Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Blood feud spills over

If you were watching that bizarre facsimile of what we are now calling NFL football on the TV last night, you may have noticed that one Civil District Court race has "gone negative," as they say.  Division F candidate Jennifer Medley ran an ad during the game that attacked incumbent Judge Chris Bruno for his "silver spoon" upbringing. This was, of course, contrasted with Medley's supposed meritocratic virtue.  Medley is, herself, the daughter of former Judge Lloyd Medley so it's a bit rich to be raising the issue of which candidate was born into what. Medley and Bruno, in fact, have had more TV ads running than just about any local candidates on the ballot this fall. It's a curious distinction for one among many judicial races on the slate.  We're now starting to learn what that's about.

It turns out that the ad we saw last night wasn't even the one Medley's people wanted to run.  Instead they had cued one up that accuses (apparently falsely accuses) Burno of having been a "deadbeat dad." But the campaign was enjoined from running the ad at the last minute because of the dubious nature of the accusation. 

The ad references a divorce case that began with a filing by his then-wife Kate Bruno in March 1995. It wasn't until 2009 that the child support question was settled with a consent judgment between the parties. In the meantime, according to an affidavit filed on Bruno's behalf by family law attorney Steven Lane, there wasn't a child support judgment or decree against him.

Bruno's own son filed an affidavit calling Medley's ad "blatantly false, malicious and insulting to him and his family." Both his parents had supported him financially, the son said.

More to the point, though, it also turns out the money to pay for all of this mudslinging comes from Sidney Torres. Here is why. 

One of Bruno’s lawyers questioned why Torres’ production company was involved in making the ad buy. The lawyer, Megan Kiefer, claimed that Torres is pouring “tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars” into Medley’s campaign to “exact some vengeance” on Bruno.

Bruno last year issued a ruling against Torres in a case involving the ownership of 500 Frenchmen Street, which houses the night club Vaso.

Recall that the Vaso dispute pitted Torres against the Motwanis in a clash of real estate weasels struggling for control of Frenchmen Street.  When the dispute flared up in 2018, Torres (probably taking some words out of context) publicly accused his opponents of making physical threats. 

Torres cited a voicemail he said was left on his agent’s phone, as well as a phone call that, according to a court filing by Torres, had Aaron Motwani saying that if Torres didn’t comply with demands, “It will get bloody.” Torres' attorneys, in the court filing, cited what they described as a call log Torres' agent wrote shortly after the call, as well as a recording of the voicemail.

“I want to ask nicely for you to call us back," Motwani says on the voicemail cited in court. "But if you want to handle it the other way, we can handle it the other way, too.”

Aaron Motwani said his voicemail was taken out of context and did not reference a threat of physical harm. He declined to be interviewed but sent a text message in response to questions about the calls.

“As far as the comments, about blood on the street, those comments are completely false and were completely taken out of context,” Motwani wrote in the text message. “I have never or would ever threaten harm in a matter that should be handled through the courts. It’s a distraction from the facts of this case.”

Eventually, Bruno ruled against Torres who, while calling it a "snake move," on the part of the Motwanis went on to promise, "this whole thing is basically not over."  And so now here he is funding Bruno's opponent.  And that's how the blood feuds between oligarchs spill over into your elections, and onto your TV.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Plenty time left

Despite the absolutely horseshit claims already emanating from partisan Democrats over the weekend, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is completely irrelevant to the Presidential election.  It's possible that it will still be a thing people are arguing over come November, but the election itself won't determine what happens. Trump is going to appoint the next justice either way

“We win an election and those are the consequences,” said the president, who then seemed to signal that he’d be willing to accept a vote on his nominee during the lame-duck period after the election. “We have a lot of time. We have plenty of time. We’re talking about January 20th.”

If Trump wins, then the person he names is the next justice. If Trump loses, then the person he names still becomes the next justice during the lame duck session. If they want to ram somebody through before the election even happens, then that is also something they can do.  But none of it has any bearing on the election itself, nor will the outcome of the election change anything one way or another.

What will be done about that? Not a whole lot. One can only laugh at the notion of Joe "nothing will fundamentally change" Biden packing the court if he becomes President. It would run contrary to Biden's entire political m/o and stated ideological reason for wanting to be President in the first place. 

What could be done about it?  Well... a whole lot, actually. A Democratic Party that actually cared about using power to affect change rather than just, you know, having it sometimes could certainly tack on as many justices as they like. There's nothing stopping them from doing that if they control the congress. They could also follow this example

Across the late 1850s, Lincoln argued that “the American people,” not the Supreme Court, were the true arbiters of the Constitution, and that the only way to defeat the proslavery judiciary was through mass political struggle. And after Lincoln and Hamlin were elected in 1860, the new president’s inaugural address articulated this view in perhaps the strongest language he ever used:

[I]f the policy of the government, upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made . . . the people will have ceased, to be their own rulers, having, to that extent, practically resigned their government, into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

Once in power, Lincoln and congressional Republicans “reorganized” the federal judiciary and “packed” the court, adding an additional justice in 1863. More fundamentally, though, they simply ignored the proslavery precedents established in the 1850s. In June 1862, for instance, Congress passed and Lincoln signed a bill banning slavery from the federal territories — a direct violation of the majority ruling in Dred Scott. The court meekly acquiesced, recognizing that its political power was long since broken.

Just ignore them.  The City of New Orleans ignores judges all the time. How hard can it be? 

In any case, Trump is definitely going to make the court 6-3 no matter what happens now. This does not mean Joe Biden or any future Dem Presidents  won't have options.  It's just the Dem party as currently constituted is incapable of putting those options to use. Instead they can encourage you to Vote! and pretend that will have been enough. It keeps them in business, anyway, even if they aren't always in power.  So there's plenty time left for them too.  Unfortunately, for most of us whose lives actually depend on the outcome of these games and schemes, there isn't.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Hide the moneeeys!

It's been an adventurous couple of years for the Convention Center.  Seems like every few months they have to come up with a brand new way to hide their slush fund stash from somebody.  Recall during the height of negotiations with Cantrell administration over what eventually came to be known as the "fair share" deal, they rolled out a slate of make-work projects they could commit funds to in order to look like they had less available to share fairly.  

"Fair share" turned out to be a pretty favorable deal for them anyway. But even so, they immediately set to work shuffling money around in order to use its new hotel project as a kind of tax shelter to further reduce their eventual contribution.  

And, of course, when the pandemic hit, local hospitality workers began organizing to demand their own fair share of the stash.   This, in turn, set off a new round of creative accounting by the Convention Center in order to hide as much of it as possible. Which is why, this week, as they claim that the reserve fund is dwindling, it's harder than ever to discern what they actual have left. 

The Convention Center recently changed how it categorized different pockets of assets, leading to the appearance that its reserves are quickly dwindling. 

In a November report, the Convention center claimed it had $215 million in unrestricted assets — money that isn’t earmarked by law or contract for a specific purpose — at the end of July. Thursday’s report claimed that the center only had $43 million in unrestricted assets left. 

The pandemic-related drawdown is only $49 million thus far, so that doesn’t explain the entire decrease. Most of the difference is caused by an accounting change, specifically a change in how the Convention Center categorizes their assets on financial documents. Instead of “unrestricted” assets versus “restricted” assets, the center is now using the categories of “unrestricted” assets versus “restricted and designated assets.”

Thursday’s report says that along with the $43 million in unrestricted assets, the center also has $209 million in “designated or restricted” assets. 

The 2019 independent audit includes definitions of “restricted” and “designated” assets. Restricted assets include “capital projects, funded by the proceeds of taxes, restricted for building expansion and improvements.” Designated assets, meanwhile, can include money for projects that are “in the planning stages, or in the acquisition phase.”

That article also says we might expect an announcement next month on cuts, perhaps to the 400 or so workers the Convention Center employs.   The accountants, on the other hand, will probably be expecting a raise.

What happens when you rush into "reopening the economy"?

Nobody can know. If only there was some way to know

In Spain, which was seeing fewer than 500 new coronavirus cases per day for much of June, infections have reached a fresh high, Hopkins data shows. Daily case numbers have been on the rise since July, with the seven-day average surpassing 10,000 as of Sep. 16, a higher figure than the country's late-March peak of roughly 8,000 new cases per day, according to data collected by Hopkins. Alex Arenas, a researcher and epidemiological modeler at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, said most new cases are coming from Madrid.

Arenas said Madrid and Barcelona rushed to reopen businesses for the summer season and that people let their guard down after cases fell the first time "and critical patients almost disappeared from hospitals." He added that officials in some areas sought to "open the door to tourism with few or null controls over the health of visitors."
Oh well. Just have hope they all "get used to it."

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The bosses won the pandemic

The football wars are a perfect microcosm of what's going on out there. 

Just over a month after the Big Ten became the first major conference to postpone the 2020 football season, the league reversed its decision Wednesday and announced plans to begin playing the weekend of Oct. 24.

The Big Ten will have medical protocols that include daily coronavirus testing and enhanced cardiac screening, the announcement said. The conference’s university presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to resume the season.

Most of the stories about this emphasize Trump and the role of the Presidential election.  Big Ten schools are in midwestern "battleground" states.  Trump can rile up the usual hooting hogs over something like this. Biden, meanwhile, because his strategy is all about peeling off Republican votes in those states, can't really complain too much. Nobody wants to be the grinch that stole football. Since Trump has the liberty of not actually caring about whether or not football is safe, he distorts the entire debate. In reality, we shouldn't have football this fall.  But because Trump departs from reality and says we can, then anyone who disagrees is trying to take something away from us.

That's all true enough. But it's also just the surface level electoral handicapping. Like every other policy debate during COVID, this is really about the balance of power in the labor market. We don't just have to have football because people like football. We have to have it in order to make the point that bosses can force people to work under dangerous circumstances.  It's the same reason we're insisting that schools return to "in-classroom learning" despite the concerns of teachers all over the country. It's the same reason Republicans keep trying to sneak liability immunity for employers into every relief bill.  The pandemic is giving the bosses a chance to alter the terms of employment to their advantage and every forced "reopening" is another point of leverage for them. 

College athletics is a megabillion dollar industry where the athletes, the labor that makes the whole business possible, still aren't even paid for what they do. Can they perform their extremely valuable but uncompensated labor in a safe environment?  Do we even care if they can?  It does not appear as though we do.

Orgeron said Tuesday that LSU's team has "about three or four guys" who currently are sick with coronavirus, and the team does not have "a lot of guys in quarantine."

"I think most, not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it," Orgeron said. "So hopefully they won't catch it again, and hopefully they're not out for games."

Hopefully they won't catch it again.  It's good to be hopeful, I guess. 

One other thing this Big Ten reversal should tell us is we're definitely going to end up forcing some kind of tourist event for Mardi Gras to happen this year because "the economy" (i.e. owners of hotels and restaurants) will demand it. The looming municipal elections will probably factor in that decision much as the Presidential election is part of the football war. But the real issue, again, will be how big a win can the bosses get and which political figures will work the hardest to get it for them.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Que sera, man

 You know, we've got so many problems right now, who even has time to think about this one?  

Tropical Depression 19 formed into Tropical Storm Sally in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center, making it the earliest named "S" storm in recorded hurricane season history.

As of 1 p.m. Saturday, Sally was forecast to move through the Gulf and make landfall Tuesday along the Louisiana-Mississippi border as a low-level hurricane.

Hurricane can come or not come. It doesn't matter.  But it should know that if it causes anyone to cancel school, the mayor might try and cancel its unemployment benefits. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Something about words and actions

There's a saying about that somewhere I know I've heard before.  Maybe it applies here

California’s governor Gavin Newsom, for example, has announced he has “no time for climate change deniers” despite approving some forty-eight new fracking permits since April (fracking having been strongly linked to an increase in global emissions). Nancy Pelosi, having derisively dismissed the Green New Deal (“The green dream or whatever they call it”), blames climate change for both her home state’s raging wildfires and last month’s hurricane on the Gulf Coast.

Barack Obama, in characteristically elliptical fashion, took to Twitter to declare: “The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it—because it does.” During Obama’s two terms at the head of the most powerful office in the world, US gas production increased some 35 percent while production of crude oil grew by an astonishing 80 percent — a fact the former president has actually taken to boasting about.

These examples, and many others like them, underscore the need for a new understanding of climate change denial that goes beyond mere acknowledgment of scientific reality. The fact is, while more US politicians than ever now pay lip service to the basic conclusions of environmental science, the leaders of both parties continue to preside over a consensus of complacency determined to dismiss transformative prescriptions like the Green New Deal as utopian or too expensive.

It's been a busy month thanks to... *gestures at all of everything*... so I haven't had time to finish writing about the Democratic and Republican conventions. But one theme the Democrats pushed relentlessly was Joe Biden's capacity for "empathy."  In Zoom video after dimly lit Zoom video, speakers testified about the times Joe personally had reached out to someone to let them know how well he understood their trauma, how much he cared about and validated their pain.  Almost nothing was said about what he planned to do about any of it.  In fact, one may have come away from the convention with the impression that nothing can be done.  It's a strange thing to offer to voters but it does seem to be in line with the Democratic brand.

Try zero circumstances

There is no justification for any city to ever authorize its police to deploy internationally banned chemical weapons against its citizens.  None.  You can play around with the language like this all day but you're never going to arrive at a just solution until your law says just don't do that. 

The ordinance is designed to prevent the police from using chemical irritants in all but the “absolute most dire circumstances,” according to Banks. However, the current version of the proposal allows police to use tear gas and other “riot control” chemicals to prevent crimes of violence.

Williams said that in response to concerns that the legislation might give too much leeway, he hopes to amend the ordinance so that the only exception is in situations involving an “imminent” threat of loss of life or bodily injury. He also intends to amend the ordinance at a full City Council vote to require police to issue a warning before using gas.

Writing those bullshit qualifiers into the ordinance guarantees that 1) the cops will definitely use tear gas on more people and 2) Williams and Banks will yell at anyone who  complains that they've fixed the problem already. 

Bad air makes for trouble breathing

We do so many terrible things to ourselves in this state and say it's for "the economy." Is it any wonder the political agitation to open up and just get used to COVID  is so strong here?  Risking our health so the bosses can make their money is just how we do things here. Which is what makes this so perfect

Hazardous air pollution may help explain the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths in communities like West Baton Rouge Parish, home to Port Allen. With 39 deaths as of Sept. 7, the parish’s per-capita death rate from COVID-19 ranked it among the top 3% of all U.S. counties with at least 30 deaths. Several of its neighbors in Louisiana’s industrial corridor also rank near the top of the list.

There is a sensational story in the news this morning about public officials planning to "crack down" on open air street gatherings they have determined to be an intolerable public health threat.  Their idea is to punish individuals already suffering from unemployment and displacement by taking away their federal and state benefits. 

In addition to simply issuing tickets, Cantrell said she has city officials researching whether the city would be able to strip those found in violation of the restrictions of their unemployment benefits.

"I have asked whether individuals who will be issued a citation, could that put them in jeopardy of losing their unemployment benefits," Cantrell said. "It’s my opinion, you can’t receive public resources but at the same time violate public mandates to keep people safe in the city of New Orleans. These are the things we’re looking at."

The chemical plants that line the Mississippi River and endanger thousands of lives by spewing tons of hazardous pollution into the air receive billions of dollars in public resources every year.  Now that we see their activity directly exacerbates the threat from the pandemic, will anyone demand we take action against them?  Or do we prefer to take it all out on the poorest and most helpless among us?

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Phase 2 and a half

The Governor is supposed to talk later today about the COVID numbers and the status of the "phased reopneing."  Currently, Phase 2 is scheduled to end this coming Friday, but we have every reason to believe that will be extended again. That seems to be making some folks in Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes cranky but the numbers are what they are and they say it isn't time yet. 

Of course, this isn't really an argument about numbers.  Instead it is about power.  Specifically it is about the power of individuals who, by virtue of their economic status, are less at risk to the virus than the people they want to force back into dangerous jobs for their benefit.  

In Jefferson, some council members said they understand waiting to gauge the fallout from school reopenings and the Laura evacuations, but they were united in believing Jefferson is in good enough shape to reopen. In St. Tammany, one council member voted against the request.

Several Jefferson council members own small businesses or come from families that do, and local business groups spoke of impending financial disaster for bars, restaurants and other small businesses and their owners and employees.

Much of this moot if congress had implemented a national policy of aid to small business and direct payments to workers to protect everyone during the health crisis.  Instead we've chosen this bloody struggle in the chaos. The only outcome under that circumstance can be more precarious working conditions for everyone. And the only way to send everyone out when it isn't safe to be there is if we pretend that it is. And it turns out, for some people, that's pretty easy to do now. 

(Tulane epidemiologist Susan) Hassig said many pushing for a faster opening often haven’t had first-hand experience with severe cases of the disease, which exact their terrible toll away from public view in the intensive care units of hospitals.

Those who died during the 1918 influenza epidemic, on the other hand, “if they weren’t in your apartment, they were in the row house next to you, and you saw the body out on the curb.”

“It’s not fake; it’s real,” she said. “The challenge is that people see relatively small numbers in terms of fatalities as a proportion of infections … but when you start thinking about opening up and allowing virus to spread, that impact grows really quickly.”

And, of course, this fit is occurring at the exact moment that schools and universities are running their own experiments with classroom instruction for the fall. Hassig says in this article that that alone equates to about a "reopening" for about 20 percent of the population. We're in Phase 2 and half right now.  Maybe let's not take this moment to try and rush on through to Phase 3.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Just get used to it

Apparently that was always the plan.   

On Friday, the carriageway doors to Pat O’Brien’s will swing open again, and staff wearing the bar's traditional emerald green jackets and new face masks will welcome people back to its famous French Quarter courtyard.

Three blocks away at Bayona, chef Susan Spicer and her crew will soon start cooking sherry mustard sweetbreads and smoked duck sandwiches, firing up a culinary gem that's been closed since March.

The two businesses usually have little more in common than proximity in the city's oldest neighborhood. But now they share one compulsion: the need to get open again, somehow. 

“At this point, we just feel like we have to do something,” said Shelly Oechsner Waguespack, president of Pat O’Brien’s.

It's not safer to do any of this now than it was back in March. The virus is still active and as dangerous as ever.  It isn't spreading quite as rapidly because more people are at home by default and when they do go out they are careful about distance and mask wearing.  But distance and mask wearing isn't a solution. It's a way to limit exposure when people have to be out for "essential" purposes.  Going out to have drinks at Pat O's isn't essential. 

It only begins to feel necessary because, despite the federal government's capacity to do so, it has refused to reimburse businesses for their losses or pay workers to stay home.  Although there is no vaccine yet, we could have this thing safely contained by now if the will to take the necessary action had been there. Instead we've chosen to test how much stress the system will bear if we deny people any option but to just go out there and get used to it. 

Now though, Waguespack said a limited return is better than staying closed altogether. With no end to the coronavirus crisis in sight, the business has to find a way to carry on, she said.

That’s a sentiment shared by many across the New Orleans hospitality sector now, especially around the French Quarter, where the shriveled travel business has had a staggering impact.

Who knows how many small businesses will survive the pandemic now?  Back in May a reported 100,000 or more had already been permanently closed nationwide.  It's no surprise that business would slow with customers staying at home. But relief, most notably through the convoluted Paycheck Protection Program, has been elusive. And commercial landlords continue to demand rent. So the squeeze is definitely on.  But since this is a situation that so easily could have been avoided, we have to ask if it is intentional. 

It may be true that a lot of independent businesses are going under now. But consider that also means the economy that emerges at the end of the crisis will be dominated by fewer but much larger firms with deeper pockets

The Covid-19 pandemic will likely leave us with an economy in which larger companies play an expanded role, representing a higher share of both employment and revenue. The stock market illustrates the phenomenon: the biggest firms have seen smaller stock market declines, on average, than smaller ones have. It’s the corporate version of the Matthew effect: the strong get stronger.

This shift began before the pandemic came along. From 1995 to 2013, the share of U.S. workers employed by firms with 10,000 or more employees increased to about 28%, from 24%. McKinsey has found that “superstar” firms (whose average revenue is seven times the median) raised their employment share to 30% in 2014-16, from 28% in 1995-97. There’s been much debate over why this is happening, especially the role that higher productivity plays. The International Monetary Fund recently concluded that “technology-driven changes in the structure of many product markets” have made a bigger difference than have individual countries’ regulations or antitrust policies.

The real plum for the oligarchs left standing after the mass burn off of mom-and-pops is the most desperate and compliant workforce in generations. I believe this is by design. I'm running out of ways to say this by now so I'll just repeat the mantra I've been on since March when it became apparent that Congress would refuse to help.  The bosses have won the pandemic.  

It's not just me saying it anymore. A couple of weeks ago, Libby Watson made the case plain in The New Republic.

We’re left to wonder why Washington isn’t doing anything. But why aren’t we doing anything, either? How is it that Mitch McConnell leaves his house without being pelted with rotten tomatoes? How can our leaders, and the people who work for them, continue to show their faces in public? When is the fire going to reach them? What has to give? And why hasn’t it happened yet? One answer may be that the rich, including not just billionaires but the ordinary affluent of America, are not in anywhere near as much peril. And our politics is tuned to their frequency, whatever’s happening to the poor.

She puts an even finer point on it, though. It's not just The Bosses... as in, like, people at the Bezos level... who are coming out on top here, but probably your boss in particular is doing much better than you are by comparison. 

But there’s a divide that’s been more difficult to talk about: The one between Americans earning about the median income or less and Americans who earn two or three times that wage. Life is vastly different for people who earn $30,000 and people who earn $300,000—not on the same scale as the distance between the average American and Jeff Bezos but distinct nonetheless. Life is also significantly different between people who earn $30,000 and people who earn $130,000.

These people are likely to have a good, if not perfect, situation going: They have decent jobs and are probably able to work from home. They have health insurance through their job, which also gives them paid vacation and sick leave. They have retirement accounts, though these might fail the CNBC test. They don’t know what it’s like to apply for Medicaid or low-income housing. They don’t live in food deserts. They can make frequent use of the services provided by our app underclass, getting food, groceries, or whatever they like delivered to their door.

It's been a rough year. But, really, it's only been rough for most of us. Relatively speaking, it's been less rough for a fortunate minority with access to the levers of power. And it's setting up such that the post-pandemic world will be a net plus for that small but politically dominant group. Insofar as it can be said that there has even been a coherent policy response to the pandemic, the purpose of that response has been to protect the position and wealth of the ruling class. Whatever conditions that policy imposes on the rest of us, our only option is to just get used to it.

All of this scales down from the national to the local level.  Maybe your neighborhood bar isn't going to make it through the crisis. But the odds are pretty good that Brennan's will be okay. And, in the same way that the political class in Washington only responds to the needs of the billionaires, so too does the local leadership only care about the local gentry.  Which is why our first reaction to the crisis was deferring Mardi Gras sales tax collections.  It's why we've chosen this moment to turn over land use policy to short term rental executives but hardly lift a finger to stop anyone being evicted from their home. (Besides raising money through a private non-profit scheme to pay landlords, anyway.)   It's why we're going to look the other way as a politically influential private university accelerates the spread of the virus through its own selfish and irresponsible decisions...  Jeff Asher's attempt to cover for those decisions, notwithstanding.

It's why we're sending everyone's kids back to school now too. That's the general reason, anyway.  Specifically, the private schools are open for in-person instruction because they have to demonstrate to tuition-paying parents that they can deliver the exclusive value and sense of social superiority implied in that price tag.  The public schools are motivated by a different version of that prove-your-worth mentality too. But, also, if we're going to force parents to work under dangerous conditions, then we have to tell them they can put their kids somewhere.  

And so there are elaborate plans to make everyone feel like what is happening is normal. Last month OPSB announced the return to in-person learning would be phased in according to grade level. How that makes it any safer is unknown.  But that, plus a number of hygiene theater type measures create just enough of an impression that caution is being exercised. Of course, any of these safety guidelines can be discarded the moment we think they may become inconvenient.  

The NOLA Public Schools district will no longer require a sustained decrease in daily new COVID-19 positive cases to determine how it will reopen for in-person classes. The change is due to expanded testing in local universities, which is expected to lead to a higher daily case count, the district stated in a Thursday afternoon release. 

Up until now, district officials have said they would need to see two or more weeks of fewer than 50 new cases per day and a test positivity rate below five percent to reopen school buildings, a metric that was endorsed by city of New Orleans Health Director Jennifer Avegno.

Now, as schools approach a phased in-person opening beginning Sept. 14, district officials say that has changed. The plan calls for the youngest students to begin first, with older students starting in October. But when officials announced those plans, they said both would be dependent on the data on infections in the city. 

“With large increases in testing it is expected that the number of new cases may increase,” the statement said. “Our focus will remain on the city’s positive test rate and ensuring that it is at or below 5 percent, regardless of the volume of new tests.”

Since the mid-summer spike, the rate of new cases in Louisiana has been in decline.  But that's not the same as saying the thing is under control.  In Orleans, there has even been a bump up over the past week or so.  Still the schools and colleges are set on returning students to class. And with the state preparing to go to Phase 3 of its "reopening" protocol this month, the number of cases is almost certain to rise again. But we're well past the point where anyone is going to make a good faith effort to stop that.  Just be ready to keep getting used to it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

I mean, yes, otherwise what is the point

Warren Treme pleaded guilty in the FNBC case. He is the fifth client among the indicted to do so. It looks here like Treme's eventual testimony will strengthen the case against Ashton Ryan because it emphasizes the importance of Ryan's personal relationship with the co-conspirators. For example, Ryan's prior involvement with Treme was ported over to FNBC when Ryan left his former position to found the new bank. 

Court documents signed by Treme Wednesday said he co-owned several companies with Ryan and initially borrowed from First Bank and Trust, where Ryan worked as president before leaving to found First NBC in 2006. Prosecutors said Ryan “exercised authority over Treme’s loans” from First Bank and Trust, even though his business relationship with Treme was a clear of conflict of interest.

Treme then took his business to First NBC from 2008 through about April 2017. On paper, another bank employee served as Treme’s loan officer, while Burnell technically approved the loans and assigned the credit risk rating to them. But, prosecutors charged, Ryan worked in concert with Burnell and Treme as Treme obtained millions of dollars in loans by filing documentation that all three knew was false.

Treme would then use the proceeds from loans to make payments on previous loans and hide the fact that he couldn’t keep up with loan payments because he was broke.

Another inference we can draw from this is the importance of these little connections throughout New Orleans business and politics. Which is why I keep saying I want someone to write a book about FNBC. You could tell the story of this bank collapse with a wide enough scope that it lays bare a lot of the insider corruption that drove the post-Katrina gentrification of New Orleans. I keep thinking it will happen if I say it often enough. 

And, look, it doesn't have to be a boring depressing sort of thing. There's a lot of fun in this too.  Treme understood this, anyway.

However, sometimes he wouldn’t even use the money to pay off debts, court filings said. On one occasion, he spent $300,000 to gamble and travel to the Caribbean, though Ryan and Burnell convinced First NBC board members that Treme had used that money to catch up on his loan payments.

As one does...

Death panels

 Always grateful to be living here under the Best Healthcare System In The World

The city’s death statistics reveal an aberration, ProPublica found. Nationally, coronavirus patients aged 85 and older died at home only 4% of the time, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; local coroner records show that in New Orleans, it was 17%. Reporters attempted to contact the families of everyone who died at home there.

The interviews revealed a striking pattern: Before they died, about two dozen patients first sought care at a hospital, which then discharged them, in many cases sending them home to die with hospice care. All were Black. The vast majority came from Ochsner Health, the largest hospital network in Louisiana, which treated 60% of the region’s critically ill coronavirus patients.

The families of eight patients, as young as 69, told ProPublica that Ochsner staff pressured them into accepting hospice care for their loved ones who had COVID-19, even as some questioned or pushed back against the suggestion. Three families said they were told that there wasn’t enough space to continue treating the patient in the hospital, or that the hospital needed the bed for another patient.

We always skip ahead to Thermidor

I know that to most cable news audiences it feels like there's a lot of chaos and stuff going on right now. But, in reality, US politics has been and remains a reliably steady edifice.  The ruling establishment can't be displaced by social upheaval because it is so thoroughly disconnected from it.  The population at large can suffer tremendously but most of them don't matter in the calculus. 

There can be unrest in the streets all summer. People can lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose their lives to an uncontrolled disease, even. But, while those are the problems of the people, generally they are not the problems of the electorate. The electorate is worried about the blowback from all that other stuff. And that is what our politics responds to. Which is why, in times of crisis, the message that goes up the flagpole isn't so much that we need to address the crisis itself but instead that we need to keep the reaction to it under control.  

So, in a Presidential election conducted under these circumstances, the candidates compete to "win the week" by best reflecting their targeted voters' fear of the people. Which is why this week we have one candidate accusing the other of being a "radical left anarchist" who will not keep you "safe."

In formally accepting the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, Trump laid out a central attack line for his campaign: accusing the Democratic Party of standing with "anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners." 

Trump claimed that a victory Nov. 3 by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would usher in an era of lawlessness. "No one will be safe in Biden's America," the president said.

While the other candidate is buying ads to reassure his targeted voters that, no no that is not it at all, in fact he hates the radical agitators as much as the other guy.  Moreso, maybe.  

Mr. Biden has repeatedly condemned instances in which protests for racial justice have burst into violence, accusing Mr. Trump of stoking divisions and laying blame for any chaos on the current occupant of the White House.

But the ad — part of a $45 million one-week television and digital purchase that is by far the campaign’s largest to date — is the first time that Mr. Biden has put this pushback on issues of crime and public safety into a major paid advertising program.

“I want to make it absolutely clear,” Mr. Biden says as images flash of burned-out cars and buildings and a confrontation with the police. “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

It's been a rough summer for a lot of reasons. But the fact that a lot of people ran out into the streets to be punched and gassed by cops is destined to be remembered only as.. that summer when people got punched and gassed by cops.  Because the next step of connecting that upheaval to a political movement for change is impossible in this system.  It can only be incorporated in terms of the reaction against it. We skip right past the revolution every time.

Just get used to it

Months and months of failing to stop the virus, making half-committed efforts to stop it while also undermining those half-committed efforts, refusing to support people through the hardships imposed by the half-committed efforts... eventually the only conclusion to draw is "Just get used to it" was the plan all along.  

Well, we're doing that now

Earlier this week, Tulane University professor Carola Wenk got the email she had been dreading: Less than two weeks after the university's ambitious return to in-person instruction, a student in her undergraduate math class had tested positive for coronavirus.

"I just felt heartbroken," Wenk said. "I was just like, "Oh my God, that student caught it now because they came to Tulane."

Such emails have become more common as coronavirus cases have begun to tick up at Tulane, in what some say is the predictable result of the school's decision to reopen campus this fall to 13,600 students, including 4,000 who live in dorms. The majority of students are attending classes in person.

Since July 27, Tulane has reported 155 positive results from its aggressive screening program, which included 14,521 tests. That represents a 1.06 percent testing positivity rate on campus, officials said in a recent update on the school's website.

"Some say" it was a predictable result of calling everyone back to campus. But the university isn't going to take responsibility for that.  They're making a bold decision, after all.  It's a dangerous new world out there. Folks are just gonna have to get used to it. 

Besides, if anything goes wrong, we can always just blame the victims. 

The school will also continue to crack down on students who host gatherings of more than 15 people at a time, currently prohibited on campus.

"We have had to suspend some for violations and will continue to do so if necessary," Strecker said, adding that the "vast majority" of students abide by the rules.

University administrators ought to have a pretty good idea of how students are going to behave.  Setting them up as scapegoats through rules they know are going to be broken shouldn't absolve anyone of the blame for the decision to create the dangerous situation in the first place. 

But the people making the decisions have to weigh the perceived special value of an exclusive private educational experience against these inconvenient little threats to public health so you can see the dilemma. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

What did we say about the first of the month?

 Was worried something like this was up

A woman facing eviction from her Central City apartment complex torched the building Monday night, killing a dog and displacing 26 of her neighbors, authorities alleged.

Police in Hunstville, Texas, on Tuesday captured Jazlynn Major, 25, on a warrant accusing her of 26 counts of aggravated arson following the three-alarm blaze at the Amies Paradise apartments in the 1600 block of Washington Avenue.

This is not a joke. Things are bad and are getting worse.  There are office holders at multiple levels who can do something to stop the tidal wave of evictions about to hit the city... about to hit every city.  Not seeing much action. 

Update: Like we said, could have done this the whole time.  

In an extraordinary move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is moving to temporarily halt most evictions for Americans struggling to pay their rent due to the pandemic, in a step that’s broader than eviction protections already in place.

Many others could have taken action in various other ways.  But they all waited. Just to see how much pain they could inflict on people.  Well we are starting to find out. 

Large crowds to gather indoors, perhaps?

The state has approved a plan for having fans cram into the Superdome to watch the second Saints home game.  They haven't said how many yet. Assume it will be in the thousands. But until they say exactly, it's hard to get a feel for how plausible the logistics of all of this might even be. 

All publicly accessible venues at the Superdome, including the parking garages, Champions Square, the Saints' team shop and the Saints Hall of Fame will be closed to the general public during games that are off-limits to fans. It is not yet known what the policy for the team shop and the Hall of Fame will be, but Champions Square, according to Tuesday's email, will be closed on gamedays. 

If the city signs off on the plan and fans are allowed, the Saints said in the email that they want all season ticket holders "to have equitable access to attend games" and that family members and friends can still attend games together if the tickets are on the same account. 

The number of tickets on an account will be seated together and will be socially distanced away from other groups, the email said.

Okay but in order to get into the building, you have to stand in a long line, get patted down by security, and then squeeze through the corridors and concession/rest room lines.  And, of course, once seated, we assume everyone will be planning to.. you know.. cheer the home team on.  That can be a pretty good way to spread the virus, or so we are told. 

Whatever the plan, it's going to be an awkward sell getting people to stay home from second lines or neighborhood bars when we're allowing indoor football program activities to proceed.  The mayor hasn't made a decision yet. Obviously there are important matters to consider such as the public health implications of setting this precedent too early how much money we can wring out of the deal. 

But, Cantrell suggested approval of the plan would likely hinge on whether the state was willing to give New Orleans more of the federal money set aside for local governments dealing with the COVID pandemic. Cantrell and other city officials have been beating the drum recently about the fact that of $88 million in requests for pandemic-related reimbursements, only about $43 million in expenses have been covered.

"The city of New Orleans needs her fair share of resources that are aligned with the state CARES Act that the state has received and the city of New Orleans," Cantrell said, adding that hosting the Saints would require more manpower and resources from the city.

Update: According to this, the plan is to open at 25% capacity which is something like 20,000 maybe. Sounds difficult.  It also says the mayor is "not even thinking about September 27." So this is probably not ready to happen yet.

Go off, Queen

And with that, Julie Lea just entered the grifter hall of fame

The application encourages potential members to invest in the possible Nyx 2021 parade as a way of boosting the local economy.

Paying your membership dues is another way you are supporting small businesses in our city, especially now,” the application reads. “And the best way to make sure that we still have a successful Mardi Gras krewe in the future, even if the city or state decides that that future is delayed until 2022.”

What can one do but just wonder in awe at that. 

All in this together

Not being an especially sharp science talking guy, I can't say I've tested this hypothesis that the virus is unable to cross Parish lines without special permission. But I have to say it does not sound convincing. 

Backed by local business organizations, the Jefferson Parish Council is expected Tuesday to ask Gov. John Bel Edwards to loosen coronavirus restrictions by region or parish, saying Jefferson should be allowed to move forward if it meets the criteria and not be held back simply because other areas do not.

The Council resolution, crafted by District 2 Councilman Deano Bonano, argues that many businesses are on "the brink of bankruptcy" and that the parish's hospital capacity and infection rate are sufficient to move "forward into Phase 3 of the recovery while maintaining all of the required safety protocols."

Oh wait a minute. I did not realize it might be different if we tell the virus that the businesses are going bankrupt.  Maybe that will keep it out. Anyway, Jefferson Parish doesn't even meet the Phase 3 criteria now so it's hard to know what the rush is. 

Jefferson Parish has recorded 16,461 known coronavirus cases since the disease arrived in March, more than any other parish in Louisiana. And while daily case counts have fallen sharply from the earliest days of the pandemic, according to data from the state Department of Health both Jefferson and the broader New Orleans region still have a high enough count of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people — known as the infection rate — to mandate Phase 2 restrictions.

Probably they just want to yell about it.  And, hey, who can blame them for that?  Living like this really does suck.  I also miss being able to just hang out somewhere. I don't even need the bars to open if I could go to the store or the coffee shop and just be in public feeling comfortable for a few minutes.  Last night there was a three alarm fire down the street from our house.  It was almost a comfort to stand outside and talk with a group of concerned neighbors gathering to watch. Then we remembered we had to put on our masks or keep back. 

This is miserable. Nobody wants to be living this life right now but we understand that we have to. It would certainly have helped matters if Congress had acted to ensure our lives were a little less precarious while we were making these sacrifices for one another. But they didn't. And now we're all at the mercy of the local tin-pot sociopaths ready for us to sacrifice more on their behalf. 

On Monday, (JP District 2 Councilman Deano) Bonano argued that hospital bed and protective equipment shortages that drove the stay-at-home order this spring are no longer present in Jefferson Parish, and that he doesn't believe the parish even had a second spike in coronavirus cases.

“Jefferson Parish’s numbers have remained well below what would be close to taxing our medical system and running out of space,” he said.

The reason to impose restrictions is is to stop the spread of the virus. It is not simply to make sure there are enough hospital beds for people who get it.  How dismal is that?  Bonano sound like he is fine to let God sort em out as long as there is enough room for the sorting. There's a better way to do this and it starts with congressional action and... well... we're waiting

But in the meantime, let's not be stupid. Please.

Just blew right through

Laura is already out of the headlines most everywhere but Louisiana.  Trump came down and signed some autographs or something and now they're all on to other things. 

Here are some numbers.  Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to be without water or power for a month at least. Tens of thousands of evacuees are staying in hotels all over Louisiana and Texas. Remember that evacuees in similar circumstances after Katrina had to fight more than once to keep their hotel vouchers before being kicked out with no place to go.  This is going to be a long tough road ahead for many people. 

A massive chlorine gas fire that erupted near Lake Charles has yet to be fully measured. Information about possible environmental damage from similar chemical infrastructure in the area is slow to come in.

The lack of urgency around monitoring is problematic, said Kimberly Terrell, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic's director of community outreach, because industrial facilities hit by Laura's winds could be leaking or emitting more air pollution than normal. 

"Monitoring air pollution is more important than ever," she said. "You would hope that the state would mobilize every resource available to provide information about what’s in the air in this region."

Indeed, since Thursday, more than 50 pollution events linked to Laura in Louisiana have been reported to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center, including the possible release of toxic vinyl chloride and dichloroethane from the Westlake Chemicals facility, just across Contraband Bayou from the BioLab facility, and the release of an unknown quantity of natural gas from a storage tank at the Cameron LNG Inc. facility in Cameron Parish.

Confidence in EPA to discharge its duty under Trump is at an all time low. It will make it all the more difficult to assess the harm done by Laura. 

That is also true in general as attention moves quickly away.  Only a few years ago an event like Laura might be the biggest ongoing news story of the year.  In terms of the current national news cycle, it's just another catastrophe to throw on the pile. 

That doesn't make it any less devastating for the people who lived in its path.  If you are looking for a way to help, the City of New Orleans is compiling a list of ways you can do that here.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Worst person of 2020?

Seems like a lofty title. The competition would be stiff. Pros only, please. Probably if you are a mayor of something, you've already got a leg up on it.  But it would be hard to beat Josh Guillory at this point

Instead of hurricane damage, Lafayette has faced the "serious, local security threat" of protesters, according to Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory's administration.

Cydra Wingerter, Guillory's chief administrative officer, sent a Saturday email to those involved in disaster response, urging them to "take a pause on any action to establish shelters at this time."

Hundreds of thousands of people without electricity or water right now.  But... "security threat." Brilliant. 

Joe says your complaint doesn't count

Appeal thrown out on a technicality. Oh well, we tried.  

In addition to just being flat out wrong, Biden, here, is giving every right wing troll asking, "when will Joe disavow.." all week exactly what they want. It will not stop them from asking that. It will not stop them from continuing to throw up videos of things on fire and saying, "Joe Biden's America" over and over.  

It will further alienate the Democratic Party from the poor and working class people it claims to represent. It says to all the people getting gassed and punched and shot by cops all summer for expressing their grievance against racism and police violence that Joe Biden doesn't think it technically counts as a protest.   Okay. Thanks for that. 

Anyway, you may have heard, the country is not having the greatest year. In addition to all the racist police murders (kind of a long standing baseline feature, anyway) there are millions out of work, a deadly virus burning through the population, wildfires, hurricanes... Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? The people in the streets are the victims of these compound disasters. They are asking for justice. They are asking for help.  They are receiving a lecture about how the are doing it wrong.

I'm not a big fancy well paid political strategy guy, so I don't know. But that doesn't really strike me as a winner. 

Not going anywhere for a while?

Wow after all those years of watching the city build streetcars even though we kept trying to tell them they are glorified theme park rides for tourists, the city is cutting back on streetcars because... there aren't any tourists.

Since the pandemic triggered restrictions on businesses in early March, the Regional Transit Authority's iconic streetcars have seen a 90% decline from normal ridership levels. The RTA already has most of its system running on the less-frequent Saturday schedule in response, but the streetcars — which once provided millions of dollars in fares when they were filled with tourists — are now costing the agency much more to run per passenger.

As a fix, the RTA is considering running the streetcars less often. While the schedule now has an eight-minute wait between streetcars on Saturdays, the RTA could increase that to a 15-minute wait or longer.

"It's just time for us to take a hard look at what that service level should be, but still maintaining adequate social distancing," said RTA chief executive Alex Wiggins during a meeting of the RTA board this week. "Right now eight minutes between streetcars is just too much service."

Because fewer streetcars would likely make keeping distance more difficult aboard any one in particular, they probably wouldn't want to cut it back too far.  But do we really think the current bar is 8 minutes?  Because, no. Also we need to talk more about this fee-based system for public services and why we need to move away from that altogether. But that's for another time.

What's really fun about this is many of us have spent the better part of 15 years since Katrina arguing that the city devoted nearly all of its attentions to "rebuilding" a city that serves tourists while neglecting the needs of those of us who actually live here.  The streetcar projects have been a perfect example of this.  In the case of the Rampart cars, the explicitly stated goal was less about transit than it was "economic development."  But whenever the issue was raised in these terms, it was always met with denials. RTA has even been accused of re-configuring bus lines specifically to force more commuters onto the Loyola streetcar line in order to demonstrate its usefulness.  These are your streetcars, we built them for you. What would ever make you think they were just a tourist amusement?

Cut to today and we're cutting streetcar service because there aren't enough tourists anymore.  Oh well. The good news is, all these tourists who aren't here will be less frustrated figuring out how to get down to the pedestrian only French Quarter now that they can't ride or drive there. 

Another option might be for the non-tourists to consider soon will be to not take the boat.  Coming in September. We mean it this time. 

After more than two years of delays, failed inspections and fingerpointing, New Orleans’ public transportation authority has announced that one of its new ferry boats will begin carrying passengers across the river next month.

It’s the first time since 2018 that the Regional Transit Authority has given a hard deadline for a ferry's completion, after contractors and managers have repeatedly blown previous deadlines assigned to the $10 million vessels.

The ferryboat RTA 2 should be repaired and ready by Sept. 18, officials said at a transit board meeting earlier this week. Then, Metal Shark, the Jeanerette company building the boats, is expected to resolve leftover issues with its twin, RTA 1. Though officials said the second job should wrap quickly, the agency did not provide a timeline for completion in that case.

Only one boat is ready.  The good news there is since these boats don't carry cars, and we already know there are no tourists, and nobody has a job to get to downtown anymore anyway, they probably won't need the second boat any time soon.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The first of the month is coming back around

You know, there is one every month. What's this one gonna be like?

Just over one million Americans filed new claims for state jobless benefits last week, the latest sign that the economy is losing momentum just as federal aid to the unemployed has been pulled away.

Weekly claims briefly dipped below the one million mark early this month, offering a glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy job market. But filings jumped to 1.1 million the next week, and stayed above one million last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

“It’s devastating how stubbornly high initial claims are,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter. “There are still huge numbers of layoffs taking place.”

The state of Louisiana began issuing the first of its now greatly reduced unemployment benefits payments.  Thanks to Donald Trump, that money now pulls money away from FEMA just as Louisiana begins recovering from a Cat 4 hurricane strike. 

Also no one has a job or any money.  Rent is still due, though.

Nobody wants this big pile of money

Last week, City Council passed a non-binding resolution instructing the Criminal District Court to stop collecting conviction and bail fees from defendants and to return money to people from whom they've already collected these fees.  Supposedly, the idea is to discourage the courts from hoovering up unnecessary money from the poor and indigent who make up the vast majority of people wrung through our brutal criminal justice system. But there are problems.

To begin with, at least some of these fees (the bail fees) are mandated by state law which supersedes the council's authority so at least some of this money has to be collected. The courts are already in a state of limbo regarding that money since a different state law passed this year instructs them to hand it over to the city.  The new law is intended to eliminate a perverse incentive whereby the courts use these fees to fund their own operations. As a result of a 2018 lawsuit ruling that forbids the judges from keeping the funds, they've been collecting in a separate escrow account. 

Anyway that's as good a job as I can do summarizing the Lens's article.  The point is, because we haven't yet managed to ban cash bail altogether, there is a tub full of money that the courts aren't allowed to keep but the city council asserts that it does not want.  

OR maybe they do want it. 

At a City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting last week, prior to the passage of the resolution, Councilwoman Helena Moreno wondered what would happen with the money judges do not have discretion over collecting. 

“So let’s say that the judges say, OK, the city isn’t going to collect, so it’s not worth imposing some of these additional fines and fees,” Moreno said. “But for those that through state law — statutorily — they have to, and it ends up in the escrow account, what do we do with the money in the escrow account?”

Will Snowden, executive director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s New Orleans office, said that money from mandatory fees would go to the city, as is prescribed by state law. 

“This resolution can’t address those mandatory fines that the judges are required to assess on an individual. I know specifically, the bail fee is not something they have discretion in not imposing. That’s a fee that is assigned to every bail that is already set. So my understanding is those funds going into the escrow account — those bail fees — that escrow account will go on to the city as it is currently prescribed.”

“So then it would be up to [the annual city budget passed by the council] on how we use the escrow account, is that right?” Moreno asked.

The subsequent discussion between Moreno and Kristin Palmer there suggests the council could return the money to individuals themselves.  Something tells me that's going to be more easily said than done. 

Something else tells me, it won't be what they choose anyway.

Chemical fire


A large chemical fire has sent a dangerous cloud over Lake Charles, hours after the eye of Hurricane Laura passed directly over the city.

Gov. John Bel Edwards says the fire was burning Thursday morning just outside the city, and he’s advising storm survivors to shelter in place.

Edwards tweeted that people “in the Westlake/Moss Bluff/Sulphur area” should close their windows and doors and turn off their air conditioning units.

The National Hurricane Center says Laura remains a hurricane, sustaining top winds of 75 mph more than 170 miles after landfall.

Sounds comfy 

Update: Fire is coming from a facility called BioLab Inc

According to state permits, the facility can produce 115 million lbs. per year of trichloroisocyanuric acid and disodium isocyanurate. Trichloroisocyanuric acid is often produced in a white granulated or powder form and can have a heavy "chlorine" smell. When heated, the material can release toxic chlorine fumes and nitrogen oxides, according to PubChem, an open database from the National Institutes of Health.

The facility was categorized under federal standards as a major source of hazardous air pollutants.

Chlorine gas can cause blisters and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat. Nausea, vomiting, shortness of breathe and headache are symptoms of heavy exposure. The gas is also heavier than air and tends to linger along the ground.

The complex also has storage tanks the hold diesel fuel, another potential fuel source for the fire, permit records show.



All's well that ends well if you own a well

There were some 1400 oil wells in the path of Hurricane Laura's storm surge.  Plus multiple chemical pipelines. Plus the offshore rigs, plus the LNG terminals. What happens if all that stuff gets blowed up?  Well, there is precedent.

Hurricane Katrina struck a similar trove of coastal oil and gas infrastructure in 2005. A Category 3 storm, Katrina made landfall with less force than Laura but managed to damage an estimated 100 drilling platforms, 400 pipelines and caused about 540 spills in Louisiana waters. Added up, the spills likely released roughly 11 million gallons – the same amount as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

Fifteen years later, no environmental damage assessments have been completed and no companies were fined.

Wind vs rain vs surge

 The 15th anniversary of Katrina is two days from now.  Many folks who learned a lot about how disaster insurance works (or doesn't) at that time, will tell you why this might be important

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday morning said early reports show wind did the most damage from Hurricane Laura, with storm surge falling short of projections, but the governor warned the hurricane did “extensive” damage that is ongoing as it continues to move toward Shreveport.

The governor said the National Guard had not yet been able to take helicopters to survey damage and that a “full assessment” was not yet available as of Thursday morning.

It's early but that is potentially good news.  This says also that the surge may have been only half as high as the predicted "unsurvivable" worst case scenario.  

Of course there are other hazards.

RNC Night 3

That was supposed to be the night where they scare everybody about the radical islamo-mexican-BLM-antifa terror that was coming to drag them away in the night.  Instead they let Mike Pence talk for 45 minutes.  Nobody wants to see that.  Not even Republican voters. I still have no idea who any of this is for.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Hold on to your butts

 Absolute terror.

Officials implored those who hadn’t left to do so in a final Wednesday morning briefing before the storm’s arrival, warning of unprecedented storm surge and punishing winds similar to and possibly even more damaging than those of 2005’s Rita.

"We expect catastrophic events from this storm,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “Let me say: I hope I’m wrong. I hope this is not a Rita- like scenario. But the expectation and forecast is for this to be a catastrophic event."

The 7 PM advisory says Laura has 150 mph winds and can push a storm surge of 20 ft. It is potentially the "most powerful storm to ever hit Louisiana"  The chemical infrastructure situated in its path is worth billions of dollars and accounts for a large share of national fuel production.  Even more critically, though, it could make for a massive environmental disaster in the wake of a storm like this. 

Coming onshore within hours.  


Blow that bubble

 Somebody's got to.

The NBA has announced that all three playoff games Wednesday will be postponed and rescheduled. The decision comes after the Milwaukee Bucks players did not take the court for Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic, which was supposed to tip off at 4 p.m. ET. The protest comes in response to the shooting of an unarmed black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Shortly after the Bucks made a statement by not playing, the Rockets and Thunder decided to also not play today, as well as the Lakers and Trail Blazers. 

Some basketball players just did more politics in one day than either of the major parties have done in a week and a half of TV infomercial production.


 Something extra-fishy going on here.  Not sure what just yet but something. 

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said Wednesday he is dropping his bid to chair the state Democratic Party so he can focus on national politics.

James was the frontrunner for the post after winning the endorsement of Gov. John Bel Edwards.


 That sounds bad. I don't like it. 

Southwest Louisiana was bracing for a catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane Laura that was expected to lay waste to large swaths of the region, bringing unheard-of levels of storm surge for south Louisiana of as much as 20 feet.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and forecasters implored residents of the area to flee as the storm prepared to make landfall. Officials said it will bring “unsurvivable” storm surge and wind gusts of 170 mph that was expected to leave most of Cameron Parish underwater.

This is over 200 miles away from New Orleans but the wind this afternoon is already shaking things up a good deal more than anything associated with Marco did over the weekend.  There have only been three storms in recorded history to strike Louisiana as Cat 4 hurricanes.  Katrina, Rita, and Andrew had all grown to Cat 5 strength at certain points but were not, technically, packing that punch when they made landfall.  Still, all were historically damaging.  

There are a lot of vulnerable people in the path of this one. The President just spent $44 billion in FEMA funds on an inadequate stop gap fix for unemployment insurance.  Surely no one will complain.

RNC Night 2

Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future.  Also I am aware that I am not the intended audience for either party's convention infomercial.  But two nights into the RNC, and already they have me thinking Trump is going to lose.  


I am thinking that again, now. 

Not that I have any idea what will happen. Can't emphasize that enough. But these conventions give the impression that both parties are in competition to see who can be the most out of touch with the moment. The Democrats spent a week sitting in the dark and being sad. The Republicans are better lit but somehow still matching that energy. This shit is boorrring. 

The 2016 RNC was a non-stop barrage of blood and soil lunacy.  In 2020 they're presenting the meandering mumblings of various Trump family members interspersed with, like a parade of dead weight business guys.  


Nobody is tuning in to see that.  They are coming here to see some troops and cops scream about "antifa" and "radical Islam" and stuff.  And, no, it doesn't count if a coked up Trump son is saying it.  Trump voters want to own some libs about "#obamagate" or bray about the "hypocrisy" of  the Biden family's equivalent corruption.  They do not want to sit though Pam Bondi's droning on and on about any of that, though.  

This is extremely boring content and I have no idea who it is for. We know the Democratic convention was deliberately trying to appeal to Republicans.  According to this CBS poll that got a lot of attention this week, that might not have been the best idea. Only 5% of Republicans responding said they plan to vote for Biden now. 


No surprise to see the Democrats fail. But at least we know what they are up to.  What is this RNC trying to accomplish?  Monday night's closing speech by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott was a dopey talk about "shooting for the moon" to reach your American Dream or whatever.  Scott talked about how trickle down policies like Opportunity Zones and tax credits bring "private sector investment into distressed communities."  It was a speech a Democrat would give if he were trying and failing to attract Republican voters. We heard several at the DNC just like it.  Tuesday ended on Melania Trump, who CNN definitely grades on a curve, speaking (for 25 minutes!) empty aphorisms about "civility" and "sympathy" with no notion of how to actually go about helping anyone. This, again, would have fit right in on the DNC program.  

Why are they wasting their time with this? Why is either party? Nothing in any of this messaging connects to the material world that Americans are living in today.  170,000 + dead of an uncontrolled pandemic.  Millions unemployed with no relief in sight.  Almost nightly acts of violent suppression committed against calls for racial justice. Neither party is speaking to any of that. None of what they offer is for us.  Who is it for?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

RNC opening night

Overall, not great. I mean that in the normal sense as in, some very bad people talked badly about bad things.  But I mean it also in the broken-brained political punditry sense as in, the bad people didn't put on a particularly compelling show likely to move voters.  At least, as far as I can tell they didn't.  I realize none of this is for my benefit. 

What even happened?  Let's see.. Don Jr.'s girlfriend yelled really loud at us.  Don Jr., himself, appeared to be crying the whole time. Steve Scalise and Nikki Haley spoke in fake southern accents for some reason.  Herschel Walker was there. So were Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones and Maryland congressional candidate Kim Klacik in order to make the, "Ha ha who is the real racist now?" joke over and over.  

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott was supposed to bring that theme home at the end but his speech sounded like it would have put the audience to sleep had there actually been one in the room. Although, it should be said, the Republicans' decision to stage their speakers as though they were addressing a full hall come off a little bit better than the Democrats' hodge podge of Zoom videos filmed from a series of half-lit elementary school rooms.  

As for the content, neither side has an edge.  The Democrats' message last week was, essentially, empathy.. but helplessness. Everyone's life is hard right now. It feels like it's getting harder. The Democrats get it. But they aren't necessarily promising to do anything about it. The Republicans are selling helplessness too.. but also resentment. While the Democrats feel really bad about the bad things that happen to the poor and vulnerable, Republicans show them open hostility.  Either approach amounts to a denial of serious structural problems. Americans prefer to blame individuals for their problems.  Our political leaders can either empathize with you or they can yell at you, but don't expect much help. 

Is either side "winning" right now?  Who knows. I know I'm not the intended audience, but last night the Republicans bored the hell out of me. Guilfoyle's speech was loud and nutty but, on a scale of recent GOP nuttiness, it probably rates about a 5 out of 10. It doesn't even approach Rudy Giuliani's 2016 performance, for example.  This Louisiana doctor showed up to tell us about the fantastic job Donald Trump is doing. But who could think that makes any sense? 

The United States has failed to contain the coronavirus as effectively as many other developed countries. After experiencing a surge in cases in many parts of the country this spring, the virus roared back in the South in the summer. As of Monday the virus had killed 177,176 people in the U.S., and the country had logged 5.7 million cases.

Support for Trump’s handling of the pandemic has lagged as infections and deaths continue to climb, dropping from 44% approval in March to 31% in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Monday.

Similarly, Republican speakers talked about all the jobs Trump has brought us. But checking back in with reality, we have to ask, who is this message for?  

But nearly half a year later, many of the jobs that were stuck in purgatory are being lost forever. About 33 percent of the employees put on furlough in March were laid off for good by July, according to Gusto, a payroll and benefits firm whose clients include small businesses in all 50 states and D.C. Only 37 percent have been called back to their previous employer.

There were 3.7 million U.S. unemployed who had permanently lost their previous job as of July, according to the Labor Department. That figure doubled from February to June, held steady in July, and is expected to hit between 6.2 million and 8.7 million by late this year, according to a new analysis from economists Gabriel Chodorow-Reich of Harvard University and John Coglianese of the Federal Reserve Board.

Again, I know the audience isn't me but it can't possibly be anyone experiencing the agony of job loss or death of a loved one by COVID either.  Can it?  Likely both parties are talking to a narrow strip of voters who see themselves as insulated from the worst of the pandemic; the wealthy, sure, but also middle class people with relatively secure jobs they can do from home.  Only that population is likely to see any of this empty showmanship and mistake it for substance. Anyone else can only despair.