Dirty South Bureau

September 9, 2009

Van Jones and the witch hunt

Filed under: Class,environment,Race — christian @ 11:53 pm

I know that my readers on this blog are expecting some sort of commentary or story on New Orleans, as this is the personae that has been created for Dirty South Bureau. My apologies for disappointing all of you, but there are moments when national issues have to be addressed.

The character assassination and subsequent resignation this previous weekend of Van Jones from Obama’s cabinet has me more and more angry the more that I think about it. Don’t get me wrong. Growing up watching the stilted, narrow, shallow and right-wing dominated terrain of national politics, I never would have dreamed that someone as cool as Van Jones would end up in a presidential cabinet. Call me crazy – but I just didn’t have that much faith in the people elected by the corporations with the consent of my fellow Americans.

It was too good to last. Van Jones was too much of a visionary for the overly cautious Obama, and now I suspect he has been thrown under the train the same way that Reverend Jeremiah Wright – whose great crime was to tell the truth about race in this country – was.

Van Jones has done something unprecedented for this country. He showed our country the relationships between the environment, race and poverty. More importantly, he articulated a positive vision for our future – which we have far too few of. A vision of inner-city people having good jobs creating energy options that would make the citizens of this country masters of our destinies – true energy independence. A vision of a more just economy and a greener future. A vision of solar panels rising over former crack houses. A vision we in a city like New Orleans need, and that many of us, in our work, follow.

And what is it that Jones’ great crime was, anyway? That he signed a petition that called for the Bush administration be investigating for potentially allowing 9-11 to happen? That he called Republicans assholes? That he is a closet Socialist, and that he was once a Communist?

I’ll take these one by one. First, I suspect the Bush administration of having allowed 9-11 to happen. There – I said it too. It may have happened before. Scholars still debate whether or not Roosevelt knew Pearl Harbor was going to happen. Among the crimes of the Bush Administration too numerous to mention, Cheney and Rumsfeld repeatedly ignored and fabricated intelligence as an excuse for war. We all knew there were no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” – yet they used this gross lie to invade Iraq. So why is it so improbably that they may have known about and ignored 9-11?

The Bush administration also essentially ignored our great disaster – the flooding of the city after Hurricane Katrina. I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Second, “asshole” is none too strong a word for members of a party that starts a $500 billion war that kills hundreds of thousands of people in a foreign country for no good reason, fails to rescue the victims of the worst natural/engineering disaster in our country’s history (post-K levee failures) or adequately help them recover, and then gives hundreds of billions to banks with few strings attached, against even their own “free-market” rhetoric. It is absurd that we allowed the Republicans to do this. Now we get excited about a four-letter word in describing a party that committed these and other crimes against humanity on this scale? Give me a break.

Finally, it appears that Van Jones once was a Communist. So what?

Are we back in the 1950′s again? Is the Communist Party really such a worldwide threat that we are in secret danger of them overthrowing our government? Look, I’ve studied the history of Communism. The Communist Party, led from Moscow, was seeking to overthrow governments worldwide in the 1950′s – but even that doesn’t excuse what we did, which was to ruin the lives of thousands of people in a meaningless purge. A lot of good people suffered because of “tail-gunner” Joe and his self-promoting escapades, and we are the worse for the loss of their contributions to our society. And this was at a time when the Communist Party was a real threat.

That was sixty years ago. Today, the Communist Party may take over Nepal, but it is in little danger of taking over anything in North America besides a few bookstores in the Lower East Side and in Madison, Wisconsin. The radical left is so thoroughly marginalized in this country it’s not even funny. Jones recognized that and got out, and now goes around the country talking about “green capitalism” – which if the right had any brains they’d pick up on, because it offers one of the only ways for the economic system they hold so dear to survive coming energy-induced catastrophes.

I have to wonder what planet the right-wingers are on, with their fantasies about Obama turning this country into a Socialist state. Give me a break. Cynical bastards like Limbaugh and Beck are feeding these fantasies to poor ignorant people who have never been out of this country and don’t know better.

But whether or not Obama forced Jones’ resignation, this is a serious strategic error. Giving in to the paranoid forces of reaction only makes them bolder, and now they will call for more and more in a genuine witch hunt. We are going back to the fifties. We are doing so because the Democratic leadership is full of cowards who continue to sell us down the river with their capitulations and compromises on the real issues, like health care reform and carbon regulation. And now we have lost the best member of the Obama administration at the behest of a lunatic fringe.

Where is Glen Beck’s vision of the future? More dependence on oil, until it leaves us in a profound economic and social crisis as it runs out? More wars? More inequality? More prisons? Fewer and fewer people having access to the skyrocketing cost of health care? More financial crises due to deregulation? More forced morality by the most immoral people in the country?

The right offers paranoia but no answers. The greatest irony of this whole escapade is that among the worst things that actual Communist regimes did in the 20th century was to conduct ideological witch hunts among their populations and leadership. And now the right is trying to do exactly the same thing.

It’s time real and decent people fought back, just like some of us did in the 1950′s, before this thing goes any further. Van Jones will go down in history as a great visionary, perhaps one who came before his time. I salute you, Mr. Jones. You are a real leader.

September 5, 2009

Blowout Charity second line report

Filed under: Charity,Class,Mid-City,New Orleans Politics,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 7:57 pm

Due to an even more than usually busy week, I am just now getting to posting about Monday’s second line for Charity Hospital. In a word, it was incredible. Official estimates are between 1,000 and 1,200 for the number of attendees. As with any event like this, we will never know for sure how many people attended. Suffice to say that it was easily the largest event yet to call for the re-opening of our public hospital, much larger even than the event where former Councilmember Oliver Thomas spoke in 2006.

Just as impressive to me as the overall numbers was the breadth of those who attended. From what I saw the crowd was 60/40 black to white. It is damned hard to get large numbers of African Americans and whites to anything together in this town, let alone to protest. But there we were. And I have to hand it to the organizers for doing a superb job in bringing together a wide range of groups and individuals. Big time salute to Eli, Jonah, Jacques and the whole team – finally we have some politicos in this town who know how to mobilize folks.

It was also just a plain good time. Rebirth and the Hot 8 rocked the streets. I’m telling you, if you want turnout for a protest, this is the way to do it. For those of you who aren’t in New Orleans, a second line is a street parade that we do, led by a brass band. Even the legendary Ernie K. Doe (who ranted on WWOZ about being born in Charity Hospital when he was a DJ) came back from the dead to join in the protest.

However, this was also serious business. LSU Health Sciences Center remains utterly committed to not rebuild in the Charity building, and to destroy a huge swath of Lower Mid-City so that they can build a hospital not associated with the Charity legacy. I honestly don’t know the political route the organizers are planning to use to change the game, but I do know that if they can maintain this kind of social pressure, they may find a way to change what even I had thought was a done deal.

Now, to dispel several myths propagated by right-wingers and ignorant folks like the racist trolls in the nola.com comment section:

Myth #1: the crowd was out of town young white privileged activists.

This is the same myth that I’ve heard, typically from folks from Jeff Parish and the North Shore, about many of the fights over public services in this city. In the fight against tearing down the big four public housing developments, there was a grain of truth (but only a grain) to this, as a small group of activists were invited in from out of town (against the advice of many of us here) Even in that fight, there were a large number of people who were born here or who lived here pre-storm. In many high profile events, it was safer for whites allies to be on the front lines instead of black residents of public housing, because 1. whites don’t get treated as harsh by the police and 2. we weren’t in danger of losing our temporary HANO accommodations for political activism.

However in this event, the dozens of people I knew were overwhelmingly people born in New Orleans or had been here a long time pre-storm. I feel like it’s pretty easy to spot the out-of-town activists, and I didn’t see anybody who fit the Common Ground-style bill. Mostly I saw a bunch of poor black folks and white New Orleanians who are damned pissed about the lack of access to affordable medical care in this city.

Not only that, but the sheer size of the march would have been very difficult to pull off with people bussed in from out of town.

This is a pernicious myth used to discredit important political movements, but it’s also problematic when people come to protest something they don’t really understand and don’t have to live with the way that locals do. However in this event I call bullshit on this myth.

Myth #2: Those in the march didn’t go to Charity Hospital for care and would never go to Charity.

Um, if I was shot or in a bad car wreck, Charity is absolutely where I would want to go. As Dr. Tlaloc Alfarez (the daughter of Mexican sculptor Enrique Alfarez who did the sculpture at Charity) noted, if the president was shot in New Orleans pre-storm he would have been sent to Charity. The level one trauma center was among the best in the country for dealing with these kinds of injuries. Also, if I had a loved one with a mental illness that I, my family and my community were unable to care for adequately, I would absolutely want them to go to the third floor of Charity. I would certainly rather have them in Charity than OPP, our default mental health facility where a beloved mentally ill woman died in January after being put in restraints.

I for one didn’t go there for checkups. Because I didn’t have medical insurance until a few years ago, I didn’t go anywhere for checkups, though I technically could have gone to Charity – assuming I passed the means testing. Since the storm I’ve used Common Ground Health Clinic. I am willing to bet that a large number of the hundreds of African Americans on that march did go to Charity – for everything.

I will also note that the march included a contingent of Charity Hospital doctors and nurses, and that since the storm a number of my friends – some of whom were in the march – have gone to the ER at University Hospital, in the Charity system, where the lines are long and the care is not what Charity provided.

So I call big-time bullshit on the right-wingers for that myth.

Myth #3 – We need the jobs that building a new hospital will provide.

Again, total and complete bullshit. Of course we need the jobs – but rebuilding a new, state of the art hospital in the shell of the Charity building will provide a similar number of jobs to tearing down Lower Mid-City and building a hospital there. Hell, if we follow the right on this piece of pure horse puckey, we might as well tear down the entire city to put people back to work – starting with the French Quarter.

Myth #4 – The organizers are proposing moving back into the old, dilapidated building in its current condition.

Actually, what the group at savecharity.com is proposing is that we build a new, state of the art hospital inside the Charity building – as proposed in the study commissioned by Foundation for a Historic Louisiana (FHL) . According to FHL, this option would provide us with a state of the art hospital in two years less time and cost $283 million less than LSU plans. This is also a far more environmentally friendly approach than building a new hospital, and again doesn’t require the destruction of a huge swath of Lower Mid-City.

So for those of you who are serious about getting adequate public health options back to this city, I strongly urge you to come to the September 19 music benefit at the Howling Wolf (8 pm), which marks four years since Donald Smithburg, then CEO of LSU HSC, illegally ordered the emergency cleanup crews out of Charity and closed the hospital, preventing it from being used to provide emergency medical care. Keep in mind that this was less than a month after the city flooded.



photos of the event