Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King, 1929-2006

One by one and day by day, the people of hope - of our better selves - are slipping away from us, leaving us in a world growing dark. God speed, Mrs. King, pray for us from the other side of that River Jordan.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

So, What's So Surprising?

New Orleans Betrayed

Sunday, January 29, 2006; B06

IN FRONT OF the cameras last September, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans. In private, White House officials told Louisiana's notoriously argumentative politicians -- Democrats and Republicans, state and local -- to get their act together and come up with a reasonable plan, one that would neither cost too much nor result in people rebuilding in flood-prone districts. To many people's immense surprise, they did. In consultation with the Urban Land Institute, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) proposed a logical reconstruction of his city, with buildings on higher ground to be rebuilt first. Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) proposed legislation to set up a Louisiana Development Corp., with sufficient capital to buy back damaged property, allow owners to move to higher, drier ground as the mayor's plan dictated and let the state redevelop lower, wetter property as appropriate.

After much agonizing, state politicians from both parties agreed to back these ideas. Not everyone in New Orleans liked them, and the mayor himself sometimes seemed reluctant to defend them, but federal government support would have helped convince people there was no other option. Until last week, the administration was assuring Louisianans, behind the scenes, that they were on the right track.

Now -- suddenly -- the administration has switched directions. Early last week White House officials told Mr. Baker and other Louisiana politicians not only that they refused to support the development corporation he proposed but that they'd asked congressional leaders to cancel planned hearings on the Baker bill. At his news conference last week, Mr. Bush claimed, strangely, that "the plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward yet." Was he misinformed or deliberately misleading?

Donald E. Powell, the administration's point man on the Gulf Coast, has announced that all reconstruction money will instead be funneled to the Gulf through the traditional method of block grants, $11.5 billion of which Congress allocated last month. Already, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has said he intends to use his $5.3 billion of grant money to compensate the 35,000 Mississippi homeowners who, technically located outside the flood plain, were not required to have flood insurance but got flooded anyway. Although this program was criticized last month by some White House officials on the grounds that it creates a "moral hazard" -- encouraging people who live near coasts not to buy insurance and discouraging them from rebuilding in safer places -- this is the model that Mr. Powell, in another about-face, now says he supports for Louisiana, too.

But it can't be a solution for New Orleans. Given the larger number of flood victims and the more extensive damage, Louisiana's $6.3 billion will not go far enough. Nor will money alone solve the problem of the hundreds of acres of flooded neighborhoods or encourage people to rebuild in safer locations.

Louisiana politicians are now starting from scratch. Some are working on an alternative to the Baker bill, such as a mechanism to borrow money to set up a smaller development entity. This time, the administration should work closely with them and communicate its intentions clearly. Mr. Powell's job is supposed to be one of "coordination," not "transmitter of mixed messages." Without some mechanism to buy back land, the reconstruction of New Orleans will be slower and less rational -- if there is any reconstruction at all.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gimme a Break

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

The White House this week also formally notified Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money appropriated by Congress.

The White House's stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.

You do this kind of obstruction when you have something to hide. Listen, they tried to screw New York after the 9/11 attacks. They're screwing us now. They're gonna screw you when you need them. All this on top of the lubeless fuck they've been giving the country as a whole - and the world - for the last six years. Wake up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

White House Was Told Hurricane Posed Danger

It says here that the Bush Administration was aware of the danger of Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans.
...documents to be released Tuesday show that the weekend before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Homeland Security Department officials predicted that its impact would be worse than a doomsday-like emergency planning exercise conducted in Louisiana in July 2004.

In that drill, held because of common knowledge that New Orleans was susceptible to hurricane-driven flooding, emergency planners predicted that in a Category 3 storm, one million people would be forced to move away, 17 percent of the nation's oil refining capacity would be knocked out and as many as 60,000 lives might be lost.

"Exercise projection is exceeded by Hurricane Katrina real-life impacts," the Aug. 27 department report said, two days before the storm hit New Orleans.

Talk about the Republican concept of states' sovereignty.

Update: 2:37 PM:
The Times Picayune has even more. You can read it here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Ballad of C-Ray

I don't know if any of you outside the city have been hearing about any of our local news this past week, but it seems as though our mayor may have stepped in it again.

Back in October of '05, I was present at a huge business meeting at the downtown Sheraton Hotel in which C-Ray uttered the immortal words, "How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?"

Last Monday, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he announced that New Orleans would once more be a "chocolate city." It was even God's will.

Katrina was also God's will, 'cause He was thoroughly pissed with the city, the state, hell, with the whole damn country. And He was particularly upset with the way his black children mistreated each other.

So if God willed that a devastated New Orleans, missing 75-80% of its neighborhoods, would be chocolate once again, was that His reward or His punishment?

I know I'm not too bright, but that doesn't seem to make much sense. Maybe I'm missing the point, because no one else seems to have looked at it the same way. They see hizzoner as flagrantly racist. They believe he should be run out of town.

There have been t-shirts galore with Photoshops of "Willie Nagin and the Chocolate Factory" or a Hershey's Kiss topping the Superdome. They're really funny, and C-Ray asked for it. But one (only one?) emailer has written:
This city is my city. I was born at Touro Hospital. Even though I now reside in Jefferson, when I visit other places and someone asks me where I'm from, I tell them "New Orleans"! But this city of mine has continued to elect "chocolate politicians" over intelligent, well-minded leaders. New Orleans, and the so-called leaders in the political arena, continue to keep giving itself and us, a black eye. Corruption and "reverse racism" has plagued this city for far too long.
Hmm, the writer resides in Jefferson Parish. He or she is upset with C-Ray, the black mayor of a city in a different parish. So what? I don't like Trent Lott and what he stands for, but he's in a different state and I've never been in a position to vote for or against him.

Of course, there's more to that email, and I left out the part where the emailer wrote:
But let's first take a look at your "Chocolate City". Check the stats, the majority of crime comes from the "chocolate factory". The majority of welfare goes, to the "chocolate factory". The majority of dilapidated, filthy housing is owned or inhabited by the "chocolate factory". The poor public education system is run by and inhabited by the "chocolate factory". Just look at all of the "chocolate city" public housing eyesores. You want a "chocolate city", just look at the 2nd line party-shootout where 3 people were injured, that was all chocolate, no white milk in that neighborhood. And you called the shooters "knuckleheads"? How about CRIMINALS! And wasn't that supposed to be a welcome back parade???
I also did not include this passage where the writer asks:
Who do you think fills the majority of restaurants, hotels, conventions, or even the Superdome on Sundays, chocolates-nope! And 30-40 years ago, New Orleans was not a black majority city. But since then, we've had four "chocolate" mayors, and this city has been spiraling down the tubes ever since!
These comments smell racist to me. I don't know about you.

With your permission, I would venture to say that C-Ray is no more racist than any other citizen of New Orleans or Louisiana or even the country at large; and if his comments cause the city to lose any of the Federal funding to help rebuild the city, then I might suggest the problem lies at the other end.

So what is C-Ray's problem? Who am I to speculate on that? But I do have an idea, for what it's worth.

You see, C-Ray in his previous life was the CEO of a local monopoly, Cox Communications. He was backed in his bid for mayor by, and won office through the support of, other local business people who firmly believed in having government run as a business.

And you know what I think about that.

After the last few years of having business news shoved down our throats because of the various crimes and misdemeanors being committed by these "People of Power," I think we may be able to form some concept of the nature of the "CEO."

I would say the "CEO" is a coddled toddler, cosseted and cuddled by handlers and enablers who cater to his every whim. He has free rein to think or say or do anything he pleases because of his power in the corporation. No one ignores his tantrums. No one slaps his bottom when he yanks the tablecloth from the table in the middle of dinner. His people spoil him. That is their job.

I believe C-Ray liked this arrangement. He still keeps handlers around him to tell him when to stop or to take the microphone away from him to explain away some comment or action of his that has caused offense. Where were they last Monday? I don't know. But it was a holiday. Maybe they were off.

I think he thought he was being a black politician-preacher assuring his "chocolate" constituency that it was God's will they return to their neighborhoods and vote for his reelection. Unfortunately, he was speaking of the same neighborhoods that his administration is earmarking for buy-outs and bull-dozing. All he wanted was to have it both ways, to have it all.

That is the thinking of a CEO.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Losing It at the Movies

Deciding I needed a break from the continuous contemplation of my Katrina-devastated navel, I packed Sperm Magnet into the Matrix yesterday and headed out to the movies to catch Brokeback Mountain.

I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the movie is good. The cast performs beautifully. The story is faithful to the source.

But the movie seemed calibrated not to offend.

I remember reading Annie Proulx's story a year or so ago. That story took me apart and put me back together again in a different configuration than I had been in before I read it.

The movie retold me the plot.

I also think that maybe a year from now, people are going to start saying, "Hey, you know what? As good as we thought Heath Ledger was, Jake Gyllenhaal was really good. There was a lot to that performance that we didn't get the first time out."

I wonder why that is. I think it may have something to do with the idea that the film makers are using the Ennis character as a doorway through which (straight? Urban?) outsiders can enter the story and still feel safe.

No one should feel safe. The mountain is called Brokeback.

As it was, last night, I just kept waiting for Ennis Del Mar to turn to Jack Straw at the end of the picture and say in a quavering voice of triumph, "Oh, Ennis, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."

Orchestra crescendo.

"The End."


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A One-Sided Conversation

Jaye Ramsey Sutter recently wrote:
There is a piece in the New Yorker this week or last about the police and Katrina. Thought about you. The piece is interesting because it looks at the local picture and the problems of the NO police force over generations. It also discusses the hysteria reported as fact with regard to the SuperDome.

Keep the faith.
I read the article. In fact, I saved it. I intend to reread it periodically. Anyone living here has his or her own minor or major "horror" story concerning interactions with the men and women of the NOPD. My own recent one is laughable.

It concerns a hit-and-run perpetrated on my innocent little Toyota Matrix as she waited patiently for me overnight one evening in October last year.

As I turned the corner from Decatur Street onto Barracks Early on the morning of October 27th, I saw her spun out about 30-degrees from her parking space.

It seems, according to witnesses, that a large white pickup with Tennessee plates had attempted to turn into the adjacent parking lot. Being too large, he was unable to make this maneuver without swiping the front driver's side of my care, ripping off the front bumper, and spinning her out from her parking space into the street.

Realizing what he'd done, he took off, clipping the white car on the farther side of the parking lot entrance.

I called NOPD to report the accident. When officers from the traffic division arrive about two hours later, the officer riding shotgun ordered me to move the vehicle out of the street into the parking lot, then stepped out his car to tell me I had been illegally parked.

"But, officer, I was parked parallel to the curb. I didn't park the car on that angle."

"You parked it in a driveway."

"This isn't a driveway. Maybe it used to be years ago, more years than I have lived in the Quarter. But it isn't now."

One of my neighbors piped up and said, "He's right. Jimmy Cahn owns this parking lot. He usually has this side and the farther side blocked off with chains so that you can't enter the lot except through the center driveway."

Then I said, "Look at the way the cars are parked in the lot. You can't drive in except through the center opening."

"I know the law. It's my job to know the law. I have to deal with traffic lawyers every day, so I know the law. The City determines what is or isn't a driveway. This is a driveway."

"But I was parked outside the yellow line."

"People paint those yellow lines, not the City."

"Well, look over here, next to the lot. Here is a building with a solid wall, right. Yet here in front is what once was a driveway."

"It's still a driveway."

"But you can't drive into a solid wall. How can that be a driveway? Before this building was put up, it may have been a driveway, but it can't be used as one now."

"It's a driveway. You were parked in a driveway. I'm gonna write you up, and if you don't shut up now, I'm gonna put you in the back seat of my squad car and take you down to the bus station and deal with you there."

(There was no central lockup at this time. The police were using the Greyhound Bus Station as the Orleans Parish Jail).

So I shut up. The officer's partner took my information and later told me where to go and purchase the accident report for my insurance company.

They didn't issue me a ticket for parking in a driveway.

I didn't go and buy the accident report.

My insurance company fixed my car, and my rates rose a little. It was frustrating then, but it's laughable now.

It could have been worse. After all, I wasn't beaten to an incomprehensible, bloody pulp on Bourbon Street after asking for directions. I wasn't surrounded by 16 police officers on Saint Charles Avenue and shot to death by three of them because in my agitated, mentally-ill state, I brandished a knife with a three-inch blade.

I consider myself lucky.
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