Dirty South Bureau

October 5, 2010

American fascists

Filed under: Other — christian @ 6:02 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the term “fascist”, perhaps because it keeps coming up in political discussions or because of the bizarre media spectacle of having this term applied to our first black president. Sadly, the term is rarely used correctly. Even when leftists used the term in the 1960′s and 1970′s, it was more a derogatory euphemism than a real analysis of a political form.

And this seems to be the nature of use of the word in contemporary culture – everyone uses it and no-one seems to know for sure what it means. It is used to conjure up an image of total state control, of mustachioed leaders, of forced work camps and mass exterminations, of evil in a political sense. It has been applied not only to Obama, but to Saddam Hussein, Nixon, and really anyone powerful we don’t like. And I think this lack of understanding and analysis makes it easy to use in this way – as the verbal form of a rotten tomato to throw at a hated figure.

Some of the difficulty may lie in the movements that created it. Mussolini, who adopted the use of the Roman fasces, a symbol of political and legal authority, was not known as a systematic political thinker. He basically borrowed from where-ever he wanted to create an opportunistic political form. However, European fascist movements from their era of greatest power – the 1920′s, 30′s and early 40′s – have remarkably similar characteristics, and I think it is not only possible but important to recognize what fascism was.

Fascism as a potent mass movement is tied to a particular era and geography – a European political phenomenon from the inter-war period. This is not to say that fascist groups do not exist today, or that a resurgence of similar movements could not occur – in fact they may be occurring. But we don’t have true fascism yet, not as state power and certainly not as a potent international movement.

Much of my analysis of fascism comes from a study of the 20th century, and in particular I recommend Phillip Morgan’s Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945 (Routledge 2003), as the most comprehensive study of the phenomenon I’ve found. Morgan looks at fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, Hungary and Romania, as well as movements in Yugoslavia, France, England and other nations including tiny movements in Scandinavia – basically the entire range of European fascists at the time. It is important to note that all these movements have similar characteristics, and borrow from each other.

A definition of fascism

Given the lack of true consensus by scholars, I want to put forward a definition of fascism that I feel is most accurate – and if you disagree, feel free to comment. Fascism is a mass political movement and/or regime with three characteristics: 1. militarism, and an attempt to re-create society based on military norms and forms of organization, 2. overt racism, with a racialized “in-group” and persecuted “out-groups”, and 3. authoritarianism plus a mass political leader with a cult of personality. These characteristics were true of every major European fascist movement and regime, but also define our popular understanding of those regimes.

So are is the American Nazi Party fascist? They sure are trying to be, but with all due respect to their victims, they have always been a marginal force, not a mass political movement. Was Franco a fascist? Not really. As a brutal military dictator he resembled fascists of the time, and Morgan and I may have different reasons for not considering Franco a fascist, but my argument is that since overt racism was not a central part of Franco’s program he’s not really quite a fascist. Though this was probably no consolation to his victims.

Beyond those two clearly confusing cases, if we think of the number of people the term fascist has been inaccurately applied to, the list is quite long.

Let’s take a few examples. Was Stalin a fascist? No, he was the intensely brutal head of an extremely powerful 20th century Communist nation. He didn’t have to be a fascist to kill millions of Russians. However, Stalin was still prevented by the dominant communist ideology to allow racism to be a central feature of his regime. Militarism, authoritarianism and a slave system using the unpaid labor of political dissidents was enough for Stalin.

Now we get into more difficult terrain. Was Leander Perez, the mid-20th century political boss of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, a fascist? As an aggressively racist authoritarian political leader he sure was close. But Perez never tried to reorganize Plaquemines upon military lines. He didn’t need to. One main thing that makes brutal 20th century racist political leaders in the Deep South something other than fascists is that they didn’t need militarism. Informal violence against black individuals and communities worked fine for their ends. They never raised armies to invade Washington. Maybe they knew better.

A note on corporatism

Mussolini once stated that fascism is the union of corporations and the state. As I mentioned before, Mussolini was hardly a categorical political thinker, and I take such a comment (as much as I like to quote it) as a missive. It is true that corporatism was the economic program of European fascist regimes, and fit into the fascist schema. However, corporatism exists in many other systems that have nothing to do with fascism, and though inconsistent, in contemporary usage we tend to be talking about these other characteristics.

Lance Hill’s incorrect characterization of Huey Long

One reason I am writing this is that my work on Huey Long has been plagued by inaccurate representations of the man coming from many people who should know better. While I have tremendous respect for Lance Hill, particularly for his work on the Deacons for Defense, his description of Huey Long as a “bayou fascist” is particularly noteworthy for its flagrant substitution of euphemism for accurate terminology.

Long’s regime was authoritarian and he certainly was a mass political leader with a cult of personality. But since his political movement was not founded either on militarism (he didn’t enlist for the First World War; when asked about it he said he “wasn’t mad at anybody”) or overt racism, he is hardly a fascist. Using the national guard in New Orleans doesn’t count and it is a disrespect to the legitimate victims of fascism to use this term for a regime that started providing free school books to black students and didn’t kill anybody (Long’s assassination was the only political murder associated with his rule in the state). Long mobilized poor whites not against African-Americans but against the rich – hardly a fascist basis for a political movement.

Sure, Louisiana was (is) a racist state, and supporters including Perez were close to being fascists, but that hardly makes Long the equivalent of a Hitler or a Mussolini. One out of three – personal rule by a mass leader with cult of personality – does not a fascist make.

Fascists in America

I am not the only one to note that fascism never really caught on here. Perhaps it is our distrust of European political ideas. Perhaps it is because America has distinct if similar political forms to Europe, and we tend to use European political terminology.

However, movements similar to fascism can be found emerging in the American right. In particular, Arizona’s right-wing anti-immigration movement may be the closest thing we have seen to a real fascist movement in this country. The Tea Party also has fascist tendencies – though its messaging is notably unclear and inconsistent. The militarism – including the strong emphasis on bearing arms, even bringing them to demonstrations, the support of wars against the Muslim “enemy” and the militarized border – is a start. The racism and authoritarianism are absolutely there, with Arizona’s new legalized racial profiling, and the constant demonization of immigrants and Muslims, as well as appeals to restore order to the nation, which I can only guess would be the order of Gestapo and work camps, which immigrant detention centers resemble more and more.

The way that right-wing political leaders and agitators talk about immigrants in this country is very similar to Nazi anti-Jewish, anti-Roma (Gypsy) and anti-immigrant propaganda. In both cases, leaders mobilize masses, including small businesspeople and a downwardly mobile middle class, many of whom are suffering from very real economic crises, to blame racialized “out-groups” for their economic circumstances and the state of their nation. Under the Nazis, such propaganda was blatantly racially oriented. In the United States, white Anglo “Americans” are mobilized against overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and Muslim Arabs, with less overt mention of race – though religion is clearly mentioned. But the realities are clear, if nowhere else than in the racial profiling that Arizona is attempts to enshrine as law.

The only thing that keeps these groups from being real, bona-fide fascists is the lack of a charismatic mass leader. Sarah Palin is too much of a joke – like Alessandra Mussolini (grand-daughter of Il Duce), who broke up the far-right grouping in the European Parliament ranting about Romanians, she may be more of a liability than an asset to her movement. A real fascist leader would have at least held on to the governorship of Alaska to use as a springboard, but Palin seems to be more of a Paris Hilton than a Hitler. Even skilled agitators like Glen Beck fail to make the cut.

So perhaps this lack of leadership on the right (similar to the American left, frankly) is the only thing that keeps us from having a true, home-grown fascist movement. Thank God for small favors. However, it is important to note that many of those who are painting mustaches on Obama are, in fact, very close to being fascists themselves, with all the racism, militarism and authoritarianism, masquerading as patriotism and self-reliance, fueled by a frenzy of fear-based messaging. Do not underestimate them. Historically, that has been a fatal mistake.

September 15, 2010

Towards a politics of results, or I am voting Democrat for solar panels, high speed rail and wind turbine factories and you should too.

Filed under: environment,Louisiana,Other — christian @ 7:49 pm

Why I have returned to the Democratic Party: voting for results

For the first time in ten years, I have returned a staunch if critical supporter of the US Democratic Party in the 2010 congressional elections. Many of my friends will ask why, after ten years as an active Green Party member and someone critical of our economic system I am supporting the Democrats, a mainstream party that gobbles up corporate donations, is inconsistent in its support of working people and the environment, supports wars in foreign lands and generally doesn’t seem to have a consistent ideology. Hell, I didn’t even vote for Obama; I didn’t believe he would do much for us. I was wrong.

In short: I am voting Democrat for high speed rail, wind turbine factories and solar panels. Because I vote for results, and the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats have delivered.

I work for a company reporting on the global solar industry, and that position allows me to closely monitor the news in energy policy.* There has been a lot that President Obama and Secretary Chu of the DOE have done that I do not like; namely the loan guarantees to Southern Company to build new nuclear reactors in Georgia. However, the more I look into it, the more the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act or “stimulus package”) is appearing to be the most important piece of legislation passed in my lifetime, and one that will begin to put this nation on a path towards a better future in tangible ways.

*Disclaimer: the writings on this blog do not represent the positions of my employer and never have.

The Dangers of Global Warming and dependence on finite resources

Most of you, like most of the world, are aware of the danger that man-made Global Warming poses for us, our children and our world. You know about the shrinking glaciers, you know about the opening up of the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean north of Russia to sea travel for the first time in recorded history. You may also know that Hurricane Expert Dr. Kerry Emanuel says that Global Warming gave Katrina the extra energy to destroy our poorly-made levees here in New Orleans. You may or may not know that record temperatures seriously damaged Russia’s wheat crop this year, and that flooding in Bangladesh continues to worsen. And you may or may not know that if sea levels rise, you can kiss South Louisiana goodbye.

You also know that coal, petroleum and natural gas are finite, while our appetite for energy grows every year. And you know what happens when we go looking for oil farther and farther off shore. You also know that even Alan Greenspan has acknowledged that our war in Iraq was all about oil supply. You also know that people don’t voluntarily stop using energy. Therefore, any sane leader would put mass transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy industries at the top of the list of national and international priorities.

Nurturing the seeds of clean energy and new mass transit industries

Every few days I write another article from another state on some renewable energy program that has been funded by the Recovery Act. Whether it is a wind turbine factory in New Orleans East, a lithium-ion battery plant in Michigan, high-speed rail on the West Coast, the Midwest and Northeast, or just another run-of-the-mill solar incentive program, the Recovery Act has cast seeds of this better future far and wide.

It is now up to us to nurture and grow these seeds. Historically, new industries have not sprouted whole; they are typically nurtured by states through their early stages until they can become competitive. Nations that are not allowed to do this, as historically has been the case in the “developing” world (which never quite gets to developed) remain economically stunted. China right now is pouring heavy state support into its renewable energy industries, because it knows that these are the industries of the future. If we want to compete, we have to do the same. Period.

The benefits of doing this are not only good manufacturing jobs but fewer wars and other catastrophes, both from the crises that will inevitably occur when we exhaust our fossil fuel resources, but from the changes that Global Warming will cause when it manifests as shifting climate patterns.

Of course, people must live in the short run as well, and I will note that among other things, the Democrats are responsible for extending unemployment insurance and forcing health insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It is also important to note that the Democrats’ new legislation has abandoned the “free-market” Clintonite era and is embracing economic nationalism, which is a fancy term for keeping good jobs in this country.

The Right has No Plan

Which is exactly why I am strongly, if critically supporting the Democratic Party this fall. The Republicans have no answer to these crises except to thwart renewables (with the exception of Schwarzenegger), and to continue to subsidize fossil fuel generation. Hell, David Vitter (R), our whore-mongering hypocrite of a Senator here in Louisiana, even suggested that we bail out BP, a foreign corporation, after they destroyed the Gulf, poisoned the shore, and lied about everything.

Now I do want to note that President Obama does not have a spotless record either. He has given with one hand and taken away with the other. His EPA utterly failed us in the BP Oil Flood, and he deserves to be taken to task for this. However, Obama was not alone. Thirty years of mostly Republican Presidents have been whittling down agencies like the EPA and OSHA to the point where they are a failed model of protection. I’m not letting Obama off the hook. He failed us. However, not only might Republicans have done even worse, but they are part of that failure by fighting against environmental regulation and the interests of working people.

The Republican Party, whether in its mainstream or Tea Party variety stand not only for racism, war, and the entrenched interests of the rich and corporations, in its most visceral form, but for quarterly profits over the future for our children. They don’t believe in health and safety regulation, and they have no plan for when the oil runs out. Instead, they substitute racially tinged paranoia, moralistic arguments and economic mystification.

Furthermore, they are lying about their opposition to Big Government. They support a militarized border with your and my tax dollars, as well as social programs that will lead to an expansion of prisons and law enforcement. The Right in this country gave us the $800 billion Iraq adventure that left hundreds of thousands dead. They want a Big Government and they will need taxes for it; only their Big Government will give you war, police and prisons instead of healthcare, education and jobs. Never forget that our military is our biggest source of federal government expenses.

We can’t let these bastards take over congress this fall. We have too much to loose.

Voting in the larger scheme of things

My friends have ask me from time to time what I think needs to be done. We need real structural change in this country; namely we need to build real institutions by, of and for working and poor people, we need to disband the large corporations and nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, and we need a government and a society focused on sustainability (which will only come from the first two). Voting Democrat won’t get you there. But there are long-term programs and short-term fixes. Voting is a minimal form of political activity, and isn’t as important as belonging to or starting a union at your workplace, but it is important at times. This is one of those times.

Look at the policies that matter for our children and our future. Stop voting on name or even personal reputation, but on policies. These people aren’t Sunday school teachers, we’re hiring them to do a job, and that is to vote for our interests. And I urge each and every one of you to get politically active this fall, because this election matters.

Voting for results in Louisiana elections

Now, I want to make clear that I still don’t support Democrats because they are Democrats. I support the Democratic Party at this present moment because they are giving us meaningful policies for our future, and the minute they stop, so does my support. Also, I do not support certain right-wing Blue Dog Democrats, like Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Landrieu, a servant of the oil industry, has consistently conspired with her buddy Senator Lisa Murkowski to undo any effective regulation of greenhouse gases. She is a traitor to the future of our state and will be remembered as such.

I do support Charlie Melancon. I don’t agree with everything that he does, but he alone among Louisiana’s congressional delegation voted for the stimulus, and for God’s sake: he’s running against Vitter. And I strongly support Cedric Richmond against Cao, because Cao voted against the stimulus, health care reform and expansion of public lands. I don’t care if he’s nice to talk to, he’s a pawn of the big money and votes against our interests time and time again. Don’t let Slick Joe fool you.

There are other important races in other parts of the nation. We can’t afford to lose; too much rides in the balance. Pollsters are already predicting a Republican victory this Fall, and they will be buoyed by the unlimited money of corporations now that we the Supreme Court has turned our elections over to them. But it is not over yet.

Various organizations like MoveOn.org will ask for your money. I support MoveOn, and while both are important I say it is more important to talk to your neighbors and get active than to give money. We can’t outspend the corporations but we can out-mobilize them. We had better, as we are engaged in a national struggle for the future of our nation and our world.

Go get her done.

February 2, 2010

Who ***?

Filed under: culture,Media,Other — christian @ 8:49 am

As many of you know, I do not usually write about professional sports.

I like a good football game as much as anybody. I have a little more difficulty getting attached to any particular pro football team, because of a disconnect between where the team is based and where the players are from. They seem a little like mercenaries to me. Now give me an LSU game, and that to me is more interesting.

But this whole issue with NFL claiming to own the phrase “Who dat?” is another matter. Obviously I believe in intellectual property rights – I’m a writer. We need IPR to make our money. I’m a big fan of the copyright office, because it means if a publisher screws me on a major work, I can sue.

But I think we should all use this is a time to step back and take a look at our society when the NFL claims to own a fan phrase that is almost the city slogan.

This may not mean much in practical terms for most of us on the street. I mean, I can yell “Who dat?” all night long (and likely will on Feb. 6), and the NOPD ain’t going to lock me up.

Obviously it means something for t-shirt makers and maybe even radio professionals. But just a god-damned minute here? Who the hell do the swine behind the NFL think they are? Are they not making enough money off of our obsession here?

No, clearly not. Not enough for them, anyway.

I look at this instance in light of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited campaign finance contributions by corporations. No, they are not happy with what they have. They want more. And that means they want it from you and me, because we, as working people, are what makes profit possible.

The details may be very complicated, but that is the bottom line. The people running the corporations, whether it is Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart, or the NFL, want more.

Well, f*** them. WHO DAT?

August 31, 2009


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

Review of “Hunger”

Filed under: Media,Other — christian @ 10:11 pm

So on the publishing front, the other day I wrote a quick review of the film Hunger by British filmmaker Steve McQueen (no relation to the American actor) and playwright Edna Walsh, which got published in the “webzine” of a socialist group that I’ve been known to hang out with (FBI take note!).

As I mention in the review, more Americans should see this film, for perspective if nothing else.

Review on the Solidarity website.

August 24, 2008

Rising Tide III

Filed under: Media,New Orleans Schools,Other — christian @ 1:34 pm

Im disappointed that I didnt get to stay for all of Rising Tide III yesterday. And I dont just have such a high opinion of New Orleans annual blogger conference because I was a panelist on the education panel. Not at all. First off, it was great to run into all the local bloggers and media-makers: G-Bitch, Patrick, Loki, Alan, Liprap, Oyster, Bart Everson, even Schroeder.

Second, the keynote speech by author John Berry, who wrote the original Rising Tide about the Great Flood of 1927, was amazing. I was thrilled to get to ask the man himself questions about the impact of the aftermath of the flood on the rise of southern populist leaders like Huey Long.

The few panels which I was able to catch were also excellent. I was particularly honored to be able to sit on the education panel with such an accomplished scholar as Leigh Dingerson from the Center for Community Change, but also the people who know so much from first-hand experience such as Cliff, G-Bitch and Jeffrey Berman. Getting to talk to Nation author and former Gambit Weekly editor Michael Tisserand definitely capped the day off.

But I must also note for the various bloggers covering this conference that I no longer work for United Teachers of New Orleans, so please do not list me as such.

August 18, 2008


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 bureaucrats 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 wouldnt 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, cant possible get off work at 2:30 PM on a Monday. So its 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 youll 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 bureaucrats cousins 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 havent 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! Cant wait for your meeting this afternoon so we can see you really smoke em!

July 28, 2008

“Booms”, pom-poms, rickety streetcars and 400,000 gallons of toxic waste.

Filed under: environment,Other,We Are Not OK — christian @ 12:09 am

So I went down tonight to the Mississippi tonight to look at the river from the Moonwalk, near the French Quarter. It is covered with an oily sheen, and against the shore is a line of orange floatation devices, covered in oil. There is still a noxious smell.

What is the point of these “booms”? To keep the oil off the rocks, so the tourists can’t see it next month?

My friend Joanna Dubinsky had been down a few days prior, when a crew of workers in hazmat suits working for an out of town contractor were mopping up the oil by hand with pom-poms.

Yes, pom-poms. Like cheerleaders use.

This is the government’s plan to deal with the 400,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil that leaked out following a barge accident on Wednesday. Today’s Times-Picayune says that 10% of the oil has been mopped up by these crews and a type of boat called a skimmer. The rest has floated down into the wetlands in the delta, where it is doing god-knows-what damage. The article also quotes wildlife conservation officials who say they have found 57 oil-soaked birds.

No source was cited for the 10% figure. I am assuming this means this was the official PR estimate by the state, which means that it was total bullshit. But let’s get real. Even 10% is totally inadequate. It’s like having your doctor say he was able to stop 10% of the bleeding on a wound.

Where the fuck is FEMA? Where the fuck is the EPA? If 400,000 gallons of toxic waste don’t qualify as an emergency, could someone please explain to me what does?

A preliminary report by Louisiana Environmental Action Network (for the record, my former employer) explains that this “#6 fuel oil”, a byproduct of the refining process, contains large amounts of sulphur and heavy metals. This report also details a number of basic safety procedures that could have prevented such an accident.

But let’s be honest. The biggest problem here is our dependence on petroleum. It’s clear that the increased frequency of severe hurricanes in the gulf is related to global warming, which in turn is largely a result of, again, our petroleum use. The oil industry has criss-crossed the wetlands with canals, which also made us more vulnerable to major storms. And now our dependence on oil has caused yet another environmental disaster of untold proportions.

What’s going to happen to the shrimp and oyster beds in the delta? And what’s going to happen to the few shrimpers down the river who haven’t already been put out of business?

Shell and Exxon-Mobil executives should be down there mopping this shit up themselves. Instead they make pretty commercials and donate token sums to wetlands restoration, and the rest of us remain pacified.

And because this shit is all related: after all southern Louisiana has been through as a result of our dependence on oil, why don’t we have a functioning transportation system in this city? Why is our public transit based around a couple of fucking streetcars for the tourists that look cute but go about three miles per hour? Is this the result of the years that we spent in bullshit public planning processes?

July 24, 2008

400,000 gallons of diesel

Filed under: Bywater,environment,Other,We Are Not OK — christian @ 11:45 pm

OK, so, did anyone else notice the noxious gas-station smell last night in the neighborhoods by the river? Here I was at Markey’s, paying $3 for Abita Amber (the rising cost of beer here is a whole other subject) and I go outside, and there’s this Mad Max smell everywhere. Turns out that, as of the Times-Picayune’s reporting this morning, we have a 400,000 gallon fuel oil spill in the Mississippi, just slightly down river from our water plant.

Holy fucking shit. There is something so apocalyptic about this that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it. What’s even more profound is that only a few people seem really excited about this.

Is this because the Mississippi is the nation’s urinary canal, carrying tons of nitrates and pesticides past us each day?

Is this because this shit (after treated in a local treatment plant) is what comes out of our tap?

I can still recall post-Katrina when you literally could not drink or even bathe in the water. I still recall my lover at the time spraying herself down with frebreeze as her daily shower.

Welcome to the future.

April 21, 2008

Ya Heard Me?

Filed under: Class,Media,New Orleans Politics,Other,public housing,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 4:51 pm

It’s sad to think that while I was busy working and sleeping during the vast majority of films at the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival, I easily could have missed Saturday night’s premier of Ya Heard Me?, a groundbreaking documentary on Bounce.

This movie blew my mind. It starts pretty much as one would expect— gratuitous booty dancing shots, interviews with various artists and producers. But during the course of the film, it slowly peels away the layers not only to reveal Bounce as a highly original and powerful artistic expression of a people, but also to delve into the sexual politics of Bounce— from artist Mia X’s straight-up feminist lyrics to the entire “Sissy” scene, with artists like Katey Red making Bounce that is an expression of homosexual, trans culture.

The exploration of dance in the movie also moves beyond simple booty shaking to show a highly sophisticated form of dance that looks remarkably similar to traditional African dances, expressed in a contemporary, urban context. One has to wonder if the filmmakers intentionally led the viewers from stereotyped scenes deeper in slowly, to emphasize the contradictions between mainstream (often white) perceptions of Bounce and the real thing.

But perhaps the most powerful thread to run through the movie is Bounce as music that came out of New Orleans’ public housing developments. Many of the scenes are shot in and around projects such the Magnolia (CJ Peete), Calliope (BW Cooper) and Melpomene developments (large sections of Calliope and all of Magnolia are now piles of rubble). The term “project music” is repeatedly used by musicians and producers to describe Bounce, and it is a powerful irony to see the celebration of this culture at the moment it is most threatened, which the film also explores, tracking the displacement of artists such as Cheeky Blakk.

Big shout out to Jordan Flaherty, an organizer of the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival, for making this possible. Jordan struck a powerful chord in his introduction to the film, hinting at the importance of recognizing the range of cultural achievements of this city, particularly when they are left out by the self-appointed arbiters of New Orleans music culture such as (he did not mention them by name) WWOZ.

Incidentally, I’ve heard rumors that OZ has finally grudgingly acknowledged the cultural importance of New Orleans Hip-Hop and begun letting certain DJ’s play Hip-Hop and Bounce. I have yet to hear any of that on the station. Last thing I knew OZ had a strict no Hip-Hop policy. To quote DJ Davis “When they said community music, I didn’t realize they meant the community of white Yankees who listen to black music from forty years ago instead of the community of thirty-year old black people who actually live here and make music.”

So for the time being, Bounce, instead of having non-profit and foundation backing like Jazz and other “acceptable” forms of music, is sold out of trunks at gas stations.

Little changes. It’s important to remember that Jazz was originally as unacceptable to mainstream white culture as Hip-hop is, that white musicians were drawn to it (like Hip-hop), that in many ways it was co-opted, and that now that it is no longer considered a threat to mainstream white culture it is acceptable. I have to wonder if Hip-hop (and Bounce) will follow a similar trajectory.



January 24, 2008

On Walls (& Ron Pauls)

Filed under: Other,Race — christian @ 12:15 pm

The most glorious image I have seen in years came across my computer screen the other day… the image of families and streams of people crossing the collapsed remains of the wall between Gaza and Egypt. Can there be any sight more affirming to the human spirit than human beings crossing the barriers that keep them from other people… and in our contemporary era, from the things that they need- such as, in this case, food, medicine and fuel?

We cheered when the Berlin Wall fell, and people all over the world should cheer now. And yet this morning, I found myself looking at another curious sight… Counterpunch publisher and Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn endorsing Ron Paul for president in the January 21 edition of The Nation (I know, I’m a week late reading this one). In Coburn’s deeply creepy column, he speaks about seeing the faces of the people with Ron Paul bumper stickers pass him on the highways of his northern California retreat and liking what he sees. I don’t know, Alex… is that because they look like you? White country folk?

I dislike even writing about Ron Paul, who to me is just another small time right-wing nut, like the pathetic two dozen white supremacists who marched in Jena on Monday (surrounded by, according to the AP, ten times their number of counter-protesters), or former presidential spoiler Ross Perot. But lately folks like Cockburn and Stan Goff have been supporting him, and so I feel like I need to come out and say it.

Now I know that the Iraq war is the most important issue in this election, and that Ron Paul has voted consistently against the war- unlike Hillary Clinton or John Edwards (Obama wasn’t in a position to, but has scary enough foreign policy statements). But there are plenty of people who oppose the war these days, and frankly that isn’t enough for me. And here’s why.

Ron Paul wants a more “secure” militarized border. Read— big wall between us and Mexico. In the twenty-first century, this is not only sick and wrong, but it is deeply backwards. Coburn mentioned that he liked Paul’s commitment to “Jeffersonian democracy”, which should tell you something- that Ron Paul is stuck in the early 19th century. Of course he opposed the Iraq war- he’s a nativist isolationist, and his ideas are worthy of the Know-Nothing Party.

True, Paul would avoid certain foreign policy decisions that increase the stimulus for immigration. But it’s too late for that. We have populations in much of Latin America who have been pushed to desperation through lopsided trade policies and other means of economic warfare, and now they are coming here.

You may be asking yourself- what does this have to do with New Orleans?

New Orleans, as a city, is proof of the power of diversity. The greatness of this city cannot even be taken away in our recent ruin, because the gifts New Orleans gave the rest of the world shaped and at times defined world culture in the twentieth century. With our Spanish and Caribbean architecture, our African-American rhythms set to European-American instruments, our African parades, Catholic-French/Latin carnivals, our African and Italian food, we remain the most culturally rich city in the nation. And we owe all of this to our mixed heritage. This was, according to geographer Richard Campanella, the most diverse city in America one hundred years ago, because of large numbers of descendants of slaves and immigrants.

Who are we to say that our ancestors, who created all of this, were the ‘worthy’ immigrants, and the new immigrants are unworthy? It is not only hypocrisy. It is self-defeating. Today Hondurenos, Mexicans and other Latino immigrants are rebuilding this city faster than it ever would be rebuilt otherwise.

To Ron Paul and all of his supporters: this is the twenty-first century, folks- not the nineteenth. Get on board. Walls didn’t work then and won’t work now. And when they fall, get ready to meet your neighbors- “over the obscene boundaries.”

March 15, 2007

Pete Smith, ????-2007

Filed under: Bywater,Other — christian @ 5:15 pm

I ran into my old friend and client Matt Ryan today and found out that Pete Smith has passed.

Pete Smith was someone most folks outside of the Irish channel and the 9th ward won’t know. Pete was a carpenter, a musician, and a vagabond- he had built houses and played music all over the country. He was a kind and gentle soul who never had a bad word to say about anyone.

I learned a lot from Pete. He was a master of the sort of reconstructive carpentry that is needed these days in New Orleans. He had large, heavy hands and worked very carefully. Probably the only reason that the building between First and Phillip on Magazine that we spent nine months fixing up didn’t collapse on our heads was because of Pete’s skill with hydraulic jacks and braces.

Pete was a fine musician as well, played the mandolin beautifully. He made a mean Spanakopita, too. You wouldn’t think that the skinny old man who looked like Willy Nelson could do things like that with those big hands. I had the feeling he could cook other things, but I never knew. He was always glad to see you, and he had a personal warmth and charm that affected everyone around him. I met only one person who didn’t get along with Pete, and the individual in question didn’t get along with anyone else, including himself.

We called him Old Pete, and he was beloved in the neighborhood. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was like a holy man, a holy man who was also an alcoholic. Pete drank too much and all the time. Not only did it keep him poor for the years that I knew him but it probably contributed to his untimely death.

I can still hear his rich voice in my skull, and see him shaking his big hands in that peculiar physical expression of his.

There are a half dozen houses around this city, maybe more, that are fine homes for people because of Pete Smith. I know of three myself, one of which is four two-bedroom apartments. There are businesses that operate in spaces that he constructed out of the shells of falling apart buildings. And the people who live there will never dream of the man who put them together, will enjoy the use of these spaces but never will know the old half-Irish half-Greek hippie carpenter from was born in Massachusetts, who could never afford to live in any of these places.

And never cared, either.

I remember one day when we were working on the big house on Magazine in 2002. It was a quiet day like most days we spent there, and hot. There was nothing but a hot, white silence as we put up stud after stud of Canadian spruce. And then, seeming from far away, someone started playing boogie-woogie piano across the street, and it got loud. Pete and I heard it, and he put down his tools, and walked over to the wall and beat out a rhythm with his big hands, and began to holler.

Pete Smith died but he never got old. He was alive.

Peter Smith, God rest your soul, we miss you.

July 24, 2006

Markey’s bar

Filed under: Bywater,Other,Race — christian @ 4:35 am

A window seat at Markey’s, the one that looks through the old wooden doors onto the corner of Louisa and Royal streets. It’s as good a place as any to start an anthology of the bars of New Orleans. Markey’s is a timeless Bywater bar, one of the oldest still in existence. There’s nothing flashy about the inside and never really gets decorated. It’s all old, darkly stained wood, comfortable wooden seats, too many televisions, two video poker machines, shuffleboard, pool and darts, all in a space not much bigger than a two-bedroom apartment.

There’s a framed black and white photo of Michael Markey above the bar. Old yats like Jimmy Jones who runs a ninth ward machine shop will tell you about how the handsome Irishman used to serve blacks liquor and food through the side window. Pete Smith, the old hippie carpenter I used to work with says that both Markey’s and Parasol’s in the Irish Channel started serving women and blacks in the mid 80’s (“what would I want to go to a bar for if it didn’t have women and black people in it?” He would ask me).

These days the only thing Irish about Markey’s is the Pogues on the jukebox. Generations change but it’s still the same working-class white demographic. Today it’s a mix of young hip service industry workers from the neighborhood and carpenters in sleeveless t-shirts, their girlfriends in feathered hair and sweat pants with their brastraps showing. It’s not as flashy as Mimi’s, not as underground cool as the Saturn, not as definitively ninth ward, or as depressing, as BJ’s or Vaughns.

There’s still no black people, but El Markey’s is the first newly Hispanic bar that I have encountered in post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t know how it happened but one day I came in and three Hispanic construction workers were sitting there drinking beer and bartenders and waiters were chatting in simple Spanish. So I go in and order an Abitita, the half-pint, and the short girl with the dark brown hair asks me if I want a little boy drink or a man-sized drink.

The jukebox is much of the reason that many of us go to Markey’s, and when it was down I never spent more than twenty minutes there. The music reflects the clientele- defiantly not as hip as Pal’s or the Saint uptown. Dylan, the Stones, David Bowie, even a Jimmy Buffet CD (incidentally, locals who work in the service industry do not play Jimmy Buffet. Not only is it shitty music, but Buffet’s French Quarter restaurant, Margaritaville, is well known. Buffet pretends to be an old, simple sailor when in fact he is a abusive, neurotic capitalist pig.) There’s Flogging Mollys in there as well, and Old 97’s, as well as some New Orleans stuff- Professor Longhair, a mix CD with some Irma Thomas. Track 47-12 is Guitar Slim doing “Things that I used to Do” which was redone in the late 90’s by G-Love, and not nearly as well. And of course Louis Prima, our homegrown Sinatra, who said in an interview about a decade ago that David Lee Roth never paid him for his remake of “Just a Gigolo”. Typical New Orleans music story.

The bartenders at Markey’s have one unifying feature- they don’t talk much. They manage a pleasantness without being obtrusive. Every bar has its particular culture of bartenders, and Markey’s is marked by both a terseness but also a longevity. Many bartenders have been there since I first started coming in 2003, which for the turnover of service industry workers in this town is remarkable.

Linnzi Zaorski is still my favorite, though she has been gone for years. Now that I know her from outside the bar, I can’t say that I like her as well. She’s beautiful, young, and ambitious, and that can ruin just about anyone. But as a bartender she was magnificent. She had this quizzical smile, this way of taking nothing and nobody seriously, this gentle contempt for the world that was strangely endearing. She always had somewhere better to be and knew it, and handled that with grace. Linnzi is on the jukebox as well, though I’ve never heard anyone play her but me and that was out of nostalgia more than anything.

Nick Moon is still around, smiling with his model good looks. My friend Leenie says that isn’t his real name, that Nick Moon is the name of a famous Baltimore bartender. He’s the quietest one of all. I knew him for about a year before I ever exchanged more than two words with him. There’s something utterly opaque about him. He wipes down the glasses, turns and smiles, a clean polished surface that leaves no room for any inquiry. He looks like a TV star, and I used to wonder what his game was. I don’t anymore. There’s a beautiful kind on interaction that you can have with someone who you don’t have to talk to, but can just be present for.

Perhaps now he is the Nick Moon, perhaps Nick Moon is the immortal bartender, the Long John Silver of the bar world.

There are others- Lisa now works at Mimi’s, but the new girl with the dark hair and sweetly sarcastic comments will be here for a while. I can just tell.

The truth is that Markey’s is a fairly dry and boring place, but so many of our adult pleasures are. Let’s face it- for flavor most of us prefer something sweeter than beer, and cigarettes don’t really taste good at all. So how did we end up here?

I can’t answer that. I’m not sure that I know. What I do know is that night after night we come here. The other day I was talking telling a friend I was headed home and I realized that what I really meant was Markey’s. It’s an anchor- I’ve had three apartments now in the neighborhood, and I can’t really imagine being able to keep one permanently. I don’t think I’m the only one these days without a sense of much permanence in living arrangements. But good, bad, indifferent, and even boring and regressive, Markey’s will still be here.

July 22, 2006

War in The Dog Days of Summer

Filed under: Other,Race,The Feds — christian @ 5:37 pm

The Dirty South Bureau has been quiet a bit lately, as the heat, the humidity, and the constant complications of the first post-Katrina summer in New Orleans have impaired my abilities to do much beyond mere survival. Of course, I am far from alone in this.

Things just often don’t work in New Orleans. It’s something that outsiders, like myself, have to either get used to or leave. You may have a very clear idea in your mind of what you want to get done, and in what timeframe, and those ideas may even be realistic given your experience in other cities, but that does not matter. Things happen here on their own time, which sometimes means not at all. And the ability to handle this with grace is another invisible marking of the natives and the successfully adapted here.

Right now, the primary reason is the heat. I was having a conversation with Sean Benjamin of the Iron Rail library today, and we agreed that it is essentially foolish to try to get anything done between the hours of 11AM to 3PM. In the summer, it is wise to plan your day around the three to four hours of scorching heat alternating with thundershowers which will make up a usual New Orleans summer afternoon. So you stay inside, you sleep, you talk, you make love- whatever keeps you in the air conditioning and out of the oppressive conditions on the street.

Regardless, the rest of the world does not run on our schedule, for instance the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Gaza. And while outsiders might think that New Orleanians are content to sit on their porches and drink either their 1. beer or 2. mint julips (depending on the socio-economic status of your ‘hood) over one hundred New Orleanians showed up at the federal building this Friday to protest the invasion and occupation. One thing that did not show up in the picture the Times-Picayune ran on the back page is that the demonstration was roughly half Arab-americans, of which the New Orleans metro area has a significant and beloved community. Of course the DSB, which is very critical of the Israeli government, was there, and I bring you an audio recording of the event, which included speakers from the Muslim American Society, local Palestinian rights activists, INCITE women of color against violence, and other groups. The first speaker is Dana Kaplan a young Jewish-American woman, whose organizational affiliation I have forgotten.

Pro-Lebanon/Palestinian rally at City Hall 1

I also interviewed Al Judah 1 2, a local Palestinian-American restaurant owner who came out for the event

Abdul 1 , a young Palestinian-American man

And Amr Achmed 1 of the Musim American Society

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 23, 2006

UC Berkeley Experts Explain: We’re Screwed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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