The Flim Flam Plan

The second Security Task Force meeting didn’t help. It looks like the mayor is cold-shouldering FQMD and its Security Task Force on the subject of security in the French Quarter. Makes you wonder, no? Pushing a French Quarter “security” plan without consulting with the organization that worked for years on understanding the problem and making some painstaking, unfunded headway, then finally, cooperating with Sidney Torres, did make a difference. That can’t be an oversight.

Maybe Bob Simms and the committee members know too much about real security and policing, so might have burst out laughing at the pastel tinted, deodorized BS the mayor’s side of City Hall has been slathering over its “Plan” and the grab bag of stuff they are selling us under the banner “Security.”

I wondered if the reticence might be to avoid giving any credit publicly to Sidney Torres’s design for the French Quarter’s special police patrol, which FQMD now manages. When Simms and FQMD were trying to get a special patrol off the ground, the city wouldn’t pony up a wooden nickel. Mr Torres, as you are no doubt at least as well aware as I am, got the FQ’s Security Task Force going with shovels full of his own money and whizzy methods for fast response. While the design was clever and his energy to get it going impressive, it did not require arcane science that was not available to the administration. Torres’s system used small vehicles, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, iPads, radios, cell phones and apps, some of it industrial grade, but all commercially available stuff.. I am sure every security trade fair has loads of stands of manufacturers eager to demonstrate how your city will be safe from everything from T-shirts to tornadoes if you buy the stuff from them.

Sidney Torres left the mayor standing flatfooted on police innovation and response, and is now a potential mayoral candidate considered by many to be a guy who can get stuff done, bringing more reality and less performance art to City Hall. Rivalry? Jealousy? Avoid giving free publicity to a possible adversary? I don’t know.

Or maybe the reason is simpler: only a few bits of the the “Security Plan” really have anything to do with security. The semi-pros of the STF would spot that.

St Jude

VCPORA sponsored a presentation by a city admin line-up at the St Jude Center on Monday, March 13.  Jeff Hebert, a well spoken, fluent deputy mayor was at the helm, flanked by an all-star cast of the Mayor’s best and brightest. Hebert started off with the big news that right then, as he was speaking, teams were replacing incandescent street light bulbs with new LEDs.

Changing lightbulbs as lead item in a supposedly dramatic security plan.

Good street lighting deters or displaces street crime at night, but is the team really telling us that changing to more energy efficient, longer lasting light bulbs now needs applause for enhancing my personal safety? What should be ordinary maintenance is revolutionary policing? LEDs use a lot less electricity, last much longer and have a nice white daylight tone. That’s why we all buy them for home now. Even if we didn’t want to, the energy saving regulations push you into it (at least until Trump’s anti-environmental EPA cancels them).

I have heard that the contractor charges about $100 per street light for the change over.  Changing street lighting to LEDs is a good thing. Hyping it as innovative security strategy is government by illusion, political show biz.

Rebranding Bourbon Street

Lesley Alley is Bob Rivers’ deputy director at City Planning. Ms Alley has a seductive smile and an engaging public personality. Her message about reforming Bourbon Street was positively missionary. She told a story about walking Bourbon with a City Hall team looking for opportunities for improvement, and Lo and behold! – what did they find, but a cart with a blue tarp roof selling drinks illegally. Well, I never . . . they put a stop to that pretty quick, Lesley could tell us, with a merry twinkle in her eye.

Or is it gone? What if the little street stand turns out to belong to one of the licensed bars?

Some city hall types call in a cop strike on a little pirate daiquiri stand where some guy is trying to hustle a living off the grid. Isn’t that a tax beef? City Hallers might live in an atmosphere where regulations have an inherent mystic glow and enforcement a life of its own, but why should we feel physically safer for that little cart being gone?

Somebody in the city’s troupe picked that up. The point is, tolerating any lawless behavior creates an atmosphere that enables escalations of criminality.

The broken windows theory is alive and well at Palazzo Perdido. Wag your finger early and often. It is just a step from that blue tarp to midnight mass shootings.

New times, they said. Time to re-brand Bourbon for the modern age. Clean it up, add nice benches, plant flowers. I’m imagining it – and not in a good way.

Closing Doors

Another winner was the proposed 3:00 AM door closing time. From a whisper that Bourbon bars would have to close at 3:00, it changed to doors open by regulation until 3:00, then doors closed by regulation from 3:00. A regulation destined for the round file of jokes that didn’t work..

I am trying to remember which member of the cast Hebert called on for this one. DPW, I think. Today’s explanation was – ready for this? – street cleaning. Cleaning up Bourbon Street by physically cleaning up Bourbon Street, twice a day instead of once. That would be easier to do, said the official juggling this rapidly cooling potato, if the doors were closed at 3:00. So from some earlier efforts to sell this for damping down drinking and potentially criminal exuberance, door closing had been downgraded to making life easier for street cleaning equipment, which had been cheerfully doing its job with open doors for the last five or six decades.

A questioner asked, “What time is the cleaning now?” The officials quickly checked with each other. “5:00 AM.”

So – street cleaning at 3:00 and then again at 5:00? Why does street cleaning with no rule about doors work at 5:00 but not at 3:00? If door closing was about street cleaning, why was it a feature of a security plan? Is it anything to do with Terrorism being the politician’s magic medusa word to sell anything in America? Or is Mayor Mitch trying out that post-truth thing that Trump, Kellyanne and Sean Spicer are turning into a new art form?

They dropped the door-closing stuff a few days later.

Cameras

Monitored street cameras are a centerpiece of the story. Some people are suspicious of extra surveillance as another step in government intrusion and a potential authoritarian tool the can be exploited for racial and other division, but I am not much concerned about them. CCTV is another genie we can’t stuff back in the bottle, a functional extension of agency and perception like automation and industrial robotics.  If NOPD had a few hundred more officers to keep more foot patrols in the streets and on the corners where the cameras will go, nobody would complain. Do we have a presumption of visual privacy in public space, engaged in actual and potential interactions with hundreds or thousands of people whom we do not know? By walking on Bourbon Street, I have accepted surveillance by an armed officer high on a horse. How different is a camera on a pole?

Monitored cameras work as extensions of the police’s eyes. Cops are hard to recruit and train. The screens can be monitored by civilian employees trained for a specific job. The video recordings might help catch some serious criminals, as in murder, assault and mugging. They may move crime around the map a bit, as professionals figure out where the dark spots are. They may boost sales of hoodies.

But they won’t prevent crime.

The CVB may tell the Homeopathic Hemorrhoid Association of Kentucky that cameras equal immortality and eternal security for your wallet – but they don’t.

I tried to make a point in the Q&A, but I don’t think they got it. I said flat out that the terrorist story is BS and they should give it a break before they sound silly. While not opposed to the cameras in principal, I do question claims they can’t live up to. I asked Jeff Hebert how many cameras they were putting up?

Brief conference: 250.

Two hundred and fifty. They had cited London as one of the cities studied in preparation for their Plan.  I asked, are you aware of how many CCTV cameras are up and generally operative in London? No answer. I had a feeling some of them knew but did not want to say, so I did: 442,500 was the best estimate for 2015. Okay, London is a big place. It’s not one of the new megacities like Mexico City or Shanghai, but it’s a lot of people. Three million passengers ride the Underground every day. But 442,500 is more than one CCTV for every 15 residents. We would need 26,700 if them to be in the same game. The monitoring and research operations are a big production. You can see it in movies.

And there is still has plenty of crime. Less shooting than the US; so far, fortunately for them, the Brits don’t seem to get a kick out of guns. But burglary, bicycle theft, car theft, drug sales, prostitution, human trafficking – alive and well in London.

442,500 v. 250. Or if we bring an estimate for the private SafeCamNola cameras, maybe 1,250 or 2,250. One of the mayor’s evangelists said, “Well, we have to start somewhere.”

Wherever it is going to go, there will still be crime, because none of this stuff is real prevention. Bob Simms used to call it “Band-Aids.”

I spoke to police officials after the St Jude presentation. The cops are more realistic than the spokes-folks for the politicians. They know that cameras on Bourbon might move some crime around the map – mugging, assault, robbery, maybe even a bit of pickpocketing, even though cameras can’t see that. Usually not even the victim or people standing next to him can.  But they know it is unlikely to significantly affect the overall rates, and is essentially a move in an arms race. I asked, What would happen when a visitor turns up at the police station saying his wallet was missing, that he lost $200 and his Visa card. Will you be able to assign an officer or specialist to review hours of NOPD’s footage, or even more hassle, a private business’s or person’s CCTV, which may require a subpoena? Their expressions said no.

They even admitted that the monitors are unlikely to be able to anticipate or react fast enough to street crime to prevent it.

What the cameras can do, they said, is help catch violent criminals, the shooters who open fire in crowds, killing and wounding some one or many in the party crowds. “And we do have to catch them. We have to get those guys off the street.”

That really sums up what the cameras can do: assist with the apprehension and conviction of perpetrators of impulsive violent crime in key public spaces, and possibly extend NOPD’s spotting of drunken or unaesthetic behavior. It is probably worth doing. People could think more clearly about it if the mayor’s men (and women; we have to fix the English vocabulary) would be clear and straightforward.

Rebranding Redux

What the administration is selling under the tired cover of “security” and “terrorism” is a re-brand of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

What are their qualifications? They didn’t create its look, its feel, its activity, its fame. Their real, deep-down commercial marketing experience hovers around zero.

They profess to believe that we are in a new age which has left Bourbon behind. They think they know better than the owners, investors and managers of the Bourbon businesses. “Old” Bourbon – it evolves all the time, but I don’t think they see that – has to be upgraded to urban wizard Landrieu’s and the CVB’s shiny new standards. Quick Draw Mitch is riding into town to get the job done, with shiny new pearl handled guns in rhinestone studded holsters, Flim and Flam. They are going to shoot him a nice new paragraph on his resumé – the Man who Tamed Bourbon Street.

Maybe I am just cynical, but I am thinking of Landrieu’s last two romantic stabs at urban renewal. One was the NOLA Patrol – some kids in yellow polo shirts who were going to stalk the French Quarter and do . . . what? Nobody ever figured that out. But Landrieu had seen the Times Square auxiliary patrols actively directing car and pedestrian traffic in New York in bright yellow shirts. He was hooked. He wanted a flashy yellow presence in his French Quarter. Nobody could talk him out of it. Nobody could get him to understand the management depth and supervisory structure that made it work. Michael Harrison, still interim police chief, looked uncomfortable trying to sell that goofy plan to City Council. VCPORA and FQC should have known better, but they supported it too. (They seem to have sobered up since.) The mayor beamed with parental pride. NOLA Patrol did nothing for a while, then fizzled out.

Flip forward, and Hizzonner grabbed onto the monuments issue. He kicked the hornet’s nest of old racism embedded in the post Civil War statues. He had a point. They weren’t really Civil War monuments anyway. They were monuments to the Lost Cause intended to convey and prolong nostalgia for the ante-bellum white myth. They had been commissioned and erected after President Rutherford B. Hayes got Congress to break an election deadlock in his favor by promising Southern Senators and Representatives that he would end the occupation. That got Jim Crow off the ground, and even though Louisiana was part of the United States again, white groups wanted to put up monuments to Confederate generals. Like the battle flag now, they symbolized the white backlash at least much as the imagined nobility of the Lost Cause. At least 620,000 dead and the economy destroyed to defend the disgusting institution of racially determined bondage that held four million people in chattel slavery. Noble, indeed.

They had to wait for General Beauregard to die to commission his statue. We have good reason to believe that if he had been alive, he would have had nothing to do with a memorial of himself in war mode, leading people to their deaths for a cause he had renounced.

Anyway, they are there. My first choice would have been to re-brand them – acknowledge the backlash and the white nationalist movement embedded in Lost Causism. Call it by its real name. Put up signs that said what the statues really represented, and add sculptures out front commemorating the struggle to recover basic human decency from the white backlash that needed another legal input in 1965, a full century after the end of the war, and isn’t over yet. Put good monuments of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglass in Lee Circle. Maybe even Chuck Berry, to cheer the place up. And get rid of that creep in front of the Federal Court House while you are at it.

The mayor, a lot of the citizens and the Council took a different decision, and made a dog’s dinner of it. Move them, they said, to a Civil War park and museum, with proper, honest historical information.

Except what the mayor’s men actually did was send in the construction crews to start on moving the statues without even beginning to work out the promised museum and park. So the civil war nuts and the active and passive racists and white nationalists had the emotional ammunition to threaten and scare off the contractors and and the legal bullets to sue the city, delaying the project for years. Now the administration has won legal clearance to start the removals, but still no alternative placement and no plan to satisfy all factions. I don’t have much sympathy for the white-lashers, but they live here. They vote, they talk, they fight, they sue. You have to work out some strategy to deal with them, on the spectrum of appeasement to hard suppression.

So those are the two adventures in urban re-branding Landrieu does not want to be remembered for. He’s on his Third Crusade. But his resumé is weak.

Who are they selling this story to? 

They need New Orleanians’ support, or at least non-opposition, but we are not the main customers of the new Garden Bourbon Street. Not the targeted demographic, in rhinestone holster lingo. Maybe that’s why the mayor’s men are dressing it up as security. The mayor and the tourism establishment need the citizens, the Council and the Bourbon Street owners to sit passive so the CVB can sell the story in Nebraska.

They want to put nice benches and flowers on the street of sleazy dreams. Cut back on the strip clubs. (Mind you, “they” say there are some pretty bad ones. I am too chicken to check them out myself.) The CVB must be getting some push-back on convention sales out in flyover country, so with Landrieu, are mixing up a concoction of security, terrorism, safety, updating, maintenance and tourism numbers into a fizzy pastel brew they do not want to admit is Disney tinted.

Is there a deeper agenda?

What if the administration and the Convention and Visitors tourism establishment is working to see Bourbon Street sold off to corporations?

Think of newspapers and media – the takeover by five or six giant operations, some, like  News Corp, fully global. Think of Sony moving into Hollywood. Think of Las Vegas. Big fish buying up smaller fish, consolidating power, is the history of business, from the evolution of the banking dynasties to the Robber Barons to Murdoch to Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google. As the corporate state increasingly managed legislation to make political corruption legal and respectable, the corporatization of everything is increasingly evident, and generally depressing. The Obama government’s failure to prosecute anybody for the biggest financial crime wave in a century has virtually legitimized corporate/state force and criminality. They would pretend to prosecute the companies, not the people, and settle for fines. In other words, the government wanted its cut of the loot. The Trump crime White House doesn’t even bother to conceal it. While distracting with talk of economic nationalism and xenophobia, we might even find them increasingly cutting Khazak, Ukrainian and Russian businesses in on the feeding frenzy. Bourbon Street could be great for laundering Revolutionary Guard money, possibly mediated through Kazakhstan and the Trump/Kushner family businesses.

Harrah’s monopoly, questionable as it already is, will look decidedly shaky if Sheldon Adelson or Steve Wynn are invited into Bourbon.

Improbable?

Bourbon Street evolved. It grew naturally through competition and cooperation by individual actors trying to grow their businesses. They still support a lot of musicians, but basically, culture changed to commercial. The offering evolved, experimented, grew. Individual players jostled, competed, fought and occasionally cooperated. It went mafia, then the wise guys faded away. Evolution continues. Younger people whose energy to fight against the never ending hassle and political enemies is still strong come into the game. We don’t know where it will go a few years from now.

But if the corporate entertainment establishment gets hold of it, we do. Think of Las Vegas without the slot machines. Juvenile amusement arcade architecture – a children’s playground for people taking a break from acting grown up.

If that is not what you want to see, you have to untangle the real security parts of The Plan from the attempted takeover of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter by career politicians and ward heelers who neither built it nor managed it, who do not understand and who don’t care because serving the Corporate State is the New American Way.

The way that is on the verge of turning our world into Mad Max, or Elysium.

Next in the series: What real crime prevention might look like, and Police Chief Harrison extracts what the police see as real security from the sickly sweet King Cake mix Landrieu’s team is burying it in.

© NOLAscape March 2017

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Congressional Kabuki covers for American oligarchs

Monday 21 March 2017

The last research brick for the next NOLAscape on the Security Plan, the March meeting of FQMD’s Security Task Force, is scheduled for this afternoon,. I let the Congressional investigation into Russian election messing-around play live a couple of hours this morning.

It was like a car race: round and round the circuit and every once in a while, something almost happens. Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff are putting on a show with a cast of Reps making short speeches cast as questions at FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Rogers. Comey is dropping carefully crafted little bombshells into the record, but on principle the two security pros won’t answer anything about specific individuals or ongoing investigations, and pretty much everybody is an individual under investigation.

The committee is not paying a lot of attention to Russian agencies or individuals, at least in these couple of hours. Makes sense: the FBI and the NSA don’t need the Reps to do the job. There are few legal obstacles to the US spies and counter-spies setting up defenses and counter-attacks. They have valuable experience at intruding into other countries’ elections. Revenge will be fun.

Just seconds after I wrote that, Rep. Carson said “a new Iron Curtain.” Rep. Speier replaced cyber warfare with a catchy term: hybrid warfare. The news anchors should like that.

Republican questions imply that exposing malfeasance in government is a more serious crime than the crime. Doctor Seuss could have done something with that idea.

Democratic questions try to catch Russian-sponsored bad doings in the Trump entourage – Flynn, Manafort, Sessions, the queazy-making amphibian Roger Stone, Carter Page, Tillerson, Pence and Trump himself, if they can get him. Some of his anti-investigation tweeting suggests he may be vulnerable. Russia stays in background.

The news will be dominated by Comey’s dumping Trump in the deep end of the gator pit, acknowledging that the FBI has been investigating “the campaign” since last July. We get to speculate about why he lowered his boom on Clinton before the election, and is just now putting Trump in the frame. I doubt we will find out in the near future. Comey’s FBI doesn’t seem to suffer from the leak problems that Trump’s fine-tuned White House machine does.

Comey just said the most interesting thing I have heard on the Russia thing for a long time: that the Russian meddling has been very “loud,” almost as if they wanted to be spotted or caught. Now that would be a play worthy of Karla (codename of Soviet master spy in Le Carré’s Smiley novels). Get the chaos bozo elected, let him surround himself with family, loyal clients and butt-kissers like a post-colonial third world despot, appoint stooges and business and hereditary billionaires to executive posts, some of whom will be crazy, stupid or incompetent at government, or all three; leave a trail that journalists and the FBI can’t miss, putting the administration under suspicion not only of Bannonite insanity, but of collusion with an adversary. This administration will be hamstrung. Trump will be impeached or lose in 2020, and the next crop of candidates will not be eager to mess with Russia. Somebody in Moscow will get a medal for setting it up, and Comey will get a medal (if not fired first) for exposing it.

As much as it will make a fine plot for a libretto and a swift end to the Trump obscenity is devoutly to be wished, there are worse problems in the palsied old body politic than this fine melodrama. While the Congressional Kabuki plays itself out, some writers and journalists are digging into the specifics of a more critical investigation: the capture of the American government by insurgent “libertarian” billionaires.

Jane Mayer (published in the New Yorker so far) and Vicky Ward for the Huffington Post are working on: what’s going on where the real money comes from? Who are the current wizards behind the curtain?? Trump is tweeting himself into a corner to try to keep attention on himself before it becomes obvious that he is mostly a stooge for some insurgent “libertarian” psychopathic billionaires.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/27/the-reclusive-hedge-fund-tycoon-behind-the-trump-presidency

http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/mercers/

We hear increasingly that America is now an oligarchy, or perhaps better, an oligarchic plutocracy, but we speak of Russian oligarchs. Specific people, names and faces, with implications of shady dealings, byzantine relationships with Putin and dark power. Most of us are familiar with the names of some of them: Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezhovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Oleg Deripaska. This month’s news favorite is Dmitry Rybolovlev. We think of their setup as gangster, ours as corporate.

Now some of our investigative writers are working past the generalization “oligarchy” and the Kochs who have generally stood for the whole class to put specific American oligarchs under the magnifying glass. Trump’s crudeness and cabinet appointments may have stimulated the interest and the effort. Early signs are, our lot may be better at corporate cover, but they are not that different than the Russians.

I don’t mean rich people. We all have rich friends, mostly decent people. Better citizens than I can aspire to be. They care.

Jane Mayer’s specimens are psychopathic heads of authoritarian corporate kleptocracies, the strange world of hedge fund and private equity, and the banks that create the money and own the meta-government that keeps what we call government in line. It’s a different level of accumulation. Robert Mercer’s toy train set cost more than most of your rich friends can cash in for. The 203 foot boat that he plays with costs more to own and run than most really rich people have.

Money alone would not be enough to name them wolf to your sheep. Bill Gates, for example, contributed to mass access to the new tech world. He became the richest guy in the world by adding value, and now he spends his time, effort, wealth and power to work on diseases, helping sick people in areas where the research and application might not happen without him and Melinda. The pharma industry likes lucrative US diseases; Africans don’t have the money. They say Gates has $86bn. At 5% return – I’m sure he does better – that would give him an income of $78 million a week. Every week. Our libertarian insurgent oligarchs take in a bit less, but Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies ROI is so high, he may be catching up.

The Kochs may turn out to be in the slow lane of oligarchic insurgency. They run traditional high employment industries. They may just be more vocal versions of Exxon Mobil, freer to play politics because their company is closely held.

They pay people to help them evade regulation. They convince subordinate authoritarians to believe that “freedom” means freedom for them to use the common goods of space, air and water as industrial trash bins at no cost. They do not want rules except their own. They have found that spending very large amounts of money to evangelize suckers and pay politicians to accept that they should be above the law works. The Kochs don’t like Trump much, but the Bannon government seems willing to give them a lot of what they want.

The even more aggressive Mercers don’t run any real industries. They have a successful card-counting system that beats the house in stocks and commodities. People call this or “high speed” or “automated” trading to contrast it with traders who try to beat risk by more traditional ways of stacking the deck. Their game is basically zero-sum but a secondary result may get banks to increase debt and the money supply. (The same thing, but it’s another story.)

We have to be very careful about equating the oligarchs calling themselves “libertarian” to the Libertarian Party. Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Charles and David Koch, Philip Anschutz, the Waltons, the DeVos/Prince clan and other insurgent billionaires are blooded predators, okay on their own out on the open savannah. When government weakens, shrinks or chases its tail, they are free to do what they like, including to you. To us. They don’t become free of government; they become government.

Libertarian Party members and libertarian Republicans get into Ayn Rand’s feverish fantasies and see themselves in their holy book, The Fountainhead, all thinking they are Howard Roark, not the prey animals cautiously approaching the waterhole. That is like believing that wildebeest and gazelle on the savannah dreaming of fighting lions are really lions, not lunch. Part 1 of their platform, Personal Liberty, can be seductive. Part 2, Economic Liberty, is a blueprint for a killing field. Some of our oligarchs may use the same word, but it ain’t the same thing.

Today’s sociological thought experiment: when Mercer’s yacht and Deripaska’s and one of Abramovich’s and Prince Waleed’s are berthed next to each other in Cannes, do the American ones feel more common interest with them or with, say, Paul Ryan or Newt Gingrich back in the swamp?

If we look at history with a beady eye, the United States has always been a qualified oligarchy. Since before the Revolutionary War, both government cooperation with, subservience to and struggle against corporations and banks has been constant. Capital, labor and government. Not much new under the sun. Even the nature of money itself used to be more open, with knock-down-drag-outs over gold and silver standards (see Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan and the original Wizard of Oz) against the Constitution’s prescription, fiat money. In the end, the international banking establishment won and became ensconced in law by the Federal Reserve Act, allowing banks to monetize private and public debt.

Our 21st century oligarchs were hardly constrained by law before, but then came Citizens United. Now the more vulgar among them – we can start including Rebekah Mercer in that number – are lurching out from behind the Oz’s curtain. The old Wizard is stage whispering, “Come back! Close that curtain! Shhhh!” but the new breed is trading some recognition for the risk of getting into Jane Mayer’s crosshairs.

The US Government is supposed to regulate how corporations relate to the country – people, land, property and the word in the Preamble they forget to mention: posterity. The Trump gang’s wrecking the agencies that already do a feeble job of that – education, the EPA, public transportation, the arts, public broadcasting, health – for more military money favors the empire over the country and the people. Foreign entanglement over civilian well-being. The creepy gang that holds Trump out front as wedge and shield redefines “foreign” to include millennial fantasies, enemy civilizations and maybe extragalactic demonic invaders.

Do the Republicans and Wall Street Democrats who carry water for the donor/predator class really believe they have godlike wisdom and benevolence, so they can be trusted to voluntarily take a cost hit by not dumping their toxic trash into your air and water? We need to have more respect for the scorpion story.

Despite the essential comedy of the Libertarian Party act, though, in the unlikely event that this mentally torpid nation one day succeeds in shaking off the Republicrat corporatist dual monopoly, we will need more parties. They should have a place on the debate stage. Maybe in the children’s section.

I wonder if the American oligarchs even know or care that aspiring sycophants and serfs have formed a Libertarian Party to welcome their second coming. It doesn’t matter. Membership won’t save them.  If the American oligarchs win, which sadly looks increasingly likely, we’ll all be serfs in a corporate feudal state or empire, obligingly fighting among ourselves over abortion or bathrooms or football to make us easier to control.

Moral of the story: even if the Russian saga rises to Dostoevskian intensity, finds Trump up to his eyes and brings down the whole White House gang, so the last act is trials and scandals, books and documentaries, it’s just a show.

Who puts on the show and pulls the puppets’ strings will not be touched. The power relationships will stay in place. The oligarchs can find new barkers and acts. If Trump goes down – it is probably evident that I hope he will – they will find a smarter one with better table manners.

Bernie Sanders tried to teach us: worry about oligarchs, wherever they are. Maybe this is where “America first” makes sense.

Watch Jane Mayer. She is opening a little window so we can see a bit of how it works.

© NOLAscape March 2017

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On The Dangers of Watching Trump Before Breakfast

A quick despatch on the disgraceful fascist government we now have to either confront or evade, depending on how your life runs.

Did you see this morning’s clip of Trump doing his gang-leader act, arms pistoning, finger gestures cryptically coding, expression snarling, voice snapping, on the two court judgments that put down his second Muslim ban?

“It makes us look weak.”

That is what this clown cares about: looking weak. That trumps humanity, law, democracy, civilization. And a worrying chunk of this country thinks that is okay. They are ready to sacrifice their own well being and maybe their lives on their country not looking weak, even while they try to separate themselves from a substantial proportion of their co-citizens for being the wrong color or nationality or religion or gender.

How much of your life, your money and the basic decency of the society you have a share in do you want to see sacrificed to the childish egotism of the ugly gang for which Trump is the loudmouth barker at the tent’s door?

Did you see any of the clips of ICE cops, empowered by the New Republican Racism (ie, the old racism with the covers pulled back) handcuffing Representative Luis Gutierrez? That is where Government by Asshole has brought us: militarized anti-Hispanic cops can constrain elected legislators for insisting on answers to questions that they didn’t feel like answering.

This stuff channels through Bannon, eminence grise, erstwhile director and producer of racist fantasy films in which white Bannon-like Americans slaughter invading dark forces.

Keep in mind, despite his repellent non-stop bragging, Trump doesn’t do much as President. Photo-ops, signing executive orders that Bannon writes and chief gopher Priebus ceremoniously hands him, belligerent speeches in front of crowds guaranteed to cheer and feed his diseased ego, golf at Mar-a-Lago at a public cost of $3 million a week, and watching himself on TV fill much of his time.

Trump, as even his supporters know, is a pig. They like that. The vision of a snuffling, ground-pawing bristly boar charging around confused and angry in a china shop with art and antiques crashing loudly to the floor turns them on. Not that different from the Taliban blowing up Buddhist art. If they had an anthem beyond the Star Spangled Banner at football games, it would be Humpty Dumpty. These are the subordinate authoritarians, with erotic visions of following a gang leader on a Harley Davidson tank. Bannon and Mercer put an actor playing that character on TV for them.

Out front, Trump takes the risks. But as he watches himself in the dark mirror that fills a lot of space in his distorted mind, working on facial expressions that he thinks do not look weak, he leaves the executive branch of your captive government in the hands of a crew of horror film babysitters: Bannon; his smarmy little Iago Stephen Miller, as visibly insane as though less engaging than Doctor Strangelove; their impresario, Robert Mercer, the mad billionaire collector of machine guns; Sebastian Gorka, to oil and wipe his guns; their gophers Priebus, Kellyanne and Sean Spicer, who bring the coffee, carry fragments of the cracked message and pose for SNL sketches. The Mercers, Bannon and creepy little Miller know that if Trump goes down, they can find another one. The world is not short of stooges.

Bannon loves big war. No speculation here; people that know him well and he himself say so. He slavers lustfully over civilization scale battles. Trump, though, loves a street fight. Mostly a small-scale guy, what orange juice and a 16 ounce mug of Starbucks do for the average corporation guy, Trump gets from picking his fantasy enemy du jour. Today’s will be the judges who shot down his latest xenophobic Diktat. Bannon is stable enough – evil but stable – to keep his main enemies in mind: Islam and the institutions of America’s rather stained version of civilization. He can leave railing against the judges and the ACLU to the orange number in the red tie.

Bannon and his acolytes are pushing post-party politics now, something shaping up as “globalism” which they oppose to Bannonite, alt-right, salvationist “nationalism.” In Trumps’s version, the nation is America. “America first.” Bannon’s vision is bigger. It is a white fantasy version of a superior civilization, in which resurgent medievalism rebalances the Enlightenment with a religious fantasy world. It’s not just him. Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Recep Erdogan, Vladimir Putin – there is no shortage of these strongman-worshipping Marvel Comic characters who believe these fantasies which many of their managers and followers hook up with apocalyptic Christianity. (Erdogan’s not from Christendom, got that; but the difference  is cosmetic. He is an authoritarian populist who always looks pissed off. I think Bannon would like him.)

Their policy is a pre-emptive implementation of the Clash of Civilizations. Islam is the preferred threat to start with. They will get to China and South America later. White Bannon-like people of North European descent are the super-race, or at least the super-race here. Muslims can go and be the master race in the desert, where the US and Israeli armies can ensure that a gun is always pointed at their heads. Except for Saudi Arabia, free to swagger while the oil holds out.

The cannon fodder for Bannon’s apocalypse is at least 99 out of every 100 of you. Us. Remember Catch-22. Yossarian is the anti-Bannon. If you are the right age and physical form, you may be an active fighter. Or you may just be a passive victim, who works and turns over a big chunk of your labor to these maniacs, so they can burn down the earth in battles with other maniacs. Either way, your enemy is behind you.

We, gentle reader, are not the beneficiaries. We are the spectators compelled to buy the tickets and we are the victims and the slave gladiators in the arena.

The blood wedding of corporatism and militarism in search of a purpose.

Maybe there is a Damascus-scape or a Cairo-scape out there trying to shine spotlights on this plague of lunatics from their point of view.

© NOLAscape March 2017

 

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Low Info and Medium Comedy at the High Table

A few days after its Security Task Force meeting, the FQMD Commissioners Meeting was up. I toodled along to that, too. The meeting room has one of the great views of the city, a panoramic window on the 20th floor facing east over the Mississippi. With the big board around the big table, maybe I would find out some more about the security plan.

<< The Security Plan!! >>

As it turned out, not a lot more than you can pick up in the local papers. City reporters like Jeff Adelson of the Advocate usually try to slip a translucent, deniable veneer of attitude over the press release and their “objective” notes of what the usual suspects quote from the script. If you can detect that high frequency tone, you’ve got it. The Commissioners confirmed that Ryan Berni, one of Landrieu’s ambassadors to his unconvinced subjects and occasional herald of Alternative Facts, has his stonewalling skills in good repair, Perhaps national treasure Kellyanne has been an inspiration to him – but it would be indecorous to intrude on the private fantasies of the Deputy Mayor team.

The topic seemed to make the Commissioners uncomfortable. Quite understandable: their mandate from the state tasks them with staying on top of this kind of thing. It can be difficult to consider a project in a grown-up way, try to identify differences between residential and commercial interests, and offer mature input to the administration, council and the public, when the administration is spieling instead of engaging. You can’t do it right if the mayor’s office is off on it’s own toot with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, bringing enforcement brass and administration employees on stage, sidelining civic institutions and civilians. The mayor’s men’s message was: It’s a done deal. Now what was your question again?

So I didn’t learn much about the Security Plan, but there was some good ol’ FQ citizen Punch and Judy.

I was sorry to hear that Mia Matassa had resigned her commissioner’s seat. Ms Matassa, appointee of North Rampart Main Street, is one of the good guys. She was also a member of the Security committee, so they needed a new member. Bryan Drude was nominated.

Good choice. Bryan is president and co-founder of French Quarter Advocates, a neighborhood association that tries to be even-handed between residents and businesses. So far, when VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens go nuts, Advocates manages to keep a clear head and talk sense. Their philosophy, if that is not too pompous a word, runs something like: look, we all have a stake in this. Let’s find significant common interests, act on them, avoid unnecessary, useless conflicts, and not swagger around suing people all the time.

Bryan is a bona-fide full time French Quarter resident with a great house, founder and president of one of the most civil, sensible neighborhood associations. VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens, both private clubs with self-appointed directors, just like Advocates, have the right to appoint a Commissioner each. Advocates doesn’t, so isn’t it right that they should at least have a representative on Security? What could be wrong with that?

As a Trump supporter (WTF is that about?) Bryan is clearly a flawed citizen, but still, a good guy and as a candidate for the FQMD Security Task Force, he is Goldilocks.

Ah, but . . .  this is the French Quarter. It is hard for the Citizens to pass on an opportunity to squabble.

Albin and Susan Guillot of French Quarter Citizens, squirming delicately in their seats, were visibly stoking up their inner fires to object. Ah, back through the time tunnel to those juicy days of the bi-weekly FQ punch up at City Council. The Smith period, when music, T-shirts, Habana Café, every hotel except the Monteleone and every bar except Tujagues was cause for slapping down a gauntlet and grabbing a microphone for two minutes of acrimony. I got another coffee and settled down for a cage match.

Would Bryan, one of the Guillots asked (they were acting as a team with prepared bullet points) be a residential or commercial member?

Residential, replied a proposing Commissioner.

Not acceptable! snap les Guillots. Bryan is a real estate agent. He sells houses. That makes him commercial! So we win. Right?

Not quite. I noticed some of the august Commissioners furtively looking at each other. They have jobs, and they live places. Some live in the French Quarter. Does that mean if they work, they are not residents of where they live? Do you have to be retired or idle to qualify as a resident?

“Bryan is a resident,” a Commissioner replies.

“But he is in the real estate business.”

“The qualification to be a resident is that you live in the French Quarter. He does.”

Objection, riposte; objection, response; objection, counter-objection.

The Commissioners were not falling for the double-bladed Guillotine. They didn’t even look like they were enjoying this – but I was. I wonder whether that was because the Commissioners were embarrassed by the emptiness of the objections, or just annoyed that the session was running into overtime. or if they were aware of or remembered the history behind this stuff.

A few years ago, the board and members of French Quarter Citizens had elected Linda Malin and Bryan Drude to be President and Treasurer of their strange organization, which had been launched in the 90s because a few residents did not think anyone was properly representing their sub-neighborhood, a few blocks square, of the residential French Quarter. It was soon caught in the Stuart Smith net, though. In case anyone does not remember, Smith was a class action lawyer who got rich attacking oil companies for violating environmental and safety regulations. The cover story and the money were both good. Smith’s political technique was to offer pro-bono legal services and financial support to the French Quarter neighborhood associations, as long as they followed orders. From the outside, his methods frequently seemed more sledgehammer than scalpel, but were sufficiently skillful that it is not certain that all the board members even understood the manipulation. Under Smith’s rule, FQC was a junior partner of VCPORA advocating – on behalf of residents, they said – against Smith’s enemies list, which included music which he did not like, played in places and at times not of his choosing; Sean Meenan’s Habana Café; Bourbon Street bars; and for some reason – maybe just for fun – Antoine’s. He almost always lost, but he probably expected that. Smith’s technique, stated openly on several occasions, was to complicate and stretch his legal assaults to the limit, costing his opponents huge legal fees, exasperation and distraction from their core businesses for years, Torture by litigation. Lawboarding.

By electing Linda and Bryan, French Quarter Smithworld Citizens had committed a grave error, probably inadvertently.  Although active within the organization for some time, they were really straight shooters with good intentions, and did not realize how deep the corruption ran. It is not clear that even all of the willing participants on the club’s dark side realized how the game they were pieces in was played.

Smith ruled (in writing; I have a copy) that FQC and VCPORA must act and vote “in lockstep.” For a while, he toyed with merging them, probably to simplify control and put them under a single executive, but at some point realized the benefit of their posing as two separate groups voting the same way, and holding two commissioners’ seats on FQMD. Two votes for the same Smithian position were better than one.

President Linda had to go to Baton Rouge to address the legislature on an issue. She polled the directors to make sure she represented the organization’s position correctly. Some were hesitant to decide; I suspect that First Citizen Smith had not yet told them what they thought, but Linda required a clear vote before she spoke to the legislators. When she got it, she went to BR to faithfully represent the majority position. Between the vote and her appearance, though, she got some harsh stuff from Smith instructing her to take the opposite position. Linda did not buckle. She had a board majority vote and as President, it was her responsibility to put that case to the State. Smith went off like the Fourth of July – name calling, threats and finally attack. He fired up the troops, pulled a diva act threatening to withdraw his legal services, called meetings, first private for strategy then public to fire up the rank and file, used political tricks like sudden changes of venue – a vengeful, OTT assault to push Linda out of office, off the board and out of the club, while displaying his power so the next team understood its role.

Meanwhile, Bryan Drude, working though the accounts and legal documents he got from his predecessor, had discovered that Lawyer Smith was running 15 lawsuits against people and businesses with French Quarter Citizens listed as plaintiff, without informing the directors. That meant that the organization was in a position of liability without even being aware of it. I am not sure how the non-profit laws work, but it is possible that legal fights might even under some circumstances entail personal liability for the directors. Directors could be serving without awareness of what they had gotten into. Bryan informed the group. He had questioned Smith’s tactics!  Uh-oh.

Drama. Meetings at the Cabildo. Diatribes and crocodile tears. Resignations and rustications.

Linda and Bryan had had enough of this venomous carry-on. Protecting the well-being of the neighborhood and residents’ interests was not the same as carrying water for Lawyer Smith’s hobby of being a neighborhood political boss. They planned and started Advocates. The Guillots remained loyal Smithians. Bryan and Linda had insulted their prophet. Linda Malin was the special bête noire of the FQC cult; Bryan was Citizen enemy no. 2.

Close flashback; return to FQMD board room. His first arguments having fallen flat, Mr Albin Guillot launches his nuclear objection:

“Bryan Drude votes against us at least 90% of the time!”

I’m loving this.

If one does not agree with les Guillots and the ruling clique of FQC, one must be a “commercial” and a class traitor threatening to disturb the sacred “balance.”  Disagreement equals betrayal! Drude has forfeited his resident’s status.  A la Guillotine! 

But the Commissioners weren’t really in the mood. They wanted to get out of there. The chair called for a vote. Mostly Yea. One commissioner was either very straight or working the picket fence. He said, “I don’t know the guy and he’s not here, so I abstain.” Last vote was Brian Furness, French Quarter Citizens appointed Commissioner and this year’s secretary, so furiously taking notes as he spoke. Brian is okay. An FQC loyalist, but he keeps the hypocrisy down to a simmer. He knows that Bryan Drude is okay, but apparently trying to keep faith with his organization, he says something like, “Yes, with the proviso that another residential member be elected to the Committee to maintain the balance . . . “ Chairman Jim Oliver, with a furtive glance at his watch, says, “You are the last vote, Brian. Motion has been made. You can’t add provisos or start it over now. Yes or no.”

As soon as Bryan was confirmed the Commissioners closed the meeting and people started filtering out. In Harumph! mode, Monsieur Albin stalked out. Madame Susan was great to watch, turning indignation into an impressive silent movie performance. Scowling, she shuffled papers together with aggressive, staccato movements, stomped off a few steps to the right, changed her mind, stomped back a few steps to the left, then back to the table for more theatrical file organizing. Cecile B. Demille would have loved it.

Meg Lousteau, VCPORA’s four star, was there, looking cheerful while keeping a beady eye on any mischief the Management District might try to get up to. To her credit, she sat the Drude debate out. Am I lowering my guard or getting soft? Meg is looking increasingly okay these days. I fancy she was enjoying the panto, too, but I won’t rat her out.

So Bryan Drude is the newest member of Security, and now shares with the other members the problem that, as far as I can see, the Mayor and his team are not leveling with them and ignoring their input on the forty million clam boondoggle.

Here’s the thing about it.

It ain’t a security plan.

It’s a Landrieu brand re-launchpad plan.

A VCPORA sponsored meeting was coming up, where an administration team would sell us their story and take questions.

Next time.

© NOLAscape March 2017

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Bourbonland – Where New Orleans used to be

I wandered along to FQMD’s Security Task Force meeting last week, a year or more since I had last been. French Quarter street level politics had become pretty same-old. VCPORA’s war with modernity was less compelling than IS’s. Sidney Torres had grabbed the police thing where it hurts, then got into a transition feud with French Quarter Management District’s Security Task Force, drama heightened by its having pretty much the same name as the Torres Irregulars – the French Quarter Task Force. That was about where my FQ Tosca jumped off the wall. I drifted east. Bywater had been producing some good knock-down soap operas, and Marigny’s gentrification commandos were having some special moments.

It was good to see old friends and foes from the noise ordinance and Habana Café days. Robert Watters and Bob Simms still patiently trying to balance irascible factions, gently fanning the sputtering flame of enlightenment civics to seek a consensus that might pass for reasonable in a soft light. Meg Lousteau, battlefield commander of VCPORA, was looking fit and alert and really rather okay. Maybe her platoon has emerged from the shadow of its Dementor-driven days. The Guillots who seem to have captured French Quarter citizens – that looked like a darker story. Let’s leave them for next time.

So what brought me back? How kind of you to ask. Let’s stroll together a few moments, shall we? Maybe you won’t be such a gentle reader at the end of it.

“Security,” said the mayor, and then again. Then “terrorism.” Not too forcefully – he seemed to be trying this last one out. Is he auditioning for federal office? Fluency with warnings of terrorism is an elementary D.C. requirement. You have to show that you have mastered the basics of inciting and manipulating fear and mingling real and imaginary threats in both talking-head and soundbite formats. You have to be able to convince the rubes – oops. Sorry: voters – that the frisson of fear is coming to you from some fanatics in Syria, not from the guy at the mic selling his political protection racket. The RNC and DNC probably give you a multiple choice quiz on it before they approve your campaign button design.

Barricades on Bourbon Street, closing times, monitored surveillance cameras . . . our Lord Mayor of Illusion was sending out minions to tell interested parties, like City Council, Jason Williams, FQMD and the Bourbon Street businesses, that they didn’t matter and had nothing to say about it. Ryan Berni was carrying His Lordship’s message: when Landrieu wanted their opinion, he would tell them what it is.

Had His Landrieuship been watching the Bannon-Miller act on TV, picking up an authoritarian strut for his magic show?

I want to do an exploration of the terror scam based on Yossarian’s survival philosophy expounded in Catch-22: Forget about who the Generals tell you is the enemy. The guy who is trying to get you killed is the enemy. Maybe next time.

Today, though, let’s explore security and the mayor’s tentative exploration of a fright-wig version of crime and terror in La-Landrieu-land, what I learned at the FQMD SEC (or STF) committee, besides acronym manipulation.

“One morning, guys were putting up cameras on Bourbon Street. We had no information on the type, make, brand, communication system, contractors. We had only sketchy information on the monitoring.”

This from leaders of the FQMD security committee. Bob Simms, co-chairman, is director of the French Quarter Task Force, the fast response mobile police squad that he worked with Sidney Torres to design and create. Bob also created SafeCam NOLA, which started as SafeCam8 (for NOPD district 8), a movement to encourage people and businesses in the French Quarter and then beyond to install recording CCTV systems and to register them with the police, so in the event of a crime, detectives could review their footage for evidence. Bob is the leading civilian expert on crime and its prevention and detection in the French Quarter.

Robert Watters became co-chair of the Task Force when FQMD reduced the number of committees and decided that each should be co-chaired by a Commissioner to help ensure its seriousness and the authority of its reports. Watters has been a commissioner since the beginning. He is CEO of the Rick’s bars on Bourbon Street and a restaurant in the French Quarter. He chairs several Bourbon Street business associations. He is responsible, capable, involved and like Simms devotes countless volunteer hours to civic matters. FQMD is not a self-appointed neighborhood association with a board of amateur axes to grind. A couple of them get to appoint commissioners to represent residents’ purity and gentrification interests, but they do not, thankfully, get to control the commission.

Our Mayor had cameras hooking up, ostensibly by some combination of his political instincts and input from “consultants” without any communication with FQMD, the state appointed commission which has been on this case for years. When I hear about consultants, I want some evidence that they are not picking up a fee by feeding back to an executive or politician what he wants to hear.

FQMD is a “subdivision” of the State of Louisiana, in the political lingo, whose mission is to try to manage, reconcile and direct the frequently conflicting commercial and residential interests in the mixed neighborhood. Fiddling with officialese, you could say that the city of New Orleans is also a subdivision of Louisiana.

I don’t know whether he romanced the Neighborhood Associations, either Meg Lousteau’s currently, apparently, businesslike one or the Guillots dyspeptic affiliate, but under what conditions would it be okay for the mayor to blow off the President of City Council and the Security Task Force of FQMD and the Bourbon Street business associations while cooking up, funding and beginning to implement a “security plan”?

Perhaps because it is not a security plan.

It is a ride in the regime’s New Orleans theme park, a Convention and Visitors’ Bureau sales campaign framed as a safety story. Cameras, surveillance, truck barriers – fodder for the PowerPoints to persuade the Nebraska Hemorrhoid and Acne Society to hold its annual bunfight in the Convention Center, take a bunch of rooms in the brand hotels, pick up some thrills from spicy T&A bars, spicier crawfish and slurped oysters, and selfies of the biggest kick of them all, the Go Cup.

“Vehicles will be barred from the first eight blocks of Bourbon Street; movable bollards will allow emergency vehicles and delivery trucks through when needed.

The plan also calls for increasing regulations on strip clubs and live entertainment venues in the French Quarter and further restricting performers at Jackson Square, while “rebranding the French Quarter and Bourbon Street’s image as a cultural destination.””

“Gov. John Bel Edwards, State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, representatives of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — which will be shouldering some of the financial burden — and the FBI, and members of the City Council and the city’s legislative delegation stood shoulder to shoulder in supporting the plan at Monday’s news conference.

“We’re sending a message to the millions who visit New Orleans every year,” Edwards said. “It’s important they know New Orleans is safe.”

The plan, particularly the idea of closing Bourbon to vehicular traffic, is also a response to terrorist attacks in Europe in which trucks have been driven into large crowds.

Jeff Adelson, The Advocate, 23 Jan 2017

Dear me, Edmonson, the FBI, representatives of the Convention Center and Glinda the Good Witch of the South. It must be true.

The drunk driver who crashed into the Endymion crowd on February 25th shone an interrogator’s bright light on it. That was an accident, not any kind of -ism, but it tells us that a show of protecting one entertainment street does not protect the residents of New Orleans. It attempts to protect the city’s sales mechanism from negative headlines, and maybe to stimulate a few positive ones, if they can get the press releases out on a day Trump is not filing the space and time with a new demonstration of craziness.

The official NOLA tourism industry sells photoshopped colored pictures of simulated sin, contained by barriers, every move watched by cameras and monitors. Safe sin.

The consultants say they used London as one of their references. Good choice. London is the world champion of camera surveillance. In 2015, the estimate of the number of CCTV cameras covering the streets and businesses of London was 442,000. Four hundred and forty two thousand. One camera for approximately every 15 people. In the UK, a relatively compact area, population about 65 million: estimated six million cameras.

Everybody is on camera every day. If you go out of your house, you will almost certainly be recorded digitally somewhere. And there is still plenty of crime. Brits don’t like shooting each other as much as Americans do, but they are really good at burglary, pickpocketing, car theft, bike theft. Camera surveillance hasn’t stopped it.

The cameras do manage to hand out thousands of speeding tickets at lower cost than highway police chasing people down the Interstate, and they do wonders for the hoodie industry. They can add detail and information to crime reports. They may help catch some criminals, but detection can be a costly business. Going through hours of footage to winkle out the details is expensive. The research is not likely to happen every time somebody loses $100 at Jazz Fest.

Stop crime? Are you having a laugh?

Big casinos have cameras everywhere and skillful security thick on the custom made carpet, blending with the punters. They can bar known criminals. Casino managers won’t discuss it, because it is bad for business, but purse snatching, pickpocketing and other kinds of robbery have not gone away. Thieves know where the dark spots are. They act in teams, so a wallet can be snatched, passed to an accomplice out of sight of the eyes in the sky, the cash removed, the wallet tossed, the cash passed to a third team member who is out the door in a few seconds. The house catches a few; the more skillful get away.

Cameras and metal detectors will raise the skill level of street criminals operating in New Orleans. They will give detectives an additional tool for crime solving, like fingerprints and DNA, but like fingerprints and DNA, they will not prevent crime. Video evidence is useful when detectives can use it, but using it takes resources – time and money.

Criminals live in an arms race. Getting around cops and cameras and ops rooms are basic business skills. Put up cameras to catch street crime, and professional grade pickpockets find black spots, or make them. Pro level pickpocket teams can spot a mark, distract, get and pass the wallet or watch while a policeman six feet away is watching and he won’t even see it. Now think about a monitor watching thousands of small figures passing through a dozen screens for hours in a row. The system that is getting consulted onto us will be a set of half measures that will catch the opportunist, desperate, drunk, drugged or stupid of street thieves. By eliminating some of them, it will probably improve business for the pros.

Remember that $40 million? How close will that bring New Orleans to London and the UK’s saturation surveillance?

So why did the Mayor bypass New Orleans expertise for paid consultants?

A few years ago, NOPD became a bit of a public obsession. Personnel numbers and resources had been depleted by budget constraints and the consent decree. People’s perception was that street crime was on the rise and police not keeping up. Then the budget freed up, recruitment and training re-started, and in exasperation, new mini-forces separately funded came into being, of which the best known was Sidney Torres’s rangers, the French Quarter Task Force, now managed by FQMD.

After a couple of years now of active recruiting and new training courses, NOPD is pretty much where it was two years ago: the department claims 1,100 officers. Some who know it well would say 1,000 is more likely. The French Quarter is now policed by semi-coordinated teams of NOPD, the Sheriff, State Police, park police, harbor police, the FQ Task Force and probably some more we haven’t thought of. And in the words of some anonymous sources: it’s all Band-Aids.

Progress in joined-up, coordinated policing – not much. Better than the days of murder squads embedded in the force, and overt, nasty racism, but don’t get out the fireworks. If NOPD was working right, both the brass and the mayor would want the state cops out of here, so they could run proper urban policing instead of a patchwork trying to paint over budget gaps.

Terrorism. Not even worth discussing. Use London again: in the ‘80s when a few sub-brands of the IRA were the terrorists, a very large, well-coordinated and pretty smart police force backed by an intensive intelligence network was on the case. They caught some would-be bombers and headed off some attacks. The government gave itself some draconian powers and filled a few jails up with insurgents. London’s financial district, the City, was under a microscope: entry streets were narrowed to a single lane, with police inspectors looking inside every car that went in. Belfast, the source of a lot of the trouble, was under tighter lockdown by a militarized police force.

We still had bomb scares or explosions about three or four times a week in London, and the news portrayed Belfast as something like a free fire zone. What kept the damage in check: the Irish wanted to generate anxiety but didn’t really want to kill a lot of people. Londoners in those days refused to be scared. When an incident caused a traffic jam, closed a department store or blew a restaurant’s front into the street, people waited more or less patiently for it to be cleared and continued on to work, school or shopping. On their side, all the police of London and other cities, the RUC and the army in Northern Ireland did not stop or cripple the paramilitaries. In 1997, the government made a deal.

For Landrieu’s new plan, run your own thought experiments. Think of the attack on Mumbai, McVeigh’s in Oklahoma City, Charlie Hebdo, even Dylan Roof’s – not the sharpest tack – in North Carolina or the truck ideas used recently in Nice and previously in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries: what could the measures in the administration’s security plan do about them? Think of yourself intent on an act of terrorism: would this stuff stop you?

Something I would like to find out, if I had the resources: who really initiated this idea? Was it the mayor, cleverly squeezing the money out of the CVB to set up a signature “achievement” without aid or comfort from the Council before he is termed out next year, and has to drum up a new job? Or was it perhaps a very creative sales rep for CCTV equipment?

Or did the CVB itself initiate the project?

Peak year for visitors so far was 2004, 10.1 million. Post-K, numbers dipped to 3.7 million in 2006, then started climbing back, with great efforts by the CVB, to 9.78 million in 2015. The State had forecast 10.2 million for 2016. I can’t find out yet whether results matched it. Some of the predictions a couple of years ago were ambitious – up to 13 million in 2018. But foreign visitors to the US are now forecast to go down about eight percent or more, due to the Trump effect. Bellicose nativism, Muslim bans, deportation police and naked corruption in the White House don’t seem to be big vacation attractions. The Bannon government doesn’t seem to mind. They see chaos as opportunity and paranoia as a tool of control. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of “them,” those rapist immigrants? The more gullible of Trump supporters may now believe they would be robbed, beaten up or shot if they stepped outside the door in a city where everybody might not be exactly, you know . . .  wh*te.

Let’s just wonder if the CVB needs to get those 2018 numbers up, and if they have to Disnify Bourbon Street into Bourbon Land, well, sometimes a man’s gotta rebrand other people’s businesses just to do what it takes to make the conventioneers from Wisconsin feel good about spending their hard-earned where New Orleans used to be. Since he made the tourist industry a top priority and partner since 2010, the CVB may just want to help send Mayor Teflon out on a high note, and get the next candidate hooked on the numbers before he or she gets too addicted to his or her own platform.

Or maybe we should just defer to the wisdom of the FBI, the State Police and representatives of the Convention Center. There will be an open meeting this evening (Monday 12 March) at 6.00 at the St Jude Center, 400 North Rampart, sponsored by VCPORA. One of the mayor’s deputies, a Mr Jeff Hebert, will be there to make the administration’s case. Why not come along? See if you believe him, or take action against this latest move to turn New Orleans into Peoria South.

The NOPD budget for 2017 is $149,443,448. Add to that the cost of sheriff’s deputies and all the other forces saving us from perdition – let’s say at least $200 million to “fight” street crime. (They call it “crime fighting” but they are not putting up cameras to address financial malpractice, government corruption, bribery in Safety and Permits, lack of maintenance and sanitation in rental properties and other business crimes.) Then add the money and social cost of New Orleans’ world record level of incarceration, supposedly intended to punish and correct criminal behavior but which also transmits and perpetuates it.

What I want to know and sometimes ask in these police pow-wows is: how much has New Orleans invested in real crime prevention? What fraction of that $200-plus million goes to addressing the causes of crime? That would mean digging into stuff harder than ordering new police cars or closing bar doors at 3:00 AM. That would mean getting people of good will and commitment involved, researching and understanding while building relationships. That might mean more intelligent drug laws, better sentencing, encouraging civic engagement and activism.

It would require economic repair and reform. And it would take patience. It might take 30 years to see clear results.

It may not be fair to lay this on New Orleans more than any other US city. Long term social benefit does not seem to be the American way of thinking, and with the country chopped up into states, counties and cities with autonomous law enforcement policies and regimes, for-profit prisons, weapons instead of clear critical thinking as the symbol of freedom among about half the population, and people like Sheriffs Arpaio and Clarke vocally equating legal violence with law and order – maybe it is futile for one city to act alone. Maybe an escalating arms race is the best we can do. Maybe it’s what we really like.

©NOLAscape March 2017

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