Police Town Meeting

They’re doing it again.

I am requesting a meeting with CM Ramsey to give her one last chance to reverse this process. If she declines, this is going to James Gray, Jason Williams or Jared Brossett. I will also want to know: why do all male Council Members’ names begin with “J”? Talk about conspiracy!

These meetings interfere with freedom of the press, and I don’t want to have to sue. We will try to settle this amicably, but If they force me down the suer route, where I might have to rub shoulders with addicted plaintiffs and their lawyers, I will sue them for that, too!

Okay, let’s start the story. I went to the police Town Meeting Wednesday afternoon, set up by Nadine Ramsey at the St Jude Center on North Rampart. The focus was on the 8th District, which inevitably zoomed in on the French Quarter. Now, my problem is this: police and security are all very well, but NOLAscape has a business to run. Non-profit, unfortunately, but still, business is business. Satire and mockery of folly, lies and evasion are our stock in trade, and municipal government has been its traditional source. And we can’t bloody do it right if this Council and the cops keep avoiding all these standard government key performance areas!

I used to be able to go to a Council committee session with Jackie Clarkson, Hedge-Morrell and Stacy Head and come out laughing, cheerful, full of material for a few NOLAscapes to get ’em rolling in the aisles and coming back for more. Now what? Do I have to turn to Jindal-watching for black comedy? David Vitter and family values? Republicans, fachrissake!

Standing room only at the St Jude. The hall was so full, you were probably there too; but okay, let’s do some reporting.

After a concise introduction by CM Ramsey, Police Chief Ronal Serpas took the mike. On TV the big chief generally looked a bit chilled and smug to me, but not here. He hit the issues square on – equipment, recruiting challenges, training and induction courses, rebuilding the training facility in East New Orleans. A few highlights were: 200 new cars on order. Recruiting drive starting to generate results – they have not recruited for several years, so the program took some time to click in. The reasons for attrition with no recruitment had been budget, the Chief said. There was no choice, but now we are past it The Consent Decree limits trainees to 30 people per entry class, which Serpas approves, because like school, larger classes might adversely affect results. Personnel and recruitment were probably the most interesting subject to most. Statistically, attrition through retirement, leaving for various reasons and dismissals should lead to a reduction of up to 137 officers a year, so you need a fairly active program just to tread water. People with military experience and qualified police officers from other locations can place out of some of the induction training, so they are trying to recruit them. (If you want to see a presentation of these facts with more detail and charts and tables, watch the police section of Council’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting of 25 June 2014.)

Chief Serpas spoke the longest. Have to admit, he was a skilled, clear presenter, and when he opened for questions, I was further surprised to see that he was a good listener. Some of the questions went on a bit, but the Chief seemed not just to be managing to wait them out, but actually listening to the end, and answering to the point.

The outlook that Chief Serpas presented sounded positive and promising. What we do not know is how much it corresponds to reality. One thing sifted through, confirming something Ms Ramsey said last week – Serpas does not see youth outreach as part of the force’s mission. Some police forces do, but NOPD is leaving that to others, especially the NOLA for Life organization.

Not everything was upbeat for the District Eighters. Most people believed the complement of 150 officers in 8 were down to 100; Serpas said it is lower than that – about 90. So with three shifts and seven days, there will be fairly busy times that the NOPD complement is down to about 20. Allowing 4,000 residents, about 7,000 employees and an average of almost 25,000 visitors a day in just the French Quarter part of 8, that’s pretty thin. The State Police supplement helps until Labor Day.

Serpas posed another interesting question: State Police Highway Patrol manages the Interstates everywhere but in New Orleans. Highway Patrol takes over again on the other side of the 17th Street canal, but on this side, for some reason, NOPD is supposed to handle it instead of the highway specialists. It takes police off city patrols, and replaces the specialists with regular beat cops. They have been asking Baton Rouge to change this for years. This seems a pretty goofy way to run an elevated highway; perhaps we should all get on Baton Rouge’s case about this one.l

A challenge from the audience was that NOPD is clogging up the works with arrests for petty infractions, taking officers off the streets and slowing the pipelines. Chief Serpas said in fact the opposite is the case, that arrests are down 38% over the last four years . I smell a rat here, but not enough to try to stomp all over the presentation. If staffing and budget have been down about 27%, and now 40% in District 8, you would expect a significant drop in arrests on the basis of limitation, without a strategic plan. Shall we give him a pass, though, because most of us would have done the same?

There were some brief statement from Commanders Walls of the 8th and Sandifer of the 1st.

Then District Attorney Cannizzaro was up. He surprised me too. The DA is a vigorous speaker. Stalking back and forth in front of the panel’s table, he warmed up with a few of the expected prosecutor’s gripes about courts letting people out. Two things struck me particularly. People caught with illegal guns can be treated as first-time offenders. Carrying a pistol illegally is never anybody’s first crime. Everybody knows it but the court treats it as a first and let’s people out. And statistically, people convicted of an illegal gun offense are twice as likely as the average to commit another crime within a year of release, and five times more likely to commit a violent crime within 12 months. Five times more than who exactly – I’m trying to work that out, but we get the idea.

The District Attorney also said that his policy is to bear down hard on violent criminals, going for tough sentences, but to take it easier on non-violent crimes. He said a lot of those arrested were drug addicts or people that needed help more than incarceration.

So pretty good stuff, and if this Council and these appointed and elected officials keep this up, I am going to have to learn to write straight stories and apply for a job at the Times-Pic.

Isn’t this really just another political trick to keep important columns like NOLAscape from telling the truth? They want us all to get bored and sign up to the Access Press. 

An audience member asked, What can we do to support? Serpas replied: this. Attendance at these meetings and citizen interest is a big step. He said there are more of these Town Halls in progress now since Nadine Ramsey got traction in Council District C than in the whole city in the past five years. One thing at least the Town Hall meetings are doing – the police leaders and the District Attorney are standing up and making commitment before hundreds of us, we the hoi polloi, and we will remember later if they don’t get it done, if the words are empty.

Here’s the thing though – where it gets tough to join it up. Underneath this local festival of justice and promise, we’re trying to keep afloat in a society that incarcerates over two million people, an enormous percentage of them on charges that are a product of the lunatic War on Drugs, a government creation, sentenced on plea bargains because real justice is stacked against these people. The felony term will put most of them on the other side for life, and they serve as an example to their children and others of what they might expect in an American future.

The country is in a wave of militarized policing. The Pentagon is giving surplus tanks to urban police forces. Police in riot gear channel Roman legions. So what is going to happen? Will the good words of Chief Serpas and DA Cannizzaro bring justice, security without loss of freedom, progress? Will the renewed police NOPD be part of our society, or will it be part of a continent-wide mechanism of containment and suppression?

You get to think about that, while I go for a drink.


image  An anecdote I heard today: one of the leaders of French Quarter/New Orleans Advocates, the new civic group centered in the FQ, asked the Commander, “What can we do to help?” That is FQA’s general attitude: get stuck in. The officer was taken aback. He said other downtown groups just complain at them: “The Police have let us down,” and the usual yada yada. The Krewe of Kvetch. The FQ’s grim old Watchdogs, howling at the moon.

Look, guys, something has to be fun. The Cyberstalking defense?


“In closing, I would like to remind the jury that he says he didn’t do it.”

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Prominent Citizens Cyberstalking


Have you seen the comments on the Times-Pic’s article about lawyer Stuart Smith being charged with a crime called “cyberstalking”? Lots of people talking about it and writing surreal comments, so you probably have. What the heck is cyberstalking anyway? I thought it was when a bunch of girls pick on one girl on Facebook for not being cool enough, so she jumps off the roof.

The story is pretty straightforward – Prominent Citizen Smith, whom supporters and some commenters try to keep respectable, goes off the rails, sends electronic communications attempting to menace an even more Prominent Citizen in his role as chairman of a state entity, to a serving council member and a consultant to the city. This week, almost seven months later, the DA finally comes up with a single misdemeanor charge.

Okay so far, biz as usual for Prominent Citizens. The heavy hands of Justice are generally laid on a different level of society and elected officials, but the readers – wow. You gotta read those comments. I’m in there too, and for an all-time first – I’m the nice guy! What’s going on?

There is one guy – or woman, hard to tell with these pseudonyms – who seems really upset. CitizenKan2, he/she calls himself/herself. Lots of dots and dashes, capital letters and screamers. CitizenKan2 is a big fan of Smith and a big enemy of pretty much the rest of the world, I think. It could be really hard to guess who the name conceals. Maybe CitizenKan2 should lie down for a bit. Think about a cool towel. Not a drink! That could be risky.

I wonder whether some of these commenters sit around in the evening slurping down iced Grey Goose or some nice Buffalo Trace on the rocks until they are a bit wobbly, then – you know how it is, your head feels foggy, so you just take a hit off the bong, or maybe a little snort of coke or a quick whiff of crack, you know, just to get your head straight, and then you feel okay. That kind of cocktail should loosen you up nicely for texting and emailing and commenting. Getting your fingers on the keyboard feels just nice and sweet around then. You can let the old vitriol loose. He did it. No he didn’t. He did, but it was a good thing, so yah boo to you. Whoever you are. The other pseudonym.

I haven’t set up any good pseudonyms yet, so I have to be careful about the stuff I use.

One commenter says. “This Smith guy seems to suffer Delusions of Grandeur.” Some of the comment brawl seem to think he suffers worse delusions than that. But a few of them don’t think much of me either. Peace, O Pseudonymous Friends and Enemies.

Another one says, “Robert Watters with his screaming loud music . . . or T-shirt shop owners.” See what I mean? We have to look out for questionable substances. Some people say you are not supposed to threaten or attempt to intimidate people. You know, criminal law and all that. Others say, Well, maybe that depends. Blackmail may be different if the target doesn’t sell a product you want them to sell. Or if you are a Prominent Citizen.

I’m thinking, though – the cyberstalker’s demand was not that Mr Watters turn down the volume (his businesses are closed front, pretty quiet on the street) but step down from his public service post of Chairman of of the Board of Commissioners of the French Quarter Management District. FQMD is very quiet, and does not sell shirts. I guess I have to learn more about French Quarter law.

People that read the texts and emails back in the original article on the subject would probably not have thought of cyberstalking. They tended to say blackmail, extortion, intimidation – Latin sounding words like that, not techno-terms.

Sidebar: something funny. It is legal to tell somebody you are going to expose their secret. It is legal to ask somebody to give you money, or to stand down from a post. But if you link the two, it’s a crime. You would think a lawyer would have spotted that.

In the original February 20th article, there were three targets or victims, Robert Watters, Council member Kristin Gisleson-Palmer and audio consultant Dave Woolworth. At least those are the three we know of. The DA has not issued a charge for Kristin Palmer’s case. Ms Palmer has had no information or communication from the DA’s office about her case. And the DA has done nothing about the aggressive messages to Mr Woolworth. Some people who have been interested in the matter ask the DA’s for information regularly. Stonewall.

One of the commenters – they really are a peculiar bunch of nameless nuts – suggested Mr Watters was “offended” by the message. What? Blackmail or “cyberstalking” (I am still getting used to it) both refer to a threat, not an insult. Maybe this pseudonym didn’t have the right stuff available..

I hope the DA finds it deep in his drawers to come up with a charge for Kristin Palmer’s case. Commenters are going to crawl up from the sewers, high on swamp gas, for that one. Ms Palmer had to inform all the enforcement authorities right away; had it emerged later, it might have been perceived as prejudicial to an issue, an ethics violation. A bit strange, isn’t it, that a lawyer and Prominent Citizen, a heavy dabbler in municipal politics, would send an email like that to a .gov email, but maybe it is like the commenters – stuff just gets rolling. And maybe even stranger that the DA isn’t doing anything or saying anything about it. I must be just an innocent in this Prominent Citizen world.

I wonder if CitizenKan2, and all the other supportive CitizenKans out there – what would their comments be if His Prominence had received those messages from Kristin Palmer and Robert Watters. Would they be suggesting that he just let it go, don’t worry, they were only kidding?

Some of the commenters – you really need to read them – say they like Smith’s “passion.” What? Our political world is full of people with passions. We have a Supreme Court justice who says the devil walks the earth. Suppose he took up late night Buffalo Trace too, and started threatening to drive the devil out of some people. Passionate for God, which should trump trombones, and Prominent as hell. But we would have to lock him up for something. Wouldn’t we?

I’m looking forward to the trial now. The commenters can be character witnesses. CitizenKan2, and 3 and 4 as well, should be fun. What is the testimony equivalent of all those dots? Waving your arms around and jumping up and down, I guess, while the prisoner sits there in an expensively tailored orange jump suit, hunched between his defense team. Mr Michael Martin for the defense, Your Honor. Judge Paulette Irons presiding.

Maybe the Presidents of French Quarter Citizens and VCPORA will open up. A veritable hunting pack of them had a meeting with Robert Watters on May 19th. Toward the end of the meeting, which was part of the their plan to get FQMD to look more like their clubs and less like a proper public agency, Watters showed them a printout of the threat to expose information if he did not stand down as Chairman, and asked, “How can you associate with someone like this?”

“We responded that we were not going to discuss Stuart Smith and that he is one of several attorneys that we work with.”

So – tricky one. Could the Watchdog Pack back away? Or the Big Dog with one fiery, flashing glance – no, I can’t face it . . . . In fact, this calls for more dots . . . . The screams, the gore, as teeth sink into butts in need of covering. I see more cyberlashing in the Zombie Crystal Ball.

The FQ faux-preservationists tend to employ the Brylski company for whitewashing and damage limitation, so I have been checking in to Krewe of Truth from time to time, because I really, really would like to know the truth, so I can share it with all the nice commenters, and that is where you can be sure to find it. But the damage control gears seem to be silent. Probably for the best.



(my new pseuodonym)


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Ramsey Evening at FQA-NOLA


Did you go? To the French Quarter New Orleans Advocate Nadine Ramsey ‘Meet and Greet’ I mean.

It was good!

This kind of thing has to stop. It is really difficult to write funny stuff when people do things right.

Socially perfect. Bryan Drude’s house and outside spaces are superb. Good snacks and refreshments, timing perfect for combining conversation and CM Ramsey’s speech. Great organization, simple and straightforward.

I have to stop this – sounding like an old fashioned society column.

I listened carefully to CM Ramsey’s presentation; it was frustrating to find that the polished, smooth-smile ambiguity of her campaign speeches had given way to clarity and saying what she meant.

Doesn’t the Ramsey team understand – I needed evasions and obvious crazy claims to make fun of. Where is Jackie when you need her?

CM Ramsey emphasized police. Everybody does now. In the wake of the summer shooting wave, there is an understandable tendency to highlight the holes in New Orleans’ law enforcement, and there are plenty of them to highlight. Staff shortages, budget and funding problems, missing money, frustrating and to some extent mysterious recruitment challenges, difficulty getting more than stainless steel armored smiles from Serpas and Landrieu, security districts. Then there is the problem that the police and EMS did a pretty competent job on the Bourbon Street spree shooting, so you can’t just turn into a yah-boo mob.

A sentence went off like a bright firework in Ms Nadine’s speech. Right in the middle of police challenges and possible approaches to solution, one surprising sentence: “Of course, we can’t police our way out of this.”


Repeat: “Of course, we can’t police our way out of this.”

This is unnerving. I felt myself turning into a fan. Warm feelings toward a Council Member who used to be an elected judge – my soul is at risk.

You can’t police yourself out of this, but CM Ramsey immediately went back to police. Understandable – most of the audience lives in the French Quarter, where a lot of the crime happens and also – as to her credit Carol Allen has said a couple of times on the radio – gets more headlines in the FQ but occurs throughout the city. Spree shooting is raising the profile of other crime that police should be directly useful for – assaults, mugging, rapes, robberies.

When question time came, I raised my hand and quoted that great sentence. The subject was too important and interesting to play with neighborhood association traps like sound ordinance. I asked, What are the non-police things she or the Council are doing about crime?

CM Ramsey’s answer was as good as the fireworks sentence. She visits schools, especially one in Algiers, tries to build relationships with young people, trips. There you go!

She touched on something that sounded right: Serpas thinks police are just for enforcement. Don’t expect outreach from NOPD.

Endearingly, Ms Ramsey said, “You may not think that is very much . . . .”

On the very contrary. I think it is terrific. Understanding that street patrols now cannot be the answer to social divisions that did their damage 10 or 15 years ago is a big thing, and personally reaching out and doing something with your own hands and time is even bigger. I just imagine even getting a direct glimpse of what kind of personal environments some people grow up in, that sets up the conditions such that one of the ways you relate to others is with a pistol in your pocket.

I wish I had the confidence and understanding to do it. Maybe CM Ramsey will help me learn. Maybe, just maybe FQA-NOLA will hear this like I did, and take it up as an outreach activity.

Next question I can start nagging about: how about getting council to stump up some more money and support for school band programs? It’s still music city here, and the bands are one way that gives young people an alternative outlet for adrenalin to the temptations of aimless violence. It really is impossible to watch the kids’ bands between the big floats at Mardi Gras and not see with a direct emotional response that the school bands deserve everybody’s support.

So – well done Nadine Ramsey and the Ramsey team, and FQA-NOLA.

And look – fair’s fair, guys. Next time, give me something to laugh at.

Cut back to police: the police issues are real. I don’t want to undervalue them. But I think a lot of the focus on police issues is because they are easy to quantify. We look for things we can put in a chart or a power point. When police deal with traffic and accidents, they address speeding and red lights ahead of inattention. They are digital, objectively measurable: you either went through the red or you didn’t. You were either going 69 or 70. Reflection suggests that more crashes result from lapses of attention, cell phones and careless driving than driving 75 in a 70 zone, but police and cameras need a law to enforce.

Police issues can be structured in that easily quantifiable way. The force is budgeted for 1,500 officers, but there are only 1,100. The plan was to increase 150 this year, but with the relative failure of recruitment policy and higher than anticipated attrition, the more likely outcome will be a net reduction about 30. NOPD District 8 used to have 150 officers, now it has only 100. Why? What is to be done? FQMD’s plan, managed by Security Task Force leader Bob Simms, is to set up a privately funded security district in the French Quarter, with pilot subdistricts Bourbon Street, the Decatur area and the residential areas. But even Bob is acutely aware that it is a band-aid, and there is a risk that NOPD will use private stopgaps to further reduce resources and sidestep some responsibility. I don’t think they have any intention of that now, but things happen over time.

The privately funded security districts are also quantifiable. So many hours, so many officers. A certain amount of money is required, known groups of potential funders to be approached.

At the same time, we can all intuit that huge meta-problems are imposed on us by uncontrollable, difficultly quantifiable forces. Forces impervious to neighborhood associations and even city councils of medium-sized cities. Incarceration off the charts, in privately run for-profit prisons, with an enormous proportion of the inmates there on account of plea bargains because thy cannot afford real representation, and an out-of-proportion percentage of them young black men, who leave prison with a felony record and a reduced chance of decent straight employment in an increasingly unequal society with radically diminished economic mobility. Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow.

The outlaw class may actually be reacting to a truth most of us don’t see yet: US and other capitalist societies may be stratifying into have/have not divisions. We may be on the way to a social structure of the rich and the corporations, their control mechanism, their employees, servants and dependents – and millions and millions of others, outside of and by elimination enemies of the plutocratic “democracies” of the declining Empire and the rest of the West.

If the corporatist state does not start to turn itself around, we can’t police or school-band out of it. Add in our carbon pump from the earth into the atmosphere, rising sea levels, and the desperation that could bring with it as cities start go go under water, and it is time to get out your DVDs of Mad Max and Water World.

Why did I shove global ills into a local article? What if police recruitment challenges are related? Policing is largely a working class trade. What if there is an intuition that militarized police may be used to suppress erupting anger of the dispossessed and disadvantaged? Americans enjoy pointing at brutal suppression in other countries, but turn away from this country’s ugly history of brutal persecution of dissidence and labor unrest. What if people of police recruitment age and social tranche, having lived through the crazy neocon wars, aware of Vietnam and the contradictions of the patriotism we are taught and the imperialism we live under, are wary of joining a job where one of the many risks might be that you are required to pick up plexiglas shields, clubs and guns and beat back your neighbors and brothers? Would that tend to both limit the number of recruits that you do get, and skew them toward the Louis Gohmert/Sarah Palin/Michele Bachmann brainless Koch-infected sector of our divided society? A fantasy partly encouraging, partly scary.

Something to check out:





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Is French Quarter-New Orleans tough enough for Nadine Ramsey?

I might annoy or even lose some friends today, but there would be no real point to NOLAscape if I skirted around observations or just go gentle for access.

Tomorrow evening French Quarter Advocates-New Orleans is hosting a Nadine Ramsey Meet and Greet. I can’t find it on their web site, so can’t link to it, but it will be at 817 St. Philip at 5.30. I was not going to invite anybody, because I have considerable concern that FQA has been backpedaling away from what it needs to be, into a fluffy comfort zone. The last thing New Orleans needs is another Quality of Life club in a privileged neighborhood, setting up ramparts against the rest of the city. Self-important, self-congratulatory, self-righteous French Quarter neighborhood associations are already a plague.

When FQA was setting up back in March, many of us had hoped it could be an important counterweight to those sick-making Smith-beholden organizations. Then they wrote up Mission and Vision statements, and it was all headed back to Quality-of-Life and why doesn’t everybody care about us more?

There have been positive signs. They changed from French Quarter Advocates to French Quarter-New Orleans, or FQA-NOLA, to symbolize participation in the city and readiness to be inclusive. After a considerable amount of yak, they finally took “Quality of Life” out of their mission statement. But the movement is partial and reluctant, a grudging compromise between members that just want a quiet life and the more politically aware.

Before I get analytical, I’ll throw in a bit of political advocacy: go!

Go to the event, listen closely and ask real questions. Tough, concrete questions. And if the answers are elusive or vague, note that. Don’t be satisfied with fluff. Otherwise, CM Ramsey will make a nice speech, shake some hands, and be off, leaving Freddie King, her campaign honcho, to shake more hands, take names and identify potential campaign contributors. Ramsey will take control of the meeting; the attendees will bask in her benign presence and depart none the wiser.

Ask her whether she intends to cooperate with VCPORA elitist, separatist policies, lawsuits, attacks on Bourbon Street and merchants, on music and visitors. Ask her whether she will vote for the sound ordinance with the parameters in the last amendment as presented. Ask her whether she will support Habana Outpost. Let her know that she will lose your vote if she carries Hoodie water into the Council chamber.

FQA-NOLA wants high attendance, to illustrate their emerging significance. But they have no strong policies, so the in-group’s questions to Nadine Ramsey, a Teflon-coated expert at avoiding open commitment, will almost certainly be softball. Go, and ask the hard ones.

One way FQA-NOLA does positively differ from the zombie clubs is that FQA promises openness, transparency and democracy, with member participation and voting on issues by electronic communication. That can be a huge plus. Let’s hope they deliver. Consider joining FQA-NOLA, and force power-of-the-people onto the top table. Raise the profile of the “NOLA” in FQA-NOLA. Turn tomorrow into an Occupy FQA event. The set-up premises were inclusiveness and diversity. The founders said they wanted membership to include not only resident and business owners, but people who work in and interact with the neighborhood – employees, bartenders and taxi drivers, market traders and tour guides. The French Quarter is a keystone or bottleneck neighborhood. Everything flows through it – money, entertainment, traffic, visitors. Lots of people are involved. Some market traders and shopkeepers spend more time there than homeowners, and have as much investment, if not more.

Then we saw draft mission statements that were really no better than the self-regarding Quality of Life boredom that almost all neighborhood associations fall into. Following opposition within, the leaders have let go of some of the worst of their initial texts, but the tendency is still there. If we get some taxi drivers and market traders and bartenders to come and participate, to join and vote, we can start to roll the comfort zone back.

FQA could be a serious voice for reason, for progress as well as preservation, for sanity instead of numb stasis in zoning, for life downtown instead of the cotton-wool snooze of respectability that VCPORA/FQC try to impose on it, AND still have great social events. It is not a contradiction. “Watchdog” VCPORA, an energetic, skillful advocate of misery, reportedly has fine parties. (Never understood why they don’t invite me.)

The founders of FQA are the exiles who lost the battle for control of French Quarter Citizens in 2013. Some are glad to see the back of that weird world of Borgia court tactics for lightweight and frivolous objectives. Some just want a nice cozy neighborhood association without Smith and his left, right and center lawsuits against life. Some want to offset the mischief they saw their ex-colleagues intent on committing. FQMD people were helpful in encouraging them to start the group, to offset the VCPORA/FQA dead zone. But their instincts have tended toward the comfort zone instead of the battleground.

Just to be clear: none of this is criticism of any of the individuals who have brought FQA-NOLA into being. They are all good people, good guys, people I like, friends. Those I support and those I sometimes oppose have done a ton of work, and they have good intentions. They are acutely aware of the vicious, dishonest amorality that emerged when their former colleagues in French Quarter Citizens turned into a backlash against letting some light and air into that musty closet. They want to show a more decent face of the French Quarter that can value and work with the rest of the city.

But if they drift into being a cocktail club pretending to political positions, without clarity and preparation, they will eventually let themselves and the city down. VCPORA, whose ethics are non-existent and objectives disagreeable, will wipe the floor with them. Without strong policy and clear direction, they would shrink into themselves, talk about it for a year, then tentatively try again. Meg Lousteau would cut them down again, and they would go back to cocktails and patio planters. We need them to hit the political gym.

Nuts and Bolts
Still interested? Here are some little problems they need to sort out.

Current Vision Statement
“Sensible, Systemic, and Sustainable Solutions!”

There is no diplomatic way to say it: this is ridiculous. It is the subtitle or slogan of a systems integrator, out of place in any public interest organization. How do we see FQA’s vision of the FQ ten years from now in that bland B2B service business phrase?

Current Mission Statement:
“To protect the French Quarter as a working neighborhood with an inclusive and diverse residential and commercial population while preserving its unique culture, architectural integrity and music heritage.”

I see with some relief that they finally removed “Quality of Life” from the manifesto. But “protect”? Seriously? Is that a word you want to use? Who is that supposed to be a motivator for, except the same old “preservationist” garden party folk that already forms the passive rank-and-file of the Societies of Self-Satisfaction?

They downgraded a superior draft text:

“Our vision for the residential element of the Quarter is an inclusive and diverse population who act as good stewards for our unique properties but understand the needs of the business community.”

“Good stewards” is positive, alive, ongoing. “Protect” is negative, static, rearguard, divisive.

“Unique properties” is accurate. “Unique culture” is simply false. The current French Quarter population is overwhelmingly upper middle class white Anglo post-child bearing. There are virtually no young families, no school, no playgrounds, no ball fields or basketball courts. It is homogeneous, static and – sorry, residents – culturally comparable to most other mature re-urbanization movements. There is much more New Orleans unique culture going on in St Roch and Mid-City than in the French Quarter. The population that owns the FQ may be necessary for the expensive work of restoring and maintaining the old houses, but that does not make it unique or even a cultural heir of the populations that designed what we now call the French Quarter, and first lived there.

The built environment of the FQ is largely the product of unique cultures now gone: the New Orleans/Caribbean colonial French, then the Spanish-directed reconstruction after the fire, then the New Orleans Creole. The Creoles started leaving under the Occupation after the Civil War. The digitized B/W racial divide that emerged in the Occupation and eventually turned into Jim Crow was a death sentence to the classic Creole society. It would have destroyed their families. It cost them status and money. Many left New Orleans entirely. The Anglo preservationist occupation in the 20th century saved the buildings which had fallen to slum state following the exodus and immigration, so perhaps on balance it was the best solution, but any notion that the current occupants are heirs to the Creole culture is fanciful. I suspect the Creole community of 1860 would find the political activists of today, VCPORA/FQC, quite distasteful.

Following the Civil War and Creole exodus, the FQ was home to a lot of immigrants, with Sicilians dominant, some Irish. Unique? Italian and Irish immigration to American cities was a tidal wave. New Orleans was interesting but unique is hardly the right word. The current occupants of the French Quarter are not only not proper heirs of the immigrant period: they are cultural heirs of the first several waves of Anglo preservationism, who drove immigrants and African Americans out through aggressive gentrification.

What VCPORA/FQC calls “preservation” has little to do with real Historical Preservation. They just call their vision for the French Quarter preservationist, but it hardly corresponds to real history. Let’s hope FQA-NOLA can be comfortable with reality, not base its vision on illusion.

Here is a mission statement of a women’s club I just stumbled across by accident. They dress up in Halloween witch costumes and celebrate broomsticks and black cats. And even with such a self-conscious and entertaining theme, their statement trumps FQA’s by looking outward instead of only at itself.

The New Orleans Black Hat Society exists to preserve and perpetuate the unique culture and practices of Witchcraft, Paganism, and all Earth-centered spiritual paths, to build and strengthen a unified alliance that promotes local, regional and national networking, to provide information, education and outreach to the broader community-at-large, and to offer the opportunity to be of service by facilitating fundraising endeavors and charitable acts that support under-served populations in the metro New Orleans area. Join us!

So, more inclusiveness and generosity from a witches’ coven than a civic organization.

One thing the FQC exiles are dead right about: to paraphrase Linda Malin, FQA-NOLA’s executive veep, VCPORA and FQC never do anything. They do not actively support the police or the fire service or even a school band. they don’t build anything, make anything, contribute anything. They just kvetch. They have raised complaining to a political and legislative art form. That is what FQA-NOLA wants to distance itself from. They want to be a force for things, not just against. We should applaud that, without reservation. But they are going to have to man up to get it done. You can’t fight off Meg-attacks with a smile, reluctance and compromise.

Our intention is not to undermine FQA-NOLA. Our intention is to prevent it from slowly cooking its own goose. I want it to be an organization I would want to join.

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The Supreme Court is not between Perdido Street and Elysian Fields so an unusual target for Nolascape.

I think the link is, in following municipal government, we have to consider a fair number of crazy people posing as solid citizens. Justice Roberts and a few others on his court are certifiable, so they qualify for the NOLAscape zoo.

The Hobby Lobby decision lit a lot of our fuses. The first couple of days most of the commentary was about contraception and abortion, one of America’s peculiar obsessions, and the women’s reproductive rights aspect, nominally the technical scope of the decision.

In the last day or two, more editorial coverage is seeing the broader danger behind the contraception issue, which Justice Ginsburg mentioned prominently iin her dissenting opinion: opening the door to religions, and acknowledging that corporations have religions and can manage people within supernatural rules using the mechanism of employment. For-profit corporations engaged in public trade can have “faith” implanted in them, and be privileged above law for holding this religious belief. The owner of the shares can attest that the corporation really believes these things, and that belief of this fictional person trumps its contract with employees and the framework of law.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

For the Constitution-worshippers among us, I think the reasonable person can see that the intent was not to enable other governments or corporations to coerce religious observance. But the crazy Roberts court does not. Clarence Thomas does not. Scalia does not. Alito and Kennedy – help. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, tiny little Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the age of 81 and reportedly not very well, is the prophet of sanity.

Who is allowed to exercise religion freely, the corporation or the employee? What did Thomas Jefferson really, really mean?

My free exercise of religion means you cannot chop firewood on the Lord’s day. My Lord, that is; don’t care about yours. My free exercise of religion says if you offend me by saying anything about the Prophet, I am instructed to kill you. My free exercise of religion means that I can be exempt from law for irrational belief and ritual behavior. My free exercise of religion means that even though I am a bought-and-paid-for idiot, my beliefs about Noah can trump the IPCC. (See Rep. Paul Broun and Sen. James Inhofe for details.)

And my corporation’s free exercise of religion means it can override law on what legally mandated services and protections it must offer employees.

You probably did not even know that a for profit corporation could hold religious convictions, and could in fact know the will of God. It is probably documented. Look in the filing cabinet, under “W” and on page 26 of the Articles of Incorporation. So in one magical Roberts giant step, I, Corporation X, your disembodied employer, get to impose either a tired old religion or a new age story on you, and while I am at it, to impose my belief that certain kinds of cells are actually microscopic executives or even Pentecostal preachers who can exercise their future employment contracts even before establishing viability.

See? That Thomas Jefferson – he was really just a great kidder. He knew he answer to this all the time.

Some of you are going to tell me, if you can be bothered, that the ruling is only for family owned companies, and only about four kinds of contraceptive device. But that is like the old one, saying a woman is just a little bit pregnant. Give it time. This will get full size.

As a matter of fact, the contraceptive aspect will be the easiest aspect to get over. How about an amendment or executive order that says any employer who uses any privilege including faith to opt out of paying for any mandated employer’s obligation must pay each so disadvantaged employee an extra dollar an hour so they can privately source the service.

Corporate privilege however has become scriptural in post-Reagan America, and a recurring statement of the Roberts court. And religious belief – where do I start? I know what – I won’t. Maybe just, in Roberts-land, religion has become corporate, as corporatism has become a religion.

Here he is. God’s hero of the week, and some of his elves, helping to make this a little bit worse:







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$1,000 Fines

In view of the Bourbon Street gun craziness yesterday, attacking the petty concerns of petty people might seem out of place. But maybe that is the time – when the triviality shows against the background of greater craziness.

People who can’t aim or don’t bother, probably boys, carrying guns powered by fear, with a hair-trigger set somewhere in their brain, spraying a crowded street with semi-automatic pistol fire, bystanders going down, killed, injured or maimed, for no reason that what we call a normal person can understand.

I don’t mean fear in the moment. Institutional fear. Deep down suspicion of a society that says created equal, but millions know they have no chance in the rules. Gun culture, second amendment, racism, police brutality, social brutality, tribalization. An aspect of America prides itself on defeating people, not just in sports and war; in life. You win, they lose, in a game of rules written by the winners. So the losers stop caring about the winners’ rules. If you hear yourself blaming “them,” you are ipso facto part of the problem, not the solution. If it makes you feel any better, I am too.

Talking about insanity, the Roberts court just validated Hobby Lobby’s right to enforce religion through employment its healthcare insurance policy. Amazing – the rules allow you to open a public business, employing hundreds or thousands of people, and the shareholders are allowed to use that business to impose the consequences of their superstitions on others. Right here in the country that loves to genuflect to its Constitution, written by men of the Enlightenment, friends and students of the Philosophes. Sounds like slavery to me. Oh, yeah – the founders compromised on that, too.

To me, the main issue is not the one I am seeing featured in most of the news and editorial, contraception and women’s rights. That is the first consequence. The overriding issue is, can a corporation use employment to impose the owner’s personal mythology? Looks like the answer is yes, until we get rid of Roberts. He looks pretty fit though; might be a while.

Single payer healthcare on the model of less crazy countries would cure this.


Bill 789 becomes Act 637

A few days ago, the Gov signed the bill into law that gives the city the right to impose $1,000 fines for second and subsequent infractions of pretty much anything except traffic violations.

Nothing much really happened. Act 637 doubles the current $500 permissible limits the city can levy for second and subsequent offences. Politicians giving each other bigger sticks; what’s new? Jindal signed the bill. Nobody thought he cared enough to veto. But still, it puts the bow on the box. Some things just push you a little further into a cynic’s cave.

Rep. Helena Moreno “authored” the bill, says Richard Rainey of the Times-Pic.

I wish I could catch up with the bugger who made a verb out of “author.” Before we finish VCPORA off, we could sentence him to a few months of Lousteau’s Voo Carré Boot Camp. Up at 4.00 AM, one hour of shouting No! at the Mississippi at exactly 91dB until he misses breakfast, then 40 lashes with the actual original Pussywhip, authentic legacy of Elizebeth Werlein. Herself!

I know, I know – I have to be careful now, maybe even hire security. The Hoodies may put a contract out on me for taking Her Holiness’s name in vain. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, consider calling the police. And you might remind them, while they are checking alibis over at the Rampart Street club house, that a lot of people are still waiting for the indictment of their head honcho, for crimes charged in January. Think about that when they start imposing $1,000 fines on people for a jukebox or a T-shirt – the DA’s office is chickening on charging a real crime.

I am sad about it. Helena Moreno looks such an attractive woman. Young and born in Mexico, says her Wikipedia entry. Probably bilingual in Spanish, the sonorous language of Cervantes, Octavio Paz, Marquez, Almodovar and the Telenovelas. I am jealous. How does she permit herself to “author” bills that pander to a crazy Council and the Vampire Squid club of the French Quarter, who want to levy bigger fines to bludgeon the victims of their petty assaults – bars, restaurants, T-shirt shops – most under incoherent sets of self-contradictory statute that should not be enforced at all, and generally aren’t.

How does it make you feel that Moreno “authored” the original fish-wrap this bill evolved from, calling for $5,000 fines, during the term of the last council, the crazy Clarkson caucus race? Jackie was still in the running for council, and so was Off-With-Her-Hedge-Morrell. The new Council might still have become just another face of the beast. Maybe it will still turn out to be. I wonder who asked for the $5,000 authority. The Clarkson Council voted for the resolution unanimously, and VCPORA/FQC endorsed it. Who recruited who?

Even if VCPORA/FQC were not the only instigator, any honest legislator should have a built-in alarm: if they are for it, what is wrong with it?

In its last Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the Sound Ordinance showdown, Stacy Head didn’t show up for her own bill. Kristin Palmer, who has some strange turns too, tried to maintain some sanity in the room while coping with bemused colleagues and sot-brained constituents who threw aside any lingering pretense at sanity and simply stood straight, tall and stupid and said Any Old Shit. Eventually Kristin just flopped back in her chair with a smile borrowed from the Joker and watched the circus. James Gray looked like he had been sentenced to community service in a barnyard in a Brooks Brothers suit. Susan Guidry gradually realized that she had fallen among thieves, or worse.

So why didn’t Representative Helena Moreno withdraw the bill? One look at the video of that council session showed beyond reasonable doubt that the $5,000 authority would be like giving a hand grenade to a kindergarten class. I wonder if she feels proud that the lite version of her bill has been signed. Maybe she even wants some extra respect points now. Well, not from me, as much as I would like to.

Why aren’t Moreno, and Senator Murray, and the Administration saying, NO! to any new enforcement tools until Council writes city ordinances that don’t look like a multilateral compromise worked out by a clump of four year olds with one box of Crayolas among them?

What it looks like from here, peeking through the net curtains: a kaffeeklatch of a legislator and some busybodies draws the curtains. They whisper behind their hands. Then the legislator quietly carries murky Vampire Squid water to the Capitol. And sometimes the pond muck is to be splashed at French Quarter Management District, which the Vampire Clubs keep trying to control or undermine. Disgracefully, but they never let shame slow them down.

Here is a picture of one of the public bins on Bourbon Street. I think the City of Nola may not only be responsible for keeping this area clean, but also for imposing $1,000 fines on restaurants who don’t keep their refuse bins neat and ready to go.

Bourbon bin

Dig into any institution here and you find stuff people don’t want you to see. You can graph a curve from incompetence to venality. And wherever one of the elected or appointed to a little petty authority sits on the curve, he or she can stick you with a fine.

All this only happens because we let it. “Money talks.” Lots of talking money around town. But New Orleans is still in Louisiana, known for some of US history’s wildest populisms trumping money power. Round up some people and let your council member and your state representatives know that if you catch them taking VCPORA’s dime, and feeding tools of more oppression to the self-important foolish, they are gone, and let’s see if they don’t give it up like a bad habit.

What will Council and the Administration use their new fining power to enforce? Matters of substance? Or decibel levels on Bourbon Street, using the still incoherent and partly unconstitutional Sound Ordinance, because they couldn’t muster the political sanity to pass a decent law? Or the little tangle of reconstituted tripe that tells retailers what they can sell in their stores?

The Big Easy ain’t big and it ain’t easy, because state and city elected politicians won’t stop trading bad law for good campaign contributions.

Americans out there in our plutocratic democracy notoriously, repeatedly and almost inexplicably vote against their own interests. But here – are the people and voters of New Orleans so asleep at their own switches that they will continue to permit their elected representatives to legislate for zombie covens posing as “the residents”? We can’t stop them being what they are, but we should be able to get this post-gentrification Taliban out of the legislative process. Let’s see the city’s legislative branch prove they can do decent law before we hand them bigger baseball bats.

Oh – sorry. It’s too late. Ms Moreno and the Baton Rouge cheering section already did it.

Homage to ” . . . the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.”

Paul Krugman


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