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.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Well, I've got some bad news and some bad news

 First the bad news. Via the IPCC report.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C is ambitious – but is not fanciful. In the 2019 amendment to the Climate Change Act, the UK showed the intent required and committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Still, achieving that aim will be a challenge. The climate crisis is as much a rural problem as an urban one. It is both economic and human, domestic and international. This means transformation is required at every level of society: individuals, employers, institutions and international partners will need to work together to understand the trade-offs, agree compromises and seize opportunities. And just as scientists are pooling insights from diverse fields of expertise, policymakers will need to work in new ways, sharing ideas across disciplines to plot a clear path from here to net zero. This is a whole systems challenge. Tackling it will require a systemic approach. 

And now the bad news.  Societal "transformation" on the scale required here is not and has never been brought about by deliberate action toward the purpose of avoiding catastrophe.  Instead, societal transformation is a purely reactionary process brought about through ad-hoc responses to and conflicts generated by catastrophe itself.  In other words, we're not going to change in order to avoid the worst affects of the climate disaster.  Instead the disaster is going to impose changes on us. Mostly through violence. This is always how it was going to happen.  There is nothing in human society and politics that can make it operate any other way. 

Anyway, it's Monday.  How is everyone?

Saturday, August 07, 2021


It now looks like they are (probably) going to pass the bi-partisan infrastructure-privatization bill.  Hooray? 

While it's nice to think they might move ahead with putting some money into highways and bridges and water systems, there are fundamental problems with the way this bill would deliver such projects. We talked a little bit about that the other day and I'm sure there will be plenty opportunities to bring it up again once the consequences become apparent.  But at the moment most commentators are skipping over those details to raise questions about the process.   Like, for example, what was even the point of all this?

What may appear to be an imminent victory for bipartisan deal-making was in fact a drawn-out demonstration of how broken the Senate is as an institution. The Senate (with the White House’s support) wasted months cajoling and rehabilitating a handful of key Republicans only to pass a smaller version of something Democrats could theoretically have passed entirely on their own. Moving the bill forward only looks like a victory if one accepts the sclerosis and dysfunction of the Senate as a natural obstacle to be overcome with cunning and patience, not a self-imposed limitation on effective and responsive governance.

They could have chosen to just put all of the "infrastructure" through reconciliation and be done with it.  Instead they stripped out all the best parts and put those on a shelf that they promise...really.. fingers crossed and all... to pass right after they get this shitty thing through and pretend it's an accomplishment. 

What incentive do either of the famous trouble-Dems Sinema and Manchin have to pass the reconciliation bill now, though?  I have no idea.  Neither of them has committed to it. And then, of course, there are the labor and voting rights items the whole future of this congress and Presidency rest upon still sitting out there to be taken up later.  Does anyone think any of that is going to get done now?  I'd love to hear how.

Friday, August 06, 2021

The rent is too damn due

We've hit another first of the month again. There's one every month!  But this one has been the most first of the month that has yet firsted since pandemic crisis began.  And it has gotten dark.

NEW ORLEANS — Deputies with the First and Second City Courts of New Orleans will be required to get a coronavirus vaccination. Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr. has mandated all commissioned deputies must be vaccinated as COVID-19 case counts are rising with the spread of the delta variant. All full-time and reserve deputies must meet this vaccination mandate by Aug. 16, the constable said.

Officials said vaccination rates among law enforcement entities are high, but it has not been mandatory in the past. The mandate will ensure SCC deputies are not leaving the public at risk when performing duties of the department and ensuring their personal safety, according to the constable. The use of personal protective equipment will also be mandated while remaining socially distanced when possible and minimizing interactions with other employees or the public when possible.

Shorty said he expects the courts to be at capacity in the coming weeks. He says that we are not out of the woods of the pandemic, and will make sure all CDC guidelines are followed in addition to the mandatory vaccination decision.
What duties will the constables and the courts be performing that will have them "at capacity in the coming weeks?"
Second City Court handles eviction cases for Algiers and the West Bank of Orleans Parish. This decision comes after the federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend. First City Court officials confirm that all East Bank deputy constables for Orleans Parish are fully vaccinated, and any new deputy constable will be required to vaccinate as well.

Perhaps when the constables go about their busy work evicting people, they could bring some vaccines with them.  It's about time we get a bona-fide door-to-door vax program going in this city that actually reaches the most vulnerable.  Of course this would be the way it happens. 

Evictions are  not just about to spike in New Orleans. They're about to spike nationwide. Some parts of the nation will be spiking harder than others, though. You will not be surprised to see which they are.  The maps in this NYT opinion piece by Sema K. Sgaier and Aaron Dibner-Dunlap show how many renters are behind and how far behind they are on rent in each US county or parish. 

Just the other night someone reminded us, as the South goes, so too goes the nation. The South is not going well at the moment. In Orleans Parish (which, despite much contrary popular myth making, is located in the South) 19.6% of renters currently owe back rent according to numbers cited in that NYT article. The average amount owed is $3,187. Sgaier and Dibner-Dunlap write that state and local governments "can prevent this rental crisis from becoming a homelessness crisis" by speeding up distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance funds made available by the stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year by Congress.  But we already know that isn't going to be enough. 

As of last Thursday, the Times-Picayune reported the City of New Orleans had already run through $18 million of the $52 million in rental assistance that has so far been distributed for the entire state processing only 5,000 of 16,000 applications. The state has another $87 million to disperse but it's not clear how that gets divided. That total will still not be sufficient to meet the need so, no matter what, everyone will be waiting on the feds to release the second tranche of ARP funds. But, as we will see, that tranche may not arrive at all. 

Meanwhile, we learn by that same T-P article there are approximately 400 evictions cases queued up to file as soon as the moratorium ends.  This story says 58 were filed on Monday. Which is a very bad time for that to happen because it follows right on the heels of this.

Louisiana residents will no longer receive an extra $300 a week on top of the state’s maximum $247 benefit. The state will also pull out of federal programs that provided jobless aid to self-employed workers and gig workers and allowed people to get jobless benefits past the 26-week state cap.

The benefits were made available by Congress until Labor Day, but Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, ordered Louisiana to stop accepting the federal payments effective July 31 in exchange for support from GOP lawmakers and business groups for a permanent $28 hike to the state’s weekly unemployment benefits, beginning in six months.

The move spells the end to jobless aid for nearly 86,000 residents who make their living as self-employed contractors, musicians, tour guides or gig workers. Another 65,000 residents who have exceeded the state’s 26-week-long limit on unemployment benefits will also get the boot, according to data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

For the 35,000 residents who will remain on unemployment rolls, weekly checks will be cut in half – as Louisiana joins 25 Republican-led states that have rejected the $300 supplemental payments under pressure from business groups who argue the payments are discouraging employees from returning to work

Is that $300 pittance discouraging people from returning to their demeaning and dangerous service jobs in the middle of a fourth wave COVID spike? So far there isn't any solid evidence that cutting those benefits has sent them all rushing back

So far, early data suggests that cutting the benefits given to Americans who lost their jobs during the covid-19 pandemic has not led to a big pickup in hiring. The 20 states that reduced benefits in June had the same pace of hiring as the mostly Democrat-led states that kept the extra $300-a-week unemployment payments in place, according to state-level data from the Labor Department. Survey data from the Census Bureau and Gusto’s small-business payroll data show similar results. 

Many economists and business owners say other issues such as health concerns, child-care problems and workers reassessing their career choices appear to be larger factors keeping them home.

The same week that the governor is cutting off the $300 is also the week the landlord wants that $3,000 average back rent or thousands of people are going to be be put out. Hard to imagine they're all jumping on one of those $8 or $10 an hour jobs so they can hope not to get sick before figuring out the math isn't gonna work.  What are people supposed to do?

For much of the past week, the President's message has been that he isn't supposed to do anything. Last week, he insisted that a month old Supreme Court ruling prevented him extending the moratorium without congressional action. On Friday, as congressional leaders were giving up trying to take that action and punting the problem back to him, Biden turned the blame onto governors and mayors saying in this statement, "there can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants who have been hurt during this pandemic." Biden's statement also contained a passive aggressive suggestion that the mayors and governors, "should also be aware that there is no legal barrier to moratorium at the state and local level." 

Neither John Bel Edwards nor LaToya Cantrell has imposed or even spoken in favor of a local moratorium on evictions. Maybe they didn't think Biden was talking to them.  We've already mentioned they seem to be doing an adequate (relatively speaking.. not objectively great) job of spending the rental assistance money so he probably wasn't talking to them about that either. And it's true there are states doing a much worse job. For example, Florida, under the psychopathic governorship of Ron DeSantis, has withheld 98% of its allotted rental assistance funds in what we have to assume is an act of deliberate cruelty. 

Having said all that, we should point out that governors and mayors (not just DeSantis types) are nonetheless reluctant to spend their stimulus funds. Partially this is because Joe Biden and the bi-partisan infrastructure deal making its way through Congress now is about to yank a bunch of it back.  That has already become an issue in New Orleans city government as the Cantrell administration discussed its plans to spend its stimulus funds with the City Council last week.

But officials said they are resisting the urge to spend the windfall immediately to supplement the $633 million budget for 2021. They recommend the money be stretched out until revenue improves. That’s particularly crucial because the forecast calls for the lost revenue from 2020 to total more than $290 million by 2025 -- more than City Hall has received so far from the stimulus, codified in the American Rescue Plan.

“Even if we’re using that ARP money, we could still end up in a deficit,” City Council member Helena Moreno said.

City officials are nervously eying negotiations over President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan. While such a plan would likely mean more federal money for New Orleans, city officials worry that Congress might cancel the second stimulus payments to cities and counties to help pay for infrastructure.

They aren't at all wrong to be worried. That's exactly what the current version of the infrastructure bill is set to do. And that's not really even the worst of it. The infrastructure bill is best understood as a privatization bill.  The American Prospect's David Dayen explains in this breakdown. He actually thinks it's been improved in the latest negotiation. I'm less encouraged and will explain in a bit. Here is what Dayen has to say.

The revenue offsets did change quite a bit. We knew about Republicans ditching the tax enforcement piece. But there was a big victory here for progressives. A few weeks ago, it looked as if much of the bill would be financed by selling off public assets and allowing investment firms long-term concessions of roads and water and power systems and whatever else they could land. The privatization agenda was extremely dangerous, and in my view enough to oppose the effort entirely.

But it has mostly vanished in this new version. After significant pushback from the left, a good deal of the privatization schemes are gone. That was an important show of force.

There is $100 million in “asset concession incentive” grants to help cities establish public-private partnerships (P3s). Some larger transportation projects will also be required to evaluate a P3 option, to ensure it’s given “a fair shot.” Tipping the scales to P3s is bad news, and these measures give them a foot in the door. But there was talk that the overall bill would save up to $100 billion by offloading the investment to P3s, which would really have been a fire sale. This is definitely more minor.

It's clear that someone in Gilbert Montano's office keeps a close eye on these developments. Not only has the city been anticipating the ARP claw backs from the very beginning of the infrastructure negotiations, they've also started the ball rolling on a "framework" for the privatization component of the bill as well.

Anyway, Dayen's description of the reduced emphasis on privatization is too optimistic. These changes he is describing are just the fluid argument over how to write the bill. The purpose remains the same. To put it plainly, public-private-partnerships (P3s) are privatization. Just putting them into the process this way practically guarantees they will get implemented through the regular corrupt local patronage networks. And the way New Orleans spends public money is especially suited to just that kind of arrangement.

A good little book to check out on this topic is Aaron Schneider's Renew Orleans?: Globalized Development and Worker Resistance after Katrina (2018) There, we find an analysis of the city budget based on the processes and institutions in place during the late 00s, which haven't changed a whole lot since then. The big takeaway is there's a lot of activity that goes on "off the books."  A quick excerpt summarizing this point:

The most important finding of this simple comparison (of New Orleans finances to those of similarly sized and situated cities) was that New Orleans taxes not too far below what is to be expected but has far fewer revenues and even lower expenditures. Taxes were only $7 million less than predicted by the model, but revenues were approximately $100 million lower and expenditures were almost $250 million lower than expected. New Orleans appears to tax its citizens the same but undertake less public action than other cities

A reasonable explanation is the proliferation of satellite entities, many of which are off-budget, difficult to monitor, and undertake significant fiscal action in the form of revenues, expenditures, and accumulation of assets. To explore these entities, data were drawn from 2007 and 2008, gathering information from city budget documents, Louisiana Legislative Auditor reports, and accounting documents collected directly from some entities. City budget totals include revenues and outlays by some boards, commissions, and public-benefit corporations, as they are considered component units of city government, and therefore government accounting practices require them to be included in the city's comprehensive financial report. Not all entities are so considered, however, and they vary in the degree to which their accounts appear in the public record. Some provide comprehensive financial reports to the Legislative Auditor's Office, others keep accounts according to government accounting standards but do not report them anywhere, and still others do not keep accounts in any easily comparable fashion. 

What this says in so many words is that New Orleans is crawling with public private partnerships and conceded public assets already. The city is run through an impenetrable network of semi privatized commissions and non profits who operate with almost zero public transparency. Schneider's analysis in fact shows this is actually the largest sector for public expenditures.

Take for example tourism promotion agencies like the mostly private New Orleans and Company seen here preparing to spend millions of dollars in public money on an ad campaign encouraging more people to travel and gather here during a pandemic.  Back in February, NO and CO's head Stephen Perry sent out an inflammatory email to agency clients wherein he blamed local COVID victims for preventing the cabal of tourism owners from making money. Here we see the Convention Center arguing over how to spread half a billion public dollars around to contractors and cronies to renovate and expand its facilities and develop whole new "entertainment district" for private profit while hundreds of New Orleanians are about to be evicted.  And still the Cantrell Administration insists the city gets its #fairshare from these agencies.  Maybe this is because dispersing public money through private conduits and expecting it to trickle down is precisely their idea of "fair."

It's important to understand this context because when you see administrators claim there are multi-year deficits which obligate them to hold back federal relief funds rather than use them to help people now,  you have to question where they actually intend those funds to go.  People are going to be evicted on August 1, 2021  October 3, 2021... actually the moratorium doesn't cover everyone and evictions have been ongoing this entire time. What good does it do them if we are hiding money away until 2025?

The administration is considering setting aside whatever money it might need for the latest 2025 estimates first and then work backward, only adding to next year’s plan at the end, MontaƱo said. 

Given that we know the city is preparing to implement the privatizing functions of the infrastructure bill, and given that Montano is arguing here that the City Council should butt out of his budget process, we have to conclude that the purpose is to consolidate as much of the pub-private patronage power through the mayor's office as possible.  At least that is one way to read this "efficiencies gained through the pandemic process," comment.

“It’s easiest to go back to the way you were and its easiest to go back to normal, but I’m not willing to lose the efficiencies we gained through this pandemic process,” he said. He added that the council reopening the process “takes away executive authority. The mayor gets to propose what we’re putting in the budget, not an agency director.”

Actually that's pretty much just a naked admission.  It would also explain why the same administration expressing concern over the ARP claw backs is simultaneously promoting the passage of the bill that will make them happen.  They don't care if there is less money than people actually need so long as they get to be in charge of passing it out. 

Why is this acceptable?  Or more critically, why does our political system allow this state of affairs to obtain?  To answer that, let us refer to a book by Arizona Senator and budding professional troll, Kyrsten Sinema. The book, by the bearer of the now famous "fuck off" ring, is titled Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win and Last, funnily enough. In this excerpt, Sinema relays to us some important lessons she learned serving in the Arizona State Legislature. 

I showed up all right. And for the first several months, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, coming to work every morning full of vim and vigor, ready to face off for justice—which made me rather annoying. I’d stand up four or five times a week on the floor of the house and give scathing speeches about how this bill and that bill were complete and utter travesties of justice, and the paper would capture one or two of the quotes, and then we’d vote on the offending bills and they’d pass with supermajorities. I’d get righteously indignant and head back to my office, incensed that my colleagues could not only write but actually support and vote for such horrid policies!

Meanwhile, everyone else went to lunch. In short, my first legislative session was a bust. I’d spent all my time being a crusader for justice, a patron saint for lost causes, and I’d missed out on the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with fellow members in the legislature, lobbyists, and other state actors. I hadn’t gotten any of my great policy ideas enacted into law, and I’d seen lots of stuff I didn’t like become law. It was just plain sad.

At this point the reader may begin to wonder. Is Kyrsten "just plain sad" that the bad laws are passing? Or is this more about missing out on all those terrific sounding social opportunities?  It's not entirely clear yet, but it's not a great sign that the "offending bills" and "horrid policies" are left undefined while the author's self-image and personal comfort level becomes the center of the narrative. Anyway let's read on.

I spent the summer figuring out what I wanted to change. I knew that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing because it wasn’t working for me and I hated it. I had, without actually planning to do so, fallen quite easily into the role of the loyal opposition, the righteously indignant crusader, the bomb thrower. In legislative lingo, a bomb thrower is a legislator who chooses to yell from the sidelines, cackle at the rest of the body, and generally raise hell from the corner of the room. A person who chooses to be a bomb thrower in the legislature is choosing to remove himself or herself from the work of the body: negotiating on bills, working to find compromises, and sometimes teaming up with unusual allies to promote or kill legislation. This person plays an important role at the capitol because he or she calls out the body on a regular basis (which is needed, especially considering that the general public hears or reads roughly 0.3 percent of what happens each day inside the legislature). However, the bomb thrower has made a choice—whether consciously or not—to be excluded from the actual process of negotiating proposed legislation. You can’t play both roles in the legislature; if you choose to be a bomb thrower, you will not get the opportunity to amend bills, participate in bipartisan meetings to craft good legislation, or work with people on the other side of the aisle to kill bad legislation. I unwittingly chose to be a bomb thrower my first session, which led to my unhappiness and regret.

Over the summer, I consciously chose to reject the bomb thrower role. For me, it was not a hard choice to make. I was miserable as a bomb thrower. And since I hadn’t consciously chosen that role, I was even more depressed when I realized that I had become a bomb thrower and worked my way right into that lonely corner. It didn’t fit me. I do love to give fiery speeches. But I also love people. I love talking with people, working together, and making friends. The bomb thrower doesn’t get to make friends much (understandably so), and she certainly doesn’t get to work with all the people she’s throwing bombs toward.

Remarkably, the younger Sinema was wrong about all of this.  Now at the apex of her career she has figured out you really can throw bombs and make friends at the same time.  As long as you make sure the bombs fall on the appropriate people outside of the Senate, you'll never be lonely inside of it.  

There's a kind of class politics at work here. But it's the politics of a consensus class within the halls of power charged with managing the hyper-concentration of societal wealth into ever more exclusive circles.  That retreat has been going on since the 1970s but it took a significant turn in the response to the 2008 financial crisis. That's when we learned capitalism can sustain itself just by passing around federally guaranteed credit among the wealth hoarding class and leaving a growing class of surplus humans to more or less fend for themselves. As we've tried to show over the past year, the pandemic response has been a continuation of this project. Anyway that's why a completely captured political apparatus can be indifferent to a homelessness crisis and cut off already miserly safety net payments in the height of a pandemic. It's just doing its work of laying down terms of the harsher readjusted social contract. 

So that about sets the table for the rest of the year. We're looking at another round of political buck passing to cover for a national policy of austerity and privatization. Locally, this will set off a bonanza of petty patronage delivered through local pub-private and non-profit networks. Come October, the new moratorium will expire. By that time, nothing will have fundamentally changed for the renters facing eviction, and we'll have another version of this same argument. Only by then, Biden will have celebrated the success of his bipartisan Infrastructure Week, Sinema will be back from vacation, and, in New Orleans, the same mayor and  (basically same) city council who are running with no meaningful opposition will be on their way to reelection.  And so at every level of government, the next round of calls to "do something" will be one degree easier to ignore. 

Of course the rent will still be due.  Just like every month.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The three genders of medicine

I don't know what Clay is even talking about here but it sounds very inclusive and open minded so kudos for that. 

I have COVID, Becca has COVID, and my son has COVID. Becca and I had COVID early on, in January 2020, before the world really knew what it was. So, this is our second experience with the CCP biological attack weaponized virus ... and this episode is far more challenging. It has required all of my devoted energy.

"We are all under excellent care, and our prognosis is positive. We are very healthy generally speaking, and our treatment of any health concern always encompasses western, eastern, and holistic variables.

Please get vaccinated.  Even if that means you have to like, sing a mantra and drink a matcha smoothie or something while they give you the shot, please get your shots.

Age of vulgarity

What's sad here is there is a lost art of conveying a sense of our decadent stage of imperial capitalism through subtext.  Instead we just hit you right over the head with it so much that it becomes uninteresting.  

Like we've all just given up trying

Caesars and Saints executives said the scope of their partnership agreement goes beyond the naming rights deal. They said the plan is for additional joint investments that will use Caesars' leverage in the entertainment and sporting world to bring more events to the Superdome, as well as to enhance Champions Square as a venue.

"This will be their building for the next 20 years at least, so a big part of the discussion has been about how do we get some of the world class entertainment they have," said Saints President Dennis Lauscha. "How do we get some of the big boxing matches into New Orleans? How do we develop Champions Square to take it to another level from an entertainment standpoint? Those are really big investments that we're talking to them about making jointly."

Whose building? The one the people of Louisiana built and maintained for four decades?  The place we've invested not only our public money but our community pride, the place where we welcomed Popes and Presidents, hosted concerts, crowned athletic champions at every level, this worldwide symbol of our collective suffering as well as our (ugh hate to use the word) civic resilience; whose building is this, Dennis?

Please specify your emergency

Oh look some of the emergencies are officially ending

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell has issued two separate declarations that terminated the state of emergency declarations for Tropical Storm Zeta in October 2020 and the cyber-security attack in December 2020, respectively.

Not sure but this might bring the total number of active emergencies back below the number of consent decrees in operation but I don't feel like doing the math.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Declaring victory

When you are loudly proclaiming the success of your very big program and that program, in reality, turns out not to be very successful, or even very big, then people are going to lose faith that anyone or anything is coming to help at all. That's the hole the Biden administration is digging now

“June Emergency Rental Assistance Resources to Households More Than All Previous Months Combined,” the headline blared, highlighting the more than $1.5 billion in payments delivered, and triple the number of households helped relative to April. It sounds like a real achievement if you don’t know the denominator; that is, the total amount of rental assistance Congress approved in relief bills last December and this March. That number is $46.5 billion, which means that the June total amounted to a little over 3 percent of available funds.

It’s a simple math equation to get to what Politico figured out, that in the first six months since rental assistance was made available, only 6.5 percent of the funds have been distributed. At this rate, the money would dribble out between now and 2028.

Renters don’t have that kind of time. Next Saturday, July 31, the federal moratorium on evictions expires, and the Biden administration opposes an extension. In a world where rental assistance is flowing and the economy booming, policymakers could rest easy that a spurt of evictions will not ensue. But that reality only exists on charts and unofficial estimates.

The first of the month is coming again.  (There's one every month!) And this one is gonna be a doozy. With seven million potential evictions hanging out there and a new COVID surge threatening lives and livelihoods, Biden opposes an extension of the eviction moratorium. Meanwhile states are rushing to cut off unemployment benefits early.* Joe Biden isn't doing anything to stop them. 

Biden and his team pushed back on the idea that the federal benefits were to blame for a sudden shortage of workers, but they quickly changed course, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki ultimately saying that Republican governors “have every right to” reject the pandemic unemployment money.

That's not the whole story: 22 governors decided they would stop paying the PUA assistance for self-employed workers. As Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., pointed out at the time, “Congress did not grant states the ability to strip PUA benefits away from vulnerable workers.”

Sanders told Biden’s Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that he had an obligation “to ensure this aid gets to workers.” Instead, an unnamed Biden administration official told CNN: “There is nothing we can do.

There's nothing we can do, it's out of our hands, and the governors "have every right" to screw you over.  But aren't we doing a great jobWe delivered $1.5 billion in payments! If we didn't know better we might think they are actually trying to get people to give up hope.  But we know better. That can't possibly be what the goal is here. I mean it's not like they'd just up and "declare independence" from a pandemic even while it still rages out of control across the globe.  That wouldn't make any sense. 

*Including your very own state!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Did the babies get their bottle?

I mean it kind of depends.  Republican legislators didn't manage to overturn vetoes on either of the bills they targeted during the baby fit session. But like I said the other day, I was never sure that overriding the vetoes was the primary aim of this exercise. For many of them, I think the main purpose was to hold a rally and raise money off of their trademark brand of victimhood trolling.  All of that, they managed to accomplish.  And even though, there was a moment when we thought they might have ended up accidentally imprisoning themselves in the capitol indefinitely, the two day session was mostly a no-harm, no-foul event. 

Still, next year may be different. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a statement yesterday that "veto sessions should be the norm from now on.”  Already, there is speculation about what that might mean for next year's redistricting battle.  Today the reporters on Twitter are mostly saying the failed overrides spell trouble for the Republicans there. Here is a pretty good sample of the consensus opinion.

Edwards ability to beat back any veto overrides has implications for the state’s political redistricting process coming up early next year. It makes it less likely that the Republicans in the Legislature will be able to redraw the state’s political districts without involving the Democratic governor. They now know it could be difficult to get enough votes to override a governor’s veto and cut the governor out of the political redistricting process completely. 

I'm not so sure that's what it means, though. At least it might mean they still have to negotiate. But the failure to override vetoes on two controversial bills facing headwinds from business groups and law enforcement doesn't necessarily mean they can't still go nuclear on a question of pure partisan politics. At the very least, they've now established that the threat exists. And that in and of itself is bound to affect the discussion next year.  Even if they can't prove the nuke isn't a dud.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The baby fit session

The first thing you need to understand about Republicans is they love government. They love it so much they are now calling everybody back to the big government building to do bonus governing

Louisiana lawmakers will return to Baton Rouge for an unprecedented session aimed at overriding the vetoes of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, after a majority of legislators signaled their intent to convene the veto session.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a statement Friday the Legislature will hold the first-ever veto session, which begins next week.

“In accordance with the Louisiana Constitution and the will of the majority of its members, the Legislature will return to Baton Rouge to consider overriding vetoes made by Governor Edward’s this session,” Schexnayder said. “This is democracy in action.”

Is it "democracy in action?" We have to trust that it is, I guess. The other thing we understand about Republicans is that they do love democracy. Which is why they passed bills like these that would have made the elections process more difficult and less accessible for thousands of Louisiana voters had the Governor not vetoed them. In the baby fit session, they could try and override either of those vetoes, or anything else from the list. But probably they will only focus on two. 

The first is Beth Mizell's obscenely cruel ban on trans high school students participating in sports. John Bel had some high minded phrasing in explanation of his veto. 

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in a written statement Tuesday. “Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.”

“It would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens,” Edwards said.

All of that is true. However, I strongly suspect the Governor wouldn't care about any of it were it not for the economic incentive. 

New Orleans officials and tourism leaders have also warned that the legislation could spell trouble for Louisiana’s economy. Sports leagues have boycotted states over gay and transgender restrictions in recent years. The state — and particularly New Orleans — could also lose movie productions, concerts, business conventions and other regular tourism business over such a restriction. 

“[The bill] does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state,” Edwards said in his written statement about his veto Tuesday.

“They will have a negative impact,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican official in charge of the state’s tourism efforts, when asked about the proposed transgender restrictions in April. “It would be better for us to open our doors very wide.”

Even Billy Nungesser is sufficiently motivated to let this bill die.  It's hard to imagine the entirety of the Republican caucus holding together to push it through. From the looks of things, there are barely enough of them there to override anything. That is if we can gauge according to where they stood on the question of even being there in the first place.

Of 105 House members, 69 did not send in ballots to cancel the veto session, meaning one short of two-thirds felt a veto session was necessary. In the Senate, 27 of 39 members, one more than two-thirds, signaled support for a veto session.

Maybe they are figuring on doing some arm twisting and favor trading once they all get in the room. But one would think that process would work against an override with real money on the line. 

The other main target of the baby fit is Edwards's veto of Jay Morris's carry-your-gun-around-wherever-you-want-as-a-security-blanket bill.  

Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jay Morris (R-West Monroe), would have amended Louisiana’s concealed carry permit law, which requires applicants to pass background checks and pass a nine-hour course that includes live-fire training in order to carry a concealed handgun in public spaces. Louisiana residents can already carry a gun openly in public — referred to as “open carry” — without any special permits as long as the firearm is in plain view. 

Again, though, the path to overriding this veto is not clear. Numerous political formations, including various law enforcement groups are urging lawmakers to let the veto stand.  Given the slim margins and given what looks to be strong political opposition to either of these overrides, one has to wonder what the babies are even having the baby fit session for in the first place.

It's not clear what they're doing there. But it is worth paying attention to what goes on. Even if neither of the marquee issues sees action, all of the governor's vetoes are in play. Maybe they'll pick something less controversial and override that just to see if they can.  Just in case that happens, various lobbying groups are already sending in suggestions.  The Jefferson Parish Chamber, for example, put out a press release today urging overrides in favor of a Barrow Peacock bill that would have imposed limitations on the kind of advertising lawyers can do.  They also are advocating for Rick Edmonds's bill that would have required school districts to share more information with the "Louisiana Checkbook" website.  Neither of those sounds particularly necessary but they're also just innocuous enough to squeak through if the legislators feel like they need to justify their decision to even be there for this.

They also make good test cases if something like this turns out to be the actual project which would also make sense to me.

What Representative Landry is talking about there is next year's looming fight over redrawing political boundaries based on the 2020 Census results. That promises to be a complex and acrimonious battle fought in several venues and the legislature's theoretical ability to override the Governor is certainly a weapon that could come into play.  The session we are about to see might just be a baby fit. But next year could bring massive convulsions.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The first of the month is coming again

There is one every month.  The next one is going to be a bloodbath.  

Courts across the country are reopening, but during the  pandemic lockdowns I spent more than a year watching landlords try to evict tenants in virtual hearings. These hearings went on, even with a federal eviction moratorium in place, one that is scheduled to end next month

I’d estimate that in about a quarter of the hearings I watched, the tenants  kept  freezing or lagging due to poor internet connections. Tenants without reliable internet access had to go to the courthouse in person and wait to argue their case in front of the court’s computer. Every day, poor people who were  behind on rent and didn’t  have internet access had to attend court in-person, during a pandemic, so they could  join a Zoom call and potentially be kicked out of their homes. Many of them didn’t even have a lawyer to help them through the hearing.

Next week in New Orleans is qualifying week for the upcoming municipal elections.  Rest assured not a single person filing to run for any of these offices gives a shit about the people who are about to be pushed out of the way so that real estate developers can run their "renaissance" such as the one Tyler Bridges is breathlessly celebrating in this article.  You can, however, scan this article up and down to find the names of the people who will be funding those campaigns. What is it they want permission to build and maintain? Game changers.

The game changer was short-term rentals,” said Mohamed “Hammy” Halum, who, with his father, is one of the pioneers on Canal Street on the same block where the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed in 2019.

Dozens of short-term rental rooms have opened on Canal within the past year. Dozens more are planned in a change that is injecting life and economic vitality into the historic avenue.

“You’re centrally located a few blocks of where you want to be: the Superdome, the [Harrah’s] casino, Bourbon Street,” said developer Aaron Motwani, another pioneer along with his father, Kishore “Mike” Motwani.

The developments will likely have wider significance for New Orleans beyond just the old retail area.

“Canal Street is where Mardi Gras happens,” architect John Williams said. “All of our cultural events happen around Canal Street. Every sidewalk on Canal Street is 21 feet wide. It invites masses to be downtown. As Canal Street goes, so goes the city. It used to go that way, and I believe it will be that way again.”

"All of our cultural events.."  Whose cultural events?  Not "ours" so much. We don't actually live in the theme park you are building there anymore.

Whose idea was it to do the Separate But Equal Blvd scheme?

In this story we find the Toussaints saying they were approached by Jared Brossett about considering it at least. In response, Jared says that's not what he wants. Either way both sides seem to agree they did discuss the idea.

Alison Toussaint said Brossett suggested in April that the stretch of Robert E. Lee in his district could have one name, while the part in neighboring council District A could have another.

Brossett on Friday evening disputed that, saying he called Alison Toussaint to say he did not support the idea of two names for one street.

Allen Toussaint, who died in 2015, lived on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in Gentilly.

Reginald Toussaint said he viewed the idea of a street with two names as one that not only crossed political boundaries, but racial ones as well.

“We're not going to be involved in a street that's split in half by color,” he said.

Joe Giarrusso is also mentioned in the story and he spent some time yesterday on social media also denying that he has proposed splitting the street to the Toussaints. 

We first read about this plan to segregate the name of what we now call Robert E Lee Blvd back in January.  This article seems to say it came either from the Street Renaming Commission itself or from comments or suggestions submitted to it. 

The commission has also received recommendations to divide some of the more prominent streets, picking different names depending on the neighborhood - an idea with significant racial overtones. For example, the commission’s current recommendation is to rename Robert E. Lee Boulevard for musician Allen Toussaint, but an alternative would call it Toussaint in the Black neighborhoods of Gentilly and Hibernia or Lake Boulevard in the majority-white areas of Lakeview.

I scanned the Commission's final report and found only two public comments suggesting a "Hibernia Blvd."  Both of them seem to favor that name for the entire length.  One suggests putting Toussaint's name on nearby Leon C Simon Blvd instead. But I don't see anything about dividing Robert E Lee between its Lakeview and Gentilly sections. Doesn't mean it's not in there. Just means I couldn't find it putting what I thought were good search terms into CTRL-F. 

The suggestion could have come from lots of different places. But the "split the baby" approach does sound like something somebody either working for or talking to a city councilperson would try.  And it isn't hard to believe that Brossett and/or Giarrusso or their staff , once having received such a suggestion, would then mention it to stakeholders in discussion just to feel them out even if, as Jared claims, they do not explicitly endorse the plan.  (Note: Giarrusso maintains that he has not spoken to the family at all about this.)

In any case, since, according to the Toussaints, this is clearly still being talked about by somebody we should probably keep asking who that is.