Monday Reads: Rabid, Rich Dogs Bite People across the country

Good Morning!

One of the biggest problems that I have with folks who wear the smug mantle of libertarian is that they make hay over abuses of power at the Federal level while shrugging off what goes on at the state level unless it has something  to do with dismantling public schools or taxing the rich.  I’ve always thought that abuse of power and destruction of civil liberties shouldn’t happen at any level.  However, if you go from state to state, you’re going to see how serious money has serious sway over the actions of politicians.  Some states and locales just ooze plutocracy. It’s a lot easier to be a thug at the state level. It’s getting to the point where reality is unfolding like a TV plot.

second lineI’ve dived into the fray at the local level again here in New Orleans where our culture of second lines, Mardi Gras Indians, and live local  music is under siege.

On one hand, I’ve decided to volunteer for the Mary and Mitch Landrieus’ re-elections despite serious reservations about both, because I don’t want to live in a state ruled by one party intent on driving the trains straight off the reality track.

I’m also headed to a huge demonstration on Friday, because some freaking rich lawyer has time and money to continually harass the causes of street sounds and music near his property in the French Quarter. His pet peeves will impact all of us.  Before he moved into the quarter, you would find musicians out about the street at nights.  I would see them on the way home from my gigs all the time when I lived in the quarter myself.  They now have to be out of sight and ear by 8:30. He’s been on a tear since then with a few rich neighbors.  Problem is, they have money and time and they just don’t give up.  Now, they want a “sound ordinance” that has an outlandishly low standard for what he deems ‘noise”. I literally will not be able to play my piano in my back parlor without risking a violation. That means also that Alan Toussaint would not have been able to play it in the taping of Hurricane on the Bayou.  And, a few months back, you would not have been able to hear Robert Plant from my front porch.  And, you will likely never hear live music in and around my neighborhood bars. This, to me, is unthinkable!

So, I am going  to the city council on Friday and I’m going to sign in to testify. I’ve already written letters.  This is bad for my friends who own small restaurants and bars.  It’s also bad for musicians and those who enjoy live music. The only beneficiaries are these few rich landowners that are all over the city council right now although they try to give the impression they have mass support.   The other beneficiaries are the downtown hotels and casinos and other big money interests that would rather have all the musicians held hostage in their bars. I’m doing something of a weird thing by supporting the status quo but yet fighting the powers that want to buy themselves a pristine, billionaire friendly New Orleans. Go figure.  I do wonder why people would buy property when they know they are surrounded by bars and music venues.  This is a bit like the other stuff that’s gong in my current neighborhood where I suddenly have neighbors who are all about having manicured grass in the back and side yards.  All hell is breaking loose, however, around this ordinance.

All hell seems to be breaking loose from New Orleans citizens who are up in arms regarding the underhanded way that the mardi gras indiansVCPORA attempted to slip in a noise ordinance that would have a severe impact on the city’s music scene.

Understandably, the peeps at VCPORA are tired of getting no action from the City Council regarding what seems to be Mr. Smith’s Number One priority (other than bashing oil companies, from whom he’s won bazillions of dollars in class action lawsuits. (From his firm’s web page: “In a 2001 Stuart Smith and Michael Stag jointly prosecuted the widely publicized Grefer case. A jury returned a verdict of $1.056 billion dollars against Exxon/ Mobil Corporation, the world’s largest oil company, in favor of the firm’s client after a six-week trial. The landmark verdict was listed in Lawyers Weekly, USA as the second largest verdict in the United States for 2001.”)

To recap from last week’s post, attorney Smith bankrolls the VCPORA and is successfully using its purported agenda of “preservation” to achieve his goals of eliminating “noise” in the French Quarter.

Since last week’s post, I’ve attended a MaCCNO (Music and Culture Coalition) meeting on Friday, and have been subjected to several emails from Stuart Smith, by way of the Brylski Company, which bills its emails as “Krewe of truth.”

Stuart Smith. From the VCPORA website: “For years, VCPORA has been able to count on a man who’s led innumerable legal battles on our behalf, and on behalf of the Quarter – and done all of it pro bono. That man is Stuart H. Smith – our neighbor, our benefactor, and a man of courage and capability who’s been a passionate advocate on behalf of the Vieux Carré.”I’d call it more the “Krewe of Propaganda.”

Here are a few points in the email [First of all, it’s entitled “Hearing Beyond The Misinformation: TRUE SOUND FACTS [in BIG FAT BOLD letters] about the ‘Seven Essentials’ and the Sound Amendments.”

NO! Of course not! No elected official in New Orleans would sign onto an ordinance that would kill, or even hurt, our invaluable New Orleans music scene [Not unless a VCPORA member like Nathan Chapman sneaked it into Stacy Head’s office to be presented to the council at the last minute pre-2013 Christmas holiday. Chapman is past president of VCPORA and, how shall I say this?: Stuart Smith’s “minion.”] “Music is an invaluable part of our culture and our economy. The reason all seven council members signed on was because, after four years of detailed study and hearing, these amendments are actually very limited in scope and provide common sense improvements. [Untrue, these are not common sense improvements to anyone other than those who want to keep music at the level or a normal conversation. Oh, one had better NOT say that they want to kill New Orleans music! Ask Mr. Smith how much he enjoys the jazz at the Gazebo. Smith bought a property at 516 St. Philip Street in 1997, just a half block from the Gazebo and tried to get the zoning changed at a bar that had had music for many years, well before Stuart took up residence. Oh yeah, he loves music all right. But he moved right next to it and did try to kill it.]

Groovesect-wFred-Wesley-@-The-Maple-Leaf-Bar_2424942004_o1Smith appears to have done some really creative things in terms of showing he has support. And, he’s convinced the City Council that what he  is doing isn’t a big deal at all but very responsible and reasonable.

When they use these unrealistically low sound levels to justify lawsuits and to try to get police shut-downs, the well-funded noise factories of Bourbon Street will come out okay. They can either pay the fine, pacify the enforcers, or hire effective attorneys to back the process into a corner with constitutional challenges which the local court can’t handle and the Supremes won’t be bothered with, so the cases sit in limbo like Bleak House.

But smaller, newer venues, events and street bands, where some new music might emerge – they won’t be able to come close to affording it. The gentrifiers’ suppression will take hold. Venues will have to either shut down the music, or get driven out of business. Perhaps it is the city establishment’s strategy: to leave us with just tourist music and a few big names in big sites, with no sense that they are strangling the future. And for what? Increasing the radius of the comfort zone for a few property owners claiming special privilege.

So, those of you that follow me on FaceBook or Twitter or here, will continue to hear me talk about this because I’ve just about had it with people trying to change my city into some blase suburb.

BTW, the HBO series Treme ended this season.  There’s a great interview with a resident of that neighborhood on what the series has meant.  I still haven’t watched it but I swear there’s not an episode that doesn’t have a friend or neighbor in it.  I bought the DVDs some time ago but I still can’t bring myself to watch it.  I lived the entire thing and just can’t get into the idea of doing it again. I think the biggest curse of Katrina has turned into  two things for me.  One is the number of transplants that seem to want a pristine version of what they think New Orleans should be and what seems like the forced diaspora of the black middle class from the area which brought a red Louisiana and the evil Governor Jindal.  We could handle the Hurricane but I don’t know how much damage from those last two we can take.

RO: I think the show’s tapestry—dare I say gumbo?—of characters and struggles plays a big part in what makes Treme so authentically New Orleans. So it’s kinda hard for me to isolate a character or storyline—they all resonated with me at some level. But if I had to chose? I guess LaDonna running her bar; Nelson Hidalgo for his newcomer’s perspective, learning the byzantine ways of the city; Janette Desautel and her restaurant. Those would be the closest to my personal experience in post-Katrina New Orleans: I ran a bar right after the storm; I was a newcomer, in town just three months when the levees broke. Also, my first wife was a chef and we opened a summer restaurant in the Hamptons together, so Kim Dickens’ character’s professional struggles were very familiar to me.

This is one newcomer who seems to want to adjust to the way of life down here instead of having the way of life adjust to him.  But then, he doesn’t have billions of dollars to spend and the attention of politicians needing donors. I think this sound ordinance protest is the beginning of the pushback.  I’m not sure how much more folks are going to put up with gentrification at all costs.  I just hope the city council gets it. All of the music culture of New Orleans shown in Treme will only occur in hotel bars, the city’s sole casino, and a few Bourbon joints if the ordinance passes.

The_sopranos_right_at_favourite_place-1024x768 There are a lot of times when the larger-than-TV-Life culture of a state seems to be brought to life. It’s just not my state where the government seems to be pushing the agendas of the plutocracy at the cost of the people who call the place home. New Jersey government seems to be the new Goodfellas under Chris Christie.

The Christie Bridge Scandal seems to just pop off the screen and right into your face So far, there are more questions than answers.  However, this is not going away since the New Jersey Assembly has reissued subpoenas.  If there was an attempt to ride out the legislative year, it didn’t work.  Key establishment republicans are trying to buff this turd.

During a panel segment on Fox News Sunday, host John Roberts pointed out that many Republicans were praising Christie for firing one of his top aides after a newspaper exposed his administration’s role in closing part of the busiest bridge in the world as part of political retribution plot, but President Barack Obama had not fired anyone over the health care reform law.

“I think he did himself a lot of good,” Rove said of Christie’s reaction to the scandal. “I think he did himself some good by contrasting with the normal, routine way of handing these things, which is to be evasive, to sort of trim on the edges.”

“You’ll notice we haven’t been hearing a lot from the Clinton camp about this,” he added. “Contrast both with Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi.”

Later in the segment, Roberts asked the panel: “Where was this media coverage on Benghazi, the NSA or the IRS?”

Columnist George Will admitted that “this was not a phony scandal” because Christie’s administration had used the machinery of government to “screw our enemies.”

“There are reasons why conservatives had disagreements with Chris Christie, I don’t think that the tea party is going to seize upon Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge as their defining difference with Christie,” Rove opined. “In fact, I think his handling of this, being straightforward, taking action — saying, ‘I’m responsible’ — firing the people probably gives him some street cred with some tea party Republicans, who say that’s what we want in a leader, somebody who steps up and takes responsibility.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something distinctly different about handling people who have abused the public trust, committed crimes, and caused public safety issues and managing people who had oversight of  a bad roll out of product.  Here’s more information about those subpoenas because it looks more and more like something very criminal happened in Trenton.

At least six New Jersey residents have filed suit against Christie, the state of New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, among others for the traffic jams and resulting problems.

The traffic jam caused by the lane closures delayed emergency services and left commuters and school children stranded on the bridge during periods of heavy traffic, according to local officials.

ABC News also obtained a letter from Fort Lee EMS coordinator Paul Favia that documents four medical situations in which emergency responders were delayed because of the traffic gridlock. In one case, a 91-year-old woman later died at a hospital of cardiac arrest.

Although Favia doesn’t directly tie her death to the delays, he noted that “paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road and had to meet the ambulance en route to the hospital instead of on the scene.”

Documents now show that the aides were told that this would hurt people and cause safety issues.  Christie originally mocked the stories by talking about laying the cones down. How is this leadership?  I don’t recall Obama ever making a joke about the people who were struggling with the original problems of the site and he told the people in charge to go back and fix it.  Which model of leadership seems ethical to you?


No special interest groups appear to have larger sway over the country than the NRA and the various groups–like ALEC–that are funded by Pete Peterson and the Koch Brothers.  They’ve convinced many Republican controlled states that even providing the most basic services is evil in the face of putting taxes on the wealthy. Well, the modern day Matt Dillons are going to have a rough time controlling gunslingers in Kansas. 

Reasoning that more guns mean greater safety, Kansas lawmakers voted last year to require cities and counties to make public buildings accessible to people legally carrying concealed weapons.

But for communities that remained wary of such open access to city halls, libraries, museums and courthouses, the Legislature provided an exemption: Guns can be banned as long as local governments pay for protections like metal detectors and security guards, ensuring the safety of those they have disarmed.

It turns out that in Wichita, the state’s most populous city, and in some other towns, the cost of opting out before the Jan. 1 deadline was just too high.

“It was essentially being foisted upon us,” said Janet Miller, a City Council member in Wichita. The city applied over the summer for a six-month exemption but voted last month not to extend it after the police estimated that it would cost $14 million a year to restrict guns in all 107 city-owned buildings.

While Republican-majority legislatures across the country are easing restrictions on gun owners, few states are putting more pressure on municipalities right now than Kansas. The new law has forced some local leaders to weigh policy conviction against fiscal pragmatism in a choice that critics say was flawed from the start: Open vulnerable locations to concealed side arms or stretch meager budgets to cover the extra security measures.

I guess it will be open season on criminal justice employees in courtrooms in Kansas.

Anyway, these are just three different parts of the country where it seems that local politicians are doing a disservice to the people who elected them.  They are more moved by special interests than their constituents.  So, what’s a voter to do?  As for me, I’m taking to the streets on Friday.   I’m just relying on the Greater Ethos that  I’ll be in my own bed on Friday Night.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Monday Reads

Good Morning!

I’ve almost gotten shy about going out to search for links these days.  Most of the political and economic news is disheartening so I thought I’d try to mix it up today with some good stuff and disheartening stuff.  Hopefully, you can find some things to share with us too.

You may want to start out your day arming yourself with “Five Myths about Planned Parenthood” in case any one in your sphere of influence starts spewing some of the ridiculous memes passed around by the right wing. This was in WAPO over the weekend and was written by Clare Coleman worked for America’s best known provider of family planning and health services.  I liked number five.

Three million patients each year visit Planned Parenthood’s more than 800 health centers in every state, in big cities and small towns. In some areas, Planned Parenthood and the Title X-funded system are the only sexual health providers for hundreds of miles.

We screen people for high blood pressure, anemia and diabetes; we counsel them about smoking cessation and obesity; we connect them to other primary-care providers and social services. The huge response to the attack on family planning and on Planned Parenthood — hundreds of thousands of Americans signing petitions, showing up at rallies, calling Congress – is extraordinary. But it doesn’t surprise me. One in five American women has gone to Planned Parenthood at some point in her life, for respectful, compassionate, quality care. And now those Americans are going to have our back.

I feel like I’ve turned into an IMF groupie by putting up yet another link to them shortly after featuring one of their studies on the dominance of the finance sector, but here I go again.  I do spend time gleaning data from their site so maybe it’s just that I keep bumping into things.  The IMF says we have a Global Job Crisis.

At the end of his magnum opus, The General Theory, Keynes stated the following: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes”.

Not everyone will agree with the entirety of this statement. But what we have learnt over time is that unemployment and inequality can undermine the very achievements of the market economy, by sowing the seeds of instability. In too many countries, the lack of economic opportunity can lead to unproductive activities, political instability, and even conflict. Just look at how the dangerous cocktail of unemployment and inequality—combined with political tension—is playing out in the Middle East and North Africa.

Because growth beset by social tensions is not conducive to economic and financial stability, the IMF cannot be indifferent to distribution issues. And when I look around today, I am concerned in this regard. For while recovery is here, growth—at least in the advanced economies—is not creating jobs and is not being shared broadly. Many people in many countries are facing a social crisis that is every bit as serious as the financial crisis.

Unemployment is at record levels. The crisis threw 30 million people out of work. And over 200 million people are looking for jobs all across the world today.

The jobs crisis is hitting the young especially hard. And what should have been a brief spell in unemployment is turning into a life sentence, possibly for a whole lost generation.

In too many countries, inequality is at record highs.

As we face these challenges, remember what we have accomplished. Under the umbrella of the G20, policymakers came together to avoid a financial freefall and probably a second Great Depression.

Today, we need a similar full force forward response in ensuring that we get the recovery we need. And that means not only a recovery that is sustainable and balanced among countries, but also one that brings employment and fair distribution.

This is part of a speech given by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund. He argues that financial sector reform is central to the problem of getting back on track.  It’s worth reading the entire thing or you can watch the video here.  Occasionally, I remember why I thought it was important to study economics.  This is one of those times.

The so-called “Gang of Six” is still anxious to put social security on the bargaining table. I still can’t figure out why every time some politician wants to talk about the Federal Deficit--in this case Senator Mark Warner–they mistakenly include the stand-alone program.

Including Social Security in the Gang of Six package appears to be a concession by Democrats made in exchange for agreement to raise some revenue by Republicans. But liberals in the Senate and House have made clear they will not stand for any cuts to benefits.

The 2012 budget passed by the House on Friday does not include reforms for Social Security. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) instead called for a trigger in the budget whereby the president and Congress would have to propose solutions once the Board of Trustees certifies the program is in trouble. Presidet Obama in his 2012 budget and in a speech last week did not lay out plans to reform Social Security.

Warner said the Gang is “very close” to an agreement that includes spending cuts and tax increases such as be eliminating the home mortgage tax deduction.

“We are going to make everybody mad with our approach,” he said.

Warner made clear he is opposed to the House Republican 2012 budget’s reliance on cuts to Medicare—he called it a “massive transfer of responsibility onto our seniors”– but he did not say how the Gang of Six will approach the massive entitlement program.

Please join me as I scream.  How stupid do they think we are?

Ninety-one year old Pete Seeger will be joined by David Amram, 80, and Peter Yarrow, 73 on the stage to inspire young people to be active in political and social justice movements.  Yarrow had just returned from a series of rallies in Wisconsin.

The three artist-activists say they are fired up by recent protests — from Egypt to Wisconsin — and by the enthusiasm of their youthful kin, who will join them onstage.

“I do have the feeling that the kind of energy we felt in the ’60s is in the air now,” Mr. Yarrow said. “That energy seems to be reigniting itself.”

That concert should be a treat.  It’s nice to see these guys seem to never tire of singing songs of justice. It’s important that a new generation hear these truly American songs.  I was interested in reading that many kids and grandkids of these folk singers are now in the family business and may show up on stage with them now and then.

Okay, this is something that kinda surprised me from the WSJ: “Greenspan Steps Up Call to End Bush-Era Tax Cuts”.  I still haven’t figure out why any one thinks he’s still relevant, but oh, well.  At least, he’s on the right side of this one.

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is stepping up his call for Congress to let the Bush-era tax cuts lapse.
In an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Greenspan used his strongest words yet to urge lawmakers to let them expire. The risk of a U.S. debt crisis, he said, is just too big. Mr. Greenspan, who retired from the Federal Reserve in 2006, had endorsed the cuts back in 2001 championed by then-President George W. Bush.

“This crisis is so imminent and so difficult that I think we have to allow the so-called Bush tax cuts all to expire. That is a very big number,” he said, referring to how much the U.S. government could save from letting income taxes go back up to levels last seen under former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Greenspan was talking about re-imposing the taxes for all Americans. The Treasury has estimated that a permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts would cost $3.6 trillion over the next decade. Allowing taxes to increase on those in the top income brackets would take the cost to the government down to $2.9 trillion, according to White House estimates.

CBS news has done some data gathering on taxes as part of its Tax Day coverage: Wealthy Americans see drop in federal taxes; High-earning Americans pay less in taxes than in previous years; nearly half of U.S. households will pay no income taxes at all.

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college, and even for paying other taxes. Plus, the top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

The sheer volume of credits, deductions and exemptions has both Democrats and Republicans calling for tax laws to be overhauled. House Republicans want to eliminate breaks to pay for lower overall rates, reducing the top tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Republicans oppose raising taxes, but they argue that a more efficient tax code would increase economic activity, generating additional tax revenue.

The row of shotguns featured on the first season DVD set of Treme are set to be demolished as blight.

New Orleans is abuzz with the second season of Treme about to start up on HBO.  I have to admit that I have not watched it since I’m still working through my dose of PTS from Katrina and the aftermath. However, for those of you that are fans of the show, you can get it now on DVD and you can get a bit of a taste in what’s in store for you in season two from this story from the TP.  The show evidently ended last season with the city’s evacuation.  That’s something I will NEVER forget.  The show has been great for the city, overall and it’s producers have taken on a lot of causes around here including a fight to save some historic properties featured in the series’ promotions.  Just thought I’d add some insight into what the production brings to the city including its musicians.  Here’s a little drama from Hollywood South.

… production money is being spent daily in New Orleans for locations, for equipment, material, labor and talent. In the first two seasons, for example, about $2 million in music licensing money was paid for the rights to songs by New Orleans artists, alone. Such expenditures — with or without any charity component — are the crux of the real economic relationship between a film company and the community in which it works. It is a straight-up transaction. We come here to shoot a movie. We pay a variety of local vendors, government fees and individuals to do it. And for virtually every other movie shot in Louisiana, that is it — end of story.

Thought I’d end with a treat from Pete Seeger to get you through your coffee:

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?