Saturday, March 18, 2023

Cycling insurance subsidies

These little emergency patches to the failed market are going to keep happening. This one is about to happen twice, in fact. 

Donelon said he will ask the legislature to approve more cash for a second round of grants during the regular legislative session set to convene on April 10.

Insurance companies who get grant money have to match the value of the grant dollar-for-dollar and write twice the sum of that amount in premium every year. For example, if one company received a $10 million grant, it would contribute an additional $10 million in surplus funds and be responsible for writing $40 million in premiums every year in south Louisiana parishes.

Donelon noted on Friday that the program was all but a "verbatim repeat" of a grant initiative spearheaded after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc on the state in 2005. This time, though, insurers are not required to take policies directly from Louisiana Citizens.

Each time the new emergency turns the ratchet, the subsidies only "incentivize" insurers to remain in the market. But they do so at newly increased rates and less favorable terms for policyholders. So the true effect of each rescue plan is just gradual acclimation to ever-worsening circumstances.  

Maybe it should be the job of the democratically elected Insurance Commissioner to figure out a better solution to all of this.  But that seems hard. And, really, who even wants that job anymore?

Monday, March 13, 2023

Ok but why?

This can't just be explained away as a big, "Whoops! Turns out we didn't know how banks work!"  Although Dayen does at least entertain that possibility here. I guess you kind of have to given how stupid everything does feel these days. But still, no. It can't just be that. 

Contrary to their belief, Silicon Valley big brains are not the first ones to figure out that deposit insurance doesn’t protect their payroll accounts. Companies manage this small risk of bank failure through recognized insurance strategies. There are private-sector solutions like Intrafi’s Insured Cash Sweep, which essentially cuts up large accounts into $250,000 pieces and splits them across the banks participating in its network. CDARS, another Intrafi product, is a less liquid option that segments cash into CDs. Some prior FDIC officials have expressed anger at these schemes, but there also are cash management accounts with a “sweep” feature, or additional insurance to take out (this Forbes story has several examples).

Any risk manager worth their salt at a company knows of a panoply of ways to avoid the threat of bank failure on deposits. “The pain of having to explain this,” Porter said to me.

Importantly, SVB was part of the network of cash sweep banks; it had an offer on its website about it. But according to Adam Levitin, there were only $469 million in reciprocal deposits, which is where cash sweep would show up. In other words, almost nobody banking at SVB used them.

Why not? There are a couple of options. One, Silicon Valley startups are so bad with money that they never thought of this. (It’s incredible that Roku, which has been around for a while, had nearly half a billion dollars on hand at SVB, without hedging that risk at all.) The fact that VC big brains were toying with new types of deposit insurance this weekend that already exist (it’s like Uber reinventing the bus) raises that possibility.

The other possibility is that SVB wanted that money kept with them. There are very strange stories coming out about how SVB required companies to hold their money with them in exchange for venture debt agreements, and then gave cheap “white glove” service to founders: low-interest mortgages, lines of credit, and the like. SVB might have had a reason to want their hands on that money exclusively.

Is that sort of "white glove" service not precisely the reason FNBC executive Ashton Ryan was found guilty on 46 counts of fraud? Remember that? It just happened last month.  

Prosecutors convinced the jury that Ryan was the "quarterback" of a team of conspirators, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan McLaren put it in closing arguments.

The list of "scoundrels" he said conspired with Ryan included Mississippi developer Gary Gibbs, who testified that he was essentially bankrupt as far back as 2013. For years, Ryan kept lending him $1 million each month to cover up his insolvency, documents showed, as he spent the proceeds on a private jet, luxury cars and top-of-the-line fishing boats. Gibbs owed the bank $123 million by the time it collapsed.

There were similar stories for other borrowers like Kenneth Charity, a transplant from Washington D.C. who had plans to get rich in the post-Hurricane Katrina real estate market, but who could never file his taxes or other documents on time — or make meetings — as his projects floundered. Ryan kept lending to Charity until his debt reached $18 million.

Ryan's defense during his trial was laughable. In so many words, he said that he was just trying to help some guys out.  Maybe the loans were reckless or outside the bounds of what was usual, but he was being "altruistic."  He literally used this term. It's a popular one among financial criminals these days. What it amounts to, in Ryan's case, is an explicit admission of guilt. He knew the law and broke it anyway for... reasons. 

It's that what's going on at SVB? Because, as Dayen explains, any CFO at any of the firms banking there had to have known how to responsibly insure themselves against risk.  But they just... opted not to. Dayen also suggests the same firms still could have dug themselves out of the mess their own mess. (A mess they created and then triggered as if on purpose, it seems.)

SVB’s losses aren’t really that major in the grand scheme; the haircut that depositors would take under normal rules would be minimal. It might take a minute, which with payroll being due was a risk startups didn’t want to take. But they have well-heeled benefactors—the VCs shouting about the end of the world—who could have supplied whatever bridge support was needed for companies they still profess to believe in.

But they chose not to do that either. Why? So far the only answer seems to be, to see if they could.  But what else?

Billy is in trouble again

Billy is always in trouble.

The oversight of Louisiana's nine museums is plagued by lack of leadership, no coherent budget and low morale among employees that may be affecting museum operations, Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack said Monday morning. The report says the state Office of State Museum has not had a permanent director since 2016.

The review also said the office lacks a comprehensive plan for exhibits and lacks a clear budget for museum programs and exhibits. It said staff reductions totaling 42% since 2009 pose a major challenge for the sites. The Office of State Museum is part of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which is led by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

The auditor's report is available here if you feel like looking through it. 

Also for some background on that vacant director's job, Billy fired the last permanent director. Soon afterward, we had this episode where the consultant then holding the interim position resigned in protest over Nungesser's "pretty strange crap" management. 

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has been using a Lower Pontalba Building apartment and space in other state museum buildings in the French Quarter for his personal benefit and has engaged in a pattern of political interference with the agency's operations, the Louisiana State Museum's interim director said Monday while resigning in protest.

Nungesser’s interference includes attempting to override museum officials and board members who objected to plans to loan U.S. Sen. John Kennedy artworks for his office in Washington, D.C., and threatening to sell museum works of art on eBay to raise funds, said Tim Chester, a museum consultant who took the interim position in October.

“I have never encountered anything like this in the 40 years I’ve worked in the field, ever,” Chester said. “I’ve seen some pretty strange crap come down in museums, but this one takes the cake.”

There's just something about those Pontalba apartments, right? Anyway, a few years later, there was more consulting from another consultant. Their feedback was also bad. 

A 2019 report by the consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources said the current arrangement "creates political interference and tension, makes fundraising a challenge and could risk OSM losing accreditation."

Eventually (inevitably?) the FBI got involved.  In response, Billy implied the investigation was initiated by political opponents like, for example, Jeff Landry, who was expected to face Nungesser in this year's gubernatorial election.  And that's all very plausible. Although, Billy's crystal ball obviously needs a little polishing.  Here's how he saw things playing out at the time.

He also said he doesn’t believe Landry will run for governor, saying “he’s got bigger problems.”

“In an open primary, he can’t win,” Nungesser said. “I always thought John Kennedy gets re-elected and he runs (for governor). And listen, I welcome anyone to run. But let’s run in a fair race and let the people of Louisiana choose. If they close the primary you’re going to get the far right and the far left. And we got enough divisiveness in Baton Rouge.”

A spokesman for Landry declined to comment. A message to the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority was not immediately returned Saturday.

Nungesser’s fiery speech came after FBI agents interviewed one of his staffers as well as legislators in a probe of his office, he said. Nungesser said he didn’t know what the probe was about, but heard it was at least partly related to grants from his office.

He added that investigators have been calling lawmakers and others who stayed at the Lower Pontalba apartments in the French Quarter, which his office operates. He said he doesn’t know whether the FBI or state auditors are looking into that.

“I'm not blaming anyone for that, but it's a coincidence that I haven't seen any polls but everybody tells me, 'They can't beat you for governor if you run in an open primary.' Because I help everybody. And I don't crucify anybody just to make a political grandstand.”

Well, here we are in March 2023 and Kennedy is not running. Landry is running. And Billy, who was told by "everybody" that he was unbeatable is the one with bigger problems now.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Commercial STRs in the queue now

After a decade of dealing with this, we have reached the point now where City Councilmembers can no longer pretend they do not understand the problem. But they can still pretend they are trying to do something about it. Until they don't. 

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday took another step to rein in short-term rental permits in commercial areas, passing a temporary ban along some busy corridors abutting residential neighborhoods.

The motion, which passed unanimously, aims to close a loophole that critics say lets investors build what are essentially hotel suites next door to full-time residents. It prohibits renewal for a more than one quarter of the New Orleans' 1,200 commercial short-term permits, although permitting officials said they will make exceptions for those issued within the past six months.

It's the same process as what is happening now with residential STRs.  The new regs will inevitably grandfather in everything that currently exists and create new language by which the problem can continue to expand even as councilmembers claim to be "reining it in." Then in another couple of years we will "discover" that the new system is still bad and tweak it some more.. but grandfather in the next batch, of course. Repeat forever. Or at least until nobody actually lives here. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

How many cops does it take to go move five barricades?

This turns out to be a very complicated question

Part of the problem, according to officials, is that the 1971 ordinance that created the mall does not specify which agency is in charge of blockading the streets. The ordinance only states that Royal Street is to be closed to traffic from Bienville to Orleans streets on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and weekends between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. It provides no other instructions.

At an April 25 City Council committee meeting, which coincided with the reopening of the mall, NOPD Deputy Chief Hans Ganthier said in the past his officers, musicians, and even sanitation workers took it upon themselves to erect and take down the barricades, but there was never an official policy. At the time, Ganthier was commander of the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter.

NOPD Lt. Samuel Palumbo told council members that going forward his community liaison officers would be in charge of the barricades during the week and a traffic officer from the supplemental police patrol program might move them on the weekends. Neither has happened. 

When Ellestad asked Ganthier for an update at the end of last year, he said the deputy chief sounded less willing to help than he did at the council meeting. 

Even some of us old heads might not remember all the way back to 2019. So this article helpfully reminds us that the city took advantage of the Hard Rock hotel collapse to "temporarily" shut down the pedestrian mall and kept it that way for a few years because of... something something pandemic. The reasons given for all of that were vague. Who knew the lower five blocks of Royal was such a critical artery for emergency response?  

Well now that the emergencies are over.. or at least now that they have been allowed to fade into the background with all the other noise.. the pedestrian mall was supposed to be back.  But, for some reason, nobody remembers how to move the barricades or who is supposed to move them. 

But Ellestad, who was at the managment district meeting, said the issue was not just about the city’s failure to put of barricades, but the fact that performers are harassed when they try to do it themselves. Ellestad said that often comes from a private security patrol that is managed by FQMD itself, called the Upper Quarter Patrol. 

“A lot of these problems actually come from the Upper Quarter Patrol enforcing,” Ellestad said. “The barricades aren’t there. Performers try to set up the barricades and then the private enforcement will tell them that if they move the barricades they will be in jeopardy for citation or arrest. So if FQMD is not going to be part of the process in creating a plan, is it possible then to make sure they’re not involved in the enforcement?”

The French Quarter is crawling with cops. NOPD cops, Harbor Police cops, State Police cops, the private cops who work for various businesses as well as those contracted to FQMD.  None of them can figure out how to move a barricade, although they are available to stop you from doing it. 

What we don't see addressed with much depth in this article is the matter of why this situation persists. All we are told is that Councilman King hasn't taken any action and the mayor's office didn't comment for the story. Obviously it isn't happening just by accident.

There are plenty of comments in the story from the street performers who have been affected by the mall closure but nothing from anyone who might be opposed to reopening it.  Which is strange because such comments do exist on record. Of course, it's perhaps expecting a lot of old heads to remember all the way back to 2015... even if those old heads are the very same reporter writing this week's story who also wrote this back then

A coalition of French Quarter businesses led by Brennan's restaurant has asked that the New Orleans Police Department permanently close the Royal Street pedestrian mall and reopen the street to vehicles during the day. The request reignites an almost 40-year-old debate over access to Royal Street and whether pedestrian-only hours hurt or help the Vieux Carre.

Brennan's general manager Christian Pendleton cited the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernadino, Calif., and Paris, as well as last month's mass shooting in Bunny Friend Park in New Orleans' 9th Ward, in making the request.

Hey there's always an emergency somewhere that might justify the policy change you want. The Brennan's cabal had to throw a bunch of them out there before the right ones came along. Anyway let's see who else was in on that.

The letter was signed by representatives of every business in the 400 block of Royal Street, including Latrobe's, Brass Monkey Antiques, Ida Manheim & Pugh, Moss Antiques, LolaNOLA, the Martin Lawrence Gallery and James H. Cohen antique weapons and rare coins. Pendleton asked that City Hall "leave Royal Street open every day, and at all times."

You think maybe some of them are available for comment now?  Might be worth an ask.  There are some choice quotes some of them delivered the last time around.

Rosemary James, co-owner of Faulkner House Books on nearby Pirate's Alley, said the mall "should never have been enacted in the first place," that it "serves no useful purpose whatsoever," causes "terrible traffic problems" and "poses a threat to (the) safety and security of those who own property and businesses in the French Quarter and who actually pay taxes."

Yesterday, MACCNO tweeted an acknowledgement of people "working behind the scenes to find a compromise." I guess these business and property owners must be the side that is being compromised with?  Maybe someone will check back in with them to see.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

"Along with"

 Seems like "along with" might be a bit of a stretch in this passage

A development agreement for the former Six Flags amusement park has been finalized, nearly a year after Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration chose Bayou Phoenix to take on the project.

The agreement will eventually allow the group led by businessman Troy Henry to access the site and begin pre-construction work. Details of the agreement were not immediately available, but Bayou Phoenix has proposed to build a warehouse on the 227-acre site, along with a water park, hotel, ball fields and other amenities.

If I had to guess at what's going to happen, at the very least I would assume the warehouse project is, "prior to" any remaining development which could be pending for a very long time.  

This doesn't yet say what, exactly has been agreed to.  Back in November, it was clear that Henry was seeking private control over a public asset beyond which was either legally or morally appropriate.  We'll see what he got soon, I guess. 

Update: Case in point, re: public investment going toward private profit.  Apparently the city is chucking in another 1 million dollars toward Henry's warehouse. 

Monday, March 06, 2023

Of course right up until then it was fine

Jeff and Shane have decided they are gonna put off the deal where they give each other bullshit gigs for a while. 

Guidry is Landry’s top political ally and a major donor to his campaign. Landry also hired Guidry to serve as a “special agent/investigator” for the Attorney General’s office.

Landry reported making between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2020 and 2021 from his role on the Harvey Gulf board, where he provided legal advice. Several experts said the arrangement may run afoul of a law that says the attorney general must devote his full time to that office, as well as of ethics laws that prohibit public officials from getting certain payments and gifts outside of their state salaries.

Landry’s campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment on his resignation.

“He just felt he needed to resign from the board in 2022 to run for governor in 2023,” Guidry said, adding that Landry didn’t provide a lengthy explanation for his decision. Guidry said he replaced Landry with a former schools superintendent from Michigan. The company’s website indicates the new board member is Ronald Wilson.

We'll see how they feel after the election. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Company town

The highlight of yesterday's City Council hearing about the Cantrell Administration's stonewalling of union organizers came from JP Morrell. 

Lloyd Permaul, the executive director of AFSCME’s Louisiana-based chapter — which Cantrell previously acknowledged as city employees’ bargaining unit — told Verite that while Tuesday’s meeting should help, he doesn’t know exactly what is going to happen next.

“I don’t know how to tell you how I feel coming out of that meeting,” Permaul told Verite. “I can’t even tell you I’m optimistic with the group I’m working with up there, to be honest with you. I don’t know.”

Permaul said that he hasn’t faced similar issues with the other government agencies he deals with in the state, including in Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish.

“She’s the only mayor within this state that hasn’t met with me,” Permaul said.

“We are supposed to be the blue island in a state of red,” Morrell said, referring to New Orleans’ reputation as the most Democratic-leaning part of the state. “But everything I’m hearing is that this city is more hostile to unions than Jefferson Parish is. Do you know how ridiculous that is?

JP's full comments are better if you watch the video. Lot's of "this is stupid!" and I think at one point he even says, "This is the most asinine thing I've ever heard in this chamber." The sequence starts around the 1:39:00 or 1:40:00 mark. This link should get you there.  

At the same time, though, JP's casting of New Orleans as "the blue island in a state of red" is simplistic and misleading. Especially when it comes to labor politics. JP and anyone who pays a lick of attention should know well that this city's power structure both in and out of government is generally conservative and viciously anti-union.  The Cantrell Administration, in particular, is closely allied with the city's business and non-profit elite where the dominant ideology promotes privatization of public services and the outsourcing and gigification of work. 

With regard to city workers in particular, her administration has exhibited constant hostility. Just a few examples would include the tacit approval of Metro Disposal's use of prison labor to break a strike, the freezing out organizing efforts at EMS, Public Works, and NORD a well-documented and dishonest attempt to de-fund the library system, and an attempt to relocate City Hall premised explicitly on a plan to downsize the permanent workforce.  In 2020, the mayor moved to replace a member of the City Civil Service Commission for the stated reason that the commissioner was too favorable to unions. 

So, while, we can certainly understand and support Morrell's outrage yesterday, his framing of the matter as though it should come as some sort of surprise may actually do more harm than good. The first step to building a stronger working class and a more union-friendly city is recognizing the size and scope of the challenge. And pretending that Cantrell's behavior is some kind of outlier instead of entirely representative of the rabidly anti-labor company town we actually live in, does not help with that. 

Just pick a number

So let's see. The recall campaign spent its final month loudly boasting that it had enough signatures to trigger an election.  They would not tell anyone how many signatures that was, exactly. Instead they literally said, "trust us," to anyone who asked. Then they suddenly discovered... very nearly at the last minute, in fact... that they might lower the threshold they already claimed to have met by filing a lawsuit.

Why were they not concerned about this at the outset of the circus?  They didn't say.  How many signatures are actually on the public record, they were the custodians of? Still not saying. Can the newspaper see them, in accordance with the legal agreement they had signed? No, that is actually none of your business now.  Instead we must focus on the lawsuit because "ACCURATE VOTER ROLLS, WASTE AND FRAUD MUST BE STOPPED, ARGLE BARGLE, ETC." 

Or... maybe we'll just make up a number instead

The LaToya Cantrell recall campaign's lawsuit against Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is close to being settled, a lawyer for the campaign said at a virtual court hearing Wednesday.

Recall lawyer Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue told the judge overseeing the case, Jennifer Medley, that the two sides were putting the final touches on a deal that would resolve the lawsuit, which alleges that the recall's signature goal was artificially inflated by thousands of names because of errors on the active voter list.

Sources said Tuesday that the two sides were trying to settle on a number that would set a new minimum cutoff for the recall petition, which must currently prove that it has collected 49,976 signatures to force a vote on Cantrell's fate.

The Registrar of Voters is apparently dismissed from the lawsuit now. So we're no longer even asking anyone to re-canvass and get that accurate count we were so concerned about five minutes ago.  Instead we are going to resolve the "artificially inflated" signature goal by artificially deflating it. 

This whole thing has always been a joke.  I do hope that's finally sinking in for anyone who might have taken it seriously.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Keep Doing What You're Doing

This is not just Dennis Allen's motto, or even Gayle Benson's apparent marching orders to her coach this offseason.  It's also a favorite creed of city governance. We can change the elected mayors and councilmembers around as many times as we like. We can vote them out of office, put them in jail, threaten to recall them, and we've tried all of these. But as long as there is no popular political movement animating any of this turnover, then, in the words of Joe Biden, nothing will fundamentally change about how the actual business is done. 

For most of the last year, through the exercise of a fraudulent recall movement, among other things, the ruling elite of the city have been playing a game we might call, "This here mayor we created and elected is bad now. Very much unlike the next mayor we will create and elect on very much the same platform."  Something similar happens to all of our second term mayors, lately. It's a kind of blood ritual where our entrenched powers purge themselves of responsibility for the last demon they summoned so that they may move on and call upon the next one. 

Last week, we pointed out the example of Forward Together New Orleans. This is the non-profit created by current sacrificial goat, LaToya Cantrell in order to administer the very large privatized section of city expenditures off budget and as far away from the scrutiny of governmental transparency, accountability or civil service rules as possible.  There was a time when that was the new vehicle created so that a new mayor could pretend to do things differently from the previous one. But now that mayor is being exorcised so we have to pretend something different will replace that too. 

What's replacing it, however, is more of the same

New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno went before the city council last month to present a vision for a new “public health” driven approach to gun violence — describing the killings in the city, which have reached the highest levels in years, as an epidemic.

She emphasized the need for robust programming to address the underlying conditions of violence, along with targeted interventions to interrupt conflicts before they escalate to violence and provide services to those most likely to be involved.

 “There must be a community-wide, public-private collaborative with real infrastructure and capacity that works solely on a violence reduction strategy and can implement it quickly,” Avegno told the council. “This group should survive political administrations. It should be highly resourced.”

 It was presented as a new approach. But it sounded remarkably similar to the plan Mayor LaToya Cantrell rolled out when she created the now-embattled Office of Gun Violence Prevention just two years ago.

The health language is the trendy branding now, which is why councilmembers have asked the Health Department to come in on this. But really we're just proceeding along the same path as ever. "Ultimately" it won't be the Health Department, or any city department anyway. 

Currently, she said, she is working on a “landscape analysis” of existing public health and intervention programming in the city meant to address violence to determine what should be continued and what could be scrapped — including, ostensibly, those programs previously being run by the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.  

“What programs do we have?” she said. “Who are they serving? How many people are they serving? Do we have evidence to suggest that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Or that they’re effective? What are the gaps?” 

Initially she plans to advocate for several initial allocations of federal funding to get started on “catalytic” programs that she believes already have shown evidence of effectiveness — mostly money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Like past iterations of violence reduction programs in the city, she said that ultimately she anticipates that much of the funding will be routed to independent non-profits to do the work of violence prevention

We're just setting up to drop all the public money down to the same old non-profit industrial complex through a slightly different chute.  What will it do when it gets there?  Well, we already know that too.  Same thing it's been doing. 

Perhaps the most robust program included in the report is an initiative launched in Chicago in 2017 called the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI), which uses referrals from community organizations, along with an analytics tool based on law enforcement data to identify individuals with the “highest risk for violence involvement” and provides them with twelve months of programing that includes subsidized employment, cognitive behavioral therapy, skills training, and other support services. According to Asher’s report, participation in READI significantly reduced the likelihood of arrest for homicide or shooting, as well as the possibility of victimization. That program costs around $20,000 per participant.

The READI program claims that the list of individuals they develop is never shared with law enforcement, but the use of similar predictive data analytic tools has proved controversial in New Orleans in the past

The "most robust" program involves taking federal money intended to help people suffering the effects of the pandemic economic displacement and not actually doing anything to help them.  Instead of addressing basic needs, instead of working to make people housing and food secure, we're going to put them on a pre-crime list and subject them to "behavioral therapy and skills training."  In other words we're not helping the victims of the disaster so much as we're keeping them from getting out of line or becoming less compliant workers. 

And, of course, as the article goes on to explain, this isn't anything new or different from what's been going on for years through successive administrations. 

In 2018, The Verge revealed that Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration had been quietly using software developed by the technology company Palantir to produce a list of individuals to target as part of the Group Violence Reduction Strategy — part of his broader NOLA for Life murder reduction effort. Some of those individuals were “called-in” with social service providers and various law-enforcement agencies and given the option to participate in social programs or be subject to “enhanced prosecution.” 

After the agreement with Palantir lapsed in 2018, The Lens obtained emails showing that the Cantrell administration was working to develop another tool utilizing law enforcement data to identify individuals with the help of sociologist Andrew Papachristos — this time to target for “impactful social interventions.” But little was made public about the effort, and civil liberties groups again raised transparency concerns, along with questions about how the information would be used and whether or not it would be shared with law enforcement. 

It is unclear what, if any, new tools might be utilized in the new effort being developed by the health department to identify individuals.

The reason it's unclear what might be new is... none of this is new. We're all just going to keep doing what we're doing: Handing out public money to privatized formations of political cronies create phony "anti-crime" programs that, in reality, only continue to harm people.  If anyone ever starts to get wise to this grift, there's always another mayor to symbolically slaughter so we can start it all over again.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Borrowed time

There's so much to say about the way the "trifecta" Democratic government elected in 2020 failed to move on critical matters that could have warded off the coming collapse once they're out of power again. We've been warning about this for a while. The "one job" they had was to pass voting rights protections and the PRO Act. They refused to do either because Joe Biden didn't want anything to fundamentally change. And now it's just a waiting game until the Republicans take back the White House and can undo the temporary rulemaking that's been holding the dam back somewhat. 

For example, watch what happens when President DeSantis gets a hold of the SEC in a few years.  All of this will start to go the opposite way really fast

The SEC also proposed a new rule this month that would force institutional investors like pension or hedge funds to use qualified custodians to hold crypto assets, which would make it more costly for them to do so.

This aggressiveness has spread to the rest of the government. In January, a group of banking regulators essentially warned financial institutions against holding crypto assets, citing the risk of fraud. Banks have already begun to pull away from the industry. In addition, the Federal Reserve denied access to the payment system to a crypto bank called Custodia.

It should be said that this crackdown is happening without any new legislation from Congress. The SEC is using existing securities laws to contain the industry and section it off from the rest of the financial system. Discretionary enforcement and regulatory guidance depend on the regulators, and does not have the permanence or force of law. But a law from this set of legislators is unlikely to produce much of value for the public. Provisions like the one proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to force crypto firms to comply more stringently with anti-money laundering laws would be welcome. But the more likely legislative outcome from a Congress littered with recipients of crypto cash would be some definitive de-fanging of the SEC’s efforts to enforce existing law.

Because they refuse to pass new laws and prefer to just shake a finger at the criminals for a few years, we're going to see major unmitigated looting of people's retirement funds. In the interim it's all just borrowed time. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

A parade of picture books

So I'm on Day 10 of COVID protocols today.  According to the medical science practitioners I've consulted this means that I'm basically, pretty much, almost, okay-ish.  I know I'm among the last people on Earth to have encountered it at this point but it's been an experience. Even when you have all the shots and stuff, this is not a fun thing to get. There's a couple days of knock-you-on-your-ass fever followed by a lot of sniffling and coughing. Then you just don't have any energy for a few days. And finally, when you think it's almost through, there's a knock-you-on-your-ass migraine that sends you back to bed for a day.  In the meantime, also, your spouse tests positive and begins a similar cycle so you can sing this in a round if you like. 

The other thing that happens, inevitably, is Mardi Gras comes along right in the middle of all this. That's been disappointing for us. We were hoping this year would get us back into something like our pre-COVID pattern of cooking and hosting friends on (at least some) parade nights.  But we're not going to be able to do that now.  In a way, though, this is what Carnival is about; understanding we are all subjects to an impenetrable chaos and adjusting accordingly.  And that's what I've been doing.  Stepping out when and where I can to catch whatever vibe is there and then begging off to recover for the coming marathon.  I feel like that is paying off.  I'm definitely better now than I was. And medical science says by this point I'm probably not contagious anymore either so I'm trying to trust that as well.  Cautiously, though. 

Last night I went out by myself with the chair, the camera, and a couple of diet cokes.  They pull a sign at the front of this parade that says, "Carnival Begins When Babylon Rolls" so, really, it's as if I hadn't missed anything. 

Gates of Ishtar

Babylon's floats always look amazing. Their theme this year was Wonders of the World or some such. I think this float was the Hanging Gardens. 

Hanging Gardens

People don't like to hear this but the Chaos floats also always look good. Sure, their content can go in some unpleasant directions. This year there was a Hunter Biden laptop float, a float that depicted Paul Pelosi drunk driving, and a particularly racist float about Ron DeSantis sending immigrants to New York.  On the other hand, when they come off the right wing cable news schtick and do something local, they can nail it. 

This one, for example, was about local developer Joe Jaeger and the various troubled properties he currently holds, including the Jung Hotel, the defunct Poland Ave Naval Station, and, of course the crumbling Plaza Tower

Jaeger Bomb

The linked article above says the Plaza Tower is now up for sale. 

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Developer Joe Jaeger has decided to give up efforts to bring one of New Orleans’ tallest buildings back into commerce, opting instead to try selling the deteriorating Plaza Tower, a City of New Orleans spokesman confirmed Tuesday night (Feb. 14).

Jaeger told the New Orleans Advocate he was “disappointed” to be giving up on the 44-story tower at 1001 Howard Ave. But Jaeger has owned the vacant skyscraper since 2014 with little progress and come under fire as it has fallen into a hazardous state of disrepair.

Jaeger has enlisted the real estate advisory and brokerage firm HREC (Hospitality Real Estate Counselors) to help find a buyer for the property, though no asking price has yet been listed.

A spokesman for Mayor LaToya Cantrell said City Hall hailed Jaeger’s decision and was eager to find a new steward for the property.

The city is eager to be a co-investor with any development team that can bring this potentially catalytic project back into commerce, including Mr. Jaeger,” city spokesman John Lawson told Fox 8. “What the city has made clear is that we will not continue to let the property languish.”

The city still can't wait to "co-invest."  I'm sure we're all very confident in that prospect. It's sad to see the city use that language, though. Because it is true that whatever transaction takes place will involve a lot of public money.  In a better world, that would mean the public should have a real stake in how that property is used and for whose benefit. What the Cantrell spokespeople actually mean, though, is they are happy to just give our money away to help their rich friends do land deals. 

With the protective netting shored up, Jaeger’s real estate agent Lenny Wormser says he’s confident of a sale soon.

“If you take advantage of the tax credit, you could almost buy the building for free because of tax credits of up to $25 or $30 million,” said Lenny Wormser, with HREC Investments.

You could get it for free! What are you waiting for?  Okay well, what would you do with it? Let's ask the "experts."  Or maybe let's not ask them because, Jesus! 

Real estate experts say the building could be a natural for Air BnBs, especially since the city has been encountering resistance from residential areas that don’t want them in their neighborhoods.

“It’s got the best views in the city of New Orleans because there’s a five-story height limit in the warehouse district. No one will ever block those views and you have the Superdome,” said Wormser.

The Downtown Development District is eager to see a new buyer come in and restore this long-vacant property and rejuvenate a section of the CBD that needs a lift by utilizing new incentives which are now before congress.

We’re working with legislators in hopes of Congress passing a ‘revitalizing downtown bill,’ which would provide tax credits for these developments,” said DDD Public Policy Director Alexis Kyman.

Downtown real estate is hot, with several new buildings recently constructed and rapidly filling up.

With state and federal tax credits amounting to nearly 40% of construction costs, Wormser is confident that a new buyer can put together a package that would help restore this long-blighted property and make it an asset in a section of the CBD that they believe is ripe for redevelopment.

Trapolin says Air BnB development could be a big part of the Plaza Tower’s future. He says the return on investment for such properties is nearly double what you can get if you rebuild as apartments.

Terrific, more public subsidies for these guys.  Also the specific thing we are putting our money in to help them do is make "nearly double" what they would make building housing while turning downtown New Orleans into a tourist sacrifice zone

The huge impact of the so-called sharing economy on the tourism sector is currently a well-recognized reality [29,30,31,32]. Beyond the effect on other activities (such as automobile transport or tourist guide services), the phenomenon with the highest economic, social, and spatial impact doubtless corresponds to the rapid and massive expansion of housing rentals for use by tourists supplied via online platforms (Airbnb, HomeAway, Housetrip, etc). Indeed, it can be stated that it has become the decisive phenomenon in the functional transformation of central zones of the world’s major cities, which have shifted from being residential and commercial to becoming spaces devoted to tourist lodgings with higher intensity depending on the tourist attractions present in each city. 

The fundamental moral issue here, as always, is a city belongs to its people. There is no section of it that we are obligated to sacrifice to rent seeking leeches just so that they can turn it into a theme park. This is especially germane when public money is subsidizing the development.  There has to be public benefit.  Downtown is a neighborhood. The French Quarter is a neighborhood.  Residents come first in neighborhoods.  If you want Disneyworld, go to Disneyworld.

There's a clear line of division happening here between people who want to live in a healthy community and the monsters who want to suck the profits out of the land.  After Mardi Gras is over, the people  who style themselves our "representatives" on the City Council will, once again, consider the city's regulatory regime around these issues.  Let's all watch which side of that division they choose to place themselves on. Sounds exciting. 

Anyway, where were we?  Oh yeah, it's Mardi Gras and we're trying to watch some parades. When I planted my chair and sat my pathetic COVID ridden grandpa self down last night, I wasn't sure how long I'd be there. It's chaos weather season now and the temperature just dropped 30 degrees overnight. When that happens they always called for rain.  I was afraid Irma Thomas might be forced to sing the hits while riding in the Muses shoe.  Turns out, though, she wasn't. 

Irma Thomas

The rain did come, though.  But it was polite enough to wait until after we found out who this year's Dead Rock Star was.  (It was Jam Master Jay) After that I figured I could go on in and rest. 

Before that, though, I was delighted to watch a parade about picture books. 

Parade of Picture Books

This is something of an area of expertise for me. Would you like to see a thread of favorite picture books of 2021 curated by me?  What about one from 2022 that is even longer?  The point is, I read a lot of these. Some of the classic titles riffed on by Muses are among my favorites as well. Here's Mo Willems's famous Pigeon, for example. 

Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Float

The Very Hungry Councilpillar, here, is supposed to be the City Council "eating into" the mayor's authority over city budget and staffing matters. Pretty clever.

The Very Hungry Councilpillar

I don't care for the way Muses lets its business class MSNBC brain get in the way of having an actual thought sometimes. This take on 'The Day The Crayons Quit' (really good book, by the way) got into some embarrassing "Third Way" can't we all be purple nonsense. 

The Day the Red and Blue Crayons Quit

But, it's the little things that you still have to appreciate. I like the "#LookAtThisFuckingFloat" touch on this roadwork float. 

Where the Sidewalk Ends and Construction Begins

All in all, pretty neat.  And even though I'm not going at it hard, it's still possible to catch a bit of a vibe out there. Tonight I'm going to try and approximate the normal rituals and make a pot of jambalaya before walking out.  We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Shutting down FTNO

This is one of those stories that makes me upset I haven't been keeping the blog up as well as I used to.  There are a ton of notes I've got about this very long running story that I just haven't had time to post about.  I do think I'll eventually get to some of it. Anyway here's the thing that's in the news at the moment

Forward Together New Orleans, the nonprofit formed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell to pay for some of her signature social welfare programs, has returned more than $1 million in public money as it faces an Inspector General investigation and winds down its operations.

The nonprofit was subpoenaed by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General last year, after the City Council questioned two contracts Cantrell signed with FTNO that sent almost $1.1 million in city money to the charity she founded in 2019.

It looks like a little self-contained matter having only to do with the conduct of this mayor in particular. But really it's more about the permanent bad state of things.  The bad state of things is we live under a regime of neoliberalism,where the dominant philosophy of government is to not have any government and instead farm all of its functions out to "private partners" on an ad-hoc basis. Much easier to spread money around to friends that way. Much harder to know if it's doing anyone any good. 

What's happened most recently is, when the current mayor came in, she represented a slightly different formation of private partnering friends than what had existed. There was still a pile of money meant to be distributed to semi-privatized social services designed to be stolen from. So the people around her wanted to build a new network through which they could better steal it.  In this case, instead of folding the members of the Cantrell "transition team" into official city government positions, they just decided make their own non-profit and administer things from there. Back in the day they used to call this "running government like a business." Except in this case they were running a business instead of a government.

The thing about that, though, is that sometimes with too much reinvention of perfectly fine graft wheels, the inexperienced grifters don't really know what they're doing and make a big mess of things. This story is contains examples of some of those messes. 

In April 2022, Cantrell and FTNO’s executive director at the time, Shaun Randolph, signed a formal agreement granting FTNO $568,000 in city money to run a gun-violence intervention program and $505,310 for the city’s Job 1 Earn and Learn program.

Earn and Learn provided stipends and job training to at-risk youth. The gun-violence program was run on the city’s behalf for years by the Urban League. FTNO was supposed to take over that role in 2023 by paying a crisis-response team to meet with shooting victims at crime scenes and at the hospital in an effort to prevent retaliation. But in October, the city’s finance director, Norman White, asked FTNO to return the money for both programs.

All $1,063,410 was returned to the city on Jan. 30, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said. The city signed a new agreement with Total Community Action to serve as fiscal agent for the Earn and Learn program last week, allowing that program to resume, according to Montaño.

So now they have to close up the new patronage entity they created for stealing the money and the old patronage entities will go back to stealing it like before. 

The story says FTNO "paid back" the money which sounds like a no harm/ no foul situation. But is that really true?  It's difficult to know... and that's kind of the point. 

If they would stop making everything a "signature" program tied to the specific patronage networks of each new mayor and instead just built a city government that did this work through professionalized civil service staff, this stuff wouldn't keep happening.  But then how would anybody get paid?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023


How does one even do Carnival on COVID? It's a citywide party people come to from all over town... all over the world, really.  They all stand in the street talking, eating, drinking, sharing with friends, family and strangers. If you're doing it right, you will see every single person you know at least once by the end of the season. Carnival is a social binder. But you're supposed to be isolating; "socially distancing" as we say now. You can't really make plans to see anyone. You can't have anybody over. You should probably just stay home.  Is Mardi Gras a marathon or a sprint?  How can one do either if you can't even catch your breath?

But what if your quarantine quarters just happen to sit a block or so off of the parade route?  Are you really going to just lay there all night when you can hear the drums outside? Wouldn't you be just a little bit tempted to bundle up, put on a mask, and oh so carefully creep up to St. Charles to take in a few moments from the other side of the street?

No, of course you should not do that.  You should stay your sick ass in bed until you get better. 

I did try and do that on Friday, though. Here's what it looked like. 

Cops in the mist

Yeah okay so you really can't see that well from back there. At least not when the marching units are going by. The floats came out okay, though.  Even the Oshun floats, although all I really saw of Oshun was the king and court stuff.  After that I had to go back in and take a break.

Oshun bigwigs

So here's something about having COVID, you might not have heard.  It really sucks. Even when the fever is gone, and even when your cough is mostly under control, the fatigue is still very freaking real. My only plan this evening was to walk a block and kind of stand around for a while.  But I couldn't even do that without going back in to rest and get warm.  Oh also it rained during Oshun (it always seems to rain on Oshun) and I wasn't going back out until that stopped. 

By the time it stopped, Cleopatra was already rolling. Looked like they had some kind of gem theme going. This float was Diamonds.


And this one was Turquoise

Cleopatra Turquoise float

Oh and Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli

By the way, I don't think I'd noticed before now how much nicer my float pictures come out when I take them from this distance. Maybe not great for detail, but there's a sense of scale and balance to them this way. And you can see the crowd well.  Also I can still zoom in when I want and... oh my that doesn't look very safe!

Cleopatra riders

Don't worry. Nobody fell off a float.  Not on Friday night, anyway. 

Here's what did happen

Entergy New Orleans blames a car striking a utility pole for the electricity failure during Friday night's Uptown Carnival parades.

Spokesperson Lee Sabatini said the car hit a pole on St. Charles Avenue at Terpsichore Street at about 9 p.m., darkening the river side of St. Charles as far as Prtania Street between Felicity Street and Andrew Higgins Boulevard. Almost 1,500 Entergy customers were powerless until 10 p.m.

Wait. Is that what actually what happened?  Witnesses differ.

Ok, fine, then, people from the internet. Please tell us about whatever crazy conspiracy y'all are on about now before Elon shadowbans you or something. If it wasn't a car, then what?

Knocking out the power by shooting confetti from a parade float sounds like something out of a 60s TV Batman episode. It's plausible, though. Jefferson Parish has already banned metal confetti specifically because of this problem having come up in the past. Still, Entergy is out here saying it was a car accident that nobody saw. Why would they make something like that up? I mean, sure, we know they're super defensive about the fragility of their infrastructure and all but they wouldn't just lie about it, right?  I mean what if somebody had it on video?

What if there were more than one video, even?  What would this story look like then?

A video shared with The Times-Picayune, by a person who asked to remain anonymous, shows what presumably is a float-mounted confetti cannon blasting toward utility lines on St. Charles Avenue during the Krewe of Cleopatra parade. The blast results in sparks flying and darkness descending on the area.

How much would that change Entergy's position on the matter?

Sabatini said a confetti cannon might have contributed to the power outage, because confetti made of Mylar can act as a conductor on power lines.

Oh okay the cannon "might have contributed." That's good. I might have contributed to paying my light bill this month. I'll have to check back on that too. I sure hope they don't cut me off in the meantime. (You know.. on purpose for once.) Maybe I should say something to my Congressman about this problem.  You think I can get his attention?  I mean I'm all the way in the back of the crowd and he's up there on that float. 

Troy Carter

Troy's a West Bank guy so it figures he'd show up in the Alla (Algiers, la) parade. I'm an Uptown guy and even though this West Bank parade comes through my neighborhood now, I barely had the energy to stay out and watch it.  It looked like they were doing a festivals theme. But it was cold and I was already overspent. So I let the rest of it go and went back inside to collapse. 

Festing Around The World

On Saturday, I was even more determined not to overdo it. I found an oak tree root I could sit down on, conserve energy, and people watch. I can't really drink. And it gets lonely when you can't go into the crowd or really even talk to anybody. But I like to take in the scene, and listen to the music, and watch some of my favorite totems roll down the street.  

But first I had to watch this cop parade. Troy Carter was also in that. 

Mars Captain and Troy Carter

So was Susan Hutson.  At least her float was better than the one in Krewe du Vieux. 

Susan Hutson

Oliver Thomas was there too. He was on the Army float.  This made me think of Elvis Costello. 

US Army

Also, in the cop parade, the cops. 

Cop float

Don't know how this affected their delicate deployment issues. Maybe this is why nobody could substantiate Entergy's "car accident" theory about the power outage. The cops who would have taken that report were getting ready to ride on the float?  Sad, if true. 

Anyway, I was low on energy again Saturday afternoon so I hung around just long enough to see the big catfish before I went back inside. Ordinarily I like to watch Pontchartrain and play the little fill-in-the-blank game with their float titles. I just couldn't do it this time. 

Pontchartrain XLVIII

Like I said earlier, though, I don't feel like I'm participating in the ritual unless I am able to bear witness to certain of the idols presented for admiration by the throng. The catfish is one. The Sparta helmet is another. So I had to go back out.

Sparta helmet

Sparta.. or.. The Spartan Society, now, I guess.. was, like Oshun doing a kind of global festivals theme. 

Carnival's Songful Celebrations

But theirs was a little more esoteric. These floats depicted Carnival celebrations around the world and the music associated with them. So we got float titles like, "Maslenitsa - Hopak" and "Carnival-Danzon" or  "Ostatki-Polonaise" Also if you are wondering what the big reflective jacket looking aura is in these photos, it is a ghost. When you have to step back from the crowd to photograph Mardi Gras floats, it turns out that you can see ghosts. 

Anyway, shortly after this, I ghosted.  It was too cold and starting to get wet and, um, I had COVID so.. time to go in and rest.  Besides, it would be a while before Pygmalion showed up, anyway. Why was that?

After taking too wide of a turn at Jefferson Avenue and Magazine Street, the Pygmalion parade stopped for at least 30 minutes before resuming on Saturday night.

The krewe's seventh float, titled "Jester," hit a tree. The float then appeared to disconnect from its tractor trailer.
Killer trees! Here's what that looked like. 

It's absolute mayhem. 

You could call the police but they all went by in a float earlier that afternoon. The trees must have known they had free rein too because it just kept happening

On Sunday afternoon, a somewhat similar incident took place, when the 43rd float in the King Arthur parade plowed into what apparently was the same oak branch.

A NOLA.com editor riding in the parade said the Big Bird head on the float hit the limb. She said a second tractor driver arrived and tried to complete the turn, but hit the limb again.

Noooo not Big Bird too!

How did this happen?  Don't they inspect the routes anymore?  Of course they do. I can vouch for this because I saw it with my own eyes too but many people reported observing crews on the street taking measurements. This guy from the city confirms that's, at least, what they were supposed to be doing. 

A city spokesperson, John F. Lawson II, said via email Monday said that the route had been “previously inspected leading up to parade start dates” and that floats had routinely made the turn in the past.

Lawson said that after Pygmalion, members of the Department of Parks and Parkways' Forestry Division “confirmed that the branch was outside of the clearance zone.” The branch, Lawson said, “was roughly 10 feet from the curb, leaving approximately 18 feet of roadway for the turns to be made.”
Obviously everybody did their job.  Only one explanation at this point. The tree did it on purpose. Time to face the consequences.

A twisting branch jutting from an age-old oak tree was rammed by two parade floats over the weekend, causing considerable damage to the floats — in one case, decapitating a large jester — and frustrating delays to the parades.

By Monday afternoon the fern-covered limb at Jefferson Avenue and Magazine Street had been cleanly removed by the city’s Parks and Parkways Department. The 25-foot-long, 9-inch-diameter branch was a safe distance from where floats were supposed to pass, according to City Hall, and shouldn’t have interfered with the turn in the first place.
Sorry, tree. But let this be a lesson. 

And for me too. Let it be a lesson to not go to Mardi Gras if you are sick with COVID.  I was so beat from just sitting outside for 45 minutes on Saturday that I couldn't make it out for Sunday at all.  I'd better be over this by Thursday at the latest. Otherwise, we might have to take it out on that tree I was resting on.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Fever dreams

So the first thing we have to note about Carnival 2023 is that I got COVID. Finally, almost three years after it stopped being cool or notable or... well at least since it stopped being considered news, I'm getting in on some of this action. Even though COVID is still causing serious health and safety problems all over the country, and even though this still has significant impacts on people's lives, their ability to work, go to school or maybe buy eggs sometimes, "as a nation" we've decided it's time to move on.  We've definitely decided it's time to stop helping people, anyway.  Good luck out there!

Because I have been a very good boy and dutifully taken all of my shots in accordance with the directives of our Satanic Lord Fauci Gates Avegno? (I can't keep up with the liturgy anymore. Just tell me which way to genuflect) I am pretty much fine after a few nights' fever and mild coughing.  Still, since I'm sitting here writing this on Friday afternoon, which is technically day 4 of the standard 5 day quarantine, I'm probably going to end up observing the first Uptown parades of the season masked and at a distance from the crowd. But if we've learned anything about the Carnival ritual in our many years of observance it is that we don't control the shape of our experience. Rather, we must learn to appreciate it as it comes. There is a subtle art to this.  And whatever wisdom or spiritual gratification we might gain, often happens by accident.

Take the new shape of the early, um, pre-parade-season parade season, for example.  We'll explore some of the circumstances in a bit but here is something that has happened mostly by accident over the past couple of years. Chewbacchus and the groups that make up a walking parade called Les Fous have been pushed up in the calendar to a weekend they share with the Krewe of Nefertiti now in its second year. This effectively ended up adding a whole new fourth weekend of public parading events to our calendar.  Following upon that, the addition of Boheme on Friday, the shifting of 'tit-Rex and Krewe Delusion to that Sunday have greatly expanded Krewe du Vieux weekend. That's pretty cool.  Of course the reasons some of it has happened are not necessarily good. But, in spite of the problems, we are getting, in these early weeks, a little taste of what a more diverse, geographically distributed, and locally driven Carnival season can look like. It's the sort of thing we should be consciously striving to make happen.  

For now, it seems the only thing we're consciously striving for is more money for police.  The approach of Carnival has occasioned a mad scramble by political leaders to appease the latest police shakedown over parade routes. As of this writing we're told there's a plan in place to staff everything using very expensive fill-ins from police and sheriff's departments all over the state. How is that going so far?   I don't really know what sort of metrics Chief Woodfork intends to use to determine this. She said it would go perfectly fine. 

At a press conference this week announcing the new strategy, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city and the NOPD would “ensure that everyone is on the same page relative to policy, procedures.”

Woodfork said at the same press conference the arrangement was reviewed by the city Law Department, the mayor’s chief administrative officer and she expected it would also be reviewed by the consent decree monitors.

I think it’s going to be perfectly fine,” she said. 

Hmm.. maybe.

I'm told those are actually Orleans Sheriff's deputies rolling their motorcycles over the shoebox parade. But wherever they're from, there's already concern that they aren't going to be up on the brief. We don't hear so much about this now that we're supposed to focus on their staffing crisis. But for many years, the standard bit of propaganda we were fed about New Orleans police at Carnival time was that they were the world's undisputed "masters of crowd control." What does it take to attain such a lofty designation?  Not much, apparently

According to the cooperative endeavor agreement crafted by the OPSO, all supplemental deputies and officers must have an up-to-date Level 1 LAPOST Basic Training certification, which is completed in Louisiana, and two years of job experience. There will be no special training.
Notice also that because this says visiting police are "independent contractors" under the supervision of the Sheriff and not the NOPD, there's really no argument to say they fall under the directives of the federal consent decree governing that agency. 

Deputies and officers in this capacity are being viewed as “independent contractors” of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. They will be assigned by that agency, but will wear the equipment, badge, uniforms, and weapons issued by their home parish. At all times, the officers will be considered employees of their home department and subject to the laws and regulations of those departments.

Of course Woodfork thinks it will be perfectly fine.  She's barely got anything to do with any of it anyway. From the looks of things, all she's responsible for is checking the vibes. Just like us, actually!

And how is that going, anyway?  So far... it's been a mixed bag.  We took our first real sampling in the Marigny on KDV night under a portentous full moon.

Moon Over Mardi Gras

Now first of all before we say anything else, from a pure vibes aspect, it is difficult to beat the sound and feel of being at this parade. 

KDV brass band

However, sound and feel aren't the only reasons people go to see Krewe du Vieux. They also go for the jokes. KDV isn't the only parade known for topical satire by any stretch. But it does have a reputation for cleverness and sophistication (even in spite of its scatological enthusiasms) that sets an often emulated standard. Does KDV itself always live up that standard?  Not really.  This year's reviews were not only mixed. In some regards they were downright polarizing.

The primary complaint had to do with representations of Mayor Cantrell and Sheriff Hutson by several sub-krewes. The mayor of New Orleans and the elected Sheriff, being the low down good for nothing politicians that they are, are obviously fair game for pointed satire.  But when your japes are informed by right wing memes and racist stereotypes, as was the case with at least two of the floats I saw, then you're less likely to score any points against your intended quarry than you are to just make a lot of people mad.  Peter Athas explains this here in a re-cap post following his march in the KDV sub-krewe SPANK. 

While we did an anti-racism theme there was controversy over floats depicting two Black elected officials: Sheriff Susan Hutson and Mayor Cantrell. They’re both fair game, but it’s possible to kick down when mocking public figures. That’s what two sub-krewes did with a highly sexualized image of the Sheriff and a blackened caricature of the Mayor. These floats were overtly misogynistic and verged on minstrelsy. I’m not posting pictures but the floats came from LEWD and Seeds of Decline if you want to google them. And yes, the sub-krewes have silly names.

I don't mind posting the pictures. This is LEWD's float. 

LEWD Ranch

The inspiration for this one apparently comes from this story about the newly elected sheriff learning to ride a horse for the first time.  So to begin with, it's a deep cut reference to something few people watching will have even seen. Secondly, there's really nothing there to make fun of per se. Person who is new to a job is learning to do this one small ceremonial aspect of it. Nothing wrong with that. Meanwhile, there's been plenty to criticize about Hutson's actual performance in office so far if you really want to go after her. This horse thing is just trivial. So even if we wanted to argue that the.. um.. undignified representation of her person is merited by the force of a pointed political attack, well, it isn't. It's just transgression for its own sake which, as Athas also points out here, is just trolling. 

He also mentions the Seeds float going after the mayor's much publicized trips out of town.  I actually think that's a fair topic insofar as the conferences and junkets she's jetting around to are often lobbying events for the privatizing leeches who end up making questionable business deals with her administration.  Of course, nobody makes that point about it. Rather we get facile tedious complaints about "first class travel at taxpayer expense." Still, even Seeds' less than great handling of the issue did lead to this "for mayoral induced nausea" barf bag coming into my possession. And I can't say I won't need to use it at some point. 

Barf Bag

On the other hand, this float from the sub-krewe of Space Age Love was basically a rolling advertisement for the mayoral recall plastered with references and epithets pulled right out of right wing Facebook comments. "LaToylet," "LaToya The Destroya" etc. They're playing all the hits.

Space Age Love's Cantrell float

Bad taste, unfunny, and promoting a reactionary political agenda funded by an ultra-wealthy owner of a shitty restaurant franchise. It really doesn't get much worse than that.  I found out later that Rick Farrell (the shitty restaurant owner in question) paid to reserve some party space near where the parade lines up and had recall canvassers set up to collect signatures. There's probably not much he krewe could have done to keep that from happening. But they could have chosen not to roll this advertisement for an active political campaign in their parade. 

Anyway, you can see why people are upset. But it's not all bad news. Because Krewe du Vieux is a federated amalgamation of the sub-krewes that make it up, there are going to be wild inconsistencies in its presentation.  You can see the worst of its worst elements right alongside some of its best giving their very best.  Here is Krewe of Underwear's float about the growing censorship of reading materials.  It put a bunch of books on a BBQ pit. 

Book burning

 This was C.R.A.P.S. float criticizing the Dobbs decision. They made a big uterine monster puppet.

C.R.A.P.S. uterine monster

The aforementioned SPANK did a riff on famous right wing crank and Rock 'N Bowl owner John Blancher being a "Rock 'n A' Hole" which was also clever. I didn't get decent enough photo of their float but here they are.

SPANK Banner

Maybe the problem here, then, is that people need to be more specific about what it is they're mad at? Or maybe that's also missing the point. 

The following is a passage from a 2016 general history of Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham Here he is describing the late medieval emergence of civic ritual in urban places (such as carnival celebrations, for example.) 

Rituals are polyvalent, for a start: they regularly take on different meanings for participants from those intended by organizers, often several different meanings at once. One general meaning of all these processions and other events was a celebration of the civic identity of the participants, which was frequently fully explicit, and also marked by dances and jousting in the days before and after the more formal religious ceremonials. They were also, of course, intended to support local power structures and social hierarchies, as with the Pope's Easter Monday procession in Rome, which represented (among other things) his local sovereignty, or the particular festivities at Carnival and on St. John's day which Lorenzo de Medici developed around 1490 in Florence to showcase his charismatic authority. Conversely such rituals were also the foci for contestation, as, earlier in Florence, the opposition between urban aristocratic jousting and guild processions. Any procession could be disrupted, indeed, to make a political point: that was how internal civic crises often started.

"Celebrations of civic identity," are complicated things. They can be elitist and subversive at once. They can express a political point of view and its opposite at the same time. They can reify existing hierarchies while suggesting the possibility of their overthrow.  Carnival is a public exhibition and participatory social catharsis that is as much felt as it is spoken. It's no surprise that it will touch on social and political issues that concern us as a collective. But it is not, nor can it ever be, a logical linear argument about anything. Instead the experience is better understood as a dream or a vision. And even the visions we share together can take on widely varied shades of meaning.  For the most part, we can only let them happen and draw from them what we can.

So what can we draw from KDV 2023? Well for one thing, if you want to do local political satire, you should be a little more plugged in to local politics than, say, the average casual fan of the Newell Normand show. But I think what's happening in some of these sub-krewes is more of their membership  live out of town or even out of state these days than when they were a younger and truly "alternative" local art event. So it's no surprise they aren't getting too far into the local news beyond what's most loudly and salaciously broadcast via the laziest media. Heck, even most of the better content in this year's parade was mostly ripped from the headlines of the national culture wars. Obviously this doesn't apply evenly to all the sub-krewes or their individual members, but it does seem like KDV, as an institution is aging away from its counter-cultural roots toward its cable-news brained dotage.

There's still some things they can do about that. Given the growth of the pre-season and the proliferation of new groups born more or less in KDV's image, maybe it's time for KDV to think more consciously about its responsibiliy as the elder statesman here. At the very least, the main "mothership" krewe could take more interest in ensuring the overall quality of the content.  The structure of their organization makes that complicated.  And, of course, nobody in the DIY art krewe wants to be the art police. But maybe having someone around to say, "Ok but do we need four different floats this year all making the same, 'LaToya sure flies on planes a lot' joke?" would help smooth things over a bit. Because the whole parade's reputation takes a hit every time stuff like this happens.

We've already said, there's only so much control anyone can exert over the fever dream of our civic celebration and the chaotic visions it produces. That doesn't mean we can't have rules and laws that ensure its continuance. That's not really a contradiction. But it can be a fine line to walk.  Is J.P. Morrell walking it

New Orleans City Council President JP Morrell is preparing significant new reforms for the way the city permits and treats Mardi Gras krewes in the future, ranging from forcing out some old-line parade krewes to giving walking krewes like Chewbacchus and krewedelusion the same sort of protections and rights that “traditional” parading groups like Rex and Zulu now enjoy.

You can't really regulate Mardi Gras,” Morrell said in an interview with Gambit. “We're just trying to make sure the city gets a good return on Mardi Gras.”

Morrell said he’s already introduced legislation requiring the mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Committee to determine which krewes will be permitted by June 15 each year.
"You can't really regulate Mardi Gras," he said while literally proposing a new set of Mardi Gras regulations. If that's not a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of Carnival, I don't know what is.  But what is J.P. actually on about here? 

For “traditional” parades — primarily krewes that feature floats with riders and that roll the final two weekends of Carnival, Lundi Gras and Fat Tuesday — perhaps the biggest change Morrell hopes to see is the advisory committee to weed out underperforming parades. Traditional parades are the primary subject of the city’s Mardi Gras ordinances

“We've heard rumors for years that there are krewes that are not financially solvent, that are kind of leasing their space to other krewes who are on the waiting list or simply don't want to go through the process,” Morrell said. Others have simply not provided the sort of spectacle and artistry residents expect from Mardi Gras parades.

Such a process could also allow for the city to handle other types of bad actors. For instance, it could create a mechanism to oust Nyx, which has been plagued by controversies, including members throwing racist beads in 2019, their krewe captain posting racist comments on social media, a lawsuit from five members alleging fraud and abuse and the decision to hold a ball in Biloxi in 2021 as a protest of sorts against the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. Similarly, Druids have come under criticism in recent years for crossing well over the line of satire into racist tropes and other insensitive themes for their floats.

“There needs to be a mechanism where there's some curation on behalf of the mayor's Mardi Gras advisory committee to go through the krewes post-Mardi Gras and go, well, how was the parade this year? Did it live up to expectations? Does their roster actually match up with the amount of riders they say they have? Are they financially solvent? All these things are things that they should be doing,” Morrell said.

I see some good thoughts expressed in that article as well as some things that sound questionable. We'll need to learn more about what he wants. I'm not excited about the idea of the city getting too heavily involved in reviewing the content of a parade, for example.

Are going to end up with something like this?


Last weekend's KDV discourse demonstrates that parade content moderation can be a dicey proposition. You want to believe J.P. when he says he's sticking up for the little guys and the independents. But it's less comforting to see him prominently uphold the highly problematic and Disney IP heavy Chewbacchus as his standard bearer.  We know J.P. loves him some Disney-owned cultural products. Is that what we want out of Mardi Gras, though? Whose tastes and preferences would this review board enforce? 

In this MacCash story, J.P. also asks if there are too many parades. 

“Do we need a cap?” asked City Council president JP Morrell rhetorically during an interview last Friday. If not, he said, maybe we should approve other krewes. 

As first reported by The Gambit, Morrell hopes to rewrite the city’s Carnival playbook. In addition to allowing for more parades, he’s considering the possibility of retiring a few. Since the city pays most of the cost to present the parades, Morrell argues, there should be certain standards.

How the expansion and contraction of Carnival will be managed is still in the research and development mode. Morrell said the real work will begin in the spring, with an eye toward future Mardi Gras seasons.

The article goes on to point out, though, that despite the fact that the number or Orleans Parish parades is already capped at 30, two new parades have been added to the calendar in recent years.  How did that happen?  Well, let's see, one of them is the Legion of Mars which takes the morning Saturday slot this year. Who are they?

Despite the cap, sometimes new krewes do manage to cut in line. This year, the Legion of Mars, a krewe composed of veterans, first responders, police officers and their families, was permitted to lead off the parades on Feb. 11.

The other is the Krewe of Nefriti which began parading in New Orleans East last year and is now a fixture of that new "accidental" fourth week of parades we talked about at the top of this post. What's going on there

When her fellow NOPD sergeant Zenia Smith, who was also a former Nyx member and who also lives in the East, founded the all-female Krewe of Nefertiti in 2020, Turner joined immediately.

Nefertiti is the East’s only parade. It’s for the neighborhood folks who maybe can’t easily get to the Uptown parades, or maybe don’t want to.

It’s the kind of parade where people watch from their own front yards, kids run along with the 13 floats, and the high school bands come from the neighborhood. Nefertiti is devoted to public service. It’s exactly the kind of parade that wants a detective sergeant as queen.
Ah ok so you get a permit above the cap if you are a cop parade. Got it.

So it looks like we'll be discussing all this stuff at City Council after Mardi Gras this year.  It doesn't necessarily have to go poorly. But I remember the time Councilmember Cantrell convened a Mardi Gras review task force and the only thing that came out of that was they tried to ban Tucks from throwing T-P rolls.

I do think we need to have some serious talks about how to promote a more accessible and local focused Carnival season.  Rather than capping the number of parades or overly scrutinizing their format and content, why not let's talk about breaking up the Uptown mono-route and put more diverse styles of parade into the city's neighborhoods.  If J.P. really does want to recognize groups like Boheme and Chewbacchus as the equals of Carrollton or Muses, then doesn't that mean it's okay for the "big" parades to loosen their style up a bit if they want to?  Do we really need to jam them all down St. Charles three and four at a time? Who does that benefit?

Too often the way our newspaper writes about Carnival and the way our politicians seek to regulate it begins and ends from the perspective of what's best for police and for tourism ownership.  But, according to the Arthur Hardy guide, "Mardi Gras is a party the city throws for itself."* That's the thing we need to protect. Regular people rarely have a voice in that.

For several years pre-covid I was doing this bit where I pretended to rank the uptown parades each year based on a tongue in cheek matrix of highly subjective categories of experience. The real point of that exercise, though, was all parades are fun and each one does something different. We can't and shouldn't hold them all to the same standard.  They each represent a different aesthetic and set out to do something particular to their idiom. Stacking them up every year was nonetheless fun because it demonstrates the varied and textured experience of Mardi Gras. I'd hate to see that crushed by too much standardization.  J.P. should call me and I will show him my spreadsheet.

Obviously there were no rankings in 2021 because there were no parades. And last year I didn't do them because last year was all more about feeling the vibes after a year off.  I might bring the rankings back this year since this is going to be an issue.  I'm not sure how inclusive they will be, though, because, well, I've got the COVID. Whatever I get of this weekend's parades will be short bits seen from a distance. I'll have to make do with the actual fever dreams in the meantime.

* My favorite line from the book. It's in the Q&A every year. It appears on page 20 of this year's guide.