Dirty South Bureau

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.

Warmly,

Christian Roselund

October 15, 2010

Voting records on energy issues, Louisiana candidates in Nov 2, 2010 federal elections

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,The Feds — christian @ 10:41 pm

I’ve talked a lot on this blog of late about the importance of energy and environmental issues in the November 2, 2010 congressional elections, and I feel like it’s time to back that up with some data. Things like party lines are not always indicators of the way an elected official will vote on a particular issue, though for Republicans, voting patterns on party lines have been more clear lately.

So how do the candidates we are going to vote for in the November 2, 2010 election measure up on energy issues? Obviously I have my own opinions about which policies are the most important, but I decided it would me more complete and fair if I used the list of legislation collected by Project Vote Smart for the last two years. Here we go:

Louisiana Senatorial Candidates

U.S. Representative Charlie Melancon

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – yes
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – yes
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – yes

U.S. Senator David Vitter (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no vote taken
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – folded into HR3534 – see below
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – folded into unrelated bill*
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no vote yet
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no vote yet

* – it would be unfair to rank a vote on this bill, as Cash for Clunkers became an amendment to a much larger spending bill in the Senate, so the vote by Vitter could have been for or against the larger bill, not this amendment.

Louisiana Second District Congressional Candidates

U.S. Representative Joseph Cao (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no

Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond

Now, this is going to be a little different. Cedric Richmond has been in the Louisiana legislature, where the bills are different, and VoteSmart had no records, so I took a sampling of the bills that renewable energy advocates the Alliance for Affordable Energy supported in 2009, and added the solar tax credit passed in 2007.

2007 HB90 – solar tax credit – yes
2009 HB858 – expands eligibility for the solar tax credit – no
2009 SB224 – allows for construction of municipal finance program for solar and energy efficiency – yes
2009 HB733 “green jobs” tax credit – yes

Legislation sponsored in 2009:

H.B. 850 – Providing incentives to utility-scale renewable energy producers. Bill died in committee.

So there’s my data, as objective as I could find. The objective part ends here.

Analysis

Key national bills: I personally think the stimulus (HR1) was the creme de la creme of progressive energy bills. The $23 billion for renewable energy projects has funded renewable energy projects in most states. The investments in regional passenger rail are critical to reducing petroleum usage, and hell, reducing traffic. Section 1603, which turned the federal solar tax credit into a grant has been critical for the solar industry since tax equity funding dried up with the recession. But don’t take my word for it – ask the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Second in importance I would rank HR 2454, the “cap and trade” bill. However, do not mistake that for an endorsement. The bill was over a thousand pages long and full of loopholes, but never mind that – cap and trade was the worst carbon regulation idea that has ever been taken seriously. I’m personally much more fond of greenhouse gas regulation at the EPA level, or at least a “cap and dividend” approach, as was sponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Delaware), that would refund the proceeds of the program to American public in our tax refunds. Better yet is the national renewable portfolio standard that Senator Udall (D-New Mexico) has proposed.

However, HR 2454 was a key bill and a barometer of how much a candidate supported the idea of carbon regulation. Needless to say, none of the three candidates who could have voted on it from Louisiana supported it.

The other bills, while important, kind of pale before these two, large measures.

Now, for an analysis of candidates – Melancon is a Blue Dog who is not progressive on energy issues. Nonetheless, he is the only one of Louisiana’s seven congressmen who voted for the stimulus. That was, in the words of our Vice President Joe Biden “a big f***ing deal”.

Vitter is a loyal member of the party of No and would have voted against ACES if he had the chance. While there isn’t much to see from his voting record, besides the “No” vote on the stimulus, that is because most of these bills couldn’t even make it to a vote in a Senate which has set a new bar for obstructiveness.

Joseph Cao: Cao voted as a loyal Republican on party lines in key energy votes, voting against the stimulus, cap and trade, and most every other key vote for the Obama Administration. That means that he was a disaster for progressive energy policies.

Cedric Richmond: Hard to say by the votes alone. I’ve seen the Louisiana Legislature vote almost unanimously on any uncontroversial bill that comes out of committee. So in Richmond’s “yes” votes, he was joined by nearly every other member of the Louisiana house.

However, I would also note the bill that he sponsored, H.B. 850. While the bill hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell given the budget war between Jindal and the Legislature and never made it out of committee, it was by far the most aggressive bill I saw in that session for expanding renewable energy in the state. Judged by his legislative record, Richmond appears very supportive of progressive energy policies, and even a leader.

Feel free to comment, particularly if you have any other votes that you think should be tracked, or if you want data for other federal races in Louisiana.

March 13, 2010

Freedom ride… to where?

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 7:05 pm

Last night the New Orleans Human Rights International Film Festival opened with the excellent documentary, Freedom Riders. I can’t say how pleased I was to see this important piece of Southern civil rights history explored so fully and so well. The film focused on the Freedom Rides, where black and white students took buses into the Deep South together to challenge segregation laws in 1961, initially orchestrated by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The film evoked the fear, courage and uncertainty of the Freedom Riders, and examined the dynamic between activists, leaders and the government.

I can sum up the lessons as such: activist lead, and when they win, leaders follow and then take credit for what happened. The film looked at the tension between Freedom Riders and the Kennedy Administration, showing the administration’s transformation from uninterested enablers of Southern racism to champions of the freedom riders, of course after the riders repeatedly forced the administration to take action or suffer the consequences in terms of worldwide bad PR. It also showed a timid Dr. Martin Luther King, who tried to talk the Riders out of their action, and at one point declined to join them on the buses.

This sort of bottom-up history is critical to understanding the way that social movements really work, because in the retelling, the “leaders” – whether in government or the movement – will take credit for things that they were forced to do by the movement.

I have fewer positive things to say about the discussion before the film. It was great to see actual Freedom Riders from New Orleans discussing their experiences. However, where the discussion turned to the present, it fell short. It is important to point out that racism still exists in the age of Obama. However we are in a different era today than 1961, and inequality has persisted long after the end of de jure segregation. The dominant discussions about oppression in our present era, based entirely on race without mentioning class, and specifically the intersection of race and class, are disingenuous.

There is a lot of pressure on us white anti-racists to not talk about these things. However, ultimately we writers and activists have a responsibility to our communities, white and black, to talk about what is really going on.

The black political class in New Orleans today acts more out of class self-interest than the interests of the masses, black and white, and such a race-based dialogue gives them cover. The largest example is that the majority of black politicians were complicit in the dismantling of public service institutions and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of mostly black residents of this city after the storm. All Nagin had to say was “Chocolate City” and his collusion with white politicians and business leaders was forgotten. All City Council members had to do was be black, and they turned out black votes, without any real accountability for what they had done and not done.

It can be argued that in a majority white state and with institutional forces arrayed against them, black politicians often have little choice but to acquiesce. But most black politicians in this city, just like white politicians, aren’t even trying.

There are exceptions, and exceptional moments. I recall State Rep. Charmaine Marchand leading meetings of Lower 9th Ward homeowners to advocate for the return of their neighborhood (something I did not see many other black elected leaders do), and every now and again black politicians sponsor promising legislation.

But most of the time, the blackoisie actively sells New Orleanians, black and white, down the river, and has for some time – just like white politicians do. Such sell-outs are not limited to politicians, and it was interesting to see some (though not many) of those individuals present at the screening, like radio personalities from a certain black radio station which gives Entergy Corporation, their funder, space to spread lies about their nuclear program. The radioactive waste from Entergy Corporation reactors will be around for hundreds of thousands of years. When it gives cancer and birth defects to future generations, it will not first check to see if they are black or white. And if current inequities continue, they will more likely than not be black.

It is not as though these things have never been discussed, in fact, only a few years after the Freedom Riders the battlegrounds became class and race. We see a Martin Luther King who is assassinated at the moment that he talked about economic rights for black Americans in the Memphis Sanitation Strike. We see the rise of militant movements, some of whom, like the Panthers, were explicitly focused on the failures of capitalism. The Panthers had no truck with black capitalist oppressors; even here in New Orleans much of their conflict was with blacks who preyed on the black community.

I do not accuse the panellists at the film of race essentialism, merely that this talk was an extension of the failure to talk about something that legitimately is more complex and nuanced than simple race. However, a pattern of race essentialism dominates contemporary dialogue about these issues in New Orleans, and by doing so sets us back fifty years. This is why so many contemporary discussions of race in New Orleans fall flat, such as Lance Hill’s failure to explain post-Katrina racial issues to white audiences. If what we hear sounds inaccurate and incomplete, it is because it is.

Even in the early 1960′s, more advanced thinking was being put forth by intellectuals, black and white. I encourage anyone to read Frantz Fanon’s writing about the post-colonial bourgeoisie in Wretched of the Earth (1961) and tell me what this says about the black political classes in New Orleans. Fanon literally says that the post-colonial bourgeoisie must be eliminated because it serves no purpose and holds back progress. Draw your own conclusions.

American capitalism can accommodate civil rights, and it can accommodate token black leaders. Real emancipation of the black masses is another matter. The long ride, for all of us, is far from over.

January 23, 2010

The pathology of elections, episode II – the empire strikes back

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,New Orleans Schools,public housing,The Feds — christian @ 4:09 pm

It’s that time again.

Election season. Which in New Orleans seems to be about every three months or so. This election season finds me particularly pessimistic about any possibility of any change for the better. Perhaps it is the quagmires at the national level around health care “reform” and carbon regulation. From those of us who said during the presidential election that Obama would not bring the change we need, well, I for one didn’t want to be right on this one, but Obama is looking more like a black Jimmy Carter by the day.

But the real news is the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow corporations unlimited access to finance campaigns. This one has to go down with Plessy v. Ferguson as one of the most monstrous decisions ever made by those miserable old black-robed bastards. Whatever Democracy you thought we had, kiss it goodbye.

But how much Democracy did we have to lose, anyway? We voted every few months or years for elected officials with limited powers, and then most of us spent eight hours (or more) a day in a dictatorship. Did you vote for your boss? Your landlord? Your mortgage company? The oil companies that cut canals through South Louisiana, destroying our coast? We took one small part of public life and held elections for people to run it, and then left the rest to that “invisible hand” of the market that’s been slapping more and more people out of their homes and into unemployment lines of late.

Here in New Orleans, that Democracy has meant even less. Before the storm 40% of adults couldn’t read or write well enough to fill out a job application. I don’t know what the number is now, but there is a large portion of this city whose education level precludes meaningful participation. As if, between the political machines of the city, the tendency for race/class based castes to reproduce and the factors that I already mentioned, there was much to participate in.

This is part of our pathology of elections in America. We have been bamboozled into thinking that politics only happen on election day and only happen through elected offices. Politics happen every day. They happen when we go to work, they shape our intimate relations, they are there when we pay rent and when we pay bills. And these relations are typically not Democratic.

I’m still going to vote, to exercise what little power I have and to make what little statement I can. At least I can say I voted before corporations ran that, too. But for city offices, this is a grim election. My professional work prevents me from saying much of what I would like to about various candidates, which is not pretty. Isn’t that the way it works? The more you know, the less you are at liberty to talk, as you may have to do business with these people some day.

Notes on particular races:

Mayor: We all know Mitch is our next Mayor. At least he’ll be better than Nagin, and this office doesn’t give him authority to screw us in the same ways that his sister does. I’m voting for James Perry, who is a hell of a guy. He won’t win, but any percentage that he gets makes a more meaningful statement to me than victory or loss by other candidates.

City Council: I find myself, over and over, not voting for people, but against them. Particularly in District B. Seven years ago I participated in an abortive effort to recall Renee Gill-Pratt. Look who we got instead. District C: Can we get another option? Please?

I would say that my frame for many of these races is the lesser of two evils, which, considering the level of evil involved, is weighty. My favourite people on the council had a group of former public housing residents, and me and my fellow protesters pepper-sprayed and tazered (I only got the spray, thanks guys!) two years ago, when we tried to keep them from authorizing the senseless destruction of thousands of units of livable housing during a region-wide housing crisis. All are guilty of participating in gross human rights violations against New Orleanians displaced by post-Katrina flooding.

On a side note, at least district A has some interest in energy policy issues. Fielkow seems to take these matters seriously as well. He’s my favourite person who’s ever had me pepper sprayed. Real decent guy in person, under better circumstances.

But as I stated before, I’m not pinning my hopes on any of these people. When this city, this state and this country made real change for the better, it took a long, slow process of education and organizing. Short cuts don’t work for the long run. If we want to see the change we need, this is what it will take – not electing someone from an oppressed group to be the figurehead for machines of oppression.

And that’s all for today. See y’all in a bit, hopefully before I have to find corporate sponsorship for this blog. Remember – what you read, and if you have access to read it, is also politics.

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.

savecharity.com

fhl.org

photos of the event

August 31, 2009

Waveland

Filed under: Class,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,Other,The Feds — christian @ 1:12 am

I think I can speak for many of my fellow residents of New Orleans when I state that I wanted nothing to do with the Katrina Anniversary this year. Frankly, many folks have felt like that since 2006. At that time you really couldn’t help but remember the storm because so much of the physical evidence was here, in your face, day after day. By now, even though everyone’s lives have been permanently altered, many of the people I know are settling into a new reality. We want to move on. Many here will never be able to forget, so forgive those who want to.

I got the hell out of town. A trip to the beach seemed perfect. Of course, due to a number of unforseen circumstances, such as my friend Jewels almost getting arrested looking for my house (glad to know my part of the Irish Channel is well-patrolled), we ended up where the eye of the storm hit: Waveland, Mississippi. Go figure.

First we made it all the way out to Biloxi, where I got to check up on Sue at Le Bakery. I featured Sue in a radio piece I recorded about the Vietnamese community in Biloxi a few years ago, and was honored that she and all the Le Bakery staff remembered me. Of course, Sue made it easy; with her darling Southern Accent and her sign that “the bread will rise again”, it was too touching. That, and the vile disregard for the Vietnamese Community in the city’s official planning effort made for a hell of a story.

Biloxi looks pretty similar today, only with less debris. The empty lots still line stretches of Highway 90, steps leading to nothing, just like the ghosts of homes in the Lower 9th. The casinos are as big and as obscene as ever. The Vietnamese community in East Biloxi has largely not returned to their original neighborhood; similar to the gulf shore there is empty lot after empty lot. Sue says they’ve moved to the north part of town. However, also like New Orleans the official planning effort seems to have come to naught, so East Biloxi has been spared the fate of being erased with new casinos, hotels and a large park. (I have pity for planners. They’d be really dangerous people if anyone ever listened to them.)

Regardless, Le Bakery is still there. The banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwiches on French bread, are excellent, as are the sweets, including the yucca-coconut pastries.

However I can not speak as highly for the beaches in Biloxi. Despite the water being the temperature of God’s own bathtub, this part of the gulf features opaque brown water and you can walk out for about half a mile before the water rises above your knees. For someone from the West Coast like myself, this is hardly inspiring.

But Waveland was lovely. Taking 90 west from town, the water is clearer, and gently slopes in to the Gulf. We went in at a spot where Katrina had wiped our nearly everything, near a quansit-hut church, where the sign says “Katrina was big but God is bigger”. I was struck by how similar this expression of faith is to the Muslim saying “Allah akbar”. The clouds streaked the sky, and despite all the debris that must be somewhere in that water, there was nothing but mud in our toes and gentle waves.

For a little while I even forgot about the health care fight that is raging. In some ways it is welcome that now the rest of America is engaged in an issue that has been huge in post-Katrina New Orleans: access to health care. Sadly, it appears that many are engaged for all the wrong reasons; including an almost superstitious fear of “big government” (as if nearly a trillion dollars spent on foreign wars and spying on civilians under Bush was not big government). I am shocked at how many of my fellow Americans seem to equate Obama’s tepid version of a national health plan with Soviet-style central planning. Folks: wake up. The rest of the industrialized world has some form of universal health care, and they aren’t suffering under some awful tyranny; instead, they are healthier than we are because anyone can go to the doctor when they need to and get cared for. There are no death camps and there is no rationing. The closest thing to rationing that goes on is in this country, where those without coverage can’t get treated except in emergency rooms.

It would be one thing if those protesting the health plan were all affluent. But I see on television a number of what seems to be working people who have been so bamboozled by the right and the medical-industrial complex that they actually think they are better off under the current system. There really is no end to the ignorance some of my fellow Americans exhibit. This is the reason we’re last in geography, folks. Time to open at atlas once in a while, check out the BBC website, and learn about the rest of the world!

We can’t let a few misguided ignorant folks and wing-nuts get in the way of our having universal health care, just like any other advanced, affluent nation. This is personal for me. I for one spent over ten years without health coverage, and thank God I didn’t have any serious health problems. I am damn worried about how my brothers and I are going to take care of my mother’s medical expenses as she gets older. And I’m not even getting into my friends, most of whom are lucky to be healthy – now, because many of them don’t have medical coverage.

I’ve been lucky to make a few of the health care forums. Cao bullshitted us, but at least he had the courtesy to hold forums during the evening when working people could attend, whereas that worthless low-life Vitter had to hold his at 2:30 pm during a workday (Heelllloooo David… most of us aren’t running around on weekdays screwing prostitutes! We have jobs!). But the real prize goes to Mary Landrieu. A forum on Thursday at 2pm in Reserve? Now that you’ve made sure that the vast majority of those who can get there from the largest urban area in the state have cars and either don’t work or can get off Thursday afternoon, I’m sure you’ve had a real sampling of Louisiana, especially the uninsured. Way to go Mary.

For those of you outside the state, we in Louisiana have a bunch of the worst whores in government imaginable, and Mary Landrieu takes the cake – both for selling out to big pharma and the oil industry, giving us lip service all the while. For those of you here, it is time to get active, because you know for sure these swine – Vitter, Landrieu and Cao – aren’t going to do a damn thing unless you make them.

God is greater than this.

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.

February 14, 2009

Homer Plessy finally gets some respect

Filed under: Bywater,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 1:58 pm

New Orleans is a funny city. Visiting here, if you didn’t know better, you would be tempted to think that the significant events in the long history of the struggle for black equality happened elsewhere; maybe in Selma and Montgomery, maybe Harlem, maybe in Memphis, but certainly not sleepy old New Orleans. After all, where is the physical evidence?

I can recall when I moved here noting the large number of Confederate memorials. Which is also funny for a city that fell early and relatively uneventfully in the Civil War (or the “War Between The States” as I have heard it called in Mississippi). There is the statue of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard at Esplanade and City Park Avenue, the Jefferson Davis statue on Jeff Davis Parkway (all life sized), the stone memorial outside the house on 1st and Camp Streets where Jefferson Davis died, and of course the statue of General Robert E. Lee that dominates Lee Circle in the Central Business District. We won’t even talk about the White League memorial at the foot of Canal Street which fondly commemorates the brutal end to Reconstruction.

So why, then, do our memorials not remember other events great historical significance?

Two days ago, on February 12, 2009, was a very important beginning to correcting this city’s selective historical memory. The descendants of Homer Plessy and John Howard Ferguson unveiled a plaque at the corner of Royal and Press Streets in the 9th Ward.

If you have been on the corner of Royal and Press streets, it may be surprising to hear that any event of national significance ever happened there. It is a sleepy thoroughfare where the Bywater meets the Marigny, with unused warehouses on one side and modest homes on the other. When I lived in the Bywater I knew these tracks as a place where you go from home to work and back again, and where you are frequently stopped with your neighbors for an indeterminate period of time by freight trains, which still have the right of way. For years I associated the location with the Morning 40 Federation’s song “Walking through the 9th Ward”, about being too drunk and broke to be scared while walking home through a dangerous neighborhood, not any Civil Rights history.

But it was at this seemingly inauspicious corridor that Homer Plessy, a man of 1/8 African-American descent, boarded a whites-only train car in 1892 as a legal challenge to a law mandating separate facilities for blacks and whites. This law was similar to those on the books in many Southern states, which had not been nationally recognized. Many of my readers are familiar with the end to the case Plessy v. Ferguson, a Supreme Court decision that upheld the “Jim Crow” system of legal segregation until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

As tragic as that ending was, the significance of Homer Plessy’s act can also be viewed as a testament to the long struggle for equality, and a triumph of human decency. Homer was a member of a citizen’s committee that fought for racial equality, with a willingness to use civil disobedience a full sixty years before such tactics were made famous in America by individuals such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

This is not a story that ends in 1892, or 1954. There was also a struggle to put this plaque in place that lasted several years. Rumor has it that the first plaque commemorating Homer Plessy’s act mysteriously disappeared after Katrina. Since the storm I have seen Reggie Lawson of Crescent City Peace Alliance and Jim Randels of Students at the Center (SAC) tirelessly struggle through bureaucracies and a moving map of land titles to get recognition for this location. Randels and his partner Kalamu Ya Salaam of SAC also deserve credit for involving their students with this work. Most notably, SAC students published a civil rights anthology of student writings, The Long Ride, which deals with three centuries of the history of struggle by African Americans for equality.

In giving these credits, I am sure that I am leaving out significant players, and I apologize in advance for this.

February 12, 2009 was an important day for our city. Maybe now we will begin to remember with eyes that are more clear, and to finally give some respect to those who, like Homer Plessy, have been willing to act, and to make personal sacrifices, to do what is right. It’s about time.

January 28, 2009

Credit where credit is due

Filed under: Mid-City,New Orleans Politics,Race — christian @ 10:22 pm

So often in New Orleans, we write about the negative. Actually, the horrible, the gut-wrenching, the insane, the god-awful. And along with it goes the blame: the backwardness, the ignorance, the greed, the corruption, the incompetence which are often so easy to find, particularly in local governance.

But today I’d like to give some credit where credit is due. First award: to the NOPD. Yes, I said it. While I’m still disturbed about the shooting of Adolph Grimes, I need to give credit to the NOPD for catching the rapist/burglar who has been assaulting people in the 6th/7th wards.

Like anyone in this city, I have often doubted the ethics, tactics and culture of the NOPD. And for a variety of reasons, some of which are entirely out of their control, I also have concerns about their ability to actually find violent criminals. With so many unsolved murders in the city, I had very little faith that the creep who beat my friend in the head with a beer bottle while trying to rape her in her apartment would get caught. Starting with a tip from someone in the neighborhood, the NOPD found this guy and he’s now in jail.

Thanks NOPD.

Frankly, I know there’s a lot of good people in the NOPD, just like there were a lot of good people in the projects, trying to do their best in utterly untenable situations. And frankly, the NOPD doesn’t get paid enough to do such a stressful job.

Second: Kudos to Gambit writer Alison Fensterstock for her coverage of hip-hop in New Orleans.

This one is long overdue. I wrote roughly a year ago about the failure of (white) arts and culture periodicals and radio stations to cover New Orleans’ huge and idiosyncratic hip-hop scene. Now you may like hip-hop, or you may hate it. You may find it vapid, regressive, crude, repetitive and/or uninspired. I’m not a big fan of a lot of hip-hop either, frankly. I get sick of bounce pretty quickly, and there’s only a couple of Mystikal songs that I don’t skip over on the CD player.

But hip-hop is here and it’s here to stay; more importantly hip-hop is the musical and lyrical expression of the lives of African-American youth, and we are still in a majority black city. It deserves to be examined.

Fensterstock (likely with no prodding from me) stepped up to the plate. Her articles in Gambit about the “sissy” scene and Lil’ Wayne’s national success were excellent. Such attention has spilled over into the T-P: what prompted the hilarious Times-Picayune living section article comparing Lil’ Wayne and Celine Dion?

And finally… a big thank you to LPSC member Lambert Boissiere, III.

(NOTE: The Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) is the body that regulates utilities in the state of Louisiana, including our very favorite monopoly, Entergy Corporation. So if you wonder why your power bills are so high, I recommend that you start paying attention to what the LPSC and the New Orleans City Council Utility Committee, which regulates utilities in our city, are doing, and aren’t doing, in your name.)

The LPSC did two very important things on January 14, 2009, and both were spearheaded by Lambert Boissiere. First was to pass an ethics rule prohibiting commissioners and staff from receiving free meals from regulated utilities. For practical purposes, this is only a step; LPSC members need to stop taking campaign contributions as well. However in direction this was a major change, and I was impressed as all hell by Boissiere’s leadership on this one. Credit also needs to go to Foster Campbell, Commissioner from northern Louisiana, who has long championed this very sort of ethics reform to a mostly unsympathetic commission. For the record, Jimmy Field voted for the new ethics rule as well.

Second, the LPSC re-opened an inquiry into the feasibility of passing the state’s first Renweable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which, if passed, would require that utilities purchase a set portion of their power from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass, a number that would increase modestly year by year.

For so many reasons- not only CO2 emissions but also energy independence and freedom from volatile fuel prices- this is huge. It may take a lot of political push to get it passed (thanks to the recalcitrance of our friends at Entergy) but if it does it means strengthening rural economies and the beginnings of clean, safe, reliable energy sources for the state.

That’s all for now. So before I start sounding like Sheila Stroup, be sure to check in next week when we will return to our regularly scheduled programming of terror and failure. We would not want to let you down.

January 4, 2009

Marshall Truehill, Jr., RIP

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Politics,public housing,Race — christian @ 8:40 pm

Yesterday I had the honor to join the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their last respects to the late Reverend Marshall Truehill, Jr., who passed away so suddenly last Christmas eve. The ceremony was more joyous than somber, as appears to be the custom of the black Protestant church.

I did not get the honor of knowing Marshall Truehill personally and I am sad that I did not have the chance. He passed so suddenly, and to see his body lain out like that, a man still young and strong, gave a strange feeling of vulnerability.

Instead I know his work. Reverend Truehill was a consistent fighter for the rights of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, especially public housing residents. He was an eloquent and powerful speaker, a man whose very presence radiated dignity and purpose. I recall many a time hearing his words before City Council, words that spoke truth to power, without pretence. The media has called Reverend Truehill “a voice of reason”, and this is true. However in today’s world Marshall Truehill was also a radical, and kept the company of radicals in many of the stands that he took.

What I did not know before his funeral is that Reverend Truehill was also born in the B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Projects, and spent decades before the storm working on the behalf of the residents of public housing as a man of faith.

The Judases were there at his funeral as well; four members of our esteemed City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin. While it is honorable that they attended, I personally found it distasteful that certain members of the City Council used the occasion to grandstand. I did not expect either temperance or good taste from such persons, however it was an inappropriate venue for elected officials, whose actions are so contrary to the vision of the man, to use his funeral in this way.

Because of all the speakers, I found what Reverend Truehill’s sister said to be the strongest, that Truehill “did not just read the bible, he lived the bible.” In a city and a nation with so many churches, I have seen some but not enough of religious communities fighting for social justice, particularly for the human right to return for those evacuated from this city after Katrina. I wonder how so many can go to church on Sunday and walk by the homeless on Monday. Truehill was not one of them.

It is men like Reverend Truehill who have caused me to re-evaluate my opinions of the tradition of the clergy. It comes down to this: Jesus was a radical. He opposed the Roman state, and was killed for it. His reward in heaven did not stop him from changing things on earth: from driving the money lenders from the temple (they have returned in great numbers), from healing the sick, from championing the poor and dispossessed.

Jesus did not say: love some of your brothers and sisters, and others you can discard because they are unworthy: because they are poor, because they are black, because they are poorly educated, because their neighborhoods are dangerous and they have children out of wedlock. He said to love all of humanity.

If I have had little interest in the church, it is because I have seen a great many religious people who want to talk endlessly about Jesus, but they are not willing to follow his example or even his teachings.

Reverend Truehill was not one of them. A great man has passed. God rest his soul.

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 we’ve 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, I’m 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 wouldn’t 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.

August 31, 2008

Evacuation

Thanks to everyone who has checked on my safety and sent both kind words and a factual correction.

So the weekend trip I had planned to New York is looking like it will be my Hurrication, and potentially indefinite. To say that things do not look good seems like too massive of an understatement. Since we’ve been living in disaster for the last three years, the idea of a storm worse than Katrina kind of boggles the mind.

But there it is, less than 24 hours away. The good news is that nearly everyone I have been able to contact has evacuated, and is relatively safe.

I’m not sure how to feel about the 311 system the city put in place to deal with evacuating folks who don’t have cars. It worked for a friend of mine who is now in Birmingham, but it took him six hours to get through. But for that it worked at all I have to give the city credit. Other friends were not able to get through and found another way. There is still the question of how many people, if any, have been left behind.

So far I have heard from two people who are planning on riding this storm out. I personally do not think this is a good idea (and have said so), but since I can’t stop them, I will be reposting their accounts of what goes on in New Orleans.

I am personally hoping and praying that the Corps of Engineers is downplaying the repairs that have been made to the levees in the East Bank of Orleans Parish, and that they will hold. However there is a new concern; that the West Bank levees may not.

This puts a large number of people on the West Bank of the Mississippi (Algiers, Gretna and other municipalities and areas in Jefferson Parish) at great risk.

Southern Louisiana, including Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, are also in deep shit. I don’t know about their levee systems, but there is serious danger simply from the winds if Gustav continues at its current magnitude. New Orleans was actually spared the worst of Katrina’s winds; closer to the eye of the storm and particularly on the eastern side the damage, both from winds and a tsunami, was more intense. These places often didn’t receive the magnitude of damage or the press that New Orleans did largely because they were less populous.

Southern Louisiana may take decades to recover from this, if ever. Many in these areas were already struggling economically from the collapsed price of shrimp. The last time I was in Buras, about ten months ago, it looked like Katrina had just hit, but larger towns like Houma were doing better.

August 30, 2008

Gustav

Filed under: environment,New Orleans Politics,The Feds,We Are Not OK — christian @ 9:36 am

I’m at the airport as I write this, looking at a line of maybe one hundred persons to get to the gate. Ordinarily this would be strange, however over the last twenty-four hours there have been several such lines. I left at 6AM to beat traffic, (hours before my flight time), and my not-so-secret route out of town, AKA the wormhole, was nearly empty. However as I approached the airport, things were very different; parking in particular was difficult to come by.

I recall watching Nash Roberts on Fox 8 news last night with a sinking feeling in my stomach. For those who don’t know, Nash is the semi-mythical meteorologist they bring out of retirement when the shit hits the fan, hurricane-wise. An ex-girlfriend admitted to me once that just seeing Nash on TV scared her. Roberts seemed to think we are likely to be OK; he predicts that the storm will head westward. I hope he’s right.

With Gustav headed towards the Gulf on the south side of Cuba as a Category 1 Hurricane as of this morning, someone, somewhere, is going to have hell to pay. I’m not sure it will be us, but no-one I know is taking any chances.

The level of general panic yesterday was high. I went to the bank in the afternoon and the ATM was out of money; inside was a line of perhaps fifty people. I recall seeing music critic and Jazz-Industrial complex darling Alison Fensterstock in that line. The look on her face was not good, (or was that her everyday scowl?). Others I spoke to reported the same thing at pharmacy counters, and other businesses; generally ATMs are out of cash. I had business at a notary public, and the experience was identical; there had been a rush on auto titles. In the grocery store, it was all canned food and bottled water in the checkout lines.

Some of you reading this may say that this is all silly and out-of-proportion. Well, fuck you.

Here’s why: the Army Corps(e) of Engineers refuses to guarantee our levees, saying at best that they have been returned to “pre-Katrina levels”. Are you kidding me?

At the end of the day, the only thing that I can say is that we should not have to live like this. It is an uncertain universe. Natural disasters happen. But in the richest country in the world, the failure to protect the citizens of a major city is totally pathetic. This would never happen in Connecticut.

And don’t give me that “they shouldn’t have built a city there” or “New Orleans is below sea level” bullshit. First off, have you heard of Port of New Orleans? Second, half the city is at or above sea level. Third, there are plenty of cities in America that are protected by levees, and plenty of large cities around the world at or below sea level. Iowa floods, anyone?

I blog about a lot of other things; education, public housing, race and class, etc. But this is the biggest issue here – that the government has totally failed to protect us. And I for one am convinced that it has everything to do with race, class and regional bias. There is no reason why New Orleans cannot have adequate storm protection starting with levees that would protect us from a category five storm except a lack of political will.

We cannot survive as a city evacuating like this every time a hurricane comes to the gulf. I don’t know what it is going to take, but in order to survive, we need a political re-alignment that will get us the basic infrastructure that we need.

Levees.org
Leveesnotwar.org

August 19, 2008

Dark days for both public education and truth

Filed under: Media,New Orleans Politics,New Orleans Schools,We Are Not OK — christian @ 2:16 am

First off, a disclaimer. I am no longer working for United Teachers of New Orleans, as I have been for over a year. So while all the content on this blog was only ever my personal opinion and in no way reflected the positions of the union, well, now it does even less.

Today the School Facilities Master Plan was finally unveiled after months of waiting… or was it? I got a press packet from my good friend RSD Communications Director Siona LaFrance that contained a slim, vague jumble of papers; apparently the details will be released at the school board meeting at McDonogh 35 tomorrow and then made public the following day.

For the best description of what little we do know about the Master Plan I have to again refer you to Eli Ackerman of the blog We Could Be Famous.

We’re shrinking the footprint again. I had the pleasure today of hearing a fascinating exchange between Eli and State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, who must the be the most overpaid, under-qualified bureaucrat in the state. Basically it went something like this…

Pastorek: “Those places where we rebuild schools, they will serve as catalysts for neighborhood recovery.”

Ackerman: “So then what is going to happen to neighborhoods where we don’t rebuild schools? By extension, does that mean that if we don’t provide public services like schools, that this will discourage people from rebuilding those neighborhoods?”

Pastorek: “Well, I don’t think the placement of schools will have an effect on all areas of the city… high schools would not be a geographic attractor.”

There we have it in perfect bureaucratese, the sort of sublime logic that only those who make more than $300,000 a year can really understand. Where we build schools, people will come back to those neighborhoods. Where we don’t rebuild schools… oh well, that doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, we’re going to have these “magnet-like” schools…

On another front, last Thursday Paul Tough of the New York Times published a perfect piece of bullshit that I only now have come across. I talked to Paul when I worked for UTNO, and I recall how out of touch he was about the realities of New Orleans schools. He appeared to have no idea that the overwhelming majority of our public school students were low-income African Americans, and also did not seem to grasp the historical role of de-investment in the incredible inequities around education here.

But hey, I guess you don’t have to be too much of an intellectual to work for the New York Times Magazine, do you?

It was enough for Tough to know that 1. schools were really bad before Katrina (no shit) and 2. the free market is great.

Maybe I have just not been smoking from the same Neoliberal bong that Paul has. Maybe I am burdened by the knowledge that experienced teachers make a significant difference in test scores, and that these ivy-league kids with TFA largely don’t have any idea how to manage a class? Or perhaps it is what really shouldn’t be inside knowledge for someone who calls himself a journalist- that the RSD and many of the charters are terrible messes.

Despite all the hype, test scores have not appreciably risen from pre-storm levels. Yes, they improved over last year- but I seriously hope so, given the abysmal chaos of the RSD under Robin Jarvis when the school takeover architects in their infinite wisdom decided they could run a district with half a dozen people as their main office staff.

What Vallas has accomplished he has largely done by more than doubling per-pupil expenditures, mostly by spending one-time monies that are supposed to be going to long-term needs and infrastructure. Give any urban school district in the country that kind of fiscal injection and you are going to see improvement.

But while Vallas has shrunk student-teacher ratios and brought technology into the classroom, he has also failed to fix basic problems. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that RSD professional development is a bad joke, run by salespeople and consultants who largely have no classroom experience. The implementation of the much-publicized technology like the “promethian boards” is abysmal; half the time it just doesn’t work. The discipline policy is toothless, where it is actually enforced. The paperwork errors are legion: in one small example a teacher friend of mine called me tonight and explained to me that the RSD had lost the 11th grade records for a large number of her former students, and has been sending them as seniors back to 11th grade classes.

And the charters? The great wunderkind of public education? Please. Again, most of them have no idea how to handle discipline. A third of teachers in Algiers think their merit-pay scheme TAP should be scrapped, and another third think it should be overhauled. And among the wonders of their decentralized model of education is a situation where no school can afford retiree health care for their employees because they’ve lost the economy of scale that a real school district has.

Charters have largely made what improvements they can claim in test scores by creaming their student populations via a combination of backdoor selective admissions and “soft expulsion”, where the parents of troublesome kids are “encouraged” to pull their kids out so the school won’t have to expel them. This, and their ability to attract private funding.

But don’t believe the hype or the Times-Picayune headlines. Even with these advantages, many of the charters have not improved their test scores, and charter schools here, when you take the test scores of the same schools pre-storm, have largely dropped in performance. This echoes national trends, that charter schools perform on average slightly below regular public schools in standardized test scores.

But again, none of this seems to bother Paul Tough, who is busy chasing down attractive 23-year old ivy leaguers and falling head over heels for their dedication to saving the ignorant savages of New Orleans.

Here’s another story that didn’t make it in to any of these reports: the RSD basically drove out the internationally renowned writing program Students At the Center (SAC) with a combination of neglect, bungling and outright hostility. This year there is no SAC at Frederick Douglass High School in the 9th ward, and the “reformer” Vallas and his cronies who he put in charge of academics, many of whom are overpaid consultants with no educational experience, are to blame.

Paul Tough basically swallowed the PR of New Schools for New Orleans hook, line and sinker, and came up with the sort of dross that Sam Winston was writing for Gambit Weekly before I took him to Einstein Charter in the fall of ’07 to see how badly a school that has no real accountability can go. Tough should know better; he is a professional. I have to wonder; did he even talk to any teachers who weren’t recent TFA graduates?

This sort of shallow, ideologically loaded work is the reason that people in the rest of the country have no idea what is going on here.

August 18, 2008

The Savvy Bureaucrat Presents: A GUIDE TO AVOIDING PUBLIC INPUT IN PUBLIC MEETINGS

Filed under: Class,Media,New Orleans Politics,Other,UNOP,We Are Not OK — christian @ 11:40 am

Everyone involved in policymaking in New Orleans today recognizes that public input is an essential component of the legitimacy of any plan or policy. But we also know that public opinion is unpredictable; that people will come down and express their opinions in a way that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, cannot be managed and diverted into the self-interest of planners, policy-makers, and the host of bureaucrats and non-profit flunkies who must accompany any process.

So what to do when public opinion, for PR reasons, is inevitable? We at the savvy bureaucrat offer you this handy-dandy guide for avoiding, at all costs, real public input while maintaining the necessary facade to keep your hands clean and bamboozle the majority of the public who will only find out about these things through newspapers which your PR people have good relationships with.

Without further ado, the savvy bureaucrat’s GUIDE TO AVOIDING PUBLIC INPUT IN PUBLIC MEETINGS.

Rule #1: Announce your meetings right before they happen.
Why give your critics advanced notice? If you can put a notice in the Times-Picayune a day before the event, all the better. Websites are also beautiful for this. Just have your webmaster put a little blurb on your website, say, a few hours before the event. If anyone bitches, hey, did you check the website? And the odds of people who are farther away from the process you are managing- in other words, ordinary working folks, checking your website is next to nil.

Bonus points- do this in states like Louisiana that have low levels of overall internet usage.

Rule #2: If possible, hold your meeting in the most obscure and distant location possible.
Why use city hall of the largest city in the state when you can use a hotel in some obscure town in the hinterland?

Rule #3: Hold meetings at a time when no-one who is not part of the bureaucracy could possibly attend.
Daytime meetings are more convenient for those of us who are in the in-crowd. We wouldn’t want to extend our workdays unnecessarily by holding a meeting at, say, 7PM, now would we? We might be tired and cranky the next morning. Most ordinary working folks, in other words the people who will be affected by your plan, can’t possible get off work at 2:30 PM on a Monday. So it’s a great time for all of us who really matter, and it keeps the riff-raff out.

Rule #4: Delay. Delay. Delay.
About to put out something unpopular? Never fear! You can kill public interest by continually extending the deadline. Say you’ll release it at May 31… no, July 17… no, September 1… no, September 18! No one will be paying attention when you finally unveil your plan.

Rule #5: Hold a tedious public meeting that reveals nothing.

Start the meeting by the sort of mutual self-congratulation that will assure everyone in the room who the important and unimportant people are. Talk about how you knew your fellow bureaucrat’s cousin’s daughter in college. Talk about what a great plan you are unveiling, and how much work you put into it. Conduct other business. Whatever you need to do, but by all means DO NOT reveal actual content until much later, hours later if possible. By that time even the fiercest public watchdogs will be doing crossword puzzles if they haven’t left to relieve the babysitter or go back to their day job.

And today, we have to give credit to (drumroll please…. not the New Orleans City Council (good jobs on #1 and #5, but tazers are a little crude, folks), not our long-time champions the Louisiana Recovery Authority (you guys wrote the book on this one), but our new champions of avoiding public input…

Concordia Architects and The New Orleans School Facilities Master Plan Team!

Way to go guys, on #1, #3, and #4! Can’t wait for your meeting this afternoon so we can see you really smoke ‘em!

May 30, 2008

Scattered Notes May 30

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Politics,New Orleans Schools,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 5:55 pm

A lot has gone down since the server that housed my blog went out. The big news:

The lawsuit to re-open Charity Hospital went to its first hearing in Civil District Court. Judge Ethel Simms Julien rejected LSU HSC-New Orleans claims that would have forced the case to go to court in Baton Rouge.

This is a big win. Baton Rouge may only be eighty-five miles away, but it’s another world in many respects. Baton Rouge judges have not been as sympathetic to these issues as our own have.

More by Justice Roars

 

Last week I also had the pleasure of meeting Eli Ackerman of the blog We Could Be Famous. I am impressed by his work, notably his filing of FOIA requests for the contracting process that landed Concordia and Parsons Engineering with the school facilities master plan contracts, requests that so far have resulted in his being stonewalled.

We Could Be Famous on Paul Vallas, Parsons and Concordia

Apparently Eli has a lot more time for research than I do, and thank God someone is doing it.

 

And lastly, there has been a leadership change at United Teachers of New Orleans (for the record: my day job) resulting in Larry Carter and Jim Randels being elected to President and Executive VP of UTNO.

UTNO website

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