Friday, May 14, 2021

The price of crawfish

Seems like we were just talking about this last month. It's worse than you might think and has been for quite a while. 

Two Mexican citizens who worked for Crawfish Processing LLC last year filed suit in Alexandria federal court Thursday, claiming the company and its owner, Charles Bernard, routinely failed to pay minimum and prevailing wages. Plaintiffs say they also did not receive federally mandated overtime pay while working more than 60 hours per week.

The company also collected $60 per week as rent payments for rat-infested trailers packed with eight or nine people, according to the lawsuit. Also allegedly deducted from weekly paychecks was a $3 fee for cashing checks at a retail market affiliated with Crawfish Processing.

Not surprising in a state like Louisiana, where the legislature continues to debate the "good and bad" of and, in fact, defend the legality of slavery, that this would be allowed to go on.  Even if the plaintiffs win in this case, don't expect these practices to change in the future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Which warehouse has the prettiest decorations?

The committee charged with selecting a redevelopment plan for the Six Flags site is meeting today.  We already know that the preferred use is going involve some sort of warehousing/logistics staging facility.  The group everyone expects to win, Kiernan West, specializes in that sort of thing nationally and seems to be the most well situated (although the financial details aren't yet known to the public.) 

Because this is a city-owned property, though, and especially because it was once an amusement park, the bidders have all been obligated to dress up their proposals with different grab bags full of public-facing amusements of varying worth and which may or may not ever become real. Us real Six Flags heads have been through enough of these exercises to have seen all kinds by now.   No monorail this time, as far as we can tell. But at least one of the proposals has put the zipline idea back in.  You love to see that. 

Developers Wendell Armant, Gerald Billes and Shelly Wills have partnered with lender BlueBell International, design firm Gould Evans and others to build an array of homes and condos, a grocery store, a day care, and a hotel at the site. 

Retail stores, a film studio, an amphitheater and a campground would help round out the $1.85 billion picture, as would a waterpark, wave pool, skate park and zip-line attraction.

But if we were giving odds, we'd probably put that one as the longest shot.  Of course, Kiernan West is the favorite. But the dark horse underdog is something, amusingly called "Bayou Phoenix"  which has to be be considered somewhat of a contender simply because it is Troy Henry. That "private police force" idea seems rather inspired. 

Renaming the entire area Bayou Phoenix "would allow the area to shake the stigma associated with the former Jazzland/Six Flags name," developers said in a city presentation.

A private police force would also provide security on site to protect the massive investment, freeing up the New Orleans Police Department to work solely to manage the crime in the rest of the sprawling 7th District, Henry said.

But, most probably, they will give the deal to Kiernan West. They did, after all, go to the trouble of hiring some NFL players to do the promotional nonsense side of the project.  

In the first round of evaluations in March, a plan from Kiernan West LLC of Colorado and S.H.I.E.L.D 1., a foundation launched by former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Saints linebacker Demario Davis and Buffalo Bills cornerback Joshua Norman, scored highest. That project, if chosen Tuesday, would bring an urban farm and a series of educational centers to the site, along with a transportation and logistics center.

What we haven't yet learned, though, is how much will the public pay to subsidize whatever project is chosen. Will the city retain ownership of the land?  Will there be "tax incentives" given away to the developers?  Each proposal includes widely varying estimates of the number "direct" and "indirect" jobs it will create. But we won't get clarity on what that means until we know more about what actually is getting built.

We have to assume in the meantime that the main piece of this will be the warehouse. And aside from worrying about what pretty little schemes go up around the warehouse, we should probably ask how the pay and working conditions will be there.  Is the city adding any stipulations as to how workers are treated on the site? That sounds like something that could be added to a lease agreement.  Will it, though? Probably not. But worth asking about.

Update:  Turns out they couldn't settle on one today. Narrowed down to Kiernan West and Phoenix.  Typically this suggests a play is in the works to maybe cut Henry in on the deal even if it does go to Kiernan West. But who knows.  

Upperdate:  Starting to think maybe Henry's group has a better than even chance now.  Transdev is there, after all.  Also, look what they're bringing. 

The Bayou Phoenix proposal, created by Henry Consulting, TKTMJ Inc and master developer Hillwood of Dallas, scored 417 of 500. That plan would see a logistics hub, a water park, a 200-room hotel and a travel center.

It would also partner with Transdev, a French transit conglomerate that once managed New Orleans' mass transit system, to build light rail transit between Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner and the Six Flags property.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have found our monorail. 

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Four out of 80

Years of organizing work to get to point where there would be four schools out of the 80 charters in New Orleans where the staff are unionized. That is, if BAE is successful. 

The vote is set for May 28, according to the release issued by United Teachers of New Orleans, a citywide union and local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that has helped the charter school educators organize.

Bricolage Academy Educators, collectively known as BAE-United, spent weeks petitioning the school's governing charter board to voluntarily recognize their union. 

Bricolage organizers have said 80% of eligible teachers and staff signed a petition in favor of organizing, and they submitted the request to the school's board of directors in late February.

Eighty percent of the staff signed up in advance of the vote is a good sign. It's only in the last few years that teachers have gained something like momentum in the long effort to overcome structural barriers to organizing imposed by the depowering and isolating nature of the charter arrangements. When New Orleans Public Schools made the big move to charters, it not only immediately fired 7,000 people, it set back the work of reclaiming power by at least a decade.  Four out of 80 would be better than three.  But there is so much left beyond that.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The price of crawfish

A group of seafood processing workers in Breaux Bridge are suing to get rid of a loophole that allows plant owners to pay a lower "prevailing wage" because they employ some migrant workers who are on H-2B visas.  

Basically, before issuing the certification that allows companies to hire temporary workers from foreign countries – using H-2B visas – the employer needs to show that pay will not be less than the prevailing wage for local American workers. The rub, according to the lawsuit, comes in showing what the prevailing wage actually is.

The 2015 Wage Rule modified existing regulations to allow employers to use their own surveys to set the prevailing wage and that rule change impacted the conditions and pay for similarly employed U.S. workers, according to the lawsuit.

This is just one small way the rules are deliberately written to take advantage of workers the government confers a more precarious status upon to lower the standard for everyone. It's an example of how allowing any class of workers to be exploited causes everyone to suffer. The lawsuit estimates the overall effect depresses wages by as much as $5 an hour. 

Of course, as we've seen before, the real costs of this system can be much higher

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

Feels like a Monday

Try not to go too hard out there

A vehicle fire in the eastbound high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes of the Crescent City Connection is snarling traffic on the West Bank, Monday morning.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development reported the fire just after 8 a.m.

I'm certainly not one of these people declaring a return to post-pandemic normalcy yet.. especially with only 25 percent of Louisianians fully vaccinated (31% with at least one shot) as of today.  But certain of the old familiar comforts of home, such as everything being on fire, do seem to be returning. 

Oh also, was there an election over the weekend or something? I found all this trash laying around. 

Carter signs

We'll definitely have to talk about this one later. There are so many bad takes flying around today it's hard to pick out the absolute worst. But this is a contender

James Carville, the New Orleans-based political strategist, believes the outcome has national implications, noting that Peterson had the advantage of her side spending more money and a low turnout special election (16.6%) that typically favors candidates who seek to excite their party’s most fervent supporters.

“Voters voted against wokeness,” said Carville. “They just did. Woke did very, very poorly.”

I mean, it isn't very surprising that Carville has adopted the pejorative form of "wokeness" to mean any political platform to the left of, say, Ronald Reagan.  But he's also wrong (or lying, if you prefer to call it what it is) to claim this result is a rejection of such a platform instead of a candidate.   But, more on that later.  

In the meantime try to avoid getting exploded by anything.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Who is Tonya Pope's secret partner this time?

Tonya Pope is appealing (well, at least making  a public appeal through the media) the city's decision to exclude her from the list of finalists in the latest Six Flags redevelopment sweepstakes. 

TPC-NOLA Inc., which has long sought to revive the former Jazzland theme park at the Six Flags site, said in a formal protest Friday that the selection committee used "inconsistent, subjective and biased scoring" when judging six proposals for the abandoned property.
"Inconsistent, subjective, biased," maybe! That doesn't necessarily have to mean gender bias, specifically, although Pope does claim that too.  But, again, maybe. There certainly seemed to be some degree of favoritism involved when the finalists were announced.  And, besides, Pope knows more about this process than just about anybody by now.  Her company has been one of the very very many who have put together multiple proposals over the course of very very many attempts by the city to snag a developer for this cursed property.  

In the most recent round prior to this one, her plan involved... some kind of wax museum or something? Maybe that sounds wacky, but it's hardly the craziest thing that's been proposed so far. Nor is it any stranger than what the current front-runners have on the table. What's intriguing, though, about Pope's current bid is that the city says she was docked points in the evaluation process for not disclosing an important financial backer.

TPC-NOLA received 328 points. Committee member Nicole Heyman criticized that group for failing to identify its partner company, while committee member Jeff Schwartz rapped it for failing to prove it had obtained financing to build its proposal.  

Pope, the company president, said Friday that while her group did not want to out its partner at the public selection meeting, it is willing to provide that information to committee members privately.

Well who wouldn't be reassured by that?   It's not like Pope's partners in previous bids could have raised any questions.  The wax museum project was supposed to involve former Governor Edwin Edwards.  And in 2014, her proposal was backed by a certain financial outfit of note. 

Paidia's bid calls for a $50 million initial phase that would reconstruct the heart of the Jazzland park by next spring. Much of the money would come from a $25 million construction loan financed by First NBC Bank and federal tax credits for revitalization projects in impoverished neighborhoods. Paidia is also counting on another $10 million in private financing for equipment, $8 million in state tax incentives and $2 million in corporate sponsorships, according to its proposal.

 Really, in hindsight, it's remarkable that one didn't get done.  

Anyway, let's hope the committee takes Pope's complaint seriously enough to giver her another chance. If only so we can find out who the heck she's got on the team this time. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Doing it the hard way

 Looks like the Bricolage board is choosing the way of pain

Bricolage Academy Educators United, a group of Bricolage educators seeking union recognition from the Esplanade Avenue charter school’s board, has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board after the charter’s nonprofit board failed to respond to the group’s February request for voluntary union recognition.

Since receiving the group’s Feb. 24 letter, the board has only met once. At that meeting, on March 10, the board met in a closed door session with its lawyers for advice on the union drive. After the private discussion, board president Yvette Jones said the board must do its “due diligence” before it would take a vote on whether to recognize the union. She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Well it's April now and they still haven't finished the "due diligence" delaying so the teachers have to ask for an NLRB election which is an arduous process that is more or less designed to prevent an organizing campaign from succeeding. That doesn't mean the teachers can't win.  The International School staff unionized via an election in 2016 but not without a fight. And the Lusher board actually beat back a similar effort.

Of course, the PRO Act legislation waiting for action in the US Congress would make things easier. Call or text your Senator.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Name some names, Tanner

Only a week in but this is already the worst Louisiana Legislature I've ever had to watch.  The characters on display during committee hearings on the tax reform bills yesterday fell into three categories: the ignorant, the bought, and a few who are clearly bewildered and intimidated by the ignorant and the bought.  

But more on all that later. That's not really why I opened up the blogging program this morning. Instead, I just wanted to note this comment from one legislator on how ignorant the ignorant caucus is. 

But given how politicized mask-wearing and even the COVID vaccines have become, lawmakers are unlikely to require students in Louisiana to take the COVID vaccines.

“No, it won’t happen,” said Rep. Tanner Magee of Houma, the second-ranking Republican in the Louisiana House. “The political climate right now with vaccines, just the hysteria around it, won’t allow for any sort of mandate,” he said in an interview.

In distributing the vaccines, he added, “We honestly have some legislators who think that we really are implanting 5G chips into people.” 

I'm not usually into getting anyone to rat on their friends but I'm afraid Tanner is going to have to give us some names there.  Or, at least, get us an idea of how many "some legislators" is so we know the size of what we're dealing with. 

Or maybe he doesn't have to. The Advocate already tried to get a handle on the number of anti-vaxxers in the Capitol last week.  But these numbers and the possible reasons for them are open to interpretation. 

Among 142 lawmakers polled, 98 said they had availed themselves of the jab, while 30 said they have yet to be vaccinated. A handful said they had recently recovered from COVID-19 and plan to take the vaccine soon.

The two most powerful lawmakers – House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette – refused to say whether they had been vaccinated. They joined a dozen other GOP lawmakers who wouldn’t answer the question, with some calling the survey an invasion of privacy.

I think when they say "invasion of privacy," they mean they are vaccinated but are afraid that might hurt them with their constituents. At least, that's what I read between these lines in particular. 

Some political leaders are content to stay out of those conversations. 

"I don't want my constituents to be influenced one way or another by my decision,” said Rep. Jonathan Goudeau, R-Lafayette, who refused to answer whether he had been vaccinated. 

“That’s a private health matter that I wouldn’t want to discuss publicly,” said Rep. Philip Tarver, R-Lake Charles.

And the reason I lean that way is that, typically, the legislators aren't so shy about sharing their weird ideas.  The ones who aren't getting vaccinated seem like they are happy to tell you why.  And... oh man.. let's see some of those. 

Some lawmakers referenced misinformation about the vaccine, which has been particularly potent on social media, in their decision not to get vaccinated.  

Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, said she was concerned the vaccine could cause spontaneous miscarriages among women — a claim that exploded online in March but was promptly debunked by medical experts as untrue. 

Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, claimed that a family friend died from the vaccine, though a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health said the state has not confirmed any deaths from any of the vaccines administered in Louisiana.

That's only two of the 30 unvaccinated lawmakers running around up in Baton Rouge right now. This article says five of those have already had COVID and think they have natural immunity. That's not really supported by the research which says the vaccines are the more sure way to go. But you can kind of see why a reasonable person might think that at first. What we really need to know is how many of them are spreading pure conspiracy nuttery (and possibly COVID itself, not to mention) like Amedee there.  Maybe Tanner can tell us more.

Decommissioning in place

I now have a new phrase for describing my system of leaving clothes on the floor until laundry day. 

The GAO found that the offshore oil and gas industry has left behind about 18,000 miles of inactive pipeline in the Gulf since the 1960s. While federal rules require removal of decommissioned pipelines except in special cases, the GAO found that 97% of pipelines have been allowed to stay on the seafloor.

“Such a high rate of approval indicates that this is not an exception ... but rather that decommissioning-in-place has been the norm for decades,” the report said.
This, by the way, is exactly what a "market driven" transition to a greener economy is going to look like. Abandoned, rotting infrastructure leaking poisons into the water with no one left to take any responsibility.  Ideally the alternative is a mitigation initiative funded by something like a federal Green New Deal bill. But that ain't happening anytime soon. 

Maybe we can get something written into the Fossil Fuel Sanctuary State Act that politely asks the protected class to pick up after itself every now and again. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Someone is always out to get Billy

Billy Nungesser gave a speech this week where he attempted to frame the latest in what has been a string of FBI inquiries into his various dealings over the years, as politically motivated attempt to keep him out of the Governor's race in 2023. Maybe.  But the article also does a good job of reminding us those federal investigations are a long running feature of Billy's career. 

Nungesser has come across the FBI’s radar before. The agency has in recent years investigated Nungesser’s contracts and public works projects while he was Plaquemines Parish president.

Much like in that case, Nungesser said the new probe is politically motivated.

“I don't know who's behind all this investigation stuff. Is it a PAC? Is it because they don't like my political stance? All I want is the truth,” Nungesser said. “The FBI's got a job to do when they get a complaint. But I've been through this before with people that didn't want to see me be parish president. I only want to do the right thing. But you wonder why people don't run.”

Nungesser’s use of a Lower Pontalba apartment and space in other state buildings in the French Quarter has come under scrutiny before. The former Louisiana State Museum’s interim director, who resigned in protest in 2017, claimed Nungesser was using those assets for his personal benefit. That was around the same time sources told the Advocate the FBI was probing Nungesser’s administration as parish president years earlier.

But just because Billy is paranoid doesn't mean.. yadda yadda yadda.  There really is a fair amount of jostling going on right now for the next election. Republicans are arguing over whether or not to change Louisiana's open primary elections system.  The current theory there is that a closed primary will enforce more ideological discipline and promote more right wing candidates than currently advance to runoffs if one can even imagine such a thing.  Also the conservatives promoting this theory might not even be right about their assumptions, but that's an argument for another time. 

The interesting thing here is that we suddenly live in a world where Billy Nungesser appears to be on the moderate side of an intra-party political disagreement. If nothing else it's a measure of just how far off the map we are.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Lock it up

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, elected leaders at every level have struggled and failed to agree on an effective and consistent policy response to contain it. Rules promulgated for public gatherings, mask wearing, and business operations have had wide variance from town to town or state to state.  Over the past year, these rules have expanded and contracted again in "phases" shaped not so much by the public health interest as by political pressure from influential wealth holders.  

A mayor might shut down some events because the cases are spiking but keep inviting tourists to town anyway.  A school board might cave to pressure from bosses to open and deprive parents of an excuse not to come in to work. But if the virus spreads among the school population, officials have plenty of excuses on hand as to why that isn't their fault.

This is the sixth week that the district has reported cases on its website. While there have been new cases each week, officials say they are relatively small numbers and Avegno said new cases don’t appear to come from the classroom. 

“Where we are seeing cases is in gatherings and extracurricular activities outside school. So the slumber party … and we have seen some outbreaks on athletic teams,” she said, noting there hadn’t been athletic outbreaks in the two weeks.

“With teachers, if it’s more than one teacher, it’s if they went out to dinner after school,” Avegno said. “Just like office spread, like in a breakroom. That’s not anything unique to schools.”

Hotel stays, yes. "Slumber parties," no.  Bars and restaurants are open but only the ones that serve the tourists. The more local clientele had better stay home... especially if they happen to be teachers. And this has been the situation in every city and in every state. The resulting chaos has claimed hundreds of thousands more lives than were ever necessary while piling ever greater fortune upon the world's billionaire class. 

Remarkably this situation has only been made worse by the arrival of the vaccines this year.  Policymakers could have taken advantage of the clear "light at the end of the tunnel" offered by vaccination. They could have heeded the advice of most health experts to keep restrictions in place for a few more months until a significant portion of the population was vaccinated.  Instead they quickly shifted into Mission Accomplished mode and loosened the rules around all sorts of activities. It's quite likely that the resulting sense in the public that the pandemic is already over has slowed the pace of vaccinations thus extending the threat further and endangering even more lives. 

Now as the virus seems to be spreading once again, Governors and mayors are even more hesitant than before to take the steps necessary to stop it. Many of them, in fact, are giving up altogether

And this spring, many American mayors are explaining their decision to leave office with the same reason: that the pandemic response demanded so much that they could not both campaign and perform their duties; or that the work had become so stressful that their families had recommended that they step away.

“They are just spent,” said Katharine Lusk, executive director of Boston University’s Initiative on Cities, which carries out an annual survey of mayors. Mayors surveyed last summer expressed deep anxiety about the effects of lost tax revenue on their budgets, as they juggled the pandemic, economic recovery and their core responsibilities.

Meanwhile the ones who have decided to stick it out are content to leave it all up to the vaccines and shift the blame for anything that goes wrong to the "personal responsibility" of individuals to take them. Inevitably this will mean more people will die than have to. But that's all part of the political cost/benefit analysis. 

Anyway it's only appropriate now that we're back to doing the bare minimum to protect the public health that the one thing we know we can do about the coronavirus is put it in jail. That is going about how you might expect.

Starting in March of last year, New York Times reporters tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States, including state and federal prisons, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention facilities, and county and regional jails.

We measured the pandemic’s excruciating impact on prisoners using records requests and interviews with people from all corners of the system. We spoke with incarcerated people and their families, prison wardens, jailers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and civil rights groups.

A year later, one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus, the data shows. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project and the Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The COVID Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has caused misery and loss in many places, but its destructive power has been felt intensely among the incarcerated, who have been infected at rates several times higher than those of their surrounding communities.

Last week, The Lens reported that only a quarter of the  more than 800 people detained at the Orleans Parish jail have been vaccinated. That is a rate comparable with the city's population at large.  The state prisons are a bit behind.  But, as the same article points out, prison is a particularly dangerous place to be during a pandemic. 

Throughout the pandemic, prisons and jails have been particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to the inability of prisoners to social distance. There have been over 3,000 reported cases of the virus in Louisiana’s prisons, according to data from the DOC, and 36 people have died.

And so you may be thinking all of this should raise the obvious question, why are we still putting so many people in jail? Of course we should be asking that question anyway but especially now, under these circumstances, why are we needlessly endangering more lives?  Well, actually, that question was already asked of the mayor under arguably more dangerous circumstances during the height of the pandemic last year.  Here is what she said.

She has stoutly resisted more recent pressure from advocacy groups urging that police release nonviolent suspects from custody. “You’re worried about criminals catching coronavirus? Tell them to stop breaking the damn law,” snaps Cantrell, a streetwise woman known for her salty tongue.

Yesterday we watched yet another horrific instance of state cruelty in the form of body cam footage of yet another cop murdering yet another Black person for "breaking the damn law" against having an air freshener hanging from a mirror. Do those of us who are worried about that require a similar talking to from a "streetwise salty tongue?" Or is the summary death sentence for minor offense only acceptable when administered by virus instead of by gunshot?

Friday, April 09, 2021

Can't have any fundamental changes going on out there

Jane McAlevey's postmortem on the always doomed Amazon organizing campaign also explains why the PRO Act can never ever ever be allowed to pass.

The conditions most workers in the United States endure when trying to form a union make the recent actions by Georgia’s legislature to institute further voter suppression seem tame. If the Senate passes the PRO Act, there’s no question the unionization rate would increase quickly, which is one reason winning its passage in the near future seems oddly distant. Despite the nation having the most pro-union president in nearly 100 years, the Senate remains immovable on issues far less challenging than major labor law reform; it wouldn’t even accept a federally mandated $15-an-hour minimum wage. And progressives have been trying to pass labor law since Jimmy Carter’s presidency—without success.

And, no, the answer isn't "because Joe Manchin." There are a ton of things the Democratic Party led by this so-called "most pro-union president in nearly 100 years" could do to rein that guy in.  They choose not to, though.  A strong labor law would "fundamentally change" the power relationships workers have with their bosses and boost the political power of the working class in general.  But that's not what these Democrats were elected to do. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

What would single payer health care look like in the US?

You might think it's not possible but I'm here to tell you that it is.  It's just not possible as the thing you are thinking about. Instead it's this

The fragmentation of American health care has kept Big Data from being fully harnessed as it is in other industries, like online commerce. But Optum’s acquisition of Change heralds the end of that status quo and the emergence of a new “Big Tech” of health care. With the Change data, Optum/UnitedHealth will own the data, providers, and the network through which people receive care. It’s not a stretch to see an analogy to Amazon, and how that corporation uses data from its platform to undercut third parties while keeping all its consumers in a panopticon of data.

The next step is up to the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over the acquisition (through an informal agreement, the DOJ monitors health insurance and other industries, while the FTC handles hospital mergers, pharmaceuticals, and more). The longer the review takes, the more likely it is that the public starts to realize that, as Dartmouth health policy professor Dr. Elliott Fisher said, “the harms are likely to outweigh the benefits.”

It's not politically possible to get the benevolent One Giant Public Health Behemoth controlling costs and care on behalf of patients.  So we will have to settle for the One Giant Private Health Behemoth controlling everything on behalf of executive profits. But at least it will be a "market-driven" solution that gets us there so it must be good. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

And there is the catch

Sorry to say this but the only reason anyone with any power can even imagine taking the Claiborne Expressway down now is the same reason it was erected in the first place. It is because we have reached a point in the cycle where tearing it down can and will benefit wealth.  This is going to be the same point I made ten years ago when the gentrification taking place in Treme first set the planners' sights on gussying up the convenient real estate they had buried under that bridge decades before.  But taking down the expressway, in and of itself is not going to magically restore the neighborhood that was broken apart by its construction. 

The 20th Century was a long time ago.  Other things are happening now and they are not great things for poor and working class people in cities. The political game now is all about moving those people out of the way, isolating them in far flung suburbs, and even taxing them if they try to drive back.  The cities (and especially this city) aren't for poor people anymore. Instead they (especially this one) are playgrounds for rich people and tourists where nobody actually lives. All of the planning and policy decisions made now are intentionally meant to facilitate this.  

For years the Claiborne overpass was a public health and "quality of life" detriment to poor people living near it. Nobody who could do anything about that cared.  But now it is in the way of real estate development so it's apparently time to take that problem seriously. 

Anyway, the Washington Post got in touch with Amy Stelly to for its story on the infrastructure bill that might fund the highway's removal. She's obviously very much aware of the problem.

While activists’ goal, in many cases, is to remove a highway, they say they also want communities most harmed by their construction to enjoy the benefits as their neighborhoods become more desirable. That could mean help for renters to buy their homes or property tax advantages.

We can’t remove highways in neighborhoods that would otherwise have been very desirable and leave it to the real estate market to govern,” Stelly said. “The people of Tremé should have the right to return when it’s beautiful.”

And, well, that's the catch, isn't it. 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Is anything fundamentally changed?

 Mr. Biden should tear down this wall.  Do you think he will even consider it?

With the border still closed for most migrants, a growing number who have no safe way to present their asylum claims have taken desperate and sometimes fatal measures, like climbing the border wall. To countless migrants escaping violence, economic and climate devastation (and in many cases trying to reunite with family and loved ones) the only feasible option for entering the U.S. is to risk injury and death.

That’s not a political mistake; it’s by design. Biden now joins a long tradition of presidents who’ve added to the immigration enforcement strategies of border militarization and prevention through deterrence. Right now, though, Biden must overturn the deadly policies that keep the border shut to asylum seekers. Until that happens, the human casualties of these policies, and in particular title 42, fall on the shoulders of this administration.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The thing about bosses is

 The bosses always lie.

Rep. Mark Pocan replied via tweet: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a progressive workplace when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” echoing reports from 2018 that Amazon workers were forced to skip bathroom breaks and pee in bottles. Amazon’s denial was swift: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

But Amazon workers with whom I spoke said that the practice was so widespread due to pressure to meet quotas that managers frequently referenced it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails, which were provided to The Intercept. The practice, these documents show, was known to management, which identified it as a recurring infraction but did nothing to ease the pressure that caused it. In some cases, employees even defecated in bags.

And when they aren't lying about the problems they cause for their own workers, they are shaming the workers for them. 

An email that Brown received from her manager this past August has a section titled “Urine bottle” and states: “In the morning, you must check your van thoroughly for garbage and urine bottle. If you find urine bottle (s) please report to your lead, supporting staff or me. Vans will be inspected by Amazon during debrief, if urine bottle (s) are found, you will be issue an infraction tier 1 for immediate offboarding.”

While Amazon technically prohibits the practice — documents characterize it as a “Tier 1” infraction, which employees say can lead to termination — drivers said that this was disingenuous since they can’t meet their quotas otherwise. “They give us 30 minutes of paid breaks, but you will not finish your work if you take it, no matter how fast you are,” one Amazon delivery employee based in Massachusetts told me.

Asked if management eased up on the quotas in light of the practice, Brown said, “Not at all. In fact, over the course of my time there, our package and stop counts actually increased substantially.”

The Bessemer Amazon workers are currently voting to unionize. That election period ends on Monday. The US Senate is able to give American workers their best path to organizing they will have had in decades if it just passes the PRO Act.  They're close but...

With Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate, passing the PRO Act would require reforming the filibuster, as the prospect of 10 Republican votes for labor reform is beyond a fantasy. The number of high-profile Democrats joining the push to reform the filibuster has steadily grown, with Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., endorsing unspecified changes to filibuster rules earlier this month.

The Democrats can choose to deliver this essential and potentially transformative piece of legislation which they claim to support.  But, you know, Democrats are a lot like bosses in certain regards so, stay tuned. 

The pump uprising

The pumps have had enough of our abuse and are starting to turn against us

Part of the West End area of Lakeview flooded Wednesday when a Sewerage & Water Board pump worked in reverse, sucking water from Lake Pontchartrain and pumping it into the streets of the residential area, according to our news partners at WWL-TV.

The pump was working in reverse for nearly an hour before it was fixed, WWL-TV reported, citing information from S&WB officials.

We always suspected this day would come.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Why lie when the facts are bad enough

Every year Joe Bouie tries to nudge us ever so slightly in the direction of untangling the corrupt nightmare system that runs our public schools "like a business."  Every year it fails.  No reason to stop trying, though

A state legislator who has a history of criticizing the way New Orleans schools are governed is pushing a bill in the upcoming session that would strip NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. of his power to close or renew charter schools without an Orleans Parish School Board vote.

State Senator Joseph Bouie Jr. spoke briefly with board members during their meeting Tuesday about the bill, which he has prefiled for the 2021 legislative session beginning next month. Bouie’s bill aims to undo the charter school renewal system established by a state law passed in 2016 that brought the city’s charter schools — most of which had been overseen by the state-run Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina — back under local control. 

That law, Act 91, gives near unilateral power to the superintendent to decide which nonprofit-run charter schools up for contract renewal with the district will remain open and which ones will close. Under the current system, the board can only overturn Lewis’ recommendation with a two-thirds supermajority vote within one month of a recommendation’s presentation. 

Bouie’s proposal would require board votes on all charter renewals.

One of the principal authors of Act 91 is congressional candidate Karen Carter Peterson who, over the weekend, (just barely) slipped into a runoff against Troy Carter.  During the primary, Carter tried to make hay out of Peterson's relationship with the charter school movement. Those links do exist and voters should consider them during the runoff.  They should also, consider, however, that Troy Carter also supported Act 91 and does not appear to have taken a stand against the charter movement that meaningfully distinguishes him from Peterson. 

On the other hand, at least his attack ad acknowledged the devastating effect the charter movement has had on teachers. Leaving aside the question of his sincerity about that, it matters that it's something Peterson does not talk about unless she is refuting an opponent's accusations. Which is what happens in this article

Only days before Saturday’s primary, Karen Carter Peterson is calling foul on Troy Carter for a television ad that slams her and her husband on education matters.

“Troy Carter’s latest attack is a lie,” Peterson, who like Carter is a state senator from New Orleans, said in a statement.

She is correct.  Carter's ad does lie. It cherry picks certain events and compresses their timeline to imply a stronger causal relationship than the viewer would otherwise infer. I'll try to summarize this as clearly as I can.  

In 2004 Peterson sponsored a bill called Act 193 which empowered the state controlled Recovery School District (RSD) to take over so-called failing schools in Orleans Parish. Shortly after Katrina, a second bill (Act 35) enabled the RSD to take all of the schools in Orleans Parish. Peterson voted against this bill. RSD took over 102 of 117 schools and immediately fired 7000 teachers and support staff. This move effectively destroyed the teachers union and gutted what most people considered a core piece of the city's Black middle class at a critical moment. Those teachers, their union, and in many ways the whole city has never really recovered from that. The state then re-made the New Orleans Public Schools according to an experimental model of privatized autonomous charters working with largely non-union labor (although a very small number of charter school staffs have since been organized.) In 2016, Act 91, again, authored by Peterson, returned this reconfigured system to local school board's nominal control but locked the RSD's changes into place.  

Carter's ad presents this story as 1) Peterson voted for Act 193 and then 2) All of the teachers were fired. Obviously that isn't how it happened. In between those events there was a hurricane, a flood, and a thorough takeover of the schools that Peterson voted against. However, it does not get her off the hook for writing and supporting Act 91 which we can see as a validation of all of those events after the fact. She is further implicated by the close involvement of her husband and brother-in-law in the leadership of RSD and Orleans charter schools during this period although Carter's ad also fudges the facts on this so as to make it appear even more sinister. 

Which, again, causes us to question Carter's integrity as much as Peterson's.  The facts are bad enough.  But Carter is as culpable as Peterson for much of the situation being what it is so he has to lie to make it sound even worse. 

Anyway, I'm not sure when Bouie's bill is due up in the session or if Senators Carter and Peterson will be available to vote on it when it does.  The legislative session begins on April 12 and the runoff election is April 24 so it's a real tight window. Which is a shame because we might miss a key moment of truth for both of them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Ah they brought in a ringer

For those who were curious about what sort of gimmick could possibly breathe new life into the many-failures-over Six Flags redevelopment saga, well, here you go

Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration announced that a partnership that included Brees was among the three finalists chosen to redevelop the derelict Six Flags site in New Orleans East, advancing a highly-anticipated effort to breathe life into the 227-acre park that has been abandoned for almost 16 years. 

After a selection committee scored six proposals based on developers' qualifications, financial resources and other factors, the highest scoring contender was a partnership between Kiernan West LLC of Colorado and S.H.I.E.L.D., a foundation launched by Brees, Saints linebacker Demario Davis and Buffalo Bills cornerback Joshua Norman.

That group wants to turn the park into multiple facilities, including an agriculture innovation center that helps young people learn about urban farming.

The actual developer is Kiernan-West which is a corporate real estate firm that has dotted the US map with logistics centers so we can logically conclude that is at least one of the "multiple facilities" in the proposal, if not the main one.  The rest of it is just branding.  And by that we mean they just grabbed a bunch of progressive-sounding twee business buzzwords and mashed them all into one thing for the professional athletes to pitch.

The nonprofit portion, managed by the SHIELD group, would include a facility for urban farming and aquaponics; a “discovery lab” that would provide science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics programming for New Orleans students; a natural healing center, and a food cultural center that would serve as a lecture hall for culinary arts education. The site would also feature a restaurant. 

Future development phases could include a ghost kitchen that would deliver meals to people in need, and a food truck park.

There are so many half-baked ideas going on there it literally reads as though it were being made up as it was dictated. Either that or they were just trying to make sure they hit whatever sweet spot the consultant's report laid out for them. 

A firm the city hired to study the best use for the park said in 2019 that it would work best as a transportation and distribution hub, though that team ended up recommending an “education destination” that could focus on themes such as resiliency and climate change, after talking with residents.

I'm glad they clarified which consultant's report we're working from here because there have been several.  This is the 2019 report by  TIP Strategies and Perkins & Will.  The purpose of glossy papers like this is always to give the developers a paint-by-number scheme for making their project appear to fit the needs of whatever community they are taking advantage of.   I'm disappointed to see that Brees's group did not throw a zipline in with their proposal as the consultants suggested.  But we got the healing center and that always seems to be the key. 

Anyway, between the pro athletes involvement and the jamming in of all the shiny objects, this seems like the proposal that is going to be selected.  And Brees sure does know how to spit out the jargon. 

“I am excited about the ability to present this transformational proposal to the city,” Brees said in a statement about the plan. “It is a vision that we have been working on for more than a year, actively looking for the right site and the right public/private Partnership to launch our non-profit concept. I believe this is it.”

If this means he and this giant real estate firm he's shilling for are going to get their hands on one cent of the city's stimulus allocation for any of this, then it's all the same to us if the whole site just sinks back into the swamp. 

On the other hand,  we do see Troy Henry involved with one of the competing groups so maybe let's wait and see. They're expecting to decide within in the next two or three months.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Is it possible to do less with more?

Now that the "Rescue Plan" bill has passed, it's time to pick around in it and see what we've won.  Of particular interest now will be keeping an eye on state and local politicians to see if they continue pushing for austerity budget cuts even though the stimulus specifically provides funds intended to prevent that from happening. This morning the LA Budget Project calls attention to one provision of the bill meant to head some of this off. 

The law also contains an important provision for states receiving the aid: for every dollar that a state government spends on net tax cuts, it will lose a dollar of federal support. As lawmakers gavel into session next month, they will have an opportunity to make long overdue investments in Louisiana’s people, families and communities instead of providing tax cuts to businesses and the wealthy. This provision provides an incentive to do just that.  Nicholas Johnson of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the details

Cutting state taxes now would repeat a mistake many states made in the wake of the Great Recession: they cut taxes, which harmed families, undermined economic growth, and exacerbated economic inequality and racial injustice. Instead, states should address critical health and economic needs by making investments that can help build antiracist, equitable states. To help them do so, the American Rescue Plan Act includes $195 billion in fiscal aid for state governments (and more for schools and for local, tribal, and territorial governments).

They can't use the one time stimulus payments to create new "fiscal cliffs" made out of tax cuts for rich people.  Republicans in some states are already complaining, of course.  But the truth is there will plenty opportunities in the new law for them to steal whatever they want.  This line, in particular, seems like a just such an opportunity. 

(3) TRANSFER AUTHORITY.—A metropolitan city, nonentitlement unit of local government, or county receiving a payment from funds made available under this section may transfer funds to a private nonprofit organization (as that term is defined in paragraph (17) of section 401 of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11360(17)), a public benefit corporation involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo, or a special-purpose unit of State or local government.

Which suggests that the city of New Orleans, still beset with serious infrastructure challenges, and which has spent the past year threatening layoffs, furloughing workers, and dropping cryptic hints about "shared sacrifice," could still move ahead with its plans to do all of those things while shoveling the federal stimulus funds out the back door to non-profits controlled by the NOLA Business Alliance or Leslie Jacobs, or even Stephen Perry with very little accountability for any of it. Especially interesting thing to watch for just ahead of an election season when people will need paying off.

It's not a competition

What is he trying to win the vaccine Olympics?   This is meaningless

When I came into office, you may recall, I set a goal that many of you said was kind of way over the top. I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first 100 days in office.

Tonight, I can say we’re not only going to meet that goal, we’re going to beat that goal, because we’re actually on track to reach this goal of 100 million shots in arms on my 60th day in office. No other country in the world has done this. None.

We're not going to make ourselves safe until we make everyone safe.  Being better than other countries at meeting some number is irrelevant. Also.... there are reasons that is happening that we really should not be proud of. 

The normal rules of business that protect the profits of vaccine manufacturers will have to be set aside if that is what it takes to ensure everybody is immunised against the coronavirus, according to the director general of the World Health Organization.

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the world needs to be “on a war footing”. Before a key meeting of the World Trade Organization next week on the anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic, he supports a patent waiver that would allow countries to make and sell cheap copies of vaccines that were invented elsewhere.

“We are living through an exceptional moment in history and must rise to the challenge,” he says. “Flexibilities in trade regulations exist for emergencies, and surely a global pandemic which has forced many societies to shut down and caused so much harm to business – both large and small – qualifies. We need to be on a war footing and it’s important to be clear about what is needed.”

Biden mentioned being on a "war footing" during his speech. But by comparing US vaccine performance with the countries hampered by our intellectual property policy, he sounds like he means a war against those countries instead of, you know, the virus.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

It's not yet time to be hugged by any neanderthals

Again, I really am having trouble understanding why this is going on right now.  

NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans will move to a Modified Phase-3 COVID order starting this Friday, March 12. The order in Orleans will mirror the state's Phase-3 measures in many ways, but differ in some key ways.

The State of Louisiana will allow full capacity at houses of worship, while Orleans will continue to limit capacity, now it will be 75 percent of capacity with social distancing and mask guidelines required. 

We just need another couple months to get the vax numbers up to something more comfortable.  People should be able to handle that kind of an ask by now.  Opening everything now is specifically the thing these public health experts warned everybody not to do just one week ago. 

But the next few months in the pandemic are critical. Concern is growing over moves by some states to lift restrictions already, while new variants of the virus are on the rise in the U.S. Experts warn that actions taken now risk delaying getting back to some semblance of normal.

Health officials are urging restrictions to remain in place for the final stretch, saying that it will not be much longer before the situation markedly improves, and it does not make sense to lift all restrictions when widespread vaccinations are in sight.   

The President of the United States has characterized the rush to lift restrictions during this final stretch as "neanderthal mentality."  Most experts agree that we can expect to reach herd immunity from COVID when somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of the population has been vaccinated.  The CDC expects that to happen in about three months if we don't do anything stupid right now such as drop the emergency restrictions. 

Thomas Tsai, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that by summer, “I think we can have a much more, I don’t want to say normal, but at least a 'new normal' summer."

But experts warn that the return to normal could actually be delayed if restrictions are lifted too soon, causing a new spike in cases in the near term.

Tsai likened the current situation to the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. “Progress has been made; it’s OK to take stock of that,” he said. “How we play the next two innings determines if this is a single game or turns into a doubleheader.”

Sports analogies like that one are flying around this discourse right now.  We've heard it's the 7th inning, or the third quarter, or "maybe the end of halftime at a football game." But really the thing we would like to avoid right now is this. 

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According to this poll, a plurality of voters (34%) would prefer that restrictions remain in place until we reach 75 percent vaccinated and a majority (55%) would like to wait at least until we get 50 percent done. As of yesterday, CDC reports that just under 10 percent of the US population was currently vaccinated.  According to the Louisiana Department of Health, that number for Orleans Parish is 12.33%.  

So what are our local leaders doing with that information?  Well, first of all they are lying about it in their campaign emails.  But also they are throwing open the doors for all sorts of things that we really don't actually need to do right now.. especially with a new round of stimulus on the way.  Some days we really have to wonder if they are even want to end this thing.  In today's Advocate, Will Sutton writes that he wants to get back to hugging people again... but maybe not just yet.  

Yes, it’s true that the crackdowns have hurt us economically. And it’s true that far too many have lost jobs and income, adjusted, gross or otherwise. But I’m still seeing too many people not cooperating, and I’m not comfortable with guessing who out there has been vaccinated and who hasn’t. I know I’ll feel safer with more people fully vaccinated.

Let's take the guesswork anxiety out of this thing. It only takes a few more months.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Can we maybe wait like another month or so?

This morning I opened Twitter and saw that practically everyone who had fingers to post was posting that they are making appointments right now to get vaccinated. That is a thing that you do very much in fact love to see.  The surge comes as the governor announces a major expansion of eligibility to those over 16 years old who can claim any of a list of conditions some of which are quite expansive.  For example you can now get a vaccine appointment if you are a smoker or if you are "overweight" as measured by a BMI number that pretty much includes everyone. 

That's great news but it's a little bit sudden given what we had been hearing about vaccine supplies and various plans for "intentional" distribution strategies over the last few weeks. It's enough to cause one to wonder if there's even a bit of panic behind it

The expansion comes as Louisiana enters a familiar — and perhaps foreboding — stage of the now year-long pandemic: hospitalizations, deaths and the rate of positive tests have all plateaued after declining from a post-holiday surge. Paired with rising case counts of the more transmissible variant of the virus from the United Kingdom, health officials worry another spike is lurking around the corner.

“We’ve stopped improving, and in every previous instance when that has happened there was another surge,” Edwards said. “We are literally in a race against transmission of the virus —  especially the new variants.”

Why is it, then, that given all of this experience with "foreboding" plateaus and concern about the new variants, that the state and the city are once again rushing to relax precautionary restrictions?

New Orleans officials plan to announce details on eased coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday as cases in the city have slumped in recent weeks. 

"All the numbers are moving in the right direction, and we do anticipate an additional easement of the guidelines," said City Hall spokesperson Beau Tidwell during a press conference Tuesday.

Wait a minute, the governor just got finished saying the numbers had stopped moving in the right direction and plateaued. Which is it?  Anyway, if we really are in a "race against transmission of the virus," doesn't it make sense to keep doing everything we can to keep our opponent  in that race moving as slowly as possible?   Just keep the restrictions where they are until we get more people vaccinated.  It looks like the plan is for that to start happening quickly enough.  Plus a new federal stimulus bill is about to clear congress which, while not perfect, should be sufficient to keep things from falling completely apart in the meantime. We've waited a year. What's a few more months?

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Cancel Jim Bernhard's sorta sub-contract thingy

This wide ranging scandal at LSU involving systemic sexual misconduct and institutional cover-up is  pretty shocking. 

The 150-page report from law firm Husch Blackwell, which includes 100 additional pages of exhibits, is a damning indictment of LSU’s many failures in protecting its students.

Among its three key findings: LSU did not follow federal laws, best practices or even its own policies in cases of reported sexual misconduct; LSU’s athletic department incidents were not properly reported; and LSU has never appropriately staffed its Title IX office, which investigates such allegations.

Interim LSU President Tom Galligan released the report Friday to the LSU board of supervisors, describing it as “hard to hear and even harder to read” and pledging to right the many wrongs it illuminated. Galligan placed two athletic department employees on brief unpaid suspensions Friday, and he said LSU would adopt all 17 recommendations in the Husch Blackwell report.

The blame here goes all the way to the top.  Among the worst actors are former head football coach Les Miles and university administrators who tried to keep his actions quiet. It appears as though the institutional policy was to suppress any and every suggestion of sexual harassment or violence associated with the program.  

The Husch Blackwell report took a deep look at several incidents, including how LSU handled reports of sexual assaults from former star running back Derrius Guice, domestic violence from former wide receiver Drake Davis, reports of sexual harassment by Miles and dozens of other complaints involving other students and athletes.

In some cases, LSU took great pains to keep the bad behavior secret. When LSU engaged the local law firm Taylor Porter to conduct a sexual harassment investigation into Miles in 2013, for example, the university kept no file on the investigation and intentionally stored it off-site, Husch Blackwell found.

One example not cited in today's article was the subject of another report back in November. Multi-gagillionaire and LSU booster Jim Berhard played a major role in these cover-ups.  

When LSU Police investigated allegations in 2018 that a football player was abusing the tennis player he was dating, multiple witnesses told officers they were afraid of coming forward because they feared repercussions from influential Baton Rouge businessman and Democratic political donor Jim Bernhard.

Bernhard is mentioned by name in seven separate instances in police reports about former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis’ abuse of LSU tennis player Jade Lewis, who has recently spoken out publicly for the first time. Bernhard, the wealthy chief executive officer of Bernhard Capital Partners and former CEO of the Fortune 500 contracting firm known as The Shaw Group, took in Davis when he was growing up and helped raise him.

Had the university taken any of these multiple scandals as seriously as it claims to be taking them now, it would have cut ties with Bernhard a long time ago.  Instead, just last month, it announced a deal (cut in secret) to grant his company a lucrative piece of a major facilities contract.    

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

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

Enwave will pay Louisiana Energy Partners — the name of the joint venture between Bernhard LLC and Johnson Controls — directly, instead of LSU paying both entities, Ballard said.

Prior to the deal, the Bernhard group and Enwave had been competitors for the whole contract. Bernhard was so intent on getting it, in fact, he had to turn down a position he figured he had already purchased. 

Two months before LSU started negotiating with Bernhard and Enwave, Gov. John Bel Edwards offered Jim Bernhard an appointment to the LSU Board of Supervisors. But Bernhard, a major supporter of the governor and political donor to the Democratic Party, turned down the seat without explanation.

Sitting on the LSU board would have prohibited him from doing business directly with the university.

That bit about "doing business directly with the university" is interesting. It raises the question as to whether Bernhard's arrangement to be paid by Enwave leaves the door open for him to take that Board of Supervisors' seat after all.  

It's clear he expects the Governor owes him. People with even longer memories will recall that there had been rumblings in 2019 that Bernhard was considering challenging John Bel for reelection that year. But it turned out that those ambitions were sated by... another massive state contract.  

Louisiana will enter into a complex agreement that could lead to the widespread privatization of energy systems at state agencies and universities throughout the state, after lawmakers reviewed the deal for a final time Tuesday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration struck the deal with LA Energy Partners, a joint venture between Johnson Controls Inc. and Bernhard Energy Solutions, one of several companies controlled by Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard.

And now, of course, comes the LSU deal and.. maybe still the possibility of a seat on the board.  All of this for one of the worst enablers of a system of abuse that runs through the entirety of the school administration and athletic department. If no action is taken against Bernhard now, what does that say about LSU's commitment to putting any of this right?  What, in fact, does it say about the Governor's responsibility as well?

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Radio silence

The teachers at Bricolage Academy have formed a union associated with the United Teachers of New Orleans. This makes Bricolage only the the third school to unionize over the course of the decade and a half since UTNO's contract was torn up by the state. After the flooding associated with Hurricane Katrina that destroyed the city, some 7,000 teachers who made up the heart of the city's Black middle class, were summarily fired by the district. During the decade plus since, the balkanized and semi-privatized charter system has proven an effective obstacle to reestablishing worker power in the schools.  One might even say that is the entire point of the move in the first place.  Which may be one reason the Bricolage administration is having trouble knowing just what to say about this development.  

Board President Yvette Jones and Bricolage CEO Troave Profice did not respond to multiple requests for comment asking whether they supported the endeavor.


Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Gator blood on Fridays

The oddball Catholicism of New Orleans is so ingrained in the city's routines that it's ironically easy to forget about. I mean, yes, there are many ways in which it is obvious. But most of the time it is like background radiation subtly influencing the events, culture and politics that affect everyone here regardless of one's own personal faith.  

But sometimes it just blows up in great big mushroom plumes. Consider the 2011 funeral of Archbishop Hannan. Thousands of people turned out in the streets to watch a massive procession of marching bands and celebrities and politicians that practically shut down the city.  

People also stood or sat on the ground watching the final farewell to Hannan, who was the most active of the city's archbishops for his 23 years, and remained active during his retirement.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, state and parish lawmakers were among the mourners as was Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Among the honorary pall bearers were former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Xavier University president Norman C. Francis.

Boggs, 95, said she had been friends with Hannan for many years and said he would have been thrilled with the ceremony.

"When I was a member of congress he came often to Washington," Boggs said. "He would have loved the service today."

Consider Boggs' funeral a few years later in that same Cathedral where the Mayor of New Orleans delivered this performance.

Consider also the peculiar rituals kept by the current mayor in her City Hall office.  In fact, here is a product you can order to celebrate her expression of faith.

There's plenty of other stuff to cite. Real 80s kids out there will remember this deep cut

In 2010 there was much rejoicing when the Archbishop granted area communicants this very special Lenten dispensation

Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but seafood is allowed. Three years ago, when Jim Piculas was trying to settle a debate among his friends about whether gator qualified as seafood, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of New Orleans to ask.

His letter must have been pretty zealous, because not long after he wrote it, he got a response from Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond saying: "Yes, the alligator's considered in the fish family, and I agree with you — God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana, and it is considered seafood."

Mysteries of the faith continue to abound, however. Because while we see the Archdiocese is willing to indulge the gustatory covetousness of the flock, it turns out this week, that it is less permissive with regard to their means of healing.

The day after the Federal Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization to a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, the Archdiocese of New Orleans issued a statement urging Catholics to choose, if they can, the other two available vaccines.

According to a statement released Sunday morning, the archdiocese instructs Catholics “that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing.”

The statement says that the decision to take that vaccine “remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider.”

I suppose we should commend the Archdiocese on its refreshingly "pro-choice" approach to the question.  Trouble is, it's not even a question anybody asked.  The Vatican has already told Catholics worldwide that it is "morally acceptable" to take the J&J shot if it is what is offered.  This message is echoed by bishops in Lafayette and Baton Rouge as well as by our very Catholic Governor who had this to say. 

"You do have to weigh this with the common good of ending a pandemic," Edwards said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "There's an imperative that we do this. The fastest way to do this is to deploy all of the vaccines and have the uptake of the vaccine be as great as possible. ... I'm encouraging everyone out there to take the first vaccine that is available to them whether it's Pfizer or Moderna or whether its Johnson & Johnson."

So, if you are a practicing Catholic in New Orleans, you have it on very good authority that the life saving medicines on offer do not simultaneously pose any threat to your soul. Instead consider them in the terms Archbishop Aymond used to describe the alligator. These medicines are "magnificent creatures" created for you to use. 

Someday, in fact, the next such.. um.. miracle may be derived from the blessed gator itself!

Chemists in Louisiana found that blood from the American alligator can successfully destroy 23 strains of bacteria, including strains known to be resistant to antibiotics.

In addition, the blood was able to deplete and destroy a significant amount of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Study co-author Lancia Darville at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge believes that peptides—fragments of proteins—within alligator blood help the animals stave off fatal infections.

In which case, we expect, that not only would the Archdiocese approve of such a drug, they would also permit it to be administered during Lent.