2022 Hours to Go

The ANTIGRAVITY Year-End Top 5

After the disaster-laden one-two punch that was 2020 and 2021, this year seemed inclined to ease its foot off the gas pedal a bit—if only because letting us rebuild our lives gives the next tidal wave something to knock down. But without unprecedented pandemics and cataclysmic hurricanes, what has 2022 left us to remember it by? AG Staff did some digging to find out.

Top 5 Moments in New Orleans Conventions

1. Visitors to the Commodity Classic, a wheat/corn/soybeans/sorghum trade show, second lined to the Fillmore in March to check out country band Lanco’s “Row Croppin’ & Boot Stompin’” concert. The event was sponsored by DEKALB Asgrow Seed, part of Bayer Crop Science (formerly Monsanto). The seed company also maintains a mostly country playlist on Spotify with songs like “International Harvester,” “Where Corn Don’t Grow,” and “John Deere Green.”

2. Attendees at an American Gas Association conference in May were offered “puppy therapy” in between sessions on natural gas odorization, cybersecurity, and leak investigation. A session on dog bite prevention was canceled.

3. The Society for Human Resource Management invited former President George W. Bush back to New Orleans for its June conference. Also appearing was Arianna Huffington, who devoted much of the 2000s to denouncing Bush and has called out those who continue to give an ear to members of his administration. “There has been a weird amnesty and amnesia about people’s misjudgment on the most consequential decision of our times,” she wrote about the Iraq War and Bush era in 2013.

4. Crossbar’s prison vaping tech and Atkore Razor Ribbon’s Detainer Hook barbed fencing material (“the most severe Razor Ribbon® product produced”) were on display at the American Congressional Association’s Congress of Correction in August. “Keynote Speaker Ashley Judd delivered an enlightening message on mental illness,” according to the organization, and the Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office explained how they promoted jail “staff wellness” through “mind-friendly color schemes, elements and scenes of nature.”  Also on hand were representatives from Smart Communications, known for reportedly offering Caribbean cruises to sheriffs who install its pricey jail phone systems, along with a talk on “why good correctional staff do bad things,” and a product called The G.L.O.V.E. from Compliant Technologies that’s designed to let guards deliver electric shocks to incarcerated people by touching them. Alongside quotes from the Bible and Ronald Reagan, the manual cautions that the weapon may be less effective on “individuals who are extremely hairy” and that “torture” and “horse play” are never appropriate reasons to deliver shocks. “The energy of our city is unmatched,” wrote Mayor LaToya Cantrell to conference attendees.

5. At the Consumer Finance Legal Conference in October, the title of a panel asked “Where Does It End?” on “the disturbing wave of radical [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] / State Regulator Enforcement Initiatives.” “So You Thought You Were Done?” asked the title of a workshop on “wet weather control” at the Water Environment Federation convention that month. “I Am Not Done Yet,” proclaimed the title of a panel on “preserving the contributions of radical Black women intellectuals” at the American Studies Association conference in November. —Steven Melendez

Top 5 Public Health Disasters

1. The COVID-19 Pandemic is Not “Over”
Despite a recent vote by the U.S. Senate to terminate the national emergency declared in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic is still not “over.” The reversal of the national Public Health Emergency could lead to further barriers to resources such as vaccines, testing, and treatment. To date, there have been approximately 1.1 million reported COVID-19 related deaths in the United States alone since January 2020. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people continued to bear the greatest burden of disease and mortality. Long COVID (chronic symptoms and disability occurring after COVID-19) remains a major concern. In short: Denial, it seems, is not an effective public health response.

2. The Global Monkeypox Outbreak
In May, a global outbreak of monkeypox virus (MPXV) occurred. Unclear guidance, issues with vaccine supply, and stigmatizing language (including racist and homophobic messaging rhetoric straight out of the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis) created an uneven initial response to the outbreak. Though vaccine eligibility has expanded and cases in the U.S. have rapidly declined, it is clear that our public health infrastructure continues to have much room for improvement.

3. The Reversal of Abortion Rights and Access
With the Dobbs decision in June, the Supreme Court’s revocation of the constitutional right to abortion access is a direct threat to the health and well-being of millions of people in the United States. As always, this disproportionately harms poor people, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people who use drugs, and everyone else who is already marginalized by our society. After the ruling, 13 states (including Louisiana) had “trigger bans” go into effect, immediately eliminating abortion access. Birth control in its many forms is also at risk, as is in-vitro fertilization (IVF). This extends past fertility: In Texas, a federal judge ruled that requiring employers to cover costs of PrEP for HIV prevention violates religious freedom. And this is just the beginning.

4. The Overdose Crisis
Approximately 108,000 overdose deaths were reported in the United States in 2021. Each of those deaths was preventable and is a tragic loss. Instead of doubling down on punitive policies which continue to fail, we need to expand harm reduction practices including supervised consumption sites and safe supply. We also cannot ignore the intersecting social and economic issues which contribute to this and so many other public health crises. And, as always, we need to directly support people who use drugs and the groups who have been there providing mutual aid from the beginning.

5. New York Polio Outbreak
In June, a case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated adult in New York was confirmed. The case was caused by community transmission, as vaccine-derived poliovirus was detected circulating in the wastewater in the communities near the patient. As a reminder, polio was previously declared eradicated in the U.S. in 1979 thanks to high vaccine uptake. It is not as though this could not happen in Louisiana or other parts of the U.S., so please, please get vaccinated. —Mary Beth Campbell

Top 5 Parenting Controversies and Misleading Headlines

5. Unattended Small Children
U.S.-based parents were astonished to learn this year that toddlers in Japan go on errands by themselves and babies in Denmark are left outside alone for naps. Amazing what a society can do when there is a social safety net!

4. Pandemic Baby Developmental Delays
Developmental skills testing of children has shown what many parents already suspected—that babies and toddlers born during pandemic are delayed in verbal, motor, and social skills. Though people were quick to (without evidence) blame masks and lockdowns, nothing indicates that these skills aren’t recoverable, particularly now that regular socializing has mostly resumed.

3. Caffeine in Pregnancy Makes Kids Shorter
Parents were understandably shocked by the headlines proclaiming that a new study showed even small amounts of caffeine could impact a child’s height, as around two cups of coffee per day has long been allowed by obstetrics experts. The observed effect was small (2 cm.), does not necessarily persist into adulthood, and it’s not clear the study even controlled fully for other variables. Regardless, many parents took to social media to proclaim they would rather have short kids than lose their morning joe.

2. Video Games Make Kids Smarter
Video games, that perennial topic of parent panic, got an academic boost from a study that showed, counter to expectations, gaming might actually increase IQ. The cheering (and likely, non-parent) masses online seem to have only read the headlines though, and not the full article, which indicated the boost was small and doesn’t measure whether there were any other negative (or positive) effects, such as on health or social relationships.

1. “Cause” of SIDS
A scientist experienced one of the worst possible tragedies when she lost her infant to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). That loss motivated her to study the possible biological causes of SIDS, leading to the discovery of an enzyme that could indicate an increased risk of SIDS. Her research was well-formulatedthe ensuing headlines were not. Ecstatic tweets proclaiming that the “cause” of SIDS had been discovered went viral. The big problem is that we already have deeply-researched studies and decades of real-world evidence to show that safe sleep habits prevent most SIDS cases. Hopefully no one abandons safe sleep principlesand experiences the scientist’s tragedy themselves. —Sara Pic

Top 5 Mayoral Moments

It’s been a banger year for Mayor LaToya Cantrell. And while the end of the year is a great time for introspection and new beginnings, it’s also a time for reflection—for looking back at where we’ve come so we can better prepare for where we want to go. That’s especially true for how we hold the people we pay to run our city accountable. In that spirit, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on some of our mayor’s highlights from the past year.

First Class Travel Expenses
If you think Mayor Cantrell’s first-class, all-expenses paid trip to France sounded Nice, you’d be wrong, but close—it was actually Antibes, a resort town on the French Riviera about 15 miles away from Nice, France. She went there to sign a sister-city agreement, spending a total of more than $43,000 of your money on travel expenses. Cantrell initially refused to pay back the funds, but after facing pressure from the public, with some City Council members even suggesting garnishing her wages, at the time of this writing, she has paid back nearly $30,000.

Questionable Property Use
You know what they say: What happens in the Upper Pontalba Apartments does not stay in the Upper Pontalba Apartments. In a series from FOX 8 reporter Lee Zurik, he revealed Mayor Cantrell spent hundreds of hours at the City-owned apartment, often during the workday and without sending a single email or making a single phone call. And while the distinctly-browed Zurik made some distinctly low-brow insinuations about possible infidelity between the mayor and a member of her NOPD security detail, that’s none of our business. What is our business is the mayor flouting the rules and using the apartment for personal use. Rest is resistance, but politicians shouldn’t be resisting us.

Retaliating Against City Council Members
After the first reports of Cantrell’s questionable use of the Pontalba apartment, she accused Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy Greg Malveaux of stalking her and filming her at the apartment, which was later disproved. Malveaux had been serving as security for the City Council, and after Cantrell complained to Sheriff Susan Hutson, he was reassigned to the Orleans Parish Jail—an act City Councilmember Helena Moreno called “retaliation.” Look, you don’t have to feel bad about a cop getting reassigned—he chose that life. But it is concerning that Mayor Cantrell would use her mayoral power to strike back against her political opponents.

New Orleans City Charter Amendment Passes
Pundits often refer to political polls or election results as a “referendum.” Here, it isn’t hyperbole. The people of New Orleans voted and passed a referendum to change the City’s charter to require mayoral appointments be approved by City Council. Previously, mayors could pick anybody they wanted. But after a slew of sketchy appointments, like installing a former short term rental company executive as the head of the short term rental enforcement department, City Council and the citizens of New Orleans have taken that power away from Mayor Cantrell (and future mayors). But she can still make interim appointments for up to 120 days, as a treat.

Recall Petition Picks Up Steam
It started as a whisper, as scattered comments on Nola.com articles and posts shared from Facebook groups where “Latoya tha Destroya” memes abound. Whispers turned to murmurs, murmurs turned to signing events. A recent UNO survey showed New Orleanians aren’t happy with Mayor Cantrell, but it’s another thing entirely to be willing to give up your perfectly good Labor Day weekend to stand in line and sign a petition. Organizers need to get an additional 35,000 more signatures by Ash Wednesday (February 22) of next year, which many local political experts say may not be likely. —Drew Hawkins

Top 5 Dubious Claims to Investigative Journalism

Why budget time or money for true investigative journalism when you can just use the same words to describe cheaper alternatives until the original meaning has been removed from the collective consciousness? In a city whose history of graft is the stuff of legends and whose power structure continues to perpetuate widespread systemic abuses right under the noses of her citizens, who really needs investigative journalism anyway?

WDSU Investigates: New Orleans Public Facilities Facing Mysterious Upkeep Problems
It seems pretty bold to call something an investigation when your subject is visible to the naked eye, but that didn’t deter WDSU Investigates from sending Travers Mackel to Ben Franklin High School’s baseball field to share the observation that it is underfunded. There may have been no background information to fill in the last of the five questions journalists are professionally obligated to answer (who-what-when-where-why), but Mackel does everything short of actual research to explore the issue. The highpoint of the report comes when Mackel discovers a hole in the outfield. Sticking his foot in it he explains, “the grass should be flat, but that’s not the case.”

Parking For Free? Not on WWL-TV’s Watch
Boy it sucks to be a French Quarter employee, doesn’t it? As if mopping up tourists’ vomit and tolerating drunken abuse day-in day-out for a pittance weren’t bad enough, finding affordable parking anywhere near your workplace requires nothing short of divine intervention. If you park in a metered spot, you’d better hope your boss lets you check on it throughout the day. Otherwise the inevitable ticket will add your wages to the pile of money the City collects from parking tickets daily, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. That is, there wasn’t, until some genius figured out that if you take the license plate off your car the meter maids can’t issue an electronic ticket. How do I know people have been doing this? Because WWL-TV Investigations decided to blow these solution-oriented working class heroes’ cover with a days-long surveillance of cars parked along French Quarter streets. Much of the legwork appears to have been done by an anonymous irate French Quarter resident who, in the grand tradition of nosy neighbors with too much free time on their hands, had “documented as many as 40 such cars a day” because he thinks service workers trying to get to work on time are to blame for the fact that he has trouble finding parking in the Quarter.

WDSU Investigates: Homeless People Found Trying to Get Some Shut-Eye
One would think things couldn’t get much worse than the lack of social safety net in New Orleans forcing you to take shelter in an abandoned prison. But wait! A local media outlet is about to make things exponentially worse by calling in a SWAT team to take you to a real jail for trying to make a home out of one the City isn’t using anymore, before broadcasting their investigation (and your misfortune) all over television. WDSU Investigates, at your service. In this glorified police report, Travers Mackel discloses that “suspected drug paraphernalia was found inside—and that’s not all.” No indeed! “OPSO said a power cord was run into the building, allowing those living here to get power.” Once again we find no attempt to fill out the story—with statistics on the housing crisis, humanizing interviews with the people they had carted off to prison in zip ties, or any of the other little details I’ve come to associate with professional journalism—this piece is all about the action. Now, whoever lies awake at night worrying about homeless people seeking shelter in the ruins of our crumbling infrastructure can sleep soundly knowing WDSU Investigates is on it.

Lee Zurik’s “Tireless Inquiries” Into Mayor Cantrell’s Workouts
Can you call simply borrowing security footage from the American surveillance state investigative journalism? Lee Zurik, (who according to his FOX 8 bio is “the city of New Orleans’s most honored investigative reporter”) can and does. When it comes to the media-besieged Mayor Cantrell, Zurik has made tireless use of his conviction that it’s a fine line separating a journalist from a private detective on a stakeout. He tracks her phone calls, reads her emails, and takes note whenever she changes out of her workout clothes. His observations that Mayor Cantrell comes and goes from the publicly-owned Upper Pontalba Apartment suspiciously often for someone who only takes meetings there have been generating plenty of recent chatter, and for good reason. Public officials taking advantage of such a valuable public resource as high-quality affordable housing is a serious issue.

Then again, I knew a girl in grad school who lived in the Garden District with her financier husband but kept an empty, almost unfurnished apartment in the Pontalba for the rare occasions when she wanted to throw a party for her less affluent friends. So as long as we’re inquiring into elite misuse of some of the only affordable housing the French Quarter has left, perhaps Zurik might consider putting those legendary investigative reporting skills to work exposing those Pontalba abusers who don’t permanently reside there under the city’s brightest spotlight.

WDSU Almost Investigates Corruption in Plaquemines Parish
In this feature on the $12 million in federal aid put into a completely nonfunctional high end marina in Plaquemines Parish, WDSU proves it isn’t totally incapable of providing a few salient facts about a serious case of governmental misconduct. But a hair’s breadth away from actually investigating something for once, the team completely ignores every dangling thread in their story. They leave the operators who received the government contract to run the marina  unresearched, and the construction companies—on whom so much of the aid money was spent—unnamed. After “tracking down” Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser—who first obtained the FEMA money for the project—at a meeting in Lake Charles, they take him at his word that the project’s failure had absolutely nothing to do with him. Nor were there any inquiries as to the relationships between any of these individuals, and whether this incident fit into a larger pattern of mishandled government spending in the region. In other words, they decided not to follow the money.

As much as we’d all like to leave figuring out what local government is really up to in the hands of paid professionals trained to catch lying politicians in the act, it would seem we can’t afford to be so optimistic. If the exposure of government corruption is something we want done, it’s just another thing we’re going to have to do our damn selves. —Holly Devon

Illustrations by Anneliese DePano

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