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Friday, February 23, 2018

Another one

Nothing to see here. Just more of the New Orleans money club passing favors around.
TMB Vieux Carre defaulted on the loan June 21, 2017, more than a month before the restaurant opened Aug. 27, according to a petition for executory process filed by Girod Loanco.

Ted Brennan's Decatur was originally financed by the failed First NBC Bank.

The restaurant was named for Ted Brennan, one of the three brothers who ran the iconic Royal Street restaurant Brennan's and father of Teddy and Bridget Brennan.
You know, there's probably a great book about New Orleans politics in the FNBC story if someone wants to start pulling threads together. 

The policing racket

The various law enforcement agencies who do drug interdiction in Louisiana are a government backed crime syndicate.
A former narcotics officer pleaded guilty Thursday to federal drug charges, admitting he stole cash and cocaine while serving on a New Orleans-based U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

The officer, Johnny J. Domingue, a former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office deputy, has emerged as a key witness in a misconduct investigation that has roiled the DEA's New Orleans field division and affected dozens of state and local drug cases.

The U.S. Justice Department has accused several members of the DEA task force of shaking down witnesses, dealing drugs and swiping cash during federal raids. Four former members of the group, which operated largely along the Interstate 12 corridor, face federal charges.
Here is where we refer you again to Ethan Brown's investigation into the exact same pattern in Jeff Davis Parish. Also see the general recurring pattern of abuse in Sheriff's departments all over the state. It's critical that people understand the scope of this. It's not just bad apples here and there. It's systemic and it's getting worse.

In Trump times, the sheriffs are all the more emboldened in using immigration and drug enforcement as a pretext to garner federal support for their various rackets.  They also receive a substantial amount of support from elected  rodeo clowns like John Kennedy.
During a hearing in the Judiciary Committee Thursday, Kennedy not only voted against a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill sponsored by fellow Republican Charles Grassley. He also took the opportunity to make several cynically misleading claims about a similar state effort, which was also bipartisan but was backed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, whom Kennedy may challenge next year.

Kennedy claimed Edwards pushed the laws without consulting Louisiana's sheriffs and district attorneys, even though there were prolonged negotiations with district attorneys and no governor has been closer to sheriffs than Edwards. For the record, both prosecutors and sheriffs were represented on the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, the group that drafted the bills.
Yeah we all know John is probably running for Governor.  So let's not take his comments all that seriously.  Otherwise we'd have to ask if he remembers just how watered down last year's sentencing reforms ended up being in the first place.  There was a whole fight over it in the legislature when certain Republicans threw a fit.
But (State Rep Sherman) Mack said he intends to push for amendments that would remove the retroactivity from the bills, meaning they wouldn't apply to anyone currently in prison. He also said he wants to get rid of the changes that could shorten sentences for first-time inmates convicted of violent offenses.

"The victim was told they would do a certain amount of time," Mack said.
Oh yeah, Sherman Mack. Remember that guy? What's he up to now? Oh hey, here he is. Turns out he is the lawyer who just got that crooked Sheriff's deputy his plea deal.  Neat.
"Johnny wants to move on with his life," defense attorney Sherman Mack said outside of U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's courtroom. "He is ready to have this behind him." 
Okay, Sherman, but please remember that the victims of the corrupt law enforcement apparatus were expecting the guy might do a certain amount of time.

The credit card thing is still happening

LaToya's Credit Card
Chaos's LaToya float. It wasn't very good.

The Cantrell credit card case is starting to feel like the Tom Benson family saga to me.  It didn't matter to me which Benson got to inherit the old man's ill gotten empire of stolen public money.  But I was interested in seeing the details of Tom's "mental competency" evaluation entered into the record.  The records were sealed but some of it leaked out eventually anyway.  Was it worth it? Eh.

Similarly, I'm not too enthusiastic to see Jeff Landry score political points by turning what should be a systemic evaluation of official city spending perks into a "witch hunt" (LaToya's lawyer's phrase.) But I am interested in seeing what the case might uncover regarding our local money clubs and their general conceit that they own and run everything and everybody.

Currently, Landry is trying to subpoena LaToya's personal financial records.  Regardless of how the rest of the case goes, this subpoena might actually lead to something interesting. Which is why Cantrell's lawyers are most interested in quashing it.  In order to do that, though, they'll first need to decide which judge can rule on it.  Landry has argued that any New Orleans judge is going to run into some conflicts of interest in this regard and so has asked to have Laurie White recused. It's reasonable to assume a local judge will probably be inclined to protect the same corrupting interests such a subpoena might reveal so I think Landry might have a point. In any case, I think it's less likely we'll see those records if the case stays in New Orleans.

And, well..
Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell's credit card case could land back in Orleans Criminal District Court after an ad hoc judge on Friday (Feb. 23) ruled local judges don't have to recuse themselves in the case, according to Cantrell's attorney.

Billy Gibbens confirmed that Judge Freddie Pitcher Jr. issued his ruling after a hearing on the matter. Pitcher didn't expand much on his decision, Gibbens said, only saying that Attorney General Jeff Landry didn't meet the burden of proof in the case.
Landry says he's not going to contest the ruling. So it's up to Laurie White now. Are we going to see the records? Or do we have to wait around for more whispers like we did in the Benson case? 

Wall off the carrot patch

This story about the riverfront overlay has been fleshed out a bit since we posted it yesterday. I just wanted to point out a few interesting quotes. First we have LaToya Cantrell seems to think the problem is we aren't giving quite enough away to developers. 
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who supported the Riverfront Overlay plan during her successful mayoral campaign last year, said the city needs to re-examine its entire incentive structure for affordable housing, while calling the units that would have been created by the bonus “minimal.”

She also said a more comprehensive approach could be provided by a study currently underway looking at how to incentivize affordable housing.

“What’s needed is a re-examination of our incentive structure," Cantrell said. "A carrot has to be created.
The overlay allowance isn't enough. We also need to give them carrots. The carrots would be in addition to the land we've already granted to the lords so that they may purpose it toward their own profit.  For example, Sean Cummings here. 
Developer Sean Cummings said the removal of the affordability bonus was needed to “see these properties actually develop over the next 10 years or so.”

Cummings has been the driving force behind several complexes in recent years that tower over the riverfront and over Crescent Park, an amenity he spearheaded for former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration after Hurricane Katrina.
They let Cummings build an amenity for his condos that we pretended was a public park.  So now they have to let him build all the condos without guilting him over the whole gentrification thing. It's only fair. At least until they can find more carrots.  Anyway, here's another look at our map of the feudal territories. It needs some updating in some areas but Cummingsville is still very much intact.



If its ramparts ever need defending, it looks like Cummings can call on James Gray.  
Councilman James Gray, saying he was generally in favor of taller and denser developments, said the problem was not whether affordable housing was included in the Riverfront Overlay but whether poorer neighborhoods were getting the amenities that richer and more desirable neighborhoods were. But, he argued, low-income residents would likely not want to live in a development along the river anyway.

“I’m not sure I would want to be one of the few poor people in an upscale development," he said. "I’m not sure that’s a favor to me or my children who would be raised as the poorest children in a development.”
Poor people shouldn't be allowed into rich neighborhoods. It's too embarrassing.  Maybe we should look into building some walls or something. It's certainly one way of keeping the carrots in place.

Crackenhopper field

Thursday, February 22, 2018

All we care about is more nice things for rich people

I've tried to point out from time to time the problem with so-called inclusionary zoning set asides.  Tl;dr is it's mostly just tokenism. The point is to allow local politicians to pretend they are trying to solve the affordable housing crisis when really they are just allowing developers to make more nice things for rich people.  Naturally, LaToya Cantrell loves it.

So when they just go ahead and vote to allow the luxury development and admit the set asides are bullshit anyway, as the Winter Council just did, it's almost refreshing.
The New Orleans City Council unanimously approved a measure allowing taller and denser projects along the riverfront in the Marigny and Bywater after stripping out a provision that would have required developers to include affordable housing in the largest of those developments.

The new rules, officially known as the Riverfront Overlay, would allow buildings of up to six stories on some of the best-located properties in two of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

The gun debate is boring

It isn't an interesting dilemma. There aren't any complicated politics. It's not one of those things where we all have to sit down and work out a grand compromise that respects the validity of "both sides" regardless of whatever David Brooks says. Also, why are people still worried about David Brooks? The big op-ed pages aren't just bad, they're utterly irrelevant. Don't read that stuff. Don't discuss it. Don't give it any power. That's exactly how we end up behaving as though something completely straightforward like gun control is "controversial" and therefore inactionable  even though that clearly isn't the case.

This isn't a debate at all.  It's just a straightforward assertion of power by a well-focused and funded single-issue lobby.   Also it is boring and predictable. That it remains boring and predictable in the face of the horrors it enables is an obscenity. Nobody's going to stop that by going on CNN to have meaningful dialog with soulless death merchants.  Sure, it's cathartic to watch Dana Loesch and Marco Rubio get owned by a bunch of teenagers. But, really, that's what they want. It isn't going to shame them into yielding. They get to keep the money they were paid to endure it.  Putting them on the stage and beating the hell out of them just reinforces the conceit that they need to be reckoned with.  They don't. They need to be ignored. This is a dumb argument. And people keep dying because we allow it to go on.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

First world problems

What it's like here in the richest nation on Earth where the people and the laws are very civilized and freedom loving and such.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana prison brutally punishes suicidal and mentally ill inmates by isolating them for months or even years, chaining them to wooden chairs and opening windows to expose them to extreme cold, a federal lawsuit claims.

The class action, filed Tuesday, asks the court to rule that prison officials are subjecting inmates at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer to unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment.” It also seeks a court-ordered end to the “extreme, abusive conditions” at the north Louisiana prison.
LOL, very funny, Jeff. You had us going there. But see, that is Louisiana which everybody knows is only technically part of First World America where they have the common decency to let the bounty hunters do all the criminal justice stuff for them

All we do is build nice things for rich people

The "YIMBY" crowd keep shouting up from behind their Econ 101 coloring books that building nice things for rich people inevitably trickles down the price of housing because the God of  SUPPLY AND DEMAND says so.  But that's not really how any of this works.
Demand for luxury apartments is still strong, but that demand is by choice, not necessity. Tenants in luxury buildings are often renting a second or third home or perhaps downsizing from a larger suburban home. They are not struggling to afford the monthly payments.

"In our portfolio, which represents 70,000 units mostly in the luxury space, we're seeing that our renters are spending a relatively low amount of their income on rent despite rents being perceptively high," said Toby Bozzuto, president and CEO of The Bozzuto Group, a multifamily management and development company operating in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. "That being said, it is a tale of two cities. In the middle income and the lower income markets, people are spending proportionally more on their rent — so much so I believe there's an acute crisis headed our way."

Despite rising incomes, nearly half (47 percent) of all renter households (21 million) pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, including 11 million households paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing, according to a late 2017 report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

"While the market has responded to rental housing needs for higher-income households, there are alarming trends that suggest a growing inability to supply housing that is affordable for middle- and working-class renters, let alone those with very low incomes," said Christopher Herbert, the center's managing director.

"Artwork, lighting or whatever it is"

Ron Forman doesn't sound so sure what the video board was even about here.  But he does make it sound like there might end up being a roof on the ferry walkway after all so that's nice.
Speaking Monday, the Audubon Nature Institute president and CEO Ron Forman acknowledged that the Audubon had requested up to $2 million to "dress up" the bridge with "artwork, lighting or whatever it is." He said that Audubon initially did not want the bridge next to its $200 million aquarium, and that any bridge design should complement the aquarium's aesthetics.

As for a roof, Forman and Manning left the door open Monday night for the bridge to have some sort of overhead covering.

"I don't think there's any reason it can't be covered," Forman said.
Or, at least, it can be covered in some way. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

We already have a Fulton Street

Mitch and the NOPD


Here is a question about the ongoing effort to create Dizneylandrieu in the French Quarter we should probably ask more often.  Why is the city trying to bring to Bourbon Street an environment that already exists on  Fulton Street?  
The plan also includes upgrades to Fulton Street, the pedestrian thoroughfare that runs next to Harrah's existing hotel. The street is currently anchored by a Ruth's Chris Steak House; Gordon Biersch brewpub; Manning's, the sports-themed eatery backed by the prominent football family; and Fulton Alley, an upscale bowling facility. Proposed changes to Fulton Street include:
  • A clear roof enclosure over the street to allow for year-round access.
  • A new music venue that Harrah's wants to feature local musicians, 365 days a year.
  • Introducing a new fast-casual food concept and a retailer on the street.
Harrah's also plans exterior upgrades, from new digital signage to improved landscaping.
That description is from a story about Harrah's plans for the street in conjunction with its proposed hotel project. It's fine that Harrah's has this little mall to play with.  Fulton Street has been a thoroughly artificial environment since the 1984 World's Fair and its subsequent development as an entertainment corridor servicing the casino and convention crowd. Tourism leaders always talk about wanting a "family friendly" clean and safe environment for visitors to amble about and spend money in between breakout sessions. Well, it's already there.

Bourbon Street is also an entertainment strip. But its history and character as such is richer, more complex, and, well, more interesting.  Unlike Fulton Street, it isn't easy to replicate. And yet the current program would seek to replicate a Fulton Street atmosphere on Bourbon. Why would anybody want that?  The answer, probably, is that's just the easiest thing to do with the available money right now.

During the waning months of his term, Mitch Landrieu has made a priority out of his so-called "security plan." The plan, funded through an agreement with the Convention Center and the hotel industry has several components. Some of those are relatively benign. The infrastructure work on and beneath Bourbon Street is necessary, even.. albeit late and over-budget due to what we're told are unforeseen obstacles not to mention a few contracting irregularities.  Other aspects of the plan are more concerning. Most famously, it proposes to install cameras in every bar, restaurant, and grocery tied into a citywide monitoring network. The police have no qualms in expressing the purpose of this.
“We want to be able to send a message that if you’re in public spaces, we’re going to be able to catch you if you commit a crime,” Harrison told CityLab. “We have to have the ability to demonstrate to would-be criminals, to would-be terrorists, if you will, that in public spaces we’re going to find them and know who you are.”
Simply by virtue of appearing in public, you will be considered a "would-be terrorist" by NOPD.  That the mayor has committed to this business says more than one thing about his priorities.  Yes, it's a chance for him to exercise his petty authoritarian tendencies. But, just as importantly, it allows him to hand out one more big sack of discretionary money before he leaves office.  So this isn't only about political posturing in the name of  "security." It's also about plain old cronyism.
Why do cities keep pouring money into these systems if they don’t see results? Dave Maass, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues they’re getting hoodwinked by purveyors of “surveillance snake oil.”

“Law enforcement gets dazzled by shiny objects,” he said. “Vendors will come in and promise them that the technology is going to solve all the public safety problems and it just doesn’t. We’re seeing them develop all of these things creating more information than they could possibly process and then it doesn’t actually end up being that useful.”
At least when Ray Nagin created a similar corrupt boondoggle, he had the decency to also not care if the cameras actually worked.  Unfortunately, Mitch is more sophisticated than that. The scheme he has devised is a draconian program of invasive hyper-surveillance and radical cultural sanitization.  It is also rooted in a racist, classist, and discredited theory of police work.

Here is a terrific article published at Slate back in 2014 about the failings and consequences of so-called "Broken windows" policing.  The article traces "broken windows" from its origin in the plainly racist work of sociologist Edward Banfield who argued that poverty is a "pathology" of  lower class behavior. Which is a fancy way of saying black people have too much freedom.
Like many people, Banfield believed the urban unrest of the late 1960s had been stoked by matters of civil rights. But Banfield believed the problem was that the lower classes had too many of them. Criminal behavior was human nature—or, rather, in the nature of a specific subset of lower-class humans. “So long as there are large concentrations of boys and young men of the lower classes on the streets, rampages and forays are to be expected,” Banfield wrote. The clear solution was to remove these lower-class youths from the streets posthaste.
As gross as that was, our most plainly racist and classist policies rarely gain serious traction until they are adopted and promulgated by our respectable liberal intellectuals. This is more or less why publications like The Atlantic exist.
In their 1982 Atlantic article, titled “Broken Windows,” Kelling and Wilson argued that community safety can be negatively affected by a surfeit of “disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed.” A preponderance of lower-class layabouts makes a neighborhood feel unsafe to its law-abiding residents; these residents hunker down or disassociate or move away, and soon the neighborhood actually becomes unsafe. Better, then, to stop this process before it starts, and to target minor deviant behaviors before they become something worse.

This theory encourages the police to conflate supposed cultural deviance with criminal deviance, to assume that a “disreputable or obstreperous” demeanor indicates some more destructive pathology. Kelling and Wilson cited the example of one effective Newark, New Jersey, police officer who had the habit of “taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order.” In other words, he targeted those who deviate from behavioral norms—norms that are defined by the dominant social class, of course
"Obstreperous" and "unpredictable" people have too much freedom in New Orleans.  Or this, at least is what the mayor would have us believe.  The security plan proposes to remedy this problem through deliberate efforts to "reduce the culture of permissiveness."  The cameras are meant to do this, obviously. As is the crackdown on "Adult Entertainment Venues." As are possible restrictions on vehicular traffic. As are the various other "place based design" strategies meant to curtail, "antisocial, criminal, or other negative behaviors" as the security plan reads here.
By using place-based design solutions that address the physical aspects of the area, the City can encourage behavior that will make the French Quarter and Bourbon Street safer. Public spaces can - through poor design and care - foster antisocial, criminal, or other negative behaviors. Alternatively, public spaces can be reinvested in to encourage connectivity, positive interactions, and individual and communal responsibility. In order to create a place that business and property owners and the public respect, the French Quarter needs an improved image, sense of purpose, and orientation. By investing in street amenities such as benches, planters, seating areas, and trash cans – small investments that can make a big difference to the look and feel of a place – the City plans to enhance the quality of life and the security of the French Quarter.

As a method of crime prevention, broken windows policing doesn't work. But it can be an effective rationale for deploying public money and resources toward the purposes of political suppression and f social control. Which in the eyes of its primary funders in the hospitality industry, is what the security plan is really about.  A less organic, more predictable entertainment district is easier to manage as an asset than is a living, breathing, mixed use urban neighborhood.  Maybe the mayor genuinely shares this vision. At the very least his pursuit of political and financial opportunism leaves him indifferent to their consequences. If one of those consequences is we turn Bourbon Street into Fulton Street, then so be it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nobody actually landlords here

The investors who own the buildings in which nobody actually lives here, themselves often do not actually live here.
Lauren Elizabeth Wells is the registered agent for the house’s current owner, NOLA Touro St.

Her name is on the Airbnb license for 2109 Josephine St. The license holder for 2111 is Tony Detre. Both list the same California phone number. (No one answered when we called.)

Wells holds a license for another short-term rental on Marais Street near Franklin Avenue, according to city records.

She toured the Josephine Street house early last year, asking the tenants to stand outside while she looked at it, Richards said.

Richards said she asked that day if she would need to find a new place. She said Wells told her she’d get back to her.

In March, both women got an email from NOLA Touro saying the owner “intends to undergo major renovations … which require a vacant property.” They had 45 days to leave. They were told their last month’s rent would be refunded once they left and the property had been inspected.

In October, Wells and Detre applied for their short-term rental licenses.
I guess it's possible they recently moved here to be closer to their investment. But absentee Airbnb ownership seems to be a pretty common pattern.

Just gotta figure out which Kailas can keep the money

Here comes another stab at developing the old Woolworth site into a hotel.
An 18-story Hard Rock Hotel, including condominium units for sale, is being proposed for the corner of Canal and Rampart streets, where a former Woolworth's department store was demolished three years ago.

Hard Rock International issued a news release Thursday (Feb. 15) saying it would work with the local property owner, Kailas Cos., to bring 350 hotel rooms and 62 condo units to the site. It calls for the project to be completed by spring 2019.
They almost got something like this done a few years ago but...
Previous iterations of a hotel and residential structures have struggled to get off the ground at the corner, which had been dormant for several years before the 2015 demolition. The original $70 million luxury apartment development faltered after its principal, Praveen Kailas, was convicted of stealing recovery funds after Hurricane Katrina.
At the time, the Kailases were billing Road Home (the fund intended to help Katrina victims rebuild and return to New Orleans) for work done on their various other projects.  Interestingly, the judge who sentenced Praveen Kailas went easy on him, specifically because he had "taken the fall" for other family members. 
"Criminal activity such as this inflates the cost and dilutes the effectiveness of government programs," U.S. Chief Judge Sarah Vance told Kailas during the sentencing hearing. Vance agreed to go below the recommended 41-51-month sentence range suggested in a probation services report because Kailas was just 27 when he began approving the fraudulent invoices, and because he has since accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing. Vance also pointed out that Kailas is the only one to take "the fall for family members who were involved and not charged."
Spread the money around.  Let the baby of the family take the slap on the wrist for the team. Get right back to it.  Lessons learned, right?

Does Governor Landry know what governors do?

Jeff Landry really liked that Laura Ingraham speech to LABI last week.
Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry declared that conservative television and radio personality Laura Ingraham would make a "great governor," less than a week after Louisiana's largest business group's decision to hire Ingraham to speak at an event drew criticism.

Ingraham praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee, blasted New Orleans for taking down Confederate monuments, made fun of the city's Mayor Mitch Landrieu and derided the #MeToo social media movement while serving as keynote speaker for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry's annual meeting Feb. 8.

She also closed her remarks at the LABI meeting by saying that she might buy property in Louisiana and decide to run for governor in 2019. Ingraham has also been discussed as a candidate for statewide office in Virginia where she lives as well.
It's weird that Landry thinks Ingraham ought to just go ahead and take the job he will certainly be running for and often acts as if he already has. It would be fun to see if he changes his mind should she actually make good on the threat. But I don't think a second home in the Gret Stet was included in her speaking fee.

But Ingraham isn't Landry's only friend on the national stage right now. He's also got lots of pals on this fancy sub-Reddit.
An association of top Republican law enforcement officials has created a secret online bulletin board called the “Briefing Room” that’s allowing big donors to help shape legal policy, according to records reviewed by MapLight and The Intercept.

The Republican Attorneys General Association frequently directs officials working for GOP attorneys general to review files posted on the file-sharing website before participating in conference calls hosted by RAGA’s nonprofit policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund. The association works to get Republicans elected to the top law enforcement job at the state level. The Briefing Room is hosted by RLDF on the virtual cloud website, box.com.
The RAGA/RLDF board basically works like ALEC but for Attorneys General. It develops and coordinates donor-friendly policies that can be implemented across state lines by member AGs. In other words it is a clearing house for national agenda setting on behalf of these people.
RAGA’s largest donors in 2017 included the Judicial Crisis Network ($2.9 million), a dark money organization that led a $10 million media campaign to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ($590,000), a trade association that works to limit lawsuits against corporations; and Koch Industries ($205,000), the global conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Some RAGA donors have been involved in a range of state-level investigations and lawsuits, including Marathon Oil Company, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma. Purdue, the manufacturer of the popular painkiller Oxycontin, is being sued by 14 states for allegedly downplaying the addiction risks posed by its prescription opioid medication. RAGA members are leading the lawsuits in Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina.
Pay to play law enforcement seems like a serious matter of public interest.  So, naturally, the AGs aren't especially interested in keeping the public informed about the decision-making process.  Vehicles like this message board are used because they exist in kind of a public records gray area. Which is why reporters are having trouble getting access.   The AGs can pretend these public records aren't really public records, usually by just saying they aren't documents produced by the AG's office or that they belong to a "third party website" sort of like Hillary Clinton's famous private email server some of these same Republicans spent much of the past year and a half moaning about. 

The Bayou Brief noticed something even more interesting about the way Jeff Landry's office responds to these requests.  Landry asserts a "deliberative process privilidge" that does not actually exist. 
The deliberative process exemption no longer exists in Louisiana.

It was eliminated in 2015, after then-Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Act 145 into law. But even when it had been on the books, the exemption, specifically, had never applied to anyone other than the governor.

Landry’s office was concealing public records by citing an old law that never applied to them in the first place, and no doubt, they were counting on the belief that no one would question or challenge their deception.
By now, we're used to Landry mistaking the Governor's privlidges for his own.  But, as the state's number one law talking guy, he should at least endeavor to stay up to date about what those actually are.  We're pretty sure Laura Ingraham doesn't actually want the job anyway. But if she's looking for a letter of recommendation, she should probably get one from someone with a clearer understanding of the job.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Digging out from under it all

We survived Carnival.  There was so much of it. There is so much. Too much.  I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet. But this year feels like one we're gonna have to talk about.  So, more to come soon.  Meanwhile, there is a mess to clean and I'm currently barely alive.   Here is the Krewe of Municipal Vehicles in glorious action Friday night.

Scooper

Update: Hey I thought we were going to stop making a big deal out of this, by the way.

As life returns to normal in post-Mardi Gras New Orleans, clean-up crews are working to dispose the huge amount of trash generated by the annual carnival celebration.

So far, city and contractor crews have sent around 620 tons of debris to the landfill since the first major parade weekend, according to the director of the city's Department of Sanitation, Cynthia Sylvain-Lear. That's short of the average roughly 900 tons of debris Mardi Gras typically produces as well as the 1,300-ton mark the city notched last year, Sylvain-Lear said.

But there's still a long way to go.

"Our tonnage may be higher this year," Sylvain-Lear said Wednesday (Feb. 14).
Not that I'm complaining. I think trash tonnage is an excellent measure of the size and success of Mardi Gras no matter how insecure our civic boosters seem to get over it.  The process of cleaning it up is almost as amazing as making the mess in the first place. Which is why I try to record a bit of that every year as well. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Raining on my parades

It is Carnival time and the weather outlook is bleak. There isn't a date left on the parade calendar where there isn't at least some doubt as to whether or not people will be sloshing about in boots and ponchos.  If you are so equipped and hardy enough, it's usually not such a bad deal.  The parades look a bit messier but the crowds are lighter. If you can stay dry enough, it's possible to have a fine time.  This still doesn't stop some of the larger krewes from getting nervous.  So nervous, in fact, that some of them are talking crazy talk.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said Wednesday that he has had queries from multiple New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes, asking if their parades could roll in Jefferson Parish if necessary. Multiple inches of rain, strong wind and thunderstorm are expected throughout the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

After buzz about possible rescheduling on Tuesday, New Orleans police announced that all parades would roll on their scheduled days, but times could be changed.

"I've had some discussions with a couple captains candidly, just saying that … 'if we had to move, could we talk to you?' I said 'we're open to anything,' " Yenni said in a press briefing. "I'd have to get with our sheriff's department to make sure we could accommodate that. … but if we can help put on Mardi Gras, we certainly want to do so."
Or maybe it's just Yenni talking crazy.  The krewe spokesmen all sound like they're cooperating with NOPD. Although, the "candid discussions" with Yenni might also be a bit of back channel brinksamanship over rescheduling.  Or maybe they're just looking to pick up some of that sweet JP moolah
Wednesday, the parish council voted to give $25,000 subsidies each to Caesar and the Krewe of Centurions.

"Some council members are choosing to give money directly to krewes that will help their efforts," JP Council member Jennifer Van Vrancken said. "One of the things that I do is support the Rhythm on the Route band competition. So my office helps fund all of the winners."

JP President Mike Yenni said taxpayer money given to the krewes is well worth the price when you consider carnival has a $24 million dollar economic impact on the parish.

"So for the small amounts of money that the parish council has allocated to these krewes, to kind of help them out on those prime nights and prime weekends, we're seeing return on that investment," Yennis said. "Hotel occupancy in Jefferson Parish is up to 90 percent."
We've talked at length about the problems of route consolidation already so I don't want to go too far into that right now.  Orleans Parish parades would do well to disperse away from the St. Charles route back into the neighborhoods to spread the celebration more evenly across the city the way it was once not so long ago.  The Jefferson Parish issue is an added layer on top of this, though, having to do with the white flight origins and lingering racial divisions between New Orleans and Metairie.  That dynamic is changing again in the era of gentrification. As the city becomes more desirable to wealthier whites, the suburban lifestyle is starting to change as well.  These trends are beginning to manifest in the Carnival calendar.

Anyway, we'll have to see how that develops in the future.  Right now we're more concerned with the rain since that is definitely affecting things.  It doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to ruin anybody's time entirely, though.  Often a little rain on a parade isn't all that bad. We've seen our share of it already and have come through pretty well. Here are some photos and stuff.

Saturday was touch and go for the five parades that rolled through Orleans Parish. Pontchartrain got off without a hitch.  Captain Sam is one of my favorite Carnival icons.  He and I are the same age and we both lived in New Orleans East for a time when we were younger.

Captain Sam

Also it looks like they've done away with the pretense of titling their royalty with roman numerals.  I guess I can get behind that.

Pontchartrain 43

I don't have any pictures of Choctaw or Freret. That's when the quagmire began. It was bad. And I felt bad. I had to go lay down for a while, frankly.  But somehow we rallied in time for Sparta.

Sparta

Because the previous night had been a little too much about straight whiskey when it should have been about Miller Lite, Saturday had to be about Diet Coke when it also should have been about Miller Lite.  (This also may have something to do with being the same age as Captain Sam but never mind that right now.)  The point is, we watched Sparta and Pygmalion without drinking any alcohol.  Yes, it is perfectly fine to do this.

Let's see what pictures look good here.  The intermittent rain didn't make it easy.  Sparta had a Shakespeare theme of some sort. It looked very good. Here is their Taming Of The Shrew float. It had a big ol' pelican on it.

Taming of the Shrew

Pygmalion wants to be First Weekend Endymion.  (Tit-Dymion?  End-Mini-on?) This year its captain (some Rizutto or another.. Is it Jack or Phil?) cut some TV ads promoting the parade and ball as a major event.   That's not unheard of but it is unusual. Especially for a first week parade.  I'm not sure why they feel like they have to do this.  Are they worried about being eclipsed by the growing spectacle of Chewbacchus across town?  Anyway, it's funny.

The parade is fine. It really does look like somebody tried to make an Endymion but just didn't have enough parts. Maybe some day they will pull it off. The rain made this attempt appear less successful than it could have been.  Here is what I mean by the comparison.

These maid and duke floats are modeled on the long procession that Endymion typically begins with.  The riders are supposed to have big headdresses suspended from the rigging behind them.  But the rain must have messed that up Saturday.  Anyway you see what they did there.

Pygmalion Maids

They've also developed a couple of gaudy, led-covered signature floats.  The Jester here is a reference to the French Quarter daiquiri shops the Rizuttos also happen to run.

Jester

They try to bring in a lot of cool marching clubs as well. The Krewe de Lune is in either its third or fourth year now.

Krew de Lune

The theme was.. sea creatures or something... I forget. Here is a 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea float.  The floats in both Sparta and Pygmalion looked good despite the rain.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

It's actually a pretty nice parade. The wanna-be-Endymion air of it only makes it seems smaller by comparison.  In any case, both of these parades were fine examples of how persisting through a little rain can pay off.

Wednesday was an even clearer case in point. It rained so much during Druids and  Nyx that the Pelicans even had to stop playing their indoor sport. 




We are hosting out of town friends this week and these were their young children's first Mardi Gras parades. So the weather wasn't ideal.  But we are pros at this and as such we had spare ponchos for everybody. The right gear really does make all the difference.  There still isn't much I can do for my camera, though. So I only got a few phone snapshots. Most of them are bad. 

Druid tree of life

I did feel obligated to get a shot of their monument joke. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. But the subject is more than tired at this point.

Druids salute NOLA Tri- Centennial

Druids also offered commentary on the shorter Canal route. They're correct here. Maybe a little whiny and passive aggressive in tone. But still..

No Ioop

There was also the traditional, but subtle, knock at Nyx which you can see in this blurry photo if you want to click on it. It's just a purse with some big bills spilling out of it. It's a reference to Nyx's iconic symbol and the ongoing controversies over the grifter in charge of the krewe.  Here she is now on her Captain's float.

Julie Lea

As we have come to expect with regard to the "largest parading organization in all of Carnival" the problems with Nyx didn't have as much to do with the rain so much as they did with... being Nyx and doing Nyx things.
Crowds stationed around Magazine and Upperline streets got a bit more time to plead for hand-decorated purses after a float hit tree limbs on Jefferson Avenue, leading to a downed power line and a brief delay in the Krewe of Nyx parade, according to Entergy New Orleans and the city's emergency-preparedness department.

"A float came into contact with tree limbs," said Yolanda Pollard, spokeswoman for Entergy New Orleans, and the limbs fell onto a line servicing a single property on Jefferson Avenue, near the start of the parade.
Yeah yeah, it was a freak accident and could have happened to anybody. But for a self-proclamed "superkrewe" that always ends up being a little too big for its britches, not quite fitting an oversized float down an Uptown street is a little bit too on the nose as a metaphor.

We experienced the delay as an extended gap in the parade which is kind of a rare thing these days and so kind of nostalgic.  Here is the back of the parade catching up.

Parade approach

Due in part to the power line incident and to the weather, Nyx ended up being kind of a wreck; delays between floats followed by very large floats going way too fast through the rain to try and catch up, that sort of thing.  The typical Nyx problem of too many floats with no bands or marching units between them was in evidence again this year.  Toward the back end, it starts to feel very much like a truck parade. 

There's nothing wrong with a truck parade, of course, especially when, as is the case with Nyx, everybody seems to know one or several of the riders.  That plus the light crowd makes for a prime opportunity to catch pretty much everything.  The first-timer children in our group enjoyed the hell out of that. One can even appreciate the chaotic atmosphere of watching a parade struggle not to fall apart.  Which, really, is the most appropriate way to celebrate during a thunderstorm anyway. Nyx might not be the Prime Time event it bills itself as. But, for this year, anyway, it might be the model for pushing on through the weather for the other superkrewes to emulate.

Sign of the purse

LABI brought in Laura Ingraham to keynote their meeting

That is going about how you would expect.




I hope they brought some of those "Forever Lee Circle" beads to include in her swag bag.  LABI guys should know how to get a hold of those pretty easily.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A house is not a motel

Mardi Gras rental

After the strip club drama subsided, another thing happened yesterday at the CPC meeting. Action on the Sun Yard development was deferred to next month.  Regardless, the meeting was packed with concerned neighbors who all spoke against the poshtel/entertainment venue/place-space-park-and-pool or whatever Sun Yard is actually purporting to be.

One thing it is definitely not, as two organizers point out in this Lens opinion piece, is an acceptable "alternative to Airbnb."

Wait. Really? Hotel guests shuttling in and out of a 37-unit complex in a residential district aren’t themselves short-term visitors?

New Orleans faces a massive crisis of affordable housing. According to Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a local housing justice organization, the city will need an estimated 33,000 additional units of affordable housing over the next 10 years to mitigate this crisis.

Since 2000, New Orleans rents have increased by 54 percent, the cost of homes has increased by 50 percent, yet the average income has increased by only 2 percent.

An article published by The Lens in October noted that 6-to-8 percent of residential properties in the Bywater are now listed as short-term rentals. With fewer and fewer housing units available, rents and property taxes rise. Working people are pushed out of their communities and scattered to the margins of the city.

The Sun Yard development would remove five affordable housing units from the market. It would draw more tourists to the Upper Ninth Ward and accelerate the process of gentrification on both sides of St. Claude Avenue. The developers’ plans call for interior demolition of the historic homes, leaving only the original facades visible from the street, a Potemkin village in place of a once vibrant New Orleans neighborhood.
Whether it be through short term rental "disruption" or through luxury travel or high end condo development, the effect is still the displacement of residents for the benefit of investors. That is what we need our land use policy to guard against. This isn't just about one development in particular.  It's a fundamental matter of whether policymakers respond to the demands of people or to the demands of capital. Are we governed by an inclusive democratic political process or by a wealthy network of oligarchs?

From the looks of things we won't get a good test of this until the Winter Council gives way to the newly elected government in May.  Nobody in this article seems to think the lame ducks want to touch the Airbnb rules. That hasn't stopped Eric Bay's group from pushing further liberalization, though. 
A group promoting short-term rentals in New Orleans wants to double the number of days that tourists can rent homes in residential neighborhoods and expand Airbnbs to the French Quarter, where they’re mostly banned now.

The proposal would cap the number of whole-home rentals in residential neighborhoods, but it would allow currently licensed rentals to remain.

However, even the head of the group behind the proposal, the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, doesn’t expect it to gain traction before May. That’s when five of the seven council members will be replaced with newcomers and when District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell will be inaugurated as mayor.

A memo describing the proposed revisions calls for limiting new, whole-home Airbnbs in residential districts — regulated through “temporary licenses”— to two per block face
ANP's strategy going forward will be to pretend their plan to grandfather in existing STR licenses and set a "limit" at twice the number currently operating is actually a cap that is going to, in Bay's words, "protect affordable housing."  
With these proposals, “we are not taking over neighborhoods. We are protecting affordable housing,” Bay said. “We wrote those proposals with an opposition mindset.”

His group proposes doubling a nightly tax collected by the city from $1 to $2, which is used for affordable housing and blight remediation. It also calls for significantly increasing permit fees for all three types of short-term rental licenses.

While it’s not clear that the Alliance’s proposal will gain support from current or incoming council members, it’s a sign that the debate over short-term rentals is not settled.

What the ANP plan actually does is click the ratchet at the current rate of destruction while setting things up for the next turn.  It also disingenuously appropriates the use of "affordable housing" rhetoric in order to finesse the growing public outcry. Bay and others profiting from turning houses into hotels began this fight arguing that there is no evidence that the practice has any effect on housing costs. Since that time study after study has shown this to be an obvious lie. And so, suddenly, Bay is an affordable housing advocate.

Will it work?  That depends, again, on whether or not the newly elected council and mayor are actually responsive to the concerns of their electorate.  I am not optimistic. Even as STRs are  becoming less and less popular as people suffer from the housing crunch, proponents are getting more organized and have a slick strategy in place to move for expansion.  This Lens article suggests that councilmembers are nervous about taking a politically sensitive action at this point. But regardless of what they say, the fact remains ANP has everybody's ear including the incoming mayor's. Their strategy is designed to allow electeds the wiggle room to say they oppose STR expansion
but still end up supporting something branded as a "limit." The tax increase is meant as a sweetener as well. We look forward to listening to LaToya Cantrell applaud the measure as an earnest attempt at "finding balance."

That "balance" still may mean you gotta get up and move out of the way of these tourists.  The city (and its partners) needs that revenue, after all.


Played to a draw

The Planning Commission,  in light of the massive opposition organized by strip club workers and an impressive show of force at the meeting, decided not to endorse the mayor and city council's plan to place a "hard cap" on the number of clubs allowed to operate in the Quarter.
The CPC voted unanimously to support a “soft cap” of up to 14 clubs in the VCE, with other openings subject to the conditional use permitting process. But three clubs were forced to close in the wake of those raids, what club workers say is a political maneuver of "attrition" that aligns with City Hall's plans for fewer clubs on the strip.

It’s a tentative win — until the City Council considers its next steps — for club workers, who marched through the busy French Quarter in the wake of raids and what they’ve argued is City Hall’s plan to “sanitize” Bourbon Street as a more “family-friendly” destination for tourists.
Backing the reduce-by-attrition principle might still be enough for the city to work with for the time being. It makes it more likely that a closure by raid or an "emergency" declaration by the mayor will be permanent.  We still have to see what the City Council does with the surveillance ordinance.  And, of course, council could always vote to override CPC anyway. So, no, this isn't over at all.

What happens in Jefferson Parish coffeehouses

It's weird that we can't go more than two or three years without a JP Sheriff either spying on or getting spied on by a political opponent in a coffee shop. Last month, Joe Lopinto tried (unsuccessfully) to convince everyone he had no idea any of this was going on.  The IA report says differently.
A few days after the coffee klatch, on Oct. 18, Lopinto had a "casual conversation" with one of his deputies, Sgt. Rodney Naumann, at a crash scene, according to the internal affairs report.

Naumann told the sheriff he witnessed the coffeehouse gathering three days earlier, having walked into the P.J.'s while he was off duty.

"Sheriff Lopinto requested a picture of the meeting," Maj. William Boudreaux wrote in the report.

Naumann then told the sheriff he knew the owner of the cafe, Mike Pierce, and that he "could inquire if getting a photo was possible."

Hours later, Lopinto told Scanlan, his chief deputy, that "he would like to have a copy of" the coffeehouse surveillance footage, the report says. "Based on this conversation, Chief Scanlan called Sgt. Naumann and asked if he could get it on one of his breaks."  
Because as long as a deputy is on his break when he commandeers private security footage in order to do recon on the guy running against his boss, there's no harm in that, probably.

Anyway, you know, over in Orleans Parish the plan is just to put cameras everywhere and feed the footage directly to NOPD so nobody has to worry how to fill out their time sheet when they do this stuff.  Much more efficient that way.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Nature found a way

Yeah. It's mutant crawfish. Pretty much.

"Attack of the mutant crawfish" sounds like a B-movie film cobbled together to grab Louisiana tax credits. But in Europe, that horror is real.

Marble crawfish, reports the New York Times, are exploding in Europe and marching into Madagascar. The strange crustacean, which likely sprang into existence 25 years ago, lays eggs without mating.

One marbled crawfish can produce a batch of hundreds of eggs. All female. All exact genetic clones of the mother.

The asexual breeding is what has driven the species' growth, crowding out native crawfish.

Just wanted to remind everybody. This movie was actually made already. 


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Dance like the cops are always watching

Ladder citadel

It's the first weekend of parade season. And so now is the time when we perform the ritual of the Carnival Ordinances Reminder Press Conference. This year, we've got an exciting new venue in the NOPD Real Time Crime Center surveillance camera batcave. As you can see, it is a fantastic space for comfortably arranging a dozen or so public officials behind one podium as is in keeping with local tradition.
Tuesday's event featured performances by the heads of NOPD, NOFD, Parks and Parkways, Homeland Security, as well as BOTH MAYORS.   Take it away, kids. And I mean, literally, they are taking stuff away. 
During a news conference about Mardi Gras safety preparations Tuesday, city officials said ladders already set up before Friday's parades will be removed during sweeps. Crews will begin sweeps Tuesday and continue them into next week.

Officials said ladders and setups on public green spaces -- like the neutral ground or the sidewalks -- will be disposed of during the sweeps. Items cannot be placed on the parade route more than 24 hours ahead of a parade.

In addition to the sweeps, officials said people will not be able to claim their items if they are removed. City officials said they plan to only dispose of the items that are collected.
Sure enough, within an hour of the end of today's presser, crews were spotted out on St. Charles ripping down ladders and hauling them away. Probably the highlight of the press conference was Parks and Parkways Director Ann Macdonald delivering the shot heard round the Krewe Of Chad.
“You’re creating a barrier. We have bolt cutters,” she said. “You can’t reserve a piece of public green space. That paint means absolutely nothing.”

We have bolt cutters and we know how to use them. I can't tell you how gratifying that was to hear. If you've followed this blog for any length of time you'll probably be aware that we've been on the Carnival ladder beat for pretty much ever. I contributed some comments for a Gambit story in 2013. The year before that I wrote this article for NOLA Defender. I've watched the problem become worse in little steps each year. But I've also watched the city's response slowly become better and better.  This year it looks as though they are finally taking it seriously.

They're also following a smart game plan.  Start the season off by making a big show of it. We all know that once the parades start rolling, there isn't going to be time to focus solely on enforcing this stuff.   But on the first day, when everyone is paying attention and there aren't a million things happening at once, that's when you go out, find some ladders and make an example of them.  
City sanitation and parks crews had commenced "constant sweeps" to remove any ladders placed on public spaces such as neutral grounds more than 24 hours prior to the start of the first parade on Friday, Macdonald said. The sweeps would continue through next week, she continued, and any property taken away would not be returned.

"All items will be disposed of," Macdonald said. "We will not be cataloguing any ladders or personal items."
If I had to guess, I'd say the sweeps probably aren't as "constant" as they are claiming there. But that's fine, actually. Pretty soon we'll be at a point where we're always 24 hours away from one parade or another anyway.  The point was to get on TV early so that people see that this is an issue.  Maybe they'll be watching Channel 4 where, for some reason, they've decided to frame the whole story as thought the space-hogging ladder people were the real victims. But it doesn't matter. As long as the message gets across that there are rules in place and the city might actually enforce those rules, I think people might start to police their own behavior a bit better.

While it's nice to see the city start to do something, it's concerning to see the rationale they provide for stepping in
The city code appears to allow tents along parade routes, requiring only that "ladders, tents, grills and other personal effects" must be set back 6 feet from the curb.

But Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has decided that tents with walls, as opposed to open-sided canopies, constitute a "barricade" that might "obstruct passage along public property," something that's prohibited.

This is a homeland security threat,” Landrieu said. “We need to be able to see. There can be tarps, but there can be no tents.”
Umm.... no.  A tent is not a "homeland security threat."  I agree they can be a threat to a good fun shared experience when they needlessly appropriate large chunks of the neutral ground. They impinge on the communal experience of the street festival that Carnival is at its best.  And preserving that experience is really where the city officials should be focused. Obviously, they have other priorities this year.

We've already seen the emphasis on security manifest in the plan to "streamline" the parade route and format. We're also seeing it up on street corners up and down the parade route.

Camera rig

We're told the "Real Time Monitoring Center" where these cameras all feed into is fully staffed now. We're also told FBI will be monitoring your social media feeds. So if you are going out to the parades this week, remember to be on your best behavior and dance like the cops are always watching.

I haven't had a chance to FOIA the tapes yet but if my hangover is any indication, they will show that we went a little too hard for the first Friday night.  I should know by now that's way too early to get out the whiskey.  This is Miller Lite time only.  Not that there wasn't any Miller Lite. The Green Thing was full of those.  But I ended up using it to trade with a street vendor for peanuts.

Green thing

I'm interested in seeing how krewes adjust to the new restrictions on the number of bands and marching clubs that can appear between floats.  Oshun's solution appears to have been to just start the parade with nine or ten dance teams in a row.  The Dancin' Divas here were one of many.

Dancin Divas

You never expect Oshun to do anything elaborate anyway. But line of dance troops followed by the several court floats of "Goddesses" kind of made it feel like the parade was taking a while to actually start.  Eventually the emotional support peacocks showed up and everything was fine.

Oshun peacocks

Oshun's floats were themed around Louisiana festivals. There are enough of those these days to make a parade that spans the globe. Certainly, the streamlined route would never fit it anyway. So they had to pick just a few.  Here's a Seafood Festival.

Seafood Festival

And a Po-Boy Festival

Po-Boy Festival

And, well, you get the idea.  There was one float I didn't get a photo of but couldn't figure out.  The signage said, "Louis Armstrong Festival" but the figure on the float was definitely Michael Jackson.

I think Cleopatra might be hungover this morning too.  If I was taking swigs off the whiskey too early in the season, this krewe was going for the big guns earlier in the year than we are used to seeing them. Here is St. Aug leading the parade.

St. Aug

Maybe this is the new normal now that all of the West Bank parades roll Uptown.  Cleopatra is a bigger event than what we've been used to. Bigger floats, bigger throws, just bigger in general.  The themeing is still very first weekend. That's okay.

Cleopatra's Animal Kingdom

No peacocks in this one. But there were other kinds of birds; roosters and ravens and turkeys.

Turkey

What was surprising, though, was the appearance of so many marching clubs. Fancy ones too. Elvi, Sirens, Muff-A-Lottas, and others not pictured here.

Jailhouse Rockers

Sirens

Muff-A-Lottas

And, well, yeah. That was Friday. I gotta shake off the.. uh.. shakes and go see Pontchartrain before the ladder people get all the good spots.  I trust the real time monitors will let me know when they get here.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Peak Falcons

Arthur Blank is a ninny.

The Atlanta Falcons have had enough of the jokes — especially ones made at their expense.

After multiple instances of ribbing in their Christmas Eve game against the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons complained to the NFL, according to a report from The Advocate's Nick Underhill.

The Falcons took umbrage to the Saints' use of the 28-3 meme in the "Us vs. Them" series they run at all home games. The video clip used the scene of the Falcons leading 28-3 in Super Bowl 51 against the Patriots as their "defining moment." It contrasted with the Saints' defining moment as Steve Gleason's blocked punt against the Falcons in their return to the Superdome following Katrina in 2006.
About that 2006 "defining moment," by the way.  The statue outside of the Superdome that commemorates this glorious moment is missing one detail.  Does anybody remember why that is?
The Superdome statue commemorating Steve Gleason's famous blocked punt has a curious omission: only the figure of Gleason, flying through the air and touching the ball with his outstretched fingers has a name and a team a viewer can determine.

The reason: the Atlanta Falcons refused to grant the Saints and sculptor Brian Hanlon permission to use the Falcons' symbol or the punter's name in the piece, titled 'Rebirth,' according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The Saints repeatedly sought permission from the Falcons, even urging officials in Atlanta to appeal directly to Falcons owner Arthur Blank, sources said. The Falcons told the Saints that appeal had been made, but it remained unclear if Blank personally forbid the use of the trademarks or if underlings simply brushed aside the request from a division rival.
Ha ha, "underlings." No, it was Blank. What a baby.  It's okay, though.  Some enterprising Saints fans took it upon themselves to correct the statue once.  I think this ought to be part of the ritual before every home game vs. Atlanta. But so far, it seems like a one-off.

Falcon punter

Funny how some could paint you as a criminal

Last night there was a rally for the embattled employees of Bourbon Street strip clubs.
Club workers have repeatedly pointed to the fact that officials have made no specific allegations of human trafficking, which both ATC and NOPD have said were the reasons for the raids.

“It’s like WMD’s, they said they were out looking for something they never found,” said Lee Laurent, a manager at Rick’s Sporting Saloon, referencing the non-existent weapons of mass destruction used by President George W. Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Several protesters suggested the raids were aimed at cleaning up the city's image, either to bolster Mayor Mitch Landrieu's political ambitions or to attract more family-friendly development.
"Several protesters suggested..." I hate when they write it in a way that implies facts are just one side's opinion. It isn't just the strippers "suggesting" that the raids are part of a tourism branding campaign. That comes directly from the Mayor's tourism industry funded "security plan" published last year which cites as one of its goals, reigning in the "culture of permissiveness"  in New Orleans. And delineates specific remedies via land use policy in the French Quarter.

In the near term, the City will In the near term, the City will seek to limit issuances of adult use occupational licenses, enhance requirements for live entertainment venues, and revise the Vieux CarrĂ© Commission design guidelines to enhance safety and security measures. Overall, this action will lead to a rebranding of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street’s image as a cultural destination.
The so-called "surveillance" ordinance which may still pass with or without the camera provision contains language that would allow the mayor to shut down any ABO licensed business based only on his own discretion.  
The ordinance contains an emergency suspension provision, allowing the mayor, the police chief or the ABO Board chairman the ability to suspend a permit. That suspension would occur if any of those three people believe the operation "endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community."
There is a proposal on the agenda at the City Planning meeting this coming Tuesday that limits the number of Adult Live Performance Venues in the quarter. So once a strip club is closed, nobody can open another one there. And, of course, the first few blocks of Bourbon Street also happen to be the lone exception to the ban on short term rentals in the Quarter.

Point is, this doesn't have anything to do with "lewd acts" or "human trafficking."  It's a deliberate strategy for giving Bourbon Street the Times Square treatment (the security plan actually cites Times Square as an aspirational case study.) It begins with bullying what is currently there out of the way through criminalization and marginalization.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Start with the fascists in your own streets

Man that Trump State of the Union was a real doozy.  He started out running through the self-congratulatory bullshit everybody expected. "My economy is good and big. The tax cuts are the best in the history of everything. We are going to do the bipartisan infrastructures and be great again."  There was some stupidity about "clean coal" and something about how "regulations" are keeping us from making more roads out of Empire State Buildings. We also expected to hear at least some of the jingoistic garbage about flags and cops and such that kind of keeps the brand out there.

But this took an even darker turn than I expected.  Trump went hard on immigration policy setting forth a plan that will re-define the standards determining who gets to be in the country and what rights they are entitled to.
As part of his offer to put 1.8 million young, unauthorized immigrant “Dreamers” on a path to citizenship, Mr. Trump also wants to shift legal immigration away from prioritizing family reunification to a system based on individual qualifications. It would be a significant change – if lawmakers could agree on what constitutes “merit.”

The president and his supporters in Congress appear to be defining merit as highly skilled, well-educated immigrants who speak English and can support themselves. But what about strawberry pickers or hotel workers? Those jobs are commonly performed by low-skilled immigrants. And then there’s the brother or sister of a legal resident who comes to America and starts a business, whose family helps him or her adjust to a new culture.

“Nobody has a set definition of ‘merit.’ Everyone uses it for his own purpose,” says Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. The term sounds positive, she says, while a phrase like “chain migration” – or family-based immigration, which the president wants to stop – sounds negative, like a weight.
A "merit" standard is a deliberate cruelty that attaches legal status to class and ethnicity. In order to sell it, Trump employed some of his most blatantly fascist rhetorical devices.  He invited crime victims to sit in the gallery and used them as human props to imply that immigrants are all or mostly violent "MS 13" gang members.  He stoked a notion that extending citizenship to immigrants who arrived in the US as children poses a threat to the status of the native-born. The not-so-subtle ethno-nationalist appeal of this message was not lost on its intended audience.




Trump went on to pledge he was rescinding plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay adding a line that reasserted a Bush era prerogative of the President to strip terror suspects of their rights by declaring them "unlawful enemy combatants."   And if all of that wasn't scary enough, Trump threw in a little sabre rattling toward North Korea while declaring his intention to expand the US nuclear arsenal.

So, all in all, not good. The Advocate was just happy that he winked at some of the local guys.

But though the times are bad, they are not times for despair. These are times for action. And there is no better way to take action against the fascists in D.C. than to start pushing back against the ones in your own town.  As it so happens, we've got plenty to pick from here.

This week the mayor along with state and local law enforcement executed a plan designed by their hired-gun lawyer and the religious fanatics at Covenant House to put a bunch of strip club employees out of work just before the busy Mardi Gras season.

The raids quickly drew criticism for

1) The authoritarian brutality with which they were conducted.
Two of the dancers interviewed after the weekend raid at Rick's Sporting Saloon said police used invasive and unnecessary tactics in documenting the identities of dancers in the club. Officers also made rude comments the dancers said were dehumanizing. No complaints have been made against officers who conducted the raid, according to the NOPD. One dancer said she fears that filing a complaint would make her a police target and jeopardize her enrollment at a conservative college.

2) The moralistic rhetoric with which they were rationalized.  
At a press conference Monday morning, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC) officials defended recent raids of eight Bourbon Street gentlemen's clubs, calling them the "first step, but certainly not the last" in an ongoing effort to fight human trafficking in New Orleans.

However, official accounts of the investigation seemed to muddle human trafficking with the variety of violations uncovered in the clubs, which range in seriousness.

3) The blatant dishonesty and misdirection inherent in that rationalization.
Of the arrests, ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard said, “Prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking.”

But prostitution is not trafficking. Trafficking, as it is defined by the state of Louisiana and under federal law, requires force, fraud, and coercion; prostitution does not. In the same press conference, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison admitted that he does not believe prostitution and sex trafficking “are one and the same.”
This is a thoroughly planned and coordinated effort to bully these businesses out of the way so that Dizneylandrieu can finally be built. Pat laid out the next steps the other day. Here is what to expect.  The Planning Commission is about to take up a measure to reduce the number of French Quarter "Adult Live Performance Venues," through attrition.  That attrition is currently being generated through these bogus raids.

It would be moving even faster had City Council already passed the ABO reforms they were scheduled to take up this month. That ordinance grants the mayor unilateral authority to suspend liquor licenses should he decide that in his own judgement the business "endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community."  Unfortunately for our would-be stongman decider, the enabling act has hit a snag due to its tangentially related but equally fascist effect of making New Orleans the most heavily surveilled city in the country.

Mind you, that hasn't stopped some cameras from going up anyway.

NOPD eyes

These NOPD eyeballs with blue and red flashing light accessories have been going up along the Uptown parade route this week. They're supposed to be monitored in "real time" from a fancy new video lair. It turns out they're only today running at 100 percent of full capacity. Which might explain why I couldn't get anybody to holler back at me the other day despite the fact that  FBI is supposed to be watching social media in coordination with the Real Time camera monitors.  I'll try again once the parades roll. Leave it to New Orleans to build a totalitarian state panopticon but never figure out how get it to work properly. The phrase, "So far behind we're ahead," springs to mind. Then again that may be too much to hope for in this case. 

In all likelihood, the camera provision will be... um... stripped... from the ABO ordinance in order to pass it. In the meantime, Mitch et al will have to stick to their regular program of harassment.  In which case, it falls to the oppressed to push back.
A Jan. 31 press conference about the Bourbon Street infrastructure redevelopment turned cacophonous when a group of gentlemen's club workers and their allies staged a demonstration, drowning out city and tourism officials.

Holding signs that said "Why the celebration?? Strippers are out of work," "We are workers, not political pawns" and simply "Can you not?", a group of at least 70 workers gathered behind officials on the 300 block of Bourbon Street, blocked by a few scattered New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers. As the conference began (and cameras rolled), workers began to chant, rendering officials' statements almost inaudible.

The conference, which was announced late Jan. 30, was called to celebrate progress on the ongoing construction on Bourbon Street and to "remind residents and visitors that [Bourbon Street] is open for business," according to a city press release. But as Department of Public Works director Dani Galloway cited project developments, including completion of major construction on the 100-800 blocks of Bourbon, enhanced water pressure in fire hydrants and other developments meant to improve public safety on the street, workers broke in with chants of "Worker's rights are women's rights," "Their body, their choice" and "Sex work is real work."
There is a mad fascist government in Washington D.C. threatening your rights and your livelihood. That is a scary thing and it is appropriate to be concerned.  But if that feels too big and out of reach for us right now, there are still plenty of arrogant bullies to act against at home.  And they are less difficult to find.