Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Culture Wars; a Chronicle of the Battles Between City Hall & The Cultures That Make New Orleans

So much has already been said on this subject, it's difficult to keep up. There are many points of view here, and many interests, pushing their own agendas.

 My intent is to look into the various aspects of this, one by one, avoiding the inevitable cross talk that clouds issues, already complex by their very nature.

 With that in mind, I'll be posting a series of these blogs, in an attempt to filter through the information, the cultural impact, the intentions involved, and the true nature of a society based on cultural & run by text book ordinance.

 During this series, let it always be with an eye to fairness, accurate representation of the actual population, and a profound respect for the history & the culture, themselves, which far out date our 'modern government', and are, in fact, the very life blood & back bone that the City of New Orleans depends upon to exist as anything other than another airport surrounded by malls, hotels & gift shops.

 At this time, let me begin by bringing us to the current events of the day;


There has been a resurgence, by many, myself included, of those questioning City Council Member Kristin Palmer, regarding Rich Webster's story (9/8/2011), posted in City Business. Rich Webster wrote that Palmer was pushing a draft of a sound ordinance that would limit sound levels in the French Quarter to 70 Decibels, a ridiculously low level. The original story is here.
 Nicole Webre, legal council from CM Palmer's office, writes me that the individuals quoted in this article were incorrect, but Rich Webster tell me that there was such a draft, and it was abandoned, due to public outrage.

 Ms. Webre tells me that the draft in question is no longer available for viewing, but is supplying me with the current ordinances, unchanged, I am told, for years.
 In the first of these blogs, I will be posting those ordinances, attempting to define them clearly, explore legitimate enforcement tactics, and look at zoning maps that allow changes in these laws.


Last Wednesday (9/26/12), Kermit Ruffins held the first of what promises to be weekly meetings, as the Music Community "pushes back" against City Hall. Read the story here.
 The net result of these meetings, at this writing, is a short term solution, as Siberia & Mimi's in the Marigny, have been allowed to feature live music on a 'temporary basis', as New Rules of compliance are worked out. These new rules, according to Scott Hutcheson, Mayor Landrieu's Cultural Ambassador, include a 60 day grace period for unlicensed venues to get themselves straitened out. At this time, this is only a suggestion, and a temporary suspension. No legislation or actual promise from the City currently exists.

For the record, I spoke to Scott Hutcheson about 18 months ago, attempting get a permit to work as an artist, by commission. I was offered a vendors permit for $50, even though they are free to those, like myself, living in a 'Cultural Zone'. 
I declined, and asked for a permit to write & create as a freelance artist. I was told I would need a Home Office Permit, a Zoning Hearing ($400), and would not be able to store any artwork or "other materials" in my home. I would only be able to work in a specific 15% area of my house, and I could never, ever display any of my work when other people were there.
I contacted Scott again, demanding to know what 15% part of his house he ran to when HE had an idea or began to doodle. He assured me, as he assures us all now, that this was "being handled" and he would straighten it out, as he is "Straightening Out" the venue permit problem.

I have never heard from him since.


Recent news has surfaced as the City Council has begun to require permits of Second Line vendors, mysteriously listed at $50, but "lowered by request" to $25. The story is here. Having spent several weeks in the Permit Section of City Hall one afternoon, and having been lost in the labyrinth of fiefdoms that demand notarized payment & absolute loyalty, I have my doubts about any requests for lowered rates. We'll see.
More importantly, these new Second Line Vendor Permits specifically prohibit the sales of any alcohol, criminalizing the tradition of filling a cooler up with beer & selling them off to your friends & neighbors, like people have done here for generations.


 There residential groups, well monied, who are dead set on making the French Quarter a quiet residential neighborhood, just like the one they left to move to the exciting & culturally rich French Quarter.
There are street musicians who risk their lives by living where they do, and choosing a trumpet or trombone over a 9mm and a bag of rock. Yet the City of New Orleans has chosen to criminalize them for doing so.

 This is but the tip on an iceberg, years in the making, as Post K New Orleans becomes, once again, a Mecca for Free Spirited People & an Investment Paradise, all at once.

The HBO Series, 'Treme', is a national favorite, and has captured the attention of visitors & locals alike, by telling a story many thought would never be told, and, at the same time, exploiting the misery & death of tens of thousands of people, neighbors & friends alike, who lost their homes, treasures, livelihoods and some, their very lives, all in the name, it seems, of glorifying The New Tax Base.

Mayor Landrieu calls himself our 'Cultural Ambassador' while standing toe to toe with our defacto Musical Ambassador, Kermit Ruffins.

 The Mayor would "rebuild our infrastructure" by creating 'Hospitality Zones' that  would single out those areas made interesting by the artists & musicians who live there, and add additional taxes to the food & drink & lodging there. While this sounds like charging us for working to make our neighborhoods a more viable art community, it's actually much worse, in that these taxes would be paid to an ungoverned board of 'Hospitality Experts', mostly private hotel & business owners, who could then spend up to 85% of that tax revenue on advertising their own businesses, rather than the infrastructure of the neighborhoods bearing this load.

Even more frighteningly, they would gain the power of Eminent Domain, and have the ability to take your home or property at "fair market value", whatever that means, should they deem that necessary.
This legislation, while tabled for now, will be back, I assure you.
It's Free Money from the group least likely to be able to fight it;
The Musicans & Artists of New Orleans.

 Stepping back a bit, to view this on a longer time line (why is it so hard to get people to remember how they got screwed just 18 months ago?) we see the Eris Parade debacle, in which a dozen or so young people were viciously beaten, tasered and maced by a brute squad from the 5th District, much of it captured on video.
 In these cases, as they came to trial, all video was denied by judges, all reports from the 5thDistrict, including hospital reports from cops who claimed to be injured in "assaults" by puny unarmed musicians, were "lost". 

 The investigation went as far as to say that the officers were acting on the orders of their captain, Bernadine Kelly, and since she wasn't there, nothing bad could have happened. Captain Kelly was immediately moved laterally into a records department, never to be seen again.

A costume show, unmolested during almost two decades, was raided by the Department of Revenue, and told to move inside. Only minutes later, the NOPD arrived to shut down the whole shebang. Both the Club Owner & Event Organizers were summoned to court. I believe the Bartender was ticketed as well, just for being there.

The list goes on & on, recounting stories of unbridled law enforcement, under the leadership of Chief Ronal Serpas. The St Claude Art District was allowed to continue to operate, but many, myself included, received letters insisting we have wheelchair access (I'm on the second floor in a 150 year old building), ADA signage, men's & women's bathrooms, etc. It was made clear that ANY SERVING OF ALCOHOL AT ALL, even giving away tiny cups of wine, would require a Special Event Permit, starting at about $1000 in fees.

During all of this micromanagement of the arts, the MURDER RATE has continued to rise. The 5% reduction Serpas promised in the first year is a distant fantasy. If he could keep the increase down to 5% annually, it would be a notable achievement, considering his career here to date.

If we went through 2012 without the murder of a civilian by NOPD members, it would be a banner year. Unfortunately, that was made impossible, when, earlier this year, Wendall Allen was gunned down, unarmed & in his pajamas, because his brothers had purchased a frat boy amount of weed, and the dealer who sold it to them duped the NOPD into believing the pound he had on him had been purchased there.
Without questioning the dealer for more than an hour they went in, and Wendall Allen was killed for waking up from his nap at the wrong time.

In short, I intend to look into each of these areas, and ask why on earth such detailed persecution is being directed at the very culture that makes New Orleans New Orleans, as we are subjected to an abject failure of Law Enforcement to abate the machine gun battles in Mid-City, the shooting of children at playgrounds & parties, the crack dealers & crooked cops, all while handing out tickets to bicyclists for the licenses they don't have, even though the city neither issues or tracks them any more, and why young men who choose music over drugs & violence are being driven off the streets that made Louis Armstrong The Father of Our City.

Please share this with your friends & neighbors, and feel free to comment.
Conversation breeds communication.

Please note; these comments are moderated, and all vitriol, hate, name calling & other useless garbage will be summarily filtered out.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Truth For the Politically Impaired

If you vote for Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan, you're a fucking idiot and a disgrace to humanity. You should be broken like an animal and driven from the land in shame. 
You won't, of course.
Unless they win.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In From the Wilderness

There will come a time when
it will be said
that I was uncivilized and feral
even at my best

Not fit for the company
of  Society and The Duties of
The Endless Circles
it always entails

That I lived and loved
like an animal, subsisting far too well
on scraps and secrets
hidden or lost or tossed aside

And it is true that
while fierce in life, unafraid
and alone, one is also
wild and free

So speak well of me
or not at all, but keep this always,
like a whisper, remembered in
your secret heart;

I only came in from the wilderness for you.

LD - 9/12