New Orleans Hopes 'Gutter Buddies' Will Keep Mardi Gras Beads Out Of Storm Drains

Mardi Gras beads strewn on a New Orleans street.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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Gerald Herbert/AP

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is not just Fat Tuesday itself, it’s a multi-week celebration. It’s also a huge mess.

The plastic beads, cups, and trinkets that fly from the floats don’t all get caught — even by the most enthusiastic crowds. And after a bead has hit the ground it immediately turns from prize to garbage, especially in this year’s rain and mud.

After each day’s parades, street sweeper trucks and crews do their best to pick up the parade detritus — beads and other throws, beer cans, plastic bags, light-up necklaces that have lost their glow. City officials have even used the garbage tonnage they collect as a sort of carnival-success barometer.

But even with the massive cleanup operation, some trash gets left behind. And it turns out Mardi Gras is terrible for the flood-prone city’s storm drains. Last month, officials announced that cleaning crews had pulled 93,000 pounds of old beads out of catch basins on the main parade route.

Dani Galloway, who runs the New Orleans Department of Public Works, calls that number “a smack in the face.” So with carnival season looming, Galloway made it her mission to keep more beads from clogging up the drains.

A ‘gutter buddy’ blocks Mardi Gras detritus from a storm drain opening near the parade route in New Orleans.

Courtesy of Daniel T. Smith

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Courtesy of Daniel T. Smith

“It was a simple as a visit to Home Depot to try to figure out what we could do that would be, obviously, low cost, a fairly quick turnaround,” she says.

Galloway’s department experimented with wire and two-by-fours before landing on a combination of metal grates and big orange sandbags. The bead-blockers are affectionately known as “gutter buddies.”

The city spent about $30,000 on supplies and hired a contractor to make hundreds of the filter contraptions and install them in storm drains all along the parade route.

The devices are rudimentary, but they seem to be working. On a recent evening, parade-goer Willie Noveck set up his folding chair next to one of the orange gutter buddies, now a bit grimy from days of rain. Holding his boxed wine under one arm, Noveck affirmed the gutter buddies’ success. “They’re catching, I guess, a lot of plastic bags,” he said. “They’re definitely doing something!”

A simpler solution to the storm drain problem might be to just…stop throwing beads from Mardi Gras floats. But for Noveck, like many New Orleanians, that’s not an option.

“Stop throwing beads?!” he shouted, incredulous. “You cannot be serious about that. That’s ridiculous.”

Noveck says he has a better idea: parade-goers should focus more on their fielding skills. His proposal? “Let’s catch all the beads so we don’t have this problem!”

For now, if the people don’t catch all the beads, the gutter buddies will.

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Lawsuit Alleges Mafia-Like Tactics Aimed At A Disneyland Social Club

Social clubs have sprung up at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in recent years — and a lawsuit describes threats of violence aimed at one of them. A woman with a Mickey Mouse hat walks through the park in 2015.

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Jae C. Hong/AP

There are a lot of ways to be really into Disney as an adult. You can go on a Disney cruise, attend the three-day Disney convention, or get married at one of the parks.

Suddenly, in 2013, a whole new vein of fandom sprouted: Disneyland social clubs.

Like an oddly wholesome motorcycle gang, members wear denim vests festooned with Disney trading pins on the front. On the back are patches bearing the image of their club’s totem character. Many members own annual passes and visit Disneyland frequently.

Some members have tattoos of Walt Disney himself.

Each club has its own bent: some are named after movie characters while others focus on features of the parks themselves. But the denim vests are a mainstay.

“We wanted something we could be comfortable in, that we could wear on hot days, and that was bold and spoke to our acceptance of our semi-outsider stance within the Disney fandom,” Nathan Rice, the founder of a club called Walt’s Misfits, told the OC Weekly in 2014. “The first few clubs were made up of similar tattooed weirdos, and I think the whole ‘The Warriors’ outlaw thing had an edge that we wanted to convey, even if that edge was ultimately tongue-in-cheek, it being Disneyland and all.”

“Being heavily tattooed and having somewhat of an ‘alternative’ image compared to the average Disney-goer, it was hard for us to mesh with the families you usually see at the park,” Michael Stout, co-founder of the Main Street Elite, told the Weekly. “So we decided we’ll make our own Disney family, seeking out the rest of the Disney fanatics who were left with no one to go to the park with.”

As you can see in thousands of photos on Instagram, the groups generally look pretty friendly. Members tell stories of helping newcomers or keeping an eye out for park rule-breakers.

But according to a lawsuit filed in September in Orange County civil court and updated last week, one of the clubs used tactics more associated with the Mafia than the Happiest Place on Earth.

The plaintiffs are John and Leslee Sarno, a Sacramento couple. The court filing explains that John Sarno was the president of the Main Street Fire Station 55 Social Club “and also bore the title of ‘Battalion Chief’ in the fictional fire station.”

In the summer of 2016, according to the complaint, Fire Station 55 SC organized a fundraiser for the families of firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. Some 340 participants walked two miles around Disneyland, and the profits were donated to a charity. Disney gave permission and provided security.

It was in the weeks leading up to the fundraiser that defendant Jakob Fite and four other members of a social club called the White Rabbits approached John Sarno on Disney property and demanded that he pay them $500 in “protection money” for the event, according to the suit. Sarno refused to pay, and he says Fite threatened to ruin him — and that the Sarnos would never be able to visit the park again.

After that, according to the lawsuit, Fite and other members of the White Rabbits began a targeted campaign against the Sarnos on message boards and podcasts, calling them scammers and con artists. They say that White Rabbits printed t-shirts with John Sarno’s name and likeness on it warning that he was dangerous, and made false reports to law enforcement and news outlets claiming the Sarnos had committed fraud.

The Sarnos say they eventually had to disband the Fire Station 55 SC and that Disneyland refused to let them hold another charity walk. They’ve been ostracized, they say, living in fear of physical assault. They have not felt it safe to return to Disneyland.

Fite rejects the allegations, the Los Angeles Times reports, “saying Sarno filed the suit to fire back at Fite for raising questions about Sarno’s character among other Disneyland social clubs.”

The Times adds: “Fite cohosts a podcast that discusses Disney’s subculture and said he used that forum to raise questions about Sarno’s character and suggest that Sarno has been misleading club members about his background to raise money for charitable causes.”

The Sarnos declined to comment on the lawsuit, according to the newspaper, and their attorney said the couple “have no desire to further publicize their circumstances or to take any action that could be construed as their own re-publication of the false and defamatory statements that have been circulated by the defendants in this case.”

Disneyland is also named in the suit, which argues that Disney hasn’t done anything to take action against the White Rabbits or make it safe for the Sarnos to return to the park. The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.

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Public Officials In Town With Polygamous Sect Resign After Elections

Political turmoil in the communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, have resulted in the resignations of nearly a dozen city and utility board employees.

The communities are the longtime home of a polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has been the target of state and federal investigations and lawsuits. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexual assault of children.

The resignations follow the historic election last year of non-FLDS followers to vacant Hildale city council seats and the mayor’s office. One of the employees cited conflict of religion as the reason for his resignation. He said in his resignation letter that it is against his faith to follow a woman or to work with “apostates,” which is the FLDS word for those who have left or been kicked out of the church. FLDS faithful typically do not associate with apostates. Those who leave the church, whether by their own choice or by the decree of church leaders, are shunned.

The adjacent communities are essentially one town and share services.

The newly elected Hildale mayor is Donia Jessop, who left the FLDS church about four years ago with her family. Jessop is the first woman, and also the first “apostate” to be mayor of Hildale and said she respects those who have resigned for following their beliefs.

Still, the resignations suddenly leave the town with empty municipal jobs. Jessop and others on the council were not caught completely off guard. There had been rumors in the communities of the mass resignations. Jessop said she is working on filling the positions with the guidance of a court-appointed monitor named Roger Carter, who is the city manager of Washington, Utah, which is about 45 minutes away from Hildale. The monitor was appointed as a result of a 2016 Justice Department lawsuit alleging institutionalized religious discrimination in the community. Non-members complained that they were denied access to city services because they were not part of the FLDS faith. In 2016, the towns were found guilty of religious discrimination by a federal court jury.

The towns and FLDS church leaders have been the subject of lawsuits and prosecutions ranging from food stamp fraud to sexual abuse for years. Officials in Arizona and Utah have also successfully challenged FLDS dominance of the school system, town marshal’s office and a religious trust that once controlled nearly all the land and homes in the border towns.

Hildale and Colorado City have undergone significant changes in the last few years, particularly as population demographics continue to shift with people leaving the FLDS church, which has always been the dominant cultural and political force in the towns.

While the faithful still follow Jeffs’ edicts from prison, there is work being done in the community to provide resources and services from those leaving the extremely strict and insular church, as well as efforts to open up the community and make it more welcoming to outsiders.

KJZZ chronicled a number of these changes in a series about the community, known collectively as Short Creek.

NPR’s Howard Berkes contributed reporting for this story.

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The Education Department Says It Won't Act On Transgender Student Bathroom Access

Transgender high school student Gavin Grimm’s case in Virginia was about bathroom access. The Department of Education just announced it won’t investigate similar claims.

Steve Helber/AP

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Steve Helber/AP

Do transgender boys or girls have the right to use the restroom at school that corresponds with their gender identity? The U.S. Education Department said on Monday that it won’t hear complaints about, or take action on this question.

Almost one year ago, the department under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made national headlines by rolling back Obama-era steps on transgender student protections. While the Trump administration rescinded that guidance, the department never made clear how it would handle future discrimination cases filed by transgender students.

Last month, the Huffington Post reported that the Education Department had recently dismissed several such cases.

And on Monday, Buzzfeed reported, and department spokeswoman Liz Hill confirmed to NPR, that the department is taking that rollback a step further.

“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Hill stated. (The Obama-era guidance declared the opposite, stating that the civil rights law covered student gender identity as well as sex.)

Hill went on to say that complaints about harassing, bullying or punishing transgender or gender nonconforming students would fall under Title IX: “Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

But, she said, access to accommodations such as restrooms, or presumably locker rooms, would not: “In the case of bathrooms, however, longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

“The facts now on the table are devastating, though by now unsurprising,” Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, an organization which supports LGBTQ students, said in a statement. She added that the “cruel new policy flies in the face of the highest court rulings on this issue, which found unequivocally that denying transgender students appropriate bathroom access is a violation of Title IX. “

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Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media prior to a scheduled court hearing in Kiev last month.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

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Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian authorities have deported Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who has emerged as a vocal antagonist of the government in Kiev. Ukraine’s border agency confirmed his deportation to Poland on Monday, while videos on social media purported to show Saakashvili getting seized by masked men.

“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally,” the agency said in a statement released Monday, “and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from which he arrived.”

Representatives of Saakashvili are describing the incident in starkly different terms.

Earlier Monday the populist politician’s Facebook account released a plea for help, saying “unknown people in masks kidnapped [him] and drove him in an unknown direction.” At the same time, the account uploaded several videos appearing to show his “abduction” in a restaurant at the hands of several shouting men.

Hours later, he called reporters from Warsaw with his account of the confrontation: “They broke into the cafe,” he said. “They tried to close my eyes, tie my hands.”

Within hours he had been placed on a plane to Poland.

Saakashvili and his supporters have cast the move as an attempt to remove a prominent threat to President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and even appointed him governor several years ago — only to strip him of that citizenship after Saakashvili quit amid a flurry of accusations that Poroshenko was blocking his attempts at reform.

Saakashvili — a populist politician who also faces a three-year prison sentence in Georgia for embezzlement and abuse of authority during his presidency there — lost his rights as a Ukrainian last summer while he was in the U.S. He returned, though, gathering supporters on the Poland-Ukraine border for a climactic push back into the country in September. Since then he has drawn a considerable following in Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials have condemned him as a provocateur backed by a pro-Russian criminal group.

Earlier this month Saakashvili lost his appeal for protection against the possibility of getting extradited to Georgia to stand charges.

“The Georgian authorities never asked for my extradition when I was in America or in Europe,” the 50-year-old opposition leader told The Guardian last week, when he was still living and working in central Kiev. “They only did it when I returned to Ukraine because Poroshenko asked them to.”

Now, after grappling with Saakashvili for months, Kiev has managed to eject him. Time will tell whether he will stay out of Ukraine or whether, as he did last year, he will somehow manage to return. In the meantime, Saakashvili might be out of the country — but he is not exactly out of earshot.

“This is not a president and not a man,” he said of Poroshenko in a statement after the deportation Monday, according to Reuters. “This is a lowlife crook who wants to wreck Ukraine. All this shows how weak they are. We will of necessity defeat them.”

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Trump Proposes Deep Cuts In Detecting Disease Outbreaks Worldwide

In August 2014, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talked with Doctors Without Borders staff during a visit to an Ebola treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia.

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Tommy Trenchard for NPR

There’s a glaring hole in President Trump’s budget proposal for 2019, global health researchers say. A U.S. program to help other countries beef up their ability to detect pathogens around the world will lose a significant portion of its funding.

The ambitious program, called Global Health Security Agenda, was launched in early 2014, aiming to set up an early-warning system for infectious diseases across the world.

After the Ebola outbreak later that year the program was significantly ramped up with an additional $120 million dollars a year to expand the building of disease-detection systems to dozens more developing countries around the world. That ramped-up funding runs out in September 2019. And while Trump is keeping the original program he has not proposed continued funding at the current level.

Congress, which has the responsibility to adopt the budget, could end up restoring the funds.

Still, the proposal has critics worried. “Cutting this money is shortsighted,” says Dr. Paul Spiegel, who directs the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University. “By downsizing this program, outbreaks may not be detected as quickly now, and in the end, the U.S. could wind up spending more money [to stop an emergency outbreak].”

In Trump’s proposal, funding for the program would drop by about two-thirds, from about $180 million each year to about $60 million each year. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to downsize its operations — or even close up shop — in 39 countries by September 2019. It will continue its work in 10 countries.

For decades, the CDC has been helping other countries stop dangerous, fast-spreading outbreaks, such as SARS in 2009. But a few years ago, the agency decided to try a different approach: Help other countries set up their own disease-detection facilities so they can find outbreaks before they spiral out of control.

Global Health Security Agenda has goals such as building laboratoriesthat can test biological samples and creating a network of health workers who can detect dangerous diseases when they crop up.

At first, the CDC had only about $60 million in its budget for the program. Then in the summer of 2014, Ebola struck West Africa. The U.S. ended up spending billions of dollars to stop the outbreak both overseas and here at home. And all of a sudden, there was much more interest for the CDC’s new disease-detection program. Congress allocated an extra $600 million to be used over five years.

Without that kind of funding, critics say progress made since 2014 will falter. “It takes years to set up a disease surveillance system in a country,” Spiegel says. “It’s a waste of money to stop now and leave a country after you’ve already invested a few years into the process.”

Over the past few years, the CDC has used the extra funding to train more than 1,400 epidemiologistin 17 countries. And 16 countries now have a full-time epidemiologist dedicated to training more disease detectives, funded by this money as well.The program has also helped to stop several outbreaks in poor countries, including cholera in Cameroon and measles in Pakistan.

None of these outbreaks were close to coming to the U.S., as Ebola and SARS did. But scaling back this work still makes America vulnerable, says Ashish Jha, who directs the Harvard Global Health Initiative.

“We don’t need to panic over these funding cuts,” Jha says. “It’s not like ‘Oh my gosh! We need to fix this right away.

“But the cuts are a big deal,” he says, “because infectious disease outbreaks are increasing not decreasing, and we are becoming more interconnected, not less interconnected.”

And so, Jha says, the federal government is going in the wrong direction. “We should be increasing our investment in GHSA, not decreasing it,” he says. “The program is really a great bang for the buck.”

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London's Contemporary Jazz Scene Shines On 'We Out Here'

We Out Here pulls together the cream of the crop from London’s contemporary jazz world.

Brownswood Recordings/Courtesy of the artist

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Brownswood Recordings/Courtesy of the artist

The U.K.’s jazz scene is flourishing these days thanks, in part, to the young artists pumping it with new life. We Out Here, the latest compilation project from DJ and producer Gilles Peterson‘s indie label Brownswood Recordings, is a fitting proclamation of ownership from the contemporaries who are adding color to the landscape.

The project’s nine tracks were recorded in August 2017 over a three day period. Smooth and concise, this compilation is spearheaded by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, who is credited as musical director, and features sounds from Hutchings, Maisha, Ezra Collective, Moses Boyd, Theon Cross, Nubya Garcia, and more. Each song has a story of its own, but they all manage to flow together as if one surmounting jam session. “Pure Shade” by Ezra Collective seems to finds its foundation in Afrobeat, and there are accents of bossa nova in “Abusey Junction” by Kokoroko. Shabaka Hutchings’ “Black Skin, Black Mask” rides a rhythm defined only by an untamable clarinet.

We Out Here is a window into a world of London’s ripe jazz renaissance, one that will only spread to new shores as the year goes on.

We Out Here is available now via Brownswood Recordings.

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