Saturday, July 04, 2020

Sculpture garden

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more lame.
President Donald Trump announced during a speech in front of Mount Rushmore on Friday an executive order to establish a "National Garden of American Heroes" featuring statues of "historically significant Americans." 

The executive order includes a list of former American presidents and historical figures to feature – with Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and Billy Graham among them. 

Trump's effort to build more statues comes as protesters across the U.S. have torn down statues in protest of police violence against Black people in the wake of George Floyd's death in May.
Oh great another big dumb wasteful project that doesn't do anything but score political points though empty symbolic trolling and leave a massive wave of graft in its wake. After you do a border wall for that very same purpose, this just looks kind pathetic by comparison.

Besides, it's been done already
For most of the day before Nagin's scheduled dedication ceremony, the statue of Louis Armstrong, first dedicated in 1972 and recently moved to make way for a rendition of the old French Opera House, lay swathed in bubble wrap under a makeshift wooden shelter in the bed of a truck.

Mayoral spokesman James Ross said Tuesday five of the new statues will be displayed at tonight's event. Crews from A.M.E. Disaster Recovery Services were working furiously Tuesday under the supervision of city Parks and Parkways employees. A.M.E. has a $2.6 million contract for the so-called Phase 3 of Armstrong Park restoration. It got the deal in December 2009, a year after Burnell Moliere, the founder of similarly named companies housed at the same address, pleaded guilty to helping the former head of the Orleans Parish School Board collect a bribe.

It could have been worse

Yes of course it is a highly dubious thing to invite large crowds to gather for a public viewing during a pandemic.  Especially when the police have been breaking up funeral processions for months now.  Extra-especially when the spiking numbers of cases has just prompted the city to once again plead with people to avoid large gatherings ahead of the holiday weekend.

But imagine how much worse the Kern funeral would have been if there were no restrictions. I've got a vision of a Mickey Easterling style tableau except in this case Blaine is mounted atop the Smokey Mary and paraded through the streets, limbs animated so he can wave at us, probably.

Actually, now I'm upset that we didn't get to see this.

Bobby Jindal pantsed us

DEQ still hasn't quite gotten their britches pulled back up.
The fish testing program cost about $500,000 per year and led to an average of three new mercury advisories per year.

That all ended in 2008, when DEQ gutted the program amid a push by Gov. Bobby Jindal to force cuts across various state agencies. For eight years, there was no fish tissue sampling, except in the aftermath of a chemical or oil spill.

State law requires the program to draw its funding from tax dollars, grants or donations. DEQ has been hesitant to ask for more funding from the Legislature or push for a rule change that would allow the use of money from fees or fines.

In 2015, environmental groups put pressure on DEQ to revive the program. “We had to embarrass the hell out of them,” Kohl said. It worked, apparently.

“Our butt was hanging out and we had to cover it up,” Piehler said.
This also says that Louisiana's waterways are particularly dangerous environments for mercury poisoning in the fish that live there. But, you know, as President Trump says....
“Atmospheric mercury is less than it was, and most of the mercury we were getting was from aerial deposition,” he said.

That doesn’t mean testing should cease, Kohl said.

“If you don’t test, you don’t find problems,” he said. “Some people like that. Ignorance is bliss.”

Friday, July 03, 2020

Visibility is a trap

Land of the free, indeed.....
NEW ORLEANS — A large alligator found walking on the street in Lakeview was killed Friday morning because it was reportedly too big to relocate.

The 12-foot alligator was first spotted between French and Germain streets (near Harrison Avenue) in Lakeview around 8 a.m. Police officials said it came out of the water from the pumping station.
For a few minutes Friday morning, this big boy was everybody's friend. Check out the video if you can. It's too hard for me to watch anymore. Buddy was so fat and happy.  Just out for a morning walk to kick off the holiday weekend. Then someone called the cops and well... there are no happy endings in 2020. We should all know that.

We live under a terror regime now. There are rules for living through those, one of which is don't ever let them notice you. It's always the first and often the last mistake.

What are they even doing there

Kicking people out of there homes in the middle of a pandemic/depression must be essential work. Otherwise, we wouldn't force people into dangerous conditions in order to get it done.
Tenant advocates said this week they’re also worried about conditions inside the courtrooms. Anderson-Trahan’s docket quickly became backlogged. One case that was scheduled for 11 a.m. was still being heard at 6 p.m. At one point, there were 24 people inside a small courtroom that doesn’t have working AC. One woman nearly collapsed in the heat.

The judge tried to cut down on the number of people in the courtroom, only to announce minutes later that an overflow room was also crowded.

There were clear signs that the court took some precautions: temperatures were checked at the door and masks were required — but the judge ordered litigants who stood a few feet apart from each other to remove the masks so the court reporter could hear them.

Get used to it

Nobody could have predicted this was where we were headed..... except everyone.
WASHINGTON — After several months of mixed messages on the coronavirus pandemic, the White House is settling on a new one: Learn to live with it.
Anyway, as we've been saying for months, the bosses won the pandemic.  They have the permanent advantage on you now. Learn to live with it. 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Herd immunity is also a death cult

It always was, really. But because the only policy responses we're capable of fall within a range from "get used to it" to "maybe it will just go away" then you begin to see why waiting around for herd immunity has always been such a popular option.
Results suggest the New Orleans area is nowhere near herd immunity, which would require a large percentage of the population to be infected with the virus in order to stop it from widely spreading.

Researchers also found a 1.63% fatality rate, which means that reaching herd immunity would result in many more deaths.

"To get to herd immunity, you need 70-80% exposed," said Amy Feehan, an Ochsner research scientist who led the study. "You do the math, and that’s a whole lot of people dying."
Also, there are specific cohorts of people who have to do the bulk of the getting used to all the dying while others reason they will probably be okay waiting it out.  You can guess who those are pretty easily.  In any case, the policy that best protects the status quo of wealth and power will be what we go with. If that means "a whole lot of people dying," well then.. when has that ever stopped us?

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Tourist area

A city shouldn't have "tourist areas" It can have neighborhoods that tourists enjoy seeing and visiting. But a "tourist area" is an amusement park where nobody actually lives. This is a plan to sacrifice what remains of our city's most famous neighborhood as a tourist area. 
French Quarter streets where cars aren’t welcome. Sidewalks converted to outdoor patios. And lower speed limits for the cars that do travel through.

Those are just some of the ways New Orleans officials are considering transforming the French Quarter and surrounding areas, according to documents released by the city Tuesday. The draft plans are all aimed at making the city's most important tourist areas more pedestrian friendly, though some critics worry about the effect on residents and necessary vehicle traffic.
If this were a plan to make the entire city more pedestrian friendly, reduce the need for there to be as many cars on the streets, and help people connect to their jobs or their social lives without having to own a vehicle themselves, it would be a good idea. That's not what it is, though. It's a plan to further isolate a "tourist area" from local access depriving it of even the pretense of the character that made it a tourist attraction in the first place.  Because, as always, step 3 is profit.
City officials view the effort as one that will put New Orleans on a par with Paris, the town of Vicchio in Florence, Italy, and other cities that have prioritized pedestrians in tourist-heavy corridors and enjoyed increased tourism as a result, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ramsey Green said. He argued that the push is all the more critical now, as the city grapples with a sharp drop-off in tourists and the sales-tax dollars they bring, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and to local restrictions on French Quarter businesses.

"Our small businesses, our restaurants, our places that people want to visit, how do we give them more space than perhaps fits in their four walls? And that's kind of what this is," Green said.
Not sure what the actual logic is here so we're hesitant to even argue with it.  But to say the least it's a dubious notion that a travel business depressed by fear of a still raging pandemic is alleviated by a car-less Quarter. Worried about the health consequences of flying across the country, sleeping in a strange bed, and dining out in public?  Well what if we told you nobody can park there now?  Feel better? Besides, aren't the marketing people focusing more on the "drive-in" traveler now, anyway?  What are we going to do with all those cars?


Oh dear. 

Even in better times, the desperate pursuit of tourism at the expense of residents' priorities has become a global scourge. Cities all over the world, including some of those cited by Cantrell officials have been struggling with the consequences of allowing their culturally significant neighborhoods to become playgrounds for the wealthy where nobody actually lives.
Attracting 14 million tourists a year, Florence is Italy’s most-visited city after Venice and Rome. Boasting a huge and rich variety of the world’s heritage and surrounded by Tuscany’s rolling hills, the city’s popularity is easy to understand.

But as with Venice and Rome, the growth in tourism has seen residents driven out of town by the rising cost of living and arrival of Airbnb: according to a Siena university study, one in five properties in the historic centre is advertised as a short-term let.

Some measures, however, seem to be paying off. “One of the main issues is that everyone is so focused on the historic centre, which is only a 5km sq area in a city of 105km sq,” said Del Re. “So we are heavily promoting areas outside of the centre.
Which is why reasonable people are suspicious of the motivation behind the plans in New Orleans. The laudable stated purpose of reducing vehicular traffic in general is a flimsy rationalization offered in bad faith. In truth we're just offering the tourism industry something it's been wanting forever but we're only now desperate enough to give.
Plans to restrict more traffic in the French Quarter have been floated before, only to be killed after critics accused the city of trying to make the half square-mile area more palatable to tourists and said the changes would make things harder for residents.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu backed down from a 2017 plan to permanently bar cars on Bourbon Street.

But the potential this time around to recoup revenues lost to the coronavirus contagion has apparently sold many bars, restaurants and businesses on the idea after Mayor LaToya Cantrell first floated it in May.
It's a classic example of how capitalism commoditizes and consumes everything and how a crisis like the pandemic only accelerates that process.  In case of emergency just pull the lever that makes all the unjust and policies that benefit the wealthiest people go even faster.  It's all we're ever capable of.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

It's John's money club, after all

John gets to make the rules, I guess
A change shrouded in secrecy will exempt Treasury Secretary John Schroder from key rules governing how he can disburse a huge pot of federal money to small businesses.

The change for the $300 million program was included Monday in an amendment to a spending bill sponsored by state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central. The amendment would exempt Schroder from procurement rules and regulations regarding the program to distribute the federal money to help small businesses remain afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maybe not even worth mentioning at this point.  The $300 million fund is already money the legislature stole from the state's CARES Act allocation so that they could pass out money to friends.  The deed is done there.  How fastidious they are about appearing to follow best practices now is kind of pointless.

Right around Bastille Day

As good a time as ever to storm the wreckage.
Work to recover the bodies of two workers trapped inside the Hard Rock hotel in New Orleans when it collapsed last October could begin as early as July 13, city spokesman Beau Tidwell said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

Demolition crews have finished taking down three buildings surrounding the partially collapsed hotel and are currently assembling cranes needed to work on the building itself, Tidwell said.

The landlord police are already de-funded

There's barely anything you can say to them. All these judges can do is ask them nicely to wait a few days.
“We gotta be aware and cognizant of the reality of life right now,” Judge Monique Morial said during one of the hearings. “Given the situation that we find ourselves in, the last thing that I want to do is contribute to an already dire homelessness problem in our community. I understand that landlords are entitled to their property. But I think also in the circumstances we find ourselves in we need to be a little bit compassionate in how we deal with these situations.”

In a typical “rule absolute” ruling, Morial gave tenants two days to move out. A notice would be put on the property the day after the ruling, which informs tenants they have 24 hours to vacate. But Morial urged several landlords to agree to give tenants extra time to find new housing. She said, however, that this was only a request she could ask of landlords, not an order she could impose.

“It doesn't mean that I can always force a situation, but I can ask you, because of what we’re dealing with, if you’re willing to give her a couple weeks notice to vacate,” she said. “Because it’s not gonna be easy for her to find another place to live.”
The first of the month is coming again. (There's one every month!)  The next few firsts of the next few months are going to be worse than this one. Unless somebody does something. Who can do something?
DeDecker, like Mabery, thinks that formal eviction filings will nonetheless rise over the coming months. Not only will CARES Act eviction protections expire, but the additional $600 federal supplements to unemployment benefits will run out at the end of July. Without those supplements, the maximum unemployment benefits that Louisiana residents can collect is only $247 a week — inadequate to cover the costs of living in New Orleans, critics argue.

“Extra unemployment is going to expire and the CARES Act protections are going to expire, and we are going to see a huge public health and housing crisis the likes we haven’t seen since immediately post Katrina,” DeDecker said. “Ultimately, reopening eviction court without ensuring that tenants can actually deal with their accumulated rent debts is a disaster. We need the state government, we need the city government, we need the federal government to step up and cancel rent and mortgages and supply enough funding to make sure people can pay their bills.”
Otherwise, a whole lot of renters are about to get the cops called on them. And the orders to vacate won't be delivered with anything like the deference the judges show to the landlords.

Brand worth more than the beer

I don't know if they've actually been selling much beer.  Does anyone drink Dixie? It's basically just a worse and more expensive Budweiser.  And why bother with any of that when there is plenty of Miller Lite to be had?  Anyway now that they're retiring the one thing that gets them any attention, they're going to squeeze as much cash out of it as they can
Sales of T-shirts, baseball caps, glasses, tin signs, dog bandannas and everything else emblazoned with the Dixie Beer logo spiked over the weekend, after owner Gayle Benson announced that the brew would be rebranded.

“There were people walking out with shopping bags full,” said Jim Birch, general manager of the souvenir shop at the New Orleans East brewery.
After that they're selling Not-Dixie. Which is what any of several local microbreweries is doing already.  So how sustainable is that?


Monday, June 29, 2020

All they can offer us is shame

The "second wave" is here. It happened during "Phase 2" of reopening.
Louisiana reported another 1,467 known coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing its total to 56,236 as the disease’s dogged resurgence continued across much of the state.

Sunday's numbers reflected a two-day lag in reporting because the Louisiana Department of Health did not update totals on Saturday due to a planned power outage. But they again climbing cases within and outside of the New Orleans area and more hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease.
"Planned power outage."  The virus was spreading too quickly so they tried turning the Health Department off and then turning it back on.   It didn't help.

Even less helpful has been the behavior of the death cult caucus that has emerged from among the Republican ranks of the Louisiana Legislature. Last week they all posed for a photo together.
A group of Republican lawmakers who have flirted with a petition to revoke the state’s emergency declaration since early May revived the effort this week. Several Republicans spoke out against Edwards’ extension on the House floor Thursday, and later more than 20 gathered shoulder to shoulder on the State Capitol steps, without masks, for a photo op.

The petition, circulated by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, needs 53 signatures in the House. It would repeal the governor’s public health emergency declaration, which Edwards contends would put federal aid at risk, though Republicans challenge that.

“Quite frankly, it’s gone on long enough,” Seabaugh said of the restrictions.
It's disgusting that Seabaugh, et al would participate in a trolling event intended to discourage the wearing of masks which, it has been shown, is one of the few things most of us can do that actually makes a difference.  It's egregiously offensive for them to complain that the reopening guidelines have been too restrictive even as the news is breaking that plan has led to a massive new outbreak of the virus.  In fact, it's absurd for any of these Republicans to criticize the failed plans given that, by and large, they were written by panels assembled by the Governor, the Legislature, and by localities, deliberately loaded with political and business insiders so that the rules would be as unrestrictive and"business-friendly" as possible.

Probably the Republican lawmakers are just trying to see what they can get away with. They've got these new super-majorities to play with and if that means they have the numbers to overturn a governor's emergency order, it's hard for them not to see if they can actually pull something like that off. Besides, this is less of an argument now about how best to contain the virus than it is about what people can be made to endure. More to the point, it is about asking, when the designed-to-fail system indeed fails, where can we most easily direct the blame?

If we were really going to stop the spread of the virus we would do this. The US Congress would follow the advice of economists, like Stephanie Kelton here, and fire up the money printer so we can pay everyone to stay home until the virus is isolated or vaccinated. That is it. That's the only thing that would stop it.  But they didn't want to do that because our politics isn't really capable of doing anything but protecting the interests of wealth. So here is what happened instead.

Congress did print up some money. But that was only so they could send trillions of dollars to things like airlines, cruise ship companies, and the massively fraud based financial sector of the US economy.  The rest of us were left at the mercy of our bosses, the business tyrants who wanted to "reopen the economy" and politicians who wanted to "balance" that death drive with the perception that they care about protecting the public health. Hence, the "phased reopening" plans drawn up by all of those panels of worthies.

But if you "reopen," if you tell everyone to go back out under strange new circumstances where they must re-invent their operations on the fly while most misunderstand and some completely ignore the rules, then the virus is definitely going to spread. And so, guess what, now the virus is spreading.  Again, the only thing to stop it is to pay everyone to stay home but they still don't want to do that. So instead, now we must make a policy that will identify and penalize one individual scapegoat after another even as the virus continues to spread. And so that is what we are doing.
New Orleans-area leaders took a harder line against the coronavirus Monday amid rising infections in the region, with Mayor LaToya Cantrell warning of possible stricter restrictions on businesses in the city and Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng mandating mask-wearing for the first time.

Cantrell said Monday that more stringent rules in the city could come ahead of Independence Day weekend, after a task force she appointed last week found cases of non-compliance with current mask rules at local grocery stores and other businesses.
It's not that they're wrong to tell people to wear masks. It's just that every office holder with the charge to offer support and encouragement to the public during this time has failed to do that in multiple and compounding ways. And now all they can offer us is shame.

Here is John Bel this past weekend reacting to the very bad news about the rate of spread.

It's "on all of us" to stop it now. Is it, though?  The governors and mayors and senators and presidents who actually have the power to make policy, shouldn't this be on them? They've been pretending it is on "all of us" because that's what they need to say in order to rationalize these bogus reopening phases. But the phases don't seem to be working.  Turning around and telling every individual that it's on you to make the unworkable plans they've drawn up work is an abdication of responsibility. Politicians and bosses love to talk about "personal responsibility" when it applies to the powerless. But when those so-called leaders have already set up the objects of these sermons to fail, the admonition amounts to little more than bullying.

We did the right thing by going into lockdown. When the governor and the mayor ordered everyone to stay home back in March, we stayed home. But that was when we needed assurances from those holding power that they were in this with us.  We needed some guarantee of support. We needed to have our income supplemented with better than temporary unemployment benefits and a one time check.  We needed our housing stabilized.  We needed our jobs protected.  None of that happened.

It wasn't allowed to happen because wealth controls all the levers of power. Because Congress abandoned everyone and left the states and cities whose budgets were devastated by the shutdown to twist in the wind. Because desperate local business people yelled and screamed at the governor and mayor to "reopen the economy" and because the desperate governor and mayor obliged. And so the reopening, quite predictably, led to the virus coming back. But we're now not supposed to blame the governor or the mayor or the rich people they listen to. Nope. Instead "it's on all of us." Which is to say all (or any) of us can be blamed at any moment so long as it isn't anyone with any real power.

The insidious thing about this rhetorical trick is that part of it rings true. In certain ways, we really can say it is on "all of us" to deal with this. We should all wear masks and do social distancing when we are out. We should be checking on our neighbors. We should be looking for ways we can help one another. But none of this is a "personal responsibility." It's a collective responsibility. We all need to do it together. We need to support one another in the effort. "Personal" responsibility implies that we are each doing it in isolation where we are subject to bullying and shaming. The situation calls for mutual aid and trust. Not more policing and punishment.

We shouldn't have to endure the pandemic while also living in perpetual fear of a boss or a landlord or a cop.  We need to be able to trust each other. We need to be able to say "it's on all of us" and believe that in good faith. Unfortunately, it's quite clear our leaders are incapable of anything like that.  

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Dread Index

A little over a week ago, in keeping with the (obviously very well thought out, very safe and successful) "Phase 2" reopening process, the First and Second City Courts of New Orleans once again began accepting evictions filings from landlords. The response was...  impressive.
Last week, some courts and justices of the peace accepted eviction requests, but didn’t begin assigning them court dates. Badon waited until Tuesday, the first full day after Edwards’ order lifted.

Badon said his clerks on Tuesday received 63 requests for evictions, compared to about 25 on a normal day.
And that's after having turned away an apparently sizeable number of landlords who are still constrained by the federal rules that pause evictions on certain properties until August 25.  The city courts had been urged to push back their moratorium to match the federal guidelines but they decided to move ahead anyway.

It's hard to know what the reasoning is there. But there has obviously been pressure from property owners. We know they've been talking to the mayor, at least. In this interview back in April she was already talking about the coming eviction crisis in terms of having to "find a balance" with the needs of "our landlords."

She must have still been thinking about "our landlords" this week when she extended the deadlines for short term rental license applications and permit extensions. This extension even applies to STR licenses that were set to expire anyway due to a recent change in city regulations. It's basically using COVID as an excuse to keep STRs operating even while we are allowing people to evicted from their homes. That's one hell of a way to strike a "balance."

Anyway thanks to these policy decisions our leadership has made on purpose, a wave of evictions is coming soon.
NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As the coronavirus pandemic persists it is feared that many low-income families in Louisiana and around the country could face eviction soon and as a result homelessness.

The Center for Planning Excellence of Baton Rouge and Urban Footprint released their analysis of the housing crisis amid the pandemic.

Camille Manning-Broome is President of the Center for Planning Excellence.

“In Louisiana, our development patterns are increasing the likelihood of this, of homelessness and high-risk burden because many areas your combined housing and transportation costs had up to more than 50 percent of your income,” Manning-Broome said.

The analysis found that Louisiana ranks 3rd in the nation for having a high risk for evictions due to job losses. Further it says 130,000 households across Louisiana are at risk of evictions and it shows the parishes most in need of rental assistance beyond July 31 when federal protections and assistance expire are in order of need, Orleans, Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, Caddo, Lafayette, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Calcasieu, Ouachita, and Bossier.
For further context, here is a cheering analysis of the Census Bureau's "Household Pulse" survey which finds:
Based on the Household Pulse Survey results released on June 17, which examined responses between June 4 and June 9, almost one-third of all households expect to experience a loss of employment income over the coming four weeks. Fully 10 percent of American families—that’s 25 million, half of which have children at home—did not have enough food to eat in the prior week. Even more disturbing, one in five households—over 50 million in total—are doubtful that they will be able to afford sufficient food in the coming month. And of the nation’s 65,000,0000 renters, almost 20 percent were unable to pay their rent last month and an even higher percentage—close to 30 percent—doubt that they will be able to pay their rent in the coming month. 
This week, another one million plus new unemployment claims were filed.  So it's staggering to think how many households are currently trying to calculate, according to their savings if they have any, how much time they might have between the day they are laid off and the day they are evicted. Call it the Dread Index.  And it's a frighteningly short number now that the courts are ready to hear evictions again.

Self made tyrants

Kern Command Center

From the Advocate's obit of Blaine Kern this morning.
What Popeyes kingpin Al Copeland was to chicken, Kern was to Carnival: a brash, shameless character who came from nothing, launched an unconventional Big Easy empire, and lived unapologetically large and loud as a result.
Ah yes the myth of the "self-made" man. 
Carnival was traditionally the province of the city's Uptown elite. Kern, of German and Italian descent, had been born on the wrong side of the Mississippi River. But his artistic and sales skills afforded him access to Carnival's inner circle. Once there, he aimed to make a difference.

"When I started out, if you were Jewish, black, Irish, Italian, you couldn’t get in these clubs,” he said in 2018. “You had to be a WASP. It was crazy. It was a different world.”
"Once there, he aimed to make a difference."  Did he really, though?  Or was he just in the right place to be useful to an expanding class of business elites at just the right time and make a lot of money in the process?  The Carnival club hierarchy may be more complex, diverse, even, than it once was, but its royalty, so to speak, is still very much a manifestation of wealth and status. Kern may have "come from nothing" but it was only so he and his heirs could arrive in the company of the same owners, bosses, and real estate speculators who profit from the very poverty from which Kern was fortunate enough to emerge. What is the good in that? What difference is made?

It's interesting how often figures like Copeland and Kern, having grown up among poverty and racial exclusion, resolve not to take down these systems of oppression but instead to weasel their way into the oppressing class. 

Tom Benson was another example. There's also some news today about one of his several late in life local brand rescue projects.  
New Orleans has been hoisting Dixie beer for more than a century. Soon, that beer and the company behind it will have a new name.

In a statement released today, Gayle Benson, owner of Dixie Brewery and the city’s Saints and Pelicans franchises said her company will change the Dixie name. The new name for Dixie has not yet been decided, but it will be chosen with feedback from the local community, Benson said.
Poor Gayle. Saddled with this nostalgia product that she now has to reinvent.  Guess the new beer will have to be a "self-made" brand.

Monday, June 22, 2020

John Schroder's Road Home to nowhere

Look, if you have a small business that you are trying to keep afloat through all of this mess, by all means, go ahead and apply for one of these grants. I'm sure it will end up helping a few people. How many it helps is up for debate, though. Particularly in comparison to what that money might have done if it had remained available for local governments in need of help recovering from COVID induced budget problems.

And, of course, we also have to compare it with how much John might allow to be stolen. 
Though many of the legislators are concerned about fraud, Schroder said he wouldn’t be able to stop all of it.

“I am not going to design a program that puts so much red tape on the 90% just to stop the 10% bad actors,” Schroder said, adding that it’s important to be careful but not too cumbersome.

“Are we going to stop all the fraud, Mr. President? No. But we’ll do our best,” Schroder said.
Just so we're clear here. This is the same John Schroder who ran this campaign ad.

See that guy seems pretty tough.  It's strange to see him turn around and take such a relaxed attitude toward this project.  Why would that happen, one wonders.
Accountant Joel Robideaux, a former state legislator and Lafayette Parish president, and Baton Rouge attorney Jason DeCuir, who has been heading the Legislature’s Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force since April, have teamed up to bid on a contract to administer the $300 million in federal pandemic relief money the Legislature has set aside for small businesses.

State Treasurer John Schroder’s office is technically in charge of the small business program, which is due to start up July 4, but is farming out its day-to-day operations, which include vetting applications and deciding which small businesses qualify for grants under the program.

Earlier this month, Schroder issued a request for qualifications. Several were submitted, his spokesperson confirms, though she was unable to make them immediately available before this afternoon’s publication.

Robideaux, however, confirms he and DeCuir are among those seeking the contract, which could be worth up to $15 million, or 5% of the total $300 million, which is coming from the federal CARES Act pandemic relief package.
It was just four days ago we were asking whose friends were about to start pulling down some of this money the Republicans looted from the CARES allocation.   Sometimes you get your answers pretty fast.
Robideaux, besides being a former elected official, is a known personal friend of current Senate President Page Cortez and owns property with him, according to records from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office of Corporations.

Cortez’s Cortez Management LLC and Robideaux are the officers in an entity called Bluebird Heaven LLC.

DeCuir, meanwhile, was tapped earlier this spring to spearhead a legislative committee convened to craft a legislative agenda to help the state recover economically from the coronavirus shutdown. The committee has focused on a largely pro-business agenda and has pushed to get more money into the hands of small businesses.

Looks like the party isn't quite over yet.

28 Days Later

Because we can't resist the poetry, I guess.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is pausing the state's reopening, keeping the current phase two rules in place for an additional 28 days in an effort to get a handle on spikes in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state.

“We have seen the number of COVID cases and related hospitalizations increase across the state over the last number of days,” Edwards said at a press conference Monday. 

"If we were doing a better job as a state collectively of adhering to those mitigation measures we would not be seeing the case growth we're seeing today," he added.
Cue several rounds of finger pointing.  People will blame each other for going to protests or going to bars or going back to work even if they've been forced there for various reasons.  The Republican death cult will blame the governor. Or they will blame the mayor whenever she steps in to follow the governor's reasonable lead.

Unless this statement from the Health Department will suffice for the City's input at this point. In which case, it's plenty adequate for the purpose.
"We have also heard that individuals and groups are using short term rentals to attempt to have private parties that may violate gathering size, masks, or other restrictions clearly spelled out by the State and City proclamations. Let me be clear: Individuals who host such parties and owners that allow rentals put themselves at risk of enforcement and, more importantly, of promoting the spread of a known deadly disease. Right now our fatality rate of known cases is stubbornly stuck at 7%. If you are planning a party for 100 people, look around and decide which 7 of them you would be comfortable sentencing to death. The myth that young people can’t get sick is untrue – and more importantly, they can easily spread it to loved ones and contacts who are at much higher risk.
People seem to think the threat of "enforcement" here is hollow, unfortunately.  The city just doesn't have the capacity for it right now, or so the chatter goes. But at least they're putting the word out.

Meanwhile, yikes!
"In recent days, the NOHD has seen an increase in the percent of positive tests results at its mobile testing sites around New Orleans. This is another concerning indicator that community spread may be increasing. Statewide, there are also alarming increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. If trends continue, we may need to go back to more serious restrictions on activity. 
If that's true then it sounds like they might be dealing with more than just a few "clusters" around town right now.  Stay tuned.

Anyway, none of this needed to happen this way.  If there had been a coherent federal response, if people had been given clear information rather than dodges and propaganda, if congress had committed to keeping American workers secure through cash payments and/or unemployment benefits, if they had kept small businesses from going bankrupt, if they had rescued state and municipal governments...

Look, all of the above was possible and it would have avoided this confusing run of "phases" that start and stop in reaction to the spikes.  They chose not to do any of it. And here we are.

Update: So anyway, about that "individuals and groups are using short term rentals to attempt to have private parties" bit.  We begin to see why this fairly significant press release was put out by the Health Department and not by the mayor.  Over the weekend everyone was saying it was because it was a Newman party. And, while, I'm sure that had something to do with the general shyness, this appears to be the part that they really didn't want to touch.

The permit-holder is the property’s listed owner, Society Property Co. The listed contact for the commercial short-term rental permit, Gordon McLeod, is a real estate broker with the McEnery Company.

McLeod declined to comment about the party at the Baronne Street rental. Once chief of staff to former District “A” Councilwoman Susan Guidry, McLeod was heavily involved just a few years ago in helping to develop city regulations around short-term rentals.
They're all bought in. They're all there specifically to defend the bloodsucking property owners.  This is specifically the reason that today, even as the governor acknowledges the public health emergency is still too severe to continue our "phased" reopening, no one has moved to protect the many hundreds of people about to be evicted from their homes.

Here is a cable news interview with the mayor from just a month and a half ago.  When asked about the coming eviction crisis, she was, even then, careful to talk about the importance of "finding a balance" that protects the landlords.

If it wasn't so shameful it would be funny.  None of these people is here to help you.  The whole system is teetering on the brink and the people holding the levers of power are only working to make sure the bosses and landlords make out okay. Good luck, everybody. See you in 28 days.

The first of the month comes around every month

July 1 is coming. The first day of the rest of the year.  Get ready to process some evictions.
New Orleans’ First and Second City Courts, which handle the majority of the city’s evictions, won’t start proceedings for newly filed eviction cases until July 6, according to courts spokesman Walt Pierce.

The courts will, however, start eviction proceedings on Monday for the backlog of evictions filed before the court suspended them on March 13. That order put 106 eviction cases on hold that were already scheduled between March 13 and March 30.
The state moratorium ended on June 15.  There is also a federal date of August 25 dictated by the CARES Act which applies only to properties where federal assistance is involved (Section 8, FHA, etc.)  Earlier the City Council had asked the courts to wait until then for everything in order to avoid confusion.  But apparently the City Courts are moving forward anyway. 

The catch there is most tenants (and possibly even a few landlords) may not be aware of the federal moratorium or if it applies to them.  From the looks of things a number of landlords have already shown up to court unprepared to answer that question.  (Or maybe to lie about it.)
Instead of putting off all evictions, First and Second City Courts are requiring all landlords to submit affidavits swearing that they don’t participate in any federal programs that would prevent them from evicting tenants prior to August 25.

“I support the affidavit,” Adams said. “I think it’s a way to notify all parties that a detailed inquiry will be done to ensure that the CARES Act doesn’t apply and the eviction isn’t done in violation of federal law.”

Badon said that he’s seen many people turned away from filing an eviction after finding out they would need to submit the affidavit prior to the court hearing.

“I was at the front door personally myself having to explain it to them,” Badon said. “I had to spend some significant time with certain individuals to explain it to them. They thought they could come here and be done with it but they didn’t know about the affidavit.”
Of course they'll be back soon enough... unless congress is ready to fire up the money gun... or, even less likely, everyone is back to work and making tons of money by August somehow.  There's a first of the month every month, you know. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Deduct Purse

Julie Lea

There are so many points of stress in the social and economic fabric that make up our society. When the times go into tumult you never really know which institutions are going to unravel first. So many things feel like they're up in the air right now in the midst of a global pandemic, a deepening recession, a growing street revolt against the police state, etc. etc.

Somehow the first thing to really break under the pressure in New Orleans, though, is a Mardi Gras parade is destroyed by an Instagram post.
KIPP Schools in New Orleans became the latest group on Friday night to join others vowing not to march with the Mystic Krewe of Nyx in future parades after krewe's captain Julie Lea's recent insensitive social media post on one of the krewe's accounts.
Of course the uprising is about a lot more than just that one "insensitive" post. That's really just spark that lit the powder keg. Most long time fans of the serial will recall at least some of the highlights from previous episodes.  We've known for a while that Julie Leas was kind of a sketchy character. She'd been fired as Delgado's police chief for facilitating a double dipping scheme for officers on security details. This business over a "stolen" T-Shirt idea was odd.
Former Nyx member, attorney Taetrece Harrison, argued that in 2016 krewe captain Julie Lea stole her idea for throwing T-shirts after she left the organization. Her argument successfully netted her a temporary restraining order on the krewe's shirt throw when Judge Paulette Irons of the Civil District Court for Orleans Parish ordered it Feb. 13. But on Thursday, attorneys for Lea and Nyx, Chip Morrison and Jana McCaffrey, succeeded in getting Judge Sidney Cates IV to both dissolve that order and dismiss Harrison's suit to ban the shirts permanently.
Incidentally there is a Schaylece Harrison on the First City Court ballot July 11. It would be remarkable if these two lawyers were not related.

But that's not important right now. Because now, in what we suppose must be some sort of irony given the wider context, the cops have been called on Lea.
New Orleans police said Friday they have opened an internal investigation following allegations made by a former member of the krewe that in 2012, an NOPD officer — who is the husband of Nyx Captain Julie Lea — helped her obtain a Krewe of Muses waiting list by hacking into that krewe's website.
It's always been part of the Nyx origin myth that the club grew out of the Muses waiting list.  Kind of weird nobody ever talked about how before.  Turns out there's a lot of opportunity in waiting lists. Lea seemed to figure that out pretty well.
Jennifer Edwards, a former treasurer for the organization, said she quit over Lea's business dealings with the krewe. Edwards said Lea formed a separate company from the nonprofit Krewe of Nyx in order to collect fees from prospective members who wanted to add their names to the waiting list.

“So you had to pay, I think it was $75, to be on the wait list,” Edwards said. “That money went to a separate entity and never flowed back to the Krewe of Nyx.”
About four years ago, there were Facebook rumors circulating about misappropriated funds. Now we have a better picture of that as well.  The fees went into the Deduct Purse. Anyway, like we said, much of this has been sitting more or less in plain sight for years.  Just waiting for the right moment.

So far ahead of the curve we are behind it

Chief Ferguson doesn't know why anybody could possibly be mad at NOPD.  After all, they are "ahead of the curve.
“We are here to inform our city, our communities, of their New Orleans Police Department’s accomplishments thus far,” Ferguson said. “While there is much work to be done there is much that we should be proud of.”

Ferguson said that on the national level, the NOPD is on the forefront of reform efforts.

“People are calling for a wholesale change of what policing looks like in America,” said Ferguson, “but in New Orleans we are well ahead of the curve when it comes to effective police reform and a commitment to constitutional policing.”
Are they, though? It was a year ago at about this time that we came across  this illuminating article in The Appeal written by Matthew Nesvet. Nesvet recounts his observations working for the auditing firm hired to monitor NOPD's consent decree compliance.  He describes a conspiratorial relationship between the police and the consultants intended to help the cops meet the technical metrics of the decree even if nothing of any substance changes about the way they operate. The consultants themselves are often retired law enforcement. And this kind of consulting can be a lucrative post career option for those who know how to capitalize on relationships.
Police consent decrees are overseen by court-appointed criminal justice experts, including former police chiefs, private attorneys, and academics. These experts audit compliance with reform agreements and advise police on how to make changes. Consent decree monitoring is big business. Teams of expert monitors, often based outside the cities where they oversee police, bid for what can be multimillion-dollar contracts. In New Orleans, where the cost of the consent decree is approximately $55 million and rising, a joint committee of city and federal officials chose a monitoring team led by Jonathan Aronie, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the corporate law firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

These monitoring teams work with officials like former New Orleans police commissioner Murphy and his boss Harrison to develop metrics that assess the department’s progress. But as Murphy liked to say, quoting a member of the Sheppard Mullin team, “you manage what you measure.” In New Orleans, Murphy and Harrison teamed up with compliance auditors and the Sheppard Mullin experts to focus on quantitative metrics. The compliance “scorecards” Murphy created report the percentage of police districts and units fulfilling audit standards constructed from the terms of the decree.

 But the design of many of the metrics allowed police to check boxes rather than demonstrate real improvement.
consent decree racket
In the long run what happens is the city spends more money on hiring and arming cops, the consultants make a nice stack of money, and nothing else fundamentally changes.  And of course every established politician can pretend they've done some sort of "police reform." It's a win win win.

But, of course, that kind of progress doesn't happen overnight. First we have get everyone on the same page with regard to the fundamentals. For example, we have to make sure they all know how to count to 8. Back to that Lens article for an update on that.
The NOPD and the Mayor’s office have been recently touting the department’s compliance with the national #8CantWait campaign, started by the organization Campaign Zero. That campaign advocates for police departments to adopt eight use of force policies that the organization argues would reduce harm caused by police departments— including a ban on chokeholds, a de-escalation requirement and a duty to intervene when an officer sees a fellow officer using excessive force.

Earlier this month the department claimed in a tweet it had adopted six of those eight protocols — excluding a provision that officers issue a warning before shooting, along with exhausting all alternatives before shooting. Then, days later, Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted that the department was in compliance with all eight. At the press conference on Thursday, Ferguson said that in fact the department was in fact in compliance with all eight, and the first tweet was a mistake.
So they're learning some math.  But certain abstractions appear to be beyond their grasp. Such as the concept of zero... as in Campaign Zero.  As much as the mayor and the cops have been talking that up, they still don't quite get it.
Campaign Zero itself acknowledged on the #8CantWait website that the campaign “unintentionally detracted from efforts of fellow organizers invested in paradigmatic shifts that are newly possible in this moment,” and apologized.

Some local organizations seem to agree with the assessment that broader change is needed.

The Orleans Parish Reform Coalition (OPPRC), which held a rally recently to defund the police, has said its demands will broadly reflect a platform called #8toabolition — a response to #8CantWait — which include policy proposals intended to shift resources away from policing and incarceration. The platform calls for defunding and demilitarizing police, removing police from schools, freeing people from prisons and jails, and investing in housing and healthcare.
In other words, despite Ferguson's slightly innumerate boasting, NOPD's reform efforts are still well behind the curve.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Just make sure I get a decent map

I am, of course, very much in favor of striking as many confederate and white supremacist place names from the cityscape as we can.  But, considering how many there are, I'm going to need help getting around for a while after we are done.  One thing that might help is if we take care to see that the new names make some geographical sense. Like this, for example.
Anselmo would like to see Robert E. Lee Boulevard renamed Allen Toussaint Boulevard.

Philosophical arguments aside, Anselmo also sees a geographic rationale: In the decade between Hurricane Katrina and Toussaint’s death in 2015, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame songwriter, producer and pianist lived and worked in the 1400 block of Robert E. Lee Boulevard.

Anselmo believes Toussaint’s decades of contributions to popular music more than merit a prominent street name.

“He stayed in New Orleans and lived on Robert E. Lee Boulevard,” Anselmo said. “I think it would be appropriate.”
Also, Dorothy Mae Taylor Circle would be pretty cool. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Phantom Statue

We really are blessed in this city.  Not only did we get to see this statue taken down the correct way, through non-sanctioned spontaneous direct action. We were also treated to this theatrical post-credits epilogue
Videos posted online show an unidentified group of men pulling McDonogh from the water. They used ropes and planks and carried the bust to a waiting pick-up truck as "God Bless America" and a John Philip Sousa march played on a calliope along the riverfront.

The statue appeared to still be spotted with paint that protesters had splattered across McDonogh the day before.

The current whereabouts of the statue, however, remained an apparent mystery to city leaders, raising questions about what the unidentified men planned to do with the metal bust.
I kind of hope they never find it. Much better if we get to follow hints and rumors for years about who might have taken it and why. Would be really great if these are punctuated by the occasional random sighting in the window of an abandoned building, or on a highway at night. Every now and then it might show up to commit pass interference at a crucial point in some important game but then disappear again undetected by authorities.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure what purpose the authorities are working toward in this statement.

On the one hand, the councilmembers are "doing everything within our power" to end racial injustice.  On the other hand they "strongly condemn" an unapproved expression of public exasperation with the failure of those efforts thus far. I really don't think politicians can have it both ways like this anymore. It just isn't coherent. Especially when the people issuing the statement have built their own careers and stores of wealth benefiting from the inequities they claim to be working against.

At the very least, they could have taken the time to learn to spell McDonogh.

Friends eat first

John Bel went ahead and signed a Republican bill to scheme money out of the state's CARES act federal allowance and pass it out to friends and supporters.... er... "small businesses."
Edwards agreed to the legislation despite publicly arguing that after using $1 billion to plug state budget holes, the other $811 million should go to local governments to offset coronavirus expenses.

Instead, $300 million of that money will now go to small businesses through a program managed by Republican Treasurer John Schroder, who has frequently butted heads with Edwards. The other $511 million will still be available for local governments.
It's bad enough that localities are as restricted as they are in the use of these funds in the first place. A city government has to apply its portion to "COVID related expenses" but the feds have said this cannot mean lost revenue resulting from the shut down. John Schroder's grantees (or anyone he hires to do the granting) won't have any such concern.
Legislative leaders have said they expect the program to get off the ground quickly to send money to businesses. Schroder’s office is required to submit a proposal for distributing grants to lawmakers by June 20, and to announce the date the program will begin on July 1. Schroder is also allowed to use up to 5%, or $15 million, of the fund for administrative expenses, a sticking point for opponents. Backers of the bill argued he would not end up using that much.
Municipal governments are still waiting on a mythical "Phase IV" COVID relief action from congress, although that seems less and likely as Washington moves toward more of a full-on "Get used to it" policy.  But there is still some chance that the rules concerning the money already allocated might be loosened.  Which is why it's a better idea for the state to send it on now rather than just allow politicians to give it away.

Or worse.  Maybe something like this is in the works.
At least four members of Congress have reaped benefits in some way from the half-trillion-dollar small-business loan program they helped create.

And no one knows how many more there could be.

It’s a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have acknowledged close ties to companies that have received loans from the program — businesses that are either run by their families or employ their spouse as a senior executive.
How many legislators who carved out this fund for aggrieved business owners might also consider themselves to be among that number.  Will Schroder get to decide that too?

Who do we report the boss to?

Sounds like these employers aren't paying their workers a living wage.  Maybe someone should do something about that.  
Louisiana businesses can submit complaints to the Louisiana Workforce Commission about employees who are still attempting to claim unemployment benefits despite refusing to return to work.

Some businesses have complained in recent months that extra benefits funded by the federal government have made unemployment more attractive for low wage workers who would earn more not working.
The "Workforce Commission" used to be called the Labor Department.  But that came too close to implying to people that its mission might actually be supportive of the power and well being of those who labor.  Instead what it does is keep the "workforce" in line on behalf of the bosses. So this is more accurate.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"What is my biggest worry?"

You know what, maybe this is not the year to be asking ourselves that question.
"Somebody asked me ... over the weekend, what is my biggest worry. And I said 'T4 tripping or being damaged where it can't operate because that is our go-to power generation equipment,' " Korban said. "So, we have redundancy in the system. It's not the redundancy that we need; it's not the redundancy we had a year ago. We are going into this season with a more fragile system and a less redundant system than ever before."
On Monday, City Hall was closed and a lot of people (who aren't already staying home to prevent spreading COVID) stayed home from work because a tropical storm was not really making it rain all that hard.  Today, a random thunderstorm flooded multiple neighborhoods. 

In 2020, if you name your "biggest worry" it comes true.  If you plan to cope with emergencies, they run a fake-out on you.  So, really, why bother worrying at all. 

The new math

Remarkable that the more power we give the ostensible "fiscally conservative" party to operate in Louisiana, the more likely we are to working with completely made up numbers.  Republicans have been balking at the revenue estimates ever since they took over the House in 2015. This week, they fired the legislative fiscal officer because he wouldn't let them block parish lawsuits against oil and gas companies.
The ouster of Carpenter comes three weeks after state senators blasted a fiscal note that said a bill they favored could have prohibitive costs.

The public rebuke of Carpenter’s office occurred on May 19 when a fiscal note produced by staffer Rebecca Robinson reported that a bill to kill lawsuits filed by coastal parishes against oil and gas companies could result in “a significant increase in expenditures” if the state were to take over the suits. That’s because, Robinson found, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources estimated it would cost the state at least $4.3 million to take over each of the 43 cases, or up to possibly $185 million for all of them.
Before we get too far in the way of defending the technocrats here, we should acknowledge that forecasting revenues and costing out legislation is often as much are as science. This year's budget projection, complicated several times over by the volatile price of oil among other effects of the COVID crisis is as sure an example of that as any. We try to make sophisticated guesses about these things but we are still, largely, making guesses.

So the argument here is really about power.  If you have the power to affect the guess, then you try to make the guess favor your desired policy outcome.  Republicans in the state legislature want to protect oil companies and insurers from liability. They want to protect rich people from having to pay taxes. They're a lot closer to getting that stuff done if their version of the guessing the numbers is what sets the parameters of debate.  That's really half the battle right there. Or maybe three fourths depending on who is estimating.

New Hampshire

If you had New Hampshire in the annual "What state do we compare the size of Gulf Of Mexico hypoxic zone to this year?" pool, please collect your bucket of dead fish.  Betting on next year's state is officially open.  We're starting to get better and better odds on Maryland.
Use of fertilizers has grown as prices have fallen. In recent decades, farmers have applied fertilizers so liberally that about 34% is lost to the environment, the report says.

The share of fertilizer that ends up in the Mississippi is likely to grow. “Climate change is increasing the frequency of heavy rains and floods in the Midwest, which could wash even more nitrogen off farms and into rivers feeding the Gulf,” the report warns.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Sharp elbows

Whoa hey watch out!
On Monday, in an extraordinary power play, Peterson ousted the highly regarded chairman of the gambling board, Ronnie Jones, during a private session of the Louisiana Senate where senators could exercise a little-known authority to veto appointees of Gov. John Bel Edwards and other statewide elected officials to dozens of boards and commissions.

Besides representing New Orleans in the Senate, Peterson is the long-time chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, so her surprise decision also puts her at odds with Edwards, the state’s most prominent Democrat. On Tuesday, he sharply criticized the failure to confirm Jones without mentioning Peterson.

Peterson’s move, which she has not explained publicly, targeted Jones and four other appointees, including Walt Leger III, a former colleague in the Legislature and speaker pro tem who has now lost his job as chairman of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
The Advocate spends a lot of space in this article focusing on KCP's personal gambling problem which she has publicly admitted to and sought help for. The implication is that Jones was responsible for leaking that information originally and this action is from Peterson is payback for that.  While that might be possible, it seems a bit petty and I would rather think there is something more than just that going on.

And anyway, KCP's dispatching Jones isn't even the really interesting thing going on here. Her ejecting Walt Leger from the Convention Center board is. 
Leger, meanwhile, was an influential member of the state House for 12 years before term limits last year sidelined him. Edwards tabbed him to chair the Convention Center. The governor had to choose him from a list of names forwarded by the hospitality industry.

“I couldn’t have been more surprised to hear that I wasn’t confirmed and how that went down,” Leger said Tuesday. Asked about his relationship with Peterson, he said, “We’ve worked very closely to represent the same constituencies.”
This part of the story seems like the much bigger deal and we would hope to find more follow-up on it soon. The Convention Center and its slush fund are a major flash point in city politics right now.  This Lens op-ed from representatives of the Fair Fund coalition explains.
As in previous emergencies, the COVID-19 crisis brought out the best in many of us. Countless heroes distinguished themselves from a handful of people who put their own narrow business and political interests first.  Such was and continues to be the case with the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and its governing board, the Exhibition Hall Authority (EHA).

A group of recently laid-off hospitality workers, unions, and advocacy organizations knew the board could do more to help our city. We formed the Coalition for a Fair Fund for Hospitality Workers and formulated the demand that the board of the Convention Center transfer $100 million, the equivalent of $1,000 per hospitality worker, to an independent fund with robust community oversight that could administer relief directly to all tourism and hospitality workers in a fair, legal, and transparent way.

Asked by these activists to put some of the $200 million plus ($235 million according to this article) they've stolen from the public over the years to good use helping out hospitality workers displaced by the pandemic, the Convention Center board recently voted instead to "donate" an infinitesimal fraction of that money to private non profit foundations managed by their wealthy compatriots. Not only is the amount an outright insult, when filtered through the usual con-profit money laundering circle of philanthropic elites and cronies connected to the board members, it's as if they're spending it on themselves anyway.

In days past, it would have been fairly simple for the board to roll over workers like this.  But the politics are a little more volatile these days and things get messy as the players scramble to reposition themselves.  This is cause for some optimism, I suppose, but it's also important to remain skeptical.  For example, many have taken notice of the city council's willingness to support the hospitality workers with words and with non-binding resolutions.  However, others of us are not impressed yet.  I mean, at first, it seems like Kristen Palmer is saying the right thing here. But is she?
Earlier this month, City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer said, in an interview with The Lens, that there was a fundamental shift in power that had to occur within the industry. Palmer wasn’t speaking directly about the coalition’s demand for $100 million. But she said that the Convention Center should be more focused on direct short-term relief for workers and less focused on its long-term development plans worth more than $1 billion.

“Their value systems are wrong,” she said. “My shtick now is: Poverty is expensive and charity doesn’t work. That’s the reality. It’s a power structure. The power structure is ‘look how great it is we’re giving to these people.’ That’s a power structure that needs to be changed.”
Being concerned about how the political power structure affects poverty in New Orleans, is your new "shtick" now?  That's nice. Please give us some notice when you want to workshop the act again sometime.

Mayor Cantrell is also trying to make sure her act plays to the right crowd in these changing times. Although the mayor is frequently a lighting rod for criticism, she's proven more than adept at navigating difficult political situations over the course of her first term. By which we mean she has a fantastic instinct for duplicity. Cantrell spent much of 2019 appearing to wrangle with the hospitality industry over various piles of dedicated funds. The fight may have embellished her "populist" image in the media but the deal she struck actually ended up being a huge capitulation to the tourism owners.

This was accomplished thanks, in no small part, to Walt Leger who, as a State Rep. wrote and shepherded the legislation that allowed Cantrell to claim "victory" while also legitimizing the convention center's reserve fund of misappropriated tax revenue.  As a reward for these services, Leger was given a seat on... chairmanship of, even... the Convention Center board immediately after leaving the legislature. By the end of 2019, the tourism cabal was happy, LaToya was happy, Walt was doing well. Working class people in New Orleans were still being victimized by the political aristocracy.  Everything was in equilibrium.

But then a series of new crises came along and knocked everything apart. The Hard Rock collapse created new points of tension between the mayor and the city's land development and tourism class, exposed her to new political flack, and opened a crease in city finances. All of this was exacerbated by a Carnival season fraught with multiple tragedies and the city's controversial handling of its response. By the time the COVID crisis turned the whole world inside out, the happy feelings between the mayor and her sometime friends in business community had all but disintegrated.

So, despite all of the previous year's efforts, the mayor still finds herself at odds with tourism promoters.  This week, even as the city cautiously prepares to move into a "Phase 2" reopening, the reactionary crowd of tourism business tyrants has grown bolder in criticizing the shutdown. Critics have become so bold, in fact, that rumors had been circulating about a possible "Business Community" candidate challenging Cantrell in the next election. That would seem ill advised for a number of reasons but there's no accounting for these people and their sense of entitlement.

In any case, it's interesting that we find Cantrell's friend and ally, KCP taking a sharp elbow to Leger now given this context. Was she sending a message? It's been a busy week since, so this story has faded into the background a bit but we'd like to hear more.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

LaSalle Street

Wait. They are getting how much?
NEW ORLEANS — The state’s Superdome commission has finally agreed to compensate the city of New Orleans for taking a block of LaSalle Street to build Champions Square in 2011.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District commission, which oversees the Superdome, Smoothie King Center and other venues, approved a resolution Thursday to pay the city $2.35 million in 10 installments over five years as compensation for developing on and shutting down vehicle access to a public street
Ha ha that's practically nothing. This report also says the street "is valued at $3.3 million" but, in reality the state should owe a lot more than that in back usage fees. Maybe ten times as much.  Maybe that's why they're also planning to give the street back, at least in part. 
The LSED also agreed to reopen the stretch of LaSalle Street between Poydras and Girod streets to vehicle traffic starting Jan. 1, 2021, and then the city would go through normal temporary street closure procedures when there’s an event at Champions Square or a sporting event at the dome.
That's an interesting plot twist, anyway.  I wonder if the cars will return to LaSalle Street before or after they are banned from the French Quarter. As long as they leave enough room for all 13,000 fans to pre-game while properly social distancing, I guess it works out.  

Deal keeps getting worse

I feel like last week they were trying to steal $200 million to make a slush fund out of our relief money.  Now they want $300 million? That's going the wrong way.
As Louisiana figures out how to spend billions in coronavirus federal aid, a rift has emerged between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican legislative leaders over $811 million that the governor wants to give to local governments and lawmakers advancing a measure to take $300 million of the funds and deliver it instead to small businesses.

The money is part of the $1.8 billion sent to Louisiana through the $2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress. While the state is using nearly $1 billion of the funds to plug holes in the state budget, the governor has told local governments they’ll be able to tap into the other $811 million.
The governor had already set up a process by which cities and parishes could apply for these funds.   The less money Republican legislators pull out to pass around to their friends, the better chance every locality has of covering its losses. New Orleans alone is currently looking at a deficit that could be as big as $170 million. The city is authorized to borrow as much as $100 million to make up some of the difference.  That's not going to be enough, obviously.

Do do do do do do

I guess because it is almost June now, we are getting a look at RTA just a few months away from when its October 1 divorce from Transdev is finalized. By that point we probably will have seen the last of Transdev for a while, although it's possible we may be welcoming its former parent Veolia back into town when and if we decide to privatize Sewerage and Water Board.  But that's a problem for another time.  For now, let's just take one more look at the subcontractor we're still waiting on results from.
Public furor had also sparked around Transdev's failure to monitor a subcontractor's performance on the construction of two ferries, which that were supposed be ready in 2018 but have yet to enter service. 

The Metal Shark boats were supposed to be ready in time for Mitch Landrieu's Tricentennial celebration.  I think he was planning to end his last day in office by riding off on one like Frodo leaving Middle Earth or something.  My goodness so much has happened since then.


Sometimes you really gotta hand it to Gusman. He's ready to get out of jail administrator jail and go back to just regular running the jail, which it seems like it what's about to happen. But he also can't help getting in a few parting shots.  This is almost too perfect.

In a combative, 44-page court brief, Gusman tossed his sharpest knives at the monitors deployed by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, claiming that they’ve held him to an unreasonably high standard.

“Continued enforcement of the Consent Decree seeks a jail utopia, reflective of the court-appointed monitors’ personal preferences and idealistic aspirations, not the ‘narrowly drawn…least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation’ requirement that controls prospective relief for jail conditions,” Gusman said, quoting a federal law that limits lawsuits against jails and prisons.

Rather than creating a perfect prison, Gusman said the standard that should apply is “the constitutional minimum.”
Is he saying he feels like he's been denied due process?  That's just great.  Anyway, kudos to Sledge for going ahead and listing the ways in which Gusman's jail has failed to meet the "utopian" standard.
Gusman doesn’t mention the 11 subsequent inmate deaths, including the haunting suicide of 15-year-old inmate Jaquin Thomas, riots, high staff turnover and sexual harassment allegations or the 87 inmates infected with the novel coronavirus.

The agency's handling of the coronavirus outbreak could become an issue at the hearing on Gusman's request, Schlanger said. The consent decree includes requirements for adequate medical care and sanitation.

In his filing, the sheriff also paints himself as a leader in the push to downsize the jail after Katrina, without mentioning that he fought the New Orleans City Council for a lock-up that would have been smaller than the old jail complex, but would have still held 4,300 beds. Over his objections, the council approved one with 1,438 beds.
What is the constitutionally mandated minimum number of suicides, riots, and deaths allowed of the course of a monitoring agreement, anyway?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Suspicious Legislation

On Wednesday, a Louisiana State House committee killed a bill (originally by Sen Bodi White) that would have shielded from the public information about which firms were receiving tax breaks and other "economic incentives" from the state. At the very least, passing the bill would have represented a remarkable about-face by a Republican Party who spent much time and money in recent years promoting a "budget transparency" website

We know senses of shame are in short supply in Baton Rouge so it's hard to believe such a thing is possible, but maybe this would have been a step too far, even for them.
But after the bill cruised through the Senate with little opposition, lawmakers on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee questioned whether the legislation was really about protecting workers from having their information disclosed. The Public Affairs Research Council, a good government group, and the Louisiana Press Association both slammed the legislation as overly broad and argued it would hide important information about who is receiving tax money through the state’s myriad incentive programs.

“I don’t know what the real motive is here,” said Democratic Rep. Wilford Carter, calling it “suspicious legislation.” “My instinct is that it’s something other than what we’re hearing today.”
On the other hand, when you control the legislature with supermajorities when the public is distracted (or excluded) from your activities thanks to a global pandemic, why even bother going to the trouble to hide the looting in the first place. Nobody is paying attention. And even if they are, what are they gonna do? Go ahead and pass all the suspicious legislation you want. Nobody is going to stop you.
Oil and gas companies won another round in the Louisiana Legislature on Wednesday when a House committee approved a measure that would kill lawsuits filed by seven coastal parishes against the companies over the loss of wetlands and marshes.

The 9-3 vote by the Natural Resources Committee advances Senate Bill 440 to the full House. Its chances of winning passage there appear solid since most Republicans favor it, and the GOP has almost two-thirds of the seats in the House.
Granted that kill-the-lawsuit bill still has a long way to go, but it's amazing that we're even wasting any time on this right now. Most of this has been going on during a statewide stay at home order. The legislators should be meeting as little as possible right now. Since we already know we're going into at least one special session this year, the only thing they really even needed to convene this session for at all was to pass a perfunctory budget bill.  But even that simple task has proceeded in a somewhat suspicious manner. The COVID crisis has cratered revenues for this year. There are workarounds in place to get us through the emergency period.  And yet, some lawmakers seem like they don't really want to do that. For example, Lance Harris here.
State economists revised the revenue outlook for the state downward by nearly $1 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, largely because of cratering oil prices and sales tax collections that are expected to be sluggish as businesses contend with a virus that has made many people wary of going out.

But state leaders are using broad flexibility granted by the U.S. Treasury Department in crafting the budget. For instance, the plans use $290 million in federal dollars to fund the state’s corrections department, because the feds told state officials they can assume payroll expenses for public safety qualify as coronavirus-related spending.

Economists are currently projecting revenues will rebound by about $700 million next year, but not all are convinced. State Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican, asked the governor’s administration to plan for possible cuts in case the budget outlook worsens in the middle of this fiscal year.
And hey maybe that's right.  Maybe there won't be a $700 million rebound next year.  But if that's what you're worried about, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be slashing taxes on oil companies right now.  Or, at least, it's a bit suspect.