Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Jim Bernhard got what he wanted

Was obvious they would have to cut him in one way or another. This seems pretty creative

The LSU Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to split an $810 million energy deal between two contractors, Enwave Energy Corp. and a joint venture that includes Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard and the national firm Johnson Controls Inc.

The LSU board did not disclose the price of the deal during the meeting, but LSU officials confirmed it afterward. The agreement calls for the university to pay Enwave $27 million per year over the next three decades. How much money Enwave makes off the deal will fluctuate annually based on natural gas prices and the price of the energy Enwave produces for LSU, said LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard.

Enwave will pay Louisiana Energy Partners — the name of the joint venture between Bernhard LLC and Johnson Controls — directly, instead of LSU paying both entities, Ballard said.
I wonder if that means he can be on the board now, too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Who inspects the inspectors

Basically the Code Enforcement Director for the City of Kenner also works for the building inspector that he outsources his department's work to. That is supposed to be fine because the work he does for the inspector doesn't happen in Kenner.  It happens in New Orleans and in Jefferson.  The "gotcha" in this story is that some of those New Orleans jobs might have been fraudulent (or just sloppy mix ups, you will have to decide) but it's the obvious conflict of interest that is the problem. 

Surely we wouldn't let anything like that happen in our city.

The first of the month is coming

 There's one every month. 

Now, thanks to the coronavirus aid package passed by Congress in December, DuBois and thousands of others across the state could soon see the crushing weight of debt lifted off their shoulders. DuBois is one of about 4,000 people who have signed up for New Orleans' rental assistance program in the last week, hoping to tap into the first infusion of what is expected to be about $26 million in cash from the U.S. Treasury Department's $25 billion rental assistance program.

$26 million sounds like a lot but it's nowhere near enough to fill the need. So the city will have to ration it.

The city's program, which can be applied for in the coronavirus section of the ready.nola.gov website, is going to pay all past-due rent for qualified applicants, plus one additional month going forward. The guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department allows for up to three months in advance, but given that demand will far outstrip supply, the city decided to pay just one month to help reach more people, Willman said. The city also decided not to use any of the money to pay residents' past-due utility bills, even though the Treasury funds are approved for that purpose as well. 

Willman said the city is working with applicants to get all the necessary supporting documents and once that happens, it will be 10-14 days for payments to be made directly to landlords.

Not that it won't help. It will. But it helps only just enough to keep desperate renters just as desperate. It's really more of a landlord assistance program.

Big dickish Entergy

Sometimes you have to wonder if they're just doing it to be mean to people

Entergy officials explained that the cuts were mandated by the regional independent system operator, Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), in order to prevent the system from completely overloading and triggering a wider and more severe blackout.

However, Entergy also revealed that Entergy New Orleans shed power load of 81 megawatts, when it was asked to shed just 26 megawatts. That resulted in thousands of customers losing power for more than an hour last Tuesday night as temperatures plunged below freezing.

City Council (in their capacity as the regulatory body here) called Entergy in to yell at them. Although judging from David Ellis's response it's not clear that did any good. 

Moreno stopped the meeting to demand that Entergy New Orleans chief executive David Ellis attend immediately to explain why the outages had been so extensive.

Joining the virtual meeting, Ellis said Entergy New Orleans was still investigating why its computer programs ended up shutting off power to so many New Orleans customers.

"We will provide you with infinitely more information once we know," Ellis said, but he explained that Entergy had been dealing with the emergency situation for most of last week, even after the rolling cuts on Tuesday.

 New computer who dis.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

You can build it back better later

The Governor's budget proposal is due out this week. It looks like they are going to plan for cuts now that they expect to undo once the stimulus comes in. 

Jay Dardenne, the commissioner of administration for Gov. John Bel Edwards, plans to kick off the negotiations on February 26 by presenting a budget proposal to the Legislature that includes spending cuts based on current revenue projections.

But the potential for more federal aid is on the horizon. President Joe Biden’s push for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which would be the third federal aid bill since the pandemic started, could ease the state’s losses, and put Louisiana in a stronger position for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1.

“It's anticipated that we get a federal stimulus. If that's the case, then we'll be in better shape,” said state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, the chairman of House Appropriations Committee. “Because the economy is in such bad shape right now, we’re hoping we'll have a similar situation to what we had last fiscal year, and we won't know that until the federal stimulus package comes in. We're anticipating it, but there's no guarantee until it comes. That's kind of what we need and are depending upon to continue to get us through this crisis.”

A month ago, the Revenue Estimating Conference deliberately chose a more conservative projection than was really necessary, not only because they didn't know the size of the stimulus, but also because they chose to lowball projected tax collections.  So there should be ample opportunity to add back later whatever cuts show up in the proposal now.

Of course, the last time this legislature had to figure out what to do with federal stimulus funds, they carved out $300 million for John Schroder to dispense on his own.  So we'll have to see what they come up with this time.


Sites vs doses

The state wants to set up a mass vaccination site at the Convention Center. Sounds like a great idea. We've been trying to put that public facility to work for the actual public for so long now. Also there's nothing else going on there right now, anyway. Of course a nice open public vaccination facility isn't much good unless it actually has vaccines to dispense. 

Kanter said the city is prepared to staff the vaccination site itself, working with LCMC Health, which operates six hospitals and urgent care centers in the region. But Kanter said the city "would like some financial reimbursement on it. And the doses would be important to all of us. So, those are the two biggest things."

The Biden administration said it intends to open 100 federal vaccination sites by the end of the month in an effort to speed the immunizations, with the first two locations opened Tuesday in California. But governors and health officials around the country are mixed on the offer because they don't necessarily need more places to administer the vaccine, but simply more doses overall.

Kanter said FEMA has set the distinction that a "pilot site" comes with extra vaccine doses supplied by the federal government, while other federally-supported vaccination sites will not.

If I am reading the current stimulus proposal correctly, I think I see $7.5 billion in federal support for vaccine activities so one would hope the reimbursement issue wouldn't be a problem.  Maybe it has to do with FEMA's procedures.  Anyway the other interesting thing here is the Biden people seem to be measuring their goals in the number of sites open as opposed to the number of doses available which sounds like it could lead to some problems if those things get too far out of sync.

Thursday, February 18, 2021


Looks like they weren't intentional enough about how to do the intentional power shut-offs Tuesday night.  

NEW ORLEANS — When Entergy cut power to customers in the Carrollton and Riverbend areas during Tuesday night's freeze, the Sewerage and Water Board was one of those customers, and a key piece of critical public infrastructure lost power for almost an hour.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Helana Morena said it wasn't supposed to happen. An Entergy spokesman said it was an error on their part.

"It was our water system, our groundwater intake," the councilwoman said. "It was resolved quickly, caught quickly, but in my opinion, it should have never happened to begin with."

The Sewerage and Water Board said it lost power at its Hamilton Station, where motors pump water from the Mississippi River into the Carrollton Water Plant. That water is then treated and sent out to homes and businesses across the city.

A S&WB spokeswoman said the executive director of the water utility, Ghassan Korban, had to call Entergy's CEO David Ellis to complain. Entergy spokesman John Hawkins said it was their mistake.

"Those (electricity) feeders shouldn't have been on that (blackout) list, and they have been removed," Hawkins said. "That was addressed last night, so it won't happen again.

So far it hasn't happened again.  Although, they did threaten to run us through the drill again last night to find out.

NEW ORLEANS — Entergy is asking customers to use less power with another night of freezing temperatures ahead for the New Orleans area.

Freezing weather is causing a critical shortage of electricity in our area. It got so bad Tuesday night that Entergy and Cleco implemented rotating black outs in New Orleans and on the Northshore to preserve the integrity of the power grid.

Notice Entergy has gone out of its way to warn customers expecting to be able to heat their homes in dangerous freezing conditions that this is probably their fault for being so greedy. 

Entergy asked customers to be especially conservative between the normally heavy use times of 5 pm to 10 pm.

"This unusual request is due to the demand for electricity potentially exceeding the available generation due to the extreme cold and weather conditions currently impacting our service territory," said Lee Sabatini, the Entergy New Orleans Communications Director. "Current load forecasts are approaching an all-time peak, even greater than those experienced during the polar vortex of January 2019."
But it isn't your fault. It is theirs. Specifically it is the deregulated US energy market that allows this sort of catastrophic failure to happen in the first place. 

Instead of state agencies regulating the business of monopoly utilities in a centralized manner, deregulated grids create a series of perpetual auctions running across the country. Electricity arrives in your home as the result of nonstop bidding and profit-maximization. Put very simply, does Alice’s natural gas plant generate the next unit of electricity that feeds into the grid, or does it come from Bob’s wind farm? Place your bets, Alice and Bob, and let’s see who wins!

Now imagine that happening every five minutes every single day, twenty-four hours a day. There’s also a separate auction for day-ahead dispatch (who plans to generate it twenty-four hours from now?) and, in most RTOs except for Texas, an auction for reserving some amount of power capacity over a year in advance (who plans to have power available in a year?), a market-based perversion of centralized planning.

If the fundamental objective of a grid is to produce enough electricity to meet demand at all times — in other words, reliability — then how does the deregulated market accomplish it? Not through direct coordination of productive assets but through an endlessly complicated system of auctions, requests, incentives, and price signals. Regardless, the blackouts in Texas prove that it doesn’t always accomplish reliability, just like it didn’t in 2011, the last time extreme weather led to major blackouts in Texas, or last summer in California, to pick only a few examples.

What’s worse, there’s nobody to blame because, hey, the grid operator is just the auctioneer who set up the technocratic process to incentivize private development of those productive assets. With wholesale electricity prices hovering at the $9000/MWh maximum price, about three hundred times the normal price, scarcity of life’s necessities means scarcity price signals to encourage future investment. But with average prices far lower due to increasing gas and wind, it’s not economical for private plant owners to weatherize their plants better. Truly, it’s the invisible hand that keeps your lights on — too bad that hand is just as ephemeral as the electricity that powers them.

Nobody to blame, maybe, but also plenty of customers to blame for.. not knowing how to use an oven?

Anyway, it's this thing where individuals are forced to bear the cost of price spikes in the natural gas and wholesale electricity market and pay for the mistakes and negligence committed by utility companies that is the problem. Not regular people trying to stay warm. 

If your power has been deliberately shut off because we live under a failed neoliberal regime that can't supply life sustaining necessities to people unless corporate entities realize massive profits, don't worry too much. Remember your bill doubled last month because of a "planned outage" that somehow overlapped another unplanned outage or something.  This time all the outages are definitely planned so that shouldn't be a... oh

Consumer advocates also voiced concerns that ratepayers will now be looking at another big jump in their energy bills, which spiked in December because of high use and higher rates for importing out-of-state power supply.

"There is no doubt that customers can expect to have really high electricity bills when they get them next month," said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a New Orleans-based consumer advocacy group.

She said New Orleans customers are particularly vulnerable to big spikes because the city's antiquated housing stock is among the least energy efficient in the country. New Orleans homes use, on average, 30% more energy than those in other cities.

"Our houses are old and beautiful and historic, but they're leaky," Burke said.

Okay well we get what she is saying here. Obviously there needs to be a massive public investment in weatherizing homes and infrastructure.  That's one important lesson in all of this.  If only there were a policy outline just sitting on the shelf the congress could turn into law tomorrow if it wanted.  Doesn't look like that's happening, though.  In the meantime we'll just sit around in our "leaky" houses tonight trying to resist the urge to bake too much bread.  If the lights go out anyway, surely nobody will blame us.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Domino-like effects

KDV Fights the Futilities

Seeds of Decline "Fights The Futilities" Krewe Du Vieux 2006

So it's come to this

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is warning residents that a citywide boil water advisory could occur in the next 24 hours because of water pressure drops caused by freezing water mains under the streets. 

The city is expecting temperatures to be below freezing for about 12 hours, starting at about 3 pm Monday.

Ghassan Korban, the head of the Sewerage & Water Board, said that the utility does not have much of a margin for error with little backup power. 

"Our power and pumping system is vulnerable and (will likely) have challenges," Korban said.

Sounds about right.  Happy Mardi Gras, everybody. Famously, a day of challenges. Like we said the other day, Carnival is a lot of things but most of all it is the time for us to be the most, um, intensely whatever we have been over the past year. And this certainly seems like a way to do that. 

After an explosion last year at one of their main power-generating turbines, S&WB has been operating on a shoestring power budget, with generators picking up the slack. 

This means that if any part of their system gets overloaded and goes down, there could be domino-like effects throughout the city. 

Sure, we remember the turbine explosion almost a year and two months ago.  It kind of put the capper on 2019 which had already featured multiple major street flooding incidents, a city cybersecurity disaster, and a certain hotel collapse downtown* you may have heard about. At the time, we thought that was what a year full of disaster would feel like.  Turned out we didn't know yet. But then a few days later the sewer exploded under the French Quarter and we had a little bit better idea.  

Ha ha I am just kidding.  We actually got a better idea of what a year of disasters was like when the "extreme emergency" of a backed up sewer main under Gentilly was declared immediately after that. Remember that one? No, of course you do not. Because after that came 2020 and... whoo boy. 

Anyway, back to those "domino-like effects" they're worried about now. What do those look like?

One of the most pressing of those is a citywide boil water advisory, which Korban said was more than possible

"We are likely to see water mains ... rupture throughout the city," Korban said.

This will likely cause localized boil water advisories and low pressure in various areas throughout the city. 

But if enough pipes freeze, or if a crucial main fails, S&WB could take more drastic preventative measures, such as a citywide advisory. 

Ha ha, of course. 

Because if you demand the cosmos answer a riddle, that is what you get. The boil order is now "more than possible" on Mardi Gras day. Also it will be freezing outside and maybe the power will be out.  

And so with little recourse now but to sit and contemplate these mysteries, we have to wonder a little bit if this is happening now because we haven't managed to put our spiritual energies back in balance after the cascading disasters of 2019.  The time for that would have been Carnival 2020. But recall that last year's cleansing rituals were themselves interrupted by bad weather, bad.. vibes.. and the horrifying deaths of two parade goers who were crushed by floats. In fact, if we weren't now trying to figure out how to have Carnival in the "not cancelled but different" circumstances of the pandemic, we would certainly have been arguing over whatever new rules might be in place after 2020.  Would barricading the route be an overreaction?  What about a permanent ban on tandem floats? Come to think of it maybe taking a year off to just eat king cake and decorate houses was the best choice for everyone COVID or no COVID.

In any case, there are multiple years of angst piling up here and no obvious means of venting any of it.  Certainly not before Wednesday comes. But something needs to happen before a domino-like karmic effect happens.  Probably nothing for it now besides focusing on getting people vaccinated.  Assuming that goes off well enough (a lot to assume, I know) then probably Krewe Du Vieux will happen on February 12, 2022.  Circle that on your calendar and keep your fingers crossed.

*Still dealing with the ramifications of that, btw

Don't worry about Bill

Oh noooo Bill Cassidy voted to convict Trump in a meaningless gesture where the outcome was foreordained and is getting "harsh backlash" from Louisiana Republicans  

Almost immediately after his vote to convict, Louisiana Republicans blasted Cassidy. Attorney General Jeff Landry said the vote was “extremely disappointing,” calling the impeachment trial unconstitutional. He said Cassidy fell into a “trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans.”

Mike Bayham, the secretary of the LAGOP, said he hopes the Legislature will revamp the state’s election system to hold closed primaries, which he believes will result in more reliable Republican candidates. Currently, all candidates for office appear on the same ballot regardless of party, in what's known as a jungle primary.

Bill Cassidy is a senator without a party as of today,” he said.

It would be a shame if the Republicans, who do control the legislature after all, decide to scrap the jungle primary over this.  It's one of the few good things about Louisiana's electoral system. But more likely nobody will remember any of this in six weeks, let alone the six years before Cassidy is up for reelection again.  By that time, the ever expanding Republican right wing will have found a new mode of expression beyond the personality of Donald Trump and Cassidy will just as likely be positioned relative to it in a way that rides that wave along with the rest of them. 

Because the thing to understand about the difference between the Republican right wing and the rest of the Republican Party is that there isn't any.  Regardless, wealthy liberals and corporate media institutions are going out of their way right now to pretend that there is some sort of schism between the "educated" Republicans and the crazy ones.  Here, for example, we see Nancy Pelosi repeating and expounding on a line that she has pushed for a few years now and Joe Biden has repeated.  America "needs a strong Republican Party" for some reason. Why? It's probably true that the Democrats enjoy the convenient excuse for not delivering things they promise to their voters.  But the country has had a strong Republican Party for decades and look where that got us. 

Really, though, the Democrats who pine for it are telling on their own class biases.  Here is Pelosi talking about candidate recruitment.  

When we recruit candidates to run for office or we see them self-recruiting, we always say or we see them saying, well I could be the president of my university or the head of my hospital department or this or that so I have to think about whether I have to run for Congress, we always say we don't want people without options that's why we are looking to you to run. Because you have options.

You see, ideally, the republic is guided by university presidents and heads of hospitals as opposed to, say, bartenders or nurses who become civil rights activists. We can't trust those people because their "options" are limited. Remarkably, she's talking there about who the Democrats - the ostensible party of the people - envision for their party's leadership.  Specifically she means to contrast this with the GOP where we are meant to understand that the rubes have taken over.  But this isn't just about Pelosi's hostility toward poor and working class Americans' material stake in or aptitude for engaging with political outcomes. It's about the fundamental lie she and other like minded observers are telling about what's keeping us from enjoying the benefits of a "strong Republican Party" right now.  

A recent New Republic column by Osita Nwanevu written after the House voted to strip Marjoire Taylor Green of her committee assignments, talks about how conspiracy theories like QAnon are frequently mischaracterized as merely a consequence of ignorance on the part of their adherents. 

Of all the “big lies” distorting our politics, one of the largest and most popular—back in 2010 and now—has been the notion that our political divisions are the product of under- or miseducation. The Republican Party’s flight into lunacy, it’s often suggested, has a fairly simple cause. The unwashed aren’t getting The Facts in school or from their media sources, and it’s up to the enlightened to shower The Facts upon them—perhaps, as some “disinformation” experts recently suggested to The New York Times, with a “reality czar” at the White House manning the hose. This was the explanation many turned to as the Trump era began, and it was the explanation many turned to for how it ended. 
But this doesn't actually describe most conspiracy-minded Republicans. Or, at least, according to this Atlantic article Nwanevu cites, it doesn't describe the kind of people who stormed the Capitol in January. 

The average age of the arrestees we studied is 40. Two-thirds are 35 or older, and 40 percent are business owners or hold white-collar jobs. Unlike the stereotypical extremist, many of the alleged participants in the Capitol riot have a lot to lose. They work as CEOs, shop owners, doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, and accountants. Strikingly, court documents indicate that only 9 percent are unemployed.

Looks like more than a handful people who "have options" there. Not that any of this should surprise anyone.  The Republican Party has long been and is still a party of the ruling class establishment.  Its radical movements are not subversive challenges to that establishment, they are establishmentarian reactions to progress.  

Democrats will still occasionally refer to voters' inherent understanding of this when it's convenient for them. But, as Democrats have become more dominated by ruling class interests themselves, those moments are less frequent.  A party that depends on finance capital for its funding and college educated white collar professionals for its electoral strategy is less likely to cast itself as oppositional to the elites in the other party.  Instead, they have to build a classist myth of paper "deplorables" to run against.  Whether or not one finds that strategy effective depends on what we assume are its goals.  If we think the point is to maintain the sinecures and fundraising streams maintained by the career pols and staffers embedded in the party infrastructure, it's been a smashing success. If we think the idea should be to actually halt or even resist slightly the country's inexorable decades long march further and further to the right, then the results have been less good. 

Nwanevu appears to be giving them the benefit of the doubt in offering this advice.

Democrats should try campaigning on the truth: The Republican Party is controlled by intelligent, college-educated, and affluent elites who concoct dangerous nonsense to paper over a bigoted, plutocratic agenda and to justify attacks on the democratic process. That agenda and those attacks are supported by millions of reasonably intelligent voters who will believe or claim to believe anything that furthers the objective of keeping conservatives in control of this country forever. Simply pointing to figures like Greene and hoping the indignation of college graduates will do the rest is a mistake. Instead, Democrats should present voters with a material choice between a party that has nothing to offer the majority of Americans but abuse and conspiratorial flimflam and a party committed to building a democracy and an economy that work for all. If they don’t, the lizard people who run the GOP will be running the government again in no time.

If the Democrats truly were a party "committed to building a democracy and an economy that work for all," they would be well served to take this advice. But assuming this much good faith on their part has become so absurdly fruitless an exercise that even going this far into the act of pointing it out is boring. So forget trying to convince them of anything.  What readers should take away from Nwanevu's analysis, though, is that it is possible for smart, educated people to believe in and pursue evil politics. The "we need a strong Republican Party" wing of the Democrats don't want to acknowledge this because they, too, believe in and pursue evil politics with a different branding. But justifying their kind of evil depends on the false idea that education/expertise automatically equals morality.

Bill Cassidy has a lot of education and expertise. He is, in fact, a medical doctor.  Before he cast his meaningless vote to hypothetically convict Trump, he directed that education and expertise toward the defense of the petro-chemical corporations who regularly poison Louisiana residents while funding his campaigns. 

President Joe Biden’s recent utterance of “Cancer Alley” has raised the hackles of Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. The Baton Rouge Republican said the president’s use of the term, rooted in longstanding concerns about toxic air pollution in the industrial corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, was an insult against Louisiana.

“I'm not going to accept that sort of slam upon our state,” Cassidy said in a call with reporters Tuesday. “It sounds like great rhetoric. But again, I don't accept that slam."

In 2017 Doctor Cassidy's proposed "repeal and replace" scheme for gutting the Affordable Care Act would have resulted in massive cuts in Medicaid care for the most vulnerable patients.

Critics of Cassidy's proposals, though, said that amounts to a substantial cut in the Medicaid funding that would jeopardize care for the elderly, disabled and low-income residents in Louisiana.

Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income families in the state, said the cuts in the Cassidy-Graham-Heller bill would leave states scrambling to cover inflating costs.

"This would rip a large and growing hole in our state budget while eliminating all guarantees of assistance for low-income residents," said Moller, whose group has actively opposed other recent Republican proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act.

His 2020 family leave proposal has been described as a "Trojan horse" bill that would push more families into bankruptcy. 

Some policy researchers have criticized this plan as tantamount to a loan that working families will have to pay off with reduced tax credits in the future.

Kathleen Romig notes that this policy will have no actual protections for employees seeking to take time off, so many workers in service sectors would risk losing their jobs entirely. Romig also points out that the details are sparse on how this plan would cover costs for low-income workers. By front-loading the child tax credit, they would be sacrificing their tax credits on income tax returns for years to come.

“The bill thus provides no net new financial help for families,” she wrote in an article for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “In effect, it is a loan that families would repay during some of a family’s most financially crunched years. . . . Families who took this ‘advance’ would have to repay it for ten or 15 years.”

And who could forget Cassidy's most startling breach of the trust we are meant to place in our experts when, during a 2018 Fox News segment, the Senator from Louisiana demonstrated an alarming lack of understanding of how a jambalaya is prepared.  

While Mike Bayham might declare that Cassidy is "a senator without a party as of today," his consistent record of support for conservative causes and hostility toward the poor suggests that six years from now he will probably be as welcome as ever in either party.  Or to put it another way, he's not exactly someone "without options."

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Big dickish Entergy

 That crazy spike in your bill last month? Yeah, according to Entergy, that's how it's supposed to work

Responding to Entergy customers who in some cases have taken to social media to blast sharp spikes in their power bills this month, utility officials said they can blame colder weather, reduced holiday travel and a longer-than-typical billing cycle.

Other factors contributing to increases include a rise in natural gas prices and power purchases Entergy made in December, the utility said. 

The utility, which provides electricity for more than 1.2 million customers and natural gas for more than 200,000 others across the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, was responding to a scourge of recent complaints from residents on social media about higher bills. 

Strange that Advocate article maintains Entergy's emphasis on the "y'all use too much power"  issue and doesn't elaborate very much on the "power purchases Entergy made in December." Instead it just passes on David Ellis's assertion that, "the utility shut down two of its plants for routine maintenance, which likely added between $8 and $12 to the average customer's bill."  There's a little more detail on that available from Channel 6 here

While the increases surprised customers when they received January’s bill in the mail, the utility did forewarn the New Orleans City Council of anticipated higher costs, in a letter dated Dec. 18.

In it, the utility writes: “ … the key driver of the variance is a $3.9 million increase in the fuel costs. Most of this increase is due to two generating plant outages, one at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station (“Grand Gulf”) and another at Union Power Station (“UPB1”). Grand Gulf entered an unplanned outage on November 6, 2020 during which necessary maintenance work was performed. Following completion of the unplanned outage, the unit entered a planned outage that ended on December 3. UPB1 took a planned outage to install a 2.0 MW emergency diesel generator, which outage lasted from October 23, 2020 to November 24, 2020."

"Unplanned outage" at the nuclear power plant (yikes!) necessitating repairs in November. Was the "planned outage" affected by or related to the unplanned one?  Also, how often does this happen?  Pretty often, apparently.

Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said the causes of these spikes are multi-faceted. She said there is a two-month lag for fuel adjustment charges, so any increase in usage from the holidays and the colder weather between Thanksgiving and Christmas will be seen now.

However, there were two Entergy power plants that went down in November. The Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Mississippi and the Union Power Station in Arkansas both suffered outages.

Why does this matter?

When those power plants go down, Entergy customers still pay for power from those plants and for whatever additional power Entergy had to buy on the energy market to compensate for their plant outages. The Grand Gulf plant, in particular, has had many problems in recent years.

“Grand Gulf has been having difficulties since 2016,” Burke said. “Every time it goes down, we (the customers) have to pay for it.”

In 2019, The Lens asked about the ongoing problems at Grand Gulf which happened at the time to be, "the least reliable nuclear generator in the US, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group."  They also asked Entergy about its management of the "planned" outages and their effect on people's bills. 

The Lens sent the company a list of questions to the company about reliability problems at the plant. In response, spokesperson Neal Kirby provided a brief written statement that only addressed the planned 2020 outage, but wrote that he could not reveal how long it will be. 

“The 2020 outage at Entergy’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Station is planned for refueling and maintenance at the plant,” Kirby wrote in an email. “We time these refueling outages when other generators and market purchases can be available to supply power economically to our customers. It is not appropriate to discuss the timing or length of outages because that is market sensitive business information.” 

No matter how long it is, the outage could be expensive for New Orleans residents. According to Entergy, outages at Grand Gulf can cost New Orleans customers upwards of $100,000 a day. In a letter to Councilwoman and utility chair Helena Moreno, Entergy New Orleans CEO David Ellis revealed that an eight day outage in December 2018 cost residents $1.15 million.

Notice that the company's response claims that planned outages are timed not to overlap (but also the timing is none of your business because of "market sensitive information" matters.) And yet here we are looking at bills inflated at least in part because of overlapping plant outages which Entergy claims (and the Advocate uncritically reports) to be "routine maintenance." 

The company pulled two power plants offline this winter for routine maintenance, which meant it had to purchase power on the open market as well. Natural gas costs rose by 12%, and a bill credit related to a 2017 corporate restructuring expired.

In any case, the ratepayers have to cover the cost of those plants whether they are buying power from them that month or not.  Sounds like a raw deal baked into the city's agreement with the utility. The good news is, as the regulatory body managing Entergy's monopoly, the City Council still has a few things it can do to provide relief.  For example it can direct Entergy to maintain the COVID emergency  moratorium on shut offs for overdue bills which it did this week.

It can also push them to implement more customer friendly policies such as the billing "heads-up" CM Moreno suggests here.

Before the vote, Moreno and Joe Giarrusso also urged Entergy to create programs to alert customers in real time about their power use.

Though that function was a promised capability of the advanced meters, Guillot said Entergy won't have it ready for another six months. 

Telling people 10 or so days into their billing cycle that they are using more power than normal will make higher bills less of a surprise or could prompt people to dial down their use if needed, Moreno said.

"There’s got to be some type of trigger to let customers know, over the phone or over email or whatever, so that habits can be changed," she said.

Although, frankly, that just reinforces Entergy's premise that it's really more the ratepayers than the company who are responsible for the high bills. In fact, it seems like they're already building on that narrative this week ahead of an expected change in the weather.  

At a recent council meeting to discuss Entergy customer bills that had doubled and in some cases tripled in January, council members asked if Entergy could provide notice if it saw conditions that were increasing usage - and bills.

Wednesday the company sent out a news release to advise customers of just that.

"Entergy’s Louisiana utilities are encouraging customers to prepare for cold weather and increased energy usage as portions of Louisiana could see low or freezing temperatures into the weekend and next week," said the statement in part.

Entergy also advised that heat usage can be up to 50 percent of a customer's bill during cold weather. The utility company advises people to set their thermostat lower, look for leaks and to reverse ceiling fans to push warm air down.  

Again, the problem is, "y'all use too much power." So turn down your thermostat and stop asking for "market sensitive business information" about whether or not that nuclear plant you are paying for is broken again. It's really not your place to know more than that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Shooting stars burn bright but...

Nyx Captain float

In a different universe tonight would have been the night when we kick off parade season's heavy hitters with the famous "self-proclaimed superkrewe" we all hated to love. On the one hand, Nyx had become the one parade that every New Orleans resident who wasn't actually riding in the parade knew 10 to 20 people who were.  On the other hand, it was led by a con-artist who everyone understood was taking advantage of those 10 to 20 people we all knew. Peruse our Nyx/ Julie Lea archives for a deeper dive into all of that, if you like.  

Nyx Captain

Certain things have happened over the course of the past year, though. It's a long story but the upshot is we are not going to watch that parade tonight. We do, however, find ourselves treated to some measure of entertainment.

Julie Lea, the captain of the Mystic Krewe of Nyx, and the all-female Nyx organization were sued in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Wednesday on behalf of former riders in a potential class action that could allow for 3,000-plus ex-members to collect $10,000 each in damages.

The suit, filed in Division G of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, is a grocery list of accusations against Lea, including allegations of inappropriate use of krewe income, of forcing members to buy supplies exclusively from her husband, of refusing to refund dues from resigning members and of the filing of false public documents.

The suit describes Lea’s alleged pattern of personal profit-taking as “racketeering.”

Here is an absolutely perfect Twitter thread by @FQMule from earlier this week that practically everyone had to fav and share. It gets at the heart of the ritual that so many of us are missing this year.  It talks about the process of cathartic healing and renewal of community that comes at this time. Here's a quick bit from it.

New Orleans has a reputation for being a community, for helping each other in our times of need. It is a well deserved reputation. During this pandemic, New Orleanians have surpassed themselves on giving back and making sure people are taken care of. Why are we different? Well, there is a tie made by shared culture. But Mardi Gras also deserves credit. You see, when we gather for parades, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors. We may only see them 2 weeks out of the year but they are friends. We share food and laughs and catch up.

I will add one more point. We gather in the streets to see our friends, our neighbors, visitors. But, just as crucially, we see quite a few people we probably don't get along with very much as well. And they, like us, are also at their most.. well.. themselves that they can be. The whole city is there performing a public pageant of itself.  Our floats and costumes convey silliness, joy, imagination, but also frequently they delve into satire placing all of the accumulated angst and absurdity of another year in this strange place on display for us to confront... even if only to laugh at. The exercise allows us to grapple with the most carnivalesque versions of ourselves, our city and all of its problems. We don't solve anything by it. But by immersing ourselves in it we renew our bond with this community and prepare to go through another year with its frustrations and its rewards. 

Anyway tonight is the part of that weeklong ritual when we would have been watching Julie Lea lead a parade of many of our dear friends who we all knew she was ripping off.  Instead we're.. not doing that. But thanks to a lawsuit cleverly timed for filing today, we do get to feel those feelings a little bit. It's nice, kind of. 

Purse float

Despite its ginormous size, Nyx never really grew into the grand spectacle worthy of that membership. That, in itself, was a sign that something was amiss.  There were a few signature floats like the purse in the photo above. But, mostly, it was a long string of big box double decker floats full of tightly packed riders. The theme was never anything clever. I mean, it was a perfectly cromulent parade by most standards. People always had fun, the krewe members were proud of what they were doing and they did always throw a lot.  But the "superkrewe" status was never what Lea claimed.  It seemed like she was promising everyone something more than she offered. 

At least Lea has made up for some of that now with this year's spectacular crash and burn.  Or, as Doug MacCash puts it in this article,

"Founded in 2011, Carnivals’ most meteoric krewe has since been in disarray."

The most meteoric of meteors has come crashing to Earth. It's not quite the show we wanted but it certainly has been a show. Hopefully some good things come of it in the future.

Nyx Heart

Separate but equal grifting

Imagine your critique of the New Orleans Public Schools is that our balkanized model dependent on private fundraising through shady non-profits results in systemic racial inequity.

The campaign seeks in part to bring attention to a report, "Black Brilliance: Field Notes on Black Education in New Orleans," that spans topics ranging from the history of New Orleans public schools to systemic racism, which authors say is perpetuated in the charter school system.

This is all correct, by the way. So, pretty good so far.  The charterization con has not only deliberately established a school system segregated by race and class. It also just as deliberately ripped the heart out of the city's pre-Katrina Black middle class through the mass firing of teachers. The legacy of this is also acknowledged by the group in this article. 

Black educators make up 53% of the teacher workforce in NOLA Public Schools, down significantly from the 71% proportion in place prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a study by another nonprofit, New Schools for New Orleans, found. African American students comprise nearly 80% of the system's enrollment, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

So the problem is pretty clear.  New Orleans's post-Katrina educational landscape is unfair, elitist, and racist because it is controlled by undemocratic private "philanthropy" networks.  If you are someone who has correctly identified this problem, then why is your proposed solution just to create a different undemocratic private philanthropy network? 

The report concluded that more resources should go to Black-governed and Black-led schools, and more CEO, principal or other leadership roles should be filled by Black men and women. It demands district and school leaders address a "standardization of whiteness" in curricula and hiring and promotion practices, and asks for an audit of charter school grants and other funding to ensure more equity.

"The truth of the matter is no school here in New Orleans is doing an excellent job educating children off MFP alone -- it’s just not enough money," Adrinda Kelly, the executive director of BE NOLA, said about the state's per-pupil funding system.

New Orleans is a unique district because it gives a lot of autonomy to the individual charters, which have their own leadership structures, are in charge of their own curricula, and have the ability to collect grants and fundraise to bolster budgets outside of the per-pupil funding received from the state and local tax dollars.

The MFP is not enough. In other words, Louisiana's political leaders have deliberately left the schools underfunded and therefore open to predation by the non-profit industrial complex.  A truly equitable and democratic response to that would be to fix that problem in particular and demand the universal public education that every child in the state is entitled to.  Instead, these individuals have decided to just go off and create their own separate privatized model.  That's no way to deliver a just and equitable school system. But, really, is that so important as long as we have a few "Black-led" charter organizations to point to in consolation?  The corporate sponsors seem to think so.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

One tourist was one too many

 That's all it took last year.

Public health officials have largely accepted that last year's Mardi Gras helped make New Orleans an early coronavirus hotspot in the U.S., even if a lack of testing made it hard to be sure.

But a new study that sought to pinpoint how the virus spread through the city has found that 2020 Carnival revelry was responsible for tens of thousands of coronavirus cases, after a single person likely brought it to New Orleans in the weeks before Mardi Gras.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute, Tulane University, LSU Health and several other institutions said in a pre-publication report released Monday that the coronavirus probably arrived in New Orleans about two weeks before Fat Tuesday, likely from a person traveling from Texas.

This week everyone is kvetching over the mayor's last minute decision to close French Quarter bars during this Mardi Gras but the fact of the matter is both she and her ostensible critics at New Orleans and Co. have continuously promoted the city as a tourist destination throughout the pandemic while simultaneously blaming the behavior of locals for the spread of the disease.

Even now as the vaccines are finally arriving, we aren't going to get out of this until we agree to shut all of our risky activities down while compensating and protecting the workers affected. Instead we have watched as the political and business leadership have "blatantly ignored" the concerns of those workers over and over again in favor of their bosses' short sighted pursuit of profit. 

Moving the city into and out of tighter "phases" according to whatever direction the line happens to be pointing every few weeks has only fed the cycle of anxiety, trauma, and death.  But apparently that situation is acceptable enough to those with enough wealth and power to benefit that it's all we can expect from decision makers who are clearly beholden to them and not to those they exploit.

Who will Cedric choose to be the next US Attorney?

 People said he would lose influence after giving up that congressional seat but I don't know about that

Though U.S. senators hold an informal veto power over such choices, Louisiana’s two Republican senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, figure to hold little influence over the choice. Sources say all roads to the post lead through former New Orleans-area Rep. Cedric Richmond, now among President Joe Biden’s closest White House advisors. Richmond did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Who do we think he might choose?  There's a lot of interesting names here. 

Leading names floated to succeed Strasser include former Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Keva Landrum, who lost a December runoff for district attorney; former state Sen. Walt Leger; St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut; Desiree Charbonnet, the former New Orleans Municipal Court judge and mayoral candidate; and Duane Evans, who served as interim U.S. Attorney in New Orleans after Kenneth Polite left in 2017.

New Orleans City Attorney Sunni LeBoeuf also is thought to be in the early mix, sources said. Other names that may be in play include former federal prosecutor Matt Chester, now a local defense lawyer, and Marquest Meeks, a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans who is now senior counsel for Major League Baseball.

Keva Landrum gets special attention in this article in part because she just lost a run for District Attorney despite having garnered an endorsement from Richmond as well as from Mayor Cantrell and the BOLD organization (which has grown more closely affiliated with the mayor over the course of her term.)  It's not unheard of that a candidate would receive support from both sides of that sometime rivalry but it is interesting that such a candidate would have lost their election. 

Anyway it's not out of bounds to think that Landrum would be in for a consolation prize of some sort (although we would have to consider this post more than just that.)  Still, her current gig seems pretty chill. Are we sure she'd want to give that up?

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dall Kammer and his team will have until March 2 to present their own list of potential witnesses to testify at sentencing, at a date that’s not yet been set.

The U.S. Probation Office has already filed a draft sentencing report. Sentencing guidelines depend on several factors, including the amount of money involved. It’s not unusual for people to write letters to judges vouching for defendants’ character before they are sentenced, but hearing testimony from both sides before sentencing is less common.

Mayfield “will probably want to bring forth people to say he was of good character and maybe this was just a simple mistake,” said WWL-TV Legal Analyst Keva Landrum, a former state criminal court judge and district attorney. “And then the prosecution may want to bring people who they thought would have been their witnesses in the trial to say otherwise.”

On the other hand, that story does point out that she already has eyes on a federal case that could be of significance to several of her political patrons. So maybe she is just the person for the job after all.

"Stingin' em"

Not sure this NOPD internal report on last summer's bridge incident gives us much new information. Also it's not clear what NOPD thinks the next steps, if any, should be.  Why was the tear gas used? They almost seem to be saying it was an accident. 

The New Orleans Police Department deployed teargas on a crowd of protesters so quickly on June 3 that several officers didn’t have time to don masks.

Some cops on the front line had only had their first training on “riot control” that day. Meanwhile, the top commander on duty wasn’t consulted before gas went flying, sparking panic in the crowd that night and a debate in the ensuing weeks over NOPD tactics.

Police department world famous for its excellence in "crowd control" techniques doesn't actually train officers on how to control crowds. Okay. But why was the tear gas used?

Throughout the confrontation, Special Operations Division Capt. Brian Lampard and tactical officers were stationed in reserve.

Thomas was the highest-ranking officer on duty that night, but he was coordinating protest response from the city’s Real-Time Crime Information Center on North Rampart Street. Lampard didn’t consult Thomas before giving the order to deploy teargas, according to their statements.

“Gas, gas, gas!” Lampard shouted.

The guy who was in charge of the gas had to stay in and watch everything on TV, you know, to better prevent any tactical blunders from happening. 

Then came a tactical blunder. A "major catalyst" for the situation escalating that night was the failure of police to stop protesters from entering the expressway at the wrong point, Barnes said.

Whoops. But okay so it's not the guy watching the TV who ordered the gas. And it's not some random thing that happened because the un-trained riot cops started freelancing. It's Captain Lampard making a decision to launch the "Gas gas gas" at everybody.  There must have been some policy in place that would determine his course of action, right?  

Well maybe not because this says they've now had to go and write one up.... except that it also says the new policy doesn't actually change anything.

Inside the NOPD, officials have created a new policy for “civil disturbances.” Ferguson has touted it as the solution to many of the concerns raised by the June 3 melee, but the policy doesn’t create new requirements for reporting the use of “less lethal” weapons like tear gas or rubber balls.

The policy also doesn’t change one practice in place on the night of June 3: It’s still up to tactical supervisors like Lampard whether to deploy “less lethal” weapons on crowds.

The gas wasn't the only "less lethal" thing the cops were using. They also used rubber bullets. 

Gas wasn’t the only weapon used that night. Officers also fired rubber “impact rounds” at people in the crowd. Ferguson initially claimed only gas had been used — then had to reverse course when protesters came forward with evidence to the contrary.

Lampard claimed he had no idea that the rounds had been used.

Oh sorry. I should clarify. They also used rubber bullet and then Chief Ferguson lied about that until the evidence proved he was lying.  Since then, Ferguson has also claimed that NOPD should not be subjected to the same calls for de-funding or other reforms that remove them from roles better suited to social workers or public health professionals.  According to Ferguson, largely cosmetic initiatives like the much promoted EPIC training program place NOPD "ahead of the curve" Maybe he means we're so far behind we're ahead again.  In any case, why should we believe anything he says?

Anyway, now that we can dispense with Ferguson's lies about the rubber bullets, whose idea was it to fire them into the crowd on the bridge?  The report still hasn't figured that out either.  We are only told that there was a sergeant in charge of the rubber bullets and that person knew they were being used which we know because there is video evidence of him gleefully shouting about it.

The sergeant in charge of the NOPD’s “grenadier team” was recorded on a body-worn camera stating that an officer "was stingin' em," an apparent reference to Stinger .60 caliber rubber ball rounds. That sergeant later claimed that he didn't receive confirmation that the rubber balls were used on the night of June 3, because he didn't get a chance to formally debrief his team until the next day. He said that was because “the officers were covered in gas and past the end of their shifts and there was no available overtime.”

The core idea behind EPIC training, we are told, is that cops who witness other cops acting badly should intervene to stop them doing that.  When you, as the properly trained cop in charge of the scene, see your colleagues out there "stingin'" people aren't you supposed to do something about that? What about if you are Chief of Police?  In this case we only find them ignoring or lying about what they and everyone else can see.  What remedies this?  More training?

Saturday, February 06, 2021

It's a lot right now

Yeah there's a bunch of stuff happening of the sort we typically comment on at this website.  We'll get to it soon. It's a lot to take in and we are sitting here trying to process it all.


Monday, February 01, 2021

Can't believe they didn't even try to stop the steal

Republicans being super committed to election integrity and all, you'd think this would get more than a shrug

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee upheld an election for state GOP chairman Saturday (Jan. 30), even though there was confusion over whether everyone who cast a ballot was eligible to vote.

Louis Gurvich easily beat state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, on an 134-61 vote to remain chairman for another term. There were 195 votes cast in the election, though state party officials initially said there were only 190 eligible votes for the contest.

“It didn’t matter to the result of the election, so we just accepted the outcome,” Gurvich said of the vote discrepancy in an interview after the meeting.

In the next contested race, for GOP party secretary, Republican committee members were asked to come up one-by-one to cast their votes in order to avoid having too many ballots again. They also didn’t initially announce the results of the chairman election, only saying that Gurvich won by a “substantial margin.”

Then, GOP officials retroactively changed the number of people who could vote in the chairman’s race — from 190 to 195 — such that it matched the number of ballots tallied.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Well, then

Hey at least there's still a way to attack wealthy people.  (Don't worry they'll fix that soon enough.)

Segregation Street

 Look at that. The both sides came together and found a compromise solution

The commission has also received recommendations to divide some of the more prominent streets, picking different names depending on the neighborhood - an idea with significant racial overtones. For example, the commission’s current recommendation is to rename Robert E. Lee Boulevard for musician Allen Toussaint, but an alternative would call it Toussaint in the Black neighborhoods of Gentilly and Hibernia or Lake Boulevard in the majority-white areas of Lakeview.

This project that was begun in order to correct a shameful legacy of white supremacy now proposes to do that by coding the notion that all the Black people live over here and all the White people live over there right into the name(s) of the street. That's what this was all about, right?

The game is stopped

The thing about the stock market being a big absurd bubble that doesn't have anything to do with measuring actual value in the economy is that everyone knows that already and it is boring to point it out. The interesting point lies instead in how obvious it is that no one will ever do anything about it and nothing will ever change.

We've reached a fundamental terminus of development. There is no real economy to return to anymore. We don't create wealth at all. We just concentrate it through arbitrage and "disruption" and recycled imaginary capital. And so public policy isn't what we traditionally understood it to be anymore. It's not about promoting growth or fighting inflation. Instead it is all about rigging the system to protect the hoarded assets. Everything is frozen in place and the churn of the markets is just an illusion. If the bubble "pops" there's literally nothing there. The bubble cannot fail us anymore. We can only fail the bubble. 

And again the really interesting thing is people know this. Even people who don't have an academic sense of how the economy works understand it intuitively. That's why this whole Gamestop fiasco isn't shocking anyone into action. If this had happened at a less broken stage, the point would have been to expose the absurdity of the system so it can be shamed into reform. But everybody already knew the system was rigged. We were way past the point where shock or satire would make any difference.

It's like that thing where Donald Trump became President. You'd think that would have been a wake up call indicating something was deeply flawed with our version of democracy. But what it really demonstrated was that there wasn't anything there to rescue either and that everyone knew it. That's what Gamestop and AMC going "to the moon" is like. It's like just letting Donald Trump be President. It just shows that everyone knows it's all rot anyway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

More of a shared burden

 Makes sense to me

Susan Brooks runs a string of four bars under the Igor’s name as well as Brooks Seahorse Tavern by the Fair Grounds and the legendary Uptown dive The Club Ms. Mae’s, which she bought last summer to preserve a local institution.

She has kept all of them closed since the city’s last rule changes in December, and they will remain closed for now, foregoing even go-cup service.

“It seemed like the responsible thing to do,” said Brooks

However, she said it is demoralizing to watch customers lining up to visit other businesses still continuing under looser restrictions.

I do wish that it was more of a shared burden, if everybody was doing the same thing we would bend the curve a lot faster and we could all get back to business,” she said.

We could have all agreed at the beginning of this that we'd all get back to business faster by sharing the burden. We could have locked down every lock downable thing and paid everyone to stay home and be safe. We could have preserved just about everyone's job. We could have saved every city and state government from bankruptcy. We could have protected every homeowner and renter from eviction. We chose not to do these things because the bosses and banks and landlords preferred to win the pandemic.  And now look where we are. 

Anyway, we're not going to change tactics now.  It's already clear the new Congress and President aren't going to send us the kind of relief bill that would help us share the burden.  This weekend the city is going right back into its chaotic pattern of shifting rules and blame according to whims and political alliances.  Because local powerbrokers are in position to win the pandemic too. Or at least they will get to pick who shares the burden and who reaps the benefits. 

We could have licked this thing a long time ago. But to do that would have meant truly behaving as though we were all in it together. But no one with the power to make these decisions actually believes that.

Put up your nickels and dimes

House floats are popping up all over town I've seen a few of these. But in the COVID times one only travels a short distance along the same route every day with fewer stops in between so I can't say I've seen a lot of them yet. I'm sure I'll get out and take some pictures sooner or later.  I have noticed a number of different takes on the phenomenon over the past few weeks. The class politics of it are a little bit fraught. One could complain that it's a high barrier to entry kind of event. In order to have your own display, you gotta own a house and afford to pay for the art. The inherent tie to home ownership can signify gentrification, especially given what we've been told about high enthusiasm among wealthy young transplants for participating. 

But, when you think about it, regular Mardi Gras basically works the same way. The floats and riders represent a certain wealth holding class. Although, we should note, there is wide variation there that has become elaborated over time. Once there were only krewes comprised of white elites. Now there is basically a krewe for every sub-strata, race, or gender of the upper middle class. So, you know, progress.  But, as always, the real event is in the party that chaotically evolves from public participation all around it.  The parade of blue bloods (or moderately well off so and sos) is just a reason to be there. It's the people dancing and shouting and drinking and just standing around talking to their neighbors that we're all there to see.  Obviously we can't have that this year. Not the way we are used to, anyway. Look what happened last time. 

We did walk out to see the Phorty Phunny Phellows on Twelfth Night thinking it would be the closest anyone would come to seeing a real live Carnival thing happen this year.  A larger (but still sparse and well distanced) crowd than usual showed out probably thinking the same thing.  It was a weird vibe. Uneasy, uncomfortable and concerned that maybe this anti-climactic non-event we usually take in as an ironic amusement would be the most celebrating we would do all season.

We have to have something, though. Our spiritual health demands that. And house floats are as good a place as any to start. Maybe there are other kinds of public art and just ways of hanging out that can embellish that central event.  Back in the normal universe from which we are currently estranged, Krewe Du Vieux would have been parading this weekend.   Instead they are offering a "virutal parade" on their website as well as a series of house float style art installations in various locations across the city.  See their website for a map.  Hopefully we'll see more events like this. Sooner or later we're going to learn that lots of things besides houses can probably be floats.

The good news, in the meantime, is that it's proving to be a way to keep artists working this year who otherwise wouldn't be.  

Devin DeWolf then took the concept a step further and focused specifically on job creation with his website HireAMardiGrasArtist.com. “Caroline Thomas knew that I had organized Feed the Frontline NOLA, which brought 90,000 restaurant meals and 10,000 coffees to local health workers as a moral boost. We hired unemployed local musicians as delivery people,” said DeWolf, who is also the organizer and founder of the Krewe of Red Beans, and the charity project Feed the Second Line.  

Red Beans has a lot of members who care about the community and are very grass roots, so when Caroline Thomas had the idea to crowdfund Mardi Gras worker jobs back, she turned to us,” said DeWolf. HireAMardiGrasArtist.com collects donations of all sizes. “And every time we raise $15,000, we raffle off a house float to someone who donated. We also take commissions from people and businesses who want to hire artists to create $15,000 projects. We’ve raised a quarter of a million dollars in just a month, and are currently employing 45 full-time artists at a minimum of $30-per-hour. We’ve completed 22 float houses since December 5th when we announced the idea.”

What this proof of concept suggests, though, is that we could go bigger. Imagine a COVID stimulus bill that includes a WPA style program for hiring artists and other participants in the so-called cultural economy to keep this sort of work going.  Not year-round house floats, per se.  Carnival does come to an end, after all. But surely there are other creative ways to employ creative people who haven't been able to do their ordinary work during the pandemic.  There are unique talents and resources in New Orleans. We should learn from this unusual Carnival season that they are talents worth investing in.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Ripe for the picking

The race to stop COVID before the situation becomes much worse is more urgent than ever. We are told there is "no way to sugarcoat" that.  

If the variants alter the virus enough, tests, treatment and vaccines might not work as well, said Straif-Bourgeois. A new variant might be able to slip past antibodies, re-infecting someone who has already had COVID-19. Potentially, such a variant could complicate the path to herd immunity.

“There is no way to sugarcoat this,” said Garry. “It does look like some of the variants may not be as effectively blocked by the vaccine.”

The virus is leveling up. The longer these variants are out there unchecked, the more likely they are to develop into something that beats the vaccine. If those strains become dominant worldwide then we have to start all over. As of right now, we are told the vaccines are still effective against the so-called "UK variant" everyone is worried about.   But also that more infectious and deadlier strain has been detected in New Orleans already. So this is not the time to let up on our mask and distance precautions. It's not the time to pressure the schools to reopen. And it's definitely not the time to be welcoming visitors for Mardi Gras.  This is the time to get some shots into some arms, as they say. 

And for a minute there it seemed like that was indeed the plan.  But then a funny thing happened

The Biden administration has told Louisiana officials that shipments of the coronavirus vaccine won’t be increasing much for at least a month, the latest challenge to the state’s effort to ramp up vaccinations.

The revelation that shipments won’t be increasing — which has long been the promise made to states by federal officials — means Louisiana likely won’t be able to hold mass vaccination events anytime soon, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a press conference Friday.

Vaccine shipments to the state this week and next are expected to remain flat at about 58,000 doses per week, with potentially only a 5% to 10% bump through most of February. Louisiana has received roughly flat shipments of vaccine doses for the past month, Edwards said, amid supply issues that are impacting distribution across the U.S.

Whoops! They took the Trump administration at their word and that turned out to be bullshit. Now the planned ramping up of vaccinations could be delayed by a month or so.  Do we have even that long before things get even more complicated?  Guess we'll find out. 

Either way the "post-pandemic era" is coming.  We might decide to mark its arrival at the time of our successfully containing the virus. Or we could call it when get a certain percentage of the population vaccinated. More than a few people might like to mark it at the end of Joe Biden's first 100 days in office.  It really depends on how soon you might want the checks to stop coming. But wherever we decide the pandemic ends, the conditions it will leave in its wake are setting us up for a cascade of further disasters which we are not likely prepared to mitigate. 

For example, I'm very curious where we decide to define the new level of "structural unemployment."   

The labor market has rebounded somewhat since the initial coronavirus wave in the spring. But of the 22 million jobs that disappeared, nearly 10 million remain lost.

“Compared to then, we are doing better,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the career site Indeed, referring to the spring. “But compared to the pre-Covid era, we still have so far to go.”

Consider that each of the last four recessions has occasioned a deeper and longer lasting period of job loss than its predecessor. The so-called "Great Recession" of 2008 was historically frightening.  Here is a somewhat famous very frightening graph of our declining economic resilience. 

These numbers do not even tell the whole story, of course. Each recession sets off a new exacerbation of precarities as the jobs that comprise each recovery are more exploitative and less secure with fewer hours and fewer benefits. So even as the line eventually goes back up, material conditions continue to worsen. 

To dig ourselves out of that hole we are going to need a more aggressive and determined commitment from the federal government than we have seen in generations.  We will need real support and relief. That should come in the form of monthly payments to make up the income lost during stay-at-home orders. It should include a guarantee that your boss can't expose you to danger and that a landlord or a bank can't kick you out of your home.  We need to rescue our state and municipal governments before they collapse into bankruptcy exposing everyone to more chaos.

Unfortunately, none of the above is Joe Biden's priority. Making Mitch McConnell happy is

President-elect Joe Biden will seek a deal with Republicans on another round of Covid-19 relief, rather than attempting to ram a package through without their support, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The approach could mean a smaller initial package that features some priorities favored by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The idea is to forgo using a special budget process that would remove the need to get the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate, which will be split 50-50 and under Democratic control only thanks to the vice president’s vote.

Rather than taking the challenges of the pandemic-depression seriously, Biden's first concern is rehabilitating the image of the Republican Party after its leadership instigated a riot at the Capitol intended to disrupt the certification of his own election.  And since delivering justice or even just the hope of a better world isn't as important as making sure he's got a  "strong opposition party" around to do deals with, Joe is opening the negotiations at... one time checks for $1400

The stimulus package has a price tag above $1.5 trillion and includes a commitment for $1,400 stimulus checks, according to a source familiar with the proposal, and Biden is expected to commit to partner with private companies to increase the number of Americans getting vaccinated.

A significant portion of the additional financial resources will be dedicated to minority communities. “I think you will see a real emphasis on these underserved communities, where there is a lot of hard work to do,” said another transition official.

We'll examine that "emphasis on underserved communities" more closely when there are more details. But there isn't much reason to believe this is anything beyond the usual noble-sounding framing for unnecessary and counterproductive means testing.  More to the point, after everything that's happened, pushing people to accept $1400 as $2000 if you count the accrued $600 store credit from December is just shitty messaging. Even though we've shoveled trillions of dollars in tax cuts and subsidies for billionaires out the door all year, Joe wants you to know now that he is counting every penny you might get your grubby little hands on. 

The millionaires who comprise the Biden led faction of congressional Democrats may not feel this personally but their performative miserliness put on to please the op-ed writers does more than just insult people. It abandons whole communities to ravaging predators

The New Orleans area has earned an unwelcome financial distinction during the coronavirus pandemic: more homeowners here are at risk of losing their homes due to unpaid mortgages than in any other major American city.

More than one-in-ten borrowers in the New Orleans-Metairie metro area are now at least 30 days late with mortgage payments and could be at risk of foreclosure on their properties, according to federal data.

New Orleans was already being hollowed out and gentrified by predatory capital before the pandemic began.  Without drastic action, COVID will surely lead to an exponential expansion of that crisis. 

"Our numbers for folks seeking help with evictions already are through the roof — up 300% since the pandemic started," said Laura Tuggle, executive director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a non-profit legal aid provider for low income Louisianans. "The deluge on mortgages is going to come."

With a relatively high concentration of low-income households, the New Orleans area already had one of the nation's highest mortgage delinquency rates before the pandemic, according to Andy Walden, economist and director of market research at Black Knight, a Jacksonville, Florida, firm that tracks mortgage trends nationwide.

That story is from a few weeks ago. There is a new one in today's paper that further confirms what's happening here. Housing sale prices are up in Orleans Parish by 16% this year.  But those numbers really just show us the rich getting richer.  Meanwhile...

Meanwhile, the broad numbers mask big discrepancies between the upper and lower end of the market, and some of the strains in housing across the area. According to federal data, more than one-in-ten borrowers in the New Orleans-Metairie metro area are at least 30 days late on their mortgage payments, putting them at risk of foreclosure.

About a month ago we wondered what was happening with the "large portfolio of foreclosed properties" that had been held by the embattled Bank of Louisiana before the younger generation of management there began selling them off.  We wondered about that specifically because a foreclosure crisis is typically followed up by a wave of vulture capitalism that results in even more intense and damaging wealth consolidation. One can only assume that will get even worse now with so much of the city ripe for the picking.

So we find ourselves, not only in a desperate race to stop the virus before it mutates beyond our control, but also in a race to protect working class New Orleanians from the ravages of the post-pandemic economy. At the beginning of the year we wrote that policy choices by both the mayor and the assessor indicate they intend to side with the asset speculators over the city's residents. In this month's Antigravity, MACCNO voices similar concerns about the assessor. 

Cutting property taxes for commercial property owners—who tend to be wealthier and whiter than the general population—without a corresponding benefit for commercial tenants, while simultaneously increasing residential property taxes and rent, would be a recipe for displacement and gentrification no matter when it happened. But during a pandemic that has already created economic disaster for musicians, small businesses, artists, and other members of the cultural community, the effects could be especially devastating. Williams himself acknowledges the situation he is creating but avoids responsibility, telling The Advocate he “is not the tax collector,” even though he doesn’t “see how everybody is going to be able to pay their taxes on time.”

Is anyone coming to help? It's not clear that they are. Biden's inaugural speech sounded a lot like a redux of his convention speech. Which is to say he was long on affected empathy for your suffering but short on resolve to do anything about it. The "unity" talk even evoked unpleasant Mitch Landrieu "One City One Voice" flashbacks. Yes, of course, bad things are happening to you. Maybe you've lost your job. Maybe you can't pay for health care.  Maybe you are facing eviction. Maybe the planet is on fire and we're facing a future of diminishing prospects for most of us. We know about all of these things and acknowledge that they are bad.  But the one thing we really can't tolerate is any complaints.

So Joe Biden is going to open the schools in 100 days.  If we can't vaccinate people by then and the virus is still out of control, that is too bad. Someone will just find a way to blame the teachers. So New Orleans is open for Carnival visitors.  If cases start to spike because workers were compelled by their bosses to go serve food and drinks to tourists, that is too bad. The mayor will inevitably just go on TV and yell at the residents again.  The post-pandemic is coming.  Hopefully it comes sooner than later because lives are at stake in that.  But, in its wake, the fortunes and livelihoods of the vulnerable working class are going to be exposed. And it's highly doubtful they'll find many friends in power willing to do anything about that.