Have you ever been driving down a street in New Orleans when a person on a bike crosses lanes right in front of you - no signal, no warning - just making a turn as if they owned the whole street?
Or have you ever been on a bike in your marked bike lane, when a car comes whizzing by you at high speed and comes within inches of hitting you - as if you're not even there?
Both these scenarios play out in the Crescent City all too often.
There are many more people using the road on bikes since Katrina and there has been a concerted effor by the city to make the roads safer for them. But cyclists often say motorists don't honor their space, and motorists say often say cyclists don't follow the law.
Cars and bikes must co-exist on the road but there are plenty of issues to sort out. Some drivers just don't want to share the road, and some of our old streets just aren't very wide anyway. But I have myself observed cyclists not obeying the simplest of laws, like riding the wrong direction or blowing through stop signs.
The solution is in educating all the users of the road in regard to the laws on the books and making sure that people - all people - are following the rules.
Joining me in studio today to discuss these matters were Dan Farve, the recently anointed Executive Director of Bike Easy, a bicycle advocacy group, Dan Jatres from the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and bicycle accident attorney Charlie Thomas.
I asked - what is the temptation for cyclists to ride against traffic? Does that make them feel safer?
"It feels safer to see the car, but that really is just a perception. You're truly putting yourself in an unexpected location when you ride against traffic, so you're making yourself harder to see to the people driving cars on that road," Mr. Jatres told me.
"The highest percentage of wrecks are occuring with riders going against traffic - you're much more safe riding with traffic than against it," Mr. Thomas chimed in.
We took a call from a listener early on and I think a lot of people wonder this: what studies are done to determine where bike lanes get put in?
"Ultimately, those decisions are made by the City's Department of Public Works - the bike lane is the most visible change, so most people conclude that it was done just for the bike lane, but there are a whole variety of factors that go into it. On Esplanade, for example, there are a lot of different land uses that create an environment where people are riding, driving and walking. The decision was - how do you make this street safer and easier to use for everyone, not just bikes. The change was made for the betterment of all users on that road," Mr. Jatres continued.
To listen to the rest of the interview and make sure you have the facts no matter how you get around, click the link below.
He is working hard as the House Majority Whip and the third highest ranking Congressional leader. Steve Scalise's job in Washington is part diplomat and part cajoler with maybe a touch of arm twisting, but the goal is always the same - to get the GOP platform moving forward.
He was a special guest several months ago and today he is back with an update. Here's a few imporant highlights for you but as always we have made the full interview available as a podcast, and you can just click the link at the bottom of this blog to hear it.
Is fulfilling your job as Majroity Whip harder than you thought it would be?
"There are many complications to it... especially since we've got the largest House majority on the Republican side since the 1930's. So in some cases you might think its easy to get 218 votes when you have 245 Republicans, but in many ways it is more complicated... everybody thinks they are a free agent so getting to 218 is sometimes a challenge but we've been able to do it on some really important legislation, including this budget which we just finished up out of the House a few weeks ago.
What are your thoughts on Iran?
"When you look at Iran and their intentions, they not only want to get a nuclear weapon but what do they want to use it for? They've made it very clear that they want to eviscerate Israel from the face of the Earth... this is a sworn enemy of the United States and our strongest ally in that region in Israel. I think the President went the wrong way, because this deal does not require Iran to get rid of their nuclear weapons program. They get to keep over 6,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, and even the President acknowledged yesterday, if Iran abided by every term of this deal, they'd be less than a year away at its expiration from developing a nuclear weapon. Not only is that bad for America and Israel, it would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and that's the last thing we want to see happen."
How about Obamacare?
"You see costs going up, you see access being more limited. In our budget we call for the repeal of Obamacare... we're expecting by June that the Supreme Court will announce a decision on it. If they go the right way and say the President can't do what he's doing, it will blow a major hole in the President's health care law, and what we've done is begun working to come up with an alternative to solve this problem using free market approaches, like letting patients decide their own healthcare and not having governement beaurocrats in Washington say you can't buy this, you have to buy that."
It was an enlightening interview with a powerful man in Washington. Click the link below to hear the rest!
Do you know what the budget for the Louisiana Department of Corrections is?
Between $600 and $700 million dollars every year. And that figure only includes state prisons - it does not account for local jails, or courts or police. Just state prisons. $700 million. That's $150 million more dollars than we spend on the entire LSU system.
The news right now is full of headlines about draconian cuts to higher education, and to learn that we spend more on state prisons than state universities is disturbing.
So as we are looking at ways to fill a $1.6 billion dollar deficit, some have suggested that we look for savings in the Department of Corrections, and closely inspect the amount of money Louisiana spends every year on elderly and sick state prisoners. There are thousands of them, and their shelter and medical costs add up quickly.
One person suggesting that we might be able to alleviate some of our budget woes by reform this system is Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU. She joined me on "An Open Mind" today to discuss her idea, and she was joined by none other than Angola warden Burl Cain, who so happens to be the longest-serving warden in the entire United States.
I had looked at some studies that showed prisoners older than 55 are generally no longer a threat to society. So I asked Mr. Cain - does that comport with reality?
"That's true," he said. "Because you're getting too old and you're just not going to be doing the crimes you did when you were young. Many times, by then, you've settled down and your life has changed and that's just not what you do anymore. There are always a few exceptions, but they are very very few."
"Once prisoners reach 55 years old, the recidivism rate drops to about one percent," Esman chimed in. "That's essentially nothing. What we're doing is locking people up forever - incarcerating them until they die - when we know that for entire decades, they are not likely to do any harm."
It's a fascinating conversation about a very important problem we are facing in this state. We talked at length about what other states are doing, what the resistance is to sentencing reform, other areas we can cut back, and more. I even asked Warden Cain about talk that he might be interested in running for Governor. You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the link below.
Ben Watson has spent 11 years in the NFL, winning two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, then playing with the Cleveland Browns before putting on #82 for the New Orleans Saints. But there is so much more to Ben than just being a tight end.
Shortly after the NFL Ray Rice controversy, I heard Ben speak at a domestic violence event, saying loudly and clearly that any kind of abuse is unacceptable. And within 24 hours of the Ferguson grand jury resolution, Ben wrote his thoughts on Facebook, and they quickly went viral, elevating his status as a serious thinker and a spiritual learner.
Ben is a veteran football player but he is also a very proud husband and father of four (soon to be five!) children, and perhaps most importantly, he is a man of God, and that is the message in all that he does.
Ben was our guest on "An Open Mind" this afternoon and I know you're going to love hearing what he has to say, not just about football and the Saints, but about race, family and spirituality in 21st century America.
To hear my full interview with Mr. Watson, click the link below.
As the Saints make whirlwind trades and acquisitions preparing for a new season of football behind the scenes... the back and forth legal maneuvers splashed across TV, radio and dot-coms continue. The billion dollar question--who will ultimately own the teams?
Three psychiatrists completed their examinations of Tom Benson. Will they find him competent to decide who he leaves his empire to? Or, will they reveal that the patriarch of New Orleans’ first family could have been manipulated to change his mind leaving the Saints to his wife… not his daughter and grandchildren?
Tom Benson has only been seen publicly once since he sent his daughter Renee and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan a letter cutting them out of his life saying they would be financially taken care of, but would not be part of any of his business holdings, including the Saints and Pelicans.
That letter started the legal gamesmanship that we Saints fans are watching with both fascination and concern.
But one man, who had access to Tom Benson for almost a week, is New York Times journalist Ken Belson. He’s a sports reporter who writes about the business of sports. Belson recently filed a report about what’s happening off the field.
At 3pm today, Ken Belson was our guest with attorney & legal analyst Tim Meche. Our hope was to gain insights into the psyche of Tom Benson as he & his family are locked in an inheritance dispute. And, to get a greater understanding about what the latest legal moves mean in what may be the saddest game in Saints history.
New Orleans has a very high rate of people who rent rather than buy homes... but how many of those rental units are substandard apartments? We all know that rents have skyrocketed in the last ten years, but the quality and conditions of those properties have not even come close to keeping pace. What's the answer?
New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams believes that renters need protection from landlords, some of them 'slumlords,' who don't hold up their end of the bargain. He and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell want to create a rental registry to make sure that rental properties are registered and regularly inspected to meet minimum standards.
"To put it simply, a rental registry is a way of certifying that all of our rental stock in this city meets certain minimum standards of qulaity, health, having working smoke detectors, proper plumbing and electrical. We're not talking about making it fancy, just about the basic needs that should be met as part of our existing code."
What percent of our rental stock is not meeting that standard? How big of a problem is this in New Orleans?
"When you lok at other cities, one intersting thing is that they dont have as large of a rental population as we do. We have over 50% of our citizens renting homes. By the very nature of that volume, we have more folks who are landlords who are not meeting minimum standards. Since 2005, Prices have gone up and standards in which people are living have stayed the same, and thats affecting our quality of life."
So what does that mean for the city as a whole?
"We talk a lot about crime, about young people involed in crime, but just focusing on that one criminal act and not looking the quality of life issues that are causing that person to commit a crime is like focusing on the headache and not focusing on the brain tumor... we've got to start addressing our povery issue in New Orleans, and this rental registry is the begninng of that."
Did you get a number of calls from people saying "I live in a dump and my landlord wont help me?"
"That's part of it, but the other part of it is just keeping pace with protections of citizens in the rest of the country. A lot of cities are putting this in place to ensure their renters have a certain standard quality of housing, and we need to do that too."
To hear the full conversation with Councilman Williams and a Q&A session with our listeners, click the link below.
Welfare in America didn’t start with Lyndon Johnson and his vision of a great society. It started when President Franklin Roosevelt psigned the Social Security Act in 1935 during the desperate time of the Great Depression. At that time, one out of four Americans had lost their job, some families ended up living in parks and millions of children suffered from a lack of nutrition.
Tacked into the Social Security Act was a Federal national welfare system… one that FDR didn’t think would last long, as the Depression diminished and people went back to work. He even expressed his concern for the long-term effects of welfare. President Roosevelt expressed that concern a speech before Congress…
“The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”
President Roosevelt got the nation through a painful crisis, but his hope of less need for welfare was never realized. According to the Heritage Foundation, over 100 million Americans are on some form of welfare. The tab: one trillion dollars and growing.
What can be done to stem that growth? What can be done to make the system more efficient for those in real need? And, how can we weed out those abusing welfare programs? The House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee is looking at all of these questions.
So today we’re talking about true welfare reform in America with a man in a position to do something about it… the man who will be leading the charge, Louisiana Congressman and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Charles Boustany of Lafayette. That's today at 3pm and we hope you join us.
Crime is out-of-control in and around the French Quarter. What's the solution when the NOPD is short staffed, criminals are brazen and not afraid to rob or accost residents and visitors day or nighttime… and citizens are afraid to leave their homes? State troopers made a difference, but had to leave. Should the state make the French Quarter & safety in this high tourist/historic area a top budget priority?
Today we went in-depth about the crime in the French Quarter & nearby neighborhoods with Superintendent of Louisiana State Troopers Colonel Mike Edmundson, City Council member Nadine Ramsey, President of the French Quarter Business League and owner of the Court of Two Sisters Alex Fein, and business owner and French Quarter resident Sidney Torres - who, it should be noted, is himself the recent victim of a home burglary.
We need the state police here for a year or two while we bulk up NOPD. We need help and we're going to need it for a while. I asked Col. Edmundson: can we have extra state police officers that long?
"My deployment is not going to be permanent, but I can promise you it's going to be strategic. What I mean by that is, when they call us, we've been coming. Ony any given day I have 40 to 50 troopers working in the city... I have officers patrolling around the city. I have officers in gaming enforcement, narcotics, special task forces, inspecting trucks. On a daily basis, we are here. But Angela, I just don't have the manpower to bring 100 troopers down here and leave them, because I have to take them from someplace else.
What about 50? Could you take 50 officers to create a more uniform presence?
"That's what the criminals look for - when they see that uniform presence, they don't want to be in that area. And here's why we've been so successful - we engage the public! When I'm down in the Quarter, the Marigny, Bywater, New Orleans East, wherever we go... we engage the public. We ask them what's going on. We go in the business, we knock on the door, we say 'why is your window broken? Why is that not fixed?' We go after that and we try to make a difference. We made over 1,000 arrests during our earlier time period in the city!"
But when you left, bad guys came back in, and now people are scared again. So what does it take to keep you here? What does that cost?
"Over the summer we spent about a million and a half dollars."
My reaction? We send four hundred million dollars to the state every year. Yes, it would be taking troops from other areas of the state, but if the Governor would simply say, 'you know what, we need to solve this problem. We're going to take a few more million dollars and we're going to let you hire more.' What then?
"At the end of the day, when I start getting phone calls from sheriffs and chiefs around the state who say 'wait a minute, we've got problems in our area! My murders are up, my burglaries are up. When you leave, the sheriffs and city police have to do more, so why am I different?'"
"Look, for Louisiana to be economically successful, New Orleans has to be successful, I know that. I've been here 34 years. I get it. What I can do to make a difference I'm certainly going to do that. But we've got to have a plan. I've got to hear from New Orleans - what is your plan? What are the numbers? For me to put that plan together, I need to know New Orleans' plan. I want to do it together."
"At the end of the day, the public could care less about the color of our uniform or the shape of our badge. When they call for the police, they want to know we're coming, we're well trained, and we're going to treat people with dignity."
To hear the rest of the discussion with Col. Edmundson and the rest of our wonderful guests, click the link below.
It has been the “good news/bad news report’’ on crime in New Orleans. Murders are at a 30 year low, but other violent crimes are way, way up.
NOPD salaries are going up five percent. We have new patrol cars and body cameras for cops, but we are still in need of 400 officers.
We can talk the good news, bad news all day, but at the core of all of this…the public does not feel safe. And the voices are getting louder that something more needs to be done.
A rally last night in Jackson Square was the public crying out for help. The large signs hanging in the French Quarter telling visitors to walk in groups for safety are the brain child of concerned residents.
We are concerned for our own safety and for that of the visitors we welcome.
We need help.
It’s not the total answer, but of major importance is the request for the state police to return with a contingent who can help us until we can rebuild the ranks of the NOPD. When the state police arrived in late summer and stayed for months, it made a huge difference in both a drop in crime and a major boost in morale for citizens, who had become afraid to walk down their own streets.
We can spend our energy pointing fingers at Mayor Landrieu for a hiring freeze at the NOPD four years ago, or we can look beyond the past and spend our energy appealing to Governor Bobby Jindal to prioritize the safety of a city that returns over 400 million dollars a year in tax revenue to the state from the events it hosts and the hotels it fills.
We need help…not forever, but for now.
We shouldn’t have to apologize for asking.
The city has been and continues to work on building a bigger and better police force. It’s going to take time. During that time we can fight the escalating fears of all of us with the help of the state police.
New Orleans doesn’t think it is any more important than the rest of the state, but it does think it is more in need at this time.
We are doing a lot on our own to battle crime. We just need extra help… for a while.
No apologies… just tremendous appreciation.
TODAY AT 3PM: Angela goes in-depth about the crime in the French Quarter & nearby neighborhoods with Superintendent of Louisiana State Troopers Colonel Mike Edmundson, City Council member Nadine Ramsey; President of the French Quarter Business League & owner of the Court of Two Sisters Alex Fein & business owner & French Quarter resident & recent victim of a home burglary Sidney Torres.
He has been a Congressman for 6 years and was just re-elected to another term, and while in Washington DC, Steve Scalise has worked his way to a top leadership position, now serving as House Majority Whip, the third-highest position in the House.
As his new term begins, he and all of Congress face many tough issues. An $18 trillion dollar debt, our role in international crises, a diminishing belief in compromise and an American voter weary of the lack of action by both parties.
How do we get Congress working again?
"I think you saw a first step in this last election, when you had a shift in the Senate. Over the years, we've passed a lot of bills out of the House, many of them bipartisan, to get our economy moving again, to get control over spending, to bring strong immigration reforms where we can secure our border and push back on some of the things we're getting from President Obama... a lot of those have been bipartisan solutions that have gone nowhere in the Senate. I think people want to see these issues debated and have some of these bills that solve problems end up on President Obama's desk."
What happened that brought an end to the sense that problems could be solved through true compromise?
"There have been incidents where we've been able to come together to solve problems. The most recent that I was involved in was flood insurance... I led the effort in the House with Bill Cassidy and others. We were able to pass a bill that actually solved the problem and it was Republicans and Democrats working together and ultimately the President signed that bill. We did the same thing after Deepwater Horizon but ultimately we came together to pass the RESTORE program. We passed that bill through both the House and the Senate, and it was bipartisan. It showed Congress is able to come together to get things done, and there's many more examples."
But there is the sense that people have become more polarized - what can be done to pull us together?
"Ultimately we are still a divided nation. When you look at the last few Presdiental races, you look at the red state blue state breakdowns - were very divided on a lot of fronts. But there are some issues that shouldnt be partisan that are - balancing the federal budget has somehow become a paristan issue."
Click the link below to listen to my entire interview with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.