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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Noblessse Oblige

It's not quite the techno-feudal state we're headed toward just yet but it is beginning to take on some of those characteristics. 

If there’s anything that substantiates the allegation that the United States is a failed state, it is Bill Pulte’s Twitter mentions. To read them is to grasp the cruelty and irrationality of American capitalism.

For five full decades, the nation has undergone a systematic, large-scale upward redistribution of wealth. Meanwhile, for reasons ranging from public relations to personal gratification and absolution, the rich are occasionally obliged to engage in a little charity, which is acceptable to them so long as it is in the amount and to the beneficiary of their choosing. Public records reveal that Bill Pulte donates exclusively to Republican candidates — a bleeding heart in the streets, a fiscal conservative in the sheets.

Disquieting in ordinary times, the spectacle of Twitter philanthropy is bone-chilling during the COVID-19 crisis, when an uneven and insufficient government economic response has left tens of millions of people high and dry.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Informational purposes

Yes, there is another election date coming up December 5.  There are runoffs in a couple of the judicial races from November, a very important District Attorney race, a Public Service Commissioner, and several school board seats on the ballot along with one constitutional amendment and a few ballot propositions that may be of some interest. 

Early voting is already under way this week!  And it's a little more convoluted than normal this time because of the holiday.  Here is the schedule

Early voting is Nov. 20-28 from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (excluding Sunday, Nov. 22, Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving) and Friday, Nov. 27 (Acadian Day); early voting is advanced one day because of the holidays)​

You can't go Thursday or Friday.  The good news is if you do end up waiting until December 5, then that will give you time to do some reading beforehand.   The extensively researched  DSA New Orleans and Antigravity Magazine voter guides have are available now and should prove to be a big help.  You probably won't end up following all of their recommendations. In fact, they rarely make those.  Quoting the AG guide here.

Our most consistent position through all the years? That no aspiring politician has earned our endorsement. We review candidates with the mentality that we ought to elect the people that grassroots movements might successfully push and pressure, to lessen suffering among those most likely to suffer. In other words, we vote for who we most want as our opponents.

And DSA's slightly different approach here.  

The New Orleans DSA has not endorsed any candidates in this election. We are a member-run and funded organization, and our endorsements are material investments of resources. In this guide, we describe candidates openly, wearing our politics on our sleeve. It may be clear which candidate our guide prefers, but we've tried to give you more than just a name to copy down

Still, whether you're voting against one terrible candidate or for one you want to keep kicking around,  you're probably not going to fine any more thorough examinations of your choices than you will in those documents.  So study up and happy voting.  

After that , of course we will have solved all the politics and you won't have to worry about any of this stuff ever again. 


Orrrr.. on the other hand...

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reformer's dance

Here is reform candidate for District Atttorney Jason Williams during the city budget hearings this month rejecting calls to defund police

City Council members were generally complimentary of the department, and did not signal that there would be any major changes to the proposed budget. 

City Council President Jason Williams — who is also running for Orleans Parish District Attorney, casting himself as a progressive criminal justice reformer —  addressed the calls to defund the police at one point, but he questioned whether or not there were ways to change public perception of police, rather than exploring the idea of cutting the department’s budget further. 

“Given the changing of culture, people crying out for defund the police, people protesting the departments — whether or not there has been a particular egregious situation in their communities or not — across the board there has certainly been a different perception of police officers and law enforcement,” Williams said. “What are we doing now, or what can the council do to start addressing that perceived lack of trust or actual lack of trust, to redefine the NOPD?”

Here is reform candidate Jason Williams suggesting that we put more cops in the schools, while also suggesting that everyone's "older brothers and siblings" are all in jail, maybe?

Williams suggested focusing recruitment efforts toward people who might not normally think to go into law enforcement, and outreach programs in elementary schools to change young people’s perception of the police.

“I would encourage you to figure out a way to get in front of elementary school kids before they have older brothers and siblings helping to frame their narrative about what police mean, and what police do in their community,” Williams said.

Here also is reform candidate Jason Williams helping us get a lid on NOPD's use of intrusive and unconstitutional surveillance technology by.... helping NOPD write a policy that lets them use intrusive and unconstitutional surveillance technology.  

Jones told The Lens that the NOPD only used facial recognition for “violent cases,” but that “documentation of frequency of use of Facial Recognition is not currently available.” Asked whether there was any written policy or procedure regarding the technology, Jones responded by saying that NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson “is currently working with Councilman [Jason] Williams on a policy as to when facial recognition tools should be used.”

Everyone agrees. Of the two candidates remaining for District Attorney, Jason is definitely the more inclined to speak out on behalf of reforming the criminal punishment system. So, you know, as the saying goes, with reformers like these, who needs anti-reformers?  

Well, it turns out, a lot of people think we do

Cannizzaro hasn’t endorsed in the race to replace him, but Williams made him a centerpiece of his attacks on Landrum on Thursday, calling her a “surrogate” chosen when the current DA realized he couldn’t win re-election. Cannizzaro did not qualify for the race.

Williams also sought to use against Landrum her stack of endorsements, a list that includes five of Williams’ six colleagues on the council and the BOLD political organization. “You shouldn't have to go through (Councilman) Jay Banks or the BOLD political organization to get to the next DA,” Williams said.

Landrum said Williams had sought the same endorsements she won, and she rejected the idea that Cannizzaro would have any hold over her.

Landrum has wrapped them all up, basically.  It's been something to see.  Not too long ago, Jason Williams, coming off of two overwhelming victories in citywide council races, seemed like he was on a fast track to unseating Cannizzaro, or possibly becoming the next mayor. But now it looks like the whole establishment is lining up against him. The only significant voice we're still waiting to hear from, in fact, is third place primary finisher Arthur Hunter's.  What does Arthur want? Well it sounds like he wants to watch the candidates dance between both sides of the reform question. 

Just out of the money was former Judge Arthur Hunter, with 28%. He has yet to endorse, but in a statement Friday he called on the contenders to prove they would “focus on violent crime while restoring public trust in the DA’s office.”

But dancing is what the so-called "reform" candidate Jason Williams has been doing all year. And look where that has gotten him. I wonder if he will recognize that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Whoa, settle down, Bill, you won

This is from a few weeks ago but I'm still thinking about it for some reason. Bill Cassidy says here that a half-hearted Joe Biden proposal to slowly replace fossil fuels over time will only happen, "over my dead body."  Seems a little bit much.  He's even embarrassing the oil lobbyists now. 

Tyler Gray, the president and CEO of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, expressed less concern than Cassidy with Biden’s comments.

“We don’t have to choose between reducing emissions and meeting energy needs. We can do both,” Gray said in a statement. “We are proud of the grit, innovation, and progress we’ve made so that Americans no longer have to choose between environmental progress and access to affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Interesting that Gray is more or less saying the Biden rhetoric verbatim. I wonder who he expected to win the Presidency. 

Of course when the window of discourse is only wide enough to allow for a "debate" between burning the world up as fast as possible vs. kind of pretending we are trying not to while it burns anyway, I guess people like Gray are playing with house money.  And since both Cassidy and Biden are going back to D.C. next year, it's going to stay that way.

Eta is enough

Louisiana's inclusion in Hurricane Eta's "cone of uncertainty" marks the eighth (Eta-ghth?) time we've been there this year.  It's been quite a ride, folks.

Plenty more where that came from

 Somebody wrote that five years ago. Or something to that effect

Again, Irvin Mayfield, himself, isn't the actual problem. He is a symptom of the problem, though.  The problem is the post-Katrina ascendance of neoliberal "volunteer entrepreneurism" in rebuilding the "ultimate libertarian city" prescribed by Glassman. The club members who've worked so hard to bring the Glassman vision to life are hard-pressed to admit it, though.

Instead they're quick to offer up scapegoats from among their own number whenever one of them fails too stupidly or publicly.  Ray Nagin himself is the prime example here. Meffert is another.  Mayfield is only the latest. There will be more eventually.

And when, eventually, there are more, we will wash our hands of those individuals as well and go on pretending everything is fine.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Misrule of the Lords

It's only November but already the matter of Carnival 2021 has fallen into chaos. The city has apparently outsourced its authority to make the major decisions to the individual eminences in charge of the parading krewes.

Clark Brennan, captain of the Krewe of Bacchus, says the mega-parade “definitely plans to roll down St. Charles Avenue” on Feb. 14, if the city gives the green light to Carnival parades in 2021.

“We have a theme, freshly painted floats as well as throws and costumes in production,” he wrote in a statement Thursday morning.

Brennan emphasized the krewe’s preparedness ahead of a meeting of the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council, scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon.

And why wouldn't it be this way?  If this year has proven anything to anyone it's that everything in this country is completely ungovernable.  COVID cases are spiking all over the world but the odds are your city or state is pressing on with plans to "reopen" schools and businesses. The election result points toward a divided government next year so don't expect there to be a plan out of Washington that would help us do anything differently.  As a result, municipal governments are going bankrupt. The elected leaders of those municipalities, whose job it had been to distribute favors and revenues their offices allow them to access as patronage to their backers among the social and business elite, suddenly find themselves with a lot less to give away. 

In a better world, this would signal a shift toward a more populist style of politics focused on protecting the working poor.  But our political system is utterly broken so what we have instead is a situation where we're still trying to pay off the elites by dismantling what remains of the social contract and selling off the parts. More tax breaks. More PILOTs, more "business incentive" plans. They're even inviting the oligarchs in to run the bribery operation themselves. It's a "major paradigm shift.

It's why, despite the mayor's celebrated posing over maintaining stricter COVID guidelines here than in the rest of the state, Gayle Benson still gets to do whatever she wants. And it's why, despite our beloved "Teedy's" tough talk all year about maybe having to cancel Mardi Gras, in fact these decisions will all be left up to Clark Brennan and Jimmy Reiss and the rest of the council of aristocrats. 

Cantrell emphasized her proposals were meant only to inspire brainstorming, not as a template. The differences, she said, "are not going to come from me; they're going to come from you." 

And so Carnival policy is going to be treated the way everything else is under our elitist junta. Because the decisions will not be made by an ostensible representative of the people, their concerns will not have priority.  Instead, what we will get is a Mardi Gras for and by the "business leaders" in charge. You, for the most part, are not invited. 

Smaller walking parades would also be required to follow safety guidelines, she said.

Dr. Takeisha Davis, a member of the council and a rider with the Krewe of Femme Fatale, brought safety recommendations from a council subcommittee. The panel recommended that parade goers be required to wear masks and to stay with their group six feet from other groups. It also recommended that tents and other structures be prohibited on parade routes, that drinking be discouraged and that kegs be banned — all efforts to prevent crowds from gathering.

So the things we know we can expect to see at Carnival 2021 include some version of the Bacchus Parade, a socially distanced Rex Ball imbued with elements of hygiene theater, whatever else they can turn into a controlled, isolated event.  On the other hand, the real heart of Carnival, the thing where regular people walk around in the streets greeting their neighbors with snacks and cocktails, that's probably going to get you a fine.

Listen to the raving bearded guy rocking back and forth in front of his phone

Maybe this format isn't for everybody, but, for me at least, Christman's Twitch streams have been helpful in keeping things in perspective throughout the pandemic.  And this one where he grapples with the implications of this election result covers a lot of ground that deserves attention. 

The 2020 Democratic primary was a last gasp attempt at making class-based mass politics work again. But what we found out in the process was that class-based mass politics hasn't been a meaningful thing in the US since the 1970s at the very latest. Instead everything is broken. And it is likely way more broken than many of us previously imagined.   So what do we do now?  Unclear.  But Matt has a lot of insightful things to say about where we are that might somehow prove useful.. if anything can.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Normalcy in our time, normalcy in our town

Did we talk about the Democratic convention on here yet?  It's been such a weird year in so many ways. Too often I find myself falling behind the noise before I can write enough of it down.  That's not good. Keeping good notes on this website has been such a useful tool for me in just holding it together over the years, I am afraid if I let it go for too long I might dissociate completely from reality.  Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.... 

Oh wait. Here it is. Just a quick summary because I was probably in a hurry. 

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. 

They're basically saying, yeah we know, your life sucks right now. Look at Joe. He's out there feeling your pain. He understands. Meanwhile the policy program is full of little ways to make it easier for you to get used to and cope with the shittiness. We're not out to change the shitty conditions. We're here to valorize your experience of suffering through them.

The hallmarks of this ideology of free market fatalism are visible throughout the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  For example, the same tone was easily detectable in Mayor Cantrell's "State of the City" address delivered just around the time of the convention this year.

“We are all well-versed in the unwavering focus, the hope, and the strength it takes to rebuild from what can seem like disaster,” she said. “I’m here to deliver a message of hope and point the way forward to our future beyond this pandemic.”

The city is now five months past the initial outbreak, which trailed a range of side effects including rampant unemployment and evictions and a city budget now estimated to be more than $100 million in the red. Frequently harkening back to the 1853 yellow fever pandemic, which claimed 8,000 lives, and other, more recent tragedies, Cantrell framed the city and its people as among the most capable of rising to the challenge the current crisis presents.

“We are no strangers to trauma and disruption, you know better than me,” Cantrell said, noting next week will be the 15-year anniversary of the levee failures and flooding set off by Hurricane Katrina.

Again, the message is, our lives are marked by trauma but the mayor knows it and wants us to have "hope."  What, specifically, should we hope for? Well, it's murky.  She says we shouldn't have to worry about making rent.  But her policy response is embedded in trickle-down economics and charitable fundraising projects administered by private non-profits.  And, above all else, great pains are taken to ensure we do not saddle our landlords with worries of their own.

Acknowledging a tripling in the eviction rate, Cantrell touted various rental assistance programs — including a fundraising effort by the nonprofit set up for her transition into office — and said she is fighting for federal assistance.

“The time of a pandemic is not the time for our people to lay awake at night wondering how to make next month’s rent,” Cantrell said. “It is also not the time for landlords to face missing mortgage payments or losing investments they spent a lifetime to build.”

The Dem convention and Cantrell's speech took place a week prior to the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's arrival in New Orleans. That week, a New York Times feature called attention to the long term effects of that disaster and what everyone should know by now are the harmful consequences of the unjust and ineffectual "recovery" policies implemented in its wake.  Sorry to pull such a long quote here.

Pre-Katrina, there was already a considerable shortage of affordable housing in New Orleans. The situation has only become worse, as many of the affordable units the city had were never rebuilt after the storm and the urban core became whiter and wealthier.

New Orleans now has roughly 33,000 fewer affordable housing units than it needs, according to HousingNOLA, a local research and advocacy group. There are opportunities in every corner of the city to fix this, argued Andreanecia Morris, the executive director of HousingNOLA, when we met in her office in Mid-City on South Carrollton Avenue.

Most New Orleanians are renters. Pre-Katrina, the market rate for a one-bedroom apartment was around $578 monthly. It has roughly doubled since then, meaning a full-time worker must now earn about $18 per hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Real wages, however, have stalled, and many of the places that employ New Orleanians remain closed. Tens of thousands of workers in the city’s beloved music, drinks, food and tourism businesses — who were the most likely to lose their livelihoods both after the storm and now during the pandemic — make a minimum wage of $7.25.

In some other cities, Ms. Morris explained, unaffordable rent “is the result of a housing stock shortage, but in New Orleans we have a vacancy rate of about 20 percent!” In total, there are about 37,700 vacant units. I could feel it biking and driving through the curvilinear streets that weave from the river to the lake, passing by elegant, unfilled properties on otherwise vibrant blocks, then by neatly rebuilt houses sitting lonely in areas frozen in 2007: three empty lots for every six homes you see.

Residents like Terence Blanchard, the Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, who resides in a thriving midcentury neighborhood along Bayou St. John, live this dichotomy. “People talk about the recovery,” he told me as we stood on his dock overlooking the water and City Park. “But if you go to my mom’s house in Pontchartrain Park, there was no real recovery.”

The federal housing vouchers mostly known by the shorthand “Section 8” — which subsidize rent payments above 30 percent of participants’ income — fully cover “fair market rate rent,” which in New Orleans is calculated as $1,034 to $1,496 for a one-bedroom apartment. That means even in increasingly upscale, higher-ground areas of town there is little stopping developers and landlords with vacant properties from lowering rents by a few hundred dollars and still being able to generate revenue.

For Ms. Morris, the continued holdout by many landlords that want “a certain kind of family,” or Airbnb customers, has grown to “psychotic” levels of classism and racism. “At a certain point,” she said, “the math has to let you at least manage your prejudices.”

Whenever the post-2005 destruction and gentrification of New Orleans is discussed, I am obliged to point out again that none of it was an accident.  Since, literally days after Katrina landed, we were already trying to warn that this was going to happen and it would happen as a result of deliberate policy choices made by people who wield political power in New Orleans. Then it happened. It happened every day. Sometimes in very big ways and other times as part of a general creep. But the whole time, we were saying out loud to anyone who would listen, this is happening, the money power, the real estate, tourism and business owners were gutting the city.

And it didn't matter. They did what they wanted. Because that's what always happens. They have the power. We have nothing. You can see it, you can say it, you can object all you want. But they do whatever they want and you don't matter.  Even now, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a depression, there is no such thing as housing justice. Because they can afford to be "psychotic" in their stubbornness and no one with any political power will stop them.

Even at the lowest point of crisis, political leaders emphasize the concerns of landlords holding them equal to or greater than the housing stressed poor. Today, a week after a Category 2 hurricane ripped through and knocked out everyone's power we're still struggling with worries over whether or not the polling locations can operate.  Guess what was back up and running immediately, though.

The thing about New Orleans politics people most misunderstand is how fundamentally conservative it is. The governing ideology in all the major power centers is pro-police, pro-landlord, anti-labor. It's rare to find any observer, let alone someone from out of town, describe it this way, though. Which is why this New Yorker piece by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is refreshing. Taylor is writing primarily about the superficial racial politics of the Biden-Harris campaign but within that argument we find this passage.

There is little consideration of how a municipal administrator’s class standing may complicate solidarities with those it is simply assumed they will represent. This is especially true for Black elected officials, many of whom come from working-class origins but whose class standing shifts when they move into political office. In May, 2018, LaToya Cantrell became the first Black woman to be elected as mayor of New Orleans. Cantrell, who first moved to New Orleans in 1990, in order to attend Xavier, a historically Black university, was deeply involved in community organizing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and served on the city council for six years before ascending to the position of mayor. Despite this background of community engagement, Cantrell has stood on the sidelines during a strike by a small group of Black sanitation workers, over demands for hazard pay and P.P.E. during the pandemic. Sanitation work is outsourced in New Orleans, allowing contracting companies to pay workers less than the city’s living-wage ordinance allows. In this case, when the sanitation workers decided to strike, one of the subcontractors procured a contract for prison laborers, who worked for even less than the striking workers. Even as these “essential workers” have called upon the mayor to help them secure P.P.E. and better pay, Cantrell has refused to intervene directly, saying that these issues are between the contractor and the workers. There is no inherent solidarity along the lines of race, and, when class conflict is introduced into the calculation, it is even more fraught.

This is a city where only a person who promises not to take from the rich and give to the poor and "all that kind of crap" can be mayor.  Policy can only be formulated through a distinctly neoliberal lens. Every problem can only be met with some sort of "business incentive" public-private partnership, or other such trickle down scheme to benefit the ruling classes.

Meanwhile, even within the (very small and insular) world of progressive activism you can't get agreement on basic principles like, for example, housing as a human right or that teachers deserve unions.  And, in any case, the decisions that matter get made at a 10,000 foot remove from any of that through deals between political careerists, tourism bosses, and real estate interests. The public side of the political process, such as it is, is just nonsensical theater.

Which brings us to today's elections.  If you've voted early, or if you've wandered into a polling location this afternoon, you may have noticed that there are a lot of things going on with your ballot besides just that dismal Presidential election.  What even is all that stuff?  Well, if you really want to know the details you should stop here and go read the excellent and extremely thorough Antigravity and DSA voter guides.  But if you want the short version, stay here and I will tell you. 

Basically three things are happening. A slate of reformist candidates mostly associated with the public defender's office is trying to win a bunch of judicial seats.  A few somewhat progressive minded challengers are trying to wrest one or two school board seats away from incumbent charter school privatizers with national corporate backing. And, all of this is happening in the context of various power brokering institutions trying to consolidate their positions as electoral and patronage gatekeepers ahead of next year's municipal elections. 

The linchpin in the insider tug of war is the DA's race where Mayor Cantrell's alliance with BOLD, which did very well in the legislative races last year, is backing Keva Landrum. You can read a little bit about the dynamics of the race in this Advocate story about the fundraising. Landrum has positioned herself as the more conservative "law and order" candidate compared to Jason Williams and Arthur Hunter who she has criticized as "backed by third party special interests." Each of their platforms is invested in reforming the criminal legal system more aggressively than she would like.

As I type this right now, the polls are open for another twenty minutes. But my strong suspicion is the establishment candidates will win most of these judicial and school board races and Landrum will run first in the DA race.  Overall the theme of the night is conservative establishment results at home to match the general "return to normalcy" nationwide as Joe Biden becomes the next President.

Maybe that is disappointing.  But disappointment has pretty much been baked into this since March. Here is what I told the kids yesterday on a parallel internet. We know that the Biden Presidency only represents the replacement of one kind of conservatism with another. We know that, regardless of the election result, we are no nearer to overcoming the massive obstacles to human happiness posed by poverty, racism, disease, empire, and climate catastrophe. And we know these are all deeply embedded consequences of systemic capitalist exploitation and that the work of rooting them out has not even begun. 

But, if only for the sake of your own mental well being and that of your neighbors, please do not deny yourself the chance to revel in the pure and absolute joy of seeing Donald Trump ejected from the White House. Fuck that guy. He's almost gone. It's okay to enjoy that.

Monday, November 02, 2020

The year without ritual

Attack of the Alphabets

Once upon a time, in a city we used to live in, Halloween marked the beginning of the "fun" or, at least, the more socially significant part of the year that stretched on through the Holidays and Carnival and.. depending on who you ask... would end with the close of one or another spring festival. 

But this is not where we live anymore.  Instead we live in perpetual detention.  The calendar moves but the rituals we mark it with are not fully available to us. They exist, but only as bizarre echoes of themselves; some more dark than others.  We only kind of see them happen but don't fully participate. And what we do observe is robbed of its meaning. Shape without form, shade without color, etc. etc.  Sporting events in empty stadiums broadcast over the sound of a simulated crowd. 

Saturday night we did everything we usually do to prepare for Trick-Or-Treaters.  We bought our candy and carved our jack-o-lanterns (see this year's deep Greek hurricane season represented above.)  When we read on September 30 that the mayor had answered a 7 year old's email with a promise that Halloween would happen, we were determined not to let her down.  And then when we read a couple of days later that the mayor had revised and embellished the story saying in the new version that it was a 12 year old who had sent the email, we were even more inspired than before. 

We weren't sure how to improvise a socially-distanced plan, though.  We bought a box of latex gloves and some of those plastic face shields to wear over our regular masks in case that made any sort of difference. But as the evening drew nearer, we grew less confident that we were doing the right thing.  Our corner is typically very busy on Halloween night. We look forward to it every year.  We thought we were ready to participate in this comforting ritual with our neighbors again but couldn't stop worrying that too many interactions with too many random people might be a risk to everybody. 

We decided not to go out. I thought about putting the candy outside the door in a bowl but something about that seemed even more wrong, another empty ritual. Something missing between the idea and the reality, etc. etc.   Better to just admit this wasn't the year for it.

Restoration

 Yeah it's gonna bleak either way

If a return to “normalcy” means having the same old politicians that are responsible for endless wars, that work for the corporate elite, that lack the courage to implement real structural change required for major issues such as healthcare and the environment, then a call for “normalcy” is nothing more than a call to return to the same deprived conditions that led to our current crisis. Such a return with amplified conditions and circumstances, could set the stage for the return of an administration with dangers that could possibly even exceed those posed by the current one in terms of launching new wars.

Like we said the other day, that's what happens when the Democrats take back over every time there's been a hard right push from a Republican wrecking ball.  They just go about normalizing the damage done and softly acclimating everyone to the shittier conditions. It's not gonna be fun.  But that doesn't change the fact that Trump still gotta go.  In all likelihood he is on the way out.  Don't forget to feel good about that. Even if there is much else to worry about.

Friday, October 30, 2020

No, there is not going to be a "general strike"

I do hope to have some time to elaborate on this over the weekend but my expectations for the coming elections are significantly different from what I read every day in the online chatter.  I mean that with regard to the local elections as well as the Presidential race.  In each case I think we are going to see a very normal sort of event unfold. 

Despite some excitement about insurgent movements like #FlipTheBench and #EraseTheBoard, the judicial and school board elections are still going to be determined by conventional power brokers making their usual endorsements and GOTV efforts. Some candidates associated with those movements will succeed. But only those who have strong support through establishment actors. 

The Presidential election is going to Joe Biden. The polls have said so for months and months and have not fluctuated.  People don't want to believe polls because DON'T YOU REMEMBER 2016?  but that's a classic case of "fighting the last war."  2020 is a different election with different candidates in different roles. And the polls, even if they aren't perfect, tell you different information about different voters now than they did then. Read 2020 as 2020. Biden is doing far better than Hillary was. Voters have different feelings about him than they did about her. 

Also, they have different feelings about Trump now than they did in 2016.  Four years ago the world was on fire and millions of Americans were sinking further and further into precarity. The Democrats were the incumbent party running on a message that basically told people everything was going just great the way it was.  Trump had just demolished one hated institution, the Republican Party, and, whatever else he may have promised, for a lot of disaffected voters he represented a vehicle for smashing things up even more.  And here is the part where it is important to say, DO NOT GET ME WRONG, this is no defense of Donald Trump or even of people who would vote for Donald Trump. It is only to say that in 2016 a significant number of voters were looking at their diminishing prospects and a world on fire and said, "Well let's try something crazy.  It can't get any worse than this." Four years later, it is worse. 

And that is the problem now for Trump. In 2020 the world is on fire and millions of Americans are sinking further and further into precarity. Donald Trump is the incumbent running on a message that basically tells people an unchecked pandemic that has killed a quarter of a million people this year is going great the way it is.  The incumbent President is not polling over 50 percent in any of the key battleground states he will need to win in order to be reelected.  It's not going to happen for him.  

Is there a cogent counter-narrative that tells us Trump could win anyway? Of course there is! But I don't believe it and will, briefly, explain why. 

A Trump reelection story begins by asking not simply are things better than they were four years ago but specifically for whom are they better?  If you are a part of the corporate-ruling class in this country, Trump has been one of the most effective Presidents for your agenda in living memory. Trump passed a gigantic tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. His administration has ruthlessly gutted federal environmental and worker protections. And, of course, there are all these judges.

Barrett, 48, was confirmed with Republican-only votes Monday night, cementing a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. She will be the 220th federal judge confirmed under the Trump presidency and the McConnell-led Senate — a figure that includes not only her and Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, but also 53 circuit court judges, 162 district court judges and two to the U.S. Court of International Trade.

For the first time in more than four decades, there were no vacancies on the circuit court level, where approximately 30 percent of those sitting on the bench have been nominated by Trump. (That changed Monday with the death of Judge Juan R. Torruella of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.) Only President Jimmy Carter had more circuit court judges, as well as a larger share of the entire federal appellate bench, confirmed in his first term, and that was before the number of seats in the circuit courts was expanded.

Even the pandemic has worked out quite nicely for the upper classes.  

The billionaire class has been an all-too-visible villain during our crisis year, having carted off an additional $434 billion during the pandemic while millions of others have lost everything. It is trivially easy for them to avoid the virus; they can hunker down in one of several mansions or compounds with armies of staff to bring them what they need. Critics on the left have, probably wisely, focused on these oligarchs as the source of our societal woes in recent years. It is easy to illustrate the problem of inequality by noting the incredible difference between a hundred thousand dollars and a hundred billion dollars. No one should have a billion dollars; those who do can use their wealth to disproportionately influence the political system to maintain the status quo.
Whenever I worry that, despite all the polling evidence, Trump might still win this thing. I think that is the reason. Simply put, he's been very good for the oligarchs. Why wouldn't he be rewarded for that?  

The answer comes down to whether you believe democracy is completely dead already or if you think we still need to pretend it sort of exists in order to let off steam. Maybe the former is true but the latter sure does sound easier.  Trump has burned a lot of things down to the great advantage of the country's ruling classes but that could also mean they don't need him anymore.  If Trump has, in fact, expended his usefulness, then the ratchet effect theory suggests now the billionaires would be better served by a calming figurehead who will send the anxious middle class "back to brunch."  (The poor, as we all are well aware, are politically irrelevant.) 

So, narratively, Trump could win because he has done everything possible to please the wealth class which determines who gets to hold power.  But if he's at a point where he is more trouble than he is worth, then it's just as fine to dump him now and count up the winnings.  Objectively the reason Trump won't win is because... well, he is losing.

This is not to say, of course, that it won't be messy.  No one needs me to recite here the election week scenario every news organization and pundit has tried to game out in every publication this month.  It will take a few days to count all the votes. Trump will complain that they should have stopped counting at some arbitrary point in time. Then the courts involved, etc. etc.  And I'm sure Trump will do the complaining part of that. He will probably spend the rest of his life complaining about it, in fact. But it won't make a difference. 

Biden's lead is too real and too large for this election result to validate any of the apocalyptic fantasies of the right... or the left.  And thank goodness for that. Because this is definitely not something anyone should be hoping to try

US unions have begun discussing the idea of a general strike if Donald Trump refuses to accept an election result showing a Joe Biden victory.

Such a move would be unprecedented in the modern era. There has not been a general strike in the United States since 1946 – and that was restricted to Oakland, California.

Just the phrase, "US unions have been discussing..." is doing a lot of work in that lede. The US union movement has never been particularly monolithic and today it has almost no cohesion whatsoever.  There's nobody with the authority to call a "general strike," and certainly there is no organization with the capacity to successfully execute one. Not even, as this quote, however pessimistically, suggests the "established labor movement" which one figures must mean AFL-CIO leadership and infrastructure is in any shape to do that.

Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island and author of A History of America in Ten Strikes, said: “So much of the conversation on the left about general strikes in this country is kind of a romanticized, people are going to rise up.” But Loomis added: “If there is ever any general strike in this country, it’s probably going to come out of the established labor movement. The only group capable of running the thing is the established labor movement.” If there is a general strike, union leaders say, they hope college students, Blacks Lives Matter activists, women’s and environmental groups and many others will join in.

Welcome to General Strike 2021. What is it? Who is running it?  We don't know but we hope a bunch of people from a scattered hodge podge of differently interested activist concerns just kind of join in.  Can't wait to see how that goes.  If it performs half as well as #FlipTheBench then maybe we'll get a solid two or three well argued letters to the editor out of it.

The wind wooshed around a lot

Tree got Zeta-ed

Yesterday I got out on the bike for a little while to see how bad it was around us.  It wasn't all that bad, really. A lot of tree debris everywhere. Most not quite as extreme as the photo above but I didn't go very far.  The roads were okay by the time I was out. But the night of the storm, one person was electrocuted by downed power lines which is horrifying.  A lot of people still don't have power.  325,000 Entergy customers are still down as of this morning.  But, generally speaking, for a high category 2 hurricane passing directly over the city, things could have been a lot worse.

It's not over yet, though. Sewerage and Water Board certainly had themselves a night on Wednesday. 

Yet another New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board turbine failed Wednesday during Hurricane Zeta, although a spokesperson for the public utility said loss of that power source did not impair drainage.

Turbine 3 was brought online at the height of the storm but went down after “it reached its capacity,” S&WB spokesperson Courtney Barnes said. The turbine has typically been reserved for emergency use in recent years but was pressed into normal service for Zeta because Turbine 4, the largest of the S&WB’s operational turbines, broke Sunday.

Turbine 3 appears to have been activated as a back up for pumps that would have taken Entergy power under normal circumstances. But they made the switch when either that power or some other equipment failed.  Anyway, it sounds like they were able to juggle and jerry rig their way through it. Happily, the storm moved quickly enough that the rainfall didn't put the pumping capacity to a serious test. 

Yesterday, the city and SWB were asking people to use less water until they could be assured of full sewerage pumping capacity.  But the details of that and several other issues were still incredibly vague as of this morning. McBride enumerates a few in this FB post.  In the meantime, while it is still highly doubtful that there will be any Mardi Gras parades in 2021, I think several krewes have asked Turbine 6 to ride  as a Grand Marshall

This afternoon the Entergy map is still looking pretty Christamassy.  Eyballing it, I think that looks like we might be close to 50% restored in Orleans Parish. 


Friday afternoon after Zeta

The Lens reports that the clerk of court needs 48 hours advance notice if we have to move any polling locations for Tuesday. 54 of them were without power as of today. Also in that article we read that the city is starting to get estimates as to the general cost of repairs. (It also happens to be city budget season and the outlook is not good.)  As is the usual case with a major disaster, we would expect the federal government to reimburse these expenses.  How much they pay out, though, might depend on certain data. 

FEMA hasn’t approved a major disaster declaration for Hurricane Zeta yet, according to The Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, and is awaiting more complete damage assessments.

Cantrell said that the National Hurricane Center would also be reviewing data as to whether the storm was indeed at Category 2 or if it had slipped over the Category 3 threshold. That would have reimbursement implications, she said. Green said the city was also looking into federal assistance for individual residents over lost food.

It has been widely reported that Zeta's maximum winds may have been just 1 mph below the threshold for what we would consider a Category 3.  If we had known at the time that this would make a difference, maybe we could have all gone out and waved some fans.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

What did Zion say to Zeta?

Let's dance.


Man, I don't know about y'all but I haven't felt this giddy since February. Finally, something different is happening.  It's happening fast too. This thing is hauling ass across the Gulf.  Yesterday we were told to expect it to come in after 7 PM so people have planned their day according to that. City offices are open until noon. Schools haven't cancelled their virtual classes. This morning while I was out I saw the regular joggers jogging, the commuting, the panhandlers handling pans. People are determined to business up until the last possible businessing minute. 

That's probably not the appropriate way to behave. And the current scenario where we see a hurricane accelerate and strengthen unexpectedly is a perfect example of why.  The recent years of near misses followed by talk radio wise-assses complaining about "lazy" people taking the days off shouldn't have bullied us into this. But that's what happens when leadership is too sensitive to that kind of nonsense. I mean, you want them to be responsive to vox populi, but you also want to err on the side of safety whenever possible. 

Hopefully it all works out. I always end up having to calm down the people around me in situations like this and one thing I try to do is remind them how little agency they have in any of it. Most events in this world transpire in total independence of our individual choices.  The Saints win the game or they don't. The roof blows off of your house or it doesn't.  It's just stuff that happens. Sometimes it affects you and sometimes it doesn't. But none of it is about you at all. Once you get that, you worry less. 

Anyway, I had been planning to hit the grocery store one more time before the power goes out.  I wonder if they are open.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Austerity isn't just an accident of nature

It is city budget season.  Happy Holidays. There will be quite a few of those in the future for these folks.  Unpaid, of course. 

Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño told City Council members in a special meeting Monday that under the budget plan set out by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her administration, furloughs that took effect this month for employees should continue through next year. 

Employees would be furloughed for one day per pay period, or 26 furlough days over the course of the year, Montaño said. People who earn less than $30,000 a year would be excluded from the pay cut. 

The city's public safety departments, such as police and fire, will also take a 6% and 8% cut to their overall budgets, while other departments could see up to a 40% cut, he said.

Wow. Especially sucks to be the "other departments".  

The hardest hit departments include Public Works, which will see its funding drop more than 40% to $34 million. That decrease includes cutting about 10% of its total positions.

The City Planning Commission, which is responsible for reviewing development proposals, is also slated for a 40% cut, will lose 6 of its 26 positions. The Vieux Carre Commission, the small agency that enforces the historic preservation rules in the French Quarter, is facing the deepest cut in the city at 42%, will lose two of its six spots.

To explain itself, the administration cites the obvious.  A compounding crisis of pandemic-induced depression has caused a sudden drop in expected revenues.  The federal government has failed to respond adequately and what aid it has made available has been watered down and diverted at the state level.  

All of this is, regrettably, true. But it's important to also keep in mind that many of the consequences of that disaster are still left to our local lords to decide. There are individuals in charge right now who impose their values on the question of who suffers the most during the disaster.   The above mentioned cuts in this budget are one example. The pandemic didn't decide the cut Public Works by one amount but NOPD by another.  Similarly, the pandemic didn't decide that businesses shouldn't have to pay the sales taxes they collected during Mardi Gras. Their lobbyists told the mayor that's what they wanted and she agreed to it.   The pandemic didn't decide it was time to give corporate landlords a big tax break paid for by residents and through layoffs. The assessor made that call.  

And, of course, we know the pandemic can't read the city ordinances but we are pretty sure that wasn't who decided to ignore this (admittedly toothless) city council decree that we would no longer stiff the Public Defender's office.  A person did that. On purpose.


Monday, October 26, 2020

We all just laugh

Look, we all knew there would have to be a Hurricane Zeta because there was just no way that the year 2020 A.D. was going out with the second most named storms in history.  Got to tie that record at least.  We also all knew that it had to make at least one serious run at Southeast Louisiana before this was over

But we'll wait and see if it can follow through.  So far, its aim has not been particularly impressive

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Just stripping it for parts now

We're almost past the point of abandoning pretense.  At the same time that New Orleans administrators find themselves begging for help before a hostile audience in Baton Rouge, threatening city workers with furloughs and layoffs, and drastically cutting back on public services, it has been determined that now is also an excellent moment to give away millions of dollars to corporate entities who definitely do not need them.

Some of the biggest cuts will be for the largest downtown hotels, including the Marriott on Canal Street, the Hilton Riverside, and the Sheraton, as well as Harrah's Casino New Orleans and its adjacent properties.

Each could see their tax bills drop by between $1.5 and $2.5 million, based on current millage rates and estimates from data provided by the assessor.

The assessor says this is about helping "small businesses" and the local hospitality industry. But look at where the bulk of this goes. 

According to data compiled by the Downtown Development District, almost a third of the total cut in commercial sector valuations — or about $90 million — is accounted for by 10 downtown properties, including the cluster of properties at the river end of Canal Street owned by Harrah's New Orleans Casino, a division of Caesars Entertainment of Las Vegas. Harrah's valuations were more than halved to about $15.3 million, which will reduce its property tax bill by an estimated $2.4 million, according to the assessor's office.

Similarly, the Marriott Hotel on Canal, the Sheraton, the Intercontinental, the Crowne Plaza, the Roosevelt and the Ritz-Carlton will see their property taxes halved.

All are owned by national hotel management groups, suggesting that any tax savings will head to corporate coffers outside of the city.

In order to pay for this roughly $42 million tax cut gift to mega-landlords and out of town corporate interests, we will ask  residents - that is homeowners and renters combined since residential tax increases are always passed on to renters - to  pay about $30 million a year more, collectively.

Overall it means at least a $12 million drop in annual revenue to the city and public services that depend on property taxes.  And, of course, the poorer you are, the more likely it is you rely on such services or cannot easily pay to make up the difference if they are diminished.  

How does this happen? Who would push a disaster capitalism scheme like this on an already hard-hit city?  The same people who have been robbing that city blind since Katrina, of course. They are the pros at this, after all. 

Michael Sherman, a lawyer who was land-use adviser to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and whose current clients include 30 hotel owners, was among the industry representatives who consulted with Williams on the tax changes. Sherman pointed out that Williams had the authority to make the big cuts for commercial property owners because of a revision to a flood-damage law that came into effect after Hurricane Katrina. It required assessors to consider tax cuts after various types of disasters.

Who won the pandemic? The bosses won the pandemic. The landlords won the pandemic.  The same grifters who step in after every disaster to strip the broken pieces of the social contract for parts won the pandemic. But you can't say we didn't know it would be like this.  We've gotten pretty well used to it by now.

Friday, October 23, 2020

What indeed

Everyone's pretty much had all the fun to be had with this today.  But we do like to note predictions about the future whenever we find them just so that we can check later to see who told who so.  Anyway, better make sure all your foods are authorized, just in case.  

Then, U.S. Congressman Clay Higgins took a brief moment out of his schedule — jam-packed with opposing the peaceful transfer of power and trying to make amends after threatening to shoot a Black militia leader — to share a dramatization of his wife’s chilling psychic vision with the masses.

“My wife has the gift of premonition,” Higgins wrote. “Last night she dreamed that Federal squads were in our home seizing guns, knives, ‘unauthorized foods’ and stored water. They said we had been ‘reported.’ Becca awoke crying. What happened to our freedom? She asked. What indeed.”


Death Cult Coup 2020

Hey look at that. They did the thing.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and the House Republican delegation have thrown their support behind a controversial petition to lift all of Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions, an effort aimed at kneecapping Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rules that is expected to be decided in court.

The petition, which previously had only circulated among the most conservative House members, only requires the majority of the House to go into effect. It was expected to win the support of a majority of the House Friday after Schexnayder’s support. The Legislature was also supposed to end the special session Friday.

House GOP Delegation Chair Blake Miguez, R-Erath, said the petition, supported by Schexnayder, has the support of a majority of the House Republicans, who comprise 68 of 105 seats.

We did not think they would do this thing.  All signs pointed toward them not doing the thing, in fact.  They spent most of the session working on a whole bill instead of this petition. That bill only gives them the opportunity to complain about the emergency declaration. It doesn't actually rescind it. Also it will certainly be vetoed. We figured that must be what they wanted. They wanted to write a strongly worded letter of disapproval .  That way they can go on complaining in public, making dumb videos, riling up the folks without having to deal with the consequences of undermining the governor's public health policy.  I mean, does Blake Miguez really want to be Governor right now? The "third wave" is already starting.

But now they've gone ahead and signed their petition anyway.  Why would they do that?  Maybe it is because they finally figured out that the petition does not really do anything after all. 

If successful, it would only suspend Edwards’ ability to issue emergency rules for a week. However, it is likely to be challenged in court, and even Republican leadership has conceded it may be unconstitutional. That means it might not have an immediate effect unless a judge allows the petition to go into effect as the court case plays out, assuming it goes to court.

Perfect.  In the meantime, everybody can go on with their performative histrionics.  Which, really was the point of this entire special session to begin with.  Well, that and stealing whatever money they could find in the couch cushions, which of course they managed to do as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

They sent him something he can veto

The legislature already has the power to rescind the governor's emergency declaration.  This was the case at the beginning of the special session and it is the case now. The question we asked then, and must continue to ask now is, do they really want to do that? Or do they just want a pretext for continuing to play victim while the Governor keeps doing the actual work of managing the public health crisis?  

Because they still can't get enough signatures together to override the emergency, BUT can pass a bill like this that Governor can easily veto, we are inclined to believe the answer is, they just want to complain. Heck, this even says they can't do anything about an emergency declaration until 30 days have passed.

Wright’s bill would come into play if a governor renews a state of disaster or emergency declaration beyond the first 30 days of the proclamation. Edwards has repeatedly renewed his public health emergency declaration and coronavirus restrictions for months, since first issuing them in March.

Under the measure, if one of the top two elected leaders of both the House and Senate agree that provisions of a governor’s renewed order exceed his authority or “are not narrowly tailored to address the disaster,” they could ask lawmakers to vote by mailed ballot on whether to revoke individual sections of that order. That means a majority of the House and Senate could pick and choose which of Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions they want to end.

In this case the 30 day waiting period is up. But even so, it sets off a process of picking one issue at a time, having a public argument about it, then beginning another drawn out process of voting on it, hilariously, by mail. Remember this is the same bunch who made Kyle Ardoin cry in public because they hated his vote-by-mail plan for this year's elections.  They can't be choosing that option for themselves now because they believe it will work in a timely and efficient manner now.  Can they? 

Much more likely they are deliberately sending Edwards a bill he can veto specifically so that he will veto it.  And then they can do all the public whining they want, themselves.

The "end of history" never ended

You may not think you want to read a medium-length essay about the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle "You've Got Mail" but you really ought to. The cultural zeitgeist of the 90s was all about sublimating anxiety about the total victory of capitalism over everything.

For a comparatively complacent political period in the United States, the ’90s boast a surprisingly large number of mainstream romantic comedies about fighting the Man or resisting the pressure to sell out. There’s no coincidence here. It was as if the culture was grappling with the implications of having abandoned even the pretense of crusading reformism, to say nothing of socialism, in favor of an unapologetic celebration of corporate values and business culture.

The lesson: It sucks. But what can you do? Maybe there are little opportunities to make a kind of personal peace with your conscience.  But nothing that rises above the petty or symbolic. In any case, it's best just to look inward, give up, hide if you can. 

Still, defiance of one kind or another was the norm in this genre until, as far as I can tell, You’ve Got Mail hit theaters. That was the genius of the film’s appeal: it was not only a clever and captivating love story, but also a fantasy that spoke to the neoliberal subject’s thorough exhaustion with politics and yearning for acquiescence without punishment. To the extent that it was even happening, resistance didn’t seem to be working. What if you didn’t have to resist anymore, and nothing was lost? What if “the Man” turned out to be Mr Right?

Meagan Day wrote this article after watching "You've Got Mail" and talking about it on the Michael and Us podcast which has been one of my favs for a while. One unstated thesis in the show is that all this late 90s "End of History" stuff is embedded in popular culture. I think a lot about what that's going to mean during the Biden years. How are we going to dissociate and pretend all is well even as the world is visibly burning? Don't be surprised if we find it easier than you may think.

Buying The Deed

I know we've talked previously about how the Bruno vs. Medley race is really all about Sidney Torres's "bloody" feud with the Motwanis.  At the time we wrote that, however, we could only find some $36,000 in campaign contributions to Medley through Torres's various business partners, family members and LLCs, like so..

This was a real thing. We know because the Times-Picayune reported on it here.  Also whoever is responsible for putting out these DSA voter guides noticed as well. 

But, since that time, The Lens has found there is still more to it

The allegation involves a $100,000 loan that Medley received in September from IV Capital, a company owned by Sidney Torres — a local entrepreneur, outspoken opponent of Bruno and the primary benefactor of Medley’s campaign. The same day she took the loan, Medley issued a $85,000 loan to her own campaign. A week later, she donated another $15,000 to her campaign. The campaign report says the loans were from Medley herself, and do not mention Torres’ company.

That certainly escalates Torres's investment.  What, technically, is he supposed to be buying into there? Real estate, of course. 

The collateral Medley used for the loan is an investment property she owns on 4725 Baudin Street. The house is assessed at $204,000. And records from the city’s notarial archives show that Medley has taken out loans on it totalling $269,000. As a result, the Bruno campaign characterized IV Capital’s $100,000 as essentially an unsecured loan to Medley. It’s unclear how much she still owes on the property. One of the mortgages — for $119,000 _ dates to 2013. The other one, however — for $150,000 — was finalized just this year. 

Torres told The Lens that a private assessment valued the property at nearly $300,000, and that he personally thought the Mid-City double was worth even more. He also said that there was only $155,000 in debt attached to the house.

“I promise if she does not pay him back he will foreclose,” Litchfield said. “That’s what he does.”

Boss move for Sidney.  No matter what happens in this election now he comes out of this owning something.  That could be yet another house he can flip.  Or it could be a judge.

 

See also:  The Antigravity voter guide is out this week. Their write up also notes all of the above with regard to this race including the latest bit about the loan on the house.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Stimulus for some

Now seems like a terrific time to place more capital into the no-doubt soon to be booming indoor golf arcade business. 

After construction delays caused by money trouble at its corporate parent, work on the Drive Shack driving-range complex at the site of the former Times-Picayune building on Howard Avenue appears to be back on track.

The "golf-entertainment" venue, which is being built on a site owned by developer Joe Jaeger and partners, has been beset by difficulties since it was announced two-and-a-half years ago, the latest being a series of lawsuits by contractors demanding payment on overdue bills that had stacked up during the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Monday, Drive Shack's New York-based owner said it had sold its Rancho San Joaquin golf course, located in Irvine, California, for $34.5 million, giving it funds to continue work on the stalled $29 million New Orleans project as well as a mini-golf venture in Dallas known as The Puttery.

Seems a bizarre decision but, then, it is their money...

Wait, what's that?  Oh sorry, no, turns out that it's also public money.   (from 2018)

The developers who want to turn the former Times-Picayune building on Howard Avenue in New Orleans into a three-story indoor golf attraction received final approval Tuesday (Aug. 14) on a plan that basically freezes their property taxes for a dozen years.

The Industrial Development Board, which must sign off on such tax incentives, agreed to lock in land and building values for Drive Shack. The 62,000-square-foot, $29 million facility will include 90 golf ball hitting bays, a restaurant, bar, arcade and conference rooms. To the rear of the building, 183,000 square feet of artificial turf will cover the driving range. Plans call for 265 parking spaces on the property and additional off-site parking under the Broad Street overpass.

Still, who are we expecting will want to spend money on this amusement?  Even after (if!) we arrive at a moment when people generally feel safe going to crowded indoor venues again, will anyone even be able to afford it?  Maybe Drew Brees?  But we read here that he is already building his own private Drive Shack so I guess he is out. 

According to the breathless TMZ report, “Drew's new pad is coming with ALL the bells and whistles … from private access to a bar/lounge to a golf simulator room."

The likely answer is, a lot fewer people will be able to afford to pay for anything. And that in turn leads to a lot more fewer people able to pay for things.  And that can get... very bad. 

One very simple solution to this would be to just give people money so they can buy things.  It's what you do when you want to.. stimulate.. the economy.  Is that what we want to do? Besides, given that we've already decided to give a great big tax subsidy to Drive Shack and its developers, there should be no problem loading up their potential customers as well.  You would think it is but, the evidence of that sure is scarce.  Or at least it changes day-to-day

Friday, October 16, 2020

Are we used to it yet?

Here comes that third wave.  

The rise since mid-September has been especially profound in the Midwest and Mountain West, where hospitals are filling up and rural areas are seeing staggering outbreaks. The regions are home to almost all of the metro areas with the country’s worst outbreaks right now.

“We are starting from a much higher plateau than we were before the summer wave,” Dr. Rivers said. “It concerns me that we might see even more cases during the next peak than we did during the summer.” 

The average number of new coronavirus cases per day first peaked in mid-April, when New York City and its surrounding areas were hit hard. New Orleans, southwest Georgia and some resort towns in the West also saw some of the spring’s worst outbreaks.

Over the summer, the number of new cases per day soared past the April peak. The South and West were particularly affected. 

The current spike appears to be happening in the Midwest.  But one wonders if this one, in particular, has potential to spread quickly to other parts of the country. 

Despite the fact that the virus has not gone away or become any less contagious or deadly than it was in March, more city and state governments are relenting to pressure from ruling class interests to relax emergency health restrictions and "open up the economy," meaning send more vulnerable people back to work under dangerous conditions. This has been the main purpose of the ongoing legislative special session in Baton Rouge, for example, where lawmakers are voting to end the Governor's emergency declaration. (Although they are also there to steal money while they're at it.)  It's also the reason the City of New Orleans is moving now to Phase Version 3.2.and-three-quarters or whatever in which you are allowed to host a live music performance so long as nobody plays sings or plays any horns.  

The incoherence is intentional. The longer we go with no federal relief to individuals and businesses, the less likely anyone is to believe that universal and equitable solutions are possible, and the easier it becomes to just throw us all out before the mercy of "the market."  That's what COVID fatigue really means. It's surrender to the nihilistic belief that better things aren't possible.  And so even though there are signs the virus is spiking elsewhere in the country, and even though cases are appearing in the city's schools, officials have little choice but to just give the bosses what they want. 

Each wave of cases and deaths with no resulting political will to change conditions simply reinforces the sense of inevitability. eventually we'll all just have to "get used to it." 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Shark alert

It's been a busy couple of days with little time to do much yellow blogging but we would be seriously derelict in our responsibilities if we did not note the Metal Shark ferries (well, one of them anyway) are finally going into service. The early reviews are positive.

After two years of delays, a sleek new passenger ferry began plying the Mississippi River between Algiers Point and Canal Street on Saturday, in journeys that are faster, calmer and better for the environment.

“It was real smooth, very relaxing. It doesn’t rock up and down,” Christina Burrle, 24, said as she exited the ferry near the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Real smooth and relaxing sounds pretty good. I kind of remember one of the problems with getting these boats certified had to do with the safety equipment. So we don't want things getting too rough out there.  On the other hand, since the boats are no longer free to pedestrians, some of us might want our $2 each way to buy us a thrill or two. Maybe that's possible. The deckhands seem to think so, anyway. 

Guiding the ferry straight across the river might seem like a simple task, Burris said. “But it takes a lot of technique, practice and great ship-handling capabilities when you get high river stages and the currents starts moving at five, six, seven, eight knots. You can catch yourself in an eddy, kind of like a blender, and you can flip yourself all the way around.”

Can't wait to try it out.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

When in doubt.... tax breaks for oil companies

The emergency special session the legislature called supposedly to deal with governing and budgetary issues emanating from  the COVID pandemic has taken a not-very-surprising turn

House Bill 29, filed by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, which would suspend a 12.5% severance tax that oil and gas companies pay on crude fossil fuels extracted from newly-drilled wells or enhanced wells, passed after a floor debate with a 68-22 vote.

The bill, requested by the Louisiana Mid-Continent’s Oil and Gas Association, is estimated to cost taxpayers $157 million over the next five years, according to the legislature’s fiscal office. It allows companies to claim credits on each well for up to 24 months or until the company recovers the amount it spent to drill or enhance the well, whichever comes first.

Unlike other tax breaks such as those under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, DeVillier’s proposed tax suspension carries no job-creation or residency requirements or investment thresholds in order for a company to qualify. Companies can also claim it in addition to other breaks such as those under ITEP as well as a separate tax credit being proposed in House Bill 78, which would allow local governing bodies such as school boards and sheriffs to accept a lump sum of no more than two years of property taxes from a company and exempt them from taxes for the next nine years. That bill is slated to be considered before the full House on Oct. 12.

Sure. That ought to fix it. I remember way back when they would at least go through the motions of caring about keeping the budget afloat by kicking the can ahead to a series of "fiscal cliffs" that would have to be narrowly averted.  Now that we're living in the end times, everyone is content to just leap right off the ledge straight away. 

Also in this package, a "sales tax holiday" because why not. But since we are already busted, why stop there?  Probably there is public money to throw at some private schools in a way we haven't thought of yet. 

The final tax bill considered Tuesday was House Bill 20, authored by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge. It offers a state income tax credit to residents with certain narrowly-defined education expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know we’ve done a lot to help businesses, so I just wanted to give something to the people,” Edmonds said.

The bill offers a credit on “educational coaching services for an in-person facilitator of virtual education delivered by a public or approved nonpublic elementary or secondary school.” The bill would help parents defray the costs of an in-person tutor who assisted with virtual courses for college students. It would only apply if the student being tutored is a qualified dependent and is at least 18 or a high school graduate.

Not sure what they'll do next year when they have to fix this mess.  But I'm willing to bet it will involve still more tax cuts for oil companies.