Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The three genders of medicine

I don't know what Clay is even talking about here but it sounds very inclusive and open minded so kudos for that. 

I have COVID, Becca has COVID, and my son has COVID. Becca and I had COVID early on, in January 2020, before the world really knew what it was. So, this is our second experience with the CCP biological attack weaponized virus ... and this episode is far more challenging. It has required all of my devoted energy.

"We are all under excellent care, and our prognosis is positive. We are very healthy generally speaking, and our treatment of any health concern always encompasses western, eastern, and holistic variables.

Please get vaccinated.  Even if that means you have to like, sing a mantra and drink a matcha smoothie or something while they give you the shot, please get your shots.

Age of vulgarity

What's sad here is there is a lost art of conveying a sense of our decadent stage of imperial capitalism through subtext.  Instead we just hit you right over the head with it so much that it becomes uninteresting.  

Like we've all just given up trying

Caesars and Saints executives said the scope of their partnership agreement goes beyond the naming rights deal. They said the plan is for additional joint investments that will use Caesars' leverage in the entertainment and sporting world to bring more events to the Superdome, as well as to enhance Champions Square as a venue.

"This will be their building for the next 20 years at least, so a big part of the discussion has been about how do we get some of the world class entertainment they have," said Saints President Dennis Lauscha. "How do we get some of the big boxing matches into New Orleans? How do we develop Champions Square to take it to another level from an entertainment standpoint? Those are really big investments that we're talking to them about making jointly."

Whose building? The one the people of Louisiana built and maintained for four decades?  The place we've invested not only our public money but our community pride, the place where we welcomed Popes and Presidents, hosted concerts, crowned athletic champions at every level, this worldwide symbol of our collective suffering as well as our (ugh hate to use the word) civic resilience; whose building is this, Dennis?

Please specify your emergency

Oh look some of the emergencies are officially ending

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell has issued two separate declarations that terminated the state of emergency declarations for Tropical Storm Zeta in October 2020 and the cyber-security attack in December 2020, respectively.

Not sure but this might bring the total number of active emergencies back below the number of consent decrees in operation but I don't feel like doing the math.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Declaring victory

When you are loudly proclaiming the success of your very big program and that program, in reality, turns out not to be very successful, or even very big, then people are going to lose faith that anyone or anything is coming to help at all. That's the hole the Biden administration is digging now

“June Emergency Rental Assistance Resources to Households More Than All Previous Months Combined,” the headline blared, highlighting the more than $1.5 billion in payments delivered, and triple the number of households helped relative to April. It sounds like a real achievement if you don’t know the denominator; that is, the total amount of rental assistance Congress approved in relief bills last December and this March. That number is $46.5 billion, which means that the June total amounted to a little over 3 percent of available funds.

It’s a simple math equation to get to what Politico figured out, that in the first six months since rental assistance was made available, only 6.5 percent of the funds have been distributed. At this rate, the money would dribble out between now and 2028.

Renters don’t have that kind of time. Next Saturday, July 31, the federal moratorium on evictions expires, and the Biden administration opposes an extension. In a world where rental assistance is flowing and the economy booming, policymakers could rest easy that a spurt of evictions will not ensue. But that reality only exists on charts and unofficial estimates.

The first of the month is coming again.  (There's one every month!) And this one is gonna be a doozy. With seven million potential evictions hanging out there and a new COVID surge threatening lives and livelihoods, Biden opposes an extension of the eviction moratorium. Meanwhile states are rushing to cut off unemployment benefits early.* Joe Biden isn't doing anything to stop them. 

Biden and his team pushed back on the idea that the federal benefits were to blame for a sudden shortage of workers, but they quickly changed course, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki ultimately saying that Republican governors “have every right to” reject the pandemic unemployment money.

That's not the whole story: 22 governors decided they would stop paying the PUA assistance for self-employed workers. As Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., pointed out at the time, “Congress did not grant states the ability to strip PUA benefits away from vulnerable workers.”

Sanders told Biden’s Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that he had an obligation “to ensure this aid gets to workers.” Instead, an unnamed Biden administration official told CNN: “There is nothing we can do.

There's nothing we can do, it's out of our hands, and the governors "have every right" to screw you over.  But aren't we doing a great jobWe delivered $1.5 billion in payments! If we didn't know better we might think they are actually trying to get people to give up hope.  But we know better. That can't possibly be what the goal is here. I mean it's not like they'd just up and "declare independence" from a pandemic even while it still rages out of control across the globe.  That wouldn't make any sense. 

*Including your very own state!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Did the babies get their bottle?

I mean it kind of depends.  Republican legislators didn't manage to overturn vetoes on either of the bills they targeted during the baby fit session. But like I said the other day, I was never sure that overriding the vetoes was the primary aim of this exercise. For many of them, I think the main purpose was to hold a rally and raise money off of their trademark brand of victimhood trolling.  All of that, they managed to accomplish.  And even though, there was a moment when we thought they might have ended up accidentally imprisoning themselves in the capitol indefinitely, the two day session was mostly a no-harm, no-foul event. 

Still, next year may be different. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a statement yesterday that "veto sessions should be the norm from now on.”  Already, there is speculation about what that might mean for next year's redistricting battle.  Today the reporters on Twitter are mostly saying the failed overrides spell trouble for the Republicans there. Here is a pretty good sample of the consensus opinion.

Edwards ability to beat back any veto overrides has implications for the state’s political redistricting process coming up early next year. It makes it less likely that the Republicans in the Legislature will be able to redraw the state’s political districts without involving the Democratic governor. They now know it could be difficult to get enough votes to override a governor’s veto and cut the governor out of the political redistricting process completely. 

I'm not so sure that's what it means, though. At least it might mean they still have to negotiate. But the failure to override vetoes on two controversial bills facing headwinds from business groups and law enforcement doesn't necessarily mean they can't still go nuclear on a question of pure partisan politics. At the very least, they've now established that the threat exists. And that in and of itself is bound to affect the discussion next year.  Even if they can't prove the nuke isn't a dud.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The baby fit session

The first thing you need to understand about Republicans is they love government. They love it so much they are now calling everybody back to the big government building to do bonus governing

Louisiana lawmakers will return to Baton Rouge for an unprecedented session aimed at overriding the vetoes of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, after a majority of legislators signaled their intent to convene the veto session.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a statement Friday the Legislature will hold the first-ever veto session, which begins next week.

“In accordance with the Louisiana Constitution and the will of the majority of its members, the Legislature will return to Baton Rouge to consider overriding vetoes made by Governor Edward’s this session,” Schexnayder said. “This is democracy in action.”

Is it "democracy in action?" We have to trust that it is, I guess. The other thing we understand about Republicans is that they do love democracy. Which is why they passed bills like these that would have made the elections process more difficult and less accessible for thousands of Louisiana voters had the Governor not vetoed them. In the baby fit session, they could try and override either of those vetoes, or anything else from the list. But probably they will only focus on two. 

The first is Beth Mizell's obscenely cruel ban on trans high school students participating in sports. John Bel had some high minded phrasing in explanation of his veto. 

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in a written statement Tuesday. “Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.”

“It would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens,” Edwards said.

All of that is true. However, I strongly suspect the Governor wouldn't care about any of it were it not for the economic incentive. 

New Orleans officials and tourism leaders have also warned that the legislation could spell trouble for Louisiana’s economy. Sports leagues have boycotted states over gay and transgender restrictions in recent years. The state — and particularly New Orleans — could also lose movie productions, concerts, business conventions and other regular tourism business over such a restriction. 

“[The bill] does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state,” Edwards said in his written statement about his veto Tuesday.

“They will have a negative impact,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican official in charge of the state’s tourism efforts, when asked about the proposed transgender restrictions in April. “It would be better for us to open our doors very wide.”

Even Billy Nungesser is sufficiently motivated to let this bill die.  It's hard to imagine the entirety of the Republican caucus holding together to push it through. From the looks of things, there are barely enough of them there to override anything. That is if we can gauge according to where they stood on the question of even being there in the first place.

Of 105 House members, 69 did not send in ballots to cancel the veto session, meaning one short of two-thirds felt a veto session was necessary. In the Senate, 27 of 39 members, one more than two-thirds, signaled support for a veto session.

Maybe they are figuring on doing some arm twisting and favor trading once they all get in the room. But one would think that process would work against an override with real money on the line. 

The other main target of the baby fit is Edwards's veto of Jay Morris's carry-your-gun-around-wherever-you-want-as-a-security-blanket bill.  

Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jay Morris (R-West Monroe), would have amended Louisiana’s concealed carry permit law, which requires applicants to pass background checks and pass a nine-hour course that includes live-fire training in order to carry a concealed handgun in public spaces. Louisiana residents can already carry a gun openly in public — referred to as “open carry” — without any special permits as long as the firearm is in plain view. 

Again, though, the path to overriding this veto is not clear. Numerous political formations, including various law enforcement groups are urging lawmakers to let the veto stand.  Given the slim margins and given what looks to be strong political opposition to either of these overrides, one has to wonder what the babies are even having the baby fit session for in the first place.

It's not clear what they're doing there. But it is worth paying attention to what goes on. Even if neither of the marquee issues sees action, all of the governor's vetoes are in play. Maybe they'll pick something less controversial and override that just to see if they can.  Just in case that happens, various lobbying groups are already sending in suggestions.  The Jefferson Parish Chamber, for example, put out a press release today urging overrides in favor of a Barrow Peacock bill that would have imposed limitations on the kind of advertising lawyers can do.  They also are advocating for Rick Edmonds's bill that would have required school districts to share more information with the "Louisiana Checkbook" website.  Neither of those sounds particularly necessary but they're also just innocuous enough to squeak through if the legislators feel like they need to justify their decision to even be there for this.

They also make good test cases if something like this turns out to be the actual project which would also make sense to me.

What Representative Landry is talking about there is next year's looming fight over redrawing political boundaries based on the 2020 Census results. That promises to be a complex and acrimonious battle fought in several venues and the legislature's theoretical ability to override the Governor is certainly a weapon that could come into play.  The session we are about to see might just be a baby fit. But next year could bring massive convulsions.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The first of the month is coming again

There is one every month.  The next one is going to be a bloodbath.  

Courts across the country are reopening, but during the  pandemic lockdowns I spent more than a year watching landlords try to evict tenants in virtual hearings. These hearings went on, even with a federal eviction moratorium in place, one that is scheduled to end next month

I’d estimate that in about a quarter of the hearings I watched, the tenants  kept  freezing or lagging due to poor internet connections. Tenants without reliable internet access had to go to the courthouse in person and wait to argue their case in front of the court’s computer. Every day, poor people who were  behind on rent and didn’t  have internet access had to attend court in-person, during a pandemic, so they could  join a Zoom call and potentially be kicked out of their homes. Many of them didn’t even have a lawyer to help them through the hearing.

Next week in New Orleans is qualifying week for the upcoming municipal elections.  Rest assured not a single person filing to run for any of these offices gives a shit about the people who are about to be pushed out of the way so that real estate developers can run their "renaissance" such as the one Tyler Bridges is breathlessly celebrating in this article.  You can, however, scan this article up and down to find the names of the people who will be funding those campaigns. What is it they want permission to build and maintain? Game changers.

The game changer was short-term rentals,” said Mohamed “Hammy” Halum, who, with his father, is one of the pioneers on Canal Street on the same block where the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed in 2019.

Dozens of short-term rental rooms have opened on Canal within the past year. Dozens more are planned in a change that is injecting life and economic vitality into the historic avenue.

“You’re centrally located a few blocks of where you want to be: the Superdome, the [Harrah’s] casino, Bourbon Street,” said developer Aaron Motwani, another pioneer along with his father, Kishore “Mike” Motwani.

The developments will likely have wider significance for New Orleans beyond just the old retail area.

“Canal Street is where Mardi Gras happens,” architect John Williams said. “All of our cultural events happen around Canal Street. Every sidewalk on Canal Street is 21 feet wide. It invites masses to be downtown. As Canal Street goes, so goes the city. It used to go that way, and I believe it will be that way again.”

"All of our cultural events.."  Whose cultural events?  Not "ours" so much. We don't actually live in the theme park you are building there anymore.

Whose idea was it to do the Separate But Equal Blvd scheme?

In this story we find the Toussaints saying they were approached by Jared Brossett about considering it at least. In response, Jared says that's not what he wants. Either way both sides seem to agree they did discuss the idea.

Alison Toussaint said Brossett suggested in April that the stretch of Robert E. Lee in his district could have one name, while the part in neighboring council District A could have another.

Brossett on Friday evening disputed that, saying he called Alison Toussaint to say he did not support the idea of two names for one street.

Allen Toussaint, who died in 2015, lived on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in Gentilly.

Reginald Toussaint said he viewed the idea of a street with two names as one that not only crossed political boundaries, but racial ones as well.

“We're not going to be involved in a street that's split in half by color,” he said.

Joe Giarrusso is also mentioned in the story and he spent some time yesterday on social media also denying that he has proposed splitting the street to the Toussaints. 

We first read about this plan to segregate the name of what we now call Robert E Lee Blvd back in January.  This article seems to say it came either from the Street Renaming Commission itself or from comments or suggestions submitted to it. 

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.

I scanned the Commission's final report and found only two public comments suggesting a "Hibernia Blvd."  Both of them seem to favor that name for the entire length.  One suggests putting Toussaint's name on nearby Leon C Simon Blvd instead. But I don't see anything about dividing Robert E Lee between its Lakeview and Gentilly sections. Doesn't mean it's not in there. Just means I couldn't find it putting what I thought were good search terms into CTRL-F. 

The suggestion could have come from lots of different places. But the "split the baby" approach does sound like something somebody either working for or talking to a city councilperson would try.  And it isn't hard to believe that Brossett and/or Giarrusso or their staff , once having received such a suggestion, would then mention it to stakeholders in discussion just to feel them out even if, as Jared claims, they do not explicitly endorse the plan.  (Note: Giarrusso maintains that he has not spoken to the family at all about this.)

In any case, since, according to the Toussaints, this is clearly still being talked about by somebody we should probably keep asking who that is.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

The line is going back up again

LDH is reporting 853 new COVID cases in Louisiana today.  (42 in Orleans Parish) That is the biggest one day jump since February.  Most likely this is related to the spread of the more highly contagious "Delta" variant of the virus.  According to most of what we read, the available vaccines seem to protect you as well against the new variant so here is the LDH site with information on how to get your shots.  

If you are reading this, though, it's highly likely you've already been vaccinated.  The problem is, you are one of about only 35% of Louisianians who have been.  Which makes us one of the more vulnerable spots in the whole country right now. (On the bright side, your lotto odds are pretty good!) Add to that an entire regime of political leadership who have all but given up on protective public health measures in favor tourism promotion and "reopening" campaigns and you've got a recipe for disaster brewing. 

Hopefully it won't be that bad! But it's worrisome.

Property rights

At first glance it might seem at least a little bit insensitive of Kailas to even bring this up.  

The developers of the ill-fated Hard Rock Hotel have sued the city over a new measure that would restrict the height of future construction at the site of the building collapse, alleging that it’s a politically motivated ploy from City Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

The developers say that lowering the maximum building height allowed at the site from 190 feet to 70 feet constitutes an illegal taking of their property, and they’re asking an Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge to declare a motion sponsored by Palmer null and void. 

After everything that happened here, the damage, the disruption, the cost, the injuries, the deaths, the exposure of the corrupt systems that underlie all of it, you'd think that the property owner doesn't  just say "my bad" and start over.  But we're so far off the edge of the map with regard to oligarchic late stage capitalism now that all the human questions about what should happen with that space now must take a back seat to the sacred "property" rights of people like Kailas to suck maximum value out of it.

Also he's probably just thinking the developers own their own judges now anyway. Might as well put that work. 

The developers’ preemptive lawsuit says that the process leading up to the June 3 vote was fatally flawed and that a judge should order it reversed. The lawsuit claims that an April report from the City Planning Commission cited only vague generalities about economic damage instead of specific violations of the city's comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Medley. The city declined to comment.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Well so much for that

It was a long shot but I was kind of hoping John Bel would veto this transportation carve out from the general fund.  They say there are little tricks and workarounds built into it to prevent this but in all likelihood, it will mean less money for schools and hospitals and a variety of state services down the.. um... road. 

Also, that "self-reporting" bill for polluting industry we wrote about on Wednesday, of course, he signed that too. The effects of the new law are still open to interpretation but this certainly seems like an invitation to let some rather bad events slide on technicalities. 

Bagert referred to records submitted to DEQ for several other accidents in which the actual levels of the pollution were either unknown or left off the record, prompting DEQ to accept it as a minor non-reportable incident. 

In one such case on May 8, the oil and gas company, Lobo Operating Inc., discovered one of its pipelines leaking into the waters of Breton Sound after someone noticed a sheen of oil on the surface. According to the document submitted to DEQ, the oil sheen was measured to be 10 feet wide by 2 miles long yet was deemed to be less than a half-gallon and below the reportable quantity. The report further indicated that the sheen escaped “beyond the incident location” and was unrecoverable.

Bagert said he is worried the public might no longer have access to these types of records if such accidents involving unknown quantities of released pollution are deemed minor events and accepted under the self-audit program. But he is optimistic after the governor’s office told him it would work with Together Louisiana on implementing the new DEQ regulations, Bagert said.

Anyway it's nice that they are "optimistic" now.  

Meanwhile, given that the Governor has gone ahead and signed bills like these that carry significant impacts toward meeting conservative priorities, you would think that Republicans would be pleased.  And, of course, you would be wrong about that. 

The babies are thinking about coming back into session for one more big baby fit

Senate President Page Cortez and other key lawmakers said Wednesday there is a growing likelihood Louisiana will hold its first session to debate whether to override gubernatorial vetoes.

The gathering would begin July 20 and could last until July 24.

Legislators typically cancel veto override sessions when a majority of the House or Senate – 53 and 20 respectively – cast ballots saying the session is not needed.

But Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto of several high-profile bills, and the possibility he may veto more, is boosting chances lawmakers will return to the State Capitol.

A list of the Governor's 28 vetoes and his reasons for issuing them can be found here.  Of the bills we are told are the most likely to spur a veto session, the transportation bill was the most substantive.  But John Bel signed that one so now if the baby fit happens it will be over the two most performatively stupid culture war items lawmakers wasted our time with this year.

One would allow anyone 21 years or older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. The other would cruelly ban transgender high school students from participating in team sports. Both of those bills passes with theoretically "veto-proof" majorities. But that's not really a guarantee that the same legislators will vote again to override a veto.  The concealed carry bill is opposed by the normally quite powerful Sheriffs Association which could easily flip a few votes back.  For the trans students, well, let's hope at least some of these legislators won't actually vote to hurt these kids when they know the vote will actually count. 

But then we have not done well this year expecting this group to do the right thing in a moment of truth. There's always hope, one supposes.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Courtesy reports

Well that sounds very polite.
Last month, an unknown amount and type of acid gas leaked from within the Domino Sugar refining facility in Chalmette, escaping into the air. The cause was also unknown, according to a notice sent to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality by the plant.

Such self-disclosures are sometimes known as courtesy reports, and are often the only way members of the public learn of unauthorized releases.
You might even call it "civil discourse."  Why would anyone object to such a friendly practice?
A move toward self-audits is heavily supported by Louisiana's oil, gas and chemical industries, who have pushed for some version of it since 1997. The state agency argues the program would be modeled after one designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that aims to incentivize polluters to disclose and correct minor issues in plants more proactively. In exchange, companies may receive a reduction in fines and a veil of secrecy until settlement proceedings close -- or for two years, whichever comes first.

Instead of fixing a policy that upholds safe environmental standards under penalty of law, the legislature has proposed that we offer polluting industry, "incentives" to correct what the text of this article asserts are "minor issues." It's so dang nice of them!  Such a welcome change in tone from all the nasty epithets one usually hears thrown around to describe one of the nation's most cancer-ridden regions. Just ask Bill Cassidy. He knows. 

The concentration of chemical plants and refineries in mostly poor, Black areas of Louisiana drew international attention in January when President Joe Biden mentioned “Cancer Alley” in a speech about a series of executive orders targeting climate change and industrial pollution in areas with large non-white populations. Some Louisiana leaders bristled at the president’s use of the term, which many residents use to describe the Mississippi River corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge; Sen. Bill Cassidy called it “a slam upon our state.”

Besides, offering "incentives" rather than enforcing rules is clearly the most effective means the government has at its disposal for protecting the public from health hazards.  Everybody knows that.

But the primary aim of this bill is to keep any potential nastiness is kept out of the public discourse altogether. And, again, isn't that better for everyone's state of mind?

During the session, agency officials said information provided in self-audits that companies are already required to report would remain public. But those courtesy reports aren't legally required if the company finds that the amount released was below reportable quantities.

Bagert says it's unclear whether these notices would remain available to the public if they're provided through a self-audit.

"The question here is whether the public has a right to know information that its government is in possession of about toxic chemicals in their own community," he said. "We all could have debates about the appropriate regulation. This is something far simpler. It's even knowing that releases and spills of these toxic chemicals have taken place."

The Governor has until Thursday night to decide whether to veto this one.  But, again, why would he do that?  It seems so pleasant.  His own administration apparently lobbied for it, even.  

On the other hand, if he really wants to please everyone, he has a chance to do that too.  Since Together Louisiana and other environmental groups seem so adamant about it now, why not let rip with the veto pen this one time and make them happy.  The legislature can come back and override him later and it'll be out of his hands anyway.  That way everyone does everyone else a favor.  Perfectly courteous.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Why is Jared running?

Most political handicappers would tell you that when a scandal-damaged pol who has just lost a different election  jumps into the season's "marquee" citywide race, it probably is not because he can win.  But there is a reason he's in. What is it? Is this money just burning a hole in his pocket?

The strongest indicator in Brossett’s favor may be his funding, though it remains to be seen whether that will hold up as the race picks up.

Brossett headed into this year with more than $100,000 in his campaign account, a seemingly enviable war chest that dwarfed that of any other incumbent councilmember at the time. But the report also points to a potential vulnerability: less than $10,000 of the haul was raised last year and none of it came in after the crash.

The article goes on to point out that he would probably need to raise closer to half a million dollars in order to win this seat.  But that doesn't appear to be the pace at the moment.  Still, he does have enough money and enough clout to have some kind of effect. What does he intend that effect to be?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

No, the problem is not a "worker shortage"

This article will tell you what the problem actually is but it doesn't do that until about 14 paragraphs in; long after the nonsense about "generous" unemployment benefits and well overshadowed by the OMG WHO WILL SERVE ME MY $12 BUD LITES AT THE SUPERDOME headline.  But it's in there. 

Worker representatives generally take the Biden view, noting that many of those who lost their jobs weren't eligible for assistance in the first place. Many are not anxious to return to low-paid jobs for a variety of reasons, including lack of child care, worries about their health and better alternatives on offer.

"Calling it a 'worker shortage' makes it seem like there are a lot of people too lazy to work," said Andrew Deibert, chief organizer for United Labor Unions in Louisiana.

"I think it should be framed as an 'ethical-employer shortage,' a shortage of companies willing to pay workers livable wages, provide decent benefits, and improve working conditions," he said. "Companies willing to do this don't seem to be having trouble finding workers."

Despite all the bizzaro world propaganda suggesting the opposite, the bosses have won a more precarious and desperate workforce in the pandemic.  The "worker shortage" manufactured crisis is just about locking it down.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Nature is healing

 In Louisiana we're back to hitting all the regular metrics.  And then some, really.

The combination of air pollution and poverty is triggering higher rates of cancer in Louisiana, according to a new study led by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

Released this week, the study indicates low-income communities with high levels of toxic air pollution had average cancer rates of about 515 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s statistically higher than the 482-case average statewide and the 487-case average for low-income areas with less air pollution.

Speaking of the regular metrics, here is an article from last weekend that takes a look at how Formosa Petrochemical is meeting the requirements to maintain its generous tax incentives granted by the state to build a new plastics plant in St. James Parish. From the looks of things, they're meeting them by getting a grace period added. 

Negotiated starting in 2014 as a potential project, Formosa's ITEP application was submitted June 23, 2016, for construction to begin in June 2019 and wrap up by June 2022. The Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry approved the 100% property tax abatement in April 2018.

While the investment decision has been pushed back since 2016, the overarching umbrella contract with the state, known as a cooperative endeavor agreement signed in 2017, isn't slated to have all the incentives expire until 2024 if the complex is not operational by then. 

With that date still three years out, it's possible that the state could amend the cooperative endeavor agreement with dates extending further out that also would apply to the property tax and other incentives contained in the overall contract. That would only require an administrative review and process that would not be open to public comment or debate, according to the Louisiana Economic Development department.

Despite overwhelming opposition from the community there and from environmental groups all over Louisiana, and beyond, there remains every expectation that the plant will eventually be built.  And then the healing can continue.

The end of the criminal legal reform era

 Just how big an industry is the tax farming business now

Across the United States, court debt has ballooned as states have turned to court costs, fines, and fees as revenue streams. A recent report by watchdog group Fines and Fees Justice Center found that court debt in the U.S. now totals at least a staggering $27.6 billion. That figure is a low estimate, the group noted in the report, because it relied on incomplete data collected from only 25 states.

To handle the collection of that debt, states and municipalities — as well as the Internal Revenue Service — are increasingly turning to private firms, which in some states can add up to 40 percent surcharges onto the fees. In aggregate, that can translate into billions of dollars of payouts for the debt collectors.

Those of us old enough to remember the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri will recall the central role that municipal fines and fees played in the system of predatory racism against which the people there rose up.  And here we are a thousand years, and several cycles of murderous police actions and uprisings later and still very little has fundamentally changed. 

In New Orleans, one could argue there has been some progress. But what's happened has been slow and slight. A 2020 law re-directs court fee  revenues away from control of the judges who impose them but does not abolish them altogether.  The City Council appeared to at least try and defy that law when it resolved to return the fees collected but I don't think we've been updated on how that's worked out.  As of this April, a series of lawsuits have resulted in a system whereby Orleans Criminal Court judges promise a kinder, gentler bail regime

A joint order from the judges in February formalized new bail rules that paved the way for the settlement. The agreement comes after drawn out wrangling over how judges in New Orleans can impose bail or fines and fees on thousands of defendants each year, the vast majority of them poor.

Under the new order, defendants must have an attorney when their bail is set. The judges also promise to inquire into defendants' ability to pay, to consider alternatives to cash bail and to explain their reasoning when they do keep defendants behind bars.

We'll see how that goes.  Last week, the City Attorney announced a mass dismissal of some 385,000 cases of municipal violations which should reduce the likelihood you will be ensnared by an attachment from some unpaid traffic fine from 10 years ago. That's all good news. But it's minimal compared to what is needed here and in every city where billions of dollars worth of bounties are still hanging over the heads of highly vulnerable people. 

Meanwhile the time for further progress is running short.  Local media is already daily beating the drums of crime wave panic and the tide is beginning to turn toward reaction. (In fact, here is WDSU specifically blaming lax collection of court fees.) Our newly elected "reformist" DA is already breaking his promise not to try children as adults. Major candidates jumping into the marquee race in this fall's municipal elections are already taking up demagogic "tough on crime" rhetoric in their initial messaging.  All of this is only going to get worse as that election approaches.  Afterwards, this group of politicians will go back to work with a new mandate to "get tough" and new rules that will allow them to do just that.  

Mr. Biden emphasized that state and local officials in areas experiencing surges in gun violence can use $350 billion in Covid-19 relief funding to hire more law-enforcement personnel, even if it raises the total number beyond its pre-pandemic level.

The window of opportunity to make real and lasting change is always so short. And when it shuts it can stay that way for a long time. Business as usual, on the other hand can last... well that's why they call it business as usual.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

We are going on a gator hunt

Do you wanna come
According to a series of itemized campaign finance reports and documents filed with the Louisiana Secretary of State, since 2014, Jeff Landry has funneled more than $120,000 in campaign donations from his annual gator hunt to a company he owns, Bucks and Ducks Game Management LLC, ostensibly for the purchase of alligator hunting tags.

Hunting tags are not to be confused with alligator hunting licenses, the costs of which are listed separately by Landry’s campaign, which reported spending approximately $21,539 for alligator hunting licenses between 2015 to 2020.

 The problem with this accounting, however, is that whereas the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries charges for alligator hunting licenses ($25 for Louisiana residents and $150 for nonresidents), alligator hunting tags are given out for free.

The reason the tags are free and non-transferable is because that is how the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries keeps controls on how many gators are hunted and from where. The reason Landry passes campaign funds through a recreational hunting business he owns in order to skirt those laws is because he's raising tons more cash networking with other Republicans he invites to a gator hunt adventure weekend.

Landry has been hosting political fundraisers at the “camp” since 2011, the first year of his one and only term in Congress. Perhaps ironically, the event didn’t begin drawing significant attention until 2014. That year, a young congressman from Indiana named Todd Rokita took some heat back home when he turned up at the $5,000-a-head fundraiser in the thick of his own reelection campaign.

“Our little crew brought $30,000 for Jeff Landry from Indiana, because we believe he’s good for the country,” Rokita, who is currently serving as Indiana’s attorney general, boasted to Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press. He wasn’t the only one of Landry’s former colleagues to make the pilgrimage. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy showed up as well.

The gator hunt quickly earned a spot on Team Trump’s calendar. Don Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle turned up in 2019, as did Citizens United chairman and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.

Landry is already sending out Save the Date reminders for this year’s gator hunt, the 11th annual, which is set for Sept. 9 through Sept. 11. He’s also soliciting corporate sponsorships.

Pretty funny. But it's hardly the most egregious of Landry's several unethical business arrangements only the most.. um.. exotically themed.  And it's apparently been quite a successful little racket he's had going for over a decade now. It certainly gets attention from his rivals, anyway.  Here's a photo John Bel shared the same weekend that Landry had Don Jr. up at the "camp.

I guess we can read that as trolling, in a way? Although it also seems oddly competitive, maybe even pathetic.  I'm not sure the correct response to Landry's big gross corporate trophy hunt is, "Hello, I also kill these animals for sport, don't you know!"  

Of course, it could always be worse

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Pastor Tony Spell from Life Tabernacle Church in Central has been cited for alligator hunting violations back on June 5, 2021. According to a release from Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries, agents received information about Spell posting photos to social media about an alligator he had shot behind his church.

I'm not exactly an expert but Spell's gator appears to be a juvenile, maybe? Maybe I'm wrong. This says it's 6 feet long. 

Agents responded to the scene where they found the pastor in possession of a 6-foot alligator.

Alligator hunting season does not open until September 1.

Killing an alligator during a closed season and without a tag brings a $400 to $950 fine and up to 120 days in jail for each offense.

Spell also faces civil restitution totaling $375.80 for the replacement value of the illegally taken alligator according to agents.

Anyway, I'm sure they'll have no trouble at all getting the fine out of that guy.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Faubourg Stacy

Some of you kids are old enough to remember those bumper stickers.  They went a long way to communicating the post-Katrina aspirations of a certain segment of Uptown White voters without explicitly stating those aspirations. Of course Stacy was pretty explicit about it when she wanted to be

Anyway, here we are after a decade or so, a public housing demolition, hundreds of Airbnbs, and several blown kisses later, and the vision is really starting to fall into place

With qualifying for New Orleans’ municipal elections about a month away, politicos are eyeing the party, gender and ethnic make-up of the city’s voters overall and in the individual City Council districts.

A new analysis by seasoned demographer and consultant Greg Rigamer shows that there are currently 273,627 registered voters in Orleans Parish residing in 216,052 households. This includes 119,656 (43.7%) male voters and 153,681 (56.2%) female voters.

Of that total, 149,373 (54.6%) are Black; 99,821 (36.5%) are White; and 24,433 (8.9%) are registered as “other.” Democrats make up 64.2% (175,571) of the voters; “other party” 25.9% (70,748); and Republicans 10% (27,303).

Council District A has the highest percentage of White voters, and Council District E has the highest percentage of Black voters. For the first time in recent years, the percentage of White voters in Council District B exceeds the percentage of Black voters

Friday, June 18, 2021

Happy Anniversary!

Hey look, Waste Management's civil RICO suit against Fred Heebe and Jim Ward is turning 10 years old.

Both sides have lined up high-powered attorneys – Waste Management is represented by a group of lawyers from Phelps Dunbar, a white-shoe New Orleans law firm, as well as the Washington firm Baker Botts, while Heebe and Ward’s legal team includes, among others, Kyle Schonekas and Billy Gibbens, the lawyers that blew up the federal investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2013.

Given that legal horsepower, it’s perhaps not surprising that the litigation is about to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. There are more than 600 items in the online court docket, including dozens of complex motions, and the plaintiffs want to introduce more than 400 exhibits, a move Heebe and Ward are opposing.

Do you think all those big money lawyers are "celebrating" this cash cow? I think they are celebrating.  Ray Nagin, whose bribery conviction, obviously, figures into this case, once said he decided to go into politics because it was, "the dominant industry." And now everyone involved in this case has a decade's worth of stimulus checks to prove it. 

But that isn't the only interesting principle of politics this group of "high-powered attorneys" has proven in the course of their work.  They've also demonstrated that amassing great fortune and influence through corrupt political dealings and environmental endangerment, is nowhere near as serious a crime as commenting on websites. 

Heebe, meanwhile, was represented by some of the city’s most aggressive defense lawyers, who pushed back as federal investigators dug into how he secured a near-monopoly on the local landfill business. They didn’t wait for the feds to strike. Instead, they went on offense, revealing that two top prosecutors had routinely posted comments — using aliases — on news stories about cases the U.S. Attorney’s Office was handling.

The scandal turned the office upside down, ending the long reign of popular U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. More remarkably, it won Heebe and his stepfather, Jim Ward, his partner in the River Birch landfill in Waggaman, the equivalent of a pre-emptive pardon. The Department of Justice, which rarely even confirms the existence of investigations, announced that its probe of Heebe and Ward was over, and that neither would be charged.

This astonishing precedent was further cemented when we learned that commenting on websites is, in fact, so egregious an offense as to outweigh actual murders committed by police.  

“Legacyusa” turned out to be one of the top federal prosecutors in New Orleans. His post was just one of many anonymous barbs that led a federal judge Tuesday to throw out the convictions of those ex-cops in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which left two people dead and four seriously wounded.

In a 129-page ruling, District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt cited long list of “egregious and inflammatory” comments by at least three Justice Department officials using a variety of online identities. Those comments fueled a “21st century carnival atmosphere” that tainted the 2011 trial and will require a new one, Engelhardt wrote.

Engelhardt actually threw out the River Birch case at one point too, even though that ruling didn't stick.  Wonder how that happened. 

Engelhardt had connections to other players in the case. When Heebe and Ward pushed to unmask the pseudonymous commenters in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Engelhardt joined the crusade, eventually directing the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor to probe the commenting scandal.

Engelhardt owed his appointment to the federal bench to then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter; he had served as Vitter’s campaign treasurer. Vitter was also an ally of Heebe and Ward. He was among the politicians who questioned decisions by the state DEQ to hastily open landfills around the region, moves that also drew scorn from environmentalists.

The "dominant industry" works in fascinating ways, doesn't it.  I mean.. look what happened even during the time it took me to type this up

This time, there was no 11th-hour surprise. But once again, Fred Heebe and Jim Ward, owners of the River Birch landfill in Waggaman, found a way to dodge a public accounting of what their detractors have long portrayed as an improper influence campaign meant to keep potential rivals at bay -- and as much local garbage going into their dump as possible.

On the eve of trial of a civil racketeering lawsuit that was filed a decade ago, the two men settled with their accuser, Waste Management, one of the largest garbage companies in North America. Terms of the settlement, noted in the case's lengthy docket on Friday by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, were not disclosed. The case was set for trial Monday.

Well, happy anniversary, in any case. To quote Nagin once more, thanks for "keeping the brand out there."

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

What's in it for Entergy?

Quite a deal they all announced this morning.  

Made a big to-do about the roll out too. In fact it looked like they might have even put it out to the T-P under an embargo so the story (or the bones of it) could drop on the website  at the same time as the press conference. 

Currently, about half of the S&WB's pumps already are powered by Entergy.This plan would switch over the rest by building a new substation at the Carrollton Plant and installing frequency changers that would convert Entergy's power to the archaic standard used by about half of the S&WB's equipment.

The $75 million deal would be jointly paid for with state money set aside for the plan, city funds through the issuance of bonds and money from Entergy. The S&WB expects to generate savings of $5 to $6 million annually from what S&WB executive director Ghassan Korban said would be a cheaper source of power than the fuel currently used to power the turbines.

Of course it's not like they had to scramble to write up at least a sketch of the plan.  It's actually quite similar to a scheme that was floated back a few years ago.  

The calls to make the switch to Entergy became more urgent after the flooding in the summer of 2017, which was blamed in part on a lack of power. Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu specifically called for making the change as he prepared to leave office.

Despite those discussions, however, the process has moved slowly, beset by issues over funding the equipment needed to make the change. Entergy had originally sought to strike a deal where it would fund the entire project in exchange for permission to make a higher profit, a plan rejected by the City Council.

For more context on how that happened see my prior notes here.  At the time, the City Council, which regulates Entergy's monopoly to sell electricity in New Orleans, was in the middle of a negotiation over a new rate case agreement. This is where the council sets parameters that determine how much money Entergy can charge you for power. The mayor, who is not typically a party to these talks, intervened at the last minute on Entergy's behalf, arguing it should be allowed to charge higher rates to New Orleanians in return for a one time $75 million kickback in the form of a new substation serving S&WB. 

That would have been a bad deal for most New Orleanians. This one, at least so far, appears to be a bit better. Details here via The Lens.

The $74 million will come from three different sources. The initial $34 million investment to build the substation will come from Entergy. The Sewerage and Water Board will then pay Entergy back for that investment over time.

Officials said that the investment should have no impact on the bills of Energy and Sewerage and Water Board customers. Korban said that the new substation will save between $5 million and $6 million a year that would otherwise be spent on generator fuel and maintenance for the aging turbines. Those savings will be used to pay Entergy for the substation.

The second tranche of money will be $20 million in state capital outlay dollars to integrate the substation with the Carrollton plant. 

And last, the city will cough up $20 million from its own budget to install “frequency converters.” Some of the pumps in New Orleans require an antiquated type of electricity that is rarely used today, and is different from the form of electricity provided by Entergy. The “frequency changers” will allow the electricity from Entergy to power those older pumps.

That last $20 million comes from bond sales already approved in a citywide infrastructure ballot measure in 2019.  

So, if they aren't getting higher rates out of the deal, what's in it for Entergy this time?  Well for one thing it looks like they don't really spend any of their own money on the capital.  And, in the long run, they get to sell more power to SWB in perpetuity.  Also, as the sole supplier of power to the public utility, they gain a degree of leverage over the city they didn't have before. One would think that should be enough but, well, we have come to expect differently so keep an eye out.  More details are supposed to be available next week.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Holy hell it is already June

It's been quiet on the Yellow Blog for a few weeks and, I guess, for much of the year. I've been kind of slacking, I realize that. That's not to say I've been off in space or anything. The main point of this blog is basically note taking for stuff that goes on in the news or just things I read and hear in general. Trust me there are plenty of notes. The "drafts" folder here is quite prolific. I just haven't taken the time to sit down and organize them in a while.   That's not a great thing because if I don't process at least a little bit, it starts to feel like I might forget it all. Which.. again.. the main point of this blog is so I don't forget about things that happen. 

And there's a ton of stuff going on right now that I don't want to lose track of.  The legislature is wrapping up today.  I managed to get some of that down a few weeks ago, but things have not improved since.  Most notably, despite being in possession of an historic budget surplus flush with federal money to throw at whatever they like, lawmakers decided to fund a roads and infrastructure program by forcing more cuts to higher ed and health care

Today, we learned that they have decided to scrap two years of work toward a plan for automating expungements of criminal records because the State Police said it might cost too much. 

Davis said State Police still weren’t able to afford the proposal. He told legislators last month that  if James’ bill passed his agency might be forced to reduce the size of its next police academy class — a priority for several lawmakers — or cancel the purchase of new police vehicles. 

But lawmakers could have absorbed the entire cost in next year’s budget. The Legislature’s budget plan includes $17 million in unallocated funding that can still be spent. The Supreme Court is also sitting on millions of dollars of reserves that could be used for this purpose if it wanted to do so.

Anyway, there's more, of course. But that's not the only thing.  A bunch of stuff has been going on. Another building is collapsing downtown while we are still figuring out what to do about the last one.   A big municipal election is coming and some of your all time favs are back in the mix. It's hurricane season again and the turbines are.. not ready.  It's June now but the first of July is coming and that is going to be the worst first of the month yet for people facing eviction. 

Also other things! I have to make time to get this stuff in context before it all becomes a big blur and our consciousnesses disintegrate into the wind.  I'm trying.  

Meanwhile, holy hell it is already June. The myrtles are already in bloom and it hardly even feels like we're in 2021 yet.

Myrtles again

Monday, May 31, 2021

Plenty more where that came from

Just remember these times.  These are the good times. You may think you have hilariously dysfunctional government now but just wait.  Someday Jeff Landry will be Governor. Let's take a look at what his official schedule might be like.

Guidry said Landry spends a few hours a month on his work for the Harvey Gulf board, one of several outside income sources the attorney general claims. Landry also claims full ownership of two staffing firms. He has not answered detailed questions about how much of his time is occupied by running those firms.

It’s difficult to ascertain from a review of public records how much time Landry spends on official duties versus outside ventures. His public calendars are often empty, with the exception of media appearances, often on right-wing channels, including One America News Network and Newsmax.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Every time you think you've seen the worst Louisiana Legislature of all time...

.... along comes the worst Louisiana Legislature of all time. 

And whooo boy this has been a bad one.

On Monday night this past week, some of us tuned in to observe the latest reverberation of the session's loudest (but also emptiest) controversy thus far. Rep. Valarie Hodges brought a bill before the House that would introduce a specific requirement to the state's high school curriculum. 

Fallout from the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus’ fight with Rep. Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) is to blame for the tense debate on the Louisiana House floor Monday over a bill requiring that high schoolers learn about World War II and the Holocaust, Rep. Tammy Phelps (D-Shreveport) said Monday evening.

Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs) got HB 416 through the House to the dismay of Black lawmakers who couldn’t win support for their attempts to simply have the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education consider adjustments to the curriculum.

Hodges told the chamber that “the sacrifice our country and our forefathers made in the part of a worldwide attempt at domination of the Third Reich” are worthy of being taught in every high school.

“The Holocaust is a study in how much the future of our nation depends on its citizens to stand up to the forces that divide us and stand up to hate among us,” she said. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It's been a while since the leges have had this much interest in writing curriculum directives directly into state law.  That article references "fallout" over an earlier bill this session introduced by Ray Garofalo that would have barred the teaching of "divisive concepts" such as, for example, the idea that capitalism produces racist or sexist outcomes, or even that racism can be a central theme in the description of US history. 

In other words, it was a pretty bad bill and bringing it to the legislature at all is clearly a deliberate provocation on Garofalo's part.  Interestingly, though, media coverage of the "controversy" has too often elided the nature of the bill as an issue and focused instead on some words spoken by Garofalo while debating it. Take a look at how this Advocate story is framed.

Garofalo first ignited controversy last month when, during a discussion of his bill on how racism is taught in colleges, he referred to how a hypothetical case of a classroom discussion on slavery could include "the good, the bad, the ugly."

He quickly walked back his comment about the "good" in slavery, and allies contend he has been ridiculously portrayed as somehow sympathetic to slavery.

All of a sudden we're no longer talking about the bill he introduced specifically to outlaw academic questioning of white supremacy and are concerned instead with whether or not he's being treated unfairly by critics.  Even now, after his somewhat dramatic removal from his committee chairmanship, Garofalo is presented almost as a sacrificial lamb to petty Democrats. 

At one point Garofalo said, even with his measure, college classrooms were free to air discussions on controversial topics, including “the good, the bad, the ugly” of slavery.

The lawmaker quickly corrected himself on any suggestion of “good” surrounding slavery. But the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and Gov. John Bel Edwards said he should be replaced as chairman for multiple reasons.

It's probably true that the Black Caucus did force Garofalo's demotion by threatening to hold up a key tax bill until he was punished. They should have killed the tax swap bill altogether anyway but that's for a different post, probably. Either way, the press coverage over the past few weeks has unhelpfully obscured the reason they acted in the first place.  Actually, instead of "the press" I should just say Tyler Bridges in particular because most examples of this are form his reporting.  In this passage, for example, we see that Clay Schexnayder has pretty good handle on a problem that Tyler is nonetheless intent on turning into something else.

But the alliance between the two ended after Garofalo insisted on presenting House Bill 546, which sought to address concerns of conservatives that left-wing educators are teaching “critical race theory” concepts centered on the notion that racism is systemic.

The night before, Schexnayder advised Garofalo that having his committee hear HB546 would be racially divisive.

Garofalo forged ahead. In explaining his bill, he made an offhand comment about the “good” of slavery but then immediately disavowed it.

The damage was done, however. The exchange went viral, and in the days that followed, the Black Caucus called on Schexnayder to remove him as the Education Committee chairman, while Garofalo said he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

No doubt people will think I am picking at nits here. But the way that is written, the reader is expected to conclude that a racist bill that says you can't teach about racism might have been a fine thing to pass if not for the "good of slavery" gaffe that went viral. 

Still, it is probably safe to assume that Garofalo is being punished because his fumbling presentation endangered a tax bill and not because Republicans were all that set against his trolling foray into legislative pedagogy. If it were otherwise, there would have been far less enthusiasm for Hodges's bill on Monday. Mark Ballard puts in a pretty good explanation today of how her bill and Garofalo's are really aimed at the same purpose.  

The first thing caucus chair Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said was that tax policy, not culture wars, is the foremost interest of most House Republicans.

Still, they voted for transgender restrictions and school curricula impositions, such as requiring public schools to teach World War II and the Holocaust in greater detail as well as an emphasis on the nation’s important documents.

Not that such subjects are bad for Louisiana students to learn, but “patriotic education” is a strategy that crowds out conversations about race and its impact on American society. Louisiana educators oppose legislators dictating curriculum.

Another thing we have to point out about these "culture issue" troll bills is that they do not bubble up from the local constituents. They are dropped in from above by well funded national conservative agitators.  For example, Louisiana was one of thirty some odd states to advance bills cribbed from the national right wing grievance-cruelty template that bar transgendered kids from participating in high school sports.  Here is the House breaking out in applause over its passage.

What has made this session more frustrating than most, though, has been the ease at which bills like this have made it all the way through the process. During a session with the more weighty matters of hurricane recovery, coastal restoration, and the distribution of COVID relief funds on the agenda, why are we stopping to argue about any of this foolishness? 

The key observation is that this group of lawmakers doesn't play the game with the same um.. restraint.. that previous bodies might have exercised.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  Recall that 2019 was a wave election for reactionaries and we're seeing what happens when they get to run the whole show with little or no check aside from a Governor who is himself too hands off.  The other problem is this is yet another legislature seeing the effect of a term limits law that has weakened the overall competence of the body as members have less experience and independence and rely more on permanent $$ people to really run things. 

We've seen bills come out of committee this year with obvious problems one might have expected to get "fixed' on the full floor (or killed if they are altogether bad.) But now the customary brakes seem to be off. And, yes, of course the bar  for was very low already but my point is this bunch has managed to go even lower. 

A few examples of that: 

First, a couple weeks ago we saw the final failure to pass even a modest $28 boost to one of the country's cruelest unemployment insurance payments, in part, because House Republicans insisted (falsely) that the current $300 federal enhanced payment that expires this fall is "disincentivizing" work. 

Not willing to let facts flummox a good narrative, a murderers’ row of a half dozen self-described conservatives in the Louisiana House, one after another, pounced on Democratic Harvey Rep. Rodney Lyons’ proposal to increase Louisiana’s miserly unemployment benefit by $28 a week. The increase would move the state from the 49th lowest benefit to 48th by paying no more than $275 per week. Most would get less, and in any case the increase would start in January 2022, four months after the federal enhanced benefits expires.

When Lyons's bill was in committee, it was amended to also include a bizarre provision for one time $1,000 bonus payments to people who take a new job and end their UI benefit.  Accepting the bonus payment would then make the person ineligible for future unemployment benefits for a period after.  That amendment, questionable as it was on legal and moral grounds, was considered a political "poison pill" intended to tank the bill altogether.  However, it's also exactly the sort of thing that a previous House might have removed in time to pass a reasonable bill as clearer thinking heads prevailed.  That wasn't the case this time. 

The House failed again to listen to reason on Thursday when Barry Ivey (R- Central)  practically begged them not advance Rick Edmonds's (R- Baton Rouge)  blatant attempt to hide information about corporate tax breaks granted by the state from public view

House lawmakers on Thursday voted 59-38 for a bill that would change the public records law to allow the state economic development agency to hide certain corporate tax incentive records from the public. 

House Bill 456, sponsored by Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), proposes to make an exception to Louisiana’s public records law for certain records under the Louisiana Economic Development (LED) tax incentive programs, including the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, Louisiana Quality Jobs Program and Louisiana Enterprise Zone Program. 

“It is imperative, members, that we do not let this instrument go across to the other side (to the Senate),” Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) said during floor debate Thursday. He said HB 456 is one of the most problematic bills he has seen.

What the bill would do is make it impossible for anyone to gauge whether or not recipients of the various "incentive" are actually hitting their targets in terms of workers hired and wages paid instead of  just hoarding all the money in the form of executive compensation, for example. In years past, there would still be a good chance the Senate might "fix" this later on.  But maybe not this year. 

If anything, it looks like they're "fixing" things in the wrong direction. Take for example this teacher pay raise that seemed to shrink overnight without explanation. 

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved its version of the state's nearly $37 billion operating budget, including $800 pay raises for teachers and other certificated personnel and $400 pay boosts for support workers, including cafeteria employees and school bus drivers.

The action marked a turnaround from April 28, when Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, said House and Senate leaders were getting behind raises of $1,000 per year, more than double Gov. John Bel Edwards proposal to boost pay by $400 annually.

Nobody says why the money was taken back out.  Louisiana Federation of Teachers' lobbyist Cynthia Posey does point out that the state spends over $9 billion a year on the kind of tax credits and exemptions that Edmonds's bill will shield from scrutiny.

Anyway it's not like there isn't enough money to go around.  This is the first "fiscal session" in quite a while that hasn't played out int he shadow of some massive budget shortfall or impending "fiscal cliff."  Between the federal COVID rescue plan and just better than expected revenues in general, lawmakers have plenty to play with while formulating a budget. 

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday released their mark-up of the state's multibillion-dollar spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1 with spending bumps for higher education, juvenile justice and dozens of other favored pets projects. 

Lawmakers in the upper chamber had the rare opportunity to divvy up hundreds of millions of dollars in better-than-expected tax revenues after the state last week forecasted $355 million in excess funds for the current fiscal year and $320 million in additional collections for the next fiscal year.

Too bad for the teachers, though.  Guess they had to wait in line behind -- this stuff. 

Senators also added dozens of earmarks for favored projects in their districts, including $12 million in road projects in Lafayette, the city where Cortez lives, and $2 million to the athletics foundation in White's hometown of Central. Other dollars would go to recreational facilities in Jefferson Parish, a skate park in Ruston, fire departments in Ascension Parish, the River Road African American Museum and the National World War II Museum

LOL, yes, there again is the big money pit of special tax credits, sweetheart bank deals, and public-private partnering we all know as the National World War II Museum.  According to the budget bill as currently written, they're getting $7.5 million in general funds for something called an "FP&C Management Plus Liberation Pavilion." Here is what will go on there

Following their immersive journey through the war, visitors to The National WWII Museum will enter the Liberation Pavilion. Three building levels will explore the closing months of the war and immediate postwar years, concluding with an explanation of links to our lives today. The first floor, Liberation, will provide visitors with opportunities to contemplate the joys, costs, and meaning of liberation and freedom. The second and third levels will focus on what the war means today, with exhibits developed through the lens of democracy and freedom.

The second floor of the Liberation Pavilion will present richly layered, interactive experiences that explore the postwar years: how the world—and America's place in it—changed after World War II. Dramatic and thought-provoking exhibits will explore selected themes from the postwar era, ranging from the readjustments faced by returning military service members to international tribunals seeking justice for war crimes. We will trace the war's lasting legacies at home and around the world, as America's elevated role as a world power and freedoms secured by Allied forces are continually tested—even to the present day.

One wonders if Valarie Hodges is aware of this appropriation.

See also:  Couldn't really fit it into the narrative here but go ahead and read this Bayou Brief feature on Hodges and the attendant controversies to her bill.  Among other things, it's a good reminder to check your spelling.