Friday, September 30, 2005

Corrections Department

I won't link to the previous entries here, but I regret being sucked in by the horror stories of rapes in the Superdome and Convention Center that I read in newspapers. I've been hearing over the last few days that it is increasingly clear that all of these stories were rumors and that none of them has been confirmed. A friend sent me a link to this article in the Arizona Daily Star this morning.
The story that I read about rapes and murders came from Reuters. In the original story, Reuters quoted a "National Guard" member about the rape of a woman and then of the beating to death of a man by the crowd. If you go to that link today, here is what it says. It still doesn't clarify whether the reports of rapes and murders were true or not. has a more detailed story that tries to sort out the origins of the stories of rapes and murders here.
There is another story there about the involvement of police in looting. According to the police department, they don't have video evidence of cops doing any looting, only of cops watching and not taking action against looters.
Here's the quote: He also said some officers helped themselves to clothing and food but that was "acceptable," he said.
"When we talk about looting, if someone took jewelry or a television, something like that, then we have a serious problem," he said. Riley took over the department after police chief Eddie Compass abruptly resigned on Tuesday. He confirmed reports that some officers were patrolling the city in Cadillacs but said the cars were recovered stolen property warehoused by the police department. The department lost 270 patrol cars in the storm, he said.

The Arizona Star criticizes journalists especially for failing to fact-check the stories they were told by evacuees and police. I wonder if these rumors will again become a way to blame the Louisianans for the mistakes. It seems to me that some of the worst rumors and exaggerations about "armed gangs" and "baby rapers" came not from the evacuees, but from the mayor, the police, and the National Guard. Here is a very good discussion of the rumor phenomenon from the lovely social psychology blog, Respectful of Otters.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Which is it, NYC, a Surplus or a Deficit?

I keep hearing from union leadership that NYC has a budget surplus and can easily afford to pay the faculty more. On the otherhand, I keep hearing the mayor talk about a deficit and call for austerity. So which is it? I'm confused.
The Gothamist report on the 2006 city budget notes a projected $3 billion dollar deficit. Similarly, Gothamist reports a state budget deficit. Is my union's leadership crazy or wrong? Where do they get this idea that there's a surplus?
According to the comptroller's office, there was an unprecedented budget surplus in fiscal year 2005, but that's being used to pay for the 2006 budget, which, they say is not in deficit, but is balanced. Where is all the money going then?
As the Daily News reports,
Some budget experts chided the mayor for allocating all of the surplus to next year, instead of distributing it over several years. Bloomberg projects a $4.5 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006. Nevertheless, the mayor wants to keep the $400 property tax rebate for homeowners, the centerpiece of his budget proposal from last year. He also proposed ending the sales tax on clothing and footwear purchases under $110, beginning June 1, a proposal that requires the Legislature's approval. If enacted, those changes would save taxpayers $500 million. Bloomberg proposed a slew of budget restorations to city agencies, including $50 million to the Education Department, $17 million to the Fire Department and $7 million to libraries. The mayor also reduced his federal aid request to $50 million from $250 million. He noted that the state failed to provide $183 million in requested aid. Randi Weingarten, head of the teachers union, blasted the mayor for saying yesterday he could look cops, firefighters and teachers in the eye and say "there is no money" for raises. "How can that possibly be when you have a nearly $3.3 billion surplus?" Weingarten asked. "It would have been more honest to simply say, 'You are not a priority.'"

Who else is getting our tax dollars in the projected 2006 budget? Isn't there a give-away to real-estate mogul, Michael Ratner in that budget? Does he REALLY need all those tax dollars? What about Goldman Sachs? Do they need the money? Even some republicans don't think so. And, as a final note, if you think that the budget surplus was there because of something called the Laffer curve (an economic theory that made it to the Wall Street Journal editorial page in the 80s from a cocktail napkin), you should read this article from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.

PSC CUNY Mass Contract Rally

Tonight there will be an important rally/meeting about the possibility of a job action"" in response to the CUNY administration's failure to offer the CUNY faculty a reasonable wage. The meeting is tonight at Cooper Union from 6:00 to 8:30pm. The faculty have been without a contract since 2002, and the university's offer to the faculty has been a raise below the rate of inflation, concessions on issues of governance - such as taking the Department chairs out of union bargaining unit and making them into administrative apointees (heavens!), and even asking that faculty come back a week earlier in the fall to "make up" for the tiny money that management would be willing to pay into our medical benefits fund. Since the city budget is actually in a SURPLUS* right now, we say that we should be able to do better. All of this doesn't even include the ridiculous management ideas about intellectual property. However, our anti-union mayor and Governor, and our anti-CUNY legislature don't want to pay CUNY faculty adequately. The situation of CUNY faculty now is nowhere near comparable to that of faculty at other universities. The only thing that keeps the school competitive in hiring is its presence in New York City, as many faculty, like myself, prefer to live in NYC than some small town in western Ohio, even if it means a gawdawful teaching load (that would be nine courses a year if you teach in a community college) and an inadequate salary.
As union president Barbara Bowen has argued,
In the late 1980s and the 1990s, this union signed off on a series of concessionary contracts. We all live the results: a 35-45% drop since 1972 in the buying power of our salaries, crushing workloads, increasing costs of healthcare. The 2000-2002 contract, the first negotiated under new leadership, broke the concessionary pattern. We won the first above-inflation salary increases in a decade and an increase in Welfare Fund contributions by CUNY management. The contract also brought new ideas: research time for untenured faculty, professional development grants for academic professionals, paid office hours for adjuncts to meet with students.
What does that mean? For this professor, it means not being able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and living with room-mates found on Craig's list at the age of 36. It means figuring out how to do a year's worth of research in the two and 1/2 months off in the summer time IF I don't try to supplement my meagre salary with a summer class. It means teaching THREE history surveys in a row one day and TWO on the other. It means not having enough money to attend conferences in my field. It means sharing an office which doesn't have enough space for books, much less two people. It means not having enough money to subscribe to professional journals. I have a feeling it means that jobs at CUNY will become less and less attractive to new PhDs if this sort of thing continues. It means not getting dental work done because the insurance doesn't pay for it. Clearly, it's time for action. The question I have is whether CUNY faculty are ready to demand better for themselves. A lot of people in the service professions, such as teaching, especially at under-funded public institutions tend to be a little bit too self-sacrificing.
* Read next post for discussion of whether city is in a defecit or a surplus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A dolphin-loving friend sent me this picture of flipper w/a dart gun. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Beware of Dolphins...Anxiety Index

I don't know about you, but I find covert operations to teach dolphins to fire "toxic darts" at "terrorists" to be pretty damn anxiety producing. Are there more highly trained aquatic mammals out there ready to go into action as well? How will all this be affected by global warming?
I thought that the training of dogs and horses was bad enough. Dolphins have a reputation of being so kind and gentle, so friendly to humans. How unsurprising that the US military would take advantage of that. Please note, however, that dolphins may not be the kindly creatures you thought they were, but are perhaps the psycho-killers of the sea. According to the article from the NYT, the killer dolphins began showing up in studies in 1990. When did the military start training bottlenoses to shoot those darts and what was Dolphin boot camp like?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sheehan and fifty? others arrested at Civil Disobedience Action in DC

Here is a link to the BBC's coverage.
For more about this demonstration, which according to reports I read involved at least 500 people, read Mike Ferner's article about the CD in Counterpunch. I must say that I agree with him when he asks,
If nonviolent direct action is the most powerful tool we have to stop this war, what is the best time to exercise it? When a few hundred people surround the White House on September 26 for an orchestrated civil disobedience activity, or when a half-million (and more) people are in the streets September 24?
There was not enough publicity about the proposed "massive" civil disobedience action. Had I known about it sooner, I might have planned to participate myself. I wonder how the lobbying day went?
Meanwhile, I allowed myself to seriously procrastinate today. Instead of reading a book at least marginally related to my own project, I spent about two hours reading a long discussion about ANSWER on the Dailykos. I got het up.
Seems that CSPAN only showed the ANSWER speeches, which were boring polemics. People were pissed. According to one poster on kos, nicknamed "insane liberal," here's
Why ANSWER got CSPAN coverage:
Basically, ANSWER was able to come up with the cash to allow C-SPAN to cover their event. This is from an email I received from ANSWER: We have learned that C-SPAN is planning to cover this incredible assembly of opposition to the war. They will broadcast to millions - but there's a catch. The government is restricting C-SPAN's access on one side of our site, and their satellite trucks, which provide the live feed, are now only authorized to park much farther away.
In order for C-SPAN to have a live feed of the rally, we have to rent cable ramps as well as hundreds of feet of additional cable. This will cost many thousands of dollars, on top of the tens of thousands of dollars that we are having to spend for the joint rally stage and sound to reach the huge number of people assembling, for the thousands of placards, hundreds of thousands of flyers, port-a-johns, the buses, banners, flags and everything else that it takes to make a demonstration successful.
posted by : insaneliberal on Mon Sep 26th, 2005 at 02:27:26 EDT
to the Dkos thread "
But as for the questions people ask about where ANSWER gets their sounds like they get a lot of it from donations if the above was a fundraiser.

Civil Disobedience in DC

I just heard Amy Goodman say that there were 40 arrests in front of the Pentagon this morning during the War Resistors' League protest. On DC Indymedia's web-page you can see continuing live updates. The last post I found there described 25 arrests.
The big UFPJ CD action, in which Cindy Sheehan will participate will be at 12:30 today in front of the White House. 6 Mass Civil Disobedience Action Against the Iraq War. The Press release was on the indymedia newswire:

Cindy Sheehan to Join Nonviolent Civil Disobedience at the White House on Monday, Sept. 26
Sept. 25, 2005 Andrea Buffa (510) 325-3653
Alicia Sexton (818) 442-1463


Cindy Sheehan to Join Nonviolent Civil Disobedience at the White House on Monday, Sept. 26

Hundreds will be arrested as they express their opposition to the Iraq War

WHEN: Monday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM

WHERE: Lafayette Park entrance to the White House

WHAT: In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., hundreds of people from throughout the United States will participate in a nonviolent civil disobedience action on Monday, Sept. 26 at the White House. Cindy Sheehan will participate in the action and risk arrest as will members of the clergy and other military families.

Through the civil disobedience action, the participants will remember and mourn the precious lives lost on both sides of the war in Iraq while firmly placing the blame for the carnage and suffering on the Bush administration. The participants will insist that the President end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home, and are willing to go to jail if the President does not agree to their demands.

Also on Monday, nearly 1,000 people will be lobbying their Senators and Representatives, imploring them to end the war and bring the troops home. The war in Iraq has taken the lives of more than 1,900 US soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. One billion dollars per week are spent on the war that could otherwise pay for housing, education, healthcare and other services needed in the US and in Iraq as well. There were no links between Iraq and Sept 11, nor were there any weapons of mass destruction.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Days of Protest Continue in DC

I just got back from the trip to Washington, DC for the massive march organized by both UFPJ and ANSWER (after much crossfire) on Saturday. Someone I know who was there took some great pictures, and happened to wind up very near Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan. You can find his pictures here.
Although my friends and I were caught up in our reunion after nearly ten years of not spending time together, we did capture the spirit of solemnity and outrage while at the march, along with the sense that we were part of a very large protest with a great diversity of people. I was happy to see both size and diversity acknowledged in the NYT, the AP, and the Washington Post.
I haven't been to a big DC mobilization in a while, but I have gone to quite a few anti-war demonstrations. I think the first time I went on such a march was when I was in high school, and rode to DC with my parents for the march opposing US policy in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In 1991, my college room-mate and I went to the massive anti-Gulf War March, and I remember feelng a profound sense of futility as we passed the rows of military police in front of the Whitehouse gates. The chant, "This is What Democracy Looks Like" hadn't been invented yet, but if it had, we would have said it with an ironic eye-roll.
In Minneapolis, I protested a lot: in opposition to US military and financial support for the Mexican government, in numbers in the winter that were once so small that one of our organizers said that we "looked like some people grouped around a dead body on the corner." In Minneapolis again, in opposition to US intervention in Haiti, and at that time in full Jewish regalia and blowing a shofar. (It was Yom Kippur and we were denouncing the US's policy of holding Haitian refugees in detention in Guantanamo.) At the "No War for Ramadan/Stop the Sanctions" protests in NYC over Christmas when Bill Clinton bombed Iraq on some no-fly-zone violation pretext. The frequency of such protests and the numbers at them increased during the regime of Bush II. In NYC in October 2001 when the US began bombing Afghanistan. In DC in Jaunary of 2002? against the Iraq war to come. In NYC for the world-historic probably a million people against the war on February 15 of 2003. In NYC in the Spring of 2003. On the anniversary of the bombing start in 2004. In NYC during the Republican National Convention.
And still, the war goes on.
In my own experience, this demonstration stood out in one major respect. I felt the presence of the American war dead in a more immediate and personal way than I ever did at any of the demonstrations I described above. Undoubtedly, this feeling of personal reality is the result of Cindy Sheehan's courageus work all summer long at getting so many Americans to witness her intimate expressions of grief as she waited for the president to answer her question, "in what noble cause did my son die?" While I have always felt a sense of immediate cataclysm and crisis at anti-war protests, a feeling of maddening frustration at the inability of the large opposition to US foreign policy to have any tangible effect on that policy, I have rarely felt the presence of American deaths quite so personally in an anti-war demonstration, an rarely have I felt such a consciousness of being among the people grieving those deaths personally in an anti-war demonstration.
It's not only Cindy's the number of casualties, the length of the war, and the momentum that's beginning to build as the war drags on. I have never been in alive during the foundation of groups like Iraq Veterans against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Gold Star Families for Peace. I have never before heard so many testimonies from soldiers and their families in opposition to US wars and their cost. I have never before seen so starkly the impact of military spending and priorities as all of us did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
I never thought that I would cry when I was hearing Joan Baez sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" since I had grown up hearing that song and considered it by now a "peace movement cliche." I have always felt the panic and the guilt, the tragedy and the hopelessness when I know that my government is off to bomb another country to punish its leaders for disagreeing with the American power elite's notion of the "way things ought to be," but not since Sept. 11th, when I felt personally that I was trapped between two juggernauts beyond my control, have I felt so strongly how much US foreign policy hurts people in the US, hurts "us" along with the more immediate victims of our policy. I can understand why, as Noam Chomsky interpreted the Powell doctrine, it was all about short, overpowering commitments of American air power that were designed to avoid the kind of anti-war groundswell that met the growing numbers of American casualties in Vietnam.
If we can feel the presence of the American dead so painfully in anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC, it seems to me a signal of the failure of the Bush administration's efforts to hide the truth of the war's cost from the American people. I often feel hopeless at the conclusion of such protests, but maybe now is the time to feel hopeful.
Tomorrow, protests to continue....more later.

Here are my old friends from highschool, Amy and Valerie, as we get ready to march. We had just made the signs an hour before. Posted by Picasa

Here's my friend as we started marching. Posted by Picasa

We're in the thick of the march now, and I'm short enough that I can't see too far in front of me. Posted by Picasa

The raucus crowd became silent as the parade of faces of dead American soldiers came through outside the White House. Posted by Picasa

"I've got a million ideas," the woman holding this home-made poster said. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005

From a DC Breakfast Table

My friend and I made it to DC yesterday afternoon, but we haven't yet hit the protest. My guess is that we'll start with the UFPJ march around noon. Either that, or we might join the CODEPINK women's march at 10:30. Last night, we didn't see too many signs of incipient protest, even though we went to a restaurant/bookstore called "Busboys and Poets" and dubbed by the Washington Post, the cool activist hangout of the ave. U corridor.
I would watch the DC indymedia web page for ongoing updates. My friend Val, just walked in with a paint tray and the question, "you guys want to make some posters? "
My slogan of the hour is "guzzle coffee, not gas!"

Friday, September 23, 2005

Pride of the Mix Tape

They're not tapes anymore, but CDs. I'm proud of the mix I stayed up late making for my friend and me to listen to on our way to DC this afternoon. She wanted new hip-hop. I'm pretty out of the loop on new hip-hop, but I had some choice old stuff, and I know she's a ska fan. I squeezed some other things in there too. Here's the track list:

Danger Mouse/Jay Z -"Change Clothes and Go"
Wilson Simonal- "Nem Vem que nao tem"
Neneh Cherry -Buffalo Stance
The Coup - Repo Man
Bob Marley - Mr. Brown
Snoop Dogg - Beautiful
Black Eyed Peas - They Don't Want Music
Beastie Boys - Pow
Sly& Robbie - Asian Roots Dub
Tony Tribe - Red, Red Wine
Desmond Dekker - The Israelites
Airto Moreira- the Happy People
The Coup - Wear Clean Draws
Chuck Prophet - What Can you Tell Me?
The Hold Steady- Knuckles
Peaches/Soulwax mix
Chaka Demus - Murder She Wrote
Cyprus Hill - Low Rider
Wyclef - Stayin Alive, Remix
Beastie Boys - Funky Boss
Prince Paul - Steady Slobbin
part two:
Michael Frante - Rock the Nation
The Coup - Everythang
The Ethiopians- Train to Skaville
Nara Leao and Elise Regina - Chega de Saudade
Black Eyed Peas - Don't Funk w/my Heart
Atmosphere - Nothin But Sunshine
Prince Paul - Vexual Healing
Michael Frante - Do You Love?
Chuck Prophet - Dying all Young
MIrah - Cold, Cold Water
Sean Paul - Like Glue
Dawn Penn - NO, No, no
Jorge Ben - Se, Segura Malandro
Serge Gainsbourg - Bonnie and Clyde
Big Star - September Gurls
Josh Rouse - 1972
Five Blind Boys of Alabma - You've Got to Move

Thursday, September 22, 2005

DC Headcount Part Two

I guess no one felt moved to respond to my question. Who's planning on going to DC for the big march on Saturday? My guess is that this one's going to be huge. What do you think?
One of my best highschool friends lives in DC. So, another great highschool friend and I will be heading out to her place on Friday and plan to combine "old-home-week" with protest. I can't remember feeling better about going to a protest, since neither one of these friends of mine is a "usual suspect" leftoid like myself.
What are your plans for the march? Are you going on the bus? Are you going with friends? And what's your guess, do you think it will be big, big, big? Has Cindy Sheehan mobilized the masses?
Updates about Saturday....
Codepink has a schedule of events here.
For non-violent civil disobedience see UFPJ here
For list of sponsors and participants go here
For anti-world bank, IMF actions during the same week in DC, go here and here
For the US Campaign to End the Occupation go here
For an interesting behind-the-scenes discussions about UFPJ and others see this discussion about anarchists and the UFPJ.
For some informed discussion of internecine ANSWER/UFPJ shennanigans, go to the angry white kid blog.
all for now, before my browser crashes.
once again....head count please? If you know of other important feeder marches that you think people might want to join, or if you know of groups going, please post them in your comments and I will add them to subsequent posts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Open Thread: Are YOU going to DC?

Stand up and tell me, oh my millions of readers....are you going to DC for the march this weekend? I am!

More Reasons to Hate the New Nerve

I'm high on rebellion. Here's what Fast Cupid's customer service said to me....

Dear Member

Your account is part of Fast Cupid Networks, which runs several different co-branded websites. When you sign up on one of the Fast Cupid websites, your account will show up on the other Fast Cupid Network websites as well.

The website that you are complaining about is part of the Fast Cupid Network. At this time, there is no way to control which websites your account will be displayed on. Since your accont has now been deleted, it will be deleted on all of the websites.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us.

Is that fair? I guess I don't mind so much being on other websites, BUT what's the point of having a special "nerve" or "onion" personal ad, or a special "bgay" ad if they're all just going to be cross-listed? Where's the edge, man? Where's the corporate identity and brand loyalty? How will this work in the pseudo-rebellious world of hip upscale marketing? It seems like it will eventually turn the once hip Spring Street into the achingly boring, It will do to the personal ads world what (first Stern, then "Village Voice Media" did to the Village Voice, MPLS Reader and the City Pages (MPLS). Of course, the ownership of a personals'ad website is nowhere near as important as is the ownership of the "alternative" newsmedia, but it is part of the same general, "engulf and devour" capitalism that shapes the small details of our lives these days. The creepy takeover of Nerve certainly has gotten a rise out of people. In fact,
here are some other places to find discussions about nerve, in fact one of them referred a lot of people here. They are:
nerve in exile and
also listed there is the marvelous Susie Bright

I promise to write about politics in a minute.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Internet Dating News

Just a brief note, as in just a few minutes I have to run out the door. For the last few days, my browser (Mozilla's Firefox) has been crashing every time I log into blogger, but the problem seems to be solved. This was a good weekend for me guys, and it's been and will be another busy week. Today, I want to talk a topic I haven't addressed in ages: internet personals ads.
Over the past few weeks, hip, internet-using singles have been wrestling with the take-over of the once hip internet dating site, Nerve, and all others in the "Spring Street Networks" by the technologically clunky and personally invasive, Fast Cupid. Among the charming aspects of the new nerve is that the pictures are smaller, everything costs more, people can vote on your photos (gasp!) and you can see who's viewed your picture and who's "hotlisted" you. (one guy had also bookmarked me on Friendster, and looked cute, but didn't respond to my note.) I don't mind the visibility of the hotlisting/views thing. I think it's far superior to the cheap and annoying "wink" as a non-commital expression of interest. Also, I discovered that a number of guys I'd gone on dates with had recently viewed my profile.
I wound up going through a little Fast Cupid madness the other night, as I got a surprise email telling me that my personal ad on "" had just been approved. Wondering what my profile had to do with all those discussions of gay marriage and pictures of guys in tightie-whities, I deleted the profile, unwittingly deleting my entire account with Spring Street. I finally joined again, using a new email address as the old one was still in their system despite the deletion of my account, and this morning I did see that a few credits had been added to my nerve account to make up for the 2000 I lost when I deleted my "bgay" profile. I never did get an answer to what the hell happened that I wound up with my personal ad on a network for which I never signed up. For discussions of the terrible new nerve under the Fast Cupid regime, go to: retrotrac's blog on nerve, which is frequently posted, but seems to disappear a lot, and this post from the urbanhiker blog. There's an ongoing discussion at the Bust lounge as well.
As a result of all these kinds of things, some websites are offering special deals to former Spring Street Denizens. Corante's Dave Evans has the story.
I'd love to tell dating stories, but to protect my upstanding professorial reputation, I will keep mum.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Anxiety Index, part two: More Where that Came From

I could call the whole blog the "anxiety index." Yesterday, as I was standing on the corner waiting for the crosstown bus on 23rd street, I had such a feeling of contentment. "I live in New York City," I thought, "I have an interesting family is here." What else could I ask for? That sense of contentment had increased that day because of my joyful return to two-wheeled travel, at least within my home borough.(I haven't ever gone on a critical mass ride, though I have witnessed many, and now that my bike is oiled and adjusted after a five year stint in my father's garage, it's more likely by the week). And then I had a sad thought, as happy as I am now, I know that this existence is precarious and doomed. We have met the enemy and he is us.
Read Common Dreams' story on global warming and hurricanes.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Anxiety Index....Everything Fits

Everything is anixety-index worthy these days, but how about this one from a commenter: "Mice Infected With Deadly Plague are Missing in NJ" This doesn't sound that bad actually, as if you read on, the research people say that the little guys will be dead by the time they can get anywhere. However, pretty much everything about New Orleans is cause for worry. How about this fear of West Nile virus due to standing water?
And fear of the unknown is always good for anxiety. Who is our latest unknown known?
Read about him here. ..the choice, anxiety provoking quote is here:
As noted on Many who know Roberts say he, unlike Souter, is a reliable conservative who can be counted on to undermine if not immediately overturn liberal landmarks like abortion rights and affirmative action. Indicators of his true stripes cited by friends include: clerking for Rehnquist, membership in the Federalist Society[1], laboring in the Ronald Reagan White House counsel's office and at the Justice Department into the Bush years, working with Kenneth Starr among others, and even his lunchtime conversations at Hogan & Hartson. "He is as conservative as you can get," one friend puts it. In short, Roberts may combine the stealth appeal of Souter with the unwavering ideology of Scalia and Thomas.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bored by and yet Addicted to...Senate Confirmation Hearings.

My room-mate and I just sat through hours of John Roberts refusing to answer questions. Instead of wasting time with that, I could have been reading any number of exciting tomes that are stacking up in my room. (They are, fyi: for "book group" - Kotlowitz's There are No Children Here; Doblin's endless, but awesome November 1918, Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, Hugo's Les Miserables, and the obligatory stack of academic works I have deemed necessary, such as Christopher Waldrep's The Many Faces of Judge Lynch. What I would most dearly love to be reading right now relates not at all to my own, mysterious era of specialization, which actually includes almost all of the books listed above, but is from another era entirely.) I could also have been reading news and blogging.
Meanwhile, just remember Roberts' serious conflict of interest, which Russ Feingold brought up during the questioning. Says Bruce Shapiro in the afore-linked interview with Amy Goodman,
The crucial thing here is not just that this is a single victory for the White House and that Judge Roberts was part of it, but rather, if you look over his career, deference to the Executive Branch, a sense of favoring the power of the Presidency over the other branches, is the most consistent thread of his career. This is a man who, as a lawyer, served the Executive Branch of government for many years. This is a judge who in the last couple of years has issued some striking rulings. For example, in the case of a teenager arrested for eating a single French fry on the D.C. Metro, thrown into handcuffs and put in a police vehicle. Judge Roberts wrote that this was a reasonable policy on the part of police to discourage delinquency. This is a guy who is in love with the power of the Executive Branch, and I think what that says is that the deepest motivation of the Bush administration in choosing him, along with the questions of confirmability and so on, is, in fact, that he's a judge who will reliably extend presidential power in the war on terror. I think that's the bottom line.
Roberts confirmed Shapiro's judgement today in the hearings, during which he showed himself to be "Bush's boy" throoughout. At one point, as he refused to answer question after question, but particularly in his responses to questions about the Hamden case, I was reminded so much of the stonewalling on Rove and Plame. Remember that? It was supposed to bring the piggies down, but there has been little about it lately.
Roberts refused to reveal much of anything, and evaded nearly every question asked. He even refused to offer a strong opinion on whether it was a problem to threaten individual judges, but kept talking about the importance of freedom of speech.
Watching the Roberts hearings is only interesting as an exercise in reading between the lines. My guess was that in his refusal to criticize those rabid-right judge haters that he was trying not to "alienate the base. " That should seriously undermine his claims to impartiality. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham said such odd things about Ruth Bader Ginsburg while he was questioning Roberts. I wondered if they were all true. I searched and found many a right-winger repeating the Republican talking point on Ginsburg. I found this article on the issue on Mediamatters. I wish that those dems would filibuster, but they are too scared.
I have finally lost any hope that anything will achieve the downfall of the Bush regime. After the fiasco in New Orleans, I can't imagine that there's any crisis too big for the Republican loyalists to ignore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Is there a question he will answer?

I'm listening to the Roberts hearings on WBAI. Leahy is asking Roberts whether congress has the power to declare war. Roberts agreees to that. He seems to equivocate on everything else.
It's worth it to read Armondo on the Daily Kos about this stuff. It's also worth reading Jack Balkin's blog on this issue, which includes an article by Critical Legal Studies scholar, Mark Tushnet, whose book "Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts" is a left-populist critique of "judicial supremacy." Finally, you can keep up to date here.
and now, it's time for me to go, just as he's saying "deference to the legislature in appropriate cases."
On separation of powers alone, this guy is so dangerous. yikes.

Sigur Rose: Overrated .."Exorcism of Emily Rose" : transparent ideology. Or... Five Days of Pop Culture

Sorry's been five whole days since I wrote anything here. Life gets exciting, or at least busy, and my blog gets delayed.
To add to my complaints and excuses, just as I was finishing this entry, my computer crashed. Why? too much music downloaded and not enough space for it.

So, just for the hell of it, here are some music and movie comments.

Music: I just got back from seeing "Sigur Ros." They were fine, very soothing, very easy. They almost put me to sleep in fact. As each soporific song ended, there was a burst of thunderous, wild applause. It was one of the strangest experiences I've had at a rock show. I couldn't figure out why everyone in the audience was so crazy for them, screaming and carrying on. I wondered if there was something I was missing. Were those harmonies complex in some ingenius way? I decided no. Sigur Ros is, as one internet critic it, the indie version of Enya."" But how could anyone muster so much enthusiasm? I could imagine cheering for The Cocteau Twins, but they have beats, and they don't pretend to profundity.
Amina, part of the band who also plays on their own, was more interesting. Both groups and the two together reminded me not only of Enya, but of some hippy puppeteers I knew in Minneapolis. They loved doing their work, and their friends loved it too. But it was kind of boring to me sometimes, and dare I say it?...self-indulgent.

More interesting than either of these bands, and in the same experimental vein, but weirder, fuzzier, and cracklier is Phil Elvrum aka, "the Microphones. He is to under-rated what Sigur Ros is to over-rated. I became a Microphones fan because of that beautiful "Cold, Cold Water" that Elvrum did with Mirah. Now that is a recording that exhibits pop genius.

Movies: I like horror movies, so this weekend, I went all a-quiver to "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." I was sad to see that even more so than the last "Exorcist" movies, t's red-meat for the Schiavo and "Intelligent Design" crowd. What I found so aggravating about this movie, was the defense atty's closing argument, which claims that the jury should consider the possibility of the religious interpretation of the events because essentially, "who can say what is right and what is wrong?" Yes, when it comes to debates between religion and science, especially when we're in a court of law, let's just treat them as equally valid alternatives. This is the sort of pluralism that I don't believe in one bit; it reminds me of those arguments for teaching "intelligent design" in school.
I see that someone at Slate agrees with me.
But don't take it just from us secular types. Even some devout Christians don't like its message, which is that people can discover faith in God through their belief in the Devil. Is this really a good way to become Christian, to believe that some scary being can take over a devout, innocent creature? at least acknowledge what's going on in today's top news stories..., other than the downfall of the idiot, Brownie. What kind of Christian is that John Roberts? Maybe, like the fictional Emily Rose, he's been too influenced by those stories of saints and martyrs, and that's why he's So A-Ok when it comes to coercive interrogation." especially if it helps him get a job.
blech. more later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Rumors and Truths

I got my portside mail this morning and saw this important article that suggests that some of the most horrific stories that came out of the Superdome about rapes and armed gangs might be simply rumors. If so, they would be the kind of rumors that would, as the Guardian story points out, confirm racist stereotypes and make the flood victims look bad and dangerous. The story also points out however, that the cluelessness of the feds. makes it hard to know what's true and what isn't. After all, they claimed not to know much of anything at every point along the way.
That's it for now. If you see any news that either confirms or denies the rape and murder stories from the Superdome, post them here. I posted a rape and murder story that I read on Reuters a few days ago. It was based on quotes from one National Guard officer who said a teen-aged girl was raped and killed and that the crowd then killed the person who had done it. Did this happen?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

more Katrina Links

An "Interdictor" thread from earlier this week features an interview with "bigfoot" about conditions in the Convention Center. This also includes info. about the promises made and not kept. Same blog team in New Orleans also has pictures here.
As the bodies are revealed amid the toxic sludge in New Orleans, more and more stories are surfacing about the many missed opportunities to avert the crisis. Everyone knows it; just googling "FEMA incompetent" gets about 159,000 hits, while "Fire Michael Brown" got 877,000.
All day, there's more to read about. There were those foreign offers of aid that were basically ignored. There was the five-mile long citizens' boat brigade, the volunteer fire-fighters and post-hurricane oil-rig repair experts from Houston; the North Carolina mobile hospital that was turned away.
There were the Cuban post-hurricane specialists, the Venezuelans, and more. There was the USS Bataan with its hospital equipment and doctors on staff that didn't get called out.
There was the overall, general, complete cavalier, politicking incompetence.

Also news, the toxic sludge itself is life-threatening. I've heard throughout the day, about the lead in the water, the e.coli and other life-threateningbacteria that is already killing people. I've read the assessment that the water, as it is pumped into the gulf, will have a devastating effect on the entire ecosystem, killing fish, birds, and reptiles in the gulf.

These are just the most obvious howling, shocking bad-as-shit news stories of the day. The thing that makes me tremble all over is that from the left wing environmentalist perspective, I really see this disaster as the future. Bill McKibben had a piece on Tomdispatch about the possibilities of future evacuation catastrophes. It is like the unforgiving, no redemption rapture is on the way. I know that's a bad way to think about environmental crises, but I feel helpless in the face of the magnitude of hurricanes and rising water levels.
The other foreshadowing this disaster has provided is an illustration of the costs of bad policies, and the expectation of more to come. The failure of the recovery represents the ongoing attitude towards the poor and the destruction of federal services. The fearful and punitive attitude of the military mirrors what's going on Iraq. It's all sickening. I've been saying and feeling the same thing for days on end. There is something more to be said about crime in the streets, but I think my room-mate needs the internet, and I've been surfing now for too long.
So, maybe I'll get up tomorrow and feel like saying the same thing again. I know you guys agree with me, my five regular readers. And I know you feel me when I say that the truth is that I am losing my optimistic attitude that the American public is about to pull the rose-tinted shades from its collective eyes.
This evening when I was crossing the street on my way home, two SUVs, one right after the other came blasting through the intersection as the light went from green to red. Yeah, the lessons of katrina won't be learned until the price at the pump hits $5.00/gallon. bring it on.

Heard on the Street....Are you a Bitch or a Ho?

On the way home from a certain large community college in NYC, I overheard two young men discussing romance. One seemed to be giving the other some combination of a slang lexicon and dating advice.

Here's what the grammarian said : "Women that you're just playing around with, and you've got a lot of em, those are 'ho's'... but a woman that you care about, that you're really into, now that's your 'bitch.'"

As they tried to work out the category to which a particular woman one of them was dating belonged, the linguistic expert tried to convince his friend that he was wrong to call this woman a "ho." The other seemed still to want to refer to this woman as a "ho." There was some degree of resistance, I detected, to admitting that in fact, he really liked her.
"No, no, no, no," this was very disrespectful, his friend insisted: "If you really like her, she's not a ho, she's a bitch."

So, if the slang expert is right, that a woman is a "ho" until the man likes her enough to make her his "bitch," isn't this a case of projection? why would the fact that a man is dating many women make all the women ho's? If a woman is dating a player (whether she knows it or not) does that make her a de-facto ho?
This is the sort of thing that makes you want to tell your female students to concentrate on their school work and steer clear of the boys.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Latest News on Houston and Efforts for Katrina Victims

My room-mate needs to use the internet, so just a quick few links.

I got a link in my email this evening about a new website called White Washing the Black Storm: We Are Watching." This is providing great info from Houston and has updates about what's needed and how to help out. I think it's one of the best blogs about the Katrina aftermath. It's the only place I've seen information about what's going on in the Astrodome, which apparently, has kept the press out quite successfully. (note to readers: some of the reason I haven't seen that news is that I was out and about today... scroll down for pictures from Brooklyn in a state of great happiness)

The same person who forwarded me that link also indicated that he thinks the time is now to build a grassroots call for a "9/11 type investigation" into the completely criminally negligent handling of this storm. I agree.

Some of you may have heard about the "New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund." This fund for workers from New Orleans' tourist industry seems like a great idea, although I am not entirely sure who's running it. (Brennan's restaurant, possibly) Here is the info :
New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund

A fund has also been established to benefit employees of the hospitality industry of the Greater New Orleans area who have experienced hardships because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Contributions may be sent to:

New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund
Greater Houston Community Foundation
4550 Post Oak Place, Suite 100
Houston, TX 77027
Call 713-333-2200 for additional information.

While I was searching for that, I found this website, "Looka!" a New Orleans music/culture blog, that is doing an admirable job of reporting on the status of New Orleans' musicians, as well as providing pictures and stories you won't here in the msm...such as "Looters" who distributed groceries to crowds.
Looka! also has a lot of great links and comments on the news.

And now, gotta go.

West Indian Carnival Parade, Labor Day 2005 Posted by Picasa

 Posted by Picasa

Coming round the bend near the Brooklyn museum Posted by Picasa

very crowded Posted by Picasa

I loved the mix of the spectacular costumes with the every day. Posted by Picasa

Everywhere, people were dancing  Posted by Picasa

I didn't know the Vikings had made it to the West Indies Posted by Picasa

Haiti represents Posted by Picasa

Barbados represents! Posted by Picasa

This fellow on stilts was dynamic -- and easy to see from the sidewalk. Posted by Picasa

Exhorting the crowd near the judging point. Posted by Picasa

One activist out to remind everyone of the serious problems still facing us. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Jordan Flaherty's Diary of New Orleans During the Hurricane

I received this in my email this morning, but was unable to find a copy of this article on the web. (I did find this other one). What I like about this article is that it provides a view of people organizing to help each other, instead of the armed chaos being that's been described in most of the mainstream media.

Don’t Let New Orleans Die

by Jordan Flaherty

August 27 - September 3, 2005

Its been a day since I evacuated from New Orleans, my home, the city I love. Today I saw Governor Blanco proudly speak of troops coming in with orders to shoot to kill. Is she trying to help New Orleans, or has she declared war?

I feel like the world isn’t seeing the truth about the city I love. People outside know about Jazz Fest and Bourbon Street and beads, and now they know about looters and armed gangs and helicopter rescue.

What’s missing is the story of a city and people who have created a culture of liberation and resistance. A city where people have stood up against centuries of racism and white supremacy. This is the city where in 1892 Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee planned the direct action that brought the first (unsuccessful) legal challenge to the doctrine of “Seperate but Equal.” This is the city where in 1970 the New Orleans Black
Panthers held off the police from the desire housing projects, and also formed one of the nations’ first Black Panther chapters in prison. Where in 2005 teens at Frederick Douglas High School, one of the most impoverished schools in the US, formed a student activist group called Teens With Attitude to fight for educational justice, and canvassed their community to develop true community ownership of their school.

I didn’t really understand community until I moved to New Orleans. Secondlines, the new orleans tradition of roving street parties with a brass band, began as a form of community insurance, and are still used to benefit those needing aid. New Orleans is a place where someone always wants to feed you.

Instead of demonizing this community, instead of mistreating them and shooting them and stranding them in refugee camps and displacing them across the southern US, we need to give our love and support to this community in their hour of crisis, and then we need to let them lead the redevelopment of New Orleans. As Naomi Klein has already pointed out, the rebuilding money that will come in doesn’t belong to the Red Cross or FEMA or Homeland Security, the money belongs to the people of New Orleans.
Hurricane Diary

Many people have asked for more information about my experience in the past week. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had food and water and a solid home. Below are notes from my week in the disaster that was constructed out of greed, corruption and neglect.

Saturday, August 27

I’m in New Orleans, and there’s word of a hurricane approaching. I don’t consider leaving. Why? Because I don’t have a car, and all the airlines and car rental companies are sold out. Because the last two hurricanes were false alarms, despite the shrill and vacuous media alarms. Because I have a sturdy, second floor apartment, food, water, flashlights, and supplies. Because there is not much of an evacuation plan. Friends of mine who evacuated last time sat in their cars, moving 50 miles in 12 hours.

Sunday, August 28

As the storm approaches and grows larger, everyone I know is calling. “Are you staying or going? where are you staying? Are you bringing your pets? What should I do?” Governor Blanco urges us to “pray the hurricane down” to a level 2.

I relent to pressure somewhat and relocate to a more sturdy location, an apartment complex built out of an old can factory in the midcity neighborhood. The building is five stories high, built of concrete and brick. There are seven of us in the apartment, with four cats.

Monday, August 29

Its morning, the storm is over, and we survey the streets outside. There has been some flooding. A few of us explore the neighborhood in boats, and we see extensive damage, but overall we feel as if New Orleans has once again escaped fate.

Later in the day, we hear some reports of much greater flooding in destruction in the ninth ward and lower ninth ward neighborhoods, New Orleans’ most overexploited communities. Tomorrow, we decide, the water will lower and we’ll walk home. We expect power will start coming on in a week or so.

There are many relaxed and friendly conversations, especially on the roof. With all of the lights in the city out, the night sky is beautiful. We lie on our backs and watch shooting stars.

Tuesday, August 30

We wake up to discover that the water level has risen several feet. Panic begins to set in among some. We inventory our food and find that, if we ration it tightly, we have enough for five days. As we discuss it, we repeatedly say, “not that we’ll be here that long, but if we had to...”
We continue to explore the area by boat, helping people when possible. The atmosphere outside is a sort of post-apocalyptic, threatening world of obscure danger, where the streets are empty and the future seems cloudy. The water is a repellent mix of sewage, gas, oil, trash and worse.
We meet some of our neighbors. Most of the building is empty. Of at least 250 apartments, there are maybe 200 people in the building, about half white and half Black. Many people, like us, are crowded 7 or 10 to an apartment. Like us, many people came here for safety from the storm. Some have no food and water. A few folks break open the building candy machine and distribute the contents. We talk about breaking into the cafe attached to the building and distributing the food.

We turn on a battery-powered tv and radio, and then turn it off in disgust. No solid information, just rumor and conjecture and fear. Throughout this time, there is no reliable source of information, compounding and multiplying the crisis.

Tomorrow, the news announces, the water level will continue to rise, perhaps
12-15 feet. Governor Blanco calls for a day of prayer.

Wednesday, August 31

White people in the building start whispering about their fears of “them.” One woman complains of people in the building “from the projects and hoarding food.” There is talk of gangs in the streets, shooting, robbing, and lawless anarchy. I feel like there is a struggle in people’s minds between compassion and panic, between empathy and fear.
However, we witness many folks traveling around in boats, bringing food or giving lifts or sharing information.

But the overwhelming atmosphere is one of fear. People fear they wont be able to leave, they fear disease, hunger, and crime. There is talk of a soldier shot in the head by looters, of bodies floating in the ninth ward, flooding in Charity Hospital, and huge masses (including police) emptying WalMart and the electronic stores on Canal street. There are fires visible in the distance. A particularly large fire seems to be nearby - we think its at the projects at Orleans and Claiborne. Helicopters drop army MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and water, and people rush forward to grab as many as they can.

After the third air drop, people in the building start organizing a more even distribution.

Across the street is a spot of land, and helicopters begin landing there and picking people up. Hundreds of people from the nearby hospital make their way there, many wearing only flimsy gowns, waiting in the sun. As more helicopters come, people start arriving from every direction, straggling in, swimming or coming by boat.

A helicopter hovers over our roof, and a soldier comes down and announces that tomorrow everyone in the building will be evacuated. Across the street, at least two hundred people spend the night huddled on a tiny patch of land, waiting for evacuation.

Thursday, September 1

People in the building want out. They are lining up on the roof to be picked up by helicopters - three copters come early in the morning and take a total of nine people. Maybe 75 people spend the next several hours waiting on the roof, but no more come.

Down in the parking garage, flooded with sewage, a steady stream of boats takes people to various locations, mostly to a nearby helicopter pickup point.

We hear stories of hundreds of people waiting for evacuation nearby at Xavier University, a historically Black college, and at other locations.

Our group fractures, people leaving at various times. Two of us take a boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If you ever wondered if the US government would treat US refugees the same way they treat Haitian refugees or Somali refugees, the answer is, yes, if those
refugees are poor, black, and from the South The individual soldiers and police are friendly and polite - at least to me - but nobody seems to know what's going on. As wave after wave of refugees arrives, they are ushered behind the barricades onto mud and dirt and sewage, while heavily armed soldiers look on.

Many people sit on the side, not even trying to get on a bus. Children, people in wheelchairs, and everyone else sit in the sun by the side of the highway.

Everyone has a story to tell, of a home destroyed, of swimming across town,
of bodies and fights and gunshots and looting and fear. The worst stories come from the Superdome. I speak to one young man who describes having to escape and swim up to midcity. I‘m reminded of a moment I read about in the book “Rising Tide,” about the
Mississippi river flood of 1927. After the 1927 evacuation, a boatload of poor black refugees is refused permission to get on land “until they sing negro spirituals.” As a bus arrives and a mass swarms forward and state police and national guard do nothing to help, I feel like I’m witnessing the modern equivalent of this dehumanizing spectacle.

More refugees are arriving than are leaving. Three of us walk out of the camp, considering trying to hitchhike a ride from relief workers or press. We get a ride from an Australian tv team who drive us to Baton Rouge where we sit on the street and wait until a relative arrives and gives us a ride to Houston.

While we sit on the street, everyone we meet is a refugee from somewhere - Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Slidell, Covington. Its after midnight, but the roads are crowded. Everyone is going somewhere.

Friday, September 2

In Houston, I can’t sleep, although we drove through the night. Governor Blanco announces that she’s sending in more national guard troops, “These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.”

Many people have called and written to ask what they can do. I don’t really have answers. I’m still tired and angry and I don’t know if my home survived.

But, heres some thoughts:

1) Hold the politicians accountable. Hold the media accountable. Defend
Kanye West.

2) Support grassroots aid. A friend has compiled a list at

3) Volunteer. The following is a call for volunteers from Families and friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, an excellent grassroots group: “Come and help us walk through the shelters, find people, help folks apply for FEMA assistance, figure out what needs they have, match folks up with other members willing to take people in. We especially need Black folks to help us as the racial divide between relief workers and evacuees is stark. Email us ASAP if you would like to help with this work.,,,"

4) Organize in your own community.

5) Add your apartment to the housing board at

6) Support grassroots, community control of redevelopment. Don’t let New
Orleans die.
Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn Magazine

Katrina Aftermath: Much Worse than a State of Nature

We will all be hearing horrifying reports from the Superdome and Convention Centers for weeks to come. The worst and most terrifying stories to come out, in my opinion, are the stories of rapes and murders. The lack of food there, the lack of power, the force at gunpoint that kept people from leaving - all of this was the most preventable part of the entire tragedy, and it stands as a glaring example of the complete incompetence and callousness of the government, which set out to "shoot to kill" looters seeking supplies, but did nothing to protect people from violence in the designated shelters. It's also an example of the relative value placed on property vs. human beings, not just by the Bush administration, but by our present system of government.
I can understand that it would be difficult for police and military people to find people in floodwaters, I can imagine that it would be difficult to stop looters in the streets. But if they'd had enough leadership and inclination, it seems like either the National Guard, FEMA /or the local government could have avoided the horror that took over those two sports arenas during the night. What were the priorities? Why were babies and elderly people dying? Wouldn't it have been possible to fly fresh water, as well as doctors and medical supplies into the stadiums? Why didn't this happen? As we saw yesterday, FEMA banned the Red Cross from the city. They argued that if the Red Cross were in NOLA providing aid that it would encourage people to stay. As my Aunt pointed out, it's just like the illogical "abstinence" argument: "If you don't give people condoms they won't have sex." But once you tell people to go to the Superdome...shouldn't you be prepared for them? Shouldn't you get prepared for them? I wonder what it will be like in the Astrodome.....(already sounds better)
I shudder when I hear stories of what it was like there at night, and have been wondering about how the people might have organized for self protection. Then I read this report from Reuters. "We found a young girl raped and killed in the bathroom," one National Guard soldier told Reuters. "Then the crowd got the man and they beat him to death."
When another rape was going on in the Convention Center, as one crowd member went to the troops, according to witnesses, the National Guard responded by killing him:
"They killed a man here last night," Steve Banka, 28, told Reuters. "A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them, and he jumped up on the truck's windscreen and they shot him dead."
These stories, as they emerge, will reveal conditions in the refugee centers thar are like the stories of the worst prisons imaginable, where unsurprisingly, police seem to have made the situation worse.
Years ago, Big Black told me what it was like during the Attica riot when he worked security. He told me that he was terrifed, "Some of those men were killers and rapists," he said. During the riot, the Attica prisoners were able to band together and create security, because so many of them were political organizers and activists, whether outside or inside. In the convention center and the Superdome, caught in a massive disaster and hemmed in from the outside, kept from leaving by gunpoint, hurricane victims had no such preparation for self-organization.
I saw a comment on a conservative weblog called "outside the beltway" that the chaos in New Orleans happened because "people are people." I'm sure that many will see a Hobbesian view of "human nature" confirmed by this tragedy. But - if you are tempted to go in that direction, think about this: that was no "state of nature" in the Superdome or Convention Center. It was much worse. People weren't allowed to leave to go and find food. Instead, "looters" were shot for taking food and necessary supplies from abandoned grocery stores. While police were running around the city shooting at looters in the streets, they could have been establishing safety in the convention center and superdome, where people were just stored as if in a warehouse. If those people had been left alone entirely, without police at all, it's possible that leaders could have emerged, organized and found food and water for the others.
While a lot of the horror of New Orleans was directly caused by the particular incompetence and callousness of the Bush administration, I think much of this preventable disaster should be laid at the door of the entire system of capitalism and its police forces, who, regardless of who they are as individuals, are trained to value property and view poor people as animals in need of control.
I'll close with today's editorial from the New Orleans Times Picayune:

OUR OPINIONS: An open letter to the President
Dear Mr. President:

We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, "What is not working, we’re going to make it right."

Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!" Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You’re doing a heck of a job."

That’s unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.

Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again.

When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Turning Volunteers Away During Katrina

I've been reading, watching and listening to as much New Orleans hurricane news as I can, and the strangest thing I've been hearing and seeing is that volunteers who have come in to try to help have been turned away. For a country that prides itself on voluntarism, this is strange behavior, turning back those people who have come to help. If you go to FEMA's news alert from BEFORE all this happened, they were already setting up to be completely backwards in their approach, warding off volunteer efforts with this message, "Volunteers should not self-dispatch."
Cash Sought To Help Hurricane Victims, Volunteers Should Not Self-Dispatch

Release Date: August 29, 2005
Release Number: HQ-05-177

Additional Hurricane Katrina Resources

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Voluntary organizations are seeking cash donations to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in Gulf Coast states, according to Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. But, volunteers should not report directly to the affected areas unless directed by a voluntary agency.

“Cash donations are especially helpful to victims,” Brown said. “They allow volunteer agencies to issue cash vouchers to victims so they can meet their needs. Cash donations also allow agencies to avoid the labor-intensive need to store, sort, pack and distribute donated goods. Donated money prevents, too, the prohibitive cost of air or sea transportation that donated goods require.”

Volunteer agencies provide a wide variety of services after disasters, such as clean up, childcare, housing repair, crisis counseling, sheltering and food.

“We’re grateful for the outpouring of support already,” Brown said. “But it’s important that volunteer response is coordinated by the professionals who can direct volunteers with the appropriate skills to the hardest-hit areas where they are needed most. Self-dispatched volunteers and especially sightseers can put themselves and others in harm’s way and hamper rescue efforts.”

I'm so glad these fuckers have been so fucking professional.

If you click on the link on FEMA's page that says "doing business with FEMA During the Hurricane Katrina Recovery," you can see that it relates not to coordinating volunteers, but providing information about how to get government contracts to private entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.
The usual suspects are really out in force here. Halliburton has its "eyes on the prize" as usual. I didn't know what those agencies in the first FEMA list were, but one of them is Pat "shoot-em-up" Robertson. Read about it here.

As we've all seen in the ensuing days...Rescue efforts? Maybe if Brown and his organization had a coordinated rescue effort, they would have figured out how to incorporate volunteers. Remember Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and all those other volunteers in the aftermath of Sept. 11th? That worked partly because the disaster did less overall damage, but also because they were prepared to organize volunteers in NY.

Here are some examples of volunteers being told they can't help:

From the Red Cross. Yes, that's right, the Red Cross: The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

From "jawbone's comment" on today's "Eschaton," comment list:
As I said last night, someone put Nurse Ratchett in charge of FEMA and made the agency into the Cuckoo's Nest.-I was trying to pull together all the stories about FEMA denying orgs and citizens access to NO. Boaters saying they had small flotillas together to assist in rescues in flooded areas--and FEMA kept them out. For several days. Al Gore tried (don't know outcome, was mentioned on Wash Week in Review on PBS last night) to get two planes to airport to rescue and transfer patients from hospital where the surgeon who had worked on his son was located. Doctor called Gore, Gore was paying for the planes for staff and patients. Arrangments had been made for receiving hospitals, IIRC. FEMA said no, needed paperwork. Now, stories of roadblocks turning people back who are trying walk out of NO. Stories of people being "confined" to Convention Center.
God help us, cause the BushCo gubmint ain't--and it won't let regular folks help us either!
jawbone, 09.03.05 - 9:06 am | #

From Malik Rahim, Black Panther Party veteran in New Orleans' Algiers neighborhood:
People whose homes and families were not destroyed went into the city right away with boats to bring the survivors out, but law enforcement told them they weren't needed. They are willing and able to rescue thousands, but they're not allowed to. Almost all the rescue that's been done has been done by volunteers anyway. My son and his family - his wife and kids, ages 1, 5 and 8 - were flooded out of their home when the levee broke. They had to swim out until they found an abandoned building with two rooms above water level.There were 21 people in those two rooms for a day and a half. A guy in a boat who just said "I'm going to help regardless" rescued them and took them to Highway I-10 and dropped them there. They sat on the freeway for about three hours, because someone said they'd be
rescued and taken to the Superdome. Finally they just started walking, had to
walk six and a half miles. People from Placquemine Parish were rescued on a ferry and dropped off on a dock near here. All day they were sitting on the dock in the hot sun with no food, no water. Many were in a daze; they've lost everything.
They were all sitting there surrounded by armed guards. We asked the guards
could we bring them water and food. My mother and all the other church ladies
were cooking for them, and we have plenty of good water. But the guards said, "No. If you don't have enough water and food for everybody, you can't give anything." Finally the people were hauled off on school buses from other parishes.

He concludes: I'm in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, the only part that isn't flooded. The water is good. Our parks and schools could easily hold 40,000 people,and they're not using any of it. This is criminal. These people are dying for no other reason than the lack of organization. Everything is needed, but we're still too disorganized. I'm asking people to go ahead and gather donations and relief supplies but to hold on to them for a few days until we have a way to put them to good use. I'm challenging my party, the Green Party, to come down here and help us just as soon as things are a little more organized. The Republicans and Democrats didn't do anything to prevent this or plan for it and don't seem to care if everyone dies.

I hear another story of volunteers turned away as I was listening to the "Majority Report" last night on Air America. The Majority Report bloggers have created a successful "hub" for volunteers. at blogspot.

It's not just regular volunteer help being turned away, but state help.

Also, I have never heard of Kanye West, until I read about what he said on last night's celebrity bash, but he rocks.

It sounds to me that once again, racism and hatred of the poor is the reason that volunteers have been deterred. That comment, "if you don't have enough for everyone, you can't help," Why? probably fear of rioting, and this fear of rioting might be one explanation for the entire failed response, which is itself likely to cause a riot, if such weak and exhausted people could be capable of that. The other rationale for this response is the one the Red Cross gave, that the government told them they shouldn't offer help in New Orleans because that would keep people from leaving. oh, really? I thought maybe it would keep them from dying. And finally, most important of all: the fear of the refugees being criminal. I heard Sam Seder say on the Majority Report last night that the first bus of evacuees to reach Houston from NOLA's Superdome was a school bus that had been stolen by a 20 year old kid from Rahim's neighborhood, Algiers. If you read the story, you'll see the reaction to the first bus of refugees in Houston was that there was no room at the inn. Many Houstonites seem to see all the flood refugees as dangerous criminals and don't want them in their city.
I'm so disgusted.