Saturday, January 15, 2022

Louisiana's dominant political party maintains its grift

The state Republican Party re-elected Louis Gurvich as its chair after yet another year of squabbling between his faction and a group more closely in the orbit of Eddie Rispone. This time the opposition is accusing Gurvich of verbally abusing a staffer, which is probably true, but also not the real reason they're opposed to his chairmanship. 

Gurvich denied the allegations against him. In a speech Saturday, he said the party’s financial problems preceded his election as chairman in 2018 and that Republicans had robust fundraising over the past two months.

He did not directly address the allegations that he had mistreated a former party employee, though in his remarks Saturday, he compared himself with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative who was outraged when he found himself being accused of sexual assault after being nominated to the country’s top court.

Several top Republicans in the state have been upset with Gurvich’s leadership. Eddie Rispone, a former gubernatorial candidate and a Republican mega-donor, has openly criticized the party’s leadership on several occasions.

“No one wants to contribute to the party because it’s not run properly,” Rispone said Saturday.

Is the party being "run properly?" Well that depends on a lot of subjective criteria. They do hold both houses of the legislature, both US Senate seats, all but one of Louisiana's US House seats, and every statewide elected office other than Governor.  On the other hand, they haven't yet figured out how to divvy up the spoils of all that plunder without being jerks about it. 

And that's what these chair elections are all about.  See a few years ago, these same factions had it out over whether or not Republican candidates should hire former chairman Roger Villere's consulting firm and how much they should pay him.  This year they are at it again, likely over the same sort of territorial grudge, regardless of how they want to explain it

Taking a stab at Rispone, Gurvich said he wouldn't let a "wealthy businessman wrest control" of the state party and downplayed Bayham's GOP bona fides, saying he consulted for Jay Dardenne, a Republican who serves as Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards' chief budget architect.

Oh yeah you really wouldn't a "wealthy businessman" getting control of the party.  That's definitely why you need Louis Gurvich around.  

Gurvich’s desire to be the LAGOP’s top leader might seem an unusual move from his weekday responsibilities as president of the Uptown-based New Orleans Private Patrol, but the private security business is in Gurvich’s blood. A third- generation entrepreneur, Gurvich’s family came to Louisiana in the late 1920’s when J. Edgar Hoover, the young director of the Bureau of Intelligence — later known as the FBI — personally transferred Gurvich’s paternal grandfather to the city. Gurvich received multiple degrees in business and law from UNO, Tulane University and Loyola Law School and entered the 87-year-old family business in 1991.

Anyway, now that Gurvich is back, what's next for the state GOP power brokers besides trying to hide all the money from each other? 

Acknowledging his narrow victory, Gurvich, who will lead the party through the next election for governor, said the stakes are too great to let to party devolve into infighting. 

"We are here to save a country, nothing less, make no mistake. Our enemies are powerful, they are a driven by a Marxists ideology," Gurvich said. "My promise is that I'm here for every one of you."

LOL, your "enemies" are almost entirely out of power in this state and they are driven by a neoliberal ideology of privatization and patronage not too different from your own. But keep that grift up. It's going well for you.


 No, the virus is not getting "milder."

Before omicron came along, SARS-CoV-2 was actually evolving to be more severe, says Bhattacharyya, of Harvard Medical School. "We're looking at a virus that's gotten progressively more severe over time," he says.

A study from the U.K. found that alpha was about 40% more likely to kill a person than the original virus. And delta was about two times more likely to put you in the hospital than the alpha variant.

"Omicron may be a small step back in severity. But it's probably more severe on its own than the original version of the virus," Bhattacharyya says. Becoming "more mild" hasn't been the trend or evolutionary trajectory, he says.

In addition, omicron didn't evolve directly from delta. It evolved from an earlier version of the virus circulating in 2020. And so omicron could actually be more severe than its ancestral virus, and it could be progressing toward higher severity, Bhattacharyya says.

And thus, there's no guarantee that the next variant to emerge will be milder. It could be the most severe yet.

"I think we don't really know what direction this virus is taking," says evolutionary biologist Stephen Goldstein at the University of Utah. "We've learned that trying to predict the evolutionary trajectory of this virus is very, very difficult. If not impossible."

How did the "mildness" of Omicron evolve?  Well, America's bosses decided it was time to force people back to work regardless of the health hazard. America's political leaders, by and large, agreed with that. And America's news editors, by and large being of the same socio-economic class as America's bosses and political leaders decided they, too, were tired of being inconvenienced by worker safety concerns and that it was time to stop worrying so much about COVID.  So they started putting the word "mild" in headlines and the thing just mutated from there into conventional wisdom.

Can't go back now. Even if the next variant really is more severe, they've all figured out whose lives do and do not matter by this point.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Let's hope it's a good one

We begin 2022 in the middle of a great experiment. Policymaking deciders at all levels of government are attempting to find out what would happen if they just caved completely to the demands of the hooting death cult coalition of capitalist bosses and anti-vaxers who have been yelling at them this whole time to just let the virus do what it wants.

And, well, we're finding out.
"Omicron is truly everywhere," Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor of emergency medicine at Brown University's School of Public Health, told CNN on Friday night. "What I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down, not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill."
The political calculus is obvious. Turns out there is a high tolerance for economic disruption, overloaded hospitals, and even people dying, as long as the politicians can say it isn't because of a thing they tried to do. In fact, every policy choice up to this point can be described as elected leaders desperately trying to get this bullshit off of their desk where it is someone else's problem. This stage of total inaction is only the latest, um, variant of that pathology to emerge. 

Schools are about to open next week. In New Orleans, where the response thus far has been to misreport case counts, and blame students and teachers who get sick for their individual "irresponsible" behavior, the plan now is apparently just to see how much more they can take.  
With the virus spreading, some staff and experts are expressing concern about what school reopenings could mean.

"There will be pediatric hospitalizations," Hotez said. "And what's going to be the other tough piece in the next weeks, keeping the schools open, because of this high transmissibility -- especially if you start seeing absences of school teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff."

Whatever happens, rest assured it will never be the fault of anyone in  charge. Their only real job has been to keep the workers from getting too uppity in their demands that their safety and well being be protected. And so far they've done that job perfectly. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

What year are we even in now?

Really great to see we're focusing on what matters. See we spend all this money on police when... wait a second... Computer, enhance.



   Okay enhance again.



My God we're right back at the beginning. It is still 2005 or 2008 or whatever and the mayor is still a cop. 

We're never getting out of this loop. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Here we go around again

Looking forward to 2022 in New Orleans when we will be turning more public investment into private profit despite our chronic housing crisis as has been done over and over in exactly this fashion.  

The property is zoned CBD-1, which calls for high-density and mixed-use developments downtown. The buildings, constructed in the mid-1800s, are eligible for Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and located in a qualified Opportunity Zone, a flyer for the listing said.

The purchase price was not disclosed. The listed price was $4.7 million. Siegel, along with William Sadler and Jeff Cohn, represented the sellers, listed as New Orleans residents Rosemonde Kuntz Capomazza, Carlo Capomazza, and Stefano Capomazza, in the transaction.
Whatever will they do with that property in that downtown neighborhood? 
Asked about plans for the Baronne and Union streets buildings, Phil Winton, a spokesman for GBX Group, said in an emailed statement that “We don’t comment on future plans until we have them buttoned up. Rest assured, the historic building will be preserved.”

Mixed-use, multifamily, short-term rentals and hotel redevelopment projects are abundant in the area. Developers have used tax incentives and creative funding measures to overhaul vacant properties, many of which were used as office space in their past lives.
Don't worry. The building will be fine. That's really the point of all this, right?

One other note from this story. GBX Group is also in possession of the deteriorating jazz landmark buildings that face S. Rampart Street. According to the Times-Picayune, the plans are to redevelop the whole block into an "entertainment district" anchored by a "'jazz-themed' hotel/convention venue along Loyola Avenue."  One assumes that means the river side of Loyola Avenue which is currently occupied by surface level parking lots. So it's not clear that City Hall which is currently located across the street would have to move out of the way for that but they are trying.   Here is their latest idea for that

The 23-story office tower at 1615 Poydras St., originally known as the Freeport McMoRan Building, is currently the headquarters for DXC Technology. It sits across the street from Caesars Superdome and is two blocks from the current City Hall.

The building is owned by Stewart Capitol, which is controlled by New Orleans investor Frank Stewart, according to the company’s website. According the Orleans Parish Assessor's Office website, it last sold for $30 million in 2000, according to assessor's records. Mohammad Motahari with Stewart Enterprises told WDSU Friday the city reached out about potentially selling. He added that the company will listen to all officers, but no offer has yet been made. The memo says the prospective timeline would depend in part on the financing process.
Just as an incidental note, Frank Stewart, we may recall, spent much of 2017 throwing a public fit over the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces in the city.  Thankfully, the city didn't bow to Stewart's faction. Well, not entirely, anyway. LaToya Cantrell certainly gave them a lot of consideration. After all, it wouldn't make sense not to listen to your business partners, no matter how filthy racist they are, right? 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

New heights

 Records are made to be broken

Louisiana reported the highest single-day increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

There were 6,199 confirmed COVID cases and an additional 3,179 probable COVID cases reported in the Department of Health's noon update.

The 6,199 confirmed cases mark the largest single day increase ever in Louisiana.

Interestingly this is happening within a context of  under-reported data be it from increased use of at home tests or just flat out lying by local medical examiners

In Lafayette Parish, COVID-19 was listed as the underlying cause of death in 134 fatalities in 2020, even though there were 419 “excess deaths” – the number of deaths that exceed a normal, pre-pandemic year. The gap between these two numbers means hundreds more people probably died of COVID-19, researchers said. 

Deaths attributed to diseases that are often tied to COVID-19 increased. Deaths at home from hypertensive heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s all increased 30% or more in 2020. Those deaths, especially those that weren’t properly investigated, make up at least some of Lafayette’s missing COVID-19 deaths, according to experts.

Especially concerning are deaths in the community attributed to nonspecific causes, known as “garbage codes.” For example, 40 people in the parish who died at home since 2020 were certified as dead of “heart failure, unspecified.”

Meanwhile it looks like we're back to just waiting to see if it all blows over as a policy response. I saw some city agencies are reimposing mask mandates and the councilmembers are back on Zoom.  Everyone else is basically at the mercy of their boss for direction going forward.  Hope you don't work for the schools....


Gotta get NHIF back on the ballot

Will have more to say about this if I ever get that elections post done. But this shouldn't have been allowed to happen

For decades, tax proceeds went to the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund, or NHIF, which has been used in recent years for emergency rental assistance, repairing storm damage, assisting first time home buyers and incentivizing new housing developments.

It was a narrow defeat. With 50.8 percent of voters casting “no” ballots, the margin was fewer than 1,000 votes. And already, some are calling for another vote to restart the tax.

Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, argued that support for the NHIF remains high in New Orleans, and that the renewal’s defeat could be largely blamed on the extremely low profile nature of the race, and the near total lack of institutional support from government officials. 

“No one put any resources into educating the public on the fund and what it’s accomplished,” Hill said. “The NHIF has always had broad support whenever it’s been polled. But it’s also clear that many people had no idea that the NHIF was on the ballot, even in the weeks before the election. So it suggests that this very disappointing result was about a lack of education.”

The only PR effort that made any impact at all was BGR's absurdly conservative opposition which got broadcast all over town more or less unchallenged. That argument is what Andreanecia Morris is referring to at the end of this article. 

But Morris also argued that the focus on accountability was partially due to a deeply ingrained bias that makes people particularly suspicious of government spending on affordable housing.

She argued that similar issues can be found throughout city government, but that some people’s deep-seated association of affordable housing with corruption and crime put much greater scrutiny on housing programs. 

“Why does housing get this fake purity test?” she said. “Please name for me a pot of money that’s perfectly managed.”

The failure to renew this millage will result in a reduction in revenue for the housing fund from $12.9 million to $3.1 million in 2022 according to the city budget projection.  The Lens notes that source of that $3.1 isn't clearly indicated. However, we do know that it relies now on fees collected from short term rental licensing which, in addition to being a difficult figure to get a handle on, is also builds in a perverse incentive for funding affordable housing by allowing STRs to proliferate.  

So it's imperative that we figure out a way to get an affordable housing millage back on the ballot. It is not at all clear that the incoming city council will be interested in doing something like that, though. But maybe that's something else to save for an election recap.

The boss will decide if you are too sick to work

They will say they are citing CDC guidance, of course. But one thing that has become abundantly clear over the course of the pandemic is who the CDC actually works for

A union for flight attendants is accusing the CDC of loosening rules for quarantine after Covid-19 exposure at the behest of the airline industry, as the Omicron variant continues to rage across the globe.

"We said we wanted to hear from medical professionals on the best guidance for quarantine, not from corporate America advocating for a shortened period due to staffing shortages,” said Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson following the CDC announcement shortening the recommended quarantine duration from 10 days to five days.

“The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring,” Nelson said.

It really isn't even a big secret. When pressed on the matter, CDC leadership openly admits they are considering factors besides the public health question. They are, instead, prioritizing an agenda pushed corporate lobbyists which insists that sick leave time is a threat to"societal function.

The decision to cut the recommended isolation time in half, which was hailed by business groups and slammed by some union leaders and health experts, reflects the increasingly tough decisions health officials navigate as they seek to strike the right balance between vigilance and normalcy as the nation heads into the pandemic’s third year. Even with a surging variant, President Biden has said he is not looking at lockdowns and stressed that people who are vaccinated and boosted do not need to fundamentally change their lives as they did at the start of the pandemic.

The guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “was based on the anticipation of a large number of cases might impact societal function,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in an interview with The Post. “There were starting to be limitations in society, not just in our health-care workforce but in other parts of society. We were seeing infections in many places that we realized this could be a harbinger of many other essential workers we needed.”

"There were starting to be limitations in society." In other words, workers were demanding to be treated as though their lives actually meant something and we just can't have that.  

Starbucks' union drive comes amid much a broader national labor movement spanning multiple industries across the country. Last month, in a strike wave known as "Striketober," tens of thousands of workers at companies like John Deere, Frito-Lay, Nabisco, Kellogg, and McDonald's organized work stoppages over unethical working conditions and low pay. 

According to Cornell's Labor Action Tracker, the share of workers on strike last month jumped to 25,000 – a marked departure from the three months prior, which saw an average of 10,000. Many experts and labor advocates told Salon that strikes are being driven largely by a growing sense of dissatisfaction amongst essential workers as the pandemic wanes.  

Corrina A. Christensen, Director of Public Relations & Communications of the BCTGM International Union, which represents workers at Frito-Lay, Kellogg, and Nabisco, said that the strikes have "everything to do with workers being fed up with employers bent on disrespecting their work and demanding take-aways in wages, benefits, forcing overtime…after they were upheld as 'essential.'"

That is the line the CDC is trying to hold. The bosses who have the ears of policymakers have succeeded in defining 5 days of additional sick leave as a "societal threat" so large that it actually outweighs the threat of pandemic COVID. The article quoted above is primarily about the organizing effort at Starbucks in Buffalo. In this article, the workers involved in that campaign refer to the "fear culture" brought to bear against them by management. 

Most of the workers I talk to are almost immediately on board,” Murray says. He joined the organizing effort two months ago, and has been talking to his coworkers ever since. He says that not only do organizers have to educate everyone on what a union is all about, they also face a latent level of fear among employees that they could be targeted for retaliation, particularly now that the union drive has gone public. 

[Coworkers] were saying, I’m scared, can Starbucks do something to us?’ That broke my heart, because that fear culture has already been cultivated,” says Gianna Reeve, a shift supervisor who has been helping with the organizing effort. It really hurts. This is an opportunity that we can be stronger.”

Fear of retaliation is the greatest weapon the bosses have against workers. And it permeates the atmosphere of most service industry jobs like Starbucks where the boss can demand not only compliance in deed but also in attitude. Standards in service jobs are subjective. Workers can be made accountable not only for the amount of work they produce but for arbitrarily defined perceptions of that work. Here is what that looks like in practice.

Did you show up for that twelve hour shift on a holiday? Were you on your feet the whole time mixing hundreds of pumpkin spice lattes during the fall rush? Ahhh but see you weren't quite "WARM AND WELCOMING" enough as you went about that so we are going to have to punish you again. 

Service industry bosses are absolute tyrants. Workers organizing against that kind of intense intimidation need all the help and encouragement they can get. Which is why having a strong labor influence in the halls of power is so important. When a government agency has a chance to step in and put its thumb on the scale, it can make a big difference.  Joe Biden's CDC has chosen to intervene on behalf of the bosses. It even seems like they are rubbing it in the workers' faces by amplifying the bosses' intimidating rhetoric.  

 According to this CDC ad, workers have a clear choice. Their health or their job. If you are one of the good ones, the poster implies you will choose to work your shifts. If you are one of the good ones, in fact, you may not even "tolerate being at home."  At least that's what CDC says.

“Our guidance was conservative before. It had said 10 days of isolation,” Walensky told CNN. “But in the context of the fact that we were going to have so many more cases — many of those would be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic — people would feel well enough to be at work, they would not necessarily tolerate being home, and that they may not comply with being home, this was the moment that we needed to make that decision and those changes.”

Clearly these people care about your well being. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Do more posts

Not to go too far into the realm of self-actualized blogging but I am aware that I haven't posted as much here during the back half of 2021 as I would have liked to. There are reasons for that. Being "busy" is relative to a bunch of stuff and I don't need to explain it in too much detail. But lately I've been specifically busy in ways that take me away from typing out paragraphs on the yellow web page. Either that or I've been lazy. In any case it's been easier these past months to just tweet out whatever is the thing that comes up than it has been to write it all down before the next distraction occurs. 

Sometimes that's fine, but also it is a problem.  While it's loads of fun to argue with people on Twitter, the actual constructive reason for posting things on the internet is to share information and to take notes. Twitter is good for sharing immediately. It's less good for taking notes for future reference.  Too often I find myself half-remembering something I read and tweeted out a week or a month or even a year ago but not being able to dig it back up easily.  I can only find the real deep cuts if I've blogged them, tagged them, and hopefully synthesized a few ideas about them here.  Let too much of that slip away into the ether and you start to feel like you're losing your grip a little bit.  It's not healthy. 

So I'm gonna try to get back to doing posts in 2022.  I don't want to lose as much of it as I lost this year. In the meantime, I do, in fact, still have some 2021 notes I will try to salvage. Another consequence of not getting the little posts out day by day is those notes get stored away in unfinished draft posts that get bigger and bigger and more difficult to finish as time goes by.  Presently this blog has 788 "drafts" where I've shoved at least a few links and sentences that I must have thought at the time would be good to pull out at some point.  I'll probably never go back through all of that. But  there are at least four that have the skeletons of long-ish posts about big topics from this year I probably ought to finish if I can.  One is about the pandemic, one is about infrastructure, one is about tourism, and one is about this year's elections.  I'll try to get those done just for my own peace of mind, if not by the end of this week, then at least within the next month.  That might tie a bow on the year so we can move on. 

Also more blurting out of random things. Let's get back to that if we can.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Bill Cassidy's victory tour

Much like Troy Carter, Bill now gets to go on a tour of the state doing a bunch of ceremonial groundbreakings and/or aspirational ribbon cuttings for stuff in the infrastructure bill that *might* build infrastructure but will definitely line the pockets of some important <strike>donors</strike> "private partners while at least seeming to try to build things.  For Troy, it just means a fun year of being a new Congressman-for-life.  But for Bill, it could very well be the opening round of his campaign for Governor

Cassidy may have an easier time winning the governor’s mansion in 2023 than reelection to the Senate in 2026. Gubernatorial elections are more often about candidate qualities and local issues, while U.S. Senate races tend to track national partisan fights. This could lessen Trump’s influence in a contest for governor.

If Cassidy runs for governor and makes a runoff against a Republican, he could win the faceoff with support from Democrats, independents and his remaining personal base among Republicans.

Conversely — if he makes the runoff against a Democrat, he could win with votes from Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats. Even most Trump die-hards would hold their noses and cast ballots for Cassidy, a Republican with an 83% conservative voting record, rather than vote for a left-leaning Democrat.

That Ron Faucheux column doesn't really even mention Bill's support for (and significant role in crafting) the "bipartisan" infrastructure package. But he sure does get a ton of credit for it from the Advocate's ostensibly liberal  opinion writer. So much, in fact, one would think she has some sort of quota to fill.  All of which is to say that should Cassidy run for governor, he will be a very well positioned candidate on paper... or in the paper, as it were. 

But that doesn't always mean everything. Faucheux does point out also Bill isn't the most popular guy among so-called "Trump Republicans." And given that the term Trump Republicans pretty much just means Republicans then that could be a problem. Also, as has been famously noted, the "dude is weird."

Rep. Cedric Richmond, a dapper politician from New Orleans and key Landrieu supporter, was more blunt. “He’s weird. Dude is weird,” Richmond said. “He’s not what Louisiana is. He’s not personable, he’s not charismatic.” 

Of course that is far from the only issue with Bill. He's not just a "weird dude." He's a weird dude who protects the chemical industry from consequences when they poison our air and water. 

Under federal law, Louisiana must develop a “state implementation plan” outlining actions that plants must take to reduce emissions below that standard. As part of that process, the Department of Environmental Quality in 2017 and 2018 ordered Rain to adopt a plan to change its manufacturing processes to keep sulfur dioxide levels in check.

Rain balked, however, saying it was having trouble figuring out how to monitor the heat and flow of gases and other materials at its plant because conventional meters kept melting. In 2019, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., intervened on behalf of the company and joined the state agency in successfully lobbying the EPA to delay implementation of the plan.

Still, if he does run, he's going to be the favorite candidate of the Advocate editorial page.  But that also isn't surprising given the company line over there with regard to protecting the environment.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Troy Carter's victory tour

It may be true that Congress is so wracked with corruption and indifference that it can't protect voting rights, or labor rights or get us our health care and child care bills we desperately need. It is nonetheless a great time to be an incumbent congressman.  This is especially true if you happen to be a freshman incumbent congressman like Troy Carter. 

Troy doesn't really figure in to the high level back room negotiations over anything in the deadlocked megabills that comprise the work of the modern congress.  Because of this doesn't own any of the failures. But, because the last two years of perpetual crisis have forced through little bit more non-military federal spending than would otherwise have been possible,  he still gets to go around the state cutting ribbons for the next two years

Carter said the bridge is his first stop on his tour that will see him announce various infrastructure investments across the 2nd Congressional District, which covers almost all of New Orleans and stretches north and west along the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge. 

His next stop is Thursday in Grammercy, where he will announce tens of millions of dollars in repairs for the Veterans Memorial Bridge, he said. 

It's a fantastic time to get the job.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Police pipleline

Thinking back to the beginning of this year and all of the problems facing this city with an election season looming.  A pandemic, a budget crisis, a housing crisis, poverty, general corruption... rascalism, etc. And here we are at the end of democratic process, through which we are supposed to resolve these issues and all our prospective representatives can talk about is how much they want to lock people up and hire more cops.  

Okay that's not all they can talk about. Sometimes they can argue about casserole recipes. But mainly the District B candidates are arguing about who can be the biggest cop

Much of the city's crime problem can be traced to repeat offenders who receive what amounts to a slap on the wrist by the district attorney before they are let back out on the street, Banks said. Instead of boosting the New Orleans Police Department's budget to fight crime, as Harris advocates, he would work to create criteria that every lawbreaker must meet before they are released from jail, he said.   

However, Harris, 46, said she wouldn't pull from other departments to better fund the cops. Instead, she'd push NOPD to apply for federal grants that could help employ more officers.

The department could also boost recruitment by partnering with universities to offer free or low-cost tuition for new officers, and by providing tax credits to first responders who live in the city, she said. She'd also tap a task force to identify crime prevention strategies.  

None of that is especially coherent.  Banks should and probably does know that a city councilman doesn't have a whole lot to say about sentencing. A councilperson does have something to say about the police budget, though, which makes Harris's threat to give the more money at least credible.  But.. "tax credits" for cops too?  We may have reached a new level of neoliberal brain poisoning. 

Meanwhile in District E, Oliver Thomas has dispensed with the complexities of tax incentives or dubious notions about deterrence and taken a more direct approach to producing more cops.  OT is going to build a "pipeline" directly from the schools.

To prevent crime, Thomas wants to create a "youth-to-law-enforcement pipeline" that would see NOPD partner with local schools to recruit new officers. The department could also rely on the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and other entities to issue misdemeanors for low-level offenses, so that more of the force's time is freed to focus on violent offenses.  

Dream big, kids.  Just like your inspiring political leaders do.

"If any"

Page Cortez sure sounds fired up about taking steps to deal with our out of control State Police force next spring.  That is, "if any" need to be taken.  They might just wait and see what the Superintendent can find out about that first.

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, named the committee of four Republicans and three Democrats with a goal of delivering a report by Oct. 31. Foil said he hopes to get a report ready prior to the Legislature returning in March of its regular legislative session.

“The creation of this oversight committee came about at the request of Senate members in order to find out what the agency has learned over the last few years, what they have done to change their policies and what, if any, bills that may need to be filed in the upcoming session in order to improve our agency,” Cortez said.

Davis said he started with a top-to-bottom review conducted internally. He discontinued that review and went to find outside analysts to oversee the report. He hopes to sign the contract early next year and have a definitive report before the end of 2022.

Yeah that report might take a while. I mean.. there's a lot to review

An AP review of internal investigative records and newly obtained videos identified at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which Louisiana State Police troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.

AP's review — coming amid a widening federal investigation into state police misconduct — found troopers have made a habit of turning off or muting body cameras during pursuits. When footage is recorded, the agency routinely refuses to release it. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of troopers told internal investigators this year that it was his "common practice" to rubber-stamp officers' use-of-force reports without reviewing body-camera video.

In some cases, troopers omitted uses of force such as blows to the head from official reports, and in others troopers sought to justify their actions by claiming suspects were violent, resisting or escaping, all of which were contradicted by video footage.

"Hyper-aggressiveness is winked upon and nodded and allowed to go on," said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief and use-of-force expert who reviewed videos obtained by AP. "It's very clear that the agency accepts that type of behavior."

So okay we'll wait until all that gets sorted to see "if any bills need to be filed."   OR Davis also floated this idea instead. 

With 924 troopers on staff, Davis said he needs 200 more to decrease the amount of work individuals have to do. “We are expecting them to do more with less,” he said.

Because sure maybe what we've got right now is a 1000 strong armed death squad acting with what appears to be complete impunity. But, hear me out, what if we had 200 more of them?

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Why not say what they actually do?

I don't mean to pick too much of nit with this article about Cantrell's City Council endorsements. I will say that I appreciate the headline doesn't blast the phrase "MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL..." at us for SEO purposes the way almost every bit of news that even tangentially mentions her tends to do. And there's nothing really wrong with the story.  It's just that, I think sometimes when we describe these candidates in one or two sentences it would be helpful if we mentioned the very relevant fact that some of them are realtors and landlords. 

So here we have Freddie King described as " a lawyer, youth mentor and former constituent services director in the district." 

In District C, Cantrell said King -- a lawyer, youth mentor and former constituent services director in the district -- “works in the trenches and understands the issues that matter.”

"Freddie knows constituent services and knows that you have to be responsive to the people you serve," Cantrell said. 

That's three whole things! You can shove a lot of information in between those dashes when you know what you're doing.  So maybe let's find a way to also say that he is a realtor. The notoriously verbose DSA voter guide got it in there. It only took a couple of sentences. 

It’s unclear how King vows to Fight the Red Tape of City Hall and Review the Permitting Process,” or what that even means. However it is clear in his duties of City Council that he will be one of the arbiters of land use and zoning, and pass regulation on matters around short term rentals. He formerly worked for then-Councilmember Nadine Ramsey as a coordinator of constituent services. Ramsey was notoriously awful when it came to affordable housing, and worked to remove minimum affordability requirements for big developers. That’s a big red flag for renters and housing advocates hoping to advance a rental registry.

King is a lawyer who lives in Algiers with his wife, Casandra. Together they own and operate LeBeouf Street Properties, a Gretna-based real estate company with a handful of properties in Algiers.

Anyway, we just mentioned Monday that King, who says, "I believe in a capatalistic society" is all in on shoving more Airbnbs into the French Quarter.  So this little bit about how he makes his money seems relevant.

There's another one of those in here whose real estate money might be even more relevant.  But it's hard to know that. The article only says he's a "veteran" of the politics wars. 

The first of Cantrell’s endorsements came Monday, when she threw her support behind the 31-year-old Glover, who also claims support from several former primary rivals and other community leaders. Glover, a former St. Roch neighborhood association leader and current nonprofit director, is taking on Eugene Green, a veteran of local politics and government who is twice Glover’s age.

Again, I don't really want to pick on this article, the T-P or any reporters in particular. They actually often do mention that Eugene Green is a real estate broker. They just did it yesterday, in fact.  

The other candidate in that race, real estate broker Eugene Green, said he would allocate city funds to support programs that turn blighted properties into affordable housing.

Green's assertion about wanting to create "affordable housing" demands interrogation, though.  Especially given the nature of his business interests.  Green isn't just a realtor. He's a landlord. Again, one sentence from the DSA guide

He is the president and owner of the generic-branded Nationwide Real Estate Corporation, making him a massive property manager throughout the city.

Have the properties Green owns and operates been a safe and healthy answer to the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans?  Might want to ask his tenants about that.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Nobody actually lives here

 Happy Holidays

Erath took over the business from the previous owners after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with a pledge to keep the shop open. And he kept that promise, keeping the store open for the last 16 years. However, as time progressed, Erath says that less people are walking the French Quarter.

"We're totally dependent on tourists. Over the years, fewer and fewer locals because fewer and fewer residents in the French Quarter," Erath said.

Erath's fondest memories are seeing people reminiscence when they enter the shop for a visit.

"Most gratifying thing is year after year, people coming in with their kids. We have adults in here saying they come with their grandparents," Erath said.

Erath is encouraging people if they would like a Santa's Quarters ornament to do so before Christmas before inventory runs out.   

The other night there was a forum featuring the two candidates competing in the city council runoff for  District C. This district includes Algiers, Bywater, and the French Quarter so naturally the short term rental plague is an issue.

Speaking to a crowded room at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel on St. Louis Street, the two District C candidates agreed that Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration has not adequately enforced city laws aimed at curbing the rentals and keeping noise at bearable levels in the district. 

Bridges said she would use the council's power over the city's budget to compel Cantrell to do so. Neighbors also need to bring their complaints to City Hall, she added.

"I can hold public hearings from here to Timbuktu, but unless I have the community behind me, nothing will be changed," she said.

King said he would require the city's code enforcement department to regularly update the council on its operations. He would also allocate money for more code enforcement officers. "Every month, they need to give us an update on what they are doing," he said. 

But the pair disagreed on what changes to existing laws were needed.

"I believe in a capitalistic society, and I think you should have short-term rentals in commercial areas," said King. Specifically, the retail and entertainment strip that faces the Mississippi River in the quarter would be ideal for AirBnB listings, he said. 

Even at this late stage in the process, where the damage done and the need for action are plainly evident, our politicians are capable only of maintaining the status quo or backsliding.  Neither of those answers is acceptable.

The problem now is not, as Bridges asserts, that the law is being poorly enforced. The problem is with the law itself.  We went into greater detail about this at the time the regulations were passed, but to summarize, the types of STR licenses it creates and the way those licenses are tied to zoning, actually allows..  a lot of high density short term rentals in a lot of  places a layperson might assume are "residential neighborhoods."  Also, the real heads will recall that because the City Council decided not to freeze permits for the few months time between the passage of the law and the date it went into effect, the gold rush on irrevocable permits during that time have left us with a large number of STRs that are now grandfathered in.  So any current councilmember or candidate who won't commit now to a new and stricter STR ordinance, is not serious about limiting STRs. 

That, of course, means none of them is serious about it.  Instead we have self-described believers in "a capitalistic society" like King who not only doesn't seem to know the current law already allows STRs in commercial zones but also doesn't seem to know how capitalism works.  Real estate speculators haven't been turning the Seventh Ward and Treme into blocks and blocks of de-facto hotels because they've been barred from the French Quarter. They're doing it because that's where they can get the highest return on their initial investment. That isn't going to stop unless we stop it.  But from the looks of things the next District C councilperson won't be in much of a hurry to do that. 

Update: I typed up this little blurb about District C candidates before I saw that this week's Gambit has a long feature story on the state of STR enforcement.  There are comments from current and future councilmembers as well as some people in the mayor's administration. The article looks at how other cities in the US and around the world are dealing with the problem and hints at the reasons some of those solutions might or might not apply here. Also, there is this. 

Only a few months after the new regulations went into effect, the pandemic struck New Orleans. With travel restricted amid stay-at-home orders, the bottom fell out of the STR industry around the world, making it difficult to fully understand the impact the city’s new regulations have had. Housing groups, like JPNSI, have been focused more on fighting evictions during the pandemic, but they certainly are keeping an eye on the STR issue, particularly as tourism builds back up in New Orleans.

“Through 2020, we saw a decrease in license registrations for new short-term rentals, and that’s been creeping back up through 2021,” says Russell Moran, JPNSI’s program and operations manager. “But I think one of the things that we did see is as cities were in lockdown, folks who operate short-term rentals were actually then renting those apartments to tenants and converting them to long-term tenants.”

But that trend is already reversing as Covid restrictions have eased, Moran says. 

"Sadly, now we’ve started to see in eviction court, landlords evicting tenants so they can return to short-term rentals,” Moran says. “[Landlords] aren’t outright coming to say that — we have tenants who have called us and said specifically that my landlord is putting me through the eviction process for whatever reasons but has made it clear that they’re going back to short-term rentals.”

The first of the month is coming again next week...

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Be sure and vote real hard

Supposedly, it matters

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Election malaise

It's been a long hard slog here in post-Ida (and pre-post-COVID.. maybe?... but not really) New Orleans.  October was basically our second "Lost Month" in two years. But worse because I've barely been posting anything. It's not been a great time, okay?  We're just trying to hang on but maybe we are getting somewhere. Halloween was kind of encouraging.. almost normal, even.  You can see here where I tried to render the Superdome on fire (remember that? it was a thing that happened this year!) in the traditional lighted gourd medium. 


Flaming Dome


Only moderate success with that, I am afraid. We'll try and do better, though. 

Anyway, if you're anything like me, you're probably still too immersed in the "malaise" to get super psyched up for this weekend's elections.  In which case, it is a good idea to check in with our friends at Antigravity to see if they can pep us up. Let's see... who is running for, oh I dunno.. Assessor? 

Beyond the two name changes, (Anthony "(Low Tax)") Gressett has fairly frequently used the court system to address grievances, including at least two slip-and-fall injuries, multiple altercations with police, an argument with a Southwest flight attendant he alleges threw bagged peanuts at him, and at least three disputes arising from work by contractors or movers at his own home.

According to court records, Gressett hired a Metairie-based painting and renovation company to do work on his home last year. He alleged the company’s workers violated the contract by showing up early, smoking on his property, playing music, using spray paint where the contract called for hand painting, and not properly cleaning up. That included using his “family’s personal residential garbage cans” for disposing of job waste and going into a storage area they weren’t supposed to access, where they took the family’s “private residential broom and dust pan” to clean up. After multiple disagreements with the workers, he alleged they “sprayed graffiti” on his house, applying “unauthorized writings,” and deliberately delayed the job. The situation made it “almost impossible” to have the house ready for Christmas card photos and even caused Gressett concern he wouldn’t be able to raise his tenants’ rent, according to his court filings. The case appears to still be pending in Jefferson Parish court.

In another incident, Gressett and his wife Bam sued a moving company they hired in 2016. When the movers arrived, Gressett alleged in court, they repeatedly claimed services he thought were covered by the contract weren’t, “and these episodes went on from almost beginning to end of the contracted work shift until the defendants finally wrecked the moving truck into the plaintiffs’ home…” The case was ultimately settled, according to court records.

It goes on from there so enjoy that little pick-me-up.  Makes you feel a little bit better about the world for a minute.

Now let's see what our friendly neighborhood comrades at the DSA can do to keep us on that high. 

Take a look around New Orleans in late 2021 and you will find it much worse for all the wear. The pandemic has left our service workers more precarious even as the ownership class of the tourism industry is better funded through public dollars. Housing costs are higher than ever while the real estate interests who fund our politics have even more wealth. There are surveillance cameras everywhere but the traffic signals don’t work. The streets still flood. The intelligentsia speculates about an indefinable sense of “malaise.” If one were to travel the gauntlet of malfunctioning lights along Loyola Avenue from the collapsed Hard Rock site to the collapsing Plaza Tower, one would inevitably pass City Hall along the way. The mayor who goes to work there every day recently said to anyone who might find a reason amid all of this to complain that “maybe New Orleans is not for you.”

But is LaToya Cantrell for New Orleans? There is the question that this election should have addressed. But given the field of challengers, it very likely will not.

Oh man.  Well okay back to bed for now, I guess. 

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Surveillance state

In what is probably the final bit of fallout from Leon Cannizzaro's "fake subpoena" scandal, Jason Williams's office has entered into a settlement with plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit that came out of the scandal.  We don't need to re-hash the details of all of that here too much.  The Lens article runs us through the paces of summarizing it anyway. But anybody reading this already knows about Cannizzaro's use of fraudulent subpoenas and abuse of material witness warrants to compel testimony from crime victims.  The upshot here is Williams, who was elected DA based in large part on his promise not to do that stuff anymore, has agreed to 42 months of "monitoring" to ensure that he doesn't.  The joke is this now means we've hit a golden trifecta of criminal justice consent decree type arrangements in Orleans Parish now. 

The New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office are also under court-appointed monitorships, and have been since federal consent decrees were first approved for the agencies in 2013.

The agreement with the DA’s office is different from those other agreements, however. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice is a party to both the police and Sheriff’s Office consent decrees, as a plaintiff. Williams’ agreement is only between his office, the individual plaintiffs and their attorneys. 

In addition, the monitoring periods for both the police and the Sheriff’s Office are indefinite. Both keep monitors in place until, and for a period after, the agencies reach substantial compliance with their consent decrees.

The DA’s office, however, will only be under a monitor’s supervision for 42 months. And since both sides have agreed on Schwartzmann, there will not be a lengthy, politically fraught search for a monitor in this case.

The Schwartzmann referenced in that quote is civil rights attorney Katie Schwartzmann who has been named to head the "monitoring" effort.  This article doesn't go into the details of her position, though. We don't know from this how much she is paid or what the total cost of the monitoring will be. One assumes whatever it is comes out of the DA's budget and that it is in addition to the amounts paid out here according to the terms of the settlement. 

In consideration of the remaining plaintiffs, Williams’ office will pay $120,000 to the ACLU Foundation, in two $60,000 installments over the next year. The allocation of that money will be determined by the plaintiffs and their attorneys. And the office must create a new procedure for victims and witnesses to file grievances over their treatment by DA’s office employees.

Anyway maybe they will tell us more about who gets paid and for what.  Recent experience tells us that's at least as important as whether or not the monitoring program actually accomplishes its stated purpose. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Re-opening soon

Stay safe

Much like the ol' wash and fold here, I figure it's about time to take the boards back down off the windows of the blog. Didn't mean to be away from it all month but, well, many things happened.  I think the last thing I promised here was a synthesis of the post-Ida notes. So we'll get to that in a few days. And then it's on to the very dismal election season, I guess. 

But for now, all of this is superseded by yet another emergency that certainly no one could possibly have predicted. 

Unfortunate. But there was just no way to know...

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Bad ju-ju

I'm still only able to post from the phone. I have plenty of Ida notes but might wait until I can type with two hands to push them out. In the meantime here is the potato chip story.

Monday, August 30, 2021

We've already done this drill

 I think I mentioned yesterday that the situation with the power in New Orleans is a repeat of what happened during Hurricane Gustav. I wasn't making that up.

This is not the first time the utility's transmission lines into the city have failed during a significant storm. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav knocked out all but one of Entergy's lines into the city, leaving nearly a million homes and businesses without power. Only about 41 percent of the customers who lost power during Gustav had power back within 10 days.

 The utility faced criticism in the aftermath of that storm for not doing more to upgrade and maintain its lines to give them the strength to survive a severe storm. And similar questions are likely to arise in the coming weeks and months from the New Orleans City Council, Entergy New Orleans' primary regulator.
There was supposed to have been a fix for this problem by now but it turns out what was sold as a fix is actually barely even a "plan B" now. 

Entergy's "Plan B" would be to start restoring customers with power supplied directly by its New Orleans East and Westwego Ninemile 6 power plants.

 Entergy's argument when it got approval for the controversial New Orleans East gas-fired plant from the City Council three years ago was that it would be available for crises like the present one. 

Well that happened

 Posting on a phone is not ideal. Also phone needs to be charged so I'll keep it short.  

Basically a category 4 hurricane came up on the New Orleans area from the Lafourche Parish side and just sat there for six hours without diminishing very much.  That is, not only the worst case scenario imaginable, it is also more or less unprecedented.  Luckily New Orleans appears to have "fought the last war" well enough. The flood control system seems to have held and storm surge has not inundated the city.

The same is not true for areas outside of the system however.  There are nightmarish reports of flooding coming in from the river parishes and total devastation to the south. We'll know more about that soon. It will not be good.

In town, there is no power and probably won't be for weeks.  Entergy says there is catastrophic damage to main transmission lines which sounds similar to what happened during Gustav.  Which is frustrating because after that event we were promised that problem would be solved.  

Miraculously,  SWB says they have turbine power. The pumps are working (sort of) and the water is safe to drink.  There are problems, however with the sewerage lift stations which..good lord I hope they can fix that soon.

Other random damage reports so far. Municipal and traffic court buildings apparently had their roofs ripped off so lol there. Both of the new Metal Shark ferries got loose on the river last night. No idea what happened to them. Other than that, it's too early to know the scope of the damage.  Assuming the worst. But yesterday at a press conference, a clearly frustrated LaToya Cantrell loudly shouted, "You can be calm!" at us so we are doing that now.

More when I can post again. Gotta figure out how to charge this phone right now. Then we'll figure out how to put the city back together.  We've done it before (sort of.)

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Staying for the storm

 Well, you know, once again, here we are.

Stay Through The Storm

And not a minute to spare, either

Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Friday said that with little time left before Hurricane Ida reaches Louisiana, residents should get ready to hunker down and ride out the storm.

She told a news conference there wasn't enough time to establish the highway contraflow procedures necessary to move all residents out of the city before the storm's expected landfall Sunday afternoon. 

"We are not calling for a mandatory evacuation because the time simply is not on our side. We do not want to have people on the road, and therefore in greater danger,” Cantrell said. 

She reiterated that New Orleanians inside the city's levee protection system are safe, but said that residents outside of the levees were under a mandatory evacuation order and should get out as soon as possible.

There are a couple things to say about this.  The first, I suppose, is that the mayor is correct about the timing. Calling and executing a mandatory evacuation that activates the city assisted service and highway contraflow system takes far longer to accomplish than the basically one day they had to throw it together after getting a bead on what this storm was going to do.  During the Saturday afternoon press conference, a Washington Post reporter hit LaToya with a dumb hypothetical "what would you have done if everything was different" question.  She handled it okay by talking nonsense in turn. But expect more of that kind of thing if something goes wrong over the next 48 hours.

This does not mean the city has done a terrific job being on top of things. One of the Cantrell Administration's biggest weaknesses is its inconsiderate treatment of its working class residents and that has again been on display in the pre-storm planning. It doesn't do very many people any good to call for "voluntary evacuations" without also making sure that they have the time and certainty necessary to plan those trips. On Friday, the mayor recommended voluntary evacuations for anyone who might feel they need to get out.  “If you have medical needs or wish to voluntarily evacuate on your own, now is the time to start,” she said.  However, no one heeding the mayor's call at that time was given any certainty that they were in fact free to go, nor were they given any guidance for when best to return.  City offices had not yet been closed.  The public schools were still in session.  If you were a parent, a teacher, or a city employee looking to voluntarily evacuate, you had none of the information you needed to do that.

A city executing its emergency plan should have closures and estimated re-opening dates already in place by the time it issues any sort of evacuation order. It should set the standard also for private businesses responsible for dismissing employees and guaranteeing their return as well.  But, because the Cantrell Administration views workers as problems rather than as people, none of this happened.  There's no doubt the mayor is going to come in for a lot of unfair criticism from bad faith or just plain ignorant commenters from outside of the city. That always happens in these situations. But she also will receive far too much credit from local libertarian types who share her abusive boss mentality. Hopefully the stakes of this remain in the realm of the frustrating political rhetoric we're used to seeing happen around this administration and do not extend to anything that actually affects life and death during the emergency. 

But the default implied position of policymakers is as close to, "y'all are on your own" as they can possibly get away with.  At several moments during her press conferences over the past few days, the mayor has stressed this talking point. 

“What we learned during Hurricane Katrina is we are all first-responders,” Ms. Cantrell said. “It’s about taking care of one another.”

She seems to enjoy that one.  And it sounds kind of nice at first run.  It's colored with the suggestion of community spirit and mutual aid.  Those are laudable values for the public to promote among themselves. But when you hear the government charged with actually providing these services use it as an excuse to fob off its responsibility, it becomes something more sinister. Ultimately what we are being told is not to expect help from a regime that does not respect its end of the social contract. We are expected to obey orders we are not given the tools to fulfill.  

Evacuating is hard enough as it is. It's definitely not the right call for every person. It can be dangerous for many reasons. Perhaps your vehicle (if you have one in the first place) isn't in highway shape. Perhaps you don't have anywhere to go and stay.  Hotels are expensive. Gas is expensive. Running off into an open ended trek into the unknown is really not something you want to do unless you absolutely have to. People who don't live through these events might not understand this. 

We've decided to stay this time and I think our reasons  for staying now are good.  I have a strong bias toward staying through almost any storm but there are still some factors to consider in order to get to that decision logically. Here is how that breaks out. 

1) Can the levees handle the storm surge?

It's about 11 pm on Saturday night while I'm typing this.  The latest track forecast is bringing the storm closer to New Orleans than it has all day. Yeah we're a bit worried about that. But what has not changed at all has been the storm surge modeling. The prediction there has consistently called for 7-11 feet along Lake Borgne and 5-8 feet in Lake Pontchartrain.  The flood protection system protecting New Orleans is supposed to be able to handle 25 feet.  The system ("in name only") that failed during Katrina was far worse and Katrina's surge was over 20 feet.  Anyway, even if we do not have the utmost faith in the new system, it's well within reason to expect it will do the job. 

2) What about the pumps?

Again, the storm surge is the big worry with any hurricane. But the more familiar sort of flooding we've had to deal with in recent years is caused by our fabulously dysfunctional drainage system. Over the last few days, we've been repeatedly assured by the SWB wizards that they expect to supply sufficient power to the pumps running on an improvised combination of the recently repaired Turbine 5, the somewhat undersized Turbine 6, and a series of temporary generators and frequency changers.  PLUS they just might still be able to revive our old friend Turbine 4 in the nick of time which would be very exciting indeed. They say they don't absolutely need it but sometime a turbine wants to be a hero and who can deny it that chance.  

Now maybe SWB is full of shit about all of this. It wouldn't be the first time.  But there are some mitigating factors.  It's worrisome to be on the "wet" side of the storm, and Ida could drop over 10 inches on us.  But it's worth noting that Ida isn't expected to stall over us so that rainfall projection is a maximum.  And under those circumstances, hurricane rainfall isn't as likely to cause the kind of flash flooding that a typical summertime thunderstorm does around here. Very likely, the pumps can handle it. Most importantly, our street has only flooded badly from rainfall once. And even then all we had to do was move the cars up onto to sidewalk for a while. So, again, as far as we are concerned, it's reasonable to expect we can handle whatever street flooding might occur in the event of a pumping failure. 

3) The winds will go whoooosh, though!

Yes, this is the scariest part.  Especially now that we might get some intensity in the city.  But most likely we won't see any sustained winds here exceeding tropical storm range. The gusts will be higher than that and it will probably be a bit rough at times. But if you can tolerate a little excitement, then it's still a better deal than the massive headaches that come with an evacuation.  That doesn't mean there is no danger. There is a chance of damage to the building. But even then, I prefer to be where I can keep an eye on things; seal up a broken window, put a bucket under a leak if need be. 

4) The power will go out

That does suck.  After Gustav in 2008 we were without power for a week.  After Zeta last year we were down for a few days. It's uncomfortable being without a/c in late August. But we know how to do it and are ready.  Are we ready to do it for three weeks?  Hell no! But we do welcome the fight we're going to have with Entergy if they are serious about that.

Anyway that all adds up to staying in town for us.  Not everyone will have come to the same conclusion and that is fine.  Different people have different situations that will cause them to answer the above questions differently.  But we're still here, us.  Just after midnight on August 29th appropriately facing down another catastrophic hurricane.  They are saying the first effects should be noticeable in the morning. I'll try to update then. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Disposable people

Absolute inhumanity on display here.   

Between the time of his arrest and the plea deal that sent him to Angola prison on a 20-year sentence for manslaughter, Farrell remained behind bars at Orleans Parish Prison, the New Orleans jail. It was there that the funny, active, energetic son I knew fell gravely ill. First his feet went numb, then the numbness traveled up his legs and started to impede his movement. By the time Farrell was transferred to prison, he was using a wheelchair, but hadn’t yet received the kind of medical attention that could lead to a diagnosis. 

Eventually, he would be diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder of the spine typically caused by infection. Farrell and I both suspected the disease was triggered by unsanitary conditions in the jail. Around the same time his symptoms began, the city of New Orleans was hammered hard by Hurricane Isaac. Farrell told me that the storm had pushed ankle-deep sewage water into many of the cells.

 When they brought Farrell to Angola, they put him in hospice care. He and I were both confused. He didn’t have a diagnosis yet, but there was no reason to believe he was terminally ill or in the last weeks of his life. As it turns out, Angola uses their hospice program, featured in rosy documentaries, to manage care for patients perfectly capable of treatment and even full recovery, as Farrell was. Most transverse myelitis patients recover at least partially, and some completely. 

It hurt — the idea of my 45-year-old son in hospice — but I thought, at least there, Farrell would be well taken care of. I cared for many terminally ill patients over my career, and I hadn’t seen a bad hospice yet — until I saw the one at Angola.

This only happens when a system just determines that the people in its care are disposable.  How is such a thing allowed to happen in the so-called civilized world?  Perhaps it begins with our enlightened political leadership....

I manage to get on the calendar of the current mayor, LaToya Cantrell. When we talk, I remind her that our last encounter was five years ago in Northern Italy—at a conference on disaster recovery, of all things. She chuckles grimly at the parallel between then and now, New Orleans and Northern Italy, two hot spots in a global pandemic. Katrina made Cantrell’s political career, establishing her in her early 30s as a spitfire rabble-rouser in the city’s Broadmoor community. From there it was on to the City Council and, in 2018, the mayor’s office of the nation’s 50th largest city.

I press her about her decision to let Mardi Gras roll. And she explains, as others have confirmed, that no one at the CDC—or anywhere else in the federal establishment or in Baton Rouge—was saying she should cancel the city’s biggest tourist draw.

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

On the other hand maybe it starts with the craven media establishment who can't help but fawn over the "streetwise salty tongue" of a brute callously deciding who lives and who dies like this.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Please do not mistake us for good people

After a few weeks of surging COVID numbers and increasing public outcry, New Orleans and Co. has finally decided to pull a tone deaf ad campaign it has been running since this spring that invite people from all over the country to come into the viral hot zone where they can contract and/or spread more COVID. 

But just in case anyone is confused as to the purpose of this decision, in case anyone might happen to think that it might be motivated by an actual concern for the public health, NO and Co has issued the following statement. 

“National polls told us that traveler sentiment is decreasing and some people are reluctant to travel due to delta all over the country,” Shultz said. “So we made a strategic decision to pause advertising so that we are getting the best return on every dollar invested. Also the shift was made because we were not planning to advertise in October, when the city was scheduled to be full with Jazz Fest and other events, but now we need to work to drive October visitation.”

New Orleans & Co. also recently announced that a multimillion-dollar campaign targeted at conventions and business travelers is in the works. 

The Lens asked Schulz if New Orleans & Company’s decision to pause the campaign was just based on reserving advertising dollars for October, or whether the agency was also concerned about the potential that tourists, particularly unvaccinated tourists, could increase the spread of the virus in the New Orleans area.

“It is not accurate to report that our decision was based on tourists coming from areas of the country with low vaccination rates,” she said. “It was paused because of the low vaccination rates here in Louisiana and the spike of local infections. And to ensure that we get the best value on every advertising dollar.

"It's not accurate to report" that this privatized agency feels any responsibility to preserve or promote the health of the community from which it takes public money.  It is only thinking in terms of what makes the most business sense to its clients.  

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Bipartisanship: the breakfast of champions

 Getting both sides of the power elite together to make policies they can all agree on

Mr. Cuomo had confided earlier that year to Alison Hirsh, then a top political adviser to a powerful union, that he did not want to put the Democrats fully in charge of the Senate ahead of that year’s budget. Ms. Hirsh recalled Mr. Cuomo telling her that was because Senator Liz Krueger, a liberal Manhattan Democrat, would push to increase taxes and that another, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, would “give free breakfast to all Black people.” Ms. Stewart-Cousins is Black.

Just proving the system can work through compromise. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Howling in the wires

In August of 2007, Sam Jasper wrote this

The lies and the greed and the corruption in this country, from the Prez at top of the ladder to the "great hope for New Orleans" councilman, have taken this country from the top of the heap to the depths of dysfunction. Things like infrastructure for this country are tabled in order to take our tax dollars and funnel them into corporate cronies' pockets to rebuild infrastructure that we blew up elsewhere. The feds say it's the states' responsibility to take care of the infrastructure once it's built, and some states can't afford to do that. The feds can. But instead they tsk tsk, shake an accusing finger at the local leaders and go on to their meeting with some war profiteering contractor---behind closed doors, no press allowed, and no logs of the meeting kept.

Forget about any kind of social services, we can't keep our levees and bridges up.

We're all so used to it that we skim the articles, rant over dinner if we're in our cups, and go on to work the next day because lord knows the insurance companies who never have to really, I mean REALLY, take on any risk have to be paid and the energy companies who get bailouts have to be paid, and the mortgage has to be paid to keep a roof over both the mortgage company's head (even if they made hideously stupid loans for the last several years, planting false hope in many family's futures--"No PROBLEM, the balloon payment won't come up for five years!") and our own, and we have to pay our taxes next April so they won't attach our paychecks or put a lien on our house to collect the bucks they want from us so they can rebuild that fucking bridge in Baghdad for the ninth, tenth, eleventh time. Don't take a breath. Keep running, Joe, like a hamster on a wheel, you're getting older now and you have no stock portfolio, no health insurance, no retirement savings, you don't have time to do anything about the lies. Remember, though, Joe, all those bucks you're sending in with your 1040 won't do you any good if a disaster strikes, whether it be a hurricane or a heart attack.

There is no social contract. Faith in government will surely break your heart. Faith in companies will break your heart. 

Interestingly, what prompted that particular moment of exhaustion and outrage at an entire system was then councilman Oliver Thomas's announcement that he was resigning after the discovery of his having accepted roughly $19,000 in bribes from Pampy Barre.  That might seem to some today like blowing a matter of petty local corruption out of proportion. But at the time, this sort of thing made the  national news.  

As the New York Times article linked above demonstrates, all eyes were on New Orleans. Mostly those eyes were scrutinizing us to discover reasons the very bad thing that happened to us in 2005 was actually our own fault somehow.  All too happy to aid in that project were an over-stimulated gang of federal prosecutors waiting to provide grandstanding quotes like these at a moment's notice.

Some 30 school system employees have been indicted. And the United States attorney here, James B. Letten, said Monday that a long-running investigation into corruption at City Hall in the Morial administration, which has already yielded 16 convictions, would continue.

“It’s just brazen down here,” James Bernazzani, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s special agent in charge, said at a news conference after Mr. Thomas entered his plea.

In Louisiana they skim the cream, steal the milk, hijack the bottle and look for the cow,” said Mr. Bernazzani, who noted that his district ranked second in the nation in public corruption convictions and indictments — despite its relatively small population.

But this is cause to refer again to Sam's crisis of faith in institutions. Mr. Bernazzani, for example, would eventually go looking for a cow of his own

The indictment also alleges Mayfield sent $150,000 in library donations to the Youth Rescue Initiative. It claims he routed that money to the Jazz Orchestra, and himself, throughout 2012. One payment from the YRI, for $77,000, came in December 2012, the feds allege, after Mayfield had officially left the YRI board.

The president of the YRI at the time was Jim Bernazzani, former FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's local office. After Mayfield served on the YRI board, he made Bernazzani an advisory board member for the Public Library Foundation without official board approval, according to comments made last year by the current Library Foundation chairman, Bob Brown.

WWL-TV asked Bernazzani last year about Mayfield’s transfers and his use of an “Irvin Account.” Bernazzani insisted the federal investigation would show "there's nothing there."

The station called Bernazzani about the latest indictment and did not hear back.

The corruption of global capitalism is intertwined with the corruption of local politics. The same forces act on each and they feed back into each other.  Every now and then there comes along a moment of trauma so severe that the cultural bafflements and social silos that keep us from seeing these connections are removed. Such moments are irrefutably bad but they are also revelatory.  The post-Katrina period in New Orleans was such a moment.

People like Sam spent that moment looking for ways to break out of the pattern of "skimming the articles and ranting over dinner in our cups."  But they never really did. This wasn't their fault, of course. The universally embedded death drive of capitalism is bigger than any of us and will inevitably swallow us all. But that doesn't mean that communities under threat should just lie down and take it. So they did the thing that any threatened community tries to do. They reached out to neighbors. They shared information and experiences. They tried to, at least, provide a space where others could come together and build real organizing capacity.  

Mostly they wrote things down and posted them on the internet. (Which was a fairly novel tool at the time!)  A lot of that, like Sam's 2007 post about OT, is still there. But a lot of it isn't.  Around the time of the last Rising Tide, Sam approached a few of us and told us we needed to curate and preserve as much of that material as we could before time and link rot consigned it all to oblivion.  After all, sacrificing the collected cultural memories of a trauma only heighten the risk that they will be repeated.  We didn't know how to do any of that, though. We probably should have tried harder to figure it out.  

Sorry, Sam.