Sunday, April 27, 2008

Louisiana is only 49th …

At least we finished ahead of West Virginia:

Louisiana’s legal climate is ranked as the second worst in the country, according to Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States, the annual assessment of state liability systems conducted by Harris Interactive, a leading national market research firm, and released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR).

Louisiana ranked 49th out of 50 states in the study, down one spot from the previous year. In addition, New Orleans/Orleans Parish was named among the ten least fair and reasonable court systems in the country.

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the state needs to “take a comprehensive look at fixing the broken lawsuit system,” pointing out that Louisiana has languished near the bottom of the legal climate rankings since ILR and Harris began conducting the state liability system study seven years ago.

A separate survey of Louisiana business owners found 89 percent believe frivolous lawsuits are a serious problem, 58 percent think the number of unfair lawsuits against businesses in Louisiana will increase over the next five years, and 69 percent want the Louisiana Legislature to enact new laws to help protect business from unfair and frivolous suits.

“The best thing Louisiana can do to attract business is to have a balanced legal system,” Donohue said. “An unfair legal system sucks the life out of a state’s economy. It slows business expansion, it kills jobs and it takes money out of consumers’ pockets.”

Donohue noted that the Louisiana Legislature is considering several reform measures, including junk science and asbestos litigation reforms.

Harris asked 957 senior attorneys to evaluate up to five states in which they were “very” or “somewhat familiar” with that state’s litigation environment. Survey respondents assigned each state a letter grade for each of 12 different factors affecting the states’ tort liability system, ranging from the overall treatment of tort and contract litigation to judges’ competence and impartiality. Harris computed an overall score for each state based on these evaluations, then compiled the scores into a ranking of the states.

The survey of 255 Louisiana business owners, 86 percent of them small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies earlier this month. It has a margin of error of +/- 7 percent.


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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Katrina Victims and Psychological Distress ...

This could help explain our feeling of displacement and our slightly nutty behavior. Excerpted from the New Orleans Sun:

Researchers have found New Orleanians who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina were over five times as likely to experience serious psychological distress a year after the disaster than others.

Narayan Sastry of the University of Michigan and Mark VanLandingham of Tulane University examined the mental health status of pre-Katrina residents of New Orleans in the fall of 2006, one year after the hurricane hit the city. The researchers analyzed disparities in mental health by race, education and income.

Of the 144 persons who participated in the pilot study, many were those who moved away from the area after the disaster and had not returned a year later.

Sastry revealed that about 60 per cent of study participants had no psychological distress at the time of the interview, about 20 per cent had mild-to-moderate mental illness, and another 20 per cent had serious mental illness.

Over 50 per cent of the participants were black, nearly two-thirds had a high school diploma or less education, and nearly 60 per cent were unmarried. Nearly three-fourths were employed in the month before the hurricane hit.

They found Blacks reporting substantially higher rates of serious psychological distress than whites, with almost one-third of blacks having a high degree of distress as compared to just six percent of whites.

While people with higher incomes and more education were much less likely to experience serious psychological distress, those born in Louisiana were much more likely to have serious distress.

When the researchers looked at how the extent of housing damage was related to psychological distress a year after the disaster, they found that people who lost their homes were five times more likely than those who did not to have serious psychological distress.

About 66 per cent of the respondents reported that their homes were badly damaged or unlivable.

"Our findings suggest that severe damage to one's home is a particularly important factor behind socioeconomic disparities in psychological distress, and possibly behind the levels of psychological distress. These effects may be partly economic, because, for most families who own their home, home equity is the largest element of household wealth," Sastry said.

"Apart from the financial losses, severely damaged or destroyed housing may prevent people who want to return to New Orleans from doing so because they lack a place to live. This affects their social ties, their employment, and many other factors. The magnitude and permanence of a housing loss suggests that for many people, the psychological consequences of this experience could be profound and lasting," Sastry added.


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Sunday, April 13, 2008

French Quarter artists cannot sell prints of their work …

Edited from an article by Bruce Eggler in the Times-Picayune:

Printmakers may have lost a round in their struggle for display space on Jackson Square's fence and sidewalks, but the battle is likely to continue, with the outcome very much in doubt. Rejecting the suggestion of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, the New Orleans City Council last week refused to change the law that says only original artworks can be sold on the coveted French Quarter turf, an al fresco gallery strolled by millions of tourists a year.

Artist Holly Sarre, who also sells her works on the Internet and at a local art gallery, filed a suit in federal court in March 2005 challenging the ordinance that allows sales only of works that "have been accomplished essentially by hand" and bans "any mechanical or duplicative process in whole or part."

Artist Marrus (see her art at tells the following story:

I was set up on Jackson Square, with my art, which includes both original paintings and prints of my work. There has been a small, vocal, older group that has a problem with artists selling prints, and they incorporated a few years back, said that they represented everybody, and have been getting money donated in the name of the "Jackson Square Artists," which they then use to harass the rest of us.

That harassment took the form today of a cop, flanked by two court administrators, going around checking everyone's licenses. I'm fine with that, and all my papers are in order, but then they commented that I wasn't supposed to be selling prints. I'm one of at least six artists who got whacked with this, and now we're all in a weird limbo.

So, the next time I went out on the Square …

I set up, sat down, and actually sold a few prints of my work. I was getting into my rhythm, talking art and spirit and passion with wonderful people from everywhere when a long blue shadow fell over the Square.

I looked a few sidewalk sections down to see at least four cops and a half dozen people with clipboards fanning out. I jumped up, not sure what to do, but it was too late. I was surrounded by police and court officials. My vendor number was taken, and my driver’s license information as well. One officer told me to go right on selling my prints, that he’d be back to either subpoena me or write me a ticket.

I don’t know what to do. I’m so frustrated. I moved to New Orleans, in large part, because I thought I could make a living as an artist here. Many of the artists are having their livelihood threatened by this ridiculous ordinance. I can see no valid reason that an artist shouldn’t be allowed to sell prints of her own work.

Why is it so easy for copper thieves and murderers, but so difficult for the good guys to survive?


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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Big Plans ...

From an article by Adam Nossiter for the New York Times:

In March 2007, city officials finally unveiled their plan to redevelop New Orleans and begin to move out of the post-Hurricane Katrina morass. It was billed as the plan to end all plans, with Paris-like streetscape renderings and promises of parks, playgrounds and “cranes on the skyline” within months.

But a year after a celebratory City Hall kickoff, there have been no cranes and no Parisian boulevards. A modest paved walking path behind a derelict old market building is held up as a marquee accomplishment of the yet-to-be-realized plan.

There has been nothing to signal a transformation in the sea of blight and abandonment that still defines much of the city. Weary and bewildered residents, forced to bring back the hard-hit city on their own, have searched the plan’s 17 “target recovery zones” for any sign that the city’s promises should not be consigned to the municipal filing cabinet, along with their predecessors. On their one-year anniversary, the designated “zones” have hardly budged.

The city official in charge of the recovery effort, Edward J. Blakely, said the public’s frustration was understandable, but he suggested that bureaucratic hurdles had made moving faster impossible. Mr. Blakely said crucial federal money had only recently become available, the process of designing reconstruction projects within the 17 zones was time-consuming, and ethics constraints on free spending were acute, given a local history of corruption.

Mr. Blakely has been given broad authority — a staff of more than 200 and jurisdiction over eight agencies — in a municipal hierarchy where the mayor, C. Ray Nagin, has adopted a hands-off role. Criticized last year for frequent trips to Australia, where he holds a university post, Mr. Blakely said he had not been there for some months.

The growing frustration points up what has been a recurring theme in New Orleans’s sketchy, on-again, off-again recovery from Hurricane Katrina: grandiose official promises, apparently made to lift the public’s morale, that soon prove unrealistic.

Mayor Nagin remains an elusive figure, occasionally surfacing to take strong issue with local news media portrayals of him, but otherwise delegating much responsibility for the recovery to Mr. Blakely.

There have been some uniquely New Orleans hang-ups as well, said the recovery director; “lot of tensions in the staff,” revolving around race. “Black people have a hard time taking instruction from white people,” said Mr. Blakely, who is black. There is resentment “if a white person asks them to do something. It’s really bad. I’ve never encountered anything like this.”


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