Dirty South Bureau

June 6, 2011

Open letter to Louisiana Congressman John Fleming (R-Minden)

Filed under: energy,environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 1:05 pm

I was greatly disappointed by the lack of vision or even contact with reality betrayed by your statements at a recent U.S. House Natural Resource Committee hearing, where you stated that you had never met anyone who has a green job.

I am one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who has a green job, writing about the global solar industry. This industry alone employs 93,000 Americans.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century estimates that there were 3 million renewable energy jobs globally in 2009.

It is true that many states, particularly Louisiana, do not have the share of green jobs that we could have – largely due to the actions the Republican Party, of which you are a member, at the national level, and of a painful lack of foresight by politicians from both parties in Louisiana.

However, even here green job growth is a reality on the ground. Notable examples include Blade Dynamics’ plans for a new factory in New Orleans East to make wind turbines, which will create 600 jobs by 2015 with an average salary of $48,000 annually.

In recent weeks, Alexandria metal manufacturer AFCO Industries received one of its largest orders ever for an estimated 37 truckloads of aluminum for a solar energy project in California.

We have a stark choice in Louisiana as to whether we will join in the global energy revolution, or be left behind. The lack of vision shown by leaders including yourself puts the future of the state at great risk.

Christian Roselund
New Orleans

March 2, 2011

Busting open-air costume sales is not fixing the city’s problems: an open-air letter to Mayor Landrieu and Police Chief Serpas

Filed under: culture,New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics — christian @ 12:52 am

Dear Mayor Landrieu, Police Chief Serpas,

I was very disappointed to read that police and/or agents from the City’s Department of Revenue have shut down an open-air costume sale in a Frenchman Street nightclub. New Orleans has many extremely serious problems. Unlicensed costume vending is not generally considered to be among them.

This occurrence is particularly distressing given the wave of extreme violent crimes which have occurred less than a mile from the club where Ms. McCree was selling costumes. The NOPD faces a serious crisis of legitimacy from its inability to keep our citizens safe. Such actions reinforce the cynical view, which many of our citizens hold, that the NOPD does little more than revenue collection.

It feels odd to remind both of you that our city is known for its laissez-faire lifestyle and culture. The use of commercial spaces for multiple uses is important for our rich cultural life. It is also clear that “special event” permit fees are too high for many independent businesspersons like Ms. McCree to afford, and represent repression of small businesses. Small entrepreneurs are not likely to obtain expensive, obscure licenses for simple events, and killing cultural events like costume sales does not build the cultural economy upon which our city depends economically.

It is also odd that the City of New Orleans is hassling Ms. McCree, whose fashion innovations via “Righteous Fur” have earned the city rare good press in New York City and other locations, instead of the usual stories of, among other things, being the murder capital of the nation. You would think that the City of New Orleans would recognize that Ms. McCree is a cultural ambassador of the creativity of our citizens, and a treasure.

I encourage both of you to get your priorities straight, to deal with the real criminals and to leave artists and impromptu events on Frenchman Street alone.


Christian Roselund

May 13, 2010

Notes on a Disaster, part 2

Filed under: culture,environment,New Orleans Economy,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 1:11 pm

Readers will pardon the delay in delivering part 2 of Notes on a Disaster. Ten days is a long time in many disasters; however in this one it isn’t. Not only does oil continue to gush, unchecked, from the ocean floor, but we are going to be living with this spill for a long, long time.

Before I get into the meat of this post, what have we learned in the last few weeks?

1.BP could find out better estimates of how much oil is leaking, but either won’t or won’t share what they do know courtesy of NPR.

2.The air quality in Plaquemines Parish is f***ed courtesy of chemist Wilma Subra and Louisiana Environmental Action Network. The amounts of hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds are hundreds of times the levels for physical reactions.

3.While offshore drilling carries significant inherent risks, BP fucked up really bad on this one, and the lack of regulation is finally being noticed by the media. Which goes to my point in part 1 about thirty years of dismantling health, environmental and safety regulations, led by the Republican Party, unchecked by weak institutions of organized labor. Failures of batteries, blowout preventer, Ongoing failures of regulation.

4.Containment will be harder than we hoped.

5.No one wants to tell us what the oil dispersants will do to our health (courtesy of LEAN).


Louisiana, Oil and the Spectacle

Oil is far from the only industry in South Louisiana. Very significantly, we have an enormous tourist industry; when conventions are included this is estimated to be about $5 billion in the city of New Orleans alone. And while much of the tourism hinges around the reputation of the City of New Orleans as a place of wildness and decadence, the culture of the region largely the music and the food are perhaps more important. In the rural areas, food and music absolutely are the draws.

However, as Gulf Restoration Network often points out with their No Coast No Music festival and advertisements, the music is a product of the land of South Louisiana. If this is true of music, it is moreso true of food.

The oil industry burrows itself into the cultural economy, to assure that when these contradictions do emerge, they are insulated. The largest example is Shell Oil’s sponsorship of Jazz Fest, New Orleans’ second largest tourist draw (after Mardi Gras) and a PR extravaganza for Shell. Shell has used their sponsorship of this festival in the past to try and muzzle musicians like Dr. John, who has been outspoken about the way that the oil industry has ruined the coast. Gulf Restoration Network has also used the festival as a public education opportunity, flying planes with banners over the festival asking Shell to Hear the music fix the coast you broke.

There is also the function of keeping the spectacle going as a way to prop up the city’s economy and a distraction from the very serious realities of life in South Louisiana. Everybody likes music and food, and we are masterful down here at living Le Bon Temps while the world sinks around us.

Jazz Fest is not the only place the Oil Industry inserts itself into the cultural landscape. Every September, the city of Morgan City, in the heart of Bayou Country near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River holds the (yes, this is real) Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. It will be interesting to see how well attended that festival is this year.

But perhaps the most cynical move by the oil industry is creation of the America’s Wetlands organization; a faux-grassroots effort by big oil to pressure the federal government to put money into fixing South Louisiana’s wetlands so that they won’t have to. Tragically, since locals have organized few other mechanisms to address these needs and America’s Wetlands is so well funded, many locals in South Louisiana will half-heartedly support the effort even though they know it is a sham.


Our addiction to fossil fuels: policy

When faced with a disaster of this scale, people want quick answers. But America didn’t get into this addiction easily and even under the best case scenarios we won’t get out of it easily. We can’t just stop offshore oil drilling we have to reduce our use of petroleum, otherwise that oil will have to come from somewhere. The best moves we can make to change this dependence will take decades.

It was a series of policy moves over decades at the national level that created this monster. Where shall we start? Autmobilies were emerging on their own as a popular product in the early 20th century, but there were a few steps along the way where they got a little help in taking over our landscape.

How about the Great American Streetcar Scandal where Standard Oil, Mac Truck, Firestone Tires and other companies got together to buy up the mass transit in 45 cities, so they could destroy them?1

Better yet, the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950′s and 1960′s the creation of the world’s most aggressive automobile and truck infrastructure paid for with our tax money.

Let’s not forget the building of the roads system in our national forests, which subsidized big timber and left us with more miles of publicly constructed roadways than the insterstate highway system.

It is ironic that the free-market right supports the oil and nuclear industries, pretending that they came to dominance by the rule of the market, when in fact they were greatly assisted by specific policy decisions. Big government intervened heavily to create a dependence upon the automobile and fossil fuels. In making these arguments free-market ideologues are denying the historical reality that got us here.


Policy, Energy and Infrastructure

The policy decisions that we are making today are likewise crucial, and it is here that the Left has an important role.

Marxist-Leninist regimes are not known for progressive environmental policies (with the significant exception of post-1991 Cuba); however the Social-Democratic Left has been a world leader. When looking at the rise of the solar industry, many are quick to forget the policy that started in Denmark and Germany and has been replicated across Europe, the feed-in tariff, was passed in both countries by coalitions of Greens and Socialists. Because of the feed-in tariff not only has Europe installed 80% of solar panels used globally (not to mention dozens of offshore wind parks and other renewable development), but they have essentially created a booming global industry.

Likewise, the battles in the United States over policies that move us away from fossil fuel dependencies have been in recent years a battle between the left and the right of the extremely narrow American political spectrum. Spurred on by a large if problematic environmental movement, the Democrats in congress under Obama’s leadership have passed policies that are extremely important first steps for moving away from this dependency.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus package) in particular has supplied funding for both passenger rail and renewable energy development. And while much more is needed for the kind of wholesale changes in our mode of life, these moves have been groundbreaking. Let’s not forget that in doing so, Obama was influenced strongly by a former self-described communist – Van Jones. Again the left has led, but this time, it has found institutional support in Obama’s administration.

Likewsie, the Republican Party and the Blue Dog Democrats like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu have blocked significant progress on policies that would move us away from this dependency. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal even rejected stimulus money intended for passenger rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Republican and moderate Democratic politicians, elected by voters nationwide including in Louisiana, are keeping this addiction going.

However, it is a national addiction and most of the oil that is coming out of Louisiana is not going to Baton Rouge or Lafayette it is going all over the nation, including to cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, Madison, Wisconsin, Boulder, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, full of smug progressives and liberals, who, even if they don’t drive, live the rest of their lives on our petroleum infrastructure. Louisiana has a tragic relationship to the oil industry that in many ways is like an abused spouse. But it is extremely important not to blame the victims here.

The world is already moving in this direction. But we won’t get there by alienating poor and working people, or by blaming the victims. Some of the solutions, like a move to biomass from agriculture and forestry wastes for a portion of electricity production, will upset environmental fundamentalists but will be extremely important for the Deep South.

Van Jones has set an excellent example in his call for Green Jobs. There is a way to move away from fossil fuels and create a more broadly prosperous society. It is time for Louisiana to become a leader again, like we were in the 1930′s.

May 4, 2010

Notes on a disaster: Louisiana pays again for our nation’s oil addiction

Filed under: environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 9:05 pm

Like many people in South Louisiana, I have been utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster represented by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. To witness another catastrophe of this scale, less than five years after post-Katrina levee failures, is almost too much to comprehend. There is a tendency to block it out; to think that this really can’t be happening. But it is.

News accounts will talk of leaked memos, of containment strategies, of the small armies of volunteers and of the volume of oil. Thousands of barrels per day. First it was 1,000, then 5,000, and on April 30 we find out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thinks we could be facing a leak ten times that size, of 50,000 barrels per day. The numbers begin to lose meaning, because the truth is that we are screwed.

But this volume of oil is the only real thing. All the containment strategies are too late, the fires ineffective, the same with the dispersant chemicals.

A question of scale

This disaster didn’t happen on April 20. It happened long before, and all of this was just waiting. It is difficult to disaggregate how much of this is the result of safety failures on the part of BP and how much is the inherent risk we run with offshore drilling. This particular rig had a series of accidents, yet still was drilling offshore wells that set records for their depth. Obviously better safety procedures lower the risk of these kinds of accidents; but sooner or later, people make mistakes. In the offshore oil industry, like the nuclear industry, it is the magnitude of the consequences of these mistakes that is damning.

We’ve been sowing the seeds of this for roughly a century, by building an economy on the use of finite fossil fuel resources, which we now must go farther and farther to find, and by under-developing the regions where we extract these mineral resources, including lax workplace and environmental safety concerns.

And in the absurdity of this disaster, this is perhaps the most absurd thing; that we are so intently focused on utterly ineffectual short-term responses. It is not surprising that there is a lack of larger analysis in our short-attention span corporate media. Not surprising, but a dis-service nonetheless.

Multiple disasters

In this immediate, dramatic disaster, there is the background of the other, slower disaster: land loss in South Louisiana, accelerated by canals cut through the wetlands by oil companies for petroleum exploration and navigation. Non-profit Gulf Restoration Network estimates that we have lost 50% of the wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico already. Others throw around figures about how long it takes to lose a football-field sized chunk of land (under an hour).

But all of that is abstract until you stand on the edge of brackish water where people’s homes and businesses once were. Because this land loss has not only meant that South Louisiana residents, including in the city of New Orleans, are more vulnerable to hurricanes, but the displacement of entire communities. For those who live in South Louisiana and are flooded every time a major hurricane comes, sometimes every few years, it means a losing battle to hold on to land, community and ultimately culture.

The oil companies have never been held accountable for their role in this other, slower disaster. With the Horizon Deepwater leak, the livelihoods of many in these communities is on the line. Louisiana produces a large portion of the United States’ wild seafood. This seafood boiled shrimp, oysters fried and raw, crabs, seafood gumbo is an important part of the culture of South Louisiana, and has been a family business for many in rural South Louisiana for generations. The oyster beds offshore of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes are already closed. We don’t know when they will open again. Shrimpers have already filed a lawsuit. Many shrimpers and oystermen, who have had to fight rising fuel costs, hurricanes and floods, and in the case of shrimpers, dumping of farm-raised shrimp from other nations, are now out of work again. Again this time, more will look for work elsewhere. In a cruel irony, many who have been forced out of shrimping have gone to work on the offshore oil rigs.

Louisiana as an underdeveloped petro-state

It may be hard to understand this outside of the Deep South, but it is not really that surprising that when this happened, that South Louisiana was the first place to be affected. The oil industry has been doing whatever it wants down here in our home-grown banana republic for a long time.

Huey Long, who created the foundation of modern Louisiana, was the first political leader to take on big oil and win substantial victories. Long paid for much of the economic modernization of the state (importantly roads and bridges) and the undergirding of social reproduction (schools, hospitals, textbooks) with oil money. He succeeded in using a portion of the mineral revenues to help create a mildly social-democratic order in the state, but failed to ever really control the oil companies. Long’s approach was not to nationalize, but, as he had said of the nation’s millionaires, to file their nails and let them live.

This petro-populist approach may have won some victories for poor and working people, but it left a legacy of a state dependent upon mineral revenues, and politicians who are utterly sold out to big oil companies. It has been a long time since Louisiana had strong labor unions, so the forces to counter these tendencies have been few and weak. Our right to work laws and anti-union culture have prevented unions from seizing the power that is necessary to bring workplace safety to the forefront, as unions have in other states. It’s common knowledge that the oil industry in refining and petrochemical processing gets sweeter deals and more leeway here in Louisiana, particularly in terms of environmental enforcement and health and safety.

The results of this oil fiefdom, coupled with a dismantling of health, safety and environmental laws at the national level over the last 30 years, leaves us in a situation where these kinds of disasters are entirely predictable. Dismantling regulations seems so distant and arcane, and yet ultimately these are the results.

December 12, 2009

The value of life: Jacquian and the Iraqi dead

Filed under: Class,Media,New Orleans Economy,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 9:41 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about the different value that we, a society assign to different human lives; how some lives, such as the lives of white people from affluent families, are seen as almost infinitely valuable, and how others, such as the lives of young black men from low-income neighborhoods, are treated as almost infinitely cheap. This is hardly news, but we, myself included, end up getting so used to this paradigm that after a while we don’t even notice that we have internalized these values.

One of the reasons that I have thought about this is the untimely death of Jacquian Charles, a young man who worked in the workforce training program at my day job. Jacquian was murdered shortly before Thanksgiving in Algiers, and the Times-Picayune story that ran after his death was boilerplate young-black-man-with-criminal-record-is killed-in-New Orleans.

Now I understand that writers some times have difficulty finding biographical information for stories, especially those written on short deadline. My non-profit wrote a letter to the editor that offered to augment the information in the article by telling readers about the Jacquian that his co-workers and friends knew; a hard-working, kind, humble man who was trying to turn his life around and provide a future for his children. As of the writing of this blog post, the T-P has yet to print this letter.

I have to contrast this treatment of Mr. Charles to the sensationalized stories that come our from time to time, such as when the young white woman went missing in Bermuda a few years ago, that are all over the television and the papers for weeks on end. I understand why different news outlets run this story: it’s good for ratings and ultimately ad sales. We, especially those of us who are affluent enough to be good to advertise to, are titilated and intrigued by sexual/violent fantasy images of the danger to this young woman’s virtue and life by dangerous dark-skinned savages.

But that doesn’t excuse anything, especially not on our part.

Several young black men die in poor neighborhoods every week in New Orleans. Their lives are trivialized by the poor educations they receive, by the low wages that are available to them in the tourist industry, and by a society that tells them that if they don’t have money they aren’t worth a damn. And these lives are further trivialized by the treatment they receive in the press, particularly the Times-Picayune.

I have to wonder how much of this is the result of a society that, particularly since the 1980′s, has taken a turn towards turning as many aspects of our lives as possible over to the market. I have to wonder if our net worth (including realized or unrealized cultural and intellectual capital) has become the sole social yardstick of our human worth.

A particularly egregious example of this is the dead from the Iraq War. And I am not talking about the U.S. Soldiers, who are meticulously counted. I am talking about the hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless Iraqi men women and children who have died since we invaded their county seven and a half years ago. We don’t even know how many have died; though a 2006 study put this number at around 655,000.

Every American that dies is this senseless war is a tragedy. But I refuse as a human being to value the lives of Americans above the lives of others. It is a tragedy that over 4,000 American men and women have died in Iraq. But the Iraqi deaths are a tragedy of a far greater magnitude because so many more Iraqis have died.

But who cares about Iraqis? They are poor, brown heathens. They are camel jockeys, sahibs, sand niggers. Just like when we bombed North Vietnam and Cambodia, we were only killing gooks not the ivory-skinned princes and princesses of Connecticut and Texas, California and Kansas. Just like the thugs in our city, their lives are cheap to us.

This attitude is an affront to our humanity. When we value one life above another because of wealth, skin tone and/or nationality, we do something obscene.

My condolences to the family of Jacquian Charles and of every young person who has died of violence in this city.

April 26, 2009

Jazz Fest and Ghetto Business Acumen

Filed under: Class,Mid-City,New Orleans Economy — christian @ 12:16 am

I’ll admit it: I love Jazz Fest. This may seem surprising, as every year about this time my neighborhood is invaded by large numbers of horrid frat boy types and their equally noxious female equivalent, who swarm across town like lemmings to hear overpriced music. They are awful, it is true. On Friday I was cursing all their known ancestors as I was blocked from my local coffee shop by a horde of them dancing badly (a consistent trait) to a Mardi Gras Indian performance.

Side note: I am totally uninterested in Mardi Gras Indians. Blasphemy, you say? Well, listen. With all the aspects of black culture in New Orleans that we white people have already approximated, the ones that are left are usually just not our business. Which is exactly how I (don’t) relate to the Mardi Gras Indians. Yes, the historical relationship between Native Americans and African Americans is interesting in an abstract way, but not one that relates to me. Furthermore, anytime the Indians go out in public there is such a swarm of photographers, videographers and assorted assholes following them down the street that it is just Not Fun Anymore.

Yes, on Friday I was disgusted by this whole thing, but 24 hours later I have changed my tune. Because I have been reminded of the beauty of Jazz Fest: the hustle.

This morning I was sitting, minding my own business on a friend’s steps in the 9th Ward. I was working out the details of some carpentry she has asked me to do on her house, and I was idly sketching away at details. Out of the blue a pickup truck stops, and the yat driving it asks if I am interested in any seafood or wild meat.

Wild meat?

I get up to look, and in the bed of his pickup he has several coolers. The yat (let’s call him Franky) tries repeatedly to sell me alligator meat. Not very interesting. I have my eye on the venison sausage, but it’s overpriced. So we open the next cooler, which has cowan turtle and frog legs (getting warmer). And there, buried underneath, are two large freezer bags containing strange creatures with long, flat teeth. He is selling gutted and skinned nutria, and at a decent price.

Franky is talking a mile a minute. He’ll sell me the turtle meat, has other coolers full of shrimp, catfish and trout. When I ask about the nutria, he quickly and slightly nervously explains that they are clean creatures, that they’re vegetarians and mostly eat grass.

So this is how I end up buying a frozen nutria out the back of a pickup in the 9th ward. That, and a pack of frozen turtle meat.

His prices were a little high (probably Jazz Fest prices), but you have to admire the sheer initiative of someone who obtains all these bizarre meats and then literally drives around the neighborhood, looking for people to sell them to. I have to wonder, does he hunt the nutria himself?

This sort of activity is not unique, and springs from an entrepreneurial spirit combined with a lack of enforcement of law, in this case FDA regulations. We have several home-made pie sellers in the city, including the famous pie lady, who is known for her beautiful voice as much as her pies. And the sweet potato pies I used to buy in Algiers Point before the storm were out of this world.

I decided I’d best get back to Mid-City to refrigerate my newfound treasures, however along the way I was waylaid by an excellent sidewalk sale. An older gay man sitting peacefully on his stoop, selling a set of gorgeous antiques including a porcelain cup with cocaine inlaid in gilt lettering, chinoiserie lamps and a hand-woven rug Iranian rug at a steal of a price.

So this is how I came into the quandry of how to get an antique Chinese lamp, a frozen nutria and a package of turtle meat home on a bicycle, an issue which was later fully resolved by my ladyfriend’s mechanically marginal Isuzu station wagon. But I digress…

Anyway, upon returning to Mid-City, I found that my neighbors were engaged in similar pursuits. The folks with the large white house down White Street were selling parking, as well as t-shirts that were arranged on their fence. An older couple on White towards Orleans had an umbrella and coolers full of seven kinds of beer. Even the daughter of the only white family on St. Phillip between White Street and Broad was selling kool-aid. The parents admitted to me that setting up during Jazz Fest was the daughter’s idea. Merely by growing up in New Orleans, she already has the instinct.

Of course, my ladyfriend and a housemate were at that time in restaurants, working the tourists for tips. Another housemate was selling them artwork in the Quarter. I can’t even count how many people I ran into in the last 24 hours in some way cashing in. In short, much of the city is hustling in one way or another, including in my neighborhood.

The prevailing suburban racist/classist wisdom, such as can be heard on right-wing talk radio, is that people in the ghetto just need to learn to be productive citizens, that welfare has sapped their ingenuity, and that they are plain lazy. I say bullshit. There is plenty of creativity on my street, and the moment a dollar comes anywhere near this neighborhood, there is an outright mobilization to seize it. Frankly, people in low-income neighborhoods like mine are the most resourceful people I’ve ever seen. Have you ever seen a white suburban kid set up shop in a gas station and sell CDs out of his trunk? Do you think GW Bush did this as a teenager? Sure, when they get money too many of my neighbors throw it away on showy garbage like fancy rims. But in terms of initiative, there in no lack.

Earlier in the week I overheard two young disgruntled men talking in restaurant, pondering the viability of kidnapping tourists for profit. The one with the wandering eye noted that as tourists are apparently not dissuaded by how dangerous this city is, that you could probably get one or two every few years without even upsetting the tourist industry.

At present, my friends and neighbors seem to feel there is enough surplus to be had, and they will get any piece of it they can. All the tourists from Texas, the Midwest, and everywhere else will help fatten wallets for the lean summer, and I can love them for it. Because this, to me, is beautiful.

April 7, 2009

My Fascist Neighbors

Filed under: Class,Mid-City,New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 10:59 pm

I’ve been trying to stay away from planning.

Now that my day job involves energy policy, it’s been nice to be in a different fray, at least for a little while. It is a tremendous relief to not have to deal with the mind-numbing boredom of endless meetings and constant internecine conflicts that defined my experience of the official planning process of this city.

However, last night, to my chagrin, a Mid-City Neighborhood Organization (MCNO) meeting that I was attending for entirely different reasons was hijacked by a huge fracas over The Master Plan.

I didn’t stay for the whole thing, thank God. Technically I live in Bayou St. John, and am outside the purview of MCNO. However I stayed long enough to be again depressed by the viciousness and lack of charity that my neighbors (my fascist neighbors) displayed.

As a disclaimer, I have no official stance on The Master Plan. I haven’t read it. I’m terribly glad to hear that it would level the I-10 over Claiborne, reversing (decades late) one of the most obscene and destructive planning decisions ever imposed on an American city. But as for the rest of the plan, you’ve got me. I’m sorry. I sat through Bring New Orleans Back, Lambert, and the ungodly Unified New Orleans Plan process (the final form of which which turned out OK after all). By the time Blakely was mapping out his target recovery areas, I was already extremely fatigued. So I’ve had the luxury of not looking at this plan much.

But what I did see was the crazed response of My Fascist Neighbors to the suggestion that parts of Mid-City might be zoned to allow for multi-family dwellings. Several speakers articulated the real fear: that poor people would move in near them, just when their property values where skyrocketing. Those who spoke were besides themselves with self-righteousness and anger, in a way that would have been comical were it not so cruel.

Now I should also explain that Mid-City is a mixed neighborhood; poor, working class, middle class, black and white. It defines easy explanation. I can think of no part that it truly affluent or as poor as the 9th Ward; as the name suggests, it is kind of… in the middle.

Last night at the MCNO meeting you did not see the diversity of Mid-City. You say overwhelmingly white people. The people who spoke the loudest were the people who always see it as their God-given right to speak: property and business owners (side note: I will never, ever eat at Liuzza’s after watching the scene the owner of that establishment made). I will note that the president of MCNO did a very good job of handling the speakers, who often behaved like over-sized children.

And let’s be clear about something else. When my Fascist Neighbors were speaking about poor people and low-income housing, they were talking about black people. The vast majority of poor people in New Orleans are black. “Poor” and “low-income” have become code words for low-income African-Americans.

I could hardly contain my wonder. Really, folks, get over it. You live in an urban area. Density and racial diversity are parts of living in a city, and medium density is normal for the center of an urban area. And besides, as both the president of MCNO and the planners explained, zoning is not the decision to approve a specific development or building. It is merely a decision as to what kinds of buildings and businesses can be built in any given area.

It became very clear last night that the people who are making this a whiter, more affluent city are not just the Pres Kabacoffs and Joe Canizaros. It is not even big-time property owners like the Marcellos. These are in many cases the owners of apartments and small businesses. And if they get their way, they will make sure that many of those displaced by the Hurricane never come back, and that all of our rents will go up in their lust for property values. I will note that one reason that San Francisco is unlivable for ordinary people is that property owners have banded together in neighborhood groups to assure that no medium density housing is ever built, effectively exiling the poor from that city.

There were a number of progressives and radicals in the room: Brod Bagert, Jr. of the Jeremiah Group, Shana Griffin of INCITE and her partner Brice White, Brad Ott, champion of Charity hospital, educational activist Amelia LaFont, Bart Everson to name a few. All were silent when I was there. I wondered if they knew how many of their fellows were there to back them up.

Because we are here, and we live here, too. And it’s time we get together.

September 2, 2008

Going Home? (Evacuation Part III)

Filed under: Media,New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics,We Are Not OK — christian @ 12:30 am

First off, props to the ACE for the levee repairs. Even if it doesn’t really make up for the last forty-some years, at they worked well enough to save us this time, and that means a lot.


So after the drama of levee over-topping and watching Anderson Cooper hanging out in the French Quarter for the last 24 hours in a desperate attempt to get news (or at least entertainment), the latest is that Mayor Ray Nagin may not allow us back in to the city for several days.

This must be a bad joke. The stated reasons: because the power is out? Are you kidding? What do you think life was like in neighborhoods like the ninth ward for the first six months after Katrina?

Or that there are downed power lines? Oh, because weve never seen those in New Orleans.

Or because the health care infrastructure might not be adequate? What? Did I miss something? We have a health care infrastructure?

If there was anything that worked in the city of New Orleans, I might be a little less skeptical. But our roads look like four-wheel drive trails (been down Paris Avenue lately?), we pay absurd sums to Entergy every month, Im more scared of the cops than I am of the drug dealers, and the only thing that I can think that is working right now is the levees.

Nagin apparently will allow those working in “essential businesses” back in to New Orleans a day earlier. I mean, I get it- we need folks to fix the power, man the water plant, repair gas lines, etc. But the irony of that statement is killing me. In the economy we’ve constructed, daiquiri shops are the closest thing we have to an essential business. Maybe if we had “essential businesses” in the city of New Orleans (other than the port), we wouldnt be in the economic shape that we are in.

I also found it offensive watching that moron Cooper congratulating Nagin for the orderly evacuation. Most people I know got themselves out, because we were terrified of what would happen if it was left to the city. And if the city was emptied out easier this time, it is in part because half of New Orleans pre-Katrina poor no longer live here, something that Mayor Nagin is at least complicit in if not directly responsible for.

The only thing worse than the government’s failure to supply essential services are the things that are done ostensibly for our own good, like keeping us out of our city unnecessarily. I know very few people who live in New Orleans who don’t have survival skills, and I for one want to go home.

And we wonder why some people don’t evacuate.

April 15, 2008

Mixed Income

Looking back recently, I’ve realized that in all the rush to fight the impending demolition of public housing as we know it in New Orleans, that I and others have never really taken the time to explain the specifics of why we oppose the demolitions. Maybe it just seemed to obvious that the demolition of hundreds of units of livable housing was simply too absurd and too wrong to even bother to explain given the institutionalized displacement of over one hundred thousand residents of New Orleans and the severity of the housing crisis that we are experiencing.

But it is worth explaining, and the details are important.

First, let me be clear that I speak only on behalf of myself and that others in the movement to stop the demolitions may disagree with me on some or all of these points.

Some may be surprised to hear that both I and some other allies of public housing residents agree that mixed income developments are a better strategy for public housing than the old, Fordist warehousing of poor people. Yes, you heard me right— concentrating large numbers of poor people in massive developments may have seemed OK in the 1930’s- 1950’s, but I don’t believe it is a good idea today.

As a caveat, I don’t think concentration of poverty is at the root of the social ills that policymakers describe in their rush to destroy public housing. Policymakers are frequently confusing the problems of concentration of poverty with the problems of poverty itself. For instance, there is violence around the drug trade in low-income communities in many American cities. This is true if the poor are concentrated or spread out; in fact since the mixing up of returning New Orleanians post-storm there is generally more violence, reflected in our higher per-capita murder rate. No amount of moving people around in the shell game that we call our housing policy has changed that.

Why then, are we opposed to the demolition of public housing if it results in mixed-income redevelopments? First, because it doesn’t.

There is simply no reason to believe that any of the entities involved in the redevelopment of public housing— developers, the assorted opportunistic non-profits or HANO/HUD— have any intention of allowing the vast majority of the poor who lived in these developments pre-storm to return to the new developments. Developers like Columbia Residential, who has the contract for the St. Bernard Redevelopment, are corporations like any other and exist to turn a profit. It is simply more profitable to skew the numbers to create more “market-rate” units, and it is easier to sell, lease and rent these units for larger profits if there are fewer poor people living near by.

These sort of mixed-income developments could potentially work if there was stringent government oversight of the process to assure compliance with an income mix that allowed the majority of low-income residents to return. This approach appears to have worked in such cities as San Francisco, where the Valencia Gardens Development appears to be a successful HOPE VI redevelopment.

However, can anyone argue that known crooks like Alphonso Jackson- who resigned amid an FBI investigation, or the HANO bureaucrats— who had their office taken over in 2002 for massive mismanagement— are effective stewards of the public good?

More importantly, we watched this process go down in River Gardens, the St. Thomas Redevelopment. An excellent master’s thesis by Brod Bagert Jr., now an organizer with the Jeremiah Group, lays out much of what happened when the foxes guarded the hen house. In a nutshell, Pres Kabacoff of HRI, the developer, fudged the numbers and the New Orleans City Council, as now, looked the other way.

There is no reason to believe that homes in these mixed-income redevelopments will ever materialize for the vast majority of public housing residents.

(Side note- Kabacoff is now trying to redevelop his own image with the assistance of a white voodoo-priestess girlfriend and a new development on St. Claude in the 8th ward that includes a police substation and a food co-op housed in a “healing center”. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.)

Second, even given the laughable contention that any significant numbers of public housing residents might be allowed to return to the new developments, there is still the issue of time. It will be years before any of these redevelopments are rebuilt; some units may be opened as soon as 2009. So for every public housing resident who returns to a “mixed-income” redevelopment, there is first 4-6 years of unnecessary displacement.

Scott Keller, assistant to Alphonso Jackson, called the post-Katrina situation an “opportunity” in 2006. I again feel the need to tactfully explain to all the big wigs and suits out there that this was not an “opportunity” for the tens of thousands of men, women and children evacuated from public housing, this was a disaster. Losing your home and having to find a new one for 4-6 years in a city where rent has more than doubled is not an “opportunity”.

If there was even a shred of consideration for the residents of public housing, redevelopment would have occurred in stages, with residents moved back in to a majority of easily cleaned-out units while the redevelopment occurred one development at a time. But there wasn’t.

The situation of Charity Hospital is very similar. If LSU Health Sciences Center had any concern for the low-income residents of the city who depended on Charity, they would have allowed the crew of military and hospital personnel to re-open Charity while they work on their “dream” hospital. But they don’t. In the case of both Charity and public housing, the people of New Orleans are pawns to be swept aside in the grandiose dreams of the powerful.

Lord knows pubic housing in New Orleans needed an overhaul; most significantly some maintenance of otherwise excellent buildings. How about keeping the developments but reintroducing the street grid, as was recommended in District 4 of the Unified New Orleans Plan?. Frankly, I would support an overhaul of public housing if it was done with real involvement of the residents and a plan to bring back those who wanted to return while redevelopment occurred in stages.

What is happening right now is not an overhaul, it is wanton destruction of not only buildings but lives. It is a totally unnecessary human rights catastrophe, and makes a mockery of the concept of mixed income.

March 16, 2007

Let them Eat Bandwidth: City Council and the Housing Crisis in New Orleans

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 9:56 pm

By Sean Benjamin

In addition to flooding 80% of the city, Hurricane Katrina destroyed over 50,000 rental apartment units. A small portion of these have since been refurbished, but the vast majority are still unlivable and the city still faces an acute shortage of affordable housing 19 months after the storm. Rents have skyrocketed since the storm; landlords have taken the opportunity to jack up the rents on the apartments that are still livable. Apartments that used to rent for as little as $400-500 before the storm now regularly rent for between $800 and $1200. In many cases, rents have more than doubled as the pressures of a drastically-reduced housing stock and the lack of price regulation allow landlords to gouge their tenants. The folks who still haven’t returned home since the storm regularly cite a lack of affordable rental housing as one of the main reasons they are unable to come home to New Orleans.

For the first six months after the storm, I was working with a group called NOHEAT (New Orleans Emergency Housing Action Team) to fight rent increases and evictions. NOHEAT doesn’t exist any more, but high rents are still a huge problem. Since NOHEAT disbanded last year, the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF) Tenants Rights Working Group has been doing the bulk of the organizing around issues of fighting high rents. This week they managed to get a hearing before the City Council to demand rent control and the creation of a board of New Orleans renters mandated to defend the rights of tenants and to have a voice for tenants in the rebuilding process. I haven’t been very involved in the housing struggle lately, but when the PHRF called for a large turnout of renters to this City Council meeting, I figured I’d better attend.

Malcolm Suber from the PHRF led a team of presenters to outline the urgency of the housing crisis in front of City Council. He didn’t rant about ‘ethnic cleansing’ or chew the scenery the way that some of the city’s self-proclaimed housing advocates are in the habit of doing; his approach was calm, considered, and was amply backed up with statistics and with testimony from renters and displaced New Orleans residents. He explained that affordable rents were necessary so that the low-wage workers central to the city’s economy could return, and that the lack of affordable housing was a major obstacle to the return of displaced residents and to the city’s reconstruction efforts. The PHRF proposal called for the creation of a city-wide tenants’ council to represent the interests of tenants in all decisions made regarding the reconstruction of the city. He also pointed out that it’s the City Council’s responsibility to protect its citizens by regulating exorbitant rents and demanded the enactment of an anti-price-gouging and rent control ordinance using August 2005 rents as a retroactive benchmark and allowing for modest annual increases to account for increased costs of property insurance after the storm. The PHRF delegation also submitted a 10,000-signature petition in support of these demands.

I doubt Malcolm Suber or the PHRF is under the illusion that the City Council has any real interest in counter-acting the landlords’ price gouging. He’s a solid socialist with decades of community organizing experience, and he’s well aware of the class interests of the Council and the purpose it serves within the city’s economic power structure. But publicly coming before the Council and demanding that it take a strong stand for the citizens it ostensibly serves was the right approach to take. The councillors, for their part, knew they had to appear sympathetic so that when the meeting was covered on the evening news they’d look like they have the interests of tenants at heart. The Council referred the proposal to the housing sub-committee, and most of them made appropriate noises about the urgency of the problem and the need to find ways for displaced New Orleans residents to return. Most of them, that is, except for Stacy Head.

Stacy Head made no attempt to hide her disrespect for the presentation and her disagreement with the need for protection of tenants’ rights. She spent the entire length of the PHRF presentation sighing, scowling, rolling her eyes, and whispering indignantly to James Carter and Shelly Midura, the two councillors sitting beside her. She interrupted Malcolm Suber a number of times to angrily insist that landlords faced insurmountable hardships in insurance costs and that they were the real victims needing protection. (Never mind that the PHRF proposal took into account the fact that small landlords needed to deal with increased insurance and repair costs; they recommended a combination of amortization and pressure on the state legislature to enact controls on insurance companies.)

Later, a former resident of the Lower Ninth Ward got up to testify that he’d been the owner of a small local hip-hop record label before the storm, but he couldn’t come home to contribute to the economy because of high rents and he was still stuck in Baton Rouge while commuting to the city every day. Stacy Head showed him even more contempt. She refused to believe he couldn’t find affordable housing in the city. “You’re a young man,” (I’d guess he was in his 30s) she said with that mixture of disdain and patronizing sweetness that only a yuppie can muster. “You’re probably looking for – what – a one-bedroom?” No, he said, he was actually a family man with two kids to support. “Well, there’s a website you might try looking at; it’s called Craigslist, and it’s got all sorts of listings for apartments available. I’m sure you can find something there.” This in the same cloying, falsely-helpful tones as before, as if it had never occurred to a man trying for months to get his family home and re-start his business that there might actually be apartments listed on *gasp!* the Internet! The audience murmured angrily at her patronizing suggestions, but she kept going with her lecture on Apartment-Hunting 101, completely unaware of how offensive her assumptions were.

So apparently to the Stacy Heads of the city, the housing problem is not due to high rents, lack of livable apartment units, or shuttered public housing; it’s just that these complainers just aren’t resourceful enough to find apartments for themselves. They just need to look harder. The same goes for jobs, I presume. It’s not that unemployment is a built-in side-effect of contemporary capitalism, or that New Orleans’s economy is dominated by low-wage tourism and service-industry jobs through any consequence of the way the city has been run for the last fifty years. No, it’s that people just don’t have the dedication or stick-to-it-iveness to create opportunities for themselves. It’s their own fault, really…….

Stacy Head isn’t the only opponent of affordable housing on New Orleans City Council by any means. The two Cynthias (Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis) are also allied with developers’ interests and just as opposed to affordable housing. But they manage to talk a good talk, making populist appeals to bringing New Orleanians home while at the same time opposing the construction of affordable housing complexes in their districts. In the time-honored tradition of two-faced New Orleans politicians, they manage to fool a lot of people into thinking they represent the interests of regular folks. But Stacy Head doesn’t even try to seem sympathetic to the needs of tenants. She’s an open unabashed representative of real-estate developers, yuppie gentrifiers, and landlords. During her election campaign last year, one of her most-trumpeted qualifications for elected office was that she had bought a number of run-down rental properties, renovated them, and resold them for a tidy profit. She’s a landlord and gentrifier, plain and simple.

Stacy Head is the Jackie Clarkson for a new generation. Jackie Clarkson was also unabashedly in bed with big money real estate and developer interests, but she was also a caricature of herself: showy, flamboyant, New Orleans old money. Even if you knew she was on the opposing side in most issues, she was just too silly to take seriously. Stacy Head’s got an updated image: young, educated, professional, eloquent, with just enough of a veneer of good-government reform credentials to make her look progressive in some circles. It’s been less than a year since she was elected, and a lot of people were happy to see her defeat Renee Gill Pratt in last year’s election. Pratt was an old-style New Orleans politician of the worst kind: incompetent, openly corrupt, and solidly connected to one of the city’s most powerful political machines. She needed to go. But her replacement is one of the most dangerous politicians operating in New Orleans today.

A couple of the characters responsible for the dissolution of NOHEAT are still around, attaching themselves to the campaign to re-open New Orleans’s shuttered public housing developments. They’ve already singled out Stacy Head as an opponent of affordable housing and as a representative of landlords’ and real estate developers’ interests, and they’ve been picketing her Uptown house for the past couple of weekends. These folks are very problematic. They’re textbook examples of how not to do community organizing; they’ve got a strident, pompous, abrasive vanguardist approach which turns most people off. In any genuinely revolutionary situation, they’d probably be more likely to be strung up as ‘enemies of the people’ than be accepted in the kind of leadership role they aspire to. In fact, their outsized presence in New Orleans housing campaigns is a big reason why I’m not very involved anymore. But once in a while these guys just might have the right idea, and I’m starting to think that their targeting of Stacy Head as a major enemy in the housing struggle is a good choice.

I’ve always liked the idea of using home demos as a way to personalize a struggle and give faces and names to our opponents. Anarchists in Montreal used to organize “proletarian field trips” to the wealthy suburb of Westmount, and one of the best New Orleans demos I’ve been to took place outside a George W. Bush fundraiser at a country club amid the mansions of Old Metairie. The ruling class doesn’t like it when we come into their neighborhoods to raise a ruckus, and it’s also a good way to promote class warfare. In any case, a stepped-up campaign against Stacy Head at her home (and her law firm, for that matter) is a step forward in the fight for affordable housing.

Photos from the Council meeting: http://www.peopleshurricane.org/display/ShowGallery?moduleId=895693&galleryId=52565

Link to the text of the PHRF council presentation: http://www.peopleshurricane.org/storage/documents/council_presentation.doc

Stacy Head’s website: http://www.stacyhead.com/

March 1, 2007

House Committee Hearing on Insurance Claims post-K

Filed under: New Orleans Economy,The Feds,We Are Not OK — christian @ 2:44 am

On February 28th the US House of Representatives Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the insurance crisis in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

My mother once pointed out to me that insurance companies make their money on collecting premiums, not on paying claims. That, and investing the money that they get from us. Upon this logic they seem to be cutting their losses in the Gulf Coast quite effectively.

The Hearing was presided over by rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC). It featured testimony by reps Bobby Jindal (R-La), Gene Taylor (D-Miss) and William Jefferson (D-La), David Maurstad, Federal Insurance Administrator for FEMA, Jim Hood, Attorney General for the State of Mississippi and Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, who was revealed at the end of the hearing to be representing Allstate Insurance as well, which was hardly shocking given his defense of the insurance industry.

Selected audio from the hearing follows, starting with the testimony by rep. Jindal. audio

Testimony by William Jefferson. audio

Testimony by Rep. Gene Taylor. audio

The hearing got good when Maxine Waters came on board to blast insurance company shill Hartwig. audio

But perhaps the best was rep. Taylor of Mississippi tearing into Marstaud for the incompetence of FEMA. audio

February 13, 2007

Congressional hearing on government failures

Filed under: New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics,The Feds,We Are Not OK — christian @ 11:34 am

My apologies to my readers about the lateness of this audio, and thanks to FSRN reporter Mayaba Liebenthal for her willingness to share this.

Following is audio from the January 29th hearing in New Orleans called by United States Senators Mary Landrieu, Barack Obama and Joseph Lieberman. Please note that due to a technical failure at the site (go feds!) the audio is not of as high of quality as we might have hoped.

The audio begins with presentations by Joe Lieberman, Barack Obama and Donald Powell, Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding.


Presentation by Donald Powell audio

Senator Mary Landrieu confronting Donald Powell on the disparities in CBDG funding audio

Senator Lieberman confronting Powell on the CBDG disparities audio

I personally think the best piece of audio is the last one, which is Lieberman asking Walter Leger of the LRA what the hell is going on with the delivery of federal monies. Walter Leger squirms a bit, blaming things first on Katrina and then on federal red tape.

Is this a partial explanation or merely the latest in disingenuous excuses from Baton Rouge? I’m guessing both.


January 18, 2007

Residents reopen St. Bernard Development

Filed under: New Orleans Economy,New Orleans Politics,We Are Not OK — christian @ 8:04 pm

For those of you who don’t already know, the St. Bernard Housing Development was re-opened by its residents on Martin Luther King day. A group calling itself Mayday New Orleans (apparently a spin-off of Mayday DC) is currently occupying the units full-time so that residents can come back and clean them out.

Full story on New Orleans Indymedia

See also the blog Note from the Book

January 12, 2007

More cops and more incarceration will not stop the killings

First off, I want to send out my deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the violence here in New Orleans. To the family of Helen Hill and Dinerral Shavers, but also to the families of the six other people murdered since the first of the year whose names have not been in headlines, and to the families of the 161 people who were killed last year.

As some of you know, I did not attend the march on Thursday. I understand that many felt the need to march, but I personally do not go on marches where there is not a clear statement or demand being made. I do not want my presence used by policy-makers to justify something that I do not support.

From the meeting at Sound Cafe on Sunday, which I did attend, one thing was abundantly clear: that there was no consensus on what the demands of this march would be. Some in the crowd wanted more police on the street, one woman who says that she spends a lot of time on nola.com forums even proposed a state of emergency. While many other viewpoints were expressed, those are the ones that I fear will be heard from all of this.

So let’s have a real conversation about what will reduce violent crime in New Orleans.

Let’s talk first about what we have tried.

We already have 1,400 police on the street- 609 police per every 100,000 residents of New Orleans. Before the storm we had 1,668 police- 359 police per every 100,000 residents (figures courtesy of Michelle Krupa, Times-Picayune, Sunday 7th.)

The most recent data that I have found online (year 2000) indicates that we now have the highest per-capita number of police in any large or medium sized city except Washington D.C- more than New York, Chicago, or even Detroit or Baltimore, and more than twice the year 2000 per-capita numbers of Los Angeles and Houston. This number does not include the state police or national guard who are here indefinitely. (figures courtesy of the Department of Justice)

Our jails were full as well. Before the storm, we had 1.5% of the city locked up in OPP, giving us the highest incarceration rate of any large city, and the state incarceration rate was the highest in the nation. And the US incarceration rate is the highest in the world.

Despite the numbers of police and jails, we continue to have one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the nation. Incidentally, Washington DC, with all their cops, also has one of the highest per-capita murder rates.

So let’s talk about other related factors:

We had one of the highest rates of functional illiteracy in the country- around 40% according to the literacy alliance of greater New Orleans. Study after study shows that those who cannot read and write well are more likely to end up in prison (Literacy Behind Prison Walls, National Center for Education Statistics)

We continue to have some of the worst public schools in the country- some of which, like John McDonogh, have gotten worse since the state takeover.

Around 40% of children under the age of five in New Orleans were growing up in poverty before the storm- and the poor are more likely to end up in jail as well.

For decades we have had a surfeit of low-paying service industry jobs in this city, and little else. And from years working as a carpenter I can testify that racial discrimination in the construction trades- one of the few places where a person with limited education can make a decent living here- is rampant.

It is scant consolation to those who have lost loved ones, but what needs to be done to make this city safe will take time. We have to create a decent society where everyone has access to quality education, living wage jobs, and health care, including mental health care, a huge need post-Katrina.

The so-called “thugs”- or whatever other racially coded language you prefer- committing these crimes are largely young men. Many, like the seventeen year old who killed Dinerral Shavers, are teenagers. Perhaps you can remember what it was like to be a teenager- and the lack of caution that you had. These children are not afraid of death or jail, and it isn’t stopping them from picking up guns. You can put them in jail, you can even kill them, but more are on their way. As Ralph Ellison said, the most dangerous thing that a society can produce is a man who has nothing to lose. I would modify that to say that the most dangerous thing we can produce is children who have nothing to lose.

It will not be quick and it will not be easy. But if you want to stop the killings here you have to change society. The short-term solutions will not work. They haven’t yet.

See also the G-Bitch Spot

June 14, 2006

South Louisiana Shrimpers Struggling with Price Fixing, Rebuilding

Filed under: New Orleans Economy,Other — christian @ 11:52 am

With all the attention on New Orleans (which is deserved) it is easy to forget what neighboring parishes are going through. Yesterday around one hundred shrimpers gathered at the state capitol in Baton Rouge to call for investigation into price fixing on the price of shrimp, which they say is at 1950’s levels. You didn’t hear about this in the local media because by and large they didn’t show up, and FSRN hasn’t taken the story yet.

So in addition to having to repair their homes and deal with the devastation that Katrina and Rita dealt these shrimpers, which are the backbone of the economies in many of rural south Louisiana communities, are having to deal with the economic hardships of having to compete with cheap imported shrimp and potentially price fixing by processors.

My good friend Brian Marks wrote his masters thesis on the economic effects of globalization in the shrimp industry. I talked with him yesterday after our trip to Baton Rouge.

Brian Marks interview

Also on the trip we ran into George Barisich, head of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association and a board member of Lousiana Shrimp Association, which threw the protest.

George Barisich interview

Also, Brian’s thesis on the impacts of globalization on south Louisiana shrimpers is online as a .pdf

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.)

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