Good Times/Bad Times: May 25 – 31

Today I have for you (channeling the chefs on “Chopped” which I just finished watching!) a little list of some of the good things and bad things that I read on the internet in the past week. Most of them are from other blogs, some from NOLA, some not. It’s just a hodge-podge of articles that I liked or …… didn’t, but all are decidedly shareable.

Good Times

Road trip! Follow Ian McNulty on a trip down the bayou to Terrebone Parish in Bayou Country journey offers glimpse of small-town life at the end of the line.

Local blogger Blathering shares her recent outing to City Park’s Botanical Gardens with a walk through Enrique Alferez’s sculptures in her weekly feature “Arty Tuesday”.

“Blackberries Everywhere” , via Bouillie blog, takes us along to pick wild blackberries in rural Louisiana and adds a bonus of a recipe for Blackberry Cornmeal Cake that sounds scrumptious. The photos of the finished cake made my mouth water and put it on my list of recipes to try this summer.

I’m always complaining to myself that I don’t have the kind of time I’d like to read. This is really not exactly true since I often  end up surfing the internet when my intention was to read my ebook.  I even tweeted about it. So I was happy to find this post, 7 tips to help you read more (& love it).

 Bad Times

Local political journalist John McGinnis died last Sunday at the age of 66. Robert Mann penned a wonderful memoir and tribute to Mr. McGinnis here,  a worthy read about an exceptional journalist.

#YesAllWomen was a hashtag on fire on Twitter this past week. It apparently first popped up Friday 5/23 in the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting spree in California in response to his misogynist rants on YouTube. When social media takes up a cause like this, I find it much more interesting and enlightening to read personal blogs written by everyday people to get a feel for how the issue affects or is affecting everyday people. Here are a few blog posts I read this week that touched me (to tears in some cases) and/or just made me think in a different way, breaking open the festering sore of misogyny.

First, here’s a link to a Vanity Fair article that includes a graphic showing how the hashtag spread worldwide.

Brandi writes a very personal account of her experience of being bullied by a boy (and, yes, it was bullying)  at age 11. I really identified with this post because I experienced the same thing at the same age and I remember the humiliation I felt.

Roxane Gay’s post, In Relief of Silence and Burden, is a heartbreaker written in the unmistakably honest voice that is Roxane Gay. Reading this made my stomach hurt.

Walking While Fat and Female – Or Why I Don’t Care Not All Men Are Like That was an eye-opener. I guess I’m naive but it never occurred to me that adult men acted this way.

And, from the men:

My Girl’s a Vegetable: A Father’s Response To Isla Vista Shootings  in Luna Luna Magazine shares how a dad’s eyes were opened to the every day misogyny directed to women via his daughter’s experience while walking home from school.

Local Blogger Ian McGibboney writes “A Letter To All the Nice Guys”and makes some really good points.

And, finally, Emily Shire says “#YesAllWomen Has Jumped the Shark” and wonders if it’s being diluted by people tweeting about such things as “complaints about women being told to smile”. What do you think?

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New-To-Me Blog of the Week

To end on a lighter note, I want to share a blog each week (or so) that’s new to me and that I enjoyed reading  – you know, show a little link love.This week it’s  The Art of Simple, a blog that shares ways to live a simpler, more meaningful life as well as giving great organizational tips. Give it a click, I think you’ll like it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Does Louisiana’s “Hollywood South” nickname cost more than we can afford?

During March 2013, the office of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued the following  press release about its “Tax Credits and Rebates in Louisiana” report:

BATON ROUGE – Mar 25, 2013 – Louisiana’s tax credit and rebate programs resulted in a tax revenue loss of more than $6.13 billion in revenue in the last seven years, according to a study of the programs released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

The performance audit looked at 44 of the credits that each resulted in a tax revenue loss of at least $1 million for at least one year between the calendar years 2006 and 2011. Auditors said the credits from those 44 programs – 52 percent of the 85 tax credit programs on the books — totaled a revenue reduction of approximately $5.4 billion, with 2011 tax data still incomplete as of October 2012.

The five most expensive tax credits accounted for almost $3.7 billion of the $5.4 billion total for the period studied, or 67 percent of the total revenue loss. The five are:

·  The inventory/property tax exemption for businesses — $1.5 billion.
·  The insurance company premium tax credit — $1.1 billion.
·  The motion picture investor tax credit — $512 million.
·  The credit granted on net income taxes paid to other states — $402 million.
·  The credit for assessments paid to Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — $212 million.

While media sources are generally focusing on the $512 million figure noted above [emphasis added] regarding the “Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit,” it is actually one of three separate components of the film tax credit program listed among the 44 “loss leaders” noted in Appendix C of this report:

· The Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: $511,613,716 (ranked #3 of 44)

· The Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: $29,561,287 (ranked #20 of 44)

· The Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program : $10,561,744 (ranked #29 of 44)

That’s a cumulative total of $551,736,747 over a period of 72 months’ time (or an average of $7,663,010 per month) that is reportedly lost through the program as a whole.

This $551,736,747 figure accounts for nine percent (9%) of the reported total lost of $6.13 billion during the six-year time frame examined in the report — or roughly $1 out of every $11 lost.

(Note, too, that those numbers do not include the much-touted year of 2012 with its 61 projects filmed in New Orleans… I predict that those numbers will reflect even greater losses as hundreds of millions more in uncapped credits and rebates are likely to be reflected in the statistics. If the program continues to operate in this unlimited manner, the notion of a “turning point” from subsidizing Hollywood to Louisiana’s realization of a genuine profit becomes increasingly unlikely.)

The three credits/programs noted in the report are described as follows:

Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: Louisiana taxpayers that invest in state-certified motion-picture productions can earn a tax credit at the time expenditures are made by a motion picture production company. (This credit in particular features a rebate component, which the report defines as “A rebate is money directly reimbursed by the state to an entity or individual, independent of the tax return process or tax liability.”)

Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: To provide a credit against corporate income tax for an approved state-certified infrastructure project for a film, video, television, or digital production or postproduction facility. This credit applied to infrastructure projects between July 1, 2005 and December 31, 2008. (While this credit appears to time-bounded/no longer be active, it still earned a spot on the loss list.)

Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program: To provide a financial incentive to the film industry in order that the state might compete with other states for filming locations.

It seems that the only guaranteed way to make the big money in “Hollywood South” is to be a so-called “motion picture investor,” given that the tax dollar hemorrhage from that program is a staggering 48 times greater than the losses experienced by the so-called “Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program” itself.

And, oh, the hand-wringing that occurred when Governor Jindal proposed the implementation of a $1 million limit on the amount that could be claimed for each actor’s salary by production companies as qualifying expenses when applying for Louisiana film tax credits! (Never mind that this precise limitation already applies to “payroll spent on Louisiana residents,” apparently whether or not they’re in front of the camera.) The governor only wanted to trim one specific part of the program… however, with media coverage regarding this report currently on the rise, I suspect that future proposed cuts may go even deeper.

As noted in this WWL TV story originally broadcast on 3/25/13, Mayor Landrieu’s office has been at work, creating the spin:

“We asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration whether the film tax credit program is providing a tangible benefit to the New Orleans economy.

“His adviser on the Cultural Economy said in a statement, ‘The state’s tax incentive program for film has helped New Orleans grow a new industry. We estimate that since 2007, New Orleans has seen more than $2 billion in direct spending from tax credit film projects – money that is spent in and remains in the local economy, as the program intended. Our local film industry is now nationally known, and it supports more than 1,000 full-and part-time jobs. Production companies want to film here because of the tax incentives and numerous related businesses have launched or relocated to New Orleans because of the opportunities that have been created.'”

Unlike the numbers noted in the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report, the figure of “$2 billion in direct spending” (which is not to be confused with $2 billion in tax revenue generated) is unsubstantiated.

The estimated “1,000 full- and part-time jobs” may not be as statistically significant as the Mayor’s adviser’s statement would like to imply if one considers that the city’s current estimated population is ~370,000, nor is it confirmed if all of these jobs in fact consistently pay a year-round living wage.

While the auditor’s report includes fairly “hard” numbers (verifiable, with the exception of the noted not-yet-complete figures for calendar year 2011), the best we see from proponents of the film tax credit program are nothing more than “soft” or estimated figures that are inherently difficult to verify.

As the WWL story notes, “And without a requirement that the tax credit programs track the return on the investments, the legislative auditor said it’s tough to tell if they’re worth it.”

Culture vs. enforcement: Could SB 140 change our City Administration’s priorities?

At its April 2013 Board meeting, the French Quarter Management District presented a draft copy of a flyer titled, “Do You Know It’s Illegal To: French Quarter Businesses” detailing the existing laws and ordinances applicable to businesses operating in the French Quarter (complete with citations!). This document, although still in draft form pending verification and final approval, is an eye-opening compendium of the existing ordinances and laws applying to businesses — and particularly “Alcohol Beverage Outlets” (ABOs or bars) operating in the Vieux Carré.

(For example: it’s illegal to “Allow an employee or any other person on the premises of a Class A ABO, including a doorway, to expose unclothed or in attire any portion of the cleft of the buttocks OR a female breast below the top of the areola. Law differs for live entertainers while onstage. La. R.S. 26:290 (B)(1) & (2), (D), (E); Sec. 110-157, 434, 435” — who knew?!)

In April 2012, the French Quarter Management District also produced a similar — albeit more generalized — flyer detailing the ordinances and laws relative to individuals/citizens/residents: “Do You Know It’s Illegal To: ILLEGAL In the French Quarter.” This document is also reportedly currently being updated with minor revisions.

While both of these documents are interesting, it’s common knowledge that our City Administration’s emphasis on enforcement of such ordinances and laws is inconsistent at best. This could be, in part, because Louisiana law currently limits the amount of fines assessed at the municipal level to a maximum of just $500.

However, Senator J.P. Morrell (D-Dist. 3) is introducing Senate Bill 140 as part of the 2013 Legislative Session (its digest states as follows):

Present law mandates the maximum penalty to be imposed for violation of any parish ordinance is $500 and imprisonment of 30 days in the parish jail.

Proposed law provides for the city of New Orleans to establish a maximum penalty for violations of any parish ordinance as codified in the city code of ordinances at $5,000 and imprisonment of six months in the parish jail.

Effective August 1, 2013.

If SB 140 is passed and our City’s Administration figures out that there’s a possible new revenue stream from stepping up enforcement efforts, these odd little laws that are already on the books might become surprisingly — and possibly unexpectedly — significant. The passage of this bill will likely mean that our city’s officials will pursue more aggressive — and lucrative — fines for numerous violations that are currently possibly considered to be too costly to routinely enforce.

While I am generally in favor of this proposed bill, I am also concerned that it could have unforeseen consequences… particularly when one considers the enforcement efforts that have already been identified as “priority” issues by our elected officials.

Keep in mind, too, that the impact of this proposed bill will affect all of Orleans Parish — not just the French Quarter. Heads up, everybody!

CBS’ “The Talk” is first to apply for LA film tax credits for its Super Bowl broadcasts

Earlier this week, Governor Jindal unveiled his plan for revising Louisiana’s taxes. Included in that plan was the implementation of a $1 million limit on the amount that could be claimed for each actor’s salary by production companies as qualifying expenses when applying for Louisiana film tax credits.

While the on-screen talent could be paid a higher salary than this limit, the production would only be allowed to claim a maximum of $1 million for tax credit reimbursement. This means that Louisiana taxpayers would only be on the hook for 30% of that cap, amounting to $300,000 apiece maximum for out-of-state big name stars like Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman, Tracey Gold, and Edward Furlong (regardless of whatever paycheck they pull down while filming in Louisiana).

Frankly, it makes sense, as this exact limitation already applies to “payroll spent on Louisiana residents (those who maintain a permanent home and spend more than six months each year within the state) working on film sets, as long as the salary does not exceed $1 million.” For our state’s citizens, apparently this cap applies whether or not they’re in front of the camera.

This made me think about the fact that Louisiana was the fifth poorest state in the US in 2012 (falling in after Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia). In that same year, our state spent $231 million from its citizens’ tax dollars to pay for film tax credits. Reining in this unlimited program in any way might honestly be more beneficial than picking up a portion of the paychecks for visiting talent from the “other LA” — especially since this program has reportedly cost our state more than $1 billion since 2002.

Then I wondered, did any of the programs that were broadcast from CBS’ “Super Bowl Park at Jackson Square” during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII have the unabashed gall to apply for the Louisiana Film Incentive & Tax Credit Program?

Unfortunately the answer to that question is yes.

The daytime chat show “The Talk” has applied for what amounts to Louisiana taxpayers’ subsidization of its broadcasts from the largest stage occupying Jackson Square during that week-long media frenzy.

Photo by Bernie Murden dated 1/28/13, used with permission.

Today’s email inquiry:

From: Kalen Wright
Date: Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Question re: Super Bowl filming and the Louisiana Film Tax Credit Program
To: Amanda Hafford

Dear Ms. Hafford:

I have a question regarding the multitude of TV shows and filming projects that occurred in New Orleans during the week of broadcasting occurring as part of the Super Bowl XLVII event.

As you are aware, several TV programs were filmed and broadcast during the week prior to the Super Bowl XLVII game including, but not limited to, the following: the NFL Network, ESPN, the CBS Sports Network, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS’ “The Talk” TV show, the Super Bowl telecast itself, etc.

Did any of the broadcast/filming productions associated with Super Bowl XLVII apply for and/or receive Louisiana film tax credits? If so, which program(s) and could you please also disclose the amount of the tax credits received?

If possible, I would prefer to receive your reply by email.

Thank you very much for your time, consideration, and assistance.

Respectfully,

Kalen Wright

The following reply was received from Louisiana Film in the office of Louisiana Economic Development:

From: Amanda Hafford
Date: Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 3:32 PM
Subject: RE: Question re: Super Bowl filming and the Louisiana Film Tax Credit Program
To: Kalen Wright

Hi Kalen,

Of the shows you cite, only “The Talk” has applied to the program. They are in the processing phase of initial certification and have not been issued credits to date.

Best,

Amanda

Amanda L. Hafford
Assistant Director, Louisiana Film
Louisiana Economic Development
http://www.opportunitylouisiana.com

As some might recall, “The Talk” inadvertently offended many New Orleanians during its recent visit to Jackson Square. Now it seems that we’ll all have the honor of picking up a minimum of 30% of the not-yet-disclosed tab for the pleasure of that experience.

Two ordinances affecting Jackson Square to be considered on Monday, 12/3/12

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral from an Upper Pontalba balcony on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Via the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO):

On 11/1/12, Councilmember Kristen Gisleson Palmer introduced two ordinances regarding activity in Jackson Square. These ordinances have been drafted with the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

In summary, the first ordinance would ban anyone from stopping, standing or loitering in Jackson Square between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. The punishment for loitering would be a “fine not exceeding $500 fine and/or imprisonment up to six months.”

The second ordinance states that only persons holding “A” permits or “B” permits may conduct business in Jackson Square. This is consistent with the current existing ordinance. “A” and “B” permits are for visual artists. Street musicians are not required to have permits and no such permits currently exist. However, what is different is the punishment for violating the terms of the permit. The existing ordinance states that the punishment for violating the terms of the permit is having the permit revoked. However, the new ordinance proposes a punishment of a “fine not exceeding $500 fine and/or imprisonment up to six months.”

The very nature of enforcing a punishment that is not limited to revoking a permit could mean that there are serious repercussions for anyone conducting business in Jackson Square that does not have a “A” and “B” permit. We are very concerned about the potential for the criminalization of street musicians, performers, and tarot card readers.

The highlighted sections are revisions to the existing ordinances: Proposed Jackson Square Ordinances

MACCNO is working to secure a meeting with Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s office ASAP to raise our concerns. We encourage you to contact her office to raise your concerns:

Mary Cunningham, Director, Constituent Services
mbcunningham@nola.gov
504-658-1030

If you do contact Councilwoman Palmer’s office, please remember to also thank the councilwoman for supporting Siberia in securing their permit for live music and ask her to continue supporting live music.

City Council’s Government Affairs Committee will be voting on the ordinances on Monday, 12/3/12.

Please spread the word about these proposed ordinances and attend our next meeting on Wednesday, November 28th at Noon, at Kermit’s Tremé Speakeasy, 1535 Basin St. At this meeting we will be having a teach-in and will be updating the group on the outcome of our meeting with Councilwoman Palmer’s office and presenting a proposed plan of action. Please be on the look out for further action plans!

Thank you!

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(For additional information, please see Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.)

Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

gumbo: a brief history

So when the Times Picayune decided to cut and run, to 3 days a week, I cancelled my subscription and started daily delivery of The Advocate. After 6 weeks I can honestly say I do still enjoy getting the daily paper. Of course they are not alike – I miss the Thursday (now Wednesday) TP food section and the daily obituaries, but aside from that I am enjoying the Advocate. One columnist who makes me laugh every day is Smiley Anders – even if you don’t get the Advocate, you can read his column online. Another interesting finding is that The Advocate reports on political issues before they happen, unlike the TP which reports on Baton Rouge politics after the fact. Case in point the recent privatization of OGB was addressed in the Advocate before it actually happened, and there was no mention in the TP until after it happened, and even then it was a tiny blurb buried in the Money Section.

But I digress. The Advocate has a Thursday Food section, and it nowhere near competes with the far superior TP food section. However there was a great story this past Thursday on the history of gumbo in Louisiana that bears repeating here. Cynthia Nobles writes an occasional column on Bites of History, and this week she deftly and succinctly describes the lineage of gumbo and how it has evolved over the years. The text is below:

Bites of History: Gumbo

Photo by Cynthia LeJeune NoblesMagpie Cafe's Seafood and Okra Gumbo has a secret ingredient -- espresso coffee.

CYNTHIA NOBLES

November 14, 2012

The next time you pull out your gumbo pot, consider that gumbo was invented in Louisiana and that it has been simmering on local stoves for almost 300 years. And be proud that the gumbo your family enjoys is a collaboration of various cultures.

But who actually cobbled together that first cauldron of gumbo? That question is always heatedly debated.

One theory has it that gumbo was invented by Choctaw Indians, who were known for cooking a stew that, like gumbo, was made with bits of everything. They also ate kombo, sassafras leaf, which was powdered to make the thickening ingredient filé, that eventually became a crucial gumbo ingredient.

Another school of thought is that gumbo started out as bouillabaisse, a French seafood soup of fish, broth, olive oil and saffron, which was popular in Old New Orleans. Some historians believe that after a century of cooking with nontraditional ingredients, the soup was no longer recognizable and had turned into a new dish known as gumbo.

We know for sure that roux, the thickening agent made from oil and flour, did come to Louisiana from France. But at some point, did some classically trained French chef in New Orleans decide to thicken bouillabaisse with roux? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know.

An extremely popular scenario is that the earliest form of gumbo came to Louisiana with slaves. The Creole/Louisiana word “gumbo” is derived from the word for okra in the central Bantu dialect of West Africa. That region was home to many of the first Louisiana African slaves, who brought with them a love for spices, smothered greens and stews, and whose okra was originally known at “ki ngombo.” The word evolved into “quingombo” and was later shortened to “gombo,” then “gumbo.”

Another nod to the African connection is that Louisiana slaves in the 1700s ate their okra with rice, calling that dish ya ya.

The first documented evidence of gumbo appeared in the early 1800s, and the dish was then described as a soup made principally of (ta-dah!) okra and rice.

Other ethnic groups that landed on our shores are responsible for gumbo ingredients that today we consider standard. The Germans who settled the German Coast 40 miles upriver from New Orleans in 1721 were wildly successful farmers, and their andouille, the heavily smoked and seasoned pork sausage, became a mainstay of rustic country gumbos.

When the Spanish took over the colony in 1762, they brought chaurice, a spicy smoked sausage, along with a love for the use of tomatoes, onions, garlic and parsley. The Spanish were also lovers of ham, and a look at Lafcadio Hearn’s “La Cuisine Creole” (1885) shows that ham, not sausage, was commonly used in New Orleans gumbo at the time.

Seafood gumbo became popular after the arrival of yet another group of immigrants. In the late 1700s, Louisiana’s Spanish government needed to strengthen defenses against the British, and so recruited a group of fishermen from the Canary Islands not only to protect the colony, but also to help produce food.

Known locally as Isleños, these folks settled along Louisiana’s marshes and coast, where they fished enormous amounts of shrimp, crab and oysters. It is believed that their effort is a key reason why seafood gumbo grew so popular in New Orleans.


Although the Acadians did not actually invent gumbo, this group of hearty peasants certainly enhanced it. Avid hunters, the outcasts from Nova Scotia threw their game into iron pots and combined it with okra and hot spices from slaves, Native American filé and herbs, German sausages, and French roux. In the beginning, they actually served it over grits, not rice.

Often cooking with ingredients that were not at their freshest, the Acadians made their gumbos dark and thick, and seasoned them with a comparative heavy hand. Today we call that style of gumbo-making Cajun gumbo, while New Orleans’ more delicate tomato-laced seafood gumbo is considered Creole.

It is generally believed that the modern classic gumbo, a roux-based soup with seafood or meat and optional okra, filé, and tomatoes, was refined by slaves and common housewives, the two demographics who often had to make do with inferior food. And because so many ethnic hands contributed to gumbo’s ingredient list, this savory, comforting, complex and downright mysterious stew has come to personify the word “Creole.”

There’s little argument that it’s the dish that most visitors identify with our region. And it’s the one thing most think they have to have. Gumbo is so identifiable with our state that the Legislature even adopted it as Louisiana’s official cuisine.

So there is no doubt that gumbo, in all its glorious versions, is south Louisiana’s culinary rock star. And does it really matter who invented it? We’re all just glad that someone did.

Sources: Africans in Colonial Louisiana (Hall, 1995), New Orleans Cuisine (Tucker, 2008).

Cynthia LeJeune Nobles is a member of the Newcomb College Culinary History Writers Group and the author of LSU Press’s title “The Delta Queen Cookbook.” You can contact her at noblescynthia@gmail.com.

So yes the Advocate has some redeeming qualities, and coupled with all of the online resources and investigative bloggers of Southeast Louisiana, one has a plethora of sources to mine for information. Plus I still get to sit on my porch on on my sofa with a cup of coffee and read the paper every day, feeling the newsprint and hearing the crinkles as I fold the pages.

Post script: One addition to the TP I find absolutely horrible is the addition and prominent placement of James Varney on the Opinion pages. Varney is a hack – why on earth they replaced Stephanie Grace and the other op-ed writers with him, a former TP SPORTS REPORTER,  is beyond me. Just look at this piece by him: what makes it even more incredulous is how arrogant and belligerent Varney gets in the comments section. He could really be a big contributing factor to bring down the TP if he continues on unmuzzled. Good grief!

Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.

Under a new ordinance proposed by City Council President Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the request of Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, people would be allowed to walk through the Jackson Square pedestrian mall (the open space surrounding the fenced-in square itself) from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM daily, but it would become illegal to stop, stand, or loiter during that period of time.

NFL Football Season Kick Off Parade on 9/9/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

After the nationally televised NFL extravaganza kick off concert event in Jackson Square highlighting the New Orleans Saints’ home opening game on Sept. 9, 2010, the 22-member Jackson Square Task Force was convened to address a myriad of community concerns. A report of this group’s recommendations was presented to City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee on 2/7/11, including the following:

…Jackson Square is not a frozen piece of history.  Instead, it’s a vibrant residential, commercial and tourist hub that is under increasing pressure because of its popularity.  As citizens of New Orleans, we have an obligation to act as stewards of our urban and architectural heritage, particularly those of great significance.  It was in this spirit that Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer convened representatives of the area’s residential, business, institutional, municipal, and religious communities, so that we could come together to discuss ways to protect and preserve this space.

The carefully deliberated recommendations include designating a Special Events Point Person, assigning dedicated round-the-clock security, implementing consistent maintenance activity, and improving sanitation by designating a single entity to be responsible for that task.

In total, the group made 15 recommendations almost two years ago; to date, only one has been implemented (banning vehicles from the pedestrian mall). While the proposed ordinance may superficially address some of the concerns cited, an ineffectual closure of the pedestrian mall for a few hours’ time each day was not among the recommendations.

Smoke from the marsh fire in New Orleans East resulted in an eerily deserted Jackson Square at 2:00 PM on 8/30/11. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

If “tourism is ‘a perception-driven business’,”as stated by Landrieu spokesperson Ryan Berni, why is our city’s administration refusing to implement genuine and visible improvements to enhance Jackson Square? Why do the most recent actions by our elected officials instead suggest what could be described as being a conscious effort to create a “Constitution-free” zone in the French Quarter?

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral as viewed from a balcony of the Lower Pontalba Building on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Last month, the American Planning Association named Jackson Square as one of the nation’s 10 great public spaces for 2012. Attempting to ban loitering at Jackson Square for a period of four hours daily will not preserve “its timeless design, historic and cultural significance, and views that encompass some of New Orleans’ rich architectural heritage.”

Mayor Landrieu and City Council, is this really the best that you can do?
Please focus on providing much-needed services (sanitation, maintenance, and security) that will improve the quality of visiting our city’s historic heart instead of proposing ordinances predestined for (wholly avoidable) legal challenges.

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Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

Vote Smart!

Early voting ends this Tuesday, October 30th. After that you have to line up on November 6th.

Our ballot in Louisiana contains NINE Constitutional Amendments, so it’s best that you become informed so you can vote intelligently.

This link will give you the background on the amendments and explain – in plain English – what they’re all about.

Again, be prepared and vote smart.

dinner conversation

Last night I was at dinner in someone’s home and the following is the abridged version of a portion of dinner conversation. I say abridged because I was so mad that one, the guest had the audacity to discuss politics in a room of people this person had never met, save one, and two I didn’t want to go ballistic and embarrass the host so I left.

Guest: I was at the VA hospital today for (some random event) and was able to see the blueprint of the new hospital.

Me: Oh really, tell me about it…

Guest: Well on Banks street, the old oak trees were saved, and some of the buildings will be built around the oaks, so there will be a corridor down the middle – a shaded promenade with benches and such.

Me: That sounds nice!

Guest: While I was there today, some of the (nameless) dignitaries were discussing how the Charity Hospitals were being dismantled and they were looking at private corporations to take over the care of the patients.

Me: Oh really? Well after Katrina, when Charity hospital was closed down, all the patients had to go somewhere so they were seen at Ochsner, East Jefferson – it didn’t work well and those hospitals lost a lot of money…

Guest: Yeah, one of the doctors at (nameless hospital) was telling me how after the storm, a gun shot wound patient broke into some pharmacy storage area to take medicine, so that didn’t work out too well with “those” (emphasis guest) patients at the private hospitals. So its going to be difficult for “those” (emphasis guest) patients to find somewhere to go.

Me: I honestly don’t see how the state could possibly shut down the Charity Hospitals? What are they going to do with the new hospital? Sell it?

Guest: Well there will be no more Charity system, they are doing everything right now to close all the hospitals. It won’t be an issue especially if Obamacare is defeated in November when Romney wins.

Me: Its called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Plus there is no guarantee Romney will win.

Guest: Well if Obama is re-elected, there are ways to defeat the health care bill.

Me: Oh Really? You know, we really shouldn’t be going there (having political discussion with strangers) at dinner…

Guest: Well how do you think Obamacare is going to be funded? The federal government will need to put up $50 billion dollars they don’t have to pay for it…

At this point I excused myself and helped clear the table and began washing dishes. The guest continued carrying on political discussion with the others remaining at the table which I could hear from the kitchen. I did as much as I could to assist the host –  but very soon after when another guest excused themselves it was my cue to leave too.

I find it extraordinarily disturbing that there is a subversive political process going on which is hell bent on obliterating health care for the poor and uninsured in Louisiana. There has already been a loss of thousands of state jobs, and this current round will result in 1500 more people out of work. How does this contribute to the tax base, the spend and growth economy, putting people out of work, regardless of the fact that these are hard working and dedicated state employees?  Where are all the students of health care, physicians, nurses, allied health, going to go for training? Not to mention all of the sick, sick patients and not just the victims of and perpetrators of violent trauma: there is no plan in the foreseeable future for the state to pony up through Bayou Health or any other fee schedule to reimburse the private hospitals that will wind up caring for the uninsured poor. And once these private hospitals begin to see red, what will happen to the patients? Will they just start dying in the streets? Where is the social justice in that?

There is a call to action out there, let your voice be heard. Representative Jerome Richard from Thibodaux has called to convene a special session to address the recent bulldozing of healthcare, among other things. Contact your state legislators and senators, and demand they go to special session in November to reverse the evisceration of health care in this state. You the citizens elected the legislators and they answer to you, compel them to do their job and do what’s right by their constituents and not the special interests.

*****UPDATE***** This link will take you to an online petition through Change dot org requesting the legislature to convene a special session to find out what in God’s name is going on with the railroading of health care in Louisiana – please consider signing it – thanks

stopping the press

It arrived this week. The current bill has been parked on my kitchen table in plain sight and every time I look at it what initially began as a simmer has developed into a boiling anger. I was on the fence about what to do, but as of today, my mind is made up. I am dropping my subscription to the Times Picayune.

Lets look at the math. The current monthly daily paper rate is $18.95. The publisher thinks they are giving its subscribers a deal by reducing the rate two whole dollars to $16.95 a month – a price for less than half of a paper subscription. I’ll give it to them that the Sunday paper does indeed cost a bit more, so I’ll pay them no more a half off rate of $9.47 a month for 3 days of newsprint. But I’d better not hold my breath, hah. Anyone can plainly see that the rate is exponentially increased for an inferior product. Why on earth would anyone in their right mind support this blatant money grab?

Now lets explore the quality. The paper has been circling the drain over the past year. Take the sports section for example – I like to relax at home with a sporting event playing in the background on TV, baseball being one of them. All this season, the major league schedule in the sports section has been hit and miss; lately all that appears in the “If you want to watch it” section is “Regional baseball coverage”. No times, no teams, nada. Other affected sections are of course the abbreviated Monday Metro section, the notable gaps in the real estate transfers, the sketchy political coverage, the printing of irrelevant national fluffy news stories that have no relevance to New Orleans, and the gradual loss over time of newsworthy substance.

What before was a central repository where one could skim the newsprint quickly for the days events – the television schedule, the clubs and restaurants, what current politician is treading the walk of shame and who should be contacted because their loved one recently died has now been completely decentralized. Citizens will be forced to get into the habit of consulting various different resources such as local television broadcasts and websites, Gambit Weekly, WWOZ, NOMENU, and the multitude of newsworthy and politically current southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi blogs such as The Lens, Slabbed, American Zombie, C.B. Forgotston, CenLamar and Uptown MessengerAdvance Publications and the Newhouse family are deluded to think that loyalty to a 3 day a week paper and a sub-standard and barely navigable website will supplant the many resources locals will have to tap into to make up for the news void the other 4 days of the week. The drawback however in tapping into multiple resources is having to sit down at a computer or thumb through a smart phone to find the current news and events, which is much more time consuming than reading newsprint. Our time is much more valuable than that, so why would we pay a hefty sum for the 3 day a week inconvenience of a mound of irrelevant content? This dearth of CURRENT information will also serve to cut us off and hasten the decline in local commerce.

The saddest thing is, with the loss of a daily paper, New Orleanians will become disconnected from the world, especially the population that aren’t wired to the internet. Maybe that is the goal – to marginalize us down here as unimportant, and unworthy of the information that makes the rest of the country tick. After the failure of the federal levee system in 2005, the seed was planted elsewhere that we don’t matter, hence the blatant disregard we’ve experienced which in this particular instance is coming from a greedy corporation that is deluded in believing they are providing us our “news” . This is atrocious – this region is one of the last bastions of a unique American culture and we will fight to the death to survive, despite all the “outsiders” such as Newhouse who dare to think we don’t matter anymore.

I appeal to everyone within earshot of this blog – we don’t need to support a piss-poor news source. We don’t need to enrich Advance Publications and the Newhouses beyond their $7.63 billion dollar worth by subscribing to a shell of the former Times Picayune. All we can hope for is the aggregate local outrage will cut Advance off at the knees rather than suffer the insult of the occasional newspaper. Hopefully another benevolent entity will step up to the plate and resume a daily publication that centralizes all of newsworthy and current events affecting New Orleans. For now, I’ll enjoy saving the annual $203.40, but believe me I’d gladly resume payment in return for a daily newspaper. We deserve much better – consider stopping the press and stop paying for this pseudo paper!