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Sunday, April 05, 2020

63 yards at sea level

The biggest asterisk in the NFL record book, IMO.
The Denver Broncos' Matt Prater bested Dempsey with a 64-yarder in 2013 — 43 years after Dempsey unleashed his cannon-shot opposite Lions' defenders who had been laughing at what they believed to be an impossible attempt.

Before Prater's kick, three others had also hit 63-yarders over the years.

Prater's kick came in the thin air of Denver, 5,000-feet above sea level, as had those by two of the players who tied Dempsey's mark.
Also, we're all living under unusual circumstances now in the Time Of The COVID. But New Orleans hasn't been completely erased from the world yet. It will be someday. And it will be missed.
As a rookie in 1969, Dempsey delivered an All-Pro season but was cut by the Saints in 1971 after missing seven of eight kicks during preseason, which he attributed to falling out of shape while being treated to countless drinks and meals after his historic kick. But he rebounded and played for several other teams — the Eagles, Rams, Oilers and Bills — before retiring following the 1979 season
Anyway,  RIP, Tom. Prior to 2006, there were only a handful of moments that Saints fans were fond of claiming to have witnessed in person.  And of those, Dempsey's kick was one of the few that was a genuinely good moment and not some ironically cherished mind boggling failure.  "Only 80s kids will remember" a time when the story of this one regular season field goal was passed down to you as a sacred prize of your cultural heritage. It was the franchise's single greatest achievement all the way up until 1987.

I was pleased to find this relatively clear video of the kick on YouTube last night. The footage I grew up seeing was always a lot grainier.




Even when we include the 2009 season NFC Championship and Super Bowl  in the mix, there isn't anything in Saints history that surpasses Dempsey as a pure moment save for one.  And as fate would have it, ESPN is replaying that tomorrow night.

Failed states

Every state and municipal government is teetering on the brink of fiscal calamity right now. This is, to say the least, not an ideal circumstance to face in the midst of a public health crisis. It's also a direct result of the health crisis, of course, and should be treated as such. So far, unfortunately,  the response to this symptom is no better than any other aspect of the disastrous federal response to COVID 19.

The Republican initiated CARES Act passed in Congress last week provides massive unaccountable bailouts to large banks and corporations. It presents small businesses with a morass of SBA technicalities to tangle with. And it gives workers little more than pocket change.  There is money in there designated for the states as well. But it's already obvious that will hardly be enough to meet the costs they'll incur fighting the disease and doesn't even begin to address the crippling budget shortfalls to follow.

This much is clear already. And that's before most states even understand the strings attached to the funds they've been granted. Louisiana will receive $1.8 billion from the CARES Act. But legislators aren't yet sure how they'll be allowed to spend it.
What Louisiana budget drafters are trying to figure out is if the money coming from Washington, D.C., could displace some of the dollars the state already had slotted, thereby freeing money to use elsewhere in the state budget.

The general understanding is that federal money can be used to pay COVID-19 expenses — and not to replace state revenue losses.
Now that the legislative session has already been postponed, there's even less time to sort this out.   Louisiana faces so much uncertainty because its budget depends heavily on oil and gas production and on sales taxes. With suddenly oil down at pre-2003 prices tourism at a standstill, and consumer activity limited to bare necessity shopping, the whole of state govenrment looks like it's about to crash. 

But the one thing lawmakers should not do is panic. They may be faced with a crisis within a crisis, but they should know also so is every state. A global pandemic is threatening to cost the US hundreds of thousands of lives, potentially.  50 failed states cannot cope with the ramifications of that. And so the states cannot be allowed to fail. Louisiana legislators should assume they won't be. If the uncertainty persists over the summer, they can pass a standstill budget and muddle though to next year.

Either way Congress will have to act again. We don't know when that will be but when they do there are already plans for what that action can look like.  And shoring up state and municipal budgets will have to be a top priority.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Quote of the week

If we can get only one big win out of the post-COVID New Orleans political war, bringing the Convention Center heel would be pretty nice one to have. What's interesting about this board meeting is it sounds like there is caution (or at least embarrassment) over the fact that their big hotel project is still proceeding.  But one also gets the sense that nobody knows how to halt its momentum.
“My bigger point is, I want to make sure we’re thinking about this before we go put up $80 million, $90 million or whatever it is in site costs and other things,” Berni said. “The demand side is going to be different. It’s like post-9/11 or post-Katrina, we’re just living in a different world.”

But Convention Center President and General Manager Michael Sawaya told Berni and the rest of the board that the projects weren’t on pause, at least behind the scenes. Although the virus and related government restrictions have pushed back certain public-facing benchmarks and votes, negotiations with private developers have forged ahead.

In a meeting this week, Sawaya again reported that negotiations on the hotel deal, which were expected to be done in January, were ongoing and that the center’s attorneys were working on a counter-offer that they hoped to send to the developers this week.
At least they're sensitive to the public impression all of this makes.  The tide had been turning against the Convention Center in the months before the virus crisis. But now the emergency has caused longstanding questions about what it does with the hundreds of millions of dollars in public money it is sitting on to gain even more potency. 

And now look what's happening.  I don't think we'd have ever seen a statement like this from a sitting New Orleans City Councilmember before now.
“This whole thing reeks,” Councilwoman Kristin Palmer said in a Thursday phone interview.

“Why do we want to create something that’s going to take away from existing businesses? Because it very well could. I don’t understand what they’re trying to do. Are they trying to create this district that’s like Disney World with the Convention Center so people never have to leave?”

That, she said, would defeat the whole purpose of the Convention Center: to attract visitors (and their highly coveted out-of-town cash) and fill up existing hotels and businesses.

“These tourist leaders, these hospitality leaders are saying, ‘We need a whole other thing to attract people to this city,’ ” she said. “I call bull on that. We have so many things that we aren’t marketing that we already have. … We need to flip the script. We need to define tourism on our own level.
I want to know more about what Kristin thinks we need to "market" differently.  It still sounds like she may think this is question of selling out smarter or something.  But we'll come back to that.  Leaving that aside, this is good to see.  It's about thirty years too late. But it's still good. 

Friday, April 03, 2020

Work lists

Delusions.  
New Orleans’ tourism-dependent economy will remain shut down until at least June, business leaders said Thursday, with no one able to say with certainty when it will fully reopen.

“Based on the fact that the governor has extended the stay in place order until April 30 and we are nowhere near our peak [in infections] in New Orleans, it will be well into May and probably June before the stay-in-place order is released and we start to go back out,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans & Co., which promotes tourism. “For tourists, we’re not anticipating anything until August or September. Our industry is just watching carefully and making sure we watch every health protocol.”
Ha ha, what?  Do they mean June of next year?  Because really even that seems optimistic. But when you are Stephen Perry and your business is basically marketing, you are trained to believe that real wealth is created entirely through perception management.  In a way it's hard to blame Perry for thinking that. It's certainly made him rich, anyway.  But it's also a chronically blinkered way of understanding what's going on out there. And it's why New Orleans's tourism ownership class should be the last people anyone turns to for policy advice right now. (Too late, I know.)

What will it take to "restart the economy?" The longer we go without providing the millions of suddenly jobless Americans a means of support during the shut down, the harder it will be.  There is a plan to do this but Congress left it sitting on the shelf before they adjourned for (at least) the rest of April. In the meantime we'll just keep handing all the money we print over to large corporations and  investment banks with little or no accountability as to what they do with it.
Neither Fed nor Treasury officials would comment on the record. But the Fed quietly began to signal its discomfort with onerous conditions on Monday when it unveiled the terms of two new corporate credit programs that are likely to play a significant role in the bailout. One had no restrictions on how borrowers can use the money, while the other had extremely mild limits on stock buybacks and dividends, and only for firms that defer their loan payments.

Those two programs represent an extraordinary escalation in fighting the crisis, empowering the Fed for the first time to buy investment-grade corporate bonds and financial instruments backed by corporate bonds, with the potential to expand to even riskier corporate debt once the Treasury injects some bailout funds as a backstop.

But while the programs don’t look like the “Trump slush fund” some Democrats feared, they don’t look like the worker-first initiatives some Democrats promised. Unlike the CARE Act’s separate $360 billion small business bailout, they impose no requirements that the beneficiaries use the money to retain their employees. And unlike the 2008 bank bailout, they impose no limits on executive pay.
It's important to understand that this favoritism toward Wall Street is a deliberate policy choice. We could be doing things very differently.  The same "money printing" process the Fed employs now to float trillions of dollars out to banks could be used to put cash in the hands of ordinary Americans who very badly need it right now.  Economist Stephanie Kelton briefly explained this in a column for the Intercept last week.
Think back to 2019, when the political conversation centered around the Democratic presidential primaries and whether we could afford the kinds of ambitious spending proposals being pushed by Sanders or Warren. Neither of them admitted it at the time, but Congress could have canceled student loan debt, lowered Medicare’s eligibility age to zero, or paid to make public colleges and universities tuition-free simply by writing a bill that sent one set of instructions to the Fed. Spending or not spending money is always a political choice. 

That’s not to say that Congress can authorize multitrillion-dollar spending bills left and right without ever building in offsets to subtract dollars out of the economy. There are limits.

But the limits aren’t financial. Uncle Sam can’t run out of dollars. The U.S. government is the issuer of our currency — the U.S. dollar — which means that, unlike Greece, it can never find itself in a situation in which it has bills coming due that it can’t afford to pay. Remember, Greece gave up its sovereign currency — the drachma — and started borrowing in what is effectively a foreign currency — the euro — when it joined the Economic and Monetary Union in 2001. That’s why it (and other) countries in the eurozone experienced a debt crisis and countries like Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. did not. 

So what are the limits for a currency-issuing government like the United States? The answer is inflation. The government can’t run out of money, but it can run out of things to buy (including labor). We are constrained by our real resources — i.e. our technical know-how and the available supply of workers, factories, machines, raw materials, and so on. As long as the economy isn’t already operating at full capacity, then it is reasonable for Congress to send just one set of instructions to the Fed.
This is the point that gives lie to every conservative and neoliberal trope about "how you pay for it." What we're really bounded by is how much the economy can produce and for whom. What Kelton is saying there is we can keep printing money until we produce enough stuff to match it. The money gun is real. It's just that the choices we make about where to target it are meant to prop up the status quo rather than benefit most Americans.

Instead the biggest cash infusion into the economy will support destructive activities.  Here's how that could end up affecting the New Orleans economy in June whenever it is ready to go back to business. 
In Louisiana, four dozen hotels — ranging from some of the largest, well-known brand names in New Orleans, like the Hyatt Regency, to budget roadside inns in Lake Charles — are financed by a total of $1.1 billion of the kind of loans that can make them the potential prey for so-called vulture investors, who specialize in targeting businesses during troubled times.

The loans, called commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, differ from traditional bank mortgages in that they are pooled together, converted into bonds and sold to investors, such as hedge funds or pension managers.

That means that instead of dealing with a traditional bank when there are payment problems, hotel owners with these loans must answer to "special servicers" who represent only the interest of the bond investors.
What this means is several New Orleans hotels could find themselves vulnerable to private equity firms who specialize in carving up companies with financial vulnerability, selling off their assets, and putting their employees out of work. It's similar to what happened to Bayou Steel last year. The result is more workers are left to fend for themselves.

No worries, though. Here comes Bill Cassidy to help. In this Wall Street Journal op-ed Cassidy (along with Christopher Mores) plans to get everyone back to work sooner than later by putting them on a list.
To restart the economy, the government needs to set up coronavirus-immunity registries. At the same time, widespread testing is necessary to document immunity in those who haven’t fallen sick. A recent report from China found that 100% of patients tested two weeks after symptoms cleared had antibodies for the coronavirus. Recovering from a known coronavirus infection or having a positive antibody test is likely to indicate immunity lasting for at least some time. Those who so demonstrate that they are immune can be allowed to return to work. The whole community is freer when herd immunity is established.

Dr. Cassidy is well aware that the science on "herd immunity" to COVID 19 still has a long way to go. One "recent study from China" doesn't get you there. "Immunity lasting for at least some time" is vague, also. At this point we still don't know how long any acquired immunity lasts.  But the "allowed to return to work" is the real kicker. What he means is "compelled."

And that is what all of these policy choices taken together add up to. 10 million newly unemployed Americans' lives are meant to be kept as precarious as possible so that there will be plenty of compliant labor available when we get "back to business." We run the big money printer for Wall Street firms. We attach labyrinthine thickets of red tape to small business loans. And we give working people $1200 maybe 5 months from now.  But, hey, at least we'll have a list of who is "allowed" to work. That's real progress.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Willful

The long awaited OSHA report on the Hard Rock collapse is now public.  Citations are issued to 10 different companies involved in the work which gives an idea of the systemic nature of the problem. One would think such comprehensive negligence would implicate the developer and general contractor.  But thanks to the acrobatic legalese of construction projects, they may or may not be held directly liable.

Anyway according to this article, OSHA points its most emphatic finger at Heaslip Engineering.
The OSHA citations include a "willful" violation filed against Heaslip for including steel connections that were "inadequately designed, reviewed or approved, affecting the structural integrity of the building." OSHA defines a willful violation as one in which "the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety."
Because I'm sure people are wondering, state dept of ethics filings show Heaslip Engineering and its owner James Heaslip have made campaign contributions to John Bel Edwards, Billy Nungesser, Joe Lopinto, Scott Walker, and John Young.  That's statewide office holders and some Jefferson Parish people.  I didn't see any contributions to New Orleans office holders BUT keep in mind this is just me doing a quick and dirty search. Also they do contribute to the New Orleans Home Builders Association which is a catch all construction PAC that spreads money around to everybody.

Also, in 2019, Heaslip was recognized by City Business for professional contributions to "Excellence in Construction and Real Estate" which is nice.

10 million non-essential workers

Congratulations to everyone on the new opportunity.
A staggering 6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus outbreak continued to ravage nearly every corner of the American economy, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The speed and scale of the job losses is without precedent. In just two weeks, the pandemic has left nearly 10 million Americans out of work, more than in the worst months of the last recession. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.
There is a line of thought that suggests, since that's 10 million people who are about to find out just how shitty the "social safety net" really is, that maybe this will be a moment when we re-think the way we treat one another in this country.

Don't count on that, though.  It might surprise some to find out how fast the political narrative gets to, "Why can't these 10 million people looking for handouts just learn to code?"  It will come quick.  That's what this whole fight was about.  Republicans aren't going to budge on any of this stuff. They're getting ready to fight "World War IV" over it. 
Stephen Moore, a former Trump senior adviser now with the conservative pro-business Committee to Unleash Prosperity, said he envisioned major problems for Congress in reaching an agreement. He said that while the economy will likely need another large cash infusion to recover, Democrats pushing more spending will clash with Republicans eager to use tax cuts instead, such as suspending employers’ payroll tax like Trump has proposed.

“This will be World War IV,” he said. This would be Congress’ fourth bill addressing the virus and the collapsing economy.
The casualties are already sky high.

The day the rent stood still

Well here we are at the first turn of a new month in the Time Of The Covid. Rent is due. How many are able to pay?  Even after three emergency acts of Congress and a few local declarations meant to protect renters, the answer is probably not as many as you may think. The emergency net we've thrown up has many holes.

The recently passed federal stimulus "CARES" act includes a ban on evictions and late fees that extends only until the end of July. After that, there's nothing to stop anyone being told to pay back rent or else. On top of that, the federal ban only applies to properties receiving federally backed mortgages or government subsidies.  If your landlord owns the building outright, you are on your own.  For the time being, renters in New Orleans are protected by a temporary postponement of eviction hearings in the City Courts until April 24.  The Governor has also suspended evictions statewide until April 13. Both of those dates will likely be extended but probably not for very long.

In the meantime, a lot of people are still being evicted through extra-legal means. Landlords are either sending out threatening notices or just physically locking tenants out of buildings.  If this is happening to you, by the way, you may try contacting Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, or the City Office of Community Development. Beyond that, though, homeowners and renters facing foreclosure or eviction have only inadequate protections which may or may not be extended on a month to month basis.

The only way to provide a more reliable form of relief is for Congress to step back in with a "Phase IV" stimulus bill. The previous efforts have done nothing to provide Americans with the certainty they will need to make it through the 12-18 months before we expect a COVID vaccine could be available. Only the federal government can do this. That's where the big money gun is. We just haven't fired it in the right direction yet.

As long as no one is sure when they'll be able to work, people are going to need an income. The plan to get it to them already exists. We just need to make it happen.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), for example, proposed giving everyone $2,000 on prepaid debit cards, then $1,000 per month until a year after the public health emergency subsides. Recurring payments had been a Democratic priority the party was unable to achieve in the bill that passed last week.
Unfortunately the designs for this and other necessary expanded safety net spending have become mired in the latest iteration of the perpetually doomed "Infrastructure Week" package. We don't have time to wait, though.

Right now state and local governments are expected to expand services and maintain staffing levels while tax revenues plummet. they're going to need emergency funding.  Louisiana will get $1.8 billion from the CARES Act. We're all but certain that won't be enough.  The City of New Orleans expects to find itself with a $100 million budget deficit by the end of the year. Of the state's $1.8 billion, how much will be available to address the city's needs?  Right now it isn't clear if the city is guaranteed any of it.
The centerpiece of the state aid is the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, which state, tribal, and local governments can use this year to meet costs connected to the virus. Each state will receive at least $1.25 billion — though the District of Columbia will only receive about $500 million — while the most populous states (California and Texas) will receive over $10 billion each, we estimate.  In most states, a portion of the funding will go to local governments serving populations over 500,000. Tribal governments will receive $8 billion.
New Orleans's current population is probably not even 400,000 (fill out your Census form, by the way) so it's very likely we're all at the mercy of the state government. Whenever the legislature manages to reconvene, we'll talk about that then.

But hey do you know who does have $100 million just sitting around right now?  That's right. It's our friends at the Convention Center. The times being what they are right now, though, you can't just have a stash like that doing nothing without somebody taking notice.
A coalition of 21 local unions, advocacy organizations and other groups are calling on the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center to release $100 million out of its unrestricted cash reserves to support hospitality industry workers who are out of work due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Convention Center has recently reported somewhere between $185 million and $215 million in unrestricted reserves, which it has accumulated through the collection of locally generated hotel, food and beverage taxes. In 2018 and 2019, those collections exceeded $65 million.

Convention Center officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story, including questions about the current value of its reserves.
Ha ha I'm sure they didn't.  Hell they just spent all of last year fighting with (well, okay more like doing a Kabuki play with) the mayor over whether or not this particular pile of money ought to be paying for city infrastructure repairs. Thanks to Walt Leger's work in the legislature, they got to hang onto it after all.  Guess what Walt Leger does now.
Accompanying the report on the rapid deterioration in the Convention Center's business outlook, on Tuesday board president Melvin Rodrigue said he would be stepping down from the position he has held since 2008.

Rodrigue, president and chief executive of Galatoire's, was recently elected as chair of the National Restaurant Association, a powerful lobbying group that has been pushing for relief measures for its hard-hit members. He has been in talks with the governor since late last year about a successor, he said Tuesday.

He will be replaced by Walt Leger III, a former state representative and the current general counsel for New Orleans & Co.
So is Walt going to turn around now and just give away all the money he earned his current job working so hard to secure?  Doesn't seem like it. But if service workers are still out of work, and rent keeps coming due month after month, and if no one in D.C. has fired off the money gun, then relief has to come from somewhere.  And seeing as how that $100 - $200 million was gathered off the backs of the very workers asking for it now, well, it looks like they've probably got dibs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A safety net in name only

Who could have predicted anybody would ever actually need this?  Anybody who counts, obviously. I mean there are scores of people we're used to treating like garbage every day. Not you.  But, wait, what if that was suddenly you? What then?
The stimulus bill is providing $600 per week through July 31 to both salaried and independent workers who are jobless — an amount that dwarfs the maximum state payment of $247 per week. But they have to complete an application successfully for unemployment benefits to the Louisiana Workforce Commission to be eligible for the federal aid.

Ava Dejoie, the commission’s secretary, acknowledged the ongoing problems faced by applicants, saying the flood of jobless people was beyond anyone’s expectations.

“No one was prepared for this,” Dejoie said in an interview. “The systems were not built for this amount of capacity because this was the unthinkable.”
"No one was prepared" for the day when a lot of unemployed people would need sign up for unemployment.  Also we never considered that benefits should actually be sufficient sustain anyone. Who would have thought the social safety net would actually have to keep people safe? As it is we only have capacity to do that until August.  Assuming the website is working by then.

Yes, the COVID crisis is a large event but, really, this should never happen. Still, many Louisianians have been struggling with insufficient benefits dispensed through a clunky website for years without anyone taking enough notice to care. We'd love to say that's going to change after this. But we know it probably won't.  These systems exist specifically because they keep peoples' lives precarious and workers compliant. Reversing that is going to be a heavy political lift.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Oh yeah that's still going on too

The high river situation we experienced last year is still happening and may be yet another one of those new normals you always hear about.
The vulnerabilities of current water management practices on the Mississippi River were readily apparent in water year 2019, when the unprecedented amount of water had a variety of effects, including stressing ecosystems and contributing to shipping accidents and disruptions. The water level was still elevated in July 2019 when Hurricane Barry moved into the Gulf and threatened to compound the situation with storm surge, which could have been catastrophic. The high water has continued into this year. In fact, as of 28 February, the Mississippi River had already exceeded the critical 4.6-meter monitoring threshold on 21 days in water year 2020, compared with 16 days by the same date in water year 2019. Since 1990, there have been only five water years (1991, 2005, 2016, 2019, and 2020) with more than 1 day above the 4.6-meter stage by 28 February. And with extremely high antecedent soil moisture and abnormally high snowpack throughout the Missouri River Basin this year, along with record precipitation regionally, the expectation is for yet more flooding along the lower Mississippi.
They're already planning to open the Bonnet Carre this week perhaps.  Please do not gather in large groups to watch.
In anticipation of the spillway opening, St. Charles Parish announced that because of the coronavirus physical distance restrictions, the Wetland Watchers Park and three spillway boat launches will be closed at noon Thursday. The opening itself will not be open to the public, and no access will be provided to the viewing site, officials said.

Oh yeah that's still going on

Well we were gonna blow it up. Then we were gonna take it apart. Then we were gonna blow it up again. Then the world went all to shit so we're back to arguing now.
The demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans is once again in limbo, with the city and the developers behind the project at loggerheads over how to bring down the partially-collapsed structure that has remained virtually untouched for five months.

City officials and 1031 Canal Street Development, the firm led by developer Mohan Kailas that was building the project, are each pushing different contractors and different methods of knocking down what remains of the 18-story building and retrieving the bodies of two workers that are still buried in the rubble.
The insurer says it's too expensive to implode so the developer wants to go back to piece-by-piece demo. The city wants to do the implosion and make the developer pay for it. It's not clear what the end game strategy is now.  The thinking had been the developers want the whole lot plus adjacent buildings they own cleared away because that would make the block more attractive for resale. 

But now, who knows.  Who knows what any land is worth right now, anyway.

Literally spreading the virus to own the libs

My understanding is this pastor has continued to hold large church services in defiance of the quarantine orders because he wants to trigger one of those "religious free speech" lawsuits. So, you know, the death cult energy is strong theses days.  Anyway, we're told, that's why the police have been slow to act. But enough is enough.
Tony Spell, the Central pastor who has defied government orders to limit crowds to 50 people or fewer, said he met with law enforcement officials Tuesday morning and had “his rights read and been fingerprinted” for an as yet unspecified charge.

A spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran was expected to take actions Tuesday in connection with Spell.
Of course it's also not a great idea to be arresting anybody right now for any reason.  If Mr. Spell wants to go home can call his lawyers that's fine as long as he stops jamming hundreds of people into a big room for a while.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Don't get too used to it

For those of us who have been wondering for a while now what it would take to convince RTA to try going fare-free. We now know the answer is a global pandemic.
Public transit systems in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are waiving fares for riders beginning Sunday due to continued coronavirus concerns in Louisiana, officials said.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority announced Friday it will no longer charge for bus, streetcar and ferry services. But, it is also reducing the number of routes it will service.
It would be great if someone suggested we try and keep this going permanently but we know that isn't going to happen. What is going to happen when/if things ever return to "normal" is we are going to start hearing from wealthy people in charge of things that many of our nice ideas about public goods and services "just aren't possible anymore" because of the broken economy.  We began 2020 pushing for free college and healthcare but we will end it being told we can't even afford buses anymore.

Hey thank goodness we saved the airlines, though.

Oh no not the brand

This week the governor made the Convention Center available for use as a field hospital as the city continues to overflow with COVID patients. The plan is to ramp up capacity there to as many as 3,000 beds. The supplies necessary to accomplish this are still running short.  Supposedly this is a situation that should be made easier by the President's (rather late) disaster declaration but you never know what might happen if he doesn't feel adequately "appreciated."  Fortunately, he seems to think our governor is a "very good" boy. For now, anyway.

The board members, on the other hand, seem to have concerns.
For the Convention Center board, the idea brought back some bad memories from after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levee system, when the building was used as a shelter of last resort.

“We all see the convention center as the last resort,” Rodrigue said. “We know what it meant to try to come back from tragic images and what it meant for the brand of tourism in New Orleans after Katrina.”
How did "the brand" do after Katrina?  Fifteen years later, how was the tourism business doing in New Orleans?  Pretty well, right?  Too well, maybe.  Mardi Gras 2020 may seem centuries in the past right now but it was only a few weeks ago that the main topic in town was figuring out what went wrong with this year's celebration fraught as it was with tragedy and mishap.  Just as the virus panic was about to ramp up in New Orleans, The Lens published this Carnival retrospective by Jules Bentley. It's a shame the plague caused our attention to veer away so quickly because Jules's point, that over-tourism is killing us and our most cherished event, is something we should have had more time to talk about. This excerpt supplies the heart of his argument.
Mardi Gras brought New Orleans 700,000 visitors in 2006. It’s at least doubled since then. Multiple news organizations cite 1.4 million as the number of yearly Mardi Gras tourists these last few years, though it’s not clear to me where (or when) that figure originated. Since AirBnB hollowing out the city has made so many more tourist accommodations available, I’d expect the number has grown significantly past that.

The New Orleans tourism industry is thriving. It’s determined to keep attracting more tourists here; to succeed it must endlessly expand. Unfettered growth is the raison d’être of this powerful and heavily taxpayer-subsidized culture-extraction industry, the cause championed in its glossy promotional publications and schemed on in its secretive boards and colloquies.

Our city’s beautiful old streets are no wider than they ever were — certainly not to any degree commensurate with the growth of the masses filling them for Mardi Gras. As the yearly influx doubles and redoubles, the ancient, creaking infrastructure of New Orleans bows, groans and begins to give way.

Jamming 1.5 million humans into the same party space that struggled to accommodate half a million in 1970 is, put simply, unsafe. Like the workers killed in the Hard Rock Hotel, this year’s Carnival deaths can be viewed as not anomalous or exceptional but natural, built-in byproducts of an insatiable tourism industry that’s rendered our so-called city leaders handmaidens to its greed. The sloppy rush and corner-cutting on the deadly hotel was itself likely driven — though we’ll never know precisely to what proportion — by its profiteering developers’ declared desire to have it open by Carnival season.

Any so-called solutions that promise safer parade routes must admit and address this reality: New Orleans cannot physically accommodate our rate of tourist growth.
Prominent among those "secretive boards and colloquies" referred to above is the Convention Center leadership. While Jules is arguing that it is their brand in particular that is killing us, they are still resistant to helping save lives during the virus crisis because that might hurt the brand.
Board member Stephen Caputo asked it might be better for the Convention Center to put up some sort of incentive for hotels to take on the burden instead.

“This is our community and I think we’re all feeling it and want to help as much as we can,” Caputo said. “And I think we’re trying to temper that with our obligation to the center for its long term financial success, recognizing that if they show images of the Convention Center being turned into a hospital, it would hurt our brand.”
As the situation moves forward, it's important that we remember how this works.  We should be familiar enough having seen it before. The size of the recovery effort will be determined in Washington.  But the shape of our "recovery" is determined by decisions made by people like Rodrigue and Caputo as they carve out the shares. We already know what their priority will be.

We probably shouldn't allow people like that to choose what happens to the rest of us.  But there's little reason to be optimistic. Our track record isn't great, anyway.  On the other hand, maybe some of us have learned a few things from experience
The Convention Center has been discussed as a potential shelter during other hurricanes that have threatened New Orleans but Honoré said those discussions never went anywhere because of opposition from its board, a quasi-independent body. In the current crisis he said he believed the governor likely had to forge ahead over the board's opposition.

Convention Center officials and board members have declined repeated requests for comment about the possibility of using the facility as a field hospital.

There’s an attitude with this convention center board that we will not use the convention center to save our own people and they can go to hell,” Honoré said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Clusters

We keep seeing the word "cluster" used to describe multiple cases of COVID 19 positives discovered in one spot.  So far the state has identified six so-called clusters of cases in nursing homes where many individuals live together in more less confined close quarters.  This might be the last we learn about them.
A cluster is identified as two or more cases that appear to be connected.

But, the state said, it will no longer identify the facilities: "With the involvement of hospitals and multiple providers and the growth in cases of nursing home residents, the Department of Health will no longer be reporting where positive cases have been identified," the Department of Health said in a statement.
But the conditions that make them likely aren't too difficult to predict.  Which is why it's a good idea to take preventative measures while we can
In New Orleans, the public defenders’ motion was sweeping in its breadth. The agency called for the release of anyone in the jail whose age or poor health puts them at greater risk, all inmates held on misdemeanor charges, almost all inmates held on nonviolent charges, all inmates who are being detained on suspected parole violations and anyone within 30 days of finishing their sentence.

The request to release aged and sickly inmates would apply even to defendants awaiting trial on violent felony crimes.
Cannizzaro's statement in this article is set in sympathetic language but he still doesn't sound agreeable to helping.  Last week he sounded like he would be fine just locking up all the COVID cases in town like some sort of leper colony.  So maybe this is an improvement.

The bill is, perhaps, even worse than not great

They gave Mnuchin the power to unilaterally override the already meager restrictions on what happens to the corporate bailout money.
Final text of the bill has not been released, but according to a legislative draft, the new law would establish a $4.5 trillion corporate bailout fund overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with few substantive constraints. The bill permits bailed out companies to lay off up to 10% of their workforce over the next six months, with no restrictions thereafter. Mnuchin would have authority to waive any upside for the public in its new investments, and the bill’s restrictions on stock buybacks at bailed-out firms are too temporary to be significant. Bailed out companies could even pay dividends to their shareholders.
Meanwhile the people suffering the most from the "service-led recession," the service industry, cash only, or paycheck to paycheck workers being laid off with little prospect for work in the forseeable future, could have to wait as long as 4 months to receive their relief payment.

Meanwhile anyone filing for unemployment under the terms of the new bill should know Republican Senators are ashamed of you.
A handful of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to delay the $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill over a proposed increase to unemployment insurance.

In a statement, Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said that the bill could provide a "strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work" because some people could theoretically make more by being unemployed.
To begin with, this is not true. BUT, for the health and safety of the entire country,  it definitely should be true! No one is going to be safe from the virus until the spread is isolated or a vaccine is developed.  And because a vaccine is likely still over a year away, we have to stop the spread.  Since the only way to stop the spread is to keep as many people as possible from going to work then we'd better do everything we can to make sure they do not feel overly "incentivized" to do that.  Paying people to stay at home should be the top priority right now.  But the psychotic President wants to send everyone back to work by Easter so... well here we are.

The bill is not great

The $2 trillion "Phase 3" Congressional relief bill looks to be ready for passage.
The legislation, which is expected to be enacted within days, is the biggest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history, aimed at delivering critical financial support to businesses forced to shut their doors and relief to American families and hospitals.
Yay! A thing is happening! Unfortunately, the details of this  "biggest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history," at least as reported in this article indicate that it will probably not be enough.

The $1500 one time cash payments to individuals means tested to phase out after $75000 in household income is not nearly enough. It leaves hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people with no assurance of income through the crisis.  There are some silver linings in the bill such as expanded unemployment benefits, including a provision that unemployed workers, yes, even tipped and "gig" workers be paid 100% of their salary (up to $75,000.)  It would still be more efficient to distribute emergency aid directly to everyone.  For most people the assistance they receive will be a partial stop-gap, not a solution and certainly not enough to "stimulate" a sagging economy through increased demand. 

$150 billion in aid to state and local government is also not enough.  Every state and every city budget is completely busted right now. The feds will have to throw in at least 5 times that amount just to avoid hundreds of localized fiscal catastrophes. Our city and state, dependent as they are on oil and tourism revenues are particularly vulnerable so I'd like to know more about how this relief is meant to be distributed as well.

The bill also includes $350 billion in forgivable loans to small business also does not seem like enough. The loans are conditioned on maintaining employees on payroll but, again, this is nowhere near as effective as just giving people money directly, which is what should be happening. Small businesses are going to find themselves with revenue crunches and this taking on new debt (even if most of it is forgivable) isn't going to cover them.

Then there are the corporate bailout funds.  The article says this will be overseen by an inspector general and a panel of investigators. It also says there is a one year ban on stock buybacks which seems easy enough for the big money lawyers to work around and they will definitely work around it. Also I don't see anything about the government taking an equity stake in anything. We should be buying out most of these companies instead of bailing them out. Much of this money will be stolen.

This is not a great bill but it will likely be passed and enacted by Thursday at the latest

On to Phase 4...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

And on the third day... we all died

The Republican party is running a death cult
Even as nations from Britain to India declare nationwide economic lockdowns, President Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter,” less than three weeks away, a goal that top health professionals have called far too quick.

“I think it’s possible, why not?” he said with a shrug.
The purpose of this is to maintain the general terror under which most workers regularly are forced to accept oppressive or dangerous conditions for minimal pay and benefits.  It's what makes the world go round.

Adding:  How we square this timeline with reality in any way is beyond anyone's reason.
As the number of coronavirus cases in Louisiana continues to surge, Gov. John Bel Edwards warned federal officials the New Orleans area is on track to run out of its ability to deliver health care by April 4.

Edwards made the projection in a letter sent to the White House Monday, seeking a Major Disaster Declaration and federal aid to help Louisiana, which has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections per capita in the U.S.

"With our current rate of new virus cases, our hospital current capacity to successfully treat infected patients will be exceeded," Edwards wrote. "For the New Orleans area, the current projections of hospitalizations significantly exceed capacity beginning on April 4, 2020."
Easter Sunday is April 12.

Anyway, if you succeed at not catching the virus, make sure you buckle your seat belt. Don't run with scissors or anything like that.  Be safe.

Like trying to get blood from a pelican

Here is what decades of allowing the business lobby in Baton Rouge to write the laws and procedures for distributing unemployment benefits gets you.
The $216 paid in Louisiana is the 49th lowest amount in the country. Only Mississippi, at $214 per week, pays less. But Louisiana’s rate is actually lower when average wages are factored in, because wages in Louisiana tend to be higher.

Only 11% of unemployed workers actually receive unemployment insurance because of restrictions on who qualifies and perhaps because of the low amount they would receive. The 11% rate ranks Louisiana as 46th in the country.

“That’s a system that’s barely functioning,” Michael Leachman, senior director of state fiscal research for the CBPP, said in an interview. “Louisiana’s unemployment system is one of the weakest in the country, if not the weakest.”
Anyone who has had to deal with this miserly system will also tell you applicants must confront a confusing website where they must answer a series of intrusive questions meant to intimidate and shame them for having to request even this meager amount of assistance.  There is very little in person help available. Often people without internet access have to wait in line for computer time at a public library.  Those are all closed right now because of the virus.

Is the system "broken?" Well it is if you think it is supposed to help people. But really this is a prod meant to keep workers intimidated and compliant. And as we are seeing this week, some people think this is a necessary function,  even in the midst of a pandemic.

Every single thing is on fire

Not a great time to be without a fire department.
On Monday, 54 firefighters tested positive or received contact tracing notification that they have interacted with someone that has the virus. New Orleans Fire Department union president Aaron Mischler did not say how many have actually been diagnosed with COVID-19, but he did say at least four fire stations are without a sufficient amount of firefighters.
Kind of ironic when you recall the fire department wasn't allowed to participate in Mardi Gras this year which is when a lot of people suspect the "community spread" really started to happen.



Failed aristocrats

Without looking it up, let's see if we can name the wealthiest individuals in Louisiana. There's  Gayle Benson, Joe Cannizaro, Phyllis Taylor, Eddie Rispone. Probably Lane Grigsby is in there somewhere. Who else? Jim Bernhard? I can't think of a name right now. I'm sure it will come to me... 
The economic impacts of coronavirus have hit Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper. In a company wide email, The Advocate Publisher and President Judi Terzotis announced that all salaried employees and full-time hourly staff would be reduced to working four days a week, resulting in a twenty percent pay cut. The email also announced that “a number of our staffers will be temporarily furloughed.”

“Our world has turned upside down,” the email said. “It is a shame that a terrible economy requires these moves at the same time our importance to the community has risen. More people are reading our journalism, online and in print, than ever before.”
Seems like at this particular moment when the world is on fire and we are ruled by corrupt sociopaths and our city is a major epicenter of the crisis, you wouldn't want to go laying off reporters and cutting back on news production.  Unless, I guess, if you are one of the sociopaths.

I mean it certainly seems like people want to read about that stuff.  According to Kovacs and Terzotis, they do, anyway. 
Louisianians need accurate and unbiased coverage more than ever, and they are turning to us as never before. Online traffic on nola.com and theadvocate.com is running three to four times above normal.

The pace of new digital subscriptions has more than doubled in March, even though we are making our coronavirus coverage available free of charge as a public service.

Of course we know the news business isn't about selling the news to readers.  It's about selling the readers to advertisers.  And selling the readers to advertisers isn't as profitable as it used to be.  It's especially bad during this moment. But the current moment is extraordinary and, depending on what happens in Washington, it remains to be seen how bad and how lasting its effects will be. In the meantime, maybe the patrician overseer of the operation could throw in a little extra to help weather the storm. But that's not how any of this works.

We shouldn't be at the mercy of patricians like Georges.  Not in times like these or any other. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

"Lockdown"

Things are about to get a little bit weird.

Commander's Palace take out

At 5pm today, the governor's state wide "stay at home" order goes into effect. This is intended to get a handle on the virus's terrifying rate of spread in Louisiana which is projected to overwhelm health care capacity within the next week or so. While it's imperative that people do their best to stay put, it's worth noting that, once again, the actual rules the governor has put in place are not a significant change from the mayor's order on Friday. What this means, in practice, is that even as the public is advised to stay at home, many people, servers and kitchen staff at restaurants offering "take out" for example, are still at the mercy of their employers. Come to work under dubious circumstances or face the prospect of losing your job. Until (unless) Congress takes significant action to mitigate these fears, that is not going to change.

The problem is the Congress, especially the Republicans there, have no interest in relieving the pressure on people, even in the midst of a crisis. This thing where people have no choice but to put themselves and others in danger for the sake of a boss's or a landlord's profits, is a core feature of capitalism.  The Republican Senators playing a sinister game of chicken this morning over a federal relief package know this. In fact they are counting on it.
Hours after Senate Democrats blocked movement on a massive stimulus package Sunday evening, injecting fresh uncertainty over whether and when lawmakers will reach a bipartisan deal to deliver relief amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ramped up the pressure on Democrats.

Taking to the Senate floor late Sunday night, he announced another procedural vote on the package timed for 9:45 a.m. Monday — minutes after the stock market opens — but it was blocked by Democrats who don't want to be forced to take the vote.
 
"I think there's a good chance we'll have an agreement. But we don't need artificial deadlines. We will get this done. We will come in at noon and hopefully we will have an agreement by then," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who made the objection, said on the Senate floor.
 
McConnell blasted Schumer's move as reckless and warned the markets will now be open for three hours before they can get some certainty a stimulus bill will pass the Senate.
 
A vote in the Senate is now expected at 1 p.m.

McConnell's bill issues billions of dollars in bailout money to major corporations while restricting and stigmatizing the badly needed relief to Americans currently agonizing over the Hobson's choice of reporting to work in a dangerous pandemic or suffering job losses and evictions. Today his strategy is to use the crashing stock market as a "ticking time bomb" to force the Democrats into going along with his bailout plan. They should not fall for it.  There are tools the federal government has at its disposal  that allow it to send direct relief to people immediately. Rep. Waters outlined several of them last week.  Rep. Tlaib has submitted a bill that takes advantage of the Fed's power to send cash payments to people. But there are other actions the Congress can take to protect people which they should be moving on.  Above all the Senate must stop McConnell's cruel bill.  Signs are the Democrats (even the bad ones) are rallying to do that this morning.  Let's see how well they hold together.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans we will have to just sit tight and hope, and above all, stay home if possible. Trust me, if you go out, there's not much of anything to do. A short bike ride yesterday afternoon (while practicing strict "social distancing") confirms this. Aside from grocery stores and the occasional "take out" window, there isn't anything to see or do.

The front door is boarded up at Ms. Mae's.  There is speculation this is because nobody even knows if it locks. 

Ms Mae's

Other famously 24 hour operations like Igor's here are also shuttered.

Igor's

The French Quarter is a virtual ghost town of boarded up windows and empty streets all under an eerie silence.

Kingfish

Napoleon House

St. Peter Street side

Maison Bourbon

The people you are most likely to encounter are police and the city's numerous unhoused population who also are in dire need of protection.  The mayor says here that she has a plan for that.  Hopefully it is a good one.  No one should ever be left to live out on the streets in this absurdly wealthy country.  This shouldn't even be a problem but well, like a lot of things.....

Anyway, for those of you who can stay at home, stay at home. Leave the streets to the "crazy rats" for now.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Every state is busted

Whenever we get around to reconvening the legislature, the agenda is going to look a lot different than it did when everybody showed up a few weeks ago.
Now, mainly through phone conferences, budget architects are trying to figure out what to do about the $32 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year that they are constitutionally required to balance with available revenues or state government comes to a screeching halt on July 1.

The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said Thursday that Louisiana was one of the least prepared to weather the coronavirus impact because the state’s income is heavily dependent on taxes from now falling energy production and with services weakened by years of budget cuts.
With sales tax collections and oil revenues plummeting, it's tempting to go into an immediate panic. But there is some cushion. The state maintains an emergency reserve fund (known commonly as the "rainy day fund") that currently holds $409 million and the previous year's surplus is over $500 million.

But the bigger issue to keep in mind is this isn't just something that happened to Louisiana. It's happening to every state and local government in the country. There is going to have to be massive unprecedented aid to states from the federal govenrment.  We just don't know how big that will be yet.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. We’re going to get some federal dollars out of this,” said state Sen. Bodi White, the Central Republican in charge of the Finance Committee that considers the budget after it is approved by the Louisiana House. The question remains how much will the federal government send, what strings are attached and who on the state level can decide how the money is used.

White is also concerned about dollars reaching local governments, which have been paying police overtime during the crisis, among other expenses. Parish and municipal governments rely more on sales taxes than locals in other state do.
The legislature is *supposedly* going back to work on the 31st.  But whenever they do, it's important that their actions protect people from the effects of the crisis and not use it as an excuse to further gut the state's capacity to do good.  We'll learn more about the size and shape of the federal relief this week. But it's important to remember that, precisely because every state is in a similar situation now, the burden of relief will not fall solely on our state's lawmakers to solve.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Go to the youtubes

It's Saturday night at home again.  There's not much most of us can do about anything at the moment. Find something to read or watch.  Hey how about this.

Here is Huey delivering a radio address in 1935. He begins by going after FDR for not moving fast enough or radically enough while poking fun at him for hanging out on the Astors' yacht with the British royal family. Then he moves on to describe the worsening state of wealth inequality while criticizing various media entities who he points out have either had to eat their words on the subject or whose editorialists are often lying about the facts as reported in their own publications. Next he goes on to describe the tenets of the Share Our Wealth program. No one too rich, no one too poor. Everyone is entitled to a free education. Retirees over 60 should live in comfort. Veterans should be supported. (He's a bit off on the "debt" rhetoric.  Just mint the damn coin.)  Finally he lays a series of bible verses on us in support of all of the above.

Anyway it's good stuff if you want to spend half an hour in yesterday's calamity in order to take your mind off today's for a bit. Or maybe it's just a way to refocus.

Needless to say, this is not how you "go big"

Every single thing is on fire.  We have to choose, right now, whether we are going to fight the fire on behalf of every single person or if we are going to allow predators move about and swallow up the vulnerable during the chaos.  Mitch McConnell is a predator.
The 247-page McConnell CARES Act puts the leader’s imprint on opening talks with Democrats in Congress as lawmakers prepare to work through the weekend to fast-track perhaps the most urgent legislative undertaking since the 2008 financial crisis.

The negotiations are certain to encounter difficulties ahead, despite the pressure on Washington to act. Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow will meet behind closed doors with Senate leaders. Democrats say the Republican plan does not go far enough and some Senate Republicans object to certain provisions.

“We are beginning to review Senator McConnell’s proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers,” said a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
"McConnell CARES" They keep trying to tell us irony is dead but it's still very much our leading cultural product.  Just look at this shit.
Under the plan, the government would provide households an early tax rebate worth up to $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a married couple, with an extra $500 for each of their children. (So far, so good). The payments will be based on a household’s 2018 tax return, or if it didn’t submit one, their 2019 filing.

But the checks will shrink for both low and high earners. Americans with little to no tax liability (aka, poor folks) will only receive a minimum payment of $600, unless they earned less than $2,500, in which case they get zilch. Low-wage workers who don’t have a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019—adults generally aren’t required to file one they if earn less than the standard deduction—also won’t qualify for the early rebate. (They could still get it next year if they file taxes for 2020, but by that time it will be a bit late.) Meanwhile, the payments phase down for workers who make more than $75,000 and drop to zero for those making $99,000 and above (double those numbers for joint filers).
This is absolutely brutal. Friday, the state of Louisiana announced it received 47,000 new unemployment claims this week. A one time $1200 check helps absolutely none of these people. The nascent depression is said to be a "service-led" event. It is hitting waiters, cooks, bartenders hotel workers, performers, and so-called "gig economy" and informal cash economy workers first. The great majority of these workers are not eligible for severance or sick leave so they do not benefit from the emergency leave measures prioritized in congress earlier in the week.  Likely most of these people will fall within the "little to no tax liability" category which means they get even less direct aid than the targeted "middle class" recipients. In the midst of a crisis that is falling hardest on the poorest Americans, this is a bill that further punishes the poor.

Who will protect them?  We'd love to sit here and tell you the Democrats can do this. We know they've been advised by Rep. Maxine Waters as to how they should proceed.   The Waters memo (it's a policy memo and not yet incorporated into a bill) proposes substantial direct aid to individuals ($2,000 per month) with bailouts for state and local governments, Americans with student debt and the homeless.  McConnell wants to give poor and working class Americans almost nothing while handing multi-billion dollar bailouts to airlines and oil companies.

But so far the Democrats haven't moved on Waters' proposals. Instead they've been doing everything they can to help pull the process in McConnell's direction. In fact, the first voice raised in favor of limiting and "means testing" cash payments to workers wasn't McConnell's. It was Nancy Pelosi's.
In technical economic jargon, Pelosi wants to "means test" cash aid in response to coronavirus: Don't give the checks to everyone, but target them to the poorest people, by at least scaling up the checks for people further down the income ladder, or most likely phasing them out completely for Americans above a certain income threshold. Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, fleshed this point out further in a tweet: "The Speaker believes we should look at refundable tax credits, expanded [unemployment insurance] and direct payments — but MUST be targeted."

Means testing may seem reasonable. But it's actually not a great idea even in the best of times. And in a crisis situation like the social and economic lockdown necessitated by the coronavirus, direct and universal cash aid is one of the best single policy responses available. The fact that Pelosi had the chance to lead this charge a week ago and demurred, insisting on means testing as a condition, is blinkered and insane, on both the politics and the policy merits.
There are obvious positions the Democrats can take to claim the moral high ground. The Waters memo outlines some of it.  I think also everyone should listen to this interview with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and economist Stephanie Kelton this week about the scope of what's happening and what the scale of the response should be. Here is AOC answering a question about whether the Democratic response has been sufficient.
MH: No, I was gonna say, Congresswoman, do you sign on to all of that? And also a follow up. Katie Porter, your fellow freshman Democrat from California came out in the Atlantic yesterday and said she disagrees with Speaker Pelosi is focused on “refundable tax credits” over direct cash payments. She says that’s too slow. Do you agree with Katie Porter? Is the Pelosi/Schumer way just too slow given how fast the economy is going downwards right now?

AOC: Yes, I completely agree. I sit with Katie Porter on the Financial Services Committee and she’s absolutely right. And I agree with Professor Kelton. I think one thing that’s important to underscore when Professor Kelton is talking about well, we want to look, last time we only have one bite at this apple, there won’t be appetite. We have to examine why there wasn’t political appetite to do more in 2008. And the reason for that was because there was a package that was entirely designed to favor corporations, to bail out Wall Street that was more concerned with stock prices than wages and the health of Wall Street than the actual healthcare system. And that’s why there wasn’t political appetite to do more because we passed out billions of dollars and then the CEOs came in flying in on their private jets, asking for more. And so that was the core of why Americans rejected doing more after the first package.

Now is a very different time. If we focus our package on immediate bailouts for everyday people, making sure that we’re issuing things like mortgage and rent and student loan debt moratoriums, making sure that we’re getting cash into people’s hands, ensuring the fact that if they have to go to the hospital, coronavirus related or not because as we know this can trigger a series of other health issues, that you will be financially okay. And that is the number one thing that we need to do right now. We need to be introducing stabilizers to working families. And Katie Porter is absolutely right on the point of tax credits. You know, I think sometimes with all due respect to my colleagues, we get into this, you know, there’s a lot of like this 90s wonkery going on where if we do a backdoor tax credit, oh, that’s a clever way of helping people. But it doesn’t address the core issue, which is that people are experiencing a shock right now. We need to get checks into people’s hands. If you’re concerned about it being means-based, tax it on the other end. Get everyone a check right now. And then if you want to make sure that the millionaire’s don’t get 1,000 bucks, do an extra, you know, tax them on the other end of that and make sure that they can’t wriggle out of that.
People are in trouble. Just give people money.  "How do we pay for it?" STFU! Here is Rep. Rashida Tlaib's plan to mint trillion dollar coins to pay for it.  We can shoot the money cannon at people to help them out right now. This is what needs to happen.

To see why, one need look no further than New Orleans' City Hall where Friday afternoon Mayor Cantrell appeared once again to lecture New Orleanians on their failure to adequately observe social distancing directives.  Unfortunately, the mayor's message, no matter how loud she makes it, continues to be mixed.
In a fiery press conference Friday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued her strongest demands to date that residents stay home and shut down non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the city, where cases have grown to more than 300 since March 9.

Cantrell doubled-down on restrictions the city put in place earlier this week with a "stay at home mandate." But despite her forceful rhetoric, the mandate does not include any significant new restrictions on businesses or residents and aligns with what other communities are doing around the country.
Coronavirus is dangerous. Every day we learn more about how dangerous it can be, even to those who may not have considered themselves part of the "at risk" population.  But, really, there is only one population of humanity. If any part of it is "at risk" then we all are. That's the whole point behind the "flatten the curve" idea in the first place.  Everyone has to have everyone else's back. Which is why, in order to ensure that workers stay home to protect the vulnerable, we have to assure them they will be taken care of too.

But Cantrell, and the tourism business owners who advise her, know only how to use a crisis to intimidate their employees into submission.  As long as people are afraid they have no choice but to go to work they are going to leave the house and go to work. If you give people no support, if you give them no money, if you give them no reason to expect that they will have a job when the crisis ends unless they keep putting themselves at risk, if, in fact, you subsidize their bosses for staying open right now, then you have no right to get on TV and scream at people for not "staying home" like they're supposed to.  

The only way to protect workers from this kind of avarice is to give them money and security. Except no one in the Democratic leadership is working to make it happen.  Instead their reflex is to retreat into "90s wonkery" as AOC puts it. Some of this is because they, too, are corrupt defenders of criminal capitalism.  But, from a pure public messaging standpoint, the problem is the Democrats have no idea what is happening anymore. They are fighting shadows of what the Republican political message used to be.

This is what people are talking about when they say Trump has "outflanked" the Democrats to their left. The actual Republican legislation may be as cruel and as slanted toward the wealthy as ever. But on TV, in the place where the political perception happens, the public face of their party isn't denigrating "welfare queens" anymore. He's promising to "GO BIG" with checks for everybody. Democratic leaders should counter by embracing the suggestion of members of their own party that we GO EVEN MORE BIGLY with checks for everyone every month until the crisis has ended and we've built a better more stable social safety net altogether. Instead they are proposing means tests and worrying about the deficit. All of which is why despite Trump's utter denial and bungling of the crisis that has endangered countless lives, polls are now showing that Americans approve of the way he's handling it. By failing to "go big" for real, Democrats are losing to the worst con-man in history at the worst possible moment and they have only themselves to blame.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

30,000 unemployment claims

Is that a lot? In a week, I mean.  Seems like a lot.


 

The maximum weekly benefit is $247. Maybe we can all go work for Winn-Dixie now.

Hot spots

The rate of coronavirus spread in New Orleans has greatly outpaced the spread in much larger cities like New York and San Francisco where the crisis appears to be centered in national reporting.  Because we are the hottest of all spots, I wonder if, even in the midst of a global crisis, are we experiencing something that looks and feels... even worse than what everyone else is.

Every state and local government is in an austerity trap

Some of that is because state houses are full of reactionary conservatives and city halls are steeped in public-private neoliberal ideology. But there is also a major structural factor that makes all of that seem sort of rational.
The problem is that unlike the federal government, nearly all state and local governments face balanced budget rules for their current activities, with most needing to pass bond referenda for specific projects in order to borrow money.  So when the revenues fall short, which they shortly will start to do for all these state governments, they will face the choice of cutting spending and laying off workers or raising taxes on populations facing sharply reduced incomes and employment.  The sooner the federal government recognizes this and starts to do something, the better, although probably for now natonal politicians are hoping this will all be over before too much damage happens to the local governments, to the extent they are thinking about this at all, which I doubt.
In a crisis this forces local officials to make drastic decisions that threaten their own workforce and cripple their future capacity to serve the public.  A lot of them feel like they're doing the right or only thing. But that's because they're working with a limited concept of normal operations.  These are not normal times.  It is time to imagine a much better world with a wider range of possibilities.

Maxine Waters is trying to do that.
Waters' proposal, described in a memo to House Democrats, calls for direct cash payments — larger and longer lasting than in other proposals — and suspension of nearly all consumer and small business debt payments, supported by reimbursements to creditors through the Federal Reserve.

It calls for billions of dollars in grants to small businesses, boosting emergency homelessness assistance funds by billions, cutting all federal student loans by $10,000, and pumping $100 billion into public housing to kickstart the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

Waters, D-Calif., is calling for $2,000 a month in cash payments to most adults, and $1,000 a month for each child, for the duration of the pandemic. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has floated a $500 billion direct cash injection, but as a one-time offer, not the continuing monthly payments Waters proposes.
The Waters memo.. you can read it here... should be the standard by which all policy response is measured. It enumerates relief efforts that put people first. It offers real support to the scores of laid off. Instead of the narrow focus on sick leave or means-tested tax credits for middle class workers or massive bailouts for corporate criminals, the Waters memo considers the whole economy of part-time workers, gig workers and people who depend on informal cash only arrangements.

It also recognizes the dire situation that local governments find themselves in and offers immediate help.  These provisions would stand up cities that are already starting to furlough workers and cut services.
20.Support State, Territory, and Local Government Financing. This provision would authorize a program that requires the Federal Reserve to support state, territory, and local debt issuance in response to the coronavirus outbreak given the critical role these governments are playing.

21.Waive Matching Requirements for Municipal Governments. This provision would waive the requirement that state, territory or local governments first obtain matching funds prior to receiving certain federal grants.
There are provisions in the Waters plan beyond this that empower cities to rebuild their economies through small business aid and housing grants.  Everything is on fire right now. The Waters plan not only moves immediately to douse those fires it shows us the fastest and most equitable route to recovery.  It needs to happen and it needs to happen like yesterday. Call your congresspeople today and tell them that.