Dirty South Bureau

May 23, 2006

UC Berkeley Experts Explain: We’re Screwed

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Other,The Feds — christian @ 1:00 pm

In case you didn’t read this in the BBC or T-P: A group of forensic experts led by UC Berkeley put out a 738-page report about the failure of the levees during hurricane Katrina, explaining that “gross negligence” on all levels of the system has left us with a mostly useless levee system.

What was and still is missing from us having any sort of real protection, in the words of professor Raymond Seed, UC Berkeley, the head of the investigation team: lack of political will.

The second part of the presentation was done by a Robert Bea, but he was too boring a speaker for me to include his audio. Besides, his part of the report on the failure of the social and political systems involved ended up being flaccid, I suspect due to his long involvement with the various parties including the army corps of engineers and his age. They need to retire the guy. So he basically apologized profusely and told us with a lot of pictures what we already know- that the government on all levels has failed us.

Audio of professor Raymond Seed, UC Berkeley 1 2 3 conclusion

Read the full report (a 738-page .pdf)

May 22, 2006

Say Goodbye to the Old Guard

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 1:41 am

But first, the mayor’s race: Former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial called Ray Nagin’s victory “threading the needle”, and it was a remarkable political feat- Nagin, who was once the black candidate for white New Orleans, now wins with solid black support, metamorphosing from the big business candidate to the civil rights candidate. A performance, truly.

My good friend Sean Benjamin, the only founder of the Iron Rail Bookstore and Library that still is part of the collective, became obsessed with this election and has been spending his nights creating color coded maps of precinct results for all the elections in the last thirty years. Pretty weird for a guy ideologically opposed to electoral politics, but he’s had insomnia lately. Transposing the maps of the 2002 and 2006 mayoral races shows and eerie discovery- the map of precincts that had a majority of Nagin votes in 2002 are almost the exact opposite of the ones that have a Nagin majority in 2006, with the exception of parts of Gentilly and New Orleans East, which voted for Nagin both times. So essentially what this translates into is that Nagin got the white vote and the middle class black vote the first time, and this time got the majority of all the black vote and limited white support, which in this majority African-american city is what you need to win.

This is not to suggest that I supported Landrieu. Even though he might be able to get more support for New Orleans from Washington (the best reason to vote for him), his “connections” made many of us uneasy. We’ve had enough political dynasties in Louisiana, and enough insider politics.

Regardless, despite the big headlines I was paying more attention to the council races. The wicked witch of Algiers is no more- Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson was defeated by former New Orleans Saints manager Arnie Fielkow fifty-four to forty-six percent for the free Council-at-large seat. Since Clarkson doesn’t seem much interested in state politics and is old enough that she probably won’t run for council again in four years, we can say goodbye to Jackie. Highlights of Jackie’s last term: removing the benches from Jackson square, trying to make street performance illegal, and blocking Nagin’s list of trailer sites for evacuees in December. Bon voyage, Jackie.

But I’ve said enough bad things about Jackie Clarkson, and now that she is history, politically speaking, I feel the need to mention her good traits. No, seriously. Jackie has been a big supporter of historic preservation and also in keeping monstrously big hotels out of the French Quarter. Old timers who I’ve spoken to also mention how she stopped the expansion of the t-shirt and souvenir shops that line Bourbon and Decatur street that former District C councilmember Troy Carter (allegedly no relation to the newly elected James Carter) allowed, thus giving us the disnified version of New Orleans that we see on those streets in the quarter.

The big shocker was that Jay Batt lost to political newcomer Shelly Midura in District A. Batt, the only republican with any real position in New Orleans city government, was a big business shill who, along with Clarkson, blocked Nagin’s trailer list in December. His campaign ads suggested that Midura was going to build a housing project in Lakeview. Batt had a big lead in the primary, but apparently even Uptown, buoyed by parts of Mid-City, had enough of him.

And, lastly, defense attorney James Carter beat Jackie Clarkson’s ally Kristen Palmer in district C. So not only do we have a dark-skinned black man on the city council now, but the candidates of the I’ve-got-mine white propertied class in this city have been sent packing, both in downtown and uptown.

I can’t contain my shock or wonder at how all this happened. It appears that the old guard is finally been removed from city government, with the most regressive members of City Council gone.

Here’s the catch- we have four new city council members who we don’t know much about. In any larger race, candidates usually have articulated platforms on at least a few major issues and a voting record to support them. But city council is the amateur night of politics, and we have only a dim idea about what Fielkow, Carter, Midura, or Stacy Head (who beat Rene Gill-Pratt in district B) actually stand for.

But more importantly, things still have not fundamentally changed here. A council composed of slightly more progressive politicians does not change the fact that on the ground progressive political organizing is still in its infancy here. In a city with weak unions in a right to work state ACORN was the only such group that had any real membership before the storm. So we may have some superficial victories, but let’s not forget that this is the shell game of electoral politics and that things will not fundamentally change without the building of strong progressive organizations, a work that is much slower.

I’m not going to let that spoil my party though. The old guard is gone. Farewell, Jackie and Jay. You guys look a lot better from the rear view mirror.

May 19, 2006

An election, southern-style

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,Race,The Feds — christian @ 3:16 pm

It’s always amusing to me to hear the US crying foul about rigged elections in other nations (Ukraine comes to mind) when we do it so well, and these days so blatantly, right here at home. Unfortunately, this is still particularly true in the south.

The numbers for the April 22nd New Orleans municipal primary, which have been recently released, are not pretty. And from the answers that I got from the Secretary of State’s office yesterday, it seems like the runoff tomorrow will be the same. In the primary, only 31% of registered black voters actually cast a ballot, compared to 45% in the 2002 election (statistics courtesy of the LA secretary of state’s office). The joke here is that the Secretary of State seems to think there is nothing wrong with this election, though the blame must really go more on the feds.

Following is a conversation that I had with Damon Hewitt of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund yesterday about these issues for a radio show that we are about to launch locally.

Damon Hewitt 1 2

May 14, 2006

gentrification gets personal for the DSB

Filed under: Bywater,New Orleans Economy — christian @ 1:03 am

I’m a big believer in the part of quantum theory where perception changes the observed reality. I just don’t believe in pure objectivity. You can’t take yourself and your biases out of reporting any more than you can take your own presence out of anything that you do, and this I see as one of the main faults of the mainstream media- the projected illusion of objectivity hides the fact that there are very real biases being played out in coverage- predominantly middle-class white biases. It’s very easy to see that here in New Orleans, but there are others- pro laissez-faire capitalism biases, and pro-big business biases to name a few.

So let’s take that ball and get fully subjective for a moment.

As those of you who read my blog know, I live in the Bywater, the gentrified part of the ninth ward. We are also the only part of the ninth ward that did not flood substantially after Katrina. We are on high ground.

I was born on the interstate, on the west coast, grew up in a place that I cannot in any real way return to, and have lived all over the country. The Bywater is the only place in the world that I’ve ever thought about settling down in. It’s a lot of things- it’s the architecture, it’s the history- most of the buildings in the Bywater were built by similar groups of people as my ancestors (and, incidentally, most of America’s), working-class European immigrants in the mid to late nineteenth centuries. It’s also the way of life- poor and slow, decadent and funky. Maybe it’s even a nostalgia for a time in America that I was born too late to see, and that perhaps looks better from that perspective.

It’s also a network of people, of friends, of bars, of a demographic, of memories that are burnt indelibly in my skull. It is home.

Recently, events in my life have caused me to look for a new apartment. Even though I report on the circumstances of the housing crisis from a semi-detached reporter perspective, it hadn’t fully dawned on me how much my neighborhood had changed until now.

I found one place that was still reasonably priced through an old friend, $450 for a one-bedroom, and was told today by the landlord that I wasn’t professional enough.

Excuse me?

The irony of this is that among my friends I’m probably the most ‘professional’. Being a paid reporter with a second job to even out the fluctuations in my freelancing meant nothing. He said he wanted a ‘professional’ person with a stable job, whatever the fuck that meant- for a small dingy apartment with sloping floors and no vent in the bathroom. Right. I can just see the lawyers lining up now.

The other places that I have found are all outrageously expensive- nine hundred dollars for a two-room shotgun and son on.

This attitude on behalf of the landlord is hardly unique to this circumstance. There are people who are not welcome in this neighborhood anymore (where fucking Tom Waits used to live for christssakes) , and apparently I am one of them. If I can’t get a place as a freelance reporter and waiter, what does this say for a black person with a New Orleans public school education who, say, works in a kitchen or a hotel? The other day my friend who is an Emergency Room doctor and is looking to buy a house told me that he’d decided that the Bywater was too expensive for his price range. ???

This neighborhood has never really been affluent in its hundred and fifty or so year history until now. It was the last Bohemia- after the Mission in San Francisco, after Wicker Park in Chicago, after the Lower East Side, Williamsburg and Greenpoint in New York, after countless other neighborhoods went the way of yoga studios, lofts and art galleries it seemed you could still live in the ninth ward on a service industry job, or as a carpenter, or a musician, and many people did in the last twenty years. Only four years ago Morning 40 Federation was writing “Walking Through the Ninth Ward”, and yet when I hear girls in Mimi’s (a neighborhood bar, in the tiny part of the ninth ward in the Marigny) describing the Bywater as the wrong side of the tracks, I have to laugh.

The real “other side” and the color line is now the other side of St. Claude, and if we young white people move there, to a black residential neighborhood, we will not be welcome and will be displacing those who live there. But we’ll end up doing it. As a group, we will have to, or leave New Orleans. You can’t go Uptown, and Mid-City is in the same boat. But what other city will we go to?

I can’t tell you how many people I know are being forced out of the Bywater. One is sleeping on the couch in the room next to me, whose house got sold in April. She says this is just the way that it is, but I asked her where she is going and she doesn’t know either. I know- we’re white, and thus privileged, but we had a sense of home. Maybe it’s a good thing, in that it will radicalize us, that it will make us realize how fucked the economic system we are in really is when we are put us in the same boat as black New Orleans (hmm… wrong metaphor). Maybe we need this. But I for one question the old Marxist maxim that more dire circumstances force real change. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out where some sort of safe ground is.

(To get really shameless- if any of you know of any reasonable apartments anywhere downriver of Canal Street, support independent journalism in New Orleans and email me at c.roselund@gmail.com. Help me find an apartment and I’ll start doing tenant’s rights organizing part-time.)

May 11, 2006

Water to the Lower 9th

Filed under: Lower 9th Ward — christian @ 2:41 pm

Much of the lower 9th ward got water on Monday, more than eight months after last fall’s levee breaches and just in time for the mayoral runoff election. Good to see that Nagin cares so much about his people. In March Nagin offered the disingenous excuse that a lawsuit forcing the city to actually notify residents before bulldozing their homes caused much of the delay.

Also, to counter a common misconception, much of the area that got water service restored Monday, such as the Holy Cross neighborhood, is above sea level.

On Tuesday I interviewed lower 9th property owner and advocate Cora Charles in her home on Alabo street, where she has tacked a photo of a picturesque house and neatly kept garden to the front of the partially sheet-rocked structure, the same house nine months later. Charles, who evacuated for Betsy with her young sons, talks about Hurricane Betsy in 1965, her home, and the lack of leadership in the city. The interview was interrupted by the visit of a neighbor who is now living in Minnesota and had only been back once time before this.

Cora Charles on the failure of the government

full interview 1 2

May 8, 2006

brass and tourists

Filed under: New Orleans Economy,Other — christian @ 1:57 pm

Allright, so enough of this politics-wonk stuff about the coming election. Those of us who’ve had the luxury have been thinking more about music for the past two weeks anyway.

Jazz Fest ended on Sunday. I had forgotten why I don’t go to big concerts- because they are overpriced, though $45 per day is not as expensive as usual in the era of the Ticketmaster monopoly, but more because they attract an aging frat boy demographic, in this case hundreds of thousands of them. It’s depressing to look around you at the sea of folding canvas chairs, straw hats and t-shirts emblazoned with lame statements (my personal favorite was Homer Simpson inside a deadhead symbol- an admittance of the owner’s lack of creativity and intellect, or a statement about American cultural decline?) and to realize that these are the people who drive the New Orleans economy- whether at Jazz Fest or on Bourbon and Decatur streets. I know, this is our hustle, one that the whole city is in on- but having to deal with these fools must bring even the girls at Hustler Club down at times.

And the beer selection- since Miller was one of the main sponsors, you had to walk half a mile to get anything but Miller Lite at the one hidden but widely-used tap that had Pilsner Urquell, unadvertised of course. And I thought waiting in lines to get one standard, low quality product was something from the former Soviet Union.

Regardless, the music… Irma Thomas belting it out made the hairs on the back on my neck stand up. I have to admit that I often enjoy listening to recorded music more than the imperfections of live performances, especially ones this large, but Irma was tight.

As usual what was much better was the late night shows at the clubs. Fema Kuti was at One-Eyed Jacks, and Kermit Ruffins played at Blue Nile- both sharp performances, both on top of their game, but the highest praise I have to reserve for the Soul Rebels Brass Band who played at Café Brazil. There isn’t really a local band that I’ve gotten excited about since I first saw the Morning 40 Federation three years ago, and they’ve gotten boring. But the Soul Rebels one of those rare bands that pushes limits artistically and succeeds. The blending in of hip-hop, the contemporary New Orleans music into brass band, the old-school New Orleans music, is so natural as to seem obvious in afterthought and is done with grace and intelligence. And there is still something in there that I have to categorize as soul- at times the meter is slow enough and the horn section drops into moody melodies.

I don’t know what will happen with these guys, or if this will evolve into a style. It would be interested to see if anyone else can pull it off like they do.

May 6, 2006

The Mayor’s ‘Race’ Part 2: Back to Business

Filed under: Bywater,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 2:57 pm

The Dirty South Bureau has been a little slow lately, having taken a well-earned break during jazz fest (well, OK, I had to get a second job to support my freelancing). But I haven’t been out of it enough to not notice Rob Couhig endorsing Ray Nagin. This goes against my theory that in a post-Katrina racial frenzy both black and white people are voting against their economic self-interest this election (see the first part of The Mayor’s ‘Race’), thanks to Rob Couhig remembering where his bottom line and the bottom line of his supporters lie. So maybe now we can get back to big-business Ray Nagin v. democratic party machine Mitch Landrieu, which is a less hysterical way to look at things than black v. white, but also boring.

Of course, the Louisiana Weekly had led the way on this one with their editorial on why black people should vote for Landrieu, which was a less courageous stand to take than, say, endorsing Tom Watson, but was a sensible argument against Nagin.

This endorsement also narrows Landrieu’s lead over Nagin, and the race heats up. And I am reminded that all the descriptive terms that we use for political campaigns can also be used for horse races, which is how I tend to see not only this race but electoral politics in general, a day at the track, only with serious but mostly pre-ordained consequences.

Personally, I am much more concerned with the City Council seats which is our opportunity to defeat the Clarkson cabal- because as much as Gisselson-Palmer tries to distance herself, she is Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson’s hand-picked successor. More importantly, she is supported by the same people- Algiers Point, the French Quarter, and the gentrifricationists in the Bywater and Marigny. Palmer is trying to distance herself publicly from Jackie because Jackie’s support has fallen so much, particularly in the downtown part of District C, and I fear that many who are not as aware may fall for it.

However, her opponent Carter had a wide lead in the primary- 32%. Let’s just hope that everyone who voted for former council member Mike Early doesn’t go to Palmer- which unfortunately is likely. Incidentally, it would warm my heart to see a dark-skinned black man like Carter on New Orleans City Council. Maybe then you could think that we’ve made it to the twentieth century at last.

The HMS Clarkson herself is running for Council-At-Large against Arnie Fielkow, former VP of the Saints for the council-at-large seat. Recently several candidates who didn’t make the runoff against Clarkson endorsed Fielkow, but Clarkson has good name recognition, is already on the City Council. Tight race.

For those of you not familiar with New Orleans politics, why do I hold such personal enmity for Jackie? Let’s see… removal of the benches from Jackson Square (we got them put back)? An attempt to make street performers illegal?… no those all pale in comparison to what she and Jay Batt from district A in Uptown did in December. These two humanitarians held up Nagin’s plan for ninety-some public trailer sites for eighty-one hundred trailers, thus giving FEMA the excuse that they needed to do nothing. The reason- Jackie didn’t want trailers on a sites like golf courses.

Does this qualify as pure evil?

Incidentally, when Nagin is criticized for not working with City Council, I am reminded that there are things that I like about the man, because with the current composition of the council, it can be nothing but a virtuous stand.