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Monday, May 16, 2022

Just mashing buttons

Logistical supply of goods and services is not a magical thing that just happens. Americans' extremely limited understanding of economics and markets (it's all done by some invisible hand of God or something!) is one reason why people can't get their heads around what "inflation" is. It's also what gums up the works politically such that the only possible policy response is for the democratically unaccountable bankers at the Federal Reserve to just mash a button.  What does the button do, though?  David Dayen says it pretty well. 
In fact, the rationing doesn’t stop with formula and vaccines; it’s our formal economic policy. Federal Reserve interest rate hikes to stop inflation are designed to “tamp down demand,” a euphemism for throwing people out of work in the hopes that millions will lack enough money to buy things. The current strategy is to ration our way through inflation, despite the fact that interest rates can’t end lockdowns in China or halt the war in Ukraine, the primary current drivers of the price squeeze.

What this comes back to is that public policy has relied—absurdly—on belief in an automatic process of capitalism, where shortages not only shouldn’t but cannot happen. When that internalized promise is not kept, people get really damn angry about it, and they should. They should know that it’s the result of decades of bad policy: monopolization, centralization of production, lax regulatory response. Until we recognize this deficiency and start re-engineering policy to ensure the general welfare, that anger will reap a whirlwind in November and beyond.

An angry "whirlwind" whipped up through a public deliberately kept ignorant by an aloof ruling class indifferent to its suffering is not going to be a good time for anybody.  But don't worry. They've got another button to mash on if that starts to get out of hand.  It's the one that buys more cops

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday urged states and cities to use unspent money from last year’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package to fund crime prevention programs and hire police officers.

The president stressed the need for more funding of public safety programs at a White House event with mayors and law enforcement officials.

“To every governor, every mayor, every county official, the need is clear, my message is clear: Spend this money now; use these funds we made available to you; prioritize public safety,” Biden said. “Do it quickly before the summer, when crime rates typically surge.”

COVID numbers are already going up, the supply of masks and vaccines is running low, and the Democrats just decided it was more important to spend $40 billion on a war in Europe. Now, as the Fed prepares to deliberately induce a recession, the President wants to spend money already allocated for COVID relief on a war at home. It's going to be an interesting summer. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

They're still thinking about it

This site was never a great store of content anyway but if anyone is wondering why it's been especially sparse lately, it's because I just am using the phone to do short posts (sometimes) until the laptop is fixed. But most of the time if I have my phone in my hand and a link to share, I just end up tweeting it out. I know this is riveting. 

But I do like to use this blog to make notes when I can so can remember stuff later. It's much better for that purpose than Twitter, which can be kind of a black hole.   For example, I am right now using it to post this story from yesterday's T-P about the continuing victimization of people by the Road Home program some 16 years later. 

In 2008, the state of Louisiana offered Matthews $30,000 through the federally funded Road Home program to elevate her house to reduce the risk of future flooding. But her home was still unlivable, and she desperately needed the cash for repairs. To her relief, she said, a Road Home representative told her she could use the elevation grant to instead pay for repairs. So she did.

Now, more than a decade later, the state wanted the money back.

Only the latest reminder of the cruel stupidity of the regime people live under here. Poor people pay the costs of corruption. Every time.

Louisiana has sued about 3,500 people — about one in every nine people who received an elevation grant — for failing to use the grants to raise their homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

The real problem, however, wasn’t that people ignored the rules, according to an investigation by The Advocate | The Times-Picayune, WWL-TV and ProPublica. It’s that the state Office of Community Development and a contractor it hired in 2006, ICF Emergency Management Services, mismanaged the program. For more than a decade since, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has insisted that the state recoup the money from people who are noncompliant.

 Y'all remember ICF, right? Only Katrina kids know.  Jarvis DeBerry wrote this seven years ago

Who's really to blame for homeowners getting more money than they ought to have received: ICF or the state of Louisiana itself? In some cases it may be ICF. In other cases it may the state. But none of that matters to homeowners caught between these two warring parties. If they've been mailed letters suggesting that they acted fraudulently when they didn't do anything wrong, then they should be provided documentation that clears everything up, a letter that gives them permission to never have to think about Road Home again.

Yeah, well, turns out that in 2022 they still gotta think about it.  

Also here's one more thing from that story to think about as we approach another hurricane season.  The costs of each disaster, and its associated mishandled response is only getting worse. 

 

Welcome, again, to the shitty part of the year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Aggressive

Out of state investment firm becomes absentee landlord to local apartment building.  You won't believe what happens next

Passco Companies, of Irvine, California, said it bought the 330-unit complex and its 500-space parking lot — which is now known as Canal 1535 — primarily because of its proximity to the burgeoning biomedical district in that part of the city.

"We found it to be a great market for job growth and migration with all the education and healthcare employers moving in," said Stacy Stemens, a senior vice president at Passco. "That's who's renting there and the rents are aggressive."

Units in the nine-story building average just over 900 square feet and rents have shot up amid a nationwide shortage of rental properties.

Stemens said that as leases turn over, rents that were about $1,500 to $3,500 a month are now averaging between $2,500 and $5,500 for the one- and two-bedroom units. In the New Orleans area, rents have increased by 8% in the six months ending in April, contributing to what fair-housing advocates say is an escalating affordable-housing crisis.

Well it has been a roller coaster ride

The city's agreement with Troy Henry's development company to turn Six Flags into.. well... first into some warehouses and then maybe some other things later is, get this, behind schedule.

City officials said Tuesday that talks with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which redevelops derelict properties, to take ownership have taken longer than expected. The Industrial Development Board has owned and maintained the site since 2009, but wants to dispose of it to save on maintenance costs exceeding $200,000 annually.

Seems like a straightforward sort of transfer between these governmental (or quasi-governmental) bodies.  But nothing is ever straightforward around here. What is going on?  Well, you know, real estate stuff, apparently. 
In a brief interview, Schwartz said agreements between the administration and the two development agencies are in final drafts, and said discussions are over “typical real estate terms.” He declined to go into detail.
No idea why they can't tell us more.  But just know that it's all very normal.

NORA Executive Director Brenda Breaux agreed the negotiations are over routine matters, but declined to provide details. 

 “These are normal agreements that require us to sit down and work with one another, and I’m expecting to be able to work through this,” Breaux said, adding that lease negotiations with Bayou Phoenix cannot proceed until the ownership agreement is complete.

Although maybe "normal" isn't the most reassuring state of affairs at this point. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Billy Nungesser: Climate pessimist

Plenty of interesting points in this story.  A lot of people in it are mad at Billy. Congressman Garret Graves is mad.  The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's Chip Kline is mad. State rep Jerome Zeringue is mad.  I don't really know but it's likely he is exaggerating the impact the Barataria diversion will have on fisheries.  But he's also probably not entirely wrong.  There will be negative impacts. The fact that the CPRA plans for the state to spend millions of dollars mitigating those impacts is itself an acknowledgement of that.  

Frankly, Graves and Kline and Zeringue come off pretty arrogant here. They call Billy a "clown." They smugly accuse him of consulting "palm readers in Jackson Square" and making up "his own facts" that contradict what "scientists and engineers have verified."  But that line only makes sense if we assume Billy is arguing with them over the science.  Instead, this looks more like he is performing a political analysis.  And in that light, he actually has some valid points. For example,

Nungesser relayed many of these complaints to supporters at a meeting at the Covington Country Club late last month. In an impassioned speech, Nungesser said he thinks the diversions were conceived because former Gov. Bobby Jindal thought the innovative projects would help him run for president. Graves was Jindal’s CPRA head at the time.

He told the Covington audience that he got a “standing ovation” in Houma after he “called out Chip Kline,” according to a recording.

“Chip Kline texted me and called me a clown,” Nungesser said. “But I’m a clown that ain’t on the take.”

Okay well we won't go so far as to assume that Billy ain't also "on the take." It's just a possibility that has come up far too often.  We should not even dispute too heavily the notion that he is something of a "clown." But we have no doubt he's correct in suspecting his opponents have unsavory ulterior motives also. And we shouldn't discount his criticism out of hand.  

Besides, there is a certain internal logic to Billy's take on the future of the coast. He's always been pretty cynical in his approach to that. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. I mean, regardless of whether the Barataria plan happens I sure wouldn't bet against this prediction.

 Nungesser, in an interview, said he’s “tired of walking on eggshells about” the plan. He said the money doesn’t belong to Kline: “He’s not Jesus Christ.”

“I don’t care if I get elected to anything ever again. This is the biggest fraud ever pulled over our eyes,” Nungesser said. “There’s nothing to say this diversion will have any impact for 50 years. In 50 years we’re going to be having the Grand Isle fishing rodeo in Baton Rouge.”

Monday, May 09, 2022

Teachers aren't going to break the budget

There's a certain logic to what the so-called "fiscal hawks" are arguing. We do not want to repeat the Jindal era cycle of de-funding critical public services through tax breaks for rich people and shell games like school vouchers and medicare privatization while covering up for it by dropping "one time money" into places that will eventually need recurring revenue to avoid more drastic cuts. Even now, while the state is flush with federal COVID relief, we're still just a few years away from the next "fiscal cliff" as temporary sales taxes start to roll off the books.  

None of this should mean that teachers have to suffer for it, however. But for some reason, they're still the first thing that comes to mind when lawmakers want to talk about being cautious with the budget. 

Geymann’s amendment to House Bill 1, the state’s operating budget, is written in an English that can only be described as “technical.” It basically blocks using extra money expected to be “recognized” by the REC on Monday to add another $500 to proposed pay raises for educators or any other expenses that will become part of the annual operating budget and have to be paid in the future. Geymann said the additional funds needed to increase teacher pay raises from $1,500 to $2,000 can and should be found in the recurring revenue stream.

It's ok to give the teachers their raise and find the money in the budget later.  Nobody ever said corporate tax exemptions need to keep happening, for example.  Although the legislators don't seem as worried about those.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Ok but what are you going to do?

No doubt the *impending ruling* whenever it becomes official, will set off a round of statements from political organizations and elected people everywhere. No doubt they will all (okay well the statements issued by the ostensible "good guys" anyway) express concern, promise to "keep fighting" in vague language, and direct their audience where to send money. 

What really need to hear, though, is what local office holders and power brokers intend to do with the power they currently have. It can't just be about self-promotion, if they really do care about this. (Or if they care about anything at all, which they very well may not.)  

Anyway, the point is there are things they can do.  These are just a few ideas.









There's also a rally planned in Jackson Square Saturday at 5 pm. Go on down and yell at some Jazzfest tourists about it if that helps.  But when you see your mayors, bosses, legislators and councilmembers, don't just let them "empathize." Ask them what they are going to actually do about it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Nothing sadder than a grounded PILOT

RIP Drive Shack. Latest victim of the pandemic? That's what these photos NOLA.com just published seemed to indicate.  There's no accompanying story yet but the captions read as follows.

The Drive Shack golf-entertainment project that was to have gone up on the old Times-Picayune site on Howard Avenue appears to be dead. Drive Shack said in a recent filing that it doesn’t plan to continue with the project to build a venue there and is reviewing options, including disposing of the lease with land owner Joe Jaeger.

This lot was once the Times-Picayune building on Howard Avenue. It was sold to a group led by Joe Jaeger, Arnold Kirschman, and Barry Kern who proposed to re-develop it as a golf arcade tourist attraction. The city struck a sweetheart financing deal (commonly known as a Payment In Lieu of Taxes or PILOT) with them to make it happen. 

Drive Shack customers will pay an additional 2% sales tax on money spent at the complex, part of an agreement reached between the company and the city, and approved by the New Orleans City Council in late 2018. The city will get a quarter of the new tax dollars in order to fund street improvements around the Drive Shack site. Drive Shack will get the remainder. Drive Shack also secured a 12-year freeze on its property taxes in lieu of paying the city nearly $260,000 annually.

The new tax will split 50-50 if the city is successful in connecting Howard Avenue to downtown, an improvement that would make it easier for tourists to access the site. The tax remains in place through 2039 or until Drive Shack is fully reimbursed for its construction costs.

Cantrell described the facility as a “tremendous investment” in the city, noting it would generate tax revenue in addition to bringing jobs.

It is very important for the community to understand that we did create an economic development district right here, so that a portion of the revenue that’s generated is reinvested in this same community,” Cantrell said, adding the Broad Street corridor remains “ripe for this type of investment.”

It's important for us to understand that they did this.  Ok. Anyway it never got built.  Ultimately, the pandemic probably was the most important factor in the project's failure, but there were several complicated stops and starts along the way here.  First, the Convention Center flirted with the idea of granting a rival golf arcade company access to its open riverfront property.  That, understandably, pissed off Jaeger who responded by pulling out of a plan to develop a hotel in partnership with the Convention Center.  Things only get more tangled from there. The riverfront property is now slated to (likely... probably... maybe) become a visually unappealing but nonetheless trendy planned development called "River District." That appears to feature no golf in any form. Which means neither golf scheme made it off the drawing board. Probably for the best. 

Anyway, so there's this empty plot on Howard Avenue now... 

Update: Okay the article is up now.  It still gives the impression that the Drive Shack deal is dead. It's just not as definite about that yet.

Drive Shack declined to comment further. But Joe Jaeger, who led the consortium that bought the 3800 Howard Avenue site in 2016 for $3.5 million, said that he is scheduled to meet with Drive Shack representatives in the next few weeks to discuss possible alternatives to a Drive Shack venue.

Jaeger said the company continues to make payments on its lease but has not yet indicated what its preferred alternative might be.

Meanwhile the TopGolf project may not be as dead as we thought after all. 

Michael Sawaya, president of the Convention Center, and others in the development team have said that they remain open to a deal with Topgolf as part of the entertainment district project.

Lou Lauricella, head of one of the two companies leading the project -- known as "The River District" -- declined to comment specifically on Topgolf. He said "the River District team has been in early stage leasing negotiations with a number of companies for the planned mixed use development. There are many exciting possibilities on the table, which we look forward to announcing soon."

many exciting possibilities 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Continuing with the quality work up there

There's so little to say about the Legislature at this point. We know who they are and what they're about.

The Republican majority in the House Labor committee voted Thursday – four times – against establishing a minimum wage and setting the rate above $7.25 per hour.

They keep complaining about a "labor shortage."  I don't actually think that is real and I plan to talk about that in a different post soon. But if it were real, if the bellyaching bosses who own and operate this state really were in desperate need of help but unable to find anyone willing to work, I wonder what could be the reason.



Facing stiff opposition from Louisiana’s business and oil and gas industry lobbies, a state senator on Wednesday shelved a bid to enshrine in the state constitution local government’s newly won authority over the state’s most generous corporate tax incentive.  

This week we also learned that Folgers is suing to keep hold of tax money it has owed the city of New Orleans after having had its ITEP denied.
In its suit, Folgers, which is owned by The J.M. Smucker Co., does not contest that it will owe taxes going forward. However, the company argues there is a conflict in the procedures outlined in the state law allowing assessors to adjust prior years’ assessments and requirements laid out by the state Constitution and says because of that, the bills for years’ past should be thrown out.
Of course, if this Legislature refuses to make local discretion permanent and future Governor Jeff Landry changes the rules, then companies like Folgers will again be off the hook. 

So, once again, brilliant work up there.  Can't wait to find out what else they've been up to... oh. Oh no

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Going with the feels

 Incredible work by these highly literate lawmakers

With the committee's action to advance SB418 without anyone objecting, the legislation now heads to the full Senate. If repealing the "Raise the Age" is approved in the upper chamber, the measure then would head for consideration by the House.

Murders increased 30% nationally, 35% in Louisiana in 2020. But Louisiana has had highest murder rate for 32 straight years, testified Jeff Asher a data analyst for AH Datalytics that does work for New Orleans law enforcement agencies. The statistics show large increases for violent crimes in red and blue states, big cities, small towns, and suburbs. The rates of murders started increasing in early 2020, accelerated in May 2020, and have stayed elevated since.

Those under the age of 18 account for 4.4% of all murder offenders in Louisiana in 2020 – down from 5% since 2018.

Asher said the data shows no evidence that the implementation of "Raise the Age" contributed to the statewide increase in murder or gun violence.

“You’re saying that for every 100 murders committed in this country roughly five are done by juveniles,” Talbot said. “These statistics don’t make me feel better. Tony Clayton makes me feel better.”

Monday, April 25, 2022

Galaxy brain meme

Ag commissioner Mike Strain says 

Crop production could suffer if rising global temperatures are not addressed sooner rather than later, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said Monday. 

Bigger brain Mike Strain says

“Climate change is real,” Strain told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “We’ve benefited in the last 100 years by slightly increasing the temperature, (leading to) increased production. But now we’re on the other side where the increases in temperature will decrease production in plants and in animals. So we must be cognizant of that.”
Cosmic brain Mike says

 At the same time, Strain called for increased domestic production of oil and natural gas to offset higher energy commodity prices before food prices spike to unaffordable levels.

it all makes sense now

Just don't be boring

What I was actually trying to tell Ralph here is that the post-Payton era can involve the Saints winning a lot of games or losing a lot of games. That's not anything anyone has any control over. Professional football teams are evenly matched for the most part. Most games are decided by very few points and hinge on minor freak incidents.  Seasons are determined according to which teams sustain the fewest injuries. The universe decides these outcomes and nobody has any valid reason to complain or assign blame for any of it.  Your team's record can be good or bad or somewhere in the middle and you can live with that.  What you do not want your team to be, though, is boring.

Do whatever you want in the draft but do something interesting. I don't want to hear about nerd stuff like 40 times or vertical leaps or RAS scores.  Figuring out which complicated human being will have a successful career in any job is never going to be science based on clear cut "measurables."  So it's important to understand that the raft of nerd stuff promulgated by football executives and media is really just there to entertain nerds.  But nerd stuff doesn't entertain everybody.  Which is why we need other metrics.  Payton would occasionally do things like draft a player because he thought his dad had a cool jacket. Not everybody thought that worked out for the best, but it wasn't really a mistake either. Anyway it was different.  

Dennis Allen doesn't strike us as the kind of guy who does interesting things.  But if we could ask for anything it is just try not to bore us. If that means making everybody mad by trading all the way up into the top 5 just to take a tackle then so be it. If it means going after this angle, then do that

Fine, you want my draft prediction for the Saints' first round? As NOLA Twitter legend Skooks reminded me, the Saints already have a player named Taco Charlton, so drafting a corner named Sauce Gardner and a receiver named Jameison Williams feels like it'd be completing the cool food named player triple play.

Just don't be boring. That's all we can hope for. 

RIP the Richmond Presidency



"Enter the private sector" is pretty funny. He's just been in the White House for two years sending out resumes and taking bids.  Finally got the right package of offers.  It's no $44 billion deal or anything, I'm sure. But I can't wait to find out what he got. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

"Perfection is not the goal"

It's looking like the NOPD is closer to being released from the decade-long federal consent decree intended to clean up systemic abuse and corruption. Leaving aside the question of whether or not any police department that isn't characterized by systemic abuse and corruption can even be called a police department at all, let's just ask the judge how they're doing

At Wednesday's hearing, Morgan noted some of the department’s recent troubles, calling the allegations of double-dipping “quite concerning,” and recruiting struggles “troubling.” But she applauded what she described as a dramatic transformation that other police agencies now aim to emulate.

“The NOPD is a far cry from the NOPD of 2013. While not perfect, the NOPD is most definitely a changed department,” said Morgan, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

Perfection is not the goal of the consent decree. Full and effective compliance is. The NOPD continues to make great strides toward that goal.”

Sooo... there's all kinds of problems. They've been skirting the rules intended to keep them from doing random stop and search.  They've been violating the city ban on facial recognition surveillance software.  They've been found engaging in widespread payroll fraud. You know.. problems.  But "perfection is not the goal" here. Let's be real.  Really you gotta hand it to them for not putting that kind of pressure on themselves. 

Anyway, it seems like the most critical metric, political momentum, is moving away from continuing the consent decree and so it's probably going away soon.  Once it's gone, will anyone notice the difference?  Hard to say

A longtime New Orleans police officer was arrested early Wednesday after federal agents and the department’s Public Integrity Bureau searched his home in New Orleans East and found more than 100 guns and a stash of crack cocaine.

Reginald Allen Koeller III, 38, is an 18-year veteran of the force and most recently worked as a patrol officer in the 4th District, police said. He was booked with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and the illegal carrying of a weapon while in possession of the drug.

I mean as long as they can keep recruiting young enthusiastic officers with a passion for the field, it should be fine. 

As a junior at McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School, Koeller joined the NOPD Explorers program, which introduced young people to various facets of law enforcement careers, according to a story published in the Times-Picayune in 2008. He exhibited unusual passion for the field and later sailed through the police academy.

Magic moments

If you can't put a price on magic, why is it something you are able to go to court over?

“For me, it was not simply a question of breach of contract,” Bagneris testified. “It was also a matter of disrespect. We felt disrespected.”

The perks, and the status those perks afforded – such as watching performances from onstage – are nice, too, he said: “You can’t put a price tag on those kinds of magic moments. That’s the irreparable harm.”

Is that what this is about? Magic moments and feeling disrespected?  Or is it something else? 

But in an appeal filed Friday with Louisiana’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, the foundation’s attorneys argue that Sheppard erred in granting the injunction. The foundation requested expedited consideration from the 4th Circuit, given that the 2022 Jazz Fest opens April 29. No hearing date has been set on the appeal.

If Sheppard’s preliminary injunction remains in place, the foundation must provide Mercadel and Bagneris with 70 free Jazz Fest tickets and the opportunity to purchase 100 more at half price. They’d also each receive a free parking spot on the festival grounds; four laminated badges that grant access to viewing areas on the sides of the festival’s three main stages; six “silkie” stick-on passes for access to guest viewing areas near the main stages; four wristbands for access to a private lounge on the festival grounds; and the privilege to buy Jazz Fest posters at a discount.

Bagneris can't use all of those tickets himself to go look at the "magic." More likely what he's worried about here is somebody might lose some money. Anyone with a connection to recipients of these perks and a little bit of entrepreneurial pluck could certainly make something out of a wad of free and discounted tickets. The "irreparable harm" the injunction is meant to prevent likely stems from the threatened interruption of this commerce. 

If the injunction stays in place, Bagneris and Mercadel would apparently be the only recipients of those packages anymore. The perks rules, even for current board members, have been scaled back somewhat. But it's worth considering just how much of this is in circulation given the number of "Past Presidents" and board members receiving perks which, even under the new rules, carry substantial value.

The benefits received by current members of the board are now capped at $9,000 in total value and are reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Each laminate badge is reportedly valued at $1,950, so a board member who accepted all four available laminates could then accept only another 15 or so regular admission tickets, which have a gate price of $90 apiece.
Fifteen free tickets valued at $90 a piece plus the badges is still quite a haul. But 70 tickets with the option to buy 100 more at a discount is a big business worth suing over. Looks like this ruling came in just in time to save that business. 


On Wednesday, Louisiana’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It reversed Civil District Judge Nicole Sheppard’s April 13 decision, which had granted Demetric Mercadel and Michael Bagneris the preliminary injunction they sought against the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc.
 
Mercadel and Bagneris, the 4th Circuit judges said, “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they would suffer irreparable injury if they did not receive injunctive relief." They “have not demonstrated anything more than inconvenience.”

Maybe the state supreme court could still weigh in. But they'd only have a week to do that before Jazzfest opens. If there are any pending deals for vacation packages hinging on this, the suspense is building.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Fire and loss prevention department

 Oh no, Billy!

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser's Plaquemines Parish home was burglarized Thursday, according to the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office.

The criminals took sports memorabilia and rare coinsWDSU reported. Nungesser said he was in the process of moving during the break-in

The Highway 23 home, located in Point Celeste, was also damaged by a small kitchen fire that occurred during the burglary, according to the Sheriff's Office. 

"We're still investigating, but at this time, it's believed that the fire was unintentional," said Lt. Chaun Domingue, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

That sounds bad. I feel bad for Billy. I hope they didn't get his socks. But because of certain circumstances and Billy's status as a person of some prominence, we do have to ask if there's something beyond just simple burglary going on here. We do know, for example, that this wouldn't be the first time something strange happened to collectibles under Billy's supervision. In 2017, he was involved in "some pretty strange crap" along those lines. 

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

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

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

We also know that, intentional or otherwise, this would not be the first time a Louisiana politician or political operative suddenly found their home and/or car to have been set on fire. Let's look at a few relatively recent examples. 

In 2009, a political gadfly/consultant type named Brian Welsh was involved in a stunt of a campaign promoting Stormy Daniels as a challenger to then Republican Senator David Vitter. Then his car burned up.  Welsh went on the news to air his suspicions that Vitter's henchmen had it out for him.  A lot of people were skeptical of this. (I was skeptical.) The fire department was also skeptical

“It was a fire. The car didn’t explode,” said Public Information Officer Jonathan Pajeaud. An arson investigation is underway and foul play hasn’t been ruled out. But, Pajeaud said, Welsh told firefighters he’d recently gotten electrical work done on his 1996 Audi, and investigators are also looking into that as a possible cause.

Welsh told a local TV news station that police told him they’d never seen anything like it.

But, Pajeaud said, “Car fires here are very common.”

He added that investigators, on average, have a preliminary report in about two weeks. Pajeaud said that, for now, the investigation is being handled solely by the fire department and not by police. The police department has not responded to our questions.

Welsh persisted, however, posting surveillance videos that appear to show someone tampering with his car just before the fire happened. Still, nothing ever came of the investigation.  "Car fires here are very common," after all.

In 2014, Mario Zervignon was consulting for a Public Service Commission campaign challenging Eric Skrmetta when this happened.  

An apparent firebombing ignited a pair of early morning blazes Thursday in Uptown New Orleans, incinerating three vehicles and scorching a house in a startling scene that resembled a war zone. Federal law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether Mario Zervigon, a well-known political fundraiser, had been specifically targeted in the attack.

Flames engulfed Zervigon’s vehicles and quickly spread to his home at the corner of Prytania and Constantinople streets. Eight people escaped the home’s three apartments uninjured, but three cats were believed to have perished in the fire, said Katy Patterson, Zervigon’s wife, who made it out safely with Zervigon and the couple’s two young children.

If the Zervignon case was ever solved, I don't remember seeing it. Maybe someone can clear that up. Casual googling doesn't get me very far today.  The usual pattern with these things is they happen, they look suspicious, we talk about them in the news, and then everyone forgets about them until the next one happens.  Every now and then they solve one, though. In fact, that 2014 story also references a prior incident from 1997 that resulted in a guilty plea.  

Firebombings, while exceedingly rare, are not unprecedented in New Orleans. Thursday’s incident recalled a series of intentional fires beginning in 1997 that targeted Stuart Smith, a vocal opponent of loud music in the French Quarter. Bar owner George Mellen Jr. pleaded guilty in 1999 to hiring an arsonist to toss Molotov cocktails at Smith’s home and vehicle on several occasions.

Here is more detail on that one in case anyone is interested.  There are a lot of old favs in this story.  None of them (including Stuart Smith, even though he was the victim of the attack) comes off looking particularly good.

Smith, a lifelong New Orleans resident who moved to the French Quarter in 1997, blamed the decline on the city's refusal to enforce noise and zoning ordinances.

But city officials said their hands are tied.

"Every time we come up with a resolution, we're sued by one side or another," said Councilman Troy Carter.

Mayor Marc Morial, who had all performers cleared out of Jackson Square when he was married there, has been otherwise reluctant to get involved. "A lot of what the complaining is about really has to do with the comeback of the entire city," Morial said. "The Quarter is not a suburban neighborhood."

The stance by Smith and his allies has at times drawn an aggressive response.

When Smith tried to stop the city from issuing a music license to an outdoor bar around the corner from his 5,000-square-foot home, Molotov cocktails scorched his Mercedes-Benz and rained down on his roof and into his courtyard. His home was not badly damaged.

The bar's owner, George Mellen Jr., and an associate, Richard Jones, pleaded guilty to conspiring to plant firebombs.

Unlike Mellen and Jones, the New Orleans Police officers who murdered Henry Glover and burned his body in a car after Hurricane Katrina did not plead guilty. Their convictions were overturned and they were eventually set free.

In 2015 a vehicle was set on fire near the site of a Planned Parenthood facility under construction.  It was investigated as a suspected arson.  Not sure if anything came of that either. 

Then, in 2016, this happened

A Lamborghini found burned to the ground Tuesday belonged to the owner of a Baton Rouge company that last week pulled out of a New Orleans contract to remove Confederate monuments after he had received death threats.

David Mahler’s Lamborghini, worth in excess of $200,000, was parked in the H&O Investments parking lot at 17425 Opportunity Ave., in Baton Rouge when flames were spotted from the air, said Roy Maughan Jr., Mahler’s attorney.

Immediately, we were told, we'd never really know what happened. 

It’s likely investigators will never know how the fire started, though, as the evidence was destroyed in the fire, Tarleton said. He said the department has not ruled anything out.

All that was left of the car was the seat frames, the tires and a heap of melted debris.

Accidental car fires are not unusual, often caused by mechanical issues, he said.

These things just happen all the time. It's pretty amazing when you think about it.  At least we won't go bored puzzling over the stream of unsolvable enigmas we're presented. 

Did anyone ever figure this one out, by the way?

NEW ORLEANS — Someone set two vehicles on fire in a Lakeview neighborhood last week in an explosive moment caught on camera. 

The man fires what appears to be a flare at one of the cars, soaked in gasoline, blowing it and another nearby vehicle up.

According to neighbors, it happened around 2:15 a.m. on July 29. 

That's a strange story, right?  Because of the long history of these, I thought it worth noting at the time that it was really close to qualifying week for the 2019 state legislative and executive elections. But nothing else surfaced in the news to connect back to it.  It did have me looking sideways at some of the fishy goings on in the state house races. But there's no evidence any of it is related. Anyway, it's likely we'll never know. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Maybe somebody should do something?

The public got too good a handle on what case numbers, hospitalizations, and percent positives meant so they had to shuffle the metrics around. Now they're doing this.  

The level of coronavirus found in two New Orleans wastewater sites rose nearly 700% over the last two weeks, according to data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While virus levels in Louisiana remain low, the recent data has infectious disease experts on alert after weeks of declining cases and loosening restrictions. 

We’re in a little bit of a fog right now, but certainly wastewater suggests SARS-CoV-2 is definitely here and it does seem to be – at best we can tell – increasing,” said Susan Hassig, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University.

700 percent sounds like a lot. But what does it mean, really? See the thing is you aren't used to it yet so you don't know. It's "a little bit of a fog."  One wonders if that isn't the point a little bit. 

Although wastewater sampling has been used since the early days of the pandemic, it has emerged as an early warning system relied on by the federal government as part as a pathway to a more normal life in recent months. Samples from the Sewerage and Water Board's two wastewater treatment sites on the east and west banks are collected daily and sent to the CDC. About 65% of the nearly 450 wastewater sites across the country have recorded an increase in COVID levels over the last two weeks. More collection sites from Louisiana are planned, according to officials from the Louisiana Department of Health.

"Has emerged as a pathway to a more normal life..." has to mean they chose this as a way to keep people from knowing what to think about COVID anymore, right? That's the "pathway" that was "emerged" on purpose. What does it mean? Well it "depends" on a bunch of stuff.

Not every increase recorded by the CDC can be interpreted as a certain sign of an upcoming surge, said Aaron Bivins, co-founder of the COVID-19 Wastewater-based Epidemiology Collaborative and assistant professor with LSU's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The significance of a percentage increase depends on the baseline from the prior week, and Louisiana’s increases still remain below the threshold of a 1,000% increase that Bivins would consider alarming when virus levels are low.

Still, “my antennae are up,” said Bivins. “This change in trend is definitely concerning.”

So... anybody's guess. It's "definitely concerning," though. Should someone do something?  Or just be concerned.   Although, probably not more than that until after the hotels and airbnbs make their Jazzfest money. Afterward, they will send the mayor out to yell at us or something.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Wonder how that time sensitive irreperable harm manifests

Sounds to me like somebody has turned their Jazzfest perks into a lucrative business of some sort

The newly revealed court documents indicate Mercadel is seeking a preliminary injunction against the foundation before the 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival opens at the Fair Grounds on April 29.

The issues “are time sensitive, particularly given that the Jazz Festival is set to begin later this month,” Mercadel’s attorneys wrote, arguing that a ruling on her request for an injunction should come before the event takes place. “Should the hearing be continued, there is a risk that the relief requested in the motion would be rendered moot and, as a result, irreparably harm Ms. Mercadel.”

In opposing Mercadel’s request, the board’s attorneys contend that she “incorrectly suggests that she will suffer such irreparable injury if NOJHFF does not provide her with ‘personal tickets to Jazz Fest, parking privileges, and options to buy additional tickets at discounted prices.’”

Mercadel, the board notes in the court documents, “is not prevented from buying tickets or parking passes to Jazz Fest, which are available to the general public.”

Bagneris and Mercadel attended an April 8 closed-door hearing in Sheppard's courtroom about Mercadel's request for a preliminary injunction, as did Francis.

I wonder how many Jazzfest vacation packages Mercadel and Bagneris are trying to sell and to whom?  I wonder if they have any short term rental properties involved.  I wonder why this whole city runs on various modes of "non-profit" exploitation of tourism for the benefit of a very small privileged class.

I wonder why the Jazzfest foundation got away with this graft all the way up until 2019.

However, those former presidents still received 70 free Jazz Fest tickets annually, according to sources familiar with the board’s operation. They could also purchase an additional 100 tickets at half-price.

The at-the-gate price of a Jazz Fest ticket this year is $90, meaning the 70 free tickets alone had a total face value of more than $6,000.

Past board presidents also reportedly received four laminated badges that granted access to reserved viewing areas in the wings of Jazz Fest’s three largest stages.

The board’s bylaws were amended after the 2019 Jazz Fest to eliminate these benefits. In a prepared statement released last week, David Francis, the current president of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation board, said that bylaws were changed in order to "preserve the 501c3 status of the foundation” and keep the foundation "in line with best practices for nonprofits."

 I wonder who finally threatened them.

Even the little ones are too big to fail

Turns out when all the important people in town know each other and spend all their time passing money back and forth, it doesn't matter how much or if they've stolen any of it because holding any of them accountable short circuits the whole system anyway

A federal judge on Monday jettisoned a prominent defense attorney and his law firm from the blockbuster fraud case against former First NBC Bank founder Ashton Ryan Jr. and four co-defendants, ruling they failed to reveal a conflict.

The stunning decision by U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon promises a months-long delay for a trial that was slated to start June 6.

The five defendants face a 49-count indictment charging them in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud and related charges in connection with the epic collapse of First NBC five years ago. The bank’s implosion cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. almost $1 billion — the worst U.S. bank failure since the 2008 financial crisis.

Only last month, Fallon wrote in a 42-page ruling, did prosecutors learn that Michael Magner, who represents former bank executive Robert Calloway, had previously represented Gary Gibbs, a bank borrower who has since pleaded guilty and agreed to testify as a key witness in the case.

The order disqualifies Magner, a former federal prosecutor, and his law firm, Jones Walker, from representing Calloway. Magner declined to comment Monday after the ruling.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Solving the wrong problem

Today's noladottimespicayadvocate is running a feature article on the carjacking phenomenon. The local one, anyway. The general fact that property crime seems to be up nationally is not surprising given two years of global economic shocks met with a policy response characterized by austerity, abandonment, and reactionary policing. But the particular types of behavior and the networks through which each flows have localized characteristics. This article is the first attempt by a local news organization to examine what's actually been going on in New Orleans. 

Most significantly, the investigation suggests that the local spike in carjackings isn't connected to an organized network of "chop shops" and parts dealers or anything like that.  This isn't to say that such things don't exist. It's just that most of these stolen cars aren't ending up there. Instead, most of them (72 percent last year, in fact) are being recovered, often abandoned not very far from where they were taken. Prior to this information, there had been much talk online and from police and politicians about "car theft rings" run by adults who would supposedly recruit minors to steal cars for them.  This narrative has already been deployed to pressure DA Jason Williams into breaking his campaign promise not to try children as adults. 

But, as it turns out, that story isn't true. Will that change the policy response from our chronically reactionary and out of touch political leadership.  Seems unlikely. 

Because the carjackers may not be profiting from their crimes, it's not clear whether there’s a short-term policy that can address the current surge. State Rep. Jason Hughes has proposed legislation, which passed the House unanimously this week, that would add new penalties for adults who recruit juveniles into carjacking rings, though there’s little sign that’s what’s driving the increase.

Instead, those that work with at-risk youth say that the problem will only abate with more significant and systemic changes: better schools, more activities for teenagers, better wages to give them hope and work healing broken communities.

Hughes's bill, which doesn't actually address the problem is rapidly on its way to passage. But what about these "more significant and systemic changes" that might be of some help?  "Better schools?"  Right now the legislature is considering a bill that would abandon the very concept of public education altogether.   "More activities for teenagers?" Nope! Instead, the legislature is moving a bill that would shame and persecute teens who seek to participate in high school sports on the basis of their gender. "Better wages?"  Louisiana is one of only five states with no minimum wage law, meaning only the federal minimum of a mere $7.25 applies here. (In non-tipped positions, anyway. Service workers have it even worse.) Kyle Green's HB 229 would establish a state minimum wage of $11.25. Denise Marcelle's HB 311 would gradually raise it to $12.00.  Neither measure is even remotely sufficient assuming it passes. Neither will pass in any case. 

So once more we're "solving" a problem that doesn't exist in order to avoid doing anything to help anyone. Which means, among other things, the carjackings are likely to continue.  But hey at least more of the stolen cars are being recovered now. So we've got that going for us. 

Friday, April 08, 2022

All the Hurricane seasons are above average

And this one is no exception

Another busy hurricane season appears likely, with an above-average number of storms predicted this year, according to a forecast issued Thursday by Colorado State University.

The forecast called for nine hurricanes, where an average season has seven. Of these, the forecast says to expect four to be major hurricanes, which means storms with winds of at least 111 mph, or Category 3 or higher. An average season produces three major hurricanes.

If the forecast for this season holds, it would the seventh above-average season in a row, said Philip Klotzbach, research scientist for Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project, in a presentation Thursday to the National Tropical Weather Conference.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Dismissed

Really brilliant way to word the legislature's bid to completely de-fund public education in Louisiana.  They're "allowing" students to leave

Louisiana children would be allowed to leave public schools and take the state aid with them under a bill that won approval Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

The measure, House Bill 824, was one of a series, but easily the most sweeping, that would create education savings accounts that could be used to attend private schools or for tutoring, supplemental materials and other education services.

"I am doing this for our schools and our students," said Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie and sponsor of the measure.

They are doing a lot "for our schools" by removing funds, see.  There are quotes in the article from the usual right wing lobbying groups. LABI is in here. So is the Pelican Institute with this especially poisonous bit.

In a statement, The Pelican Institute said the bills "give kids in Louisiana the ability to receive a tailored education that best fits his or her needs regardless of what zip code they live in."

When they come to replace your socially provided free service with a stipend to go get a "tailored" one to "fit your needs" you know you are in trouble. 

There's a kind of hedged statement of opposition from Aimee Freeman who only says she is "nervous" that there isn't enough "accountability" in the scheme.  The more obvious point comes from Louisiana Association of School Superintendents executive director Mike Faulk.

Faulk said DeVillier's bill would be unfair to students in low-income families because the $5,500 would not be enough to provide alternatives to traditional classes.

In other words, no, this is not about "allowing" students a "tailored" education. For the majority of Louisiana's poor, it is about depriving them of school altogether. 

Actually, the consequences are very much intended

Despite the Planning Commission's 6-2 vote against, there is little reason to believe that City Council won't turn around and just approve this "accessory dwelling" scheme anyway. No doubt, someone will argue with a straight face that this has something to do with "affordable housing" that seems to be what Kathleen Lunn is saying here.

Commissioner Kathleen Lunn voted for Wednesday's accessory dwelling proposal, while acknowledging it would lead to “unintended consequences” involving short-term rentals. She said zoning laws throttle multifamily development to an “outrageous” degree; only about 5% of New Orleans' land is zoned for multifamily housing, according to a Planning Commission staff report.

“There is no question that we need to incrementally begin to address how this city serves people who actually do live and work here,” Lunn said.

Now I know we all love to hear them "incrementally begin to address" something. But this argument doesn't make any sense.  The housing crisis in New Orleans is not merely a supply problem caused by restrictive zoning. It's a structural problem of a real estate market dominated by asset speculation, corporate power, and a relentless profit incentive that runs counter to the principle of housing as a human right. 

In that context the only possible purpose of this proposal is to create more STRs. 

Staff recommended banning short-term rentals in accessory units. But Commissioner Robert Steeg said he feared the ban would be on paper only, given the Cantrell administration’s failure to enforce short-term rental regulations. Even the accessory units dedicated to long-term tenants would do little to address the affordable housing crisis, as most would require new construction, Steeg said.

That’s going to lead to construction costs, and that’s going to lead developers - or individuals - to rent at the highest rates they can rent for,” Steeg said.

This is not an affordable housing measure. It is a plan to allow the growing STR market to exploit new territory as New Orleans returns to "normal" now that we've been told to stop caring about the pandemic. And for the Cantrell administration, "normal" means maximizing profits for tourism and real estate investors. The "unintended consequences" are very much the intended consequences.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Will we ever Make It Right?

We have to say it's a remarkable trip the City of New Orleans has been on with short term rentals for the better part of the last decade only to end up right back where we started. We've been through years and years of hearings, hotly debated regulations that don't work, hotly debated revisions to those regulations that continue to not work, at one point we even decided to go the whole nine and turn enforcement responsibility over to an industry profiteer.  A whole lot of things have happened. But also nothing has changed.  This article says it's "inexplicable" but is it?  
With New Orleans' spring tourism season in full swing, the Cantrell administration’s stated plan to crack down on illegal short-term rentals is inexplicably stalled, leaving scofflaw operators to freely list unpermitted rentals on Airbnb and other online booking platforms.

Pinning down just how many unpermitted rentals are available is nigh impossible, but data provided by the technology firm Granicus, combined with City Hall's short-term rental registry, suggests they outnumber legitimate ones at least 3 to 1.
There's probably a very simple explanation, actually. Helena Moreno seems pretty close to getting it right here. 
Council member Helena Moreno said she is baffled by the administration’s flagging enforcement efforts. 

 “With the lack of enforcement and slow-walking of accountability measures, it makes me wonder whether this is purposeful,” Moreno said.
It's hard not to think that. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why the city would be leaving so much money on the table. As Moreno also points out, the city has somehow never managed to give anyone a straight answer as to how much money it actually collects in fees and fines under the current STR enforcement regime. Strange behavior for an administration that has been otherwise diligent in chasing down drivers ticketed by its robots or shutting down any street parade or music venue not able to pay the premium fees. We know the city wants to collect its money.  It's just particular about who actually has to pay. 

Now I'm not honestly recommending that any normal person with actual things to do tries this, but, for those who really must, you can view last Wednesday's meeting of the city revenue estimating conference here.  Watching these meetings one gets a (rather grim) feel for what this administration's ideas are about the city's economy and who it is supposed to serve. For example, during a discussion on employment numbers, Gilbert Montano briefly references the "Great Resignation" to signal his sympathy with the "people don't want to work" myth popular among bosses these days. (Actually the labor participation rate is nearly back to pre-pandemic status now. But that isn't going to stop the ownership class from demanding we continue to shred what's left of the social safety net just in case any workers out there feel even the slightest hope.) At the REC, the Cantrell administration generally sound like they are the corporate board of a big hotel. Almost all of the metrics highlighted in their presentation are based on how well the tourism business is going; how many visitors fly in and out, how many hotel rooms are occupied, etc.  The first time I saw LaToya Cantrell speak publicly about short term rentals her comments were already very much shaped by a hospitality management mindset. Even while she assented to the point that they may be raising housing costs, she basically looked past that to assert that New Orleans is a "destination city" and that STRs are a source of revenue.

But Cantrell is "the mayor right now" and somehow all that revenue isn't finding its way into city coffers. Property values are up, rents are way way way up,  but according to city projections, property tax revenue is down slightly.  At the meeting, much of the discussion about that centered on assessor Erroll Williams. In September, Williams granted across the board breaks to property owners following Hurricane Ida.  The fact that Williams's office has apparently granted some invalid corporate exemptions was also mentioned. 

Near the end of 2020, three local government agencies denied tax breaks for planned improvements to the Folgers coffee plants in New Orleans East. But only now, more than a year later, has the assessor put the properties onto the tax rolls, making the company liable for $5.1 million in real estate levies.

Assessor Erroll Williams blames the Louisiana Department of Economic Development for the delay. That agency blames Williams.

That T-P story details circular arguments from the assessor and from LED about who is supposed to inform whom about ITEP denials. But, I dunno, I think one thing an assessor might do in a case like this  is call somebody and ask?

Williams said his office was following its standard practice: Don't put properties on the rolls while their applications for tax breaks are still pending. He said his office asked the state about Folgers in February because the state database did not yet show the tax breaks were denied and he had received no formal paperwork from any agency saying a decision on the breaks had been made.

"This office hasn’t gotten a letter from the School Board, city of New Orleans or the Sheriff’s Office that they’ve decided to vote the contract down, so I can’t put a taxpayer on the rolls based on what I read in the newspaper," Williams said.

The status was not changed to “denied” until March, at which point Williams said his staff began working to put the properties on the tax rolls.

The state agency said it “does not notify local taxing authorities about the actions of local government entities involved in the ITEP application review process. Questions about when and how the exemption is applied at the local level are best directed to each local taxing authority.”

Hard to believe these people can't all get together and talk one way or another. This just isn't that big a town.  Especially now that nobody actually lives here. Who can afford to, anyway?

Anyway, not to give the REC any more work to do but it turns out there are other places to dig for lost property tax money if they're feeling hard up. 

In total, Make It Right owes $14,972.81 in back taxes and fines, which are added to a property’s tax bill once they become delinquent. Most of that debt was accumulated in 2021, when the foundation failed to pay taxes on any one of its properties. And It’s possible that number will grow even higher for unpaid 2022 taxes, which are due today, March 31. 

According to the city’s online tax records database, the foundation owes $9,493 in 2022 property taxes. But The Lens was unable to confirm that the foundation has not paid that down. It appears that the city’s digital property tax records haven’t been updated to show whether property owners have yet paid their 2022 taxes. Officials did not respond to questions about the group’s 2022 property taxes.

Or maybe this is another thing where they've got to wait on Erroll to update the spreadsheet. 

One last point about the REC. Montano et al are still being extremely cautious with their use of the American Rescue Plan dollars by projecting it out over the course of a five year hypothetical revenue gap instead of applying it toward the addressing the city's numerous critical human services and infrastructure needs. (Notice how they are not shy about throwing that money at police as fast as they can, however.)  Back in August, we wrote more about how this administration's ideological conservatism informs its approach to budgeting.   On Wednesday, the projections we saw did not account for the next tranche of ARP dollars promised to cities because there was still talk in Washington about clawing those funds back in the next spending authorization.  As of this writing, though, it looks like that money is still coming.

Under the emerging deal, Mr. Romney, said, most of the $10 billion would be repurposed from the $1.9 trillion pandemic law Democrats muscled through without Republican support last March. But direct funds for state and local governments would likely not be touched, after Democrats balked at this money being clawed back. Mr. Romney said negotiators had discussed taking back some funding from a program that allowed states to give grants to local businesses.

That's pretty good news. But it could be better.  The way it looks right now the primary benefit of the federal bailout is it allows the city to keep letting wealthy property owners slide on their responsibility at the current rate. Without it, they'd still do that, of course. But they'd have to crack down even harder on the poor than they currently do to make up the difference.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Will they get what they paid for?

There was an update this week on the law firm contracted by Louisiana Republican leaders in the legislature to help them draw up their redistricting maps. This week, the legislature interrupted its regular business to hold a one day special session during which it overturned the Governor's veto of their congressional district map. Civil Rights groups have immediately sued in response.  So now we will find out whether or not that legal advice was worth what the legislators paid for it. 

Which raises the question, how much did they pay and what did they even pay for in the first place? Recall back in February, Republican leadership was being coy with reporters about this contract and, as the Illuminator also pointed out in that story, they had been trained to be as secretive as possible about such matters through "email hygiene."  Well, there's an invoice now but it doesn't really say much

 An out-of-state law firm has charged the Louisiana Legislature $78,081 for providing “redistricting advice,” according to an invoice obtained Thursday through a public records request. It’s unclear when the law firm performed the work and what type of services it provided.

BakerHostetler sent the Legislature a bill that only provides the lump sum of money it’s charging the state for assistance on new political maps. There is no itemized list of  expenses on the invoice, such as individual attorneys’ billable hours or a breakdown of what portion of the bill might have been spent on the lawyers’ travel.

The invoice also doesn’t detail the any range of months or specific dates during which the law firm performed its work. The Legislature received the bill March 14 and it must be paid by April 14, according to the invoice. Money Louisiana makes from taxpayers and state fees will be used to cover the cost.

Well whatever advice that money bought, we'll see if the courts think it was worth it. If they decide to re-up the contract, maybe it will come with a refresher on how federal laws apply to the states. It's not clear the legislators have a terrific grasp on that right now

Another gaffe from Stefanski came Wednesday when he was arguing for a veto override in the House for the congressional redistricting bill Gov. John Bel Edwards rejected. Stefanski’s comments came after Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, had just finished telling colleagues how the failure to add a second majority-minority seat in Congress was a clear violation of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Voting Rights Act is federal law. It is not (in the) Louisiana Constitution,” said Stefanski, who had started his floor speech with what he called a “constitutional lesson” about the veto override process and separation of governmental powers. 

After the House voted 72-31 to override the governor’s veto, the bill moved to the upper chamber where Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, called out Stefanski for those remarks.

“This federal constitution, not the state – yeah, I get the difference – quoting the chairman on the other side (Stefanski) who made a point that we are Louisiana and this (override) is not federal law,” Peterson said. “I happen to disagree, that we do have to follow federal law, and what this bill represents is a violation of, yes, the U.S. Constitution.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Law of conservation of Ohio State guys

 How many more do the Saints have to draft now in order to make up for this?

Twelve years later for the 2021 season, safety Malcolm Jenkins remained the last vestige in New Orleans from that team after the retirement of Drew Brees and release of Thomas Morstead.Advertisement

Jenkins' run as the last man standing came to a close Wednesday, as the two-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement from the NFL after 13 seasons in an interview with Ryan Clark and The Pivot Podcast.

Also this means they will go into next season with two new starting safeties.  Right now it looks like Saints fans are focused on the head coaching change and the... lack of changes... happening with most of the roster. But so far the biggest problem by far that I can identify is replacing Marcus Williams.  People want to draft a quarterback and all but really I'm going to have to look up who played safety for Ohio State this year because that's the most likely direction now. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Bonus level

Sometimes in the middle of the game, Mario goes down a hidden tube and discovers a whole new secret challenge level he has to beat.  Congratulations to the legislature on sliding down their own tube here

Never before has the day of the veto session, which is dictated by the state Constitution and state law, fallen during another gathering of the Legislature. There is no legal framework to guide lawmakers. So, leadership would adjourn the current session, convene a short veto override session, which after the vote would adjourn and the current regular session would reconvene.

They're not all convinced this maneuver is constitutionally valid, strictly speaking, so there might be an extra-bonus secret level to this game that gets played out in the courts.  Also, once the bonus level begins, there may not be quite as many coins in the tube to pick up as there were before. 
Additionally, lobbyists are generally forbidden from the State Capitol during a redistricting special session.
Kind of a fun little glitch there. It would be more fun if they had to kick the lobbyists out of their hotel rooms for a few days and check them back in. That feature might come in the expansion pack.

Gettin' cancelled

In the summer of 2020, Americans took to the streets in droves to express their anger at a criminal legal system that makes perpetual victims of the poor and allows police to brutalize and murder people, especially black people, with total impunity.  In response to this massive national wave of protest, police everywhere took the streets and punched people until they went home. This resulted in mayors, councilmembers, congresspeople, and the President all demanding that those police be given more money.  

Somehow all of this gets filtered through our political media discourse to read as "The tyranny of Cancel Culture has come for our beloved cops and institutions!"  I thought Atrios, as is often the case, had a nice succinct way of explaining where that comes from.   

Lots of things can be said about the "cancel culture" nonsense from the most privileged people with giant microphone sinecures, but one simple way to see it is as a contest between those who think normal people having some freedom to engage in "punching up" is the important part of any concept of "free speech" (very broadly defined, not just 1A), and those who think that, ACTUALLY, it's punching down (by them) that's important.   

Journalists who think their role is to hold the powerful to account versus those who see their role as holding the public to account.

There's nothing I love more than journalists holding the public account when it "goes too far" in criticizing the powerful for doing things like, say, sending a bunch of cops into the streets to punch people. Or maybe I love it more when the courts do that.  

A ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday adds to a string of developments following 2020’s George Floyd protests that threaten demonstrators with harsh penalties for the actions of others.

The court ruled that an advocate who helped organize a Black Lives Matter rally could be sued for events that took place during that rally, even though he was not involved. The case arose after a police officer was injured during a protest in Baton Rouge in 2016 and filed a lawsuit against DeRay Mckesson, a national advocate who had amplified and joined the demonstration. Mckesson rejected liability, saying his actions were protected by the First Amendment, but the court ruled against him in Friday’s 6-1 opinion. 

Of course it might be too early to decide which of these we love most. Probably need check back on this once we've been held accountable by vigilantes with the tacit approval of the state legislature. That's a whole new level. 

HB 101, filed by Republican Danny McCormick, would justify homicides committed by people under the guise of protecting property from being damaged “during a riot,” and critics stress that this is a term with a low threshold. “A riot is three people under Louisiana law,” Landry said. “That’s a wide open hole for someone to kill people, like teenagers and children who might be just trespassing or breaking into a car.” McCormick did not reply to a request for comment on the bill, which echoes laws passed in recent years that grant immunity to drivers who run over protesters who were blocking a public street.

So there's all sorts of new and exciting ways to get cancelled. We've really barely scratched the surface.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Let's see if they notice

Remember those old Foldgers Crystals commercials?  You know the ones where they go into some fancy dining type setting and surreptitiously replace the gourmet coffee with the instant product like they're doing a Candid Camera type prank to "see if anyone notices." We have a new version of that in New Orleans. See what happens is Assessor Erroll Williams continually replaces Foldgers's tax liability on his spreadsheet with some fake number he doesn't bother to explain.

But this week, Together New Orleans issued another memo claiming the assessor is still leaving out $1.6 million from Folgers’ bill. And, the group says, his undercount suggests a troubling internal practice that could be erroneously giving extra tax breaks to hundreds of millions of dollars of business property throughout the city. 

To make matters more confusing, the Assessor’s Office has since admitted that the $6.5 million figure it released last week was itself inaccurate, but not because of the reasons cited by Together New Orleans. 

Williams’ spokesman Devin Johnson would not tell The Lens why that number was inaccurate, only that “the preliminary estimates missed the mark” and that the office would release more accurate numbers once they were finalized.

“I wouldn’t read too much into the numbers on the spreadsheet,” he said. “The final numbers are going to be significantly different.”

Johnson also accused The Lens of trying to produce “clickbait that’s biased and factually inaccurate.”

“So nothing new there,” Johnson said.

This isn't the first time a city official has published incorrect data only to turn around and scold a reporter for correctly reading what was disseminated.  Last year the City Attorney's Office withheld information from The Lens about short term rental fees until after their story was published. The subsequent release of data forced a "correction" of sorts.  I'm starting to wonder if this a deliberate tactic. 

Anyway, regardless of what his spreadsheet says, Williams is clear enough about his priorities. 

Soon after that, the City Council formally called on the assessor to create a new written policy for reviewing exemptions granted through what has historically been the state’s largest tax subsidy program — the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP.

But the request was passed in a non-binding resolution. Because the assessor is an independently elected official — not a part of city government — the council has no legal authority over his office. 

Williams explicitly told The Lens at the time that his office would not create a new policy. Instead, he would stick with the process he already had, even though, he admitted to The Lens, it was flawed and wasn’t adequate to catch the kind of mistake that Together New Orleans had discovered.

“The review process is not going to catch it,” Williams told The Lens in 2019. “It’s not the greatest priority for our office, obviously.”

Now, the office has once again undercounted Folgers’ tax bill. And, as was the case in 2019, the mistake raises the questions of what would have happened if Together New Orleans had not identified the error, as well as what other errors may be in the city’s tax rolls.

There's also some back and forth in the article between Williams and Together New Orleans over when or whether he is considering every appropriate factor in drawing up his assessments. Apparently the answer there is mostly "sometimes."  So, it still takes an exacting palate to tell the difference.