Politics: September 2005 Archives

and eventually, when interest in them flags, we can use the two big footprints for parking

So, after watching four years of people fighting over the big hole, we're now to have nothing more than some dreary architecture sheltering a theme park for the dead, a high-rise corporate office park and a Wal-Mart.

The World Trade Center is back in business.

I'd weep, if I could care any longer.

[image from thinkandask]

what do you think?

The Times-Picayune headline and story appears only after almost a full month of reports that the New Orleans victims of hurricane Katrina had acted like murderers and animals.

As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

. . . .

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.

We should have known all along that racism would be a key part of the disaster response. What has surprised us most, the original reports or the news that they were spurious?

[image dated September 2, of crowd awaiting evacuation from the Superdome, by David J. Phillip from AP via Times-Picayune]

dangerous woman

Cindy Sheehan has been arrested for not moving from the sidewalk in front of the executive mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. White House press secretary Scott McClellan:

"it's the right of the American people to peacefully express their views. And that's what you're seeing here in Washington, D.C."
And it's the right of a pseudo-authoritarian regime to arrest us if we try it without asking permission.

[image of Molly Riley from Reuters via Yahoo!]

An Iraqi detainee at a jail in the outskirts of Baghdad, 2004. Troops from the army's elite 82nd Airborne Division routinely beat and mistreated Iraqi prisoners at a base near Fallujah in central Iraq with the approval of their superior officers, a New York-based human rights group said [AFP caption]

"3 in 82nd Airborne Say Beating Iraqi Prisoners Was Routine"

The prodigious fool and duplicitous monster who let a very gullible nation believe Iraq was responsible for September 11, and who then told its very frightened citizens that Iraq was about to drop nuclear bombs on them, is the one who did this. Our natural proclivity for violence was the perfect instrument.

If we are citizens of a democracy*, we are all guilty, but the beatings and torture which continue today began four years ago at the very top, with the commander-in-chief himself.

perhaps a dubious assumption today

[image by Jewel Samad from Agence France-Presse file via Yahoo!]

bedlam immediately followed the arrest of the organizer of Cindy Sheehan's appearance in Union Square [the guy in the yellow shirt is a plainclothes punk "kid" who tried to start trouble before the rally began, according to a witness, Kim Arnold, one of the principals of the site where this image was spotted, tanasimusic]

Barry has a very good take on what happened when Cindy Sheehan tried to speak in Union Square on Monday.

No innocent in the ways of our benighted republic, including its most worldly city, he suggests, "They should have added some religious content". ["worldly" is a relative thing here in America]

Incidently, the secondary headline on Sarah Ferguson's Village Voice article reads:

City’s Finest pulls move even Bush wouldn’t have tried

[image courtesy of Mike Fleming via tanasimusic]

where Dumaine crosses North Roman, central Treme after the flood, sometime late last week

The title of Jordan Flaherty's latest letter is "Shelter and Safety", but the context is racism, a racism exacerbated by the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, a racism which continues even today in "rescue" and "shelter" operations and which is built into the plans for tomorrow's New Orleans.

The sections I've excerpted below describe just a little of the desperate struggle of a poor, almost-powerless, displaced community to remain a community. [The entire text includes much more detail on the specific horrors of "Shelter and Safety" today in Louisiana, and I expect it will soon appear on leftturn].

Just north of the French Quarter . . . is the historic Treme neighborhood. Settled in the early 1800s, it’s known as the oldest free African-American community in the US. Residents fear for the post-reconstruction stability of communities like Treme. “There’s nothing some developers would like more than a ring of white neighborhoods around the French Quarter,” said one Treme resident recently. The widespread fear among organizers is that the exclusionary, “tourists only” atmosphere of the French Quarter will be multiplied and expanded across the city, and that many residents simply wont be able to return home.

. . . .

Diane "Momma D" Frenchcoat never evacuated out of her Treme home on North Dorgenois Street, and has been helping feed and support 50 families, coordinating a relief and rebuilding effort consisting of, at its peak, 30 volunteers known as the Soul Patrol.

. . . .

Asked about her plan, Momma D had these words, "Rescue. Return. Restore. Can you hear what I'm saying, baby? Listen to those words again. Rescue, return, restore. We want the young, able-bodied men who are still here to stay to help those in need. And the ones that have been evacuated, we want them to come home and help clean up and rebuild this city. How can the city demand that we evacuate our homes but then have thousands of people from across this country volunteering to do the things that we can do ourselves?"

Community organizers like Momma D in Treme and Malik Rahim, who has a similar network in the Algiers neighborhood, are the forces for relief and rebuilding that need our help. The biggest disaster was not a hurricane, but the dispersal of communities, and that's the disaster that needs to be addressed first.

Yesterday a friend told me through tears, “I just want to go back as if this never happened. I want to go back to my friends and my neighbors and my community.” Its our community that has brought us security. People I know in New Orleans don’t feel safer when they see Blackwater mercenaries on their block, but they do feel security from knowing their neighbors are watching out for them. And that's why the police and national guard and security companies on our streets haven’t brought us the security we’ve been looking for, and why discussions of razing neighborhoods makes us feel cold.

When we say we want our city back, we don’t mean the structures and the institutions, and we don’t mean “law and order,” we mean our community, the people we love. And that's the city we want to fight for.

[image by Ted Jackson from the Times Picayune]

NOLAroad trip.jpg
back at Duke, Sonny Byrd, David Hankla and Hans Buder

"It made no sense whatsoever that reporters were getting in and out of New Orleans, but the National Guard couldn't remove those people from the convention center," said Mr. Hankla, 20, a sophomore. "All we knew was that we were sick of being armchair humanitarians and that we intended to help get people out."

So he and two dorm mates, Sonny Byrd and Hans Buder, set out in Mr. Byrd's Hyundai sedan for a road trip and rescue mission. [read the whole story in the NYTimes]

That's the can-do spirit which seems missing in most of the country these days. It's also the spirit (and the devices) we used in ACT UP, especially in the early 90's: Sometimes you just have to figure out how to make your own credentials if you want to help people.

Hey, these dudes weren't arrested, and they even got media coverage - key in any action!

[image by John Loomis for the Times]

not everything's in the French Quarter

I obviously haven't seen everything being written about the reconstruction (or, gasp, "urban renewal") of New Orleans, but I know I haven't read a single word about who actually owns all those unique, traditional/vernacular style houses we've seen throughout the flooded older, poorer neighborhoods. I suspect they are mostly owner-occupied or rented from people who live in the neighborhood.

I certainly don't think Halliburton or the developers own them - yet. Why are we talking about these neighborhoods as if their ownership had evaporated, as if the governments which failed them can now decide their disposition in a vacuum?

[image of two shotgun houses from Ingolf Vogeler]

in Afghanistan the Taliban remain an enduring threat, freedom only clings to life, especially for women, and more Americans are dying than ever before

Sixty-nine American service members have been killed in Afghanistan this year, the NYTimes reported today in an article discussing Pentagon and military officials' plans to start pulling out of the country which was the site of "Operation Enduring Freedom" in 2001.

The first paragraph of the article tells us that the contemplated reduction, as much of 20 percent of our current troop level of 20,000, would be "the largest withdrawal since the Taliban were ousted [my italics] in late 2001." Check that verb. Not untypically the paper is being a bit disingenuous, since the article continues for four long columns packed with the disconnect of these phrases I've pulled out from the text. They describe the current very real insurgency and why our allies don't want any part of a combat role:

"handle the counterinsurgency mission"
"where much of the fighting is occurring"
"the American combat operation"
"contribute troops to counterinsurgency"
"small special forces involved in combat"
"where American troops have clashed with Taliban"
"anticipated spike in insurgent attacks"
"attacks against American forces"
"stepped-up American offensives in areas sympathetic to the Taliban"
"commander of daily tactical operations in Afghanistan"
"soldiers to fight throughout the winter"
"keep the pressure on Taliban fighters"
"effort to impress villagers in the Taliban heartland"
The total count of U.S. military fatalities since the beginning of the war which "ousted the Taliban" almost four years ago is 231. According to at least one site* which breaks down the statistics by year, the numbers have been going up each year since 2001:
2001: 12
2002: 43
2003: 47
2004: 52
2005: 77

The caption for the photo above as it appears on the Times site reads:
A patrol vehicle from Company A, 508th Infantry, casts shadows in a town in Paktika Province, [southeast] Afghanistan.

whose statistics were compiled from Department of Defense and Central Command press releases [the discrepancy in its 2005 total and that in the Times may be due to different ways of measuring the years used in the calculations]

[image by Scott Eels for the Times]


Maybe we've just been watching the latest sally in the radical conservatives' continuing campaign to dismantle the government. The results of a Newsweek poll released a few days ago suggest that it's working.

But Katrina’s most costly impact could be a loss of faith in government generally, and the president, in particular. A majority of Americans (57 percent) say “government’s slow response to what happened in New Orleans” has made them lose confidence in government’s ability to deal with another major natural disaster.
The only complication for the Bushies is that an even larger number of people are also convinced their own special damn fool - and his entire party - is a very big part of the problem.
Reflecting the tarnished view of the administration, only 38 percent of registered voters say they would vote for a Republican for Congress if the Congressional elections were held today, while 50 say they would vote for a Democrat.
Even showing up on a [helicopter] carrier again, as he did yesterday, won't change those numbers.

Thank goodness we can't afford still another war.

[image by Ron Edmonds from AP via Yahoo!]

Farley Post Office Building [at the top of the front steps]


Years ago they tore down the magnificent old Pennsylvania Station and replaced it with the current monstrous obscenity which became the latest incarnation of the peripatetic Madison Square Garden. The existing arena is the fourth location of what was originally the home of an earlier, somewhat less athletic freak show assembled by P.T. Barnum in 1874. The buildings in each of the previous locations have been destroyed. As the city grew, the land on which they were located was determined to be too valuable to be devoted to popular entertainment.

The word is out today that they're threatening to tear down another monumental building in order to move the Garden once again. Okay, it's only half of the building, but it's a half which would do honor to any city in the world.

When I told Barry about the story in today's NYTimes he said they're going to keep on moving until there aren't any decent buildings left in New York.

Some initial and random thoughts of my own:


Now can we have Penn Station back?

Nah, whadaya think this is, Germany?

What's a station?

Barnum would be proud of his heirs. Remember the sucker birth rate?

How much of a deal will they get from taxpayers this time?

Maybe they'll name it Bloomberg Garden.

The obsession with sports stadiums is gonna kill this city dead.


[image from rachelleb.com]




Barry and I were a part of this afternoon's New Orleans Jazz Funeral March in Washington Square Park, where I managed to weave through an extraordinarily-diverse crowd to get a few decent images, even while encumbered by half of a sandwich board around my neck. My sign bore my simple conclusion:

The woman carrying on her shoulder a red velvet-lined case in which lay a shiny bent-up trumpet told me that some man she didn't know had handed it to her, asking if she would carry it in the procession. For me that was the defining moment of the march and protest.


When we left and headed toward the West Village we had to squeeze through the phalanx of police motor scooters which had trailed this very peaceful group around the park for an hour.


Seconds after I took a picture of this solitary flautist they swarmed into the open ground in front of him and faced the "mourners".

Then the real surprise: Barely ten feet beyond this disturbing display of obsessively-focused armed law enforcement we found ourselves parties to the familiar, repeated pitch, "smoke"? "smoke"?

Ahhh. Still maybe the people's park after all.

the day before

UPDATE: "Five Days with Katrina" had moved and, thanks to Silvia Morales who told me where it went, the link below now works once again

I haven't seen anything like this site before now. This album, "Five Days with Katrina," is in the form of a five-day diary posted by someone who survived the New Orleans hurricane inside the French Quarter. There are almost two hundred extraordiary images accompanied by some fascinating captions.

I haven't gone through more than a few dozen myself yet, but wanted to broadcast the site right away. I have to say that the photographs of ancient deserted streets taken just before the storm hit are incredibly beautiful.

I don't know much about this wonderful witness, but his name is Alvaro R. Morales Villa.

[thanks to Vincent Fisher for the link]

None of this surprises me any more, although there was a time, less than two weeks ago, when I could still go about the day without these images of the horrors of our racism haunting me all day long and through much of the night.

Police Trapped Thousands in New Orleans

As the situation grew steadily worse in New Orleans last week, you might have wondered why people didn't just leave on foot. The Louisiana Superdome is less than two miles from a bridge that leads over the Mississippi River out of the city.

The answer: Any crowd that tried to do so was met by suburban police, some of whom fired guns to disperse the group and seized their water.

This is a short excerpt from a post by Rogers Cadenhead linked from Atrios, who headlined his own abreviated citing, "America's Worst Person," referring to Gretna, Louisiana police chief Arthur Lawson.

FOOTNOTE: See the identiy of the armed man in an LAT photograph I included in this post of mine. Even a week ago I was struck by the imagery I found in several photographs I found which included Gretna police interacting with New Orleans refugees.

Gretna police officer Ray Lassiegne stands guard over a busload of evacuees after they were picked up near the Greater New Orleans Bridge just south of New Orleans. [Los Angeles Times caption, image dated September 1]

My point is not to paint an entire town with the color of racism or just plain selfishness (in this case, criminal), nor is it to exclude individuals or communities elsewhere. We can all share in the blame, and we know it, even as we express our outrage.

[image by Robert Gauthier from the Los Angeles Times, via Newsday]

So when is the right to have a gun a sacrament of the radical Right, if it's not during an emergency, when there is no civil order, and when life and private property must be defended?

Sean Bonner asked the question last night and the AP answered with this report today:

Police and soldiers also seized numerous guns for fear of confrontations with jittery residents who have armed themselves against looters.

"No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons," Riley said.

On Thursday, in the city's well-to-do Lower Garden District, a neighborhood with many antebellum mansions, members of the Oklahoma National Guard seized weapons from the inhabitants of one home. Those who were armed were handcuffed and briefly detained before being let go.

"Walking up and down these streets, you don't want to think about the stuff that you're going to have to do, if somebody's pops out around a corner," said one of the Guardsmen, Chris Montgomery. [has he ever been to a city?]

But this story isn't about the Garden District; this story is about the poorest of the poor isolated in their homes, trying to hold onto their world and to New Orleans. They are the ones being handcuffed, their homes searched, and their guns confiscated, weapons which many might have acquired only in the desperation of the last week.

Gun control for the poor and the dark - an act of god.

Appeals to the Second Amendment have always been a political device, and now racism and class fear trumps all.

The NRA website is silent on this story.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that U.S. President George W. Bush has the power to detain Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who has been held for more than three years as a suspected enemy combatant without any charges being brought against him. [my italics]
Padilla continues to be held in solitary confinement on a military base. For the first two years of his confinement he had no access to a lawyer, not that it could possibly change his situation anyway.

Remember the Constitution? Remember Habeus Corpus? Remember enduring freedom?

Guilt by suspicion of association, solitary confinement, no charges, no trial - forever. Sounds to me like a recruiting poster for revolution!

The terror has come home, and it's us. We've become expert at manufacturing enemies where there never were any before, both at home and abroad. It's clear we really have lost the "war" we called by the name of a tactic we ascribed to the other.

According to the same Reuters account J. Michael Luttig, the judge who wrote the decision for the three-judge panel, is "a conservative who has been under consideration by the Bush administration for a possible Supreme Court nomination."

Remember separation of powers? Remember real conservatives? Remember justice?

[image, titled "Solitary Confinement," from wolispace]

Joseph Williams attempts to leave New Orleans on Interstate 10. He has two flat tires on his trailer that is carrying half of everything he owns. [caption from Newsday dated September 5]

If tons of money end up going to restore New Orleans and protect it from floods in the future, I think we can be pretty certain they're not going to let those people come back. It's very interesting that the very best start for such a policy would be to force the poor out now, and that's exactly what they're doing. This is true regardless of the merits of arguments about the uninhabitability of the entire city.

In an email he sent to me today James W. Bailey used the familiar phrase, "right of return," in a context I had not found it before. I immediately Googled it and found it prominently placed within a piece by Lloyd Hart, the last part of which I'm excerpting here from the North Carolina Independent Media Center site.

There are several reasons why New Orleans should not be totally controlled by the federal government and completely evacuated. The first and foremost is that local population should be the ones hired into the cleanup and reconstruction process as it is their jobs in the City of New Orleans that have been destroyed. Local contractors and local construction personnel should be given the contracts that are dispersed and specifically in the City of New Orleans the Mayor's Office should be the office handling the dispersal of those contracts. As someone who worked on the Big dig in Boston I can tell you straight up you don't want Bechtel Corp. building your dikes and levees after the leaky tunnels they built for us in Boston.

If there are dry homes that have not been flooded and there are people living in them, they should not be evacuated and people who wish to return to those dry homes should be allowed to. A civil society can not repair and redevelop if there are no citizens with a long history of the community to do so. And because of the varying degrees of flooding many homes are less damaged than others and therefore repairable.

Everyone must be for warned that there are greedy developers already rubbing their hands together hoping to use the recent corrupt Supreme Court ruling of imminent domain which allows for transferring private property into the hands of private developers to turn the city into some bizarre Disneyland version of New Orleans that existed before the hurricane but without the middle, working class, and poor folks that created the wonderful expression of culture that turned the pain and suffering caused by slavery into the healing power of the music New Orleans has become as famous for. The music born in Africa, raised on the plantation fields of America by black slaves and through the 20 century, the music that has become the road to our collective salvation.

If any of those folks that have been evacuated and not just the homeowners but the tenants as well lose their right to return to where they lived before Hurricane Katrina because of some nefarious claim that the market must be allowed to shake out the unproductive population in the reconstruction process then you can be sure the music will truly die. Assassinated by white gentrification.

The gentrification that was already taking place in New Orleans must not be allowed to accelerate or restart at all simply because the white guys in White House have decided to take complete charge of the disaster because of the Reagan and Bush regimes deliberate undermining of all Federal departments that deal directly with the civil society in America creating the "Fuck You Government."

Just so you think about this a little. Another reason the white guys in the white house may want complete control of New Orleans may be to control and prevent the body count in the city from becoming the next stage of Bush Regime's worst P.R. nightmare. You know, just like in Iraq "We don't count the Civilian casualties."

And then a short while ago this showed up as the lead story on Reuters.
FEMA accused of censorship

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When U.S. officials asked the media not to take pictures of those killed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, they were censoring a key part of the disaster story, free speech watchdogs said on Wednesday.

The move by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] is in line with the Bush administration's ban on images of flag-draped U.S. military coffins returning from the Iraq war, media monitors said in separate telephone interviews.

"It's impossible for me to imagine how you report a story whose subject is death without allowing the public to see images of the subject of the story," said Larry Siems of the PEN American Center, an authors' group that defends free expression. [excerpt]

[image by J. Conrad Williams Jr. from Newsday]

The entire headline, taken from another blogger's post, reads:


Some people are very mad. Very, very mad. I see sense in all of it.

James W. Bailey* is from New Orleans. He sees a connection between two of today's big stories, and it's a connection we should all be able to recognize, on the day a powerful man is laid in the [dry] ground.

On his website Bailey shows a Washington Post photo of Bush standing on polished marble floors beside a flag-draped coffin resting on a plinth. At the foot of this monumental assemblage stands a huge bouquet of flowers professionally arranged (although part of their traditional function, disguising the odor of rotting flesh, had been rendered unnecessary by the attentions of an embalmer). Inside the fancy box is the body of William Rehnquist.

Below the Post image is a very different picture.

NOLAAlcede Jackson.jpg
The corpse of Alcede Jackson is reverently laid out on his front porch and abandoned with a blanket held down by slate and a epitath on a poster board. [caption of Times Picayune dated September 6 (text not included on Bailey's site)]

Bailey's site continues:

The corpse of Alcede Jackson is reverantly laid out on his front porch in New Orleans. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were unable to attend Mr. Jackson's funeral. Some in New Orleans are suggesting, since he couldn't attend the funeral ceremonies for Mr. Jackson because of a pressing schedule engaged in the War on Terror, that the President should consider sending the surviving members of Mr. Jackson's family an American flag that has been flown over the Supreme Court Building. Although Mr. Jackson was not a rich white guy, and did not wear a black robe for a living, he did in fact wear black skin...and for all of his life.
No flag.

UPDATE: if you go to this link the first image you will see, according to the artist, was shot in the Lower 9th Ward in 1994, the area of the city that sustained some of the worst of the current flooding. Mr. Jackson, whose remains and memorial are pictured in the Times Picayune photo lived in the Lower 9th Ward

[if anyone has access to a larger image than the one I used here, please let me know, and I would like to see the entire text of the yellow sign]

[image by Ted Jackson from the plucky and courageous people of the Times Picayune]

Winslow Homer Hurricane, Bahamas 1898-99 watercolor 14.5" x 21"

I have two more stories which should be read more widely than they are likely to be. Like the tip on the previous post, both were sent to me by Steve Quester (who, as these things work, of course was himself tipped by his friends). The first is a description of an American state which was the target of a Category 4 hurricane last week; the second is a picture of a very different state which endured a Category 5 hurricane one year ago. Louisiana is an incalculable physical and human catastrophe; Cuba lost 20,000 homes, but no one died.

The Ugly Truth: Why we couldn't save the people of New Orleans by Errol Louis

Bubbling up from the flood that destroyed New Orleans are images, beamed around the world, of America's original and continuing sin: the shabby, contemptuous treatment this country metes out, decade after decade, to poor people in general and the descendants of African slaves in particular. The world sees New Orleans burning and dying today, but the televised anarchy - the shooting and looting, needless deaths, helpless rage and maddening governmental incompetence - was centuries in the making. [continued]

The Two Americas by Marjorie Cohn

Last September, a Category 5 hurricane battered the small island of Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. More than 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm. Although the hurricane destroyed 20,000 houses, no one died.

What is Cuban President Fidel Castro's secret? According to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America, "the whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. People know ahead of time where they are to go." [continued]

[image from theweathernotebook]

Algiers, Louisiana, 1993

This is a letter from a dry Algiers. No, not the sandy one. It's the New Orleans neighborhood just across the river from the watery parts.

This piece is copied in its entirety from ZNet.

[Note: Malik Rahim, a veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans, for decades an organizer of public housing tenants both there and in San Francisco and a recent Green Party candidate for New Orleans City Council, lives in the Algiers neighborhood, the only part of New Orleans that is not flooded. They have no power, but the water is still good and the phones work. Their neighborhood could be sheltering and feeding at least 40,000 refugees, he says, but they are allowed to help no one. What he describes is nothing less than deliberate genocide against Black and poor people.]

New Orleans, Sept. 1, 2005 -- It's criminal. From what you're hearing, the people trapped in New Orleans are nothing but looters. We're told we should be more "neighborly." But nobody talked about being neighborly until after the people who could afford to leave -- left.

If you ain't got no money in America, you're on your own. People were told to go to the Superdome, but they have no food, no water there. And before they could get in, people had to stand in line for 4-5 hours in the rain because everybody was being searched one by one at the entrance.

I can understand the chaos that happened after the tsunami, because they had no warning, but here there was plenty of warning. In the three days before the hurricane hit, we knew it was coming and everyone could have been evacuated.

We have Amtrak here that could have carried everybody out of town. There were enough school buses that could have evacuated 20,000 people easily, but they just let them be flooded. My son watched 40 buses go underwater - they just wouldn't move them, afraid they'd be stolen.

People who could afford to leave were so afraid someone would steal what they own that they just let it all be flooded. They could have let a family without a vehicle borrow their extra car, but instead they left it behind to be destroyed.

There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup trucks, all of them armed, and any young Black they see who they figure doesn't belong in their community, they shoot him. I tell them, "Stop! You're going to start a riot."

When you see all the poor people with no place to go, feeling alone and helpless and angry, I say this is a consequence of HOPE VI. New Orleans took all the HUD money it could get to tear down public housing, and families and neighbors who'd relied on each other for generations were uprooted and torn apart.

Most of the people who are going through this now had already lost touch with the only community they'd ever known. Their community was torn down and they were scattered. They'd already lost their real homes, the only place where they knew everybody, and now the places they've been staying are destroyed.

But nobody cares. They're just lawless looters ... dangerous.

The hurricane hit at the end of the month, the time when poor people are most vulnerable. Food stamps don't buy enough but for about three weeks of the month, and by the end of the month everyone runs out. Now they have no way to get their food stamps or any money, so they just have to take what they can to survive.

Many people are getting sick and very weak. From the toxic water that people are walking through, little scratches and sores are turning into major wounds.

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.

Every day countless volunteers are trying to help, but they're turned back. 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.

When they got to the Superdome, my son wasn't allowed in - I don't know why - so his wife and kids wouldn't go in. They kept walking, and they happened to run across a guy with a tow truck that they knew, and he gave them his own personal truck.

When they got here, they had no gas, so I had to punch a hole in my gas tank to give them some gas, and now I'm trapped. I'm getting around by bicycle.

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.

You know Robert King Wilkerson (the only one of the Angola 3 political prisoners who's been released). He's been back in New Orleans working hard, organizing, helping people. Now nobody knows where he is. His house was destroyed. Knowing him, I think he's out trying to save lives, but I'm worried.

The people who could help are being shipped out. People who want to stay, who have the skills to save lives and rebuild are being forced to go to Houston.

It's not like New Orleans was caught off guard. This could have been prevented.

There's military right here in New Orleans, but for three days they weren't even mobilized. You'd think this was a Third World country.

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.


Malik's phone is working. He welcomes calls from old friends and anyone with questions or ideas for saving lives. To reach him, call the Bay View at (415) 671-0789.

[image from subdivision.net]

Two woman sitting in front of their home in New Orleans. They are not looking for another place to live even, though they have nothing to eat or drink. [caption from Newsday dated September 5]

As if the news from the past week wasn't sufficiently horrific already, we have to prepare ourselves for what still lies ahead.

I just saw a headline expressing alarm about what lies beneath the water. But the accompanying story is about much more than the bodies of people who have already succumbed to this natural and man-made disaster. The water itself holds still more peril for the entire Gulf region. This site has been doing an excellent job preparing us for the news we will be seeing for many years to come.

The real disaster may have only just begun.

[thanks to Peter, who left a comment on my previous post giving a link to this section of Politics in the Zeros]

[image by Conrad Williams Jr. from Newsday]

Lee Friedlander Sweet Emma Barrett, New Orleans 1958


I have no way of knowing how central this particular appeal may become, but it came to me through a friend and I share its anger and its emphasis on preserving a devasatated community intact. The call comes from some really good people, and I believe it should be broadcast widely. I decided not to wait for the promised formal press release.

Displaced New Orleans Community Demands Action, Accountability and Initiates A People’s Hurricane Fund

Not until the fifth day of the federal government’s
inept and inadequate emergency response to the
New Orleans’ disaster did George Bush even acknowledge
it was ‘unacceptable.’ ‘Unacceptable’ doesn’t begin to
describe the depth of the neglect, racism and classism
shown to the people of New Orleans. The government’s
actions and inactions were criminal. New Orleans, a
city whose population is almost 70% percent black, 40%
illiterate, and many are poor, was left day after day
to drown, to starve and to die of disease and thirst.

The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the
night, scattering across this country to become
homeless in countless other cities while federal
relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos,
hotels, chemical plants and the wealthy white
districts of New Orleans like the French Quarter and
the Garden District. We will not stand idly by while
this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our
homes with newly built mansions and condos in a
gentrified New Orleans.

Community Labor United (CLU), a coalition of the
progressive organizations throughout New Orleans, has
brought community members together for eight years to
discuss socio-economic issues. We have been
communicating with people from The Quality Education
as a Civil Right Campaign, the Algebra Project, the
Young People’s Project and the Louisiana Research
Institute for Community Empowerment. We are
preparing a press release and framing document that
will be out as a draft later today for comments.

Here is what we are calling for:

We are calling for all New Orleanians remaining in the
city to be evacuated immediately.

We are calling for information about where every
evacuee was taken.

We are calling for black and
progressive leadership to come together to meet in
Baton Rouge to initiate the formation of a
Community Oversight Committee of evacuees from all the
sites. This committee will demand to
oversee FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations
collecting resources on behalf of our people.

We are calling for volunteers to enter the shelters
where our people are and to assist parents with
housing, food, water, health care and access to aid.
We are calling for teachers and educators to carve out
some time to come to evacuation sites and teach our

We are calling for city schools and universities near
evacuation sites to open their doors for our
children to go to school.

We are calling for health care workers and mental
health workers to come to evacuation sites to

We are calling for lawyers to investigate the wrongful
death of those who died, to protect the land of
the displaced, to investigate whether the levies broke
due to natural and other related matters.

We are calling for evacuees from our community to
actively participate in the rebuilding of New

We are calling for the addresses of all the relevant
list serves and press contacts to send our

We are in the process of setting up a central command
post in Jackson, MS, where we will have
phone lines, fax, email and a web page to centralize
information. We will need volunteers to staff this

We have set up a People’s Hurricane Fund that will be
directed and administered by New Orleanian evacuees.
The Young People’s Project, a 501(c)3 organization
formed by graduates of the Algebra Project, has agreed
to accept donations on behalf of this fund. Donations
can be mailed to:

The People’s Hurricane Fund c/o The Young People’s Project 99 Bishop Allen Drive Cambridge, MA 02139

If you have comments of how to proceed or need more
information, please email them to Curtis
Muhammad ([email protected]) and Becky
Belcore ([email protected]).

Thank you


[image from Masters of Photography]

A body floats outside the Superdome in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. [Los Angeles Times caption dated Friday]

How rich and white do you have to be to get the attention of your government?

These people are being treated like animals, and I'm not thinking of dog and cat animals. I mean rat animals! Where is the outrage? Where is the accountability? When do we start indicting?

This is an excerpt from a Reuters story posted earlier today, on the sixth day of the disaster in New Orleans:

As dusk fell on Friday evening, a woman's bloated and brutally distorted figure lay prostrate on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street in a poor neighborhood.

The black woman lay, arms flaccid, feet splayed, one shoe gone, her face distended from swelling and her chest swollen as gas filled her decaying corpse. Someone had covered her body in a plaid blanket in an anonymous gift offering some dignity.

A woman across the street shouted at photographers taking pictures of her, "She's been there for five days, since Monday." Then she approached to beg for bottled water, or anything at all that might help.

A convoy of five sport utility vehicles passed by, each packed with police training rifles with laser sights on the scant few residents out walking. They sped past the corpse without taking any notice.

If the police have been able to get there to protect property and search the victims who still survive, and if the media can get there to write about what's going on and to take pictures, why are these people still suffering and dying, and why are there bodies rotting in the midst of all this, on both dry land and flooded streets?

[image by James Nielsen from AFP/Getty Images via the Los Angeles Times]

Hundreds of people wait for evacuation buses on the side of Interstate 10 in New Orleans. Many of them were suffering from dehydration after hours of waiting in the heat. [Los Angeles Times caption, image dated August 31]

Gretna police officer Ray Lassiegne stands guard over a busload of evacuees after they were picked up near the Greater New Orleans Bridge just south of New Orleans. [Los Angeles Times caption, image dated September 1]

The following letter was forwarded to me by Steve Quester, who had just received it from a friend. Jordan Flaherty left a refugee camp today on the northern edge of New Orleans.

The first part of the letter is a frightening glimpse of the experience of thousands of hurricane survivors. The remainder is a picture of what they and all of us have lost, together with an indictment of those responsible. He closes with a call for a reconstruction which would honor a great city.

Flaherty is a white activist, originally from Brooklyn, who has lived in New Orleans for the last few years. He is an editor of Left Turn magazine.

Notes From Inside New Orleans

by Jordan Flaherty

Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me “as someone who’s been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don’t want to be here at night.”

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand this tragedy, its important to look at New Orleans itself.

For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to white supremecy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a place of art and music and dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and federal goverments that have abdicated their responsibilty for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an answer.

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few, overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying that they don’t need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In seperate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’s education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence.

Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to “Pray the hurricane down” to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane, we tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule, they was no source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse.

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a “looter,” but thats just what the media did over and over again. Sherrifs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties focus on “welfare queens” and “super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week’s events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.

The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, de-industrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyes are focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

[images from the Los Angeles Times, via Newsday, the first by Carolyn Cole, the second by Robert Gauthier]

outside the New Orleans convention center today

While still lying abed this morning I listened to the BBC World Service coverage of the New Orleans disaster. Unfortunately I did not get the name of the (American?) woman being interviewed in London who used Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" as a very dramatic metaphor for our contemporary U.S.

The BBC guy asked her to explain what she meant when she said something like, "we're now looking at the picture of Dorian Gray which had been hidden in the attic." She meant that the world can now see the America we have hidden behind the image of prosperity, liberty, equality and well . . . yes, fraternity.

Poor Americans on television? Poor African-Americans on television? And we can all agree they're certainly not looking their Sunday best. How is that?

I believe the world knows much better than we do what has been going on here for decades, but now they have good pictures.

There was a related reference to this catastrophe's elements of race and class in a segment from another show this morning. Although I can't stand the Brian Lehrer Show, this morning I stayed around during the opening segment in order to hear The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel (whom Rush Limbaugh, taking childish delight in her given name, has blamed for the hurricane and everything else he sees wrong with America). Before her good sense could be "balanced" by someone from what is euphemistically referred to as a "Right-wing thinktank," vanden Heuvel pointed out that Americans haven't seen poor people on television for years, and now they are forced to do so, day after day. I would add (I don't recall if she said something similar herself) that they see these images now only because of events not unrelated to our long-time abandonment of these folks, the least powerful elements of a very cruel, capitalist society quite full of itself.

[image, a pool photo by David J. Phillip, from the NYTimes]

A blanket covers the body of a woman who died in a wheelchair, and another body is wrapped in a sheet Thursday at the convention center in New Orleans. [CNN caption]

If we actually were to be the victim of a major deliberate attack any time in the near future it's now certified that we have no plan, no defense, no means of recovery. This was just a big storm, a very big storm, but just a storm, and there's no radiation or poison weaponry involved, yet it's been five days and virtually no help of any kind has arrived for our good neighbors, the people of New Orleans. They're dying in the attics, on the roofs and in the hell of the "shelters."

This time even the major commercial media can't keep quiet about the incompetence of what passes for government today in our benighted land:

New Orleans hospitals desperate as food runs low

The Associated Press

Doctors at two desperately crippled hospitals in New Orleans called The Associated Press Thursday morning pleading for rescue, saying they were nearly out of food and power and had been forced to move patients to higher floors to escape looters.

"We have been trying to call the mayor's office, we have been trying to call the governor's office ... we have tried to use any inside pressure we can. We are turning to you. Please help us," said Dr. Norman McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital, the larger of two public hospitals.

. . . .

Earlier, McSwain described horrific conditions in his hospital.

"There is no food in Charity Hospital. They're eating fruit bowl punch and that's all they've got to eat. There's minimal water," McSwain said.

"Most of their power is out. Much of the hospital is dark. The ICU (intensive care unit) is on the 12th floor, so the physicians and nurses are having to walk up floors to see the patients."

Dr. Lee Hamm, chairman of medicine at Tulane University, said he took a canoe from there to the two public hospitals, where he also works, to check conditions.

"The physicians and nurses are doing an incredible job, but there are patients laying on stretchers on the floor, the halls were dark, the stairwells are dark. Of course, there's no elevators. There's no communication with the outside world," he said.

"We're afraid that somehow these two hospitals have been left off ... that somehow somebody has either forgotten it or ignored it or something, because there is no evidence anything is being done."

Hamm said there was relief Wednesday as word traveled throughout University Hospital that the National Guard was coming to evacuate them, but the rescue never materialized.

"You can imagine how demoralizing that was," he said.

And here is the Reuters lead headline at this moment (try to get past the racist analogy and digest the substance of the story):

Bodies, gunfire and chaos in New Orleans' streets

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Rotting bodies littered the flooded streets of New Orleans on Thursday and mounting violence threatened to turn into all-out anarchy as thousands of survivors of Hurricane Katrina pleaded to be evacuated, or even just fed.

The historic jazz city has fallen prey to armed looters since Katrina tore through and it now more closely resembles Haiti or another Third World trouble spot in a refugee crisis than one of America's most popular vacation centers.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco warned rioters and looters late on Thursday that National Guard troops were under her orders to "shoot and kill" if needed to restore order.

"These troops are battle-tested. They have M-16s and are locked and loaded," she said. "These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will."

Police units, rescue teams and even hospital workers came under gunfire on Thursday and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded for urgent help in getting thousands of evacuees to safety. "This is a desperate SOS," he said.

People became increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of rescue and evacuation efforts a full three days after Katrina tore up the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Elderly people in wheelchairs braved flooded streets in search of help, and entire families were trapped on elevated highways without food or water in sweltering heat.

"We want help," people chanted at the city convention center, where thousands of evacuees were told to seek shelter only to find woefully inadequate supplies of food or water.

Several corpses lay in nearby streets. The body of one elderly woman was simply abandoned in her wheelchair, covered with just a blanket. Officials feared thousands of people were killed but they could still only guess at the death toll.

And all the suits and uniforms seem to be thinking about is how to put down "looting" by desperate people reduced to nothing. Fifty thousand troops have been promised, no, threatened, and they have orders to shoot, but still there is no sign of food, nor water, nor rescue, nor means of evacuation from the city, nor decent shelter once they get out.

We are truly fucked, and next time it won't be mostly just the poor, the old, the sick and the powerless.

[image, photographer uncredited, from CNN]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from September 2005.

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