By Bill Quigley, Loyola University New Orleans, quigley@loyno.edu

Four and a half months after two hurricanes ripped apart Louisiana, tens of thousands of people are still suffering.   While the national election has absorbed the attention of the nation, thousands of people are still not back in their homes.  Many have had to move a half dozen times.  Some are living in tents.  It is past time the nation turned some of its attention back to these mostly forgotten people.

CREOLE, LOUISIANA – OCTOBER 10: An aerial view of flood waters from Hurricane Delta surrounding structures destroyed by Hurricane Laura on October 10, 2020 in Creole, Louisiana. Hurricane Delta made landfall near Creole as a Category 2 storm in Louisiana initially leaving some 300,000 customers without power. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm with winds of nearly 150 miles an hour, hit on August 27, 2020 on the coast of southwest Louisiana.   

Forty-three days later, on October 9, Hurricane Delta, a category 2 storm with winds over 100 miles an hour, hit 10 miles away.   Laura caused $19 billion in losses and Delta caused another $2.9 billion.

The brunt of the destruction has been in Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes.  Calcasieu has a population of 203,000, according to the Census.  Lake Charles, home to 78,000 people and the sixth biggest city in Louisiana, is the biggest city in Calcasieu.   Cameron Parish, south of Calcasieu on the Gulf of Mexico, is populated by about 6900 people.   

Nearly 47,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Laura alone, 16,000 of which are in need of major repairs, according to Rebecca Santana of the Associated Press.   Most of the damaged homes are in Calcasieu Parish.  Though there are many fewer homes in Cameron, more than half were completely destroyed, according to local government authorities.

Displaced Residents After the Hurricane Living in Tents

In late September, a month after Laura, many displaced families were still living in tents.

Sherry Bourque and her disabled father James Baker used the last of their money and bought two tents at Dick’s Sporting Goods and lived in them in the back yard of their destroyed home.  They had to stay close to deal with the insurance adjustors and contractors.

It is not at all unusual for homeowners and renters to have lived in five or more places since Hurricane Laura hit.  For example, a retired homeowner of limited income with health issues left Lake Charles for College Station Texas for the first mandatory evacuation for Laura.  Her home suffered so much damage it was unlivable.  So she joined with other displaced members of her family and rented a small house in Lafayette, 70 miles away. 

They went back and forth to meet with insurance adjustors and contractors to get estimates for repairs. 

RELATED: Do Something

The family was forced to evacuate a second time weeks later as Delta approached spending several days in Port Arthur Texas.  Once the insurance people and the contractors advised her it would be spring 2021 before her home was repaired, she moved into a small home in Lake Charles which had to have its roof replaced while she was living in it.  Because she has homeowner’s insurance FEMA is not helping her.  She has to pay utility bills at both houses in order to keep power on in both places to slow down the mildew damage on her unoccupied damaged home.  She does not even have a final estimate of what the damage is on her house from insurance company yet despite having gone through 3 different field adjustors and five different desk adjustors. 

Wilfred Trahan’s home was so damaged it has to be completely gutted.  He and his wife live temporarily in a hotel 70 miles away and he commutes back to his job.

Homeowners insurance is helping some but not helping many.  Estimates of insured loss from the hurricanes added up to nearly $10 billion.  Over $5 billion in claims have been paid out so far.  Over 190,000 claims for damages to homes from these two hurricanes were filed with insurance companies in Louisiana.  Tens of thousands of insurance claims were closed without any payment at all.  Many people had deductibles as high as $20,000, making it impossible for them to repair. The Louisiana Legislature has received many, many complaints about the way the insurance companies are operating.  Complaints focus on two problems.  One, insurance companies are sending out as many as six different adjustors to a single home causing communication problems.  Two, there are big gaps between what insurance adjustors are estimating as replacement costs and the prices estimated by contractors.

Renters remain in deep trouble.  One couple with four children renting a house in Lake Charles rode out Laura in Alabama.  They returned to find standing water in their house.  Red Cross sent them to Baton Rouge, which in turn sent them to Alexandria and then to New Orleans.  They were then sent to Dallas briefly, then back to New Orleans.  The father took a job in Shreveport but fell off a ladder and severely hurt his back.  The family returned to Alexandria and then back to New Orleans.  In mid-December the Red Cross found them a house in Lafayette but only paid for the first month’s rent.  They worry they are going to be evicted and have to move again.  They have received nothing from FEMA. The four children have not been in one place long enough to attend school yet.

Apartments are very hard to find!

And when available the rents have risen.  Many complexes like the 191 unit Wilshire apartments in Lake Charles were so damaged that all the residents had to leave and are not yet able to return.  Homeowners with damaged properties are competing with displaced renters for the few apartments available.

In early October Red Cross reported it was providing housing to more than 12,000 evacuees.  FEMA told the Washington Post it was housing nearly 8000 people were put up in hotels in Louisiana and Texas. Government agencies ended the hotel stays for many people who only got 24 hour notice on papers slipped under their room doors.  They were told to return home but for many there were no homes to return to.  People were taken by bus to a government center Alexandria, 100 miles away from Lake Charles, to plead their cases.  If their homes are still uninhabitable, they were reassigned to another hotel.  On December 9, FEMA quit providing free meals to people in hotels according to Sam Karlin at The Advocate

Volunteers Help

Elizabeth Cook has worked as a volunteer with many of the displaced people who were evacuated to hotels in New Orleans.  She collected clothing for people who had only the clothes on their backs.  After FEMA cut off meals at hotels, she helped people get hot plates and small grills.  She sees massive housing problems remaining.  “I am working with a woman in her sixties who is finally staying in a hotel in Lafayette. She lived in her car in Lake Charles for several months until mid-December. And she has never been offered a trailer and has yet to find any kind of housing. She is now searching for an apartment in Lafayette. I am assisting her in this search for housing utilizing the internet. She is under incredible stress.”

Four months later, more than 1000 people are still living in hotels.

  Government officials say it will be spring or even summer before people can move out of hotels.

As 2020 ended some people were still living in tents.  At the end of December, Fox News reported that many of Katelyn Smith’s family members are living in tents.  Ms. Smith’s trailer flipped several times in the hurricane. It was destroyed.  Her whole family lived in tents for months and though she has moved into a donated trailer, the rest of her family remain in tents where their mobile home was.  “People like us are still out here going through this situation. I think Lake Charles has been forgotten,” Smith said. “It has only been a little while and it’s going to be a long time before we are back.”  Shocking photos of their living situation taken by Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert show the family still living in third world conditions.

Too few trailers are available for the hurricane displaced residents of Lake Charles

Calcasieu Parish Housing Authority says it will be well into 2021 before residents can get back into Lake Charles.

Small businesses are struggling from the effects of two hurricanes and the pandemic.   For example, a family bakery in Lake Charles, Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House, was open for seven weeks before Laura hit, followed weeks later by Delta.  It took another three months to fully reopen.  Many of the local grocery stores which sold their bread are still closed. The owner told Marketplace, “The hurricane, it’s going to affect the bottom line for quite a while.  So not only myself, but all the small businesses. It’s going to be tough for a while.”

Areas remain devastated.  In early December, Lake Charles officials estimated that nearly 3.3 million cubic yards of debris was collected in that city alone.  That is the equivalent of over 500 football fields.  Nearly 2 million more cubic yards still wait to be picked up.

Despite thousands needing housing, FEMA reports it has only provided housing units on site in Calcasieu Parish to 469 families.  No FEMA trailers at all were installed in nearby Cameron Parish as of December 2020.

With 47,000 houses damaged, 16,000 of which need major repairs, evacuees are nowhere near coming home.   At year’s end, churches and volunteer organizations continue to provide supplies to homeless people.

In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates in will be “early summer 2021” before everyone who needs housing gets it. 

Elizabeth Cook says the administration of assistance “has been a disaster.  The entire process to help these folks has been badly coordinated. The state which is overseeing this process has allowed or looked the other way as entire families were evicted from hotels in New Orleans with nowhere to go.  No one should be evicted.  Louisiana already had an affordable housing problem and this has made more people homeless.  It is shameful. The state of Louisiana, FEMA, the Red Cross have all caused unbearable stress for families and individuals.”

The Mayor of Lake Charles, Nic Hunter, is also quite frustrated.  On December 26, 2020, the Mayor told American Press in Lake Charles that he estimated that 5% of the city’s housing stock is still offline.  Hunter wrote FEMA after Christmas complaining about the slow process of getting temporary housing, saying that while thousands need help only 383 temporary housing units have been installed and “the number and pace of those installations is grossly inadequate” a performance that is “just not acceptable.”   

All of this is aggravated by Covid.  Over 15,000 people have tested positive in Calcasieu Parish, nearly 300 have died.  On January 4, Nic Hunter, the Mayor, announced on Facebook he tested positive for Covid. 

The nation justifiably spent much time focusing on the election.  But it is past time to remember the thousands of families who have been left behind.  

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The NFL is about a 1/4 of the way through the season. The Saints have battled through displacement, injuries, inconsistency, and an adjustment period. Here’s a statistically based assessment of where they stand.

Offense:

The offense has been terrible this year, one of the worst of Sean Payton’s career. They’re down in almost every statistical category – points per game, total yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game. 5 games into the season, the offense has just struggled to move the ball, especially through the air.

At quarterback, Jameis Winston is only completing 60% of his passes for 178 yards a game. That’s near the bottom of the league statistically. His overall QB rating is skewed by the fact that he has 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. But 4 of those came in one game where he threw goal line touchdowns after the Saints ran the ball down the field. 4 others have come on big plays. Simply put, the Saints have had few sustained drives through the air. In a quarterback driven league, there’s no way you can consider yourself a SuperBowl contender with stats like that.

Part of it can be chalked up to the Saints missing both starting wide receivers. And part of it can be chalked up to Winston just not reading the coverages, or bad play calling on Sean Payton’s part. Whatever the reason, the Saints have got to get the passing game together in order to make the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year.

Saints All Pro Receiver Michael Thomas

Reason to be optimistic: Michael Thomas is coming back. There’s no getting around it. The Saints’ season hinges on Michael Thomas. On paper, he’s not only the best player on the team, but he’s one of the best in the league. The last time we saw a healthy Can’t Guard Mike he was the 2019 Offensive Player of The Year, leading the league in yards and receptions. That year he caught 80% of the balls thrown to him for an average of 9 receptions and a 107 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Jameis Winston barely threw for over 107 yards in each of the first 3 games this season.

Thomas’ presence should open up the offense. With less attention thrown his way, Marquez Calloway should shine as a 2nd option. Alvin Kamara should see more favorable matches coming out the backfield. And in pressure situations, Thomas should serve as a security blanket for Winston when no one else is open or he has trouble reading coverages down the field.

Reason to be concerned: Who knows which Michael Thomas will return. His consistency on the field has been matched by his inconsistency off of it. The last 2 years, his tweets have risen to Antonio Brown levels. Last season, he was suspended for fighting. And this year, he stubbornly waited until training camp neared to have ankle surgery, which is why he’s not on the field now.

Defense:

The defense has been carrying the team. And if you had to pick a MVP so far, it would have to be defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Since 2017 all Allen has done is scheme up the best defense the Saints have had since the Dome Patrol.

Reason to be optimistic: The defense is actually slightly better this year. They’re only giving up 18 points per game, 3 points less than the 21 they gave up last year. They’re also only allowing 79 yards rushing. That’s down from 93 last year. And despite going up against 3 of the best running backs in the league – Aaron Jones of the Packers, Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers, and Saquon Barkley of the Giants, they have yet to give up 100 yards to a single back.

This means that opposing offenses have been forced to be one dimensional. And even with teams resorting to throwing the ball more, the Saints D hasn’t been giving up big plays down the field consistently. They also rank 3rd in creating turnovers, up a spot from last year.

Reason to be concerned: They’re not sacking the quarterback. The Saints rank 29th in sacks so for this year. Last year they were 8th. They loss an elite pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson. And no one has stepped up to replace him. Cameron Jordan is in year 2 of a late career slide. Marcus Davenport is inconsistent when he does manage to stay on the field. Carl Granderson and Tanoh Kpassagnon have shown flashes. But this lack of a pass rush is partly why the Saints failed to close out the Giants game. This may become a big problem when they step up in QB class later in the season.

Special Teams:

Punter – Blake Gillikin has made us forget all about Thomas Morrestead.

Kicker – absolute disaster. The Saints are now on their 3rd kicker – 5 games into the season.

Reason to be optimistic: Wil Lutz will eventually come back.

Tidbits:

*  Alvin Kamara is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, down from 5.0 last year, but he’s a much better runner now.

*  Malcolm Jenkins is actually playing good football. He’s projected to finish with 86 solo tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, and 10 tackles for a loss.

*  11/14 – 12/2. @ Tennessee, @ Philly, then home against the Bills, and Cowboys. Those 4 weeks will tell you all you need to know about this team.

Prediction:

This team most likely has a ceiling of 11-6. But they’re a disgruntled Michael Thomas or an injury away from being 9-8 or 8-9. In the meantime, sharpen your teeth. Because this should turn out to be a nail biter of a season.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

What you learned to do isn’t working. 6 ways to begin to turn your life around.

KEY POINTS

  • We often struggle because our old coping styles no longer work.
  • Knowing your old dysfunctional patterns helps you know how to begin to run your life better.
  • Discover what you can’t do and experiment with acting differently.

Life can deliver its share of troubles and we step up and handle them as best we can. But, for some, their struggles seem never to end. While they, too, are doing their best, what often fuels their difficulties is how they are running their lives. They seem to repeatedly fall into the same potholes, replicate the same dysfunctional patterns, and react to problems in old ways that no longer work.

If this seems to be true for you, maybe it’s time to step back, stop doing what isn’t working, and begin replacing this outdated psychological software with upgraded versions. Here are some of the most common potholes and patterns to stop alongside their new-and-improved replacements. See which resonate most with you:

Stop being a victim

You’re upset because your partner always brings up that incident at Christmas that he knows makes you angry. You’re tired all the time because you’re always going a hundred miles an hour juggling work, kids’ demands, and everyday life. The core problem here is that you see yourself as a victim of others and their reactions, a victim of the life that you have created.

What to start doing: Yes, you can’t control your partner; you feel trapped in a lifestyle that drains you. But most of all you’re not taking responsibility—for your emotions and your reactions, for the choices you make even when you feel like you are not making choices.

Stop being emotionally driven

Being emotionally driven easily overlaps with feeling like a victim. What we’re talking about here is you running your everyday life based on how you feel. You’re tired, so you don’t mow the lawn or do your taxes; you’re overwhelmed about the new project at work, so put off tackling it; it’s already 2:00 pm, the day is shot, and so you mentally kick back and coast—you’ll tackle it tomorrow.

Folks who have high anxiety or who have AD/HD are often emotionally driven: They do what they do based on how they feel. The problem with this is that you understandably avoid what you don’t want to do, what is uncomfortable, and don’t follow through when the going gets tough.

What to start doing: The underlying problem is that your emotional brain is driving your life rather than your rational brain. It’s time to stop your rational brain from being a passenger and to allow it to become the driver: time to learn to act despite how you feel; time to develop some perseverance, some discipline so your feelings aren’t constantly derailing you from success.

Stop being passive

It’s okay; that’s fine; no problem; whatever. If you find yourself saying these often, you probably get kudos for being laid back and accommodating, and as an extra bonus, you avoid a lot of conflict and confrontation. But it comes at a cost: by going along and essentially letting others make choices for you, you are living the life of a child rather than an adult who shapes his life by making his own decisions. Periodically, you may find yourself feeling resentful; you may flare up and be self-destructive. Rather than living a life that reflects your unique purpose, the moral of your life is to not make waves, not get into trouble.

What to start doing: While those who are emotionally driven pay too much attention to their emotions, those who are passive tend to not pay enough attention to them. If you feel like it’s time to stop being passive, you have two skills to develop: One is listening to your gut, paying attention to what you don’t like, don’t want to; two is doing something with it.

Speak up, be assertive, tell others how you feel and think. Even if it takes three days to figure out how you feel, that’s fine; it’s okay to take baby steps. All you have to do is act. Not perfectly, not because you expect some magical outcome, not because it will make someone else happy. Simply speak up and act rather than leaning back and doing nothing.

Stop being a martyr

You volunteer for every committee; you’re always doing for others. That’s fine if that is part of your values, your vision of a good life. But all too often, it’s about anxiety, walking on eggshells. While the story you tell yourself is that you are just being a good person, you’re being over-responsible and being good so others like you, to avoid the conflict that may come from saying no. You can tell when you are losing control of your life when you get burned out, or, like those who are passive, you periodically feel resentful that others aren’t appreciating what you’re doing or are not pulling their weight. If this happens to you, your life is out of balance; you’re being a martyr.

What to start doing: Like the others, realize and acknowledge when this is happening. Next, do what you struggle to do. Keep your hand down when they call for volunteers; learn to say no. Change your expectations about what you expect from others in return. Use your burnout as a wake-up call to tell you that you are not living your life.

Stop settling

The vacation your partner planned was “okay.” The salary increase wasn’t what you expected but “understandable.” Good for you for not overreacting and being critical. But…if you are doing this a lot, if your life is an endless series of compromises and watered-down experiences, if you are always settling, eventually it’s going to back up on you. Yes, it is good enough, but like that poor woman who in old age regretted eating too many beans and not enough ice cream, do you too need to learn to slow down on the beans and try going for more ice cream?

What to start doing: Speak up and try not to rationalize that what you get is good enough, or that it’s probably what you should only expect. You deserve more than you think; you can get more than you believe you can. And you have to believe it and try living it to find out.

Stop cutting and running

The relationship isn’t working out—you ghost him. Your supervisor is awful, and you quit. Your mother makes some nasty comments about your partner, and you decide you’re done and never want to talk to her again.

This is about coping with hurtful situations by cutting them off—the situation, the pain, the person. The problem here is your anxiety and your coping style works so you keep doing it. But the downside is that your life becomes a series of emotional cutoffs and unresolved problems; the hurt isn’t ever really resolved. You never learn the lessons that life can teach you. You stay the victim; your life is an accumulation of problems swept under the rug.

What to start doing: Don’t run; talk. Don’t run; tackle the problem. Your supervisor may still be a monster, your mother sticks to her nasty ways, but you’ve pushed back. You’ve been that adult rather than the scared, angry 10-year-old who runs away. At some point, what you say will be heard and the problem will be fixed.

The theme here is clear: Figure out what you can’t do, where you settle, resign, go on auto-pilot, or avoid what is hard. Stop doing it. Try doing the opposite.

The NOLA Project theatre company is getting a new leading artistic

voice.

Ensemble member Brittany N. Williams (HARRY AND THE THIEF, SPARE MISSION 1) has

been tabbed as TNP’s first-ever Co-Artistic Director. She will assume the role in January of

2022.

Brittany N. Williams

“I’m thrilled to be joining The NOLA Project team as Co-Artistic Director,” Williams said.

“Working with this brilliant group of artists as an ensemble member has been wonderful and I’m

excited to help us grow and evolve as a company and as part of the greater New Orleans

community.”

Williams, is an actor, singer and writer. You last saw her on stage in TNP’s last in-person production,

HARRY AND THE THIEF (Vivian), at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2020. During the

pandemic, she penned one of the company’s four original PodPlays as well as provided her

voice for it and two others. Outside of TNP, Williams’ credits include Stage Door Songbook: Cole

Porter (Susan), Mary Full of Gray (Mary/writer) and she was the The National World War II

Museum’s 2019 Stage Door Idol winner.

Williams will share Artistic Director duties with current AD A.J. Allegra.

“I couldn’t be happier to announce the addition of Brittany N. Williams to our new shared

leadership model at The NOLA Project,” Allegra said. “She is a passionate, smart, and creative

theatre artist with an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. The pandemic-forced

pause in our work allowed our ensemble to look inward at ways in which we could strengthen

and improve our organization. And, I am so pleased that in the tradition of NOLA Project, and the

spirit of ensemble, we selected one of our own to co-lead the next era of The NOLA Project.”

Originally from Baltimore, MD, Williams performed across three continents – including a year

spent as a principal vocalist at Hong Kong Disneyland – and several US states prior to

relocating to New Orleans in 2017. Some favorite out-of-town credits include Universal Robots

(Helena), Margaret I (Joan of Arc), Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Nansi – Helen Hayes Award

nom.), Antony and Cleopatra (Soothsayer/Clown), and Lear (Cordelia/Fight Captain). Williams

holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Howard University and an MA in Classical Acting from the

Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.

Last time we saw her

Williams’ latest work will be on display this fall when The NOLA Project and the New Orleans

Museum of Art present her new play, TELL IT TO ME SWEET, in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

For more information on the original outdoor production, running October 29-November 14, please visit

NOLAProject.com. PRESS CONTACT: kclaverie@nolaproject.com | 504.913.5057

 In an unprecedented move, two opponents endorse each other during an election

District “C” Councilmember Kristin Palmer and District “D” Councilmember Jared Brossett announced that they are taking the unprecedented step of endorsing each other for the Council At-Large before the November 13th Primary. Palmer and Brossett are running against each other in a four-way race for the Division 2 Council At-Large seat that includes former State Senator JP Morrell. Typically opponents in the same race do not endorse the other until after one loses.

Why would they do this?

The opponents see an opportunity to move voters away from their primary opponent JP Morrell.  Polling shows Morrell making the runoff with either of them.  For Palmer this is a political calculation.  In addition to politics, the personal dispute between Brossett and Morrell just got revved up significantly. 

Brossett and Palmer have worked together on the Council on multiple issues, including the $15 an hour minimum wage for city employees. They worked on the growing Airbnb problem. But this unforeseen action is not only shocking but politically risky for each of them.  

We will see how or if this unprecedented move affects the primary.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Wait, the party out of power was complaining about the party in power trying to raise the debt ceiling? What year is it? I feel like we’ve been here before. Some would call this deja vu. Others would call it a glitch in the Matrix. But this is the debt ceiling debacle.

This episode played out predictably. I had trouble deciphering if it was a new one or just a re-run. At the heart of it all was the funding of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget.

Democrats, the party in power, we’re trying to rally two holdouts in the Senate. And Republicans were running around talking about how the budget would usher in the total ruination of the country. This all made for high drama.

Senators Sinema and Manchin contribute to the Debt Ceiling Debate

HOLDOUTS 1 & 2

Senator Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, also known as holdout #1, got jacked up in a bathroom by some citizens who still actually take national politics seriously. Not like literally jacked up, but you know, confronted, politely questioned in public about why she’s stalling President Biden’s budget.

Holdout #2, Senator Joe Manchin, a Republican who identifies as a Democrat, did what he usually does in highly partisan showdown. He got squeamish when Democrats started asking how he’ll be voting. Manchin subjected his fellow Democrats to a lot of public foot stomping over the green energy policies included in the budget. This shouldn’t be surprising. He’s a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal mining state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000.

Meanwhile, Republicans were dealing with their own internal drama. In one breath, it wouldn’t make proper partisan sense to be seen voting with the Democrats. But in another, it also wouldn’t make much political sense to sit back and watch the Democrats nuke the filibuster.

The filibuster is the only weapon a minority party in the Senate has to influence legislation. It takes 60 votes to break one, which is something no party in recent memory has had. So, a compromise is forced. Naturally, the threat of losing the filibuster scared the bee gee bees out of Mitch McConnell. So, he did the unthinkable: he rallied votes on behalf of the Democrats.

In the end, McConnell betrayed his party (their words) and did just enough to throw Democrats some cover fire until December. Instead of actually voting to raise the debt ceiling to cover the budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise it just enough to cover the bills until December. The price – $480 billion.

People who try to make sense of this ask: why when they vote to spend money we don’t have, they just don’t also raise the debt ceiling to cover it?

The answer: because there’d be no incentive to curb spending. Imagine if every time you were about to max out your credit card, the bank just increased your credit limit. You know all the trouble you’d get into?

Right now, the federal government is in $28 trillion of trouble, mainly because it has just that – unlimited credit. The debt that incurs is usually only a problem to the party that’s not in control of spending.

Over the years, the rhetoric surrounding the budget and federal spending has degenerated to stomp speeches and red meat for constituents. You can look for this to intensify until one party, probably Republicans, actually do something crazy like block the other party from raising the ceiling. Then all catastrophes will break loose.

But the good people in Washington made sure that is something we won’t have to worry about until Christmas. Think of it as a premature lump of coal in your stocking. In a month and a half, we’ll actually see if they will take all the merry out of Christmas.

By TiOnka Writez

On September 9, 2021,  President Biden signed the executive order to mandate the vaccination of all federal employees and employees operating with one hundred people within the private sector by 12/08/2021. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidelines. Unvaccinated employees are to submit a negative COVID-19 test result every 72 hours before reporting for duty. In true American fashion, the edge of a life-altering event stirs dissent. We understand the need to stop the virus. But the plan of tampering with the working classes’ lively hood is a bit extreme.

The three most common vaccine questions are:

1) Are you vaccinated?

2) When will you get vaccinated?

3) Why won’t you get vaccinated?

Depending on who is asking, you may need to ere on the side of caution when preparing to answer. The decision to vaccinate or not is causing a rift in home and work environments worldwide. The unvaccinated now face hostility. How did we, as a “united” nation, get here?

Now, I know what you are thinking. This COVID-19 virus is no joke. Humans have never faced this before. And you cannot fathom why anyone would object to a scientifically formulated and tested solution. However, The unvaccinated have real issues to consider. Initially there was confusing and mixed messaging. For instance, medical professionals advise patients to take the “shot” to save lives. But a liability waiver is necessary to proceed with vaccine administering. And multiple contracting cases and deaths by COVID-19 are on record in vaccinated individuals. Warnings of use labels, of course, are available on all over-the-counter and prescribed medications. But the difference here is choice and the ability to proceed with informed consent.

The first amendment (“Freedom of Speech”) means freedom of expression. If individuals express their desire not to receive the vaccination, accept their decision. Amidst the debt ceiling debate, now is not the ideal time to threaten Americans’ job security. Stifling employee wage-earning potential and restricting medical coverage for COVID-19 testing is counterproductive to replenishing a depleted economy.

We should develop a solution that considers the position of all parties involved. The most relevant question here is, who or what constitutes a valuable person?” The answer is simple; every living person holds value. And their opinion matters. Don’t bully or shame people for staying strong in their conviction. Placing restrictions on employment is not the best create trust and cooperation with the citizens you are attempting to save.

To vaccinate more people, appeal to what matters to them. Implement a solution to address daily issues like the unstable workforce or unjustly inflated insurance rates in certain areas. Address their concerns without gaslighting them, overlooking how they perceive your message or threatening them with excessive force.

RELATED: For some lack of access is the issue

         

            In my recent pandemic rant, I railed against adults, who, for no good reason, refused to get vaccinated. I argued that it constitutes reckless endangerment of our children. As I write this, yesterday (August 25), a baby and a 14-year-old football player died in Louisiana of COVID.

            My daughter Rebecca, who is a physician and has a nine-year-old, thought my rant was spot on. My son, Jonathan, also a physician and whose 8-year-old just recovered from COVID, could relate to my frustration, but he thought I should be more understanding of the unvaccinated. And my unvaccinated friend V called me up to say I can’t just call her a baby killer. I didn’t, and yet . . . what do the facts say?

            I know V extremely well and love her. But I can’t for the life of me see how she reaches her anti-vax conclusion. She’s not stupid. In fact, she is brilliant. She doesn’t buy conspiracy theories. She’s never been betrayed by doctors or the medical establishment. She’s generous and community oriented. But she’s not a Republican. And yet she’s one of those people I referenced in my rant that you can’t reason with.

            I have to grant, therefore, that my son’s approach may be more useful. He had a patient last week, an elderly woman with underlying conditions, who refused to get the shot because she was sure that the Lord would take care of her. He affirmed her strong faith and said he wanted to tell her a story/joke. You know, the one about a person in dire straits who refuses three rescue offers because she believes God will save her. She dies and then takes God to task for not answering her prayers. And God says, but I sent you X, Y, and Z.

            Jonathan, being a homeboy, gave it the New Orleans spin of a woman on a rooftop after Katrina. Boats and a helicopter came to the rescue, and she waved them away. His patient laughed uproariously and said she’d think about it. He had occasion to call her several times as a follow-up to their appointment asking various questions about her medical history. On the fourth call, she said she had some surprising news. She got the shot.

            “Great!” he said. “What made you decide?” She said she shared the hilarious story with a friend. When Jonathan called, she said that was God’s second message to her. When he called again – that was God’s third message. “I got in my car,” she told him, “To drive to the Walgreens. And if nothing happens on the way, I’ll know that God wants me to get the shot.”

            Jonathan is 1 for 0 on convincing people. I am 0 for 0. So I have to admit, as good and righteous as my rant felt – yes, his approach is proving more effective.

Breakthrough infections are to be expected, but it doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t working.

by Linda Geddes

As a growing number of people in wealthy countries get fully vaccinated, questions are being asked about why some of them are still becoming infected with coronavirus, in some cases even being hospitalised with COVID-19. Such “breakthrough infections” are to be expected, but just how common are they, and what should you expect if you test positive for SARS-CoV-2 having been fully vaccinated?

Vaccine efficacy

No vaccine is 100% effective. Even the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – one of the most powerful disease prevention tools we have – is only 96% effective against measles after two doses, while the seasonal flu vaccine is only 45% effective. Still, it is estimated to prevent 130,000 flu deaths in the US alone each year.

COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Clinical trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines found them to be 94-95% effective against all symptomatic COVID-19 disease after the second dose. This doesn’t mean that we’d expect 5-6 in every 100 people to develop COVID-19, but that there was a 94-95% reduction in new cases of the disease among people who had been vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated individuals. China’s Sinopharm vaccine was 78% effective and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective in clinical trials. Protection against hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 was even higher.

With large numbers of people being vaccinated, and as almost all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in some countries, it is inevitable that a small proportion of fully vaccinated individuals will become infected. An even smaller proportion will become seriously ill and die. What’s important is that the risk of a serious outcome is vastly lower for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to those who have received no vaccine doses.

Breakthrough infections

In the US, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has been quantifying the number of breakthrough infections, which it defines as cases in which SARS-CoV-2 is detected in a respiratory specimen 14 days or more after an individual has completed all recommended vaccine doses. Between 1 January and 30 April, 2021, 10,262 breakthrough infections were reported from 46 US states. At that time, 101 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For comparison, there were 11.8 million COVID-19 infections recorded during the same period – so these vaccine breakthrough infections represented only a tiny fraction of the total number. Also importantly, not all of these individuals reported feeling ill – 27% of those experiencing a breakthrough infection were asymptomatic.

Since 1 May, the CDC has only been identifying and investigating those breakthrough cases in which the individual was hospitalised or died due to any cause (i.e. not just as a result of COVID-19). As of August 2, 2021, more than 164 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated. In that time-span, the CDC identified 7,525 patients with a breakthrough infection who were hospitalised or died.

Shorter milder illness

Another recent analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed breakthrough infections among almost 4000 essential and frontline workers in Arizona, USA, vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Of the 205 coronavirus infections identified, the majority occurred among unvaccinated workers – with only five fully and eleven partially vaccinated individuals testing positive between mid-December 2020 and mid-April 2021. Those who had received at least one vaccine dose had a 40% lower viral load (the amount of live virus a person carries) on average, a 66% reduced chance of testing positive for COVID-19 for more than a week on a PCR test, and a 58% lower risk of experiencing fever, compared to unvaccinated individuals. Their other symptoms also subsided about six days earlier and they spent two days fewer ill in bed, on average.

“The mechanisms by which vaccination attenuates COVID-19 are largely unknown, but the effect is probably due to recall of immunologic memory responses that reduce viral replication and accelerate the elimination of virally infected cells,” the researchers wrote.

Delta variant

The initial clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines were conducted before the emergence and spread of new variants, such as Delta, which are able to overcome the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines to some degree.

In a recent study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, researchers at the Indian Council of Medical Research explored the possible reason for an increased number of breakthrough infections reported across the country. They collected nose and throat swabs from 677 individuals who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after receiving one or two doses or India’s Covaxin vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, or the Sinopharm vaccine. Genetic analysis revealed that in 86% of cases, the breakthrough infection was triggered by the Delta variant – although this could simply be a reflection of the variant’s prevalence at that time.

Other research also indicates that the vaccines may be less effective at preventing coronavirus infections in the face of the Delta variant. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infections, whereas the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective. A single dose of either vaccine was only 37% effective, underscoring the importance of receiving both doses.

However, COVID-19 vaccines still appear to be highly effective at preventing hospitalisation and deaths from the disease. Data from Public Health England, where the Delta variant now accounts for most COVID-19 cases, suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalisation with Delta after 2 doses, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 92% effective after 2 doses.

Living with the virus

Most experts agree that COVID-19 is now effectively endemic, meaning it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population and trigger outbreaks, although it may pose less a danger over time. Many had hoped that once a certain proportion of the population had been infected, or vaccinated against the disease, herd immunity would kick in, meaning those who hadn’t encountered the virus would be buffered from infection by those who were already immune to it. The spread of Delta, and other variants that can partially escape the immunity provided by vaccination or previous infection has raised the threshold for herd immunity, with some even questioning whether it can be achieved at all. However, COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Could New Public Board Do a Better Job?

In New Orleans, the city council regulates the power company.  This is a unique occurrence.  Everywhere else across the state, the state-run Public Service Commission regulates the power companies for local municipalities.  The commission regulates insures that every district has safe and reliable power at reasonable rates.  Utility regulation is complex and important.  Utility commissions make life changing decisions.  Should the city council regulate Entergy?

The state’s Public Service Commission has  five commissioners that represent different parts of the state. In New Orleans, while the entire council must approve any regulation, the utility committee interacts directly with the power company.  This unique authority provides citizens direct access to all of the regulators.  That council members are the regulatory body, a heightened sense of politicization affects the policy decisions. 

Is this the best solution? 

The notion of local control seems great.  Now, council members have direct management of the power company with access to the company executives circumvents excessive bureaucracy.  And for the company, New Orleans officials directly hear their concerns.  Win-win right?

The complexity of utility regulation is significantly high.  Even the state’s commission hires advisors and experts to help it understand their choices.  And the New Orleans City Council annually spends over a million dollars on utility consultants and attorneys.  Finding the sweet spot – a financially strong and profitable power company that provides safe, reliable and affordable electricity – is an extreme challenge.  Add in climate change and the stakes get higher.  Our Hurricane Ida experience exposes our vulnerability.  100% of the metro was out of power. 

Role of the City Council

The council is the legislative and partly administrative branch of city government.  New laws, potholes, marijuana laws, city budget, crime, internet and cable TV, housing, water and land use are some of the important work done by the council.  Our members serve four-year terms.  The approve the city budget.  The council has several subcommittees that meet regularly in addition to the normal every other Thursday regular meeting.

Entergy New Orleans(ENO) is a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, the city’s only Fortune 500 company.  ENO has been the power company in New Orleans for 99 years.  And ENO is guaranteed a reasonable profit. They must provide always on electricity and gas to homes and businesses. Additionally, the company must maintain the power grid for the city.  ENO attempts to maximize its’ profit through efficiency and minimizing expenses while continuing to provide high quality service.

Justice and Beyond Meeting Headed by Pat Bryant and Dr. Dwight Webster

Relationship Issues

The very nature of this business partnership requires informed and committed regulation.  Business intends to make the most profit possible providing desired service or products.  In the case of Entergy, cutting costs to increase profits might result in potential calamity.  Some have claimed the tower that collapsed during the storm is a prime example. They say the rusted and twisted metal indicates lack of proper maintenance.  Though not a part of ENO, this example provides insight into the difficulty regulators face.  How to oversee the wide and complex power grid.

But the New Orleans City Council is much more than just a regulatory body.  The city council must provide public policy, laws, budgets, and a host of other responsibilities. And the complexity of utility regulation is immense.  Even our state commission hires consultants and law firms.  Furthermore, none of the current council members is a utility expert.  The field is a specialty that requires specific skills and knowledge. We ask too much of council members. They are already burdened with everyday city stuff to oversee a powerful company.  Combine term limits to this equation and it’s no wonder that the same questions come up year after year.

Entergy is able to monetize our city government structure.  Council members cycle off every eight years.  New council members usually have no knowledge of the utility committee’s actions. Sometimes the new members’ campaigns were supported by ENO. Their ability to regulate may not be compromised. However, they may have more information about Entergy’s desires than the city’s position.

Therefore a diverse new board comprised not only of City Council members, but also citizens, independent industry experts, Entergy representatives, the New Orleans representative on the Public Service Commission, and university representatives should serve staggered 8-year terms.  This board should only regulate ENO.  This relieves burdened and inexperienced council members.  This new board will ensure that the threats of climate change are mitigated.  In other words, if we can not keep the lights on, then we no longer exist. 

The new power and gas board of New Orleans means we have a strong city for another 100 years.

               

                I’d like to speak to upper management. I don’t think the City Council’s Utilities Committee is making a big enough mess of its relationship with Entergy. Yes, I know, both sides have been throwing around the D word lately. But this is shaping up to be more of a public tantrum than a full-on split. I feel that any day now their beef will be settled behind closed doors with both sides vowing to never ever take each other for granted again. Public displays of affection will soon follow. And before we know it, the two will be back to old times. As responsible citizens we can’t allow this to happen. Can the city council be trusted to regulate Entergy?

                The Committee is an abusive relationship with Entergy. It may or may not know this. But one thing remains clear: it is powerless to do anything about it. Entergy lies to the Committee at will. It subjects it to rounds of emotional and intellectual abuse. There was even a widely publicized bout of infidelity where it paid for a public display of affection.

                Each time that this happens Entergy is either able to woo itself back into the Committee’s heart with words or money. Twice lately it has thrown a couple of million at the Committee, slapped it on the ass, and told it to go buy itself something nice. Afterwards, the cycle of abuse just starts all over again.

                Clearly, the Committee is too compromised at the moment to be effective regulators of Entergy. As a result, we all to often find our homes reduced to dark, powerless caves, making it clear that we citizens are the ones caught in the middle. No more. But what are our solutions?

                We can suggest the two seek counseling. An intermediary board can act as a go between, a regulator of the regulators. But then it’d become clear that the Committee’s role would be redundant. And the only logical thing to do at that point would be for the Committee and Entergy to split. That’s not going to happen. The Committee will never voluntarily breakup with Entergy. And despite all the hee-hawing and foot stomping, Entergy is never going to voluntarily breakup with the Committee either.

                Maybe we can have a vote, some type of City Charter or City Council amendment to force a legal separation. Yes, the Committee would be hurt, and left feeling betrayed. But at this point, it may be the best thing for both parties. The Committee can disband, and the individual members can devote their time to areas they actually have expertise in. And we can find Entergy a new partner, an equal that will force it to be the best energy provider it can be. It’s a long shot, but who knows.

                Meanwhile, a few suggestions for the Committee going forward:

  • If somebody tells you they can build a plant that’ll do this or that, as a regulator you should be able to look at the specs and determine if that’s the case beforehand. Yelling WTF afterwards is just not acceptable.
  • When hurricane season approaches, maybe, just maybe you should demand some type of state of the power grid report to identify any weak points that may need to be addressed. Otherwise, what exactly is being regulated?
  • Just do better. Somehow, someway. If Sean Payton can squeeze 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions out of Jameis Winston, surely you can squeeze some type of consistent respect and energy out of your relationship with Entergy.

                Hopefully, this makes its way to upper management. You know we citizens can be emotional too. And we tend to let that emotion out during elections. Don’t take that as a threat. Well…maybe you should. Or maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t know. Just find a way to keep the lights on.