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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Never stop shock doctrining

Does anyone ever read these mayoral emergency declarations? This one was scanned sideways so it's very likely no one will look at it for long. Basically it names an "Emergency Authority" comprised of the mayor, the chief of police, the fire chief, and the city's "Homeland Security" director (which, no, of course that last position should not exist.)

The Emergency Authority is empowered to "commandeer or utilize any private property it finds necessary to cope with the local disaster emergency."  It is also empowered "to direct and compel the evacuation of any and all persons from any part of the city."  In other words, they've empowered themselves to arrest you or confiscate your personal property without cause.  Do they really need to do this?  This isn't to say that our public safety officers shouldn't direct and assist the public as to the best way to keep safe during an emergency.  It's fine for the police to set up barricades, or for the mayor to recommend an evacuation. But they don't need any special power to get cooperation from the public. The fact that they automatically assume they do speaks to the hard authoritarian bent of municipal governments in the 21st Century.

There's some other questionable stuff in there. For some reason, the Emergency Authority has to the power to "limit the sale, dispensing, or transporting of alcoholic beverages."  Which is weird since many of us would consider those a critical necessity in these situations. Thankfully, the current Authority appears to agree with us about that.
Go get a drink. Watch it on TV,” said Collin Arnold, the city’s director of homeland security. “If you’re in line of sight of this, you’re too close.”
The part of the declaration that most interests us, though, is the part where the EA is empowered "to suspend the provisions of any regulatory ordinance prescribing the procedures for conduct of local business, or the orders, rules or regulations of any local agency, if strict compliance with the provisions of any ordinance, rule or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency."

What that means is they can rush a whole bunch of no-bid contracts into effect. According to WWLTV, even those expedited negotiations haven't gone smoothly. 
NEW ORLEANS — Danger and uncertainty surrounding the demolition of two massive and unstable cranes inside the Hard Rock Hotel collapse site has delayed the risky operation for a second day in a row.

But financial issues may have also played a role, at least in causing the first delay, which pushed back the implosion first planned for Friday afternoon to Saturday.

The developer of the ill-fated hotel project, a group led by Mohan Kailas, did not pay the $5 million demolition price until Saturday morning. The demolition team, a joint venture between D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. of Greensboro, N.C., and Lemoine Disaster Recovery of Lafayette, required full payment into a trust prior to the demolition, according to public records requested by WWL-TV.
Now maybe it's a stretch to think either Kailas or the contractors would be so crass as to use the "ticking clock" of a collapsing crane as bargaining leverage.  I would have been at least a skeptical of that. But then I read that LaToya says of the negotiations, "This work has not contributed to delays or diverted from the stated priority of keeping the public safe during this trying time," which sounds to me like it has definitely contributed to the delay.

Also, hey, look who is here!
Sanford said Lemoine, a disaster consulting firm that was purchased earlier this year by former Shaw Group founder Jim Bernhard’s Bernhard Capital Partners, is a part of the demolition team. On its website Lemoine touts its “ethical working relationship with the State of Louisiana and parish and government agencies.”
Bernhard's "ethical working relationship" with state, local and federal government in under emergency conditions  is well documented. The Shaw Group picked up a $100 million deal with the Corps of Engineers to "de-water" the city after Katrina. 
Those contracts were awarded without competition under rules that allow agencies to bypass normal procedures during an emergency. Several went to companies that have been major financial supporters of the Bush administration. One firm, Shaw Group Inc., of Baton Rouge, is on the client list of lobbyist and former FEMA director Joe M. Allbaugh, though he has said he does not get involved with contracts.

Shaw also came under criticism for having received favors from the Jindal Administration's dispersal of post-Katrina hazard mitigation contracts.  Shaw also took advantage of an emergency declaration to help Jindal build his infamous "sand berms to nowhere" after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
The berm project has been a boon to Louisiana industry: although many of the dredging companies working on the project have out-of-state headquarters, all have a major presence in Louisiana. The Shaw Group, the lead contractor on the project, is based in Baton Rouge and has been one of Mr. Jindal’s leading campaign contributors over the years.
Most recently, Bernhard's relationship with state government extends to a deal with the Edwards administration to privatize energy systems in state buildings.  Although his companies have frequently contributed to Republicans, Bernhard is a registered Democrat.  Clearly he's willing to support any elected person in a position to help him out.  This year he "supported" Edwards by allowing himself to be talked out of running against him. 
Bernhard Energy Solutions partnered with the HVAC company Johnson Controls at the request of the Edwards administration after both firms submitted proposals to the state. Bernhard Energy Solutions is one of several companies controlled by Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by former Shaw Group chief executive and Democratic Party official Jim Bernhard, who was floated as a potential candidate for governor before ruling it out last year.
Threatening the Governor's job may not be your traditional emergency management situation but obviously, he takes that pretty seriously.   In any case, Bernhard does appear to know his business.

The ICE police state makes everyone less free

It's quite a police state we're building for ourselves. We're always trying to hire more cops. The jail is never big enough. We can never point enough cameras at one another.  Why do we accept this?  We are so over-policed and paranoid now that Wildlife and Fisheries rangers will just walk up and ask to see your papers.
A Border Patrol spokeswoman said that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents had summoned officers to arrest Ramirez after spotting him fishing without a license. When pressed for identification, the Border Patrol spokeswoman said, Ramirez had only "foreign citizenship documentation."

A game warden can have someone deported.  Why do we accept that? Just that is bad enough but there is other context, besides. Ramirez was among the workers injured during the collapse of the Hard Rock hotel construction site. 
Besides seeking to compensate Ramirez for his injuries, Gray said, he and his colleagues will oppose his deportation, which he said was set in motion by an arrest that occurred within 24 hours of his "making a statement about the tragic events” at the collapse site to a Spanish-language news network.

Gray said Ramirez’s case illustrates why he believes some workers who know what was happening at the construction site ahead of the collapse are afraid to come forward.

They “fear … being deported or some other retribution by their employers,” Gray said at a news conference in the lobby of Civil District Court. “Just like all Americans, however, they do have the rights that are afforded to us within this courthouse.”
The main contractor on the Hard Rock site was Citadel Builders. According to Open Secrets, Its founder Derek Clark is a serial max donor to Republican federal office holders including Donald Trump and Senator John Kennedy who has been a vocal supporter of Trump's brutal immigration policies.

Can we think of any reason a company like Citadel would support the kind of police environment that keeps their workers in perpetual fear of speaking out about safety issues?  Does that police environment make us all more or less free?  Why do we accept it?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Well Rome wasn't imploded in a day

Come back tomorrow and we'll try it again.
The controlled demolition using explosives to take down two giant, unstable construction cranes at the site of the collapsed Hard Rock New Orleans Hotel will start no sooner that noon Sunday, city officials said Saturday afternoon.

The damage to cranes is the prime reason for the delay to Sunday, Fire Chief Tim McConnell said.

As a result, Krewe de Boo, which was originally called off, will roll Saturday, according to Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Well thank goodness the Halloween parade is back on.  Everybody got pretty mad online when it was announced this morning that it would have to be cancelled for the demolition.

Anyway what happened
The delay was caused by new information from demolitions experts inspecting the cranes Saturday morning.

"They got up and got close to it and they found out some things about it that have changed the way they're going to take it down, some of the methodology they're going to use, and that's going to take a little longer for them to accomplish," McConnell said. "The crane's more damaged than they thought. They need to do things that are a little bit safer."
Kind of vague but, basically, it's even worse than they thought.  That's not exactly a comforting thought. But we should say it's a bit better than they pushed back the demolition because Blaine Kern yelled at them about his parade which is another thing we did think about. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Speaking of structural problems

Forget about the cranes. Who is going to do something about shoring up these guys' joints?
New Orleans Saints starting running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook have been ruled out for Sunday's Week 7 game against the Chicago Bears.

Kamara has been battling ankle and knee injuries, while Cook is sidelined with an ankle injury. Neither Kamara nor Cook practiced once this week.
This reminds me we need to catch back up with the Saints over here. To be fair, there's been a lot going on elsewise.  Anyway that defense is pretty good. Can they win with zero offensive players? Let's find out.

Meanwhile
Zion Williamson is going to be sidelined for weeks due to a right knee injury, according to ESPN. While sources confirmed it’s not a severe issue, it should force the No. 1 pick to miss several regular season games, delaying his highly-anticipated debut.
I haven't been wanting to say anything but I've had this nagging feeling Zion might end up being the kind of athlete who puts a lot of "wear and tear" on the knees and ankles. Maybe I'm wrong. Hope I am.

"Good likelihood of further collapse"

I can't get this quote out of my head. At the very least it is the general motto of 2019.  But it could also title your book about post-Katrina New Orelans, or this entire era of human existence in the 21st Century, really. It all depends on how big you want to go with it.

It comes to us from New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnel this week as he assessed the status of the two cranes teetering over downtown after the Hard Rock hotel collapse on Saturday.   As he described the situation, it started to feel a lot like a repeat of the struggle to shut down the Macondo oil well after the blowout.
How crews will stabilize the two cranes is still unknown. According to McConnell, the initial idea that more cranes could be brought in to stabilize the site is no longer an option.

“It hasn’t been the best of news,” he said. “It doesn’t appear we’ll be able to use cranes to take this crane apart and stabilize it. We’re working on other ideas and other techniques to stabilize it.”

Experts from all over the world have been brought to New Orleans to find a solution, including engineers who responded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, but it’s unlike anything they’ve seen before.
They can't stabilize the cranes. They don't even know how to stabilize them.  It's like nothing anyone has ever seen before.  Hell, there's even a live spill cam online you can watch to keep up with their "junk shots" or "top kills" or whatever it is they think might work.

What they think might work right now is dynamite. In fact, this morning, they were thinking they needed to explode the cranes in a hurry before a fast approaching tropical storm arrived to blow them over because, of course that was a thing also.  Today, they decided they had more time and pushed the demolition to Saturday.

Which is probably good because this is a much different sort of job from your typical controlled building implosion.  Under ordinary circumstances, engineers have weeks and even months to carefully plan and stage a demolition of an existing structure.  But in this case they are dealing with two listing cranes precariously balanced over a garbage heap. It's a complicated and dynamic math problem they have a very limited amount of time to solve.  Also, the Advocate tells us,  they have to protect electrical and gas lines. Also they have to move a bunch of cars out of a nearby garage "so the gasoline inside them cannot explode if the cranes should fall on the garage."   They're dealing with a lot of stuff here.

On the bright side, we have this lovely summary from the Advocate reporters.
If all goes as planned, the cranes that have threatened an intersection packed with critical city utility infrastructure will cascade elegantly into the surrounding rubble in a matter of seconds.
I like that sentence almost as much as McConnel's thing about the "further collapse." If all goes as planned the ad-hoc scramble to blow up the cranes before they fall will leave us with an elegant cascade of broken machinery tumbling down onto a trash pile.  So, yeah, let's hope for that.  What are our chances?  Well the experts tell us they can "gurantee perfect predictability."
Another firm on the ground in New Orleans is Controlled Demolition Inc., a Maryland company that demolished the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing there.

The company boasts on its website that it employs “a world-renowned team of experts drawing on backgrounds in environmental remediation, engineering, dismantling, traditional demolition, explosives, material handling and the latest technology to guarantee complete predictability
Still might want to keep those fingers crossed, though.  I'd keep away from any monkeys' paws, though.  We ought to have learned by this point to be more careful about what we wish for.
But Mayor Ray Nagin said in a news conference that the city, which still has less than half its pre-Katrina population of nearly 500,000, can no longer wait for federal help. "We're not sitting around waiting for anybody any longer," Nagin said in a news conference. "We're going to move this city forward with the resources that we can generate creatively, and everybody who wants to join us later, you're welcome to come on board."

Ed Blakely, who was hired this year to coordinate the city's recovery effort, said the plan must be approved by city residents, the New Orleans City Council and the City Planning Commission before officials begin negotiations with investors and developers later this summer.

"By September, we hope to have cranes on the skyline," Blakely said.

Some questions about these school property sales

The administrators of what used be a public school system in New Orleans unveiled a new facilities plan this week. A big part of that plan involves leaving the system fewer facilities to manage. As most of us know, New Orleans's schools were quasi-privatized after Katrina. That process culminated this year leaving all 78 schools currently operating under the control of charter organizations.  But the system owns more property than that.  There are 26 properties belonging to the school system that are unused and which sit in various states of disrepair. In fact, some of them are now just empty lots where schools used to be.  The plan right now is to sell 12 of them off.  There's a specific order of operations they have to follow for that to happen, though.
To divest itself of unused properties, the OPSB first has to vote to put them on the surplus list, a legal designation. Then the buildings or lots are offered to charter school operators and next to other government agencies for possible property trades. If no charter or agency wants a property, it can be sold through public auction.
We've seen an example of OPSB trading properties with other agencies just this year.  The school board approved a swap that turns the McDonogh 7 building over to HANO to be redeveloped as affordable housing.  Or at least it would do that if the Touro-Bouligny Neighborhood Association loses (or drops) its lawsuit. For its story about the School Board plans, the Advocate obtains and rather credulously presents a quote from the neighborhood association's spokesperson. 
"The (association) is primarily concerned over losing a landmark building that has served as a school to its neighborhood and children for over 140 years," said Zepletal, president of the Touro-Bouligny Neighborhood Association. The group is also worried the building will become "vacant, blighted, and a victim of demolition by neglect, given the current lack of development plans (for it) by HANO," she said.
That's not really what they're worried about, though.  What they actually want is to keep anyone from building any affordable housing near them. That's what they told HANO board members over the summer, anyway
In its May suit, the neighborhood group argued that the land ought to remain a school and criticized the OPSB for not giving other charter school operators more time to decide if they want McDonogh No. 7 before offering it to HANO.

(HANO Board VP Lisa) Wheeler also highlighted a swell of neighborhood opposition to HANO’s separate plan to redevelop vacant land as affordable housing in Bywater, another neighborhood with high property values.

The people in Bywater and in Uptown... are not going to sit idly by, when they say they don’t want to (see something turned into affordable) housing,” Wheeler said. “I would rather see us have housing that’s not necessarily Uptown, but still have housing.”
We saw those sentiments borne out again during the October 12th election where there was a housing question on the ballot in the form of Amendment 4.  This was the measure that would have granted the city special powers to create tax breaks for landlords and developers under the assumption that these would become incentives for the creation of "affordable housing."  It was a constitutional amendment so it needed to pass statewide. It did not.  But it passed in Orleans Parish by a wide margin.

Last week, we expressed our own quibbles with the amendment so we don't doubt that some of the "NO" vote came from people who, like us, favor affordable housing but didn't trust that specific policy approach to achieving it. But that kind of nuanced NO is probably an insignificant minority. Given the media (and the mayor and her PAC) tended to frame the message, by and large, it is safe to assume most voters looked at this measure as more of a simple, "Do you like affordable housing, Yes or No?"

Which is why, when we look at The Lens's map of the results we can see which precincts in Orleans Parish favor more affordable housing and which do not.   Predictably, those who do not are clustered in Lakeview and in the deepest parts of Uptown near Audubon Place.  But take a look, specifically, at these little slivers of NO in orange. Those are precincts 12-6 and 12-8. Right in the heart of Touro-Bouligny around where McDonogh 7 is located.


It's possible the school system could trade more properties to HANO.  But seeing as how that can be controversial, they're more likely to try and shoot on through to auctioning them off. In which case, we should look at this map provided by NOLA.com to guess which properties Sidney Torres might snap up at a discount.

Aside from the land speculation, here are a few other questions regarding this plan to consider.

Reading yesterday's NOLA.com story, we learn from Ken Ducote that selling off properties saves on maintenance and insurance and therefore "makes fiscal sense."
While the district's plan may be unpopular with some residents, it largely makes sense to Ken Ducote, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools. Ducote, who oversaw school properties for the district for more than 20 years, said that to keep a building properly maintained, the district must spend an average of 2.5 percent of its value each year. So selling some properties makes fiscal sense.

"When you eliminate property that you don’t need, then you save the operations cost, insurance cost, security and so on," he said. The district estimates it costs $350,000 per year for minimal maintenance on the 12 properties it wants to sell.
Later in the article we are reminded that prior to Katrina, school buildings in New Orleans were, to say the least, not very well maintained. We are also told that, in most cases nowadays, maintenance and insurance costs for schools in operation fall on the charter organizations. How well do charters maintain their facilities anyway? Because most of these buildings were recently repaired with federal recovery funds, it's not appropriate to credit charter operators for their current condition. Over the long haul will they be better stewards of these properties than a properly funded and managed OPSB?

We also learn from this article that the district has a facilities fund to help handle some of these costs but it turns out they're already raiding it.
Realizing this, the Legislature created the School Facility Preservation Program in 2014 to dedicate annual tax money for repairs to New Orleans school buildings. It generates an estimated $35 million a year. But Lewis removed $10 million from the fund last year, with the Legislature's approval, to pay for instructional needs, a move Ducote criticized.

The planned sale of a dozen properties would help supplement funds available for facility needs by paying for future construction, without restrictions that limit the preservation program.
Uh oh. That sounds a lot like a plan to cover recurring costs with "one-time money" raised by selling off assets. For a while, Bobby Jindal was able to cover up the damage he was doing to the state budget by engaging in similar practices.  We've just spent the entire John Bel Edwards administration dealing with the consequences of that. Is this sell-off a budgetary stop gap? And if so, will there be more?

Finally, we are told the 12 properties about to be dumped are too small to meet the needs of "modern schools."  Here is how the plan defines that.
To decide which buildings to keep and which to get rid of, the district created guidelines that said sites smaller than 3.5 acres generally are inadequate for modern schools, which ideally include areas for green space, physical education, the performing arts, and students' drop-off and pickup.
Of the properties for sale, only the 3.4 acre vacant lot that used to be the Lafon School in Central City comes close to qualifying.  But it does raise another question about the schools that continue in operation.  Do they all currently offer the arts and phys ed programs the plan demands space for? "Ideally," they should, right?

Anyway, the board approved the facilities plan at its meeting last night.  The Lens has that story along with a link to the plan itself here. Keep an eye on what happens to these properties next.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"I don't exactly have the authority to do that"

Not exactly, says Lane Grigsby.  But we all get the idea.
Grigsby said he didn't want to see the seat go to the Democratic candidate, so sought a solution that wouldn't split the Republican vote.

“I’m not offering (Foil) a judgeship,” Grigsby said. “I can’t. I don’t exactly have the authority to do that. What I’m saying is 'If you make a sacrifice for the state of Louisiana, I’ll make sure that sacrifice is recognized.'”

Foil has declined to drop out of the race, and Carter, whom Grigsby supports, has also indicated he will stay in.

Asked whether he thought his offer to Foil was illegal, Grigsby said it was not a quid pro quo because he hasn’t spoken to Foil directly. “I’ve just put an offer on the table and it’s public,” he said.
Sternberg says this is "VERY DIFFERENT" from offering cash (and a job) to a candidate for dropping out. But, again, you get the idea.  Let's just Foil was asked to take a Lane check and leave it at that.

Joe Georgusis's expensive obsession

Not the thing on the top of everyone's mind today but this came up last week and I want to make sure I had it bookmarked somewhere.

It may be true that justice is nothing more than a cruel lottery but some people do get to buy a lot of tickets.
Georgusis scored a quiet coup in 2015, a decade after his son’s death, when then-Coroner Jeffrey Rouse -- a major recipient of campaign cash from Georgusis -- changed the classification of Joey’s death to “unknown.”

The revision, reported to the state, was unknown even to the staff of the Coroner’s Office until this newspaper discovered it in state records.

Rouse has hardly been the only official to give the case fresh legs. Others who have probed the case over the years include former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens, former St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Jack Rowley and current Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Joe Georgusis’ crusade to prove his son was murdered and hold others accountable for it continues today. Yet another new probe is unfolding now: a federal grand jury investigation overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans.
Georgusis' company, River Park One, owns interest in commercial real estate all over the metro area. He bought the Iroquois Theater jazz landmark in 2016. He owns strip malls in St. Bernard and Jefferson. He was also involved in some of these "spillionaire" settlement deals after the Macaondo disaster. But that's not important right now.  The point is he's a guy who has a lot of money to throw around pursuing stuff like this.  And he can buy as much local government assistance as he needs. 


Moving the loot around

The Convention Center has done some re-jiggering of the financing that will go into building its new publicly financed for private profit hotel project. There is a lot of money being moved around here. It's a bit of a shell game, though. A more cynical person than I might even think the entire purpose of it is to cause the Advocate to write this.
Michael Sawaya, the center's president and general manager, told the Finance Committee of the facility's governing board that he and his team had negotiated a reduction in the upfront cash contribution to the hotel project that will come from public funds to $7 million, down from a previously proposed $41 million.
A casual observer might read that and think, "oh so they're not taking quite as much public money."  But that's not what this is.  It just means they're taking less public money in the form of a large lump sum payment from the Convention Center.  Instead they are just spreading that money around.  For example, they are subsidizing a parking garage. 
The Morial Center also has agreed to fund construction of the hotel's $27 million parking garage, which the center will own and lease back to the hotel for a base rent of $300,000 a year plus 2% of parking revenue.

"What we’re doing is taking our contribution and investing it in the parking garage, which is a more positive impact for us and the public," Sawaya told the committee.
Why that is a "more positive impact" for the public is anybody's guess.  It probably works out well for lead developer Darryl Berger. We already know he understands the parking business.  Anyway they're also taking steps to hide their subsidy in other ways. In most cases a PILOT, is basically a property tax break. Meanwhile I'd love to hear more about this hotel and sales tax "rebate."
The other main terms of the revised agreement include: a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, to the city of between $3 million and $5 million a year, depending on a formula related to revenue from nearby hotels; a ground lease payment by the hotel developers to the center of $250,000 a year, rising by 2% a year; and hotel tax and non-room sales tax rebates to the hotel of 8.42% and 4%, respectively.
Maybe a smart person can tell us more. But what this looks like is, the hotel is shaving its property tax liability by making up front payments to the city. The savings there, go toward "rent" it pays to the Convention Center.  Then the Convention Center kicks back to the hotel some of what it had paid in sales/hotel taxes. Remember the Convention Center is all public money one way or another so this appears very much as though it's just serving to skim away tax money the hotel would otherwise be paying to the city. That would be more or less in keeping with the Fair Sham ethic.

Again, maybe a smart person can tell me that's wrong. Will there be any at this meeting?
Convention Center leaders said they plan to hold a public meeting Monday and have invited local business leaders and other interested parties to hear about the latest proposals and express their views.
Also, this Friday is the deadline for bids on developing the 47 acre disneyland the Convention Center wants to go up around the hotel project. So hurry up and get your proposals in.  Try to keep the prison labor to a minimum if you can.

Also should mention, Citadel frequently does business with the Convention Center.  Is it too soon for them right now?

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Boil Order Decade

Guys, it has been a heckuva weekend. Multiple building collapses, exploding water mains, democracy under threat (again).  It really feels like anything could happen.  Please somebody check the jaguar cage just in case.

But I don't think I've ever seen a double boil order.  That's new.
After lifting a boil water advisory early Monday morning for Uptown New Orleans, the Sewerage & Water Board has now reinstated it, officials said at 10:30 a.m., following another drop in water pressure.

The updated advisory from the S&WB did not state the cause of the second drop in pressure. On Saturday, a water main burst near the corner of Lowerline and Panola streets, flooding the streets as well as nearby yards and causing a drop in water pressure across large swaths of Uptown.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Election guides you will not need

You don't really have to listen to this one. I think the big takeaway from it is Varg is tempted to vote for Billy Nungesser for some reason.




This afternoon around 1pm I was voter number 160 in my uptown precinct. That's on pace for a fairly moderate turnout in an election of this size.

Anyway, before I head out to gawk at the sign wavers and whatnot for a while, I'd like to draw your attention to this Mark Ballard column from waaaaay back in July. We visit Democratic Party headquarters for a look at the inspiring strategy under development.
Robert Johnson of Marksville, chairman of the House's Democratic caucus, was in basement offices poring over demographic analytics trying to figure out how the Democrats and moderates can maintain a large enough minority in the 2019 elections to keep a seat at the table.

Johnson’s goal is to keep 39 of the House seats Democratic, “and maybe pick up two or three more.” He’s using the same strategy developed by John Bel Edwards when the governor was head of the House Democratic caucus.

“We’re hyper-localizing our races,” Johnson said. That means Democratic candidates in districts outside of secure urban areas will jettison some of the national party platforms — pushing instead anti-abortion and gun rights viewpoints — while reminding voters of their support for local institutions that employ local constituents.
Always with the bold ideas.  Louisiana Democrats are running on a platform of anti-choice, pro-gun, and very very pro whoever owns the nearest chemical plant oil refinery... or, perhaps, steel mill.  Voters like to hear about how their political leaders are out there fighting for them. The goal, again quite bold, is to not lose quite as many seats as they might lose in order for the results to be considered catastrophic. 

Come to find out, a few months later, they're on the brink of catastrophe.
The current breakdown in the House is 61 Republicans, 39 Democrats and five no-party members. In the Senate it's 25 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

“We want a more conservative voice in both chambers,” Gurvich said.

Republican pickups seem certain because, as they have done each election cycle over the past 20 years, they will likely win seats held by white Democrats in rural areas who are facing term limits or leaving office for other reasons. Those areas have been gradually swinging to the GOP.

Three rural white Democrats are leaving the House because of term limits. They are Reps. Bernard LeBas, of Ville Platte; Robert Johnson, of Marksville; and Dorothy Sue Hill, of Dry Creek.

“Those are three key seats that the Democrats need to hold onto,” Pinsonat said. “Democrats have been decimated in rural areas.”
If Republicans can gain a veto-proof majority in the legislature, they will have rendered an already mild John Bel completely irrelevant. This is one reason they've barely even bothered to run viable candidates for Governor this year.  Instead they've been pouring effort and money into these legislative seats.  Because the key races in play are outside of the New Orleans area, this means that our votes today (including our vote for Governor when you think about it) are more or less irrelevant to the main struggle going on for the future direction of state government.  So enjoy that.

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty other petty struggles going on you might pay attention to.  Thanks to term limits, there are an usually high number of open seats up for grabs.  Each one brings its own interesting dynamic.  Here are a few of the more interesting ones. I'm just going to link to you to the extremely comprehensive DSA guide for the in-depth look at each.

In District 98 (way uptown) Neil Abramson is termed out. (Frown emoji) Whoever wins this will definitely be in the "New Neil" mode, though, so look forward to being frustrated by this person for years to come.

In District 91 (less way uptown) they're trying to replace Walt Leger. By all rights this ought to be a runoff between Mandie Landry, the candidate with strongest labor backing and Carling Dinkler, the most obvious "business conservative" candidate who can't get away with officially running as a Republican. BUT thanks to the rapid gentrification of this district plus the support of the Landrieus, it's possible Dinkler could take it in the primary.

In District 99 (Ninth Ward, mostly) we've got an interesting turf battle between Cedric Richmond ally Adonis Expose' and BOLD-attached Candace Newell.  Newell is Jay Banks's niece, by the way.  Which means that Banks, who was King of Zulu in 2016 is arrayed here against Expose' who was King of Zulu in 2017.  Neat.

District 97  dividing line is between extremely pro-charter school candidates (Ethan Ashley, Durrell Laurent) and somewhat less pro-charter candidates (Eugene Green and Ben Willard).  Green appears to be more or less a Cedric Richmond cipher. (There's one of these in every race, by the way)

Anyway, those are the most interesting legislative races locally.  Another thing to pay attention to is this Jefferson Parish third council district. It's a pivotal seat on the council and there are a ton of candidates who, individually, bring pretty strong political bases with them. Derrick Shepherd is running against Byron Lee, for example. That's pretty interesting in its own right. The darkhorse here is Jedidiah Jackson. It's a difficult race to handicap but I think he's got a shot at this runoff.  

More later, probably.  Try not to get too down about the dismal prospects of everything today.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Y'all we gotta elect a governor, I guess

Obviously I have tons and tons of notes and bookmarked links and takes takes takes on the Governor's election plus many of the local races as well. But that is going to have to wait until later.  As usual, I don't like telling people who to vote for because, again, as usual all of the candidates are bad.   Probably I'll post some useless horse race predictions or some such.  Meanwhile, I think this document says a lot of what I might have.  At least, as far as the Governor's race goes, anyway.

Oh and the constitutional amendments are mostly bad.  I'm going to vote against the first three for sure.  Number 4 is kind of an either/or. The stated purpose of it is affordable housing. But the actual question before voters is about allowing the city to grant tax breaks to developers and landlords.  That might not be a complete disaster depending on the rules that govern whatever actual policies the city formulates using this new discretion.

For example, the city might tie a tax exemption to stipulations on maximum rents in Central City.  OR it might just subsidize luxury condos downtown in exchange for token contributions to a "housing fund" targeted in New Orleans East. There are a lot of possibilities.  But that all comes down the road in city planning meetings, at city council, in backrooms with the mayor's staff, etc. All we're doing here is deciding whether or not we want to have arguments with those people about this stuff in the future.  Maybe we do.  But, given the whole history of everything ever, we aren't likely to win those arguments.

On the political points scoreboard, the thing is just as much a tossup.  On the one hand, the mayor is for it.  On the other, BGR is against it. When "both sides" are bad, you can't go wrong voting against either of them.

And that's a pretty good theme for this whole election slate, really.  Most everything on the ballot is bad. Go vote against as many of those people as you can.

Nobody actually lives here

Chicken Bonne Femme

Pictured above is the Chicken Bonne Femme we had at Tujague's the night before Hurricane Nate gently dissipated somewhat near the city. At least that gave us an excuse to knock one of the "classic New Orleans restaurants" off of the bucket list.  Today it looks like the Motwanis have finally booted them out.
Tujague’s Restaurant will relocate from its longtime home at 823 Decatur St. to 429 Decatur, a few blocks upriver, owner Mark Latter confirmed.

The new address, a three-story building that dates to the 1840s, was previously home to the restaurant Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., which closed last year.

Latter intends to open Tujague’s there by August, following a renovation slated to begin soon. He plans to keep the current location open until the time of the move.
Latter says he's moving five blocks up the same street out of "economic necessity." And even though he says some things in there about the need to "change" with the times, whatever that means, the only motivating factor that makes any sense is Motwani jacked up the rent. 
Latter does not own the building Tujague’s calls home. It is owned by a company called TKM-Decatur, which is registered to Tina Motwani Narra. She is the daughter of local real estate mogul Mike Motwani, best known for his numerous T-shirt shops and frequent clashes with preservationists.
Beside that, there isn't any reason to believe moving to the upper quarter situates the restaurant any better.  But it does recall a curious event from last year when the Motwanis bought out Praline Connection and moved it from Frenchmen Street to upper Decatur saying that might make it easier for "locals" to get there? 
“Frenchmen Street has changed so much since they started there,” Motwani said. “The first thing we want to do is get back to the roots of the concept.”

Moore said he thinks relocating is a good move given the changing texture of the restaurant’s original neighborhood.

“Frenchmen Street was once filled with locals, it was actually kind of serene, but I guess someone let the cat out bag,” he said. “Locals couldn’t really get down here anymore. I think they’ll do very well where they’re going.”
Well, the locals didn't find it in the new location either. The relocated Praline Connection closed in March

The move does follow a similar relocation of Irene's last year from lower to upper Quarter.  But I wouldn't want to read too much of a trend into that.  Like Tujague's, they were also booted out by the landlord. In Irene's case that landlord was the Louisiana State Museum.  (I still kind of wonder if Billy Nungesser's plan to turn the building into a hotel had anything to do with that. ) In either case, there's something more than just a need to "change" going on the way Latter says. Although he does also hint that the "local" customer base in the lower Quarter is long gone.
“I grew up there. I can remember being my own son’s age, hanging out with the regulars here,” he said. “But the fact is there just aren’t that many people living in the French Quarter anymore to keep it the way people remember. If we’re going to keep this around for the next generation, I had to do this.”
Nobody actually lives there.  Nobody actually lives near the new location either, of course. Thanks to visionary decisions made by your City Council in recent years, all of downtown New Orleans is quickly being turned over to timeshare developers and massive commercial short term rental enterprises such as this Canal Street monstrosity owned the Motwanis. 

Speaking of the Motwanis, here's what they've got planned on Decatur.
Mike Motwani said he plans to seek a new tenant for the space and hopes to attract another restaurant.

“That’s the best use for it,” Motwani said. “That is a very iconic location, and we definitely want to have another restaurant in there.”

He said he is not interested in developing retail shops there. “We have so many gift shops along that street already, it would just be competition for ourselves,” he said.
Sure does feel good knowing the Monopoly Man isn't going to compete with himself. That seems very healthy.  Anyway, we look forward to the opening of the new Willie's Chicken Shack there.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

"Slow, complicated death"

I don't think anyone has gotten to the bottom of the Bayou Steel closure yet. Governor John Bel sounds very certain that the Trump tariffs are the main cause.  There might be some truth to that claim but we don't have the information we need to assess it thoroughly.  Early reports about the closure (and the Governor's comments) suggested that Bayou's business depended heavily on the availability of imported scrap metal.  But in days since, that assertion hasn't been satisfactorily flushed out.

That doesn't mean the tariff isn't a catalyst. But the scrap metal supply line might be an oversimplification of how.   We read here that steel producers have suffered under the tariff due to the resulting "uncertainty."
The imposition of section 232 tariffs in March 2018 -- 25% on most steel imports and 10% on aluminum -- was supposed to protect domestic producers from cheap imports from China and elsewhere, but the main effect on the market has been to raise the sense of uncertainty, which has been seen mostly in declining inventories by steel-trading middlemen who account for the bulk of the steel market.
Anyway, the mechanics of the tariff's role here are still not very well defined. That's particularly true in the case of Bayou Steel where the company's ownership is being deliberately coy about the closure in what looks like a strategy to avoid compensating workers for the suddenness of their job loss.  Why the Governor isn't being more aggressive on that front, we do not know.  One would think standing up for laid off workers would be a higher political priority than issuing disputable statements about the Trump tariffs. He may be on the right track with the latter course, but it's a much more confusing public fight to pick than just standing up for workers in crisis.

At least the Trump ogres, in their response to John Bel, actually identify the vulture capitalist private equity firm that has been picking the company apart this whole time.  Of course, they say it like that's a good thing.
Bayou Steel folded like a cheap tent under the weight of a leveraged buyout by Wall Street vultures picking the carcass of a highly inefficient and antiquated plant.
That's a Trump Administration spokesperson telling us basically that American jobs deserve to be zorched by Wall Street and the Governor hasn't said a word against that because he too believes all things must bow to the "efficiency" of the market.  If only we would get rid of Trump and his "D.C. style politics" we get back to the bi-partisan work of handing out huge state subsidies to heavy industry.  That's how the economy is supposed to work, right? John Bel seems to think so.  His opponents definitely think so too. Their only real beef with him is they would prefer to be the person handing out the favors themselves.

This guy also seems to think so.
Jeff Sands, an investor who specializes in rescuing midsized companies near collapse, said he had tried contacting Black Diamond officials last week, including Stephen Deckoff, the firm's co-founder and managing principal, as well as the lawyer handling the bankruptcy, Christopher Ward, of Polsinelli PC in Delaware, who said initially on Monday that he couldn't remember exchanging emails with Sands.
But even he isn't that optimistic.
Sands said that since the company is now in bankruptcy proceedings, he feels the prospect of keeping it going has dimmed.

"I’m cynical," he said. "It will likely just die a slow, complicated death.

"We’ll follow and bid but the odds of it happening quick enough to keep the customers, workforce and vendors is slim."
So that's cheerful. Even in the best case scenario Sands, or an investor like him, moves in to "rescue" Bayou Steel, probably through a regimen of job and benefit cuts plus a renewed package of state tax exemptions.  The alternative is slow, complicated death, though so, what would we prefer?

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

We're not one-at-a-timin' here we're mass communicatin'

Retail politics is dead: Nobody goes outside to do any old timey campaigning anymore. Everything is all about buying a bunch of Facebook ads now.

Unless it isn't:  Turns out, John Bel Edwards is going around to all these churches and festivals and doing old timey campaing stuff for months and months.

What's funny about that first article is, despite its premise, there's plenty of reporting in there about candidates doing the regular backslapping with the folks on the festival circuit. But we're told they're doing it less than they used to and instead they, especially the Republicans, are relying more on TV ads and social media than they had in the past.

It's easy to make the mistake that this is all a natural consequence of advancing communications technology.  But I think that needs to be interrogated a bit further.  Yes, social media has changed the delivery system, but the actual leap in emphasis from in-person campaigning to electronic mass propaganda arrived a couple generations ago with the advent of TV and radio.  Pop culture critics have famously been lamenting its effect on politics since at least the Nixon/Kennedy debates.  And, while it is true that internet enabled media reaches more people than it did, say, a decade ago, a lot of people were online back then too.   (This stupid stupid Yellow Blog has been in publication since 2003!) We haven't suddenly woken up to a new era in political media this year.  Something else is going on.
A host of political action committees for various interests are pouring millions of dollars into the state to sway the outcome. Contributions given directly to candidates are limited by law. But Super PACs and political foundations are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money. Though the Super PACs can't coordinate directly with the campaigns, they do advocate, often harshly, on behalf of their favored candidates' causes and against those of their opponents.

Edwards, who is seeking re-election, faces two Republicans – U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Baton Rouge millionaire contractor Eddie Rispone – in the Oct. 12 open primary. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the ballots, the top two vote-getters will meet again in a November runoff.

Two major players in the fall campaigns are the Republican Governors Association, through its Right Direction PAC, and the Democratic Governors Association, which has already funneled at least half a million dollars into a Super PAC affiliated with the incumbent governor.

Some of the organizations involved, often called "dark money groups," are not required to disclose their donors — and don't — making it unclear who exactly is paying to influence the election.
This isn't the first Louisiana Governor's race of the post-Citizen's United era.  But this year's contest does seem to be attracting more "dark money" than ever before.  The article referenced above is from qualifying week. It names some PACs that were around last time along with a couple of newer ones. Since then we've learned about a few more. It doesn't give us any numbers on Lane Grigsby's Truth In Politics PAC. We do know Lane is close with Eddie Rispone, though.  Anyway, it's not really how much money is aligned with each candidate we're concerned with right now but rather how it tends to get deployed.

PAC money doesn't help get your candidate out among the folks as easily as it gets a message out over the wires. Which is why it feels to some as though the campaigns have moved off of the fairgrounds and onto Facebook. Which is why when the Republicans "brought out the big guns" a lot of the fire came in the form of tweets from the President and an appearance from his son at an event designed to be amplified over Facebook. Trump Sr. will also appear at a rally on Friday. But, again, even that is really intended for a TV and social media audience.

But, sometimes, as the second story linked at the top of this post indicates, that is not always the case. There we find John Bel the Democratic Governor out and about doing the one-at-a-time business.
For months, just as he did four years ago, Edwards has been making stops throughout Louisiana that are aimed specifically at black voters. In late July, he visited four black churches over two days in Lafayette and attended a banquet celebrating Lloyd Joiner Jr.’s 40th year as the pastor at Progressive Baptist Church also in Lafayette.

“People respected the fact that he was engaged,” said state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, who accompanied him at some of the stops.

On Aug. 11, Edwards visited True Vine Baptist Church in Alexandria, accompanied by Mayor Hall, and then three other black churches.

On Aug. 18, Edwards visited four black churches in Monroe accompanied by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

On Aug. 31, he and state Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, played the rub-board alongside Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas at the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival before a large African-American crowd.

Accompanied by state Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield, Edwards stopped in Natchitoches on Sept. 12 to speak to 25-30 African-American ministers and to a predominately black crowd at the Ben D. Johnson Educational Center.

Two days earlier, he attended a dinner for the NAACP’s Shreveport chapter.

On Sept. 29, Edwards attended Gloryland Baptist Church accompanied by East Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Erika Green.

Along the way, Edwards has stopped at popular black-owned restaurants – Laura’s 2 Next Generation in Lafayette, the Legacy CafĂ© in Natchitoches, Pamela’s Bayou in a Bowl in Alexandria and Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans.
Meanwhile Lane Grigsby the Republican megadonor is trying to move the same constituency but using a different tactic.
Aside from Truth in Politics’ ad, Grigsby is also looking for other ways to stop Edwards from winning reelection. Last month, he gave $100,000 to a political organization called Movement for Change that is running ads on a host of African American radio stations throughout the state in support of Omar Dantzler, the only black candidate in the race. Dantzler, of Hammond, is also the only other Democrat in the race besides Edwards, though he is far less known and is polling in the low single digits.
One is out pressing flesh to try and counter what the other can do by just pressing a button. Wonder which will be enough? Watch John Bel's margin of 50% vs Dantzler's numbers on Saturday to find out.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Aggressive enforcement

What is a nuisance bar? Nuisance to whom?
The proposals often have pitted bars and their owners against nearby residents and other businesses, with bar operators contending that the new rules will hurt an industry that's important to tourism and the city's easygoing culture, while their opponents want more city actions against nuisance bars that disrupt neighborhoods' quality of life.

The contours of the most recent fight were set in large part under Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the previous City Council. In 2017, former Councilwoman Stacy Head put forward new rules, supported by Landrieu, that at one time or another included a requirement that bars install exterior surveillance cameras tied into the city’s crime camera network, a ban on outdoor seating, and rules that would have prevented a bar counter from being within 10 feet of a business’ door, among other provisions.
A lot of the time this just means there is activity in the neighborhood after dark. Some people have a very low tolerance for that. Not everyone does.  But the assumption when this comes up is invariably that everyone shares that same low tolerance.  Some of us actually kind of like it when, say, the laundromat across the street is hosting a late night all ages show. It doesn't have to be something we necessarily want to participate in. It's just kind of neat to see that someone is enjoying something. I'd say that's good for my "quality of life."  But our use of that term also is loaded with the fears and hostilities shared only among a specific class of property holders.

Our city government will always act to protect this class first. Yesterday City Council moved closer to passing a set of rules that will grant the Chief of Police, the Chief of the Fire Department, the ABC board, or the Department of Safety and Permits "emergency" powers to unilaterally shut down a bar deemed to be.. well.. a nuisance according to the prejudices of the protected class of property holders concerned about "quality of life issues."  The delay now is only about what the appeals process might look like. Originally, there wasn't even going to be one.

One thing worth remembering also is that these rules are left over from a process begun under the Landrieu administration. They were designed with input from attorney Scott Bergthold who Mitch brought in specifically for his expertise in shutting down strip clubs across the country. The purpose of these laws is to have a little due process built in as possible. The city has already decided whose side it is on.  Right now they're just figuring out how aggressive they can get away with being.

And we can expect that to be, well, pretty darn aggressive.  At least that is what LaToya Cantrell said during her budget town-phone-ca-hall thingy this week. 
After a French Quarter resident complained about a lack of public bathrooms and a lack of enforcement of laws against public urination, Cantrell said she was looking to "retool" the French Market Corp., though she didn't provide specifics. She also suggested a crackdown on quality-of-life violations in the tourist district.

"We will be enforcing the laws on the books relative to the quality of life. This is going to be more aggressive as time goes forward but also more consistent," Cantrell said.
Now one could read a question like that and consider that maybe it's the actual lack of public bathrooms and other such support for the city's homeless that is negatively affecting their "quality of life."  But we know that isn't what LaToya is talking about.  Her solution is "more aggressive" enforcement of  "laws on the books."  Because the law already favors the side she cares about.

Charters on the shelf

The New Orleans quasi-privatized charter school system is often rationalized on the premise that it is "giving parents choices."  Charter advocates argue that introducing a kind of "free market" competition scheme to the school system will improve the overall quality of results.   Like a lot of right wing nonsense, this silly argument is absurd enough on its face that we shouldn't have to waste our time refuting it. So we won't. There are enough professional journalists around now to disingenuously "both sides" all manner of bad faith assertions as it is. We're content just to let bullshit be bullshit.

Especially when the bullshitters don't actually put their own bullshit into practice.  Take the Orleans Parish School Board "NOLA Public Schools" for example. Increasingly it looks like they are offering parents a chance to choose KIPP, or KIPP, or maybe even KIPP.
It’s no secret KIPP New Orleans Schools enrolls a significant portion of the city’s public school students. The charter school network currently manages seven schools at eight campuses. And with the addition of John F. Kennedy High School next summer, KIPP is poised to enroll nearly 14 percent of NOLA Public Schools students, just below the district’s enrollment cap.
Even that "cap" is a bit of a fudge considering that this story also tells us four largest charter operators (KIPP, InspireNOLA Charter Schools and FirstLine Schools) enroll 29 percent of K-12 public school students.  Also it sounds like the school board might be fine with lifting it whenever they see fit.
Even with an expanded Booker T. Washington and the soon-to-be-added Kennedy, both KIPP and the district say KIPP is not projected to exceed 15 percent this year or next. But if it did, the policy provides a rather simple remedy: Two-thirds of the school board must vote to change the limit. The district superintendent may also suspend the limit — for one year — “when it is determined that emergency or exigent conditions exist which necessitate the creation of additional capacity in the system.”

The question is how big the district and the Orleans Parish School Board will allow a single network to become.
In fact, there's even a fast-track mechanism for helping operators expand their territory. It's even got a catchy name.
KIPP New Orleans, the local arm of the national charter school nonprofit group, is the biggest of all of them. It’s about to add hundreds of Kennedy students, and it’s doing that without having had to apply for a new charter to run the school. KIPP is one of several operators who have been given preapproved, but unassigned, charter contracts that can be used any time a school site becomes available.

We called them ‘charters on the shelf,’ ” former Recover School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said in a phone interview.
The other accelerating factor has to do with the Superintendent's authority to grant new charters in the first place.  Even when he isn't pulling something "off the shelf" for a sitting operator, Henderson Lewis is almost entirely unchecked in his power to decide who gets what.
The board doesn’t have to take a vote on charter approvals or renewals anymore. NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. makes a recommendation to the board. If after one month the board doesn’t override him with a two-thirds vote, it stands. (That was a result of Act 91, the law that ushered in the return of RSD schools back to NOLA Public Schools’ control in the summer of 2018.)

That law applies to shelf charters as well as charter applicants applying to run a specific school. And placing an operator with a shelf charter into a building is not subject to a board vote.
Activist groups, such as the Erase The Board Coalition,  seeking to scrap the charter system and restore public education in New Orleans have identified repealing Act 91 as a major priority.  That issue has become a key distinguishing factor between candidates for BESE and for seats in the Louisiana Legislature on your October 12 ballot. (Early voting continues today and tomorrow.)  You can read up on many of those candidates and their positions here.  Unfortunately, in more than a few of those races, the selection still comes down to one pro-charter candidate or another.  But anyone observing the Orleans Parish schools will already be familiar with that kind of "choice" by now.

The Boil Order Decade

Just the ordinary routine stuff.
A drop in water pressure on Thursday evening has caused Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans officials to issue a boil water advisory for the Lower 9th Ward and parts of New Orleans East.

The advisory was issued just after 9:30 p.m. for all of the Lower 9th Ward and parts of the Little Woods neighborhood bound by Bullard Avenue, Interstate 10, Paris Road and Lake Pontchartrain.

The advisory was still in effect Friday morning. It wasn't immediately clear when it would be lifted.
Probably will be lifted sometime this evening if it follows the normal pattern.  Anyway via McBride, enjoy some optimistic quotes from Joe Becker and Cedric Grant in 2015 about the world class "resilient" system they were building.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Rock bottom Ralph

This is what is has come to for Ralph.  Laffer curve shit.
Abraham has not outlined a specific tax plan, but he has called for eliminating the state’s franchise tax and inventory tax, as well as generally lowering corporate income taxes and sales taxes and creating a flat personal income tax.

At the same time, he promises to boost spending on roads, bridges and education, and vows to avoid the “death by 1,000 cuts” endured under former Gov. Bobby Jindal. That has drawn fire from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who argues Abraham's plan doesn't add up.

To reconcile those two positions, Abraham says the economic activity generated from cutting taxes would result in more revenue coming into the state coffers, or in other words, that the tax cuts would pay for themselves.
How thoroughly boring. Ralph is just trolling the absolute rock bottom level of recycled Republican claptrap policy now.  This article is just about as plain as anyone can be in saying this isn't even worth entertaining anymore.
Critics of such arguments also point to Kansas, which under former Gov. Sam Brownback conducted what he dubbed an “experiment” that involved eliminating state income taxes for owners of pass-through businesses, eliminating its top tax bracket and cutting rates. Job figures fell well short of Brownback’s promises, and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers later overrode a Brownback veto to reverse the tax cuts after repeated budget shortfalls, according to the Kansas City Star.
The notorious Kansas "experiment" itself happened long after the "voodoo economics" theories it was based on had long since been discredited.  In his campaign materials, Ralph describes himself as a "country doctor."  Apparently his medical license is inactive, though. Maybe he meant witch doctor.  

The Erroll Exemption

Williams says we don't assess businesses for the cost of labor and equipment installation when calculating their tax liability. Unless we do.

How unforseeable is unforseeable?

Nobody at Bayou Steel wants to say why 376 people had to lose their jobs all of a sudden. And we do mean, very very all of a sudden. 
Officials on Wednesday offered more details on the closure, which came seemingly out of the blue and surprised union officials who had been in contract negotiations with management up until last week.

David Delaneuville, the district representative for the United Steelworkers union, said his negotiations with Davis and Kristen Barney, Bayou Steel's human resources manager, had gone normally and they reached a three-year deal last Thursday to give workers a 4% pay hike in the first year and 3% in each of the subsequent two years.
Apparently, as far as plant management knew, there was plenty of room available to grant modest pay raises. But then, some "unforeseen business circumstances" happened.
(St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie) Robottom said she is worried that the sudden notices of closure and bankruptcy and the wording of the letter sent to her mean the company is trying to skirt obligations to pay its workers.

"It is concerning, especially how their letter was written, that they may (have been) writing it in that manner so that they don't have to fulfill the obligation of following the (Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification) Act," she said, referring to passages in the letter that cited "unforeseen business circumstances and the inability to secure necessary capital," as well as a paragraph specifically saying the company did not acknowledge any obligations under the WARN Act.
Ordinarily the WARN act would require the company give at least a 60 day notice, otherwise they would be on the hook for back pay. One of the exceptions written into the law specifically uses the term "unforseeable business circumstances"
Unforeseeable business circumstances: When the closing or mass layoff is caused by business circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable at the time that 60-day notice would have been required (i.e., a business circumstance that is caused by some sudden, dramatic, and unexpected action or conditions outside the employer's control, like the unexpected cancellation of a major order); or Natural disaster
So, then, what was this "sudden, dramatic, and unexpected" occurrence that Bayou Steel could not have forseen?  They still aren't saying.   It can't have anything to do with their Industrial Tax Exemption expiring next year.  That strikes us as imminently forseeable.  It's a lot of money, though.
One of the plant's parcels had been approved by the state for an industrial tax exemption, which cut the $1.4 million in assessed taxes on the plant by roughly $300,000 annually. Gauff said the 10-year exemption was set to expire in 2020.
I'm reminded here of something industry shill Loren Scott once told us about the "bonanza" waiting for us at the end of these 10 year tax exemptions.
"As an economist, I can only say,'Wow. Holy Cow,'" said Loren Scott, a Louisiana economist who has studied the state for 40 years. "We typically measured expansion in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars. Something like that makes your eyes bug out." He expects, for instance, that once 10-year tax-abatement deals expire, schools boards will "find themselves with a bonanza."
*Bonanza not guaranteed in the case of "unforseen busienss circumstances," I guess. Still, as we say, an expiring tax exemption isn't an unforseeable circumstance so there must be something else going on. 

Another thing we learned here is Bayou Steel is controlled by a private equity firm called Black Diamond.  Apparently, their investment was seriously underwater.
On Tuesday, the parent company of Bayou Steel Group filed for bankruptcy protection. In the filing signed by President and Chief Operating Officer Alton Davis, the company, which is controlled by a Connecticut private equity firm, said it had as much as $100 million in outstanding debts and less than $50,000 in assets.
Whoah how does something like that happen in such a sudden and unforseeable manner?  Those of us not intiated in the priesthood of high finance would very much love to know more about that.  Is it possible the wizzards were unable to cope with the "unforseeable" impact of Donald Trump's metals tarriffs?  The Governor certainly seems to think so.  And with good reasoning too as this Slate article explains.
This is a slight variation on a problem that plenty of critics saw coming when Trump announced his tariffs last year. While many American steel companies manufacture the raw metal from scratch, a number of them don’t. Instead, they specialize in making steel products out of cheap, semi-finished slabs of the material that they buy from abroad. The levies posed a serious threat to that segment’s business model. The administration has tried to skirt around this issue by granting companies waivers allowing them to import steel from countries like China and Japan duty-free, but the process has been contentious and has sometimes led to funny results, such as when one steel company that had spent a year praising Trump’s tariffs later sued the administration after it was denied an exemption from them.
Bayou Steel's operation apparently relied on imported scrap metal subject to the tariffs.  So it makes sense to suspect the tariff as a primary factor in the closure.  But as Slate also points out, steelmakers in similar circumstances have been complaining for a while now.  Bayou Steel was about to hand out pay raises to its workers.  Now they aren't.  And they're also about to tell those workers they aren't owed compensation due to the unforseeable nature of the situation.  Given that the tariff has been in effect for over a year now, is that a credible assertion? Or are they just trying to protect Black Diamond's investors?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Vote often

So you can vote early this week if you are an early voting person. I'm not one but I don't have a good reason for that. I vote on Election Day because that feels more like we're participating in something. It's like going out to see a parade or a football game. It's a big event and we're all doing it together. That's what democracy is all about, right?  Besides, we all know the best politics is the big loud superficial spectacle kind. At least that is how I feel about it.  Anyway, it looks like more and more people are different from me. The first day of early voting Saturday set records for turnout.

There is a very long ballot this time because it is a statewide legislative election. People might want to do a little reading up in advance. If that's you then there are a few places I can recommend.

1) Pick up an Antigravity Magazine at your local corner store or coffee shop. The "Harm Reduction" guide there is very good and funny and helpful. It's not online yet but probably will be tomorrow. If you're looking for the physical copy, probably the Gambit will be on the rack beside it. Leave that where it is.  All of their recommendations are absolute trash this year. I don't know how much of that to attribute to the continuing Geroges-ization of all local media (It's getting real bad! Remind me to say more about this later) or just the fact that Gambit endorsements have always been kind of bad.  This seems worse than usual, though.

2) The PAR guide to the amendments is always useful. It doesn't take sides (I am voting no on all four but you may disagree) but it gives detailed arguments for and against each one.

3) And finally there is this one which I think I linked to already but here it is again. It says here, 
More than 20 DSA members contributed to the research, writing, editing, and design of this project, among us service industry workers, social workers, secretaries, educators, attorneys, students, and professional organizers. Collectively we have brought our experience and knowledge about the way government systems and elected representatives affect our lives in material ways. 

That sounds like a lot of work. Probably should at least give it the courtesy of a glance-over.. even if the serious political reporters don't have the time

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The ring must be destroyed


I was charmed as hell to hear Jonathan Schwarz's guest appearance last week on Citations Needed for a couple of reasons. For starters, he said the show was "the best political podcast in America," which is exactly the thing I've been saying over and over for a while to anybody I think might need to hear it.

That episode is specifically about former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power's new memoir, "The Education Of An Idealist." (spoiler. it's not good.)  But more generally it is about the hypocrisies and atrocities baked into U.S. imperial power. And, even more generally it is about the question of power and what to do with it.  People like Samantha Power believe.. or at least they explain themselves by asking us to believe.. that the best way to make a difference in the world is to wedge oneself into the places where power is wielded. Become a small part of the problem in the order to make the problem slightly less bad. Because, of course, you, the power seeking individual have only the best of intentions.

Which brings up the second thing I enjoyed about Schwarz on this show. At about minute 22 or so, Schwarz makes an incredibly nerdy and simple seeming Tolkien reference. I don't even know if I have to reproduce it here. I'm sure it's obvious enough but, okay I'll transcribe a bit. 
I don't know if you remember... if you guys have read Lord of the Rings. There's a section towards the end when Sam, like, has to pick up the ring and carry it, right?  And, in Lord of the Rings it talks about how Sam like everyone who picks up the ring become obsessed with it....  And so there's just a section of the book where it talks about how, like he begins having these wild fantasies.. and he saw Samwise The Strong.. you know Samantha Power goes by Sam.... "Samwise The Strong, hero of the age striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call" and so.. that's a really interesting passage about how like power doesn't just... like power the concept, not the person doesn't just play on our worst instincts, it also plays on our best instincts. It's like you know he only had to put on the ring and claim it for his own and all this could be.  And it would have been very interesting for her (Power, in her book) to talk about that. About how, like, "yes, I am tempted by power"... "because I would like to do good in the world and I know how dangerous a temptation that is and exactly how that can lead you to extremely dark places." 
But, of course, she hasn't learned that lesson.  Just the same way the entire US foreign policy establishment has not and cannot learn a lesson like that and continue to exist.  Anyway, the reason I wanted to share all of that is because I've been reading and following Schwarz a long time. So I know that if you've been reading or following Schwarz a long time, you'll know that this LOTR bit is not something he just pulled out of the air. This has actually been his take on Sam Power for over a decade.

And it's something I appreciated hearing referenced again here because it's also more or less my take on power and politics in general. This week, as the Louisiana statewide elections move into the early voting period, I've had people ask me a few times who I recommend they vote for.  As always, I tell these people not to vote for anybody. But I'm happy to help them find lists of people to vote against.  Because for poor and working class people like us, politics is not a means toward seizing or wielding power. Power can only derive from and sustain inequality. Wealth, in fact, is power. It concentrates in the hands of the few and acts to deprive the many.  The purpose of politics for us is not to take power for ourselves but to resist it.  The ring must always be destroyed. 

I think people understand on a basic level that politics is corrupt horseshit. But I wonder if they understand how fundamental that is. When I say politics is corrupt horseshit I mean, yes, your candidate, your people, whatever particular organization of professional activists you happen to attach to or agree with... even the ones you very much want to see win... guess what.. also riddled with corrupt horseshit.  It is important to always have this in mind. And sometimes we might forget a little bit so it's a good idea to constantly reassess everything just to make sure we recognize how and where the corrupt horseshit is configured lately and think about where it might move next.

I've been wondering lately what is going to happen after 2020 when no one's super neat theory about "how to win at politics" turns out to have been true and we end up being ruled according to whatever disgusting accident is most acceptable to the money again.  I imagine there could be a lot of disillusioned people by then.  I hope they don't get too discouraged, though.  I'm doing my best to try to head that off now but I'm not sure I know how.  I'm a Saints fan from way back before the Payton/Brees era.  I know how to get up every day ready to lose again. I'd like to help everybody else be ready too.  Because hopelessness is no excuse to give up.

This week the Democrats appear to be finally ready to impeach the President.  This is something they should have done a long time ago, of course. We've written about that a few times. See here, for example. There's a good chance it will not end well. The outlook is even worse now than it could have been because they have waited so long and chosen a less than optimal reason to move. But now that they are at this point they should still do the thing. The fact that doing the thing is going to end badly is no excuse not do the thing anyway. Who cares what McConnell does to jam it up. Who even cares if they actually manage to remove Trump. The "win/lose" outcome is beside the point. 

The "game," as our bloodless pundits are fond of describing politics, is rigged such that only the rich and the powerful can win. Most so-called "bipartisan solutions" are just deals that pave the way for rich and powerful people on "both sides" to win a little something at everyone else's expense. There are ways for rich and powerful Democrats to "win" this scenario even by losing which is what Pelosi et al have been playing at so far by delaying for as long as they have. They might still get away with not having done much.  At the end of the day they are still rich and in power, same as ever.

But they should still do the impeachment, and we should still encourage them to do it. The President is a criminal, has always been a criminal on innumerable counts both large and small. Maybe we can get them to impeach him. It's far less than the full accounting he deserves but he does deserve at least this. All the other questions about conviction or pardon or political backlash are unimportant. Just do the thing because it's what should be done. Because, for us, winning is not the point. All that matters is what side you are on. Don't ever choose a side because it can win. The ring must be destroyed.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Feed them all to Ochsner

Eventually there will just be one hospital.
In a move that would result in the largest health system in the Gulf South, Lafayette General Health System announced Wednesday it is seeking a merger with Ochsner Health System.

The board of trustees of both health systems signed a letter of intent for the merger Wednesday morning, Lafayette General announced. Both organizations will now enter into a period of due diligence and seek required regulatory approvals, which could take several months.
Why does this keep happening? The answer is classic disaster capitalism.

There's a perpetual ebb and flow in Louisiana where Bobby Jindal type grifters wreck the state budget followed by John Bel type bi-partisan dads who stabilize things by institutionalizing the damage to basic services.  First the disaster, then the normalization of its destruction.   Following along in the wake of these shocks is Ochsner which appears to be on pace to eat every hospital in the state.  By the time it arrives on the scene, though, it looks to everyone like a savior. 
The move was partially prompted by a "wake up call" after last year's state budget situation. A reduction in state funding forced Lafayette General to consider reducing services at University Hospitals and Clinics, to include possible closure of the hospital.

Lafayette General operates University Hospitals and Clinics as part of a public-private partnership that stopped it from being closed in 2012. Callecod said the merger will allow LGH to negotiate with the state for funding from a much stronger position.

"We very much as a system are at the whim of the legislature, and so certainly we do everything we can to make folks understand the great work we do there, but the reality is that this merger will allow us to be in a better position with the state as we're having those conversations because of Ochsner's reach throughout the state," Callecod said