

Okay let's first make some statements for the record. Posting bail bonds on behalf of people who can't afford it is a terrific harm reduction model. And since this organization is also working to end the cash bail system itself, they deserve support. Let's be clear about that at least. 
A 31-year-old man sat in the New Orleans jail for 15 days this June until he got surprising news from his attorney: Someone was posting his $2,500 bail for a heroin possession arrest. It wasn’t his fiancĂ©e, who had been trying to scrounge up the cash. “Bonded out by who?” he recalled asking. “I couldn’t believe it. They just picked me.”

The answer was an organization called the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund. Until this month, it has flown under the radar — except for the lucky defendants awaiting trial who have been released thanks to its money. The group's founders include Joshua Cox, a senior adviser to Mayor LaToya Cantrell who has continued posting bails since Cantrell took office, including that of the man who was arrested for heroin possession.

To the man released from jail, who asked to remain anonymous, they are the “bond angels.” His charge was refused by prosecutors the day after his release.
I'm a little curious about the Advocate's position here. This article mentions Cox's relationship with Cantrell several times.  The impression one gets is they intend it to be a hit piece on her somehow.  But tying her to a cause like this hardly seems like it should reflect poorly on her.

In any case, it is much to the Freedom Fund's credit that it has pissed off Leon Cannizzaro.  For this they probably deserve some sort of medal.
Cannizzaro declined an interview request, but he made his feelings clear in a statement.
“This is a very disturbing set of circumstances,” he said.

Family members or friends who post a cash bail with their own money will encourage a defendant to show up in court when ordered, he said. Otherwise, they stand to lose their money. “But when there is some outside group, some agency we don’t know anything about, simply posting the bond for the individual and walking away, then it gives the defendant no reason, no incentive to show up. And so he doesn’t have to be accountable,” he continued.
Still, having said all of that, it's hard to ignore the elephant in the room here. As much as we support the Freedom Fund's work, in this case it must be said that they are, in fact, terrible people. 
In an interview on Tuesday, Medbery and another group member, software developer Chris Laibe, said the Freedom Fund sprang out of the same concerns the federal judge had about the New Orleans bail system.

Medbery and Laibe said a group of entrepreneurs like them, under the name of the Krewe de Nieux, had been looking for a way to change the city’s criminal justice system.
That may seem like a small thing for now. But just make a note of it. It's likely to become relevant sooner or later.  

What did Cogsdale know and when did they know it?

Everybody here is doing a fantastic job of building trust which is good to have when you want people to believe their bills are accurate.
The company that created the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board’s trouble-plagued billing software now says efforts to fix widespread problems with the system were “well underway” before the City Council contacted the company this summer, walking back comments one of the firm’s employees made earlier this week.

According to a joint statement from Cogsdale Corp. and the S&WB, which was released by the utility on Wednesday, weekly meetings aimed at resolving problems with overcharges and other issues have been held since March.

The statement appeared to contradict comments Cogsdale’s director of professional services, Judy Wells, made during a hearing before the City Council’s Public Works Committee on Monday.

During that meeting, Wells was asked several times by council members when the firm first learned of the “crisis” of overcharges and other problems S&WB customers have suffered in recent years. Wells initially said the company first heard about the problems through media reports and then repeatedly said the company was not “formally” notified about the problems until a letter from the council this summer.
Just say what is happening.  Or at least pick one lie and stick with that. 

Jeff Landry needs a new gimmick

This credit card thing is not panning out for him politically so it is time to move on. 
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has been cleared of the possibility of criminal charges associated with her use of a city-issued credit card when she was a City Council member. The issue first arose during her campaign for mayor last year.

Attorney General Jeff Landry's office released a statement Wednesday (Oct. 17) saying the mayor has been cleared of any charges after an investigation that Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro recused himself from during the campaign. Landry, a Republican who has at times cast himself as a political opponent of New Orleans interests, praised Cantrell for her cooperation.
This comes relatively quickly on the heels of a legislative auditor's report that didn't exactly absolve Cantrell and other City Councilmembers of wrongdoing.  But it did kind of excuse them all from prosecution on account of the lax or confusing policies they were operating under.  We've argued previously that there's actually plenty to look into with regard to all of them and Cantrell in particular. But no investigating authority was ever serious about upsetting any apple carts that might also benefit political allies of theirs. More than anything this is a case of everybody does it therefore it must be okay.

Jeff Landry certainly wasn't interested in getting anything out of it besides attention and, with that, a leg up in next year's gubernatorial race. But since the story doesn't have the juice he hoped it would, it's time to let it die.

Landry had been playing a similar game with this November's ballot.  Amendment 2 which, if passed, would require unanimous verdicts for convictions in criminal jury trials. Jeff appears to have calculated there were political points for the taking for the only figure of any prominence to publicly oppose the amendment.  But since the money and momentum has steadily built toward a statewide bipartisan consensus in favor of the amendment, it's looking more and more like he'll have to abandon that gambit as well.

Landry has been trying to establish himself as the most serious challenger to John Bel Edwards. But the more these little schemes of his fail to pan out, the more likely it becomes that other Republicans will enter the race. He's running out of time and ideas.  Wonder what he might try next. How about state backed voter suppression. Certainly sounds like him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Okay but identify the villains

Here is a brief article in the Guardian US about efforts to organize workers in Louisiana's seafood processing plants.  Perhaps this is an overly optimistic account but it says here the local workers are succeeding at finding common cause with the "guest workers" brought in on H-2b visas.
Formed in 2017 as an offshoot of organizing being done by the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice the Seafood Workers Alliance has hundreds of members in 15 different plants throughout Louisiana.

The organization has focused heavily on suing employers and building alliances with local communities so that workers can help push back when they face abuses in the workplace. They’ve built deep ties in particular with the African American community. Often, low wage employers have attempted to pit low wage African American workers against Latino workers, who many saw as coming to Louisiana to take their jobs.

Through combined struggle, the workers have learned that, while their struggles are different, their problems both with local employers and enforcement are similar.

“Look, we understand now that when they say deportation that’s incarceration for black people,” said Alfred Marshall, a middle-aged African American activist with Stand with Dignity, also a project of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice.

“When they say undocumented, we know that there are over 50,000-60,000 people in New Orleans who have outstanding warrants on them that can’t even go get a job because of the fear they have,” said Marshall.

“The language they use is different, but the problems are the same and now we understand that better than ever.”
The employers in this industry thrive on exploiting the H-2 program which subjects foreign workers to horrendous abuses and depresses the wages and working conditions of the Americans they are forced to compete with.   Here is an extended Buzzfeed feature from 2015 on the appalling conditions imposed on guest workers in Louisiana and elsewhere. 
Each year, more than 100,000 people from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and South Africa come to America on what is known as an H-2 visa to perform all kinds of menial labor across a wide spectrum of industries: cleaning rooms at luxury resorts and national parks, picking fruit, cutting lawns and manicuring golf courses, setting up carnival rides, trimming and planting trees, herding sheep, or, in the case of Valdez, Gonzalez, and about 20 other Mexican women in 2011, peeling crawfish at L.T. West Inc.

A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government databases and investigative files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of court documents, as well as more than 80 interviews with workers and employers — shows that the program condemns thousands of employees each year to exploitation and mistreatment, often in plain view of government officials charged with protecting them. All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wages, threatened with guns, beaten, raped, starved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.

Many of those employers have since been approved to bring in more guest workers. Some have even been rewarded with lucrative government contracts. Almost none have ever been charged with a crime.
In response to these outrages, the Department of Labor tightened some of the rules intended to protect against some of these abuses. This was immediately opposed by Senator Bill Cassidy and then-Congressman Charles Boustany. They both frequently boast of the "friends" they have in the industry.  Over the past few years, enforcement of the new rules has been de-funded and other restrictions on the guest worker program selectively modified by the Trump Administration although courts have ruled the DOL does retain enforcement authority should it choose to exercise it.

In any case, it's good to see the organizing efforts of both foreign and native workers in Louisiana meeting with some measure of success. That is, if the situation is as rosy as that Guardian story implies.  In not mentioning our industry-friendly Republican Senators or our insane President, they seem to have left some important villains out of the narrative.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Set em up, knock em down, collect all the money that comes loose

Post-Citizens United political fundraising is a never-ending grift from all sides now.
P4AD is spending $10.8 million on seven races this cycle. In three of those, the group is going up against Republicans, spending enough money to potentially affect the final outcome and elect a Democrat. In the two races where it is attacking Democrats, P4AD is essentially throwing money away, since the incumbents have no real opposition in their general elections. The group is also supporting a red-state Democrat in a tight Senate race for re-election, where the money will matter, as well as a House Republican with a 30-point advantage who doesn’t need the cash infusion.

The political action committee’s odd spending decisions are a window into the absurd campaign finance world ushered into existence by the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling made by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four other Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Through those floodgates has rushed John Arnold, a billionaire trader who made his fortune at Enron and then as a natural gas speculator. He provides 99 percent of the funding for Patients for Affordable Drugs Action, P4AD’s political wing, with the ostensible purpose of pressuring lawmakers to drive down prescription drug prices.

Why on earth would an organization spend money against a Democratic candidate it has no chance of beating? P4AD touts itself as a bipartisan organization, which means that come election time, it needs to spend money targeting both Republicans and Democrats. 
It doesn't matter whether or not the money actually accomplishes anything. What's important is that a lot of money gets put into big piles that can be skimmed. 

Effortless living

Pretty much the definition of nice things for rich people
The short-term rental company Sonder -- now the largest single operator of vacation rentals in the city -- has master leased 111 apartments in the renovated Jung Hotel building. The deal with hotel developer Joe Jaeger's MCC Group, the terms of which were not disclosed, closed in early September.

Jaeger retains control of the hotel's operations, and Sonder is handling the advertising and operations of the 110 high-end luxury units, which were listed on Apartments.com at one point for between $3,900 and $5,900 per month. None of those units were ever leased, so Sonder approached MCC Group with a bid to master lease the units and rent them out on short-term rental platforms.

Jaeger "is a visionary and he had this forward-thinking idea to have effortless living -- you could lease an apartment and have access to housekeeping, they'd stock your fridge," said Peter Bowen, general manager of Sonder New Orleans. "They just couldn't lease any of them up."
Sonder is talking about this arrangement as though it were something completely new. But timeshare/hotel developments have been around for a long long time.  It's not something anybody needs to celebrate, though, unless they're Joe Jaeger or Mike Motwani or whichever of the permanent New Orleans Oligarchy happens to be making a new bundle of money from it.

It does call into further question our chances of clamping down on commercial short term rentals, though.  
The New Orleans City Council is moving toward restricting short-term rentals to commercially zoned areas after about 18 months of allowing "temporary" licenses in residential zones. Sonder doesn't object to those regulations, but it's staunchly opposed to a proposal that would limit short-term rentals in commercial multifamily buildings to 25 percent.

"Each deal is unique, and a 25 percent cap can hamper and slow developers," Bowen said.
Hey look at that, we guessed right about this last week.  Anyway, here we are yet again looking at a situation where the same old developers and landlords conspire with the same old useless politicians (Jason Williams) to continue driving poor people out of New Orleans.  It's almost effortless the way that happens.

Congratulations to us

Breaking all the records
So much for that fall-like weather. The high temperature in New Orleans on Monday (Oct. 15) matched the historic record for that day, peaking at a balmy 90 degrees just after noon, according to National Weather Service data.
Not a lot of people are old enough to remember this but it did, in fact, snow here this year. 


New Orleans has so many problems.  People here are under-employed, under-housed, under-insured.  There's a lot of stuff our elected persons could be working on.  Jason Williams is trying to help the Motwanis and Sonder make a little more money off of the "under-retailed" though.
On Monday, City Council President Jason Williams expressed optimism that Sonder’s approach would help efforts to bring more big-box retailers, such as an Apple store or Pottery Barn, to Canal.

New Orleans is significantly under-retailed, but it’s not because we don’t have people with resources who want to spend money,” he said. “It’s because of our lack of investment over a period of time.”

Sonder operates about 350 commercial short-term rental units in the city, according to Bowen.
It's good to see someone is finally looking out for "people with resources" in this city.  You know it's been really hard for them ever since their special money club went under.
Aaron Motwani, CEO of Quarter Holdings, the Motwani family company that owns 1016 Canal, said the work there was “a long time coming,” partly due to financing that collapsed after First NBC Bank failed in April 2017. But now, partnering with Sonder on a 10-year lease offered a new option for using the building's space, he said.

“Canal Street has always been tough to attract retail and residents,” he said.
It's so tough to get "retail and residents" to the most valuable high ground property in the city.  Probably a good idea to put in a 200 STR virtual hotel, then. That will help a lot.  Maybe Jason isn't very bright about how this stuff works.  He was quoted last week as saying the luxury hotel will "help pull short term rentals out of the neighborhoods." Because building nice things for rich people has done a fantastic job of relieving the affordable housing crisis so far.  But this is the same guy who told us the rules passed two years ago would allow the city to use STR operators' "disruptive technology to disrupt them," so it seems he is likely to believe just about anything. 

Or maybe he's just likely to repeat whatever bullshit line the "people with resources" are pushing . It's probably that.

Monday, October 15, 2018

There have been some ups and downs

Hurricane season. Below normal but above average.
The 2018 hurricane season has so far seen above-average storm activity and a near-normal number of major hurricanes, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phillip Klotzbach.

Earlier in the season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's revised forecast issued Aug. 9 noted forecasters expected a "below-normal" season with up to 13 named storms for the entire season, at least four of were to be hurricanes. This hurricane season's first forecast -- issued April 5 -- called for a "slightly above-average" season. 

Don't pay your water bill for at least six more months

That's the soonest they think it might be accurate.
Ghassan Korban, the Sewerage & Water Board's executive director, said Monday that the utility has hired the Baton Rouge-based consulting firm Utiliworks to evaluate the billing system and provide recommendations for what to do going forward. As for when the utility might be able to assure the public that its billing system is entirely fixed, Korban said he expects to be in that position within the next six months.

"We will finally have the timely and accurate billing system that our customers deserve," said Korban, who started on the job last month

Just taaakee the moneeys

The Advocate editorial board doesn't like LaToya's idea for funding critical infrastructure. They haven't got any helpful advice in that regard. But they do know they don't want anybody taking all the moneys away from their friends at the Convention Center.
The mayor’s chief quarrel is with the convention center board, which is proposing a subsidized 1,200-room hotel project at the upriver end of the massive hall to help draw conventioneers away from the French Quarter. The nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research estimates the subsidies at $330 million, but the convention center’s consultants say the value is about half that — and negotiations should trim the sum further. The hotel would benefit the city, and the project has support from the tourism industry. But the center has its work cut out to sell the public on the idea of a subsidy.

If the mayor wants to rebuild the Sewerage & Water Board, though, it may call for more disruptive thinking than just trying to grab at tourism dollars. The S&WB’s water and sewerage functions are largely financed by user fees — which would work just fine if the agency could calculate customer bills correctly.
There are several questionable assertions in that passage.  The Editors tell us the convention center hotel "would benefit the city," without saying how.  A $330 million public subsidy toward a private for-profit venture seems like the opposite of a public benefit.  Maybe they just mean it publicly benefits Joe Jaeger as the Gambit editorial board pointed out earlier,
It’s also ironic that one of the local developers behind the proposal is businessman and hotelier Joe Jaeger. During this year’s regular legislative session, when Harrah’s New Orleans casino sought to build a high-rise hotel entirely with private money — and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to boot — in exchange for extending its license for 30 more years, Jaeger led the charge to kill the proposal, arguing it was being rushed through to passage. Now Jaeger and fellow developer Darryl Berger seek approval for a much sweeter deal, though the mayor’s letter and media scrutiny seem to have slowed this project’s timetable. Rodrigue says the Convention Center board is waiting for an outside analysis of the proposed project (due later this month or in September) before taking a vote.
Aside: Should note also that during Jaeger's crusade against the Harrah's hotel, the Advocate ran this glowing profile of him and his cause.  The Gambit and Advocate are the same company now.  They say Gambit maintains editorial independence and this episode seems to bear that out.  But one wonders if that is sustainable over the long term.  For a while I thought maybe the plan was to position the two as a lame right/left "both sides" presentation. But that hasn't been developed as fully... or... as the mayor would say... as intentionally as expected.  Instead, they're just kind of co-existing for now. 

The Advocate piece talks a lot about "disruptive thinking" but never really explains what that might mean. The mayor is a "disruptor" we are told. Her proposal to take money away from the tourism agencies "displays her disruptive side." But they also explicitly argue against that plan so we have to wonder whether they actually mean it as a compliment.  Maybe they're saying LaToya is just doing the disrupting wrong.

Typically when we hear that word, the context has to do with regulatory arbitrage. "Disruption" in our modern economy happens most often when a company creates and exploits loopholes in labor and consumer protection laws to position itself as a middle-man in new and legally dubious markets.  The social consequences of this activity are almost always negative. "Disruptors" profit by the subversion of laws meant to protect employees from exploitation or housing prices from out of control speculation.  Another example would be a private company who takes over a municipal water system.  And President Trump's infrastructure plan is deliberately pushing more cities to sell their utilities off to these "disruptors."
Those financial priorities are crystallized in the new guidelines established by the White House. The ability to find sources of funding outside the federal government will be the most important yardstick, accounting for 70 percent of the formula for choosing infrastructure projects. How “the project will spur economic and social returns on investment” ranks at the bottom, at just 5 percent.

In this new competition for federal funds, a plan to, say, build a better access road for a luxury development — a project with the potential to bring in more dollars from private investors — could have a strong chance of getting the green light. By comparison, a critical tunnel overhaul that has trouble getting new money might not be approved.

“Instead of the public sector deciding on public needs and public priorities, the projects that are most attractive to private investors are the ones that will go to the head of the line,” said Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning and international affairs at Columbia University. “Private investors will become the tail that will wag the dog, because they’ll want projects that will give returns.”
In the midst of all its disruption talk, the Advocate editorial also suggests that the mayor and SWB look to Washington for guidance. "They can also explore whether there is a federal role in the rebuild, since Washington has spent a lot of money cleaning up after flooding in New Orleans," it says. I wonder if the Advocate Editors read the Times-Picayune this weekend, though.  Because it says here that our $2 billion in federal infrastructure funds are basically spent already.  And most of that isn't going to modernize our drainage system. It's going to #FixMyStreets.
According to Green, the city plans to move forward with the first rounds of federally funded road reconstruction projects, even though they may not involve the water-holding features Diaz advocates. That's because many projects have already been designed and risk running up against a 2022 FEMA deadline to wrap up the $2 billion settlement work.

Green also said New Orleans residents and businesses have lived long enough with crumbling streets that have already been earmarked for improvements.

"Do we want to do traditional street paving in this city in the way it's done in other places that don't have this problem? I would say absolutely not," Green said. "But I would also say you have to balance that with the desire that neighborhoods and citizens have to get their streets done quickly ..."
But let's at least give the Editors the benefit of the doubt and assume they pay some attention to the national news.  If they understand that future federal infrastructure funding is going to be predicated on privatization then their argument in that case becomes this. Cantrell is a "disruptive thinker" and that's good.  But she should not think to "disrupt" a status quo where Louisiana taxpayers subsidize Joe Jaeger's private hotel. That would be bad. Instead they prefer she consider disrupting public ownership of S&WB so that some other private actor can profit by that as well.  At least they're consistent.

If the mayor wants to disrupt something for real, she would push on with this idea to take all the moneys from our local tourism oligarchs and put it into something we can all benefit from. Or she could agree with the Advocate and the Trump administration that the only good disruption is the kind that makes rich people richer at everyone else's expense. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The woke white supremacy war memorial

A couple of weeks ago, Ron Forman announced a new scheme for convincing voters to dedicate public money toward the maintenance of his six figure salary It involves holding all of the city's parks and recreation facilities hostage.
The ballot issue being discussed would provide brand new tax revenue for City Park, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the city’s Department of Parks and Parkways, and the Trust for Public Land, the group behind the Lafitte Greenway.

It also would keep tax dollars flowing to the Audubon Nature Institute, a nonprofit which operates the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Park and several other nature-based attractions for the Audubon Commission, a city agency.

An Audubon spokeswoman would not discuss how much money the agencies might seek or when they hope to put the issue before voters, but she said details will be released soon.

"We are in the process of creating a robust engagement plan to inform the community about the partnership ... and will have more information in the weeks ahead," Lauren Messina Conrad said.
That is some heavy word choice from Conrad.  You know who else had a "robust" plan to inform the community? The Times-Picayune.

It's fine to ask New Orleanians to boost funding for public parks. But a better deal for everyone would get us to a place where those same public funds aren't also supporting the social and political activities of the elite brunch clubs who sit on the boards of Audubon, City Park, and the Trust for Public Land.   And they certainly shouldn't be purposed in ways that help those individuals compound their wealth.  But Mayor Cantrell doesn't seem like she cares about any of that.  All that matters to her is that everybody gets along.  And since a lot of these rich people are friends and allies of hers, it's nice to see them all do well together. She really had to tip her hat to that.
"A lot of people felt like, 'Money is going to Audubon, and we don't know how they are benefiting or not,' " Cantrell said at a luncheon Thursday at City Park. "This time around, I really have to tip my hat to Mr. Forman, because he is rethinking and being creative as the taxes come up for renewal."
But Forman isn't the only prominent Uptown political donor thinking creatively.  Frank Stewart also has an idea.  
A pair of men who opposed the toppling of Gen. Robert E. Lee's statue from Lee Circle want New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to replace the Confederate general with a plaza dedicated to a range of U.S. military and associated organizations.

And, apparently undeterred by the year and a half that has passed since Lee was taken from his pedestal, their plan calls for returning the focus of the St. Charles Avenue traffic circle to the man who led the Confederacy’s armies in Virginia with a series of plaques largely dedicated to his biography.

While the idea of a war memorial itself seems formulated to win broad support — the proposal specifies new statues should feature figures of diverse races and genders and include dedications to the troops of many wars, their families and even the Red Cross — the reintroduction of plaques lauding Lee would be a controversial move.
Stewart and Charles Marsala want to bring Lee back.  Only this time they want to do it "inclusively." According to this logic, anyone who objects to the Lee monument must also hate the troops of diverse races and genders.  It's the woke way to commemorate white supremacy. 

Cantrell hasn't publicly tipped her hat to this idea yet. But it's very much in the same spirit of what Forman is proposing. And, remember, the mayor said several months back she would be working with monument supporters like Stewart to come up with something that will make them happy. 

As for resurrecting the fallen monuments, Cantrell she said she’d support the group's intentions but also made it clear where she thinks the city’s responsibility ends.

“My plan is to work with those who care about them and come up with a plan that I could support,” she said. “And they will pay for it.”
That bit about how "they will pay for it" bears watching also. Particularly since they're going to install this on thing in a public space. And especially particularly if Forman's creative funding plan for those public spaces goes through.