Monday, November 19, 2012
opportunity to write a guest column there. As you can see, I haven't
been writing much of late, but I wanted to document it here. As
enough time has passed, I'll post the original link and the full text
of the column, just in case it gets deleted at Daily Beast.
On Wednesday night, somebody was feeling generous.
As I was driving up Calliope Street along the Crescent City Connection
that evening, the usual line of beggars holding up cardboard signs
asking for help were gathered, although there was a new one I had only
first seen earlier that morning. He was younger than most of them,
wearing a sweater, and he didn't look like he'd been down and out very
long. The woman in front of me opened her door and handed him
something just as the light was turning green. As we were driving
away, I heard him scream, looked in my rear view mirror, and saw him
dancing for joy.
A rare happy moment under the Crescent City Connection bridge.
Further under the bridge, away from the road, dozens of homeless
people gather nightly. Some are mentally ill, others simply down on
their luck. The local homeless shelter requires people to be in by 6
pm, which is difficult for many of them who have no transportation and
gather what little money they can, either through begging or more
often in the case of long-term homeless, collect aluminum cans to take
to the recycling center in hopes of getting enough money together for
a bite to eat. I see the beggars multiple times per day on my way to
and from work. On the way to work, they're lined up along Calliope
Street on my way to the highway, and then again on Elysian Fields
Avenue as I'm exiting. On the way home, I'll often jump off of I-10
and onto North Claiborne Avenue, where I'll see more of them on the
The politics of Tuesday night are largely invisible when looking at
the people gathering under bridges to shelter from… if not the
elements, as least precipitation. A man without a residence cannot
provide proof of residence, so one can probably assume that these
people were not voting on Tuesday night. Indeed, there were no "Obama"
or "Romney" signs under bridges, only signs saying "Hungry, please
help" or "Disabled veteran".
Less severe struggles also exist in the City of New Orleans. While
President Obama exists as a sort of iconic symbol in a majority black
city which has seen more than its share of racial strife over the
centuries, evidence of his actual impact is harder to find. Louisiana
is not a swing state and the candidates did not bother campaigning
here. Some politicians trying to win black support will put up signs
and hand out literature positioning themselves as closely to Obama's
name or image as they can. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, running for the
at-large city council seat, grilled her opponent Stacy Head on whether
she supported Barack Obama in 2008. One could almost put the hierarchy
of icons in descending order of: Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, and
Barack Obama. In a way, they speak to a similar "promised land"
mythology among the poor and disenfranchised blacks in this city, with
Obama showing that Martin Luther King's dream was attainable in a
concrete, if very distant, way.
In terms of day to day living here, however, very little has changed
since his election. The city has proceeded since Hurricane Katrina to
knock down public housing projects and replace them with expensive
apartment complexes, driving the surrounding housing prices up, even
in dilapidated buildings whose property value would probably increase
if they were razed, one of which I live in. Before Katrina, uptown New
Orleans saw a thriving community of waiters, bartenders, and other
service industry workers who largely supported each other by
patronizing each other's businesses and tipping well. Cheap housing
made that possible. While rent is still affordable compared to New
York, it has gone outside of the reach of those same waiters and
bartenders who have seen business go down and can no longer afford to
live in the neighborhoods where they work. The 2010 census counted
over 47,000 vacant homes in New Orleans, but rent stays high, defying
laws of supply and demand. The vacant homes often become places for
homeless to squat rather than rental homes for service industry
workers, or else havens for criminal activity. Nobody benefits.
The disconnect between the Villagers in Washington and the everyday
lives of Americans is staggering when one considers what they write
about. Not only do I see articles about Obama's victory and Romney's
defeat, followed with hindsight dissections of their respective
campaign strategies, but also questions about how Karl Rove is going
to weather the storm of angry billionaires seeking an explanation for
why they spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to lose the
election. There's a certain amount of schadenfreude in seeing these
masters of the universe not getting their way, but it's limited by the
frustration that our politics have little or nothing to do with
government and the people that government is supposed to serve. Our
politics are more concerned with the fortunes of Karl Rove's SuperPAC
than they are with whether the people sleeping under the Crescent City
Connection bridge will ever find a home, or whether they'll die in the
cold tonight. Even nominally progressive commentators talk about the
dispossessed in a detached, academic sort of way, betraying no actual
contact with the people for whom they profess so much concern.
Elsewhere in the city, streets are being torn up for renovation and
expansion of the streetcar lines in advance of the Super Bowl, which
is being hosted here this season. Word is also that the homeless will
be cleared out from under the bridge, no doubt also in preparation for
all the people coming down for the Big Game, but with no word on where
those people will go. Maybe nobody cares, but having to see so much
poverty when coming to town for such a major event is, no doubt,
positively distasteful, and one wouldn't want to offend the
sensibilities of tourists bringing so much revenue to the city's
coffers. I doubt it'll be mentioned in the pregame commentary, just as
it isn't mentioned in relation to the latest in a long line of Most
Important Election(s) of Our Lifetime ™.
Obama has given some people hope in this city, but what good is that
if he simply becomes another in a long line of iconic symbols giving
hope to the disaffected rather than actually helping them up? The
dysfunctionality of American cities is not limited to New Orleans, but
it is more raw and in the open than anywhere else I've ever been.
Perhaps amidst the philosophical discussions and political analysis,
we could have a discussion about why there is so much suffering amidst
so much wealth in this country and whether there isn't a better way of
doing things. Perhaps Republicans, Democrats, and their respective
partisans in the media could begin to pretend that they care. Hope
springs eternal, even in the City that Care Forgot.
Friday, January 13, 2012
I'll believe it when I see it, frankly.
This week, 17 people were shot over an 18-hour period and at least two police officers were fired on.In short, it's getting worse, not better, and these guys are calling a news conference.
I honestly had high hopes for Mitch Landrieu, but at this point, if he continues to keep Serpas on as police chief, I'm going to have to look at a different candidate for mayor. I like a lot of what Landrieu is doing, but all of that is meaningless if his police department can't get the murder rate back down to human levels.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Let's first examine what the Tea Party actually is, at its core: it is the resurgence of anti-federalism. This has been discussed at length in other areas. They've done a rather effective job of dictating to the Republican party how business is (or rather, is not) going to be conducted in Washington. The Tea Party is not interested in finding better ways for Washington to do business. They are interested in stopping business. They view any action on the part of the federal government as an infringement of liberty. It should be noted that they are not "Constitutionalists" as they like to present themselves. Their views are more in line with a re-establishment of the Articles of Confederacy. They are not a conservative movement. They are retrogressive. At a minimum, they want to roll back the New Deal. They are all but openly campaigning on this.
I do not believe that the Tea Party have any use for the religious right, except as a way of gathering votes for their party. And pro-corporate conservatives are fine with them, as long as they don't expand the reach of the federal government. Their interests happen to align, since it's the federal government telling religious conservatives that they can't force kids to pray in public schools and telling corporations that they can't dump toxic sludge in the water at will. The Tea Partiers generally oppose the federal government on principle.
To be sure, this is a radical position at this point in our history, but it's the latest incarnation of a very old debate, and they've been successfully brought back into the Republican party fold. Republicans call themselves "Tea Party conservatives" as a way of hitching a ride on the latest fad. Neo-conservatives and religious conservatives are not true Tea Partiers, because the Tea Party, it bears pointing out again, is not a conservative movement. It is retrogressive and anti-federalist, but in the end, they're happy to fall back in line with the Republican party as long as they promise to cut spending and never raise taxes.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is something else entirely: it is the natural blowback from the Tea Party's anti-federalist policies and President Obama's attempts to appease them. If the Tea Party are the philosophical heirs of Patrick Henry (who, aside from his famous "Give me liberty, or give me death" quote, was a staunch anti-federalist and opponent of the Constitution). then the Occupy Wall Street movement are the philosophical heirs of Huey P. Long.
The key planks of the Share Our Wealth platform included:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Share_Our_Wealth
- No person would be allowed to accumulate a personal net worth of more than 300 times the average family fortune, which would limit personal assets to between $5 million and $8 million. A graduated capital levy tax would be assessed on all persons with a net worth exceeding $1 million.
- Annual incomes would be limited to $1 million and inheritances would be capped at $5 million.
- Every family was to be furnished with a homestead allowance of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country. Every family was to be guaranteed an annual family income of at least $2,000 to $2,500, or not less than one-third of the average annual family income in the United States. Yearly income, however, cannot exceed more than 300 times the size of the average family income.
- An old-age pension would be made available for all persons over 60.
- To balance agricultural production, the government would preserve/store surplus goods, abolishing the practice of destroying surplus food and other necessities due to lack of purchasing power.
- Veterans would be paid what they were owed (a pension and healthcare benefits).
- Free education and training for all students to have equal opportunities in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life.
- The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program was to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.
This was during the Great Depression. Much of the New Deal was implemented as a way of countering Long's populist appeal. They were also a way to circumvent a communist revolution. They were effective. By establishing a social safety net and building a strong middle class, it minimized the number of disaffected people who could push for a communist revolution. The Tea Party wants to smash all of that in the middle of one of the worst economic conditions since they were implemented in the first place.
What the Occupy movement is demanding is, essentially, a certain amount of wealth redistribution. Not a lot, but some. That's what the New Deal was. The government ignores that sentiment at its peril. If the injustices of wealth distribution in this country are not addressed, and indeed, the social safety nets put in place generations ago are stripped away as the Tea Party would like, then the Occupy movement's position is going to become increasingly radicalized. It is going to become violent. There will be some within the movement who will conclude that protests are not enough.
The Democrats are embracing the movement because they believe that this will be a chance for them to reignite their base. They misread the mood. These protests are not going to conduct get out the vote drives for Obama and congressional Democrats. They did that in 2008. They already got Obama elected. Now they've come to demand the change they were promised, and they're not going away until they get it.
And Republicans need to understand that there's more at stake here than whether or not Obama wins re-election. They need to address the real problems Americans are facing, or they're going to have some real problems of their own.
In short: the Tea Party is an anti-federalist Get Out The Vote drive for the Republican party.
The Occupy movement is the birth pangs of a revolution. The Republicans recognize this and are scared to death of it. But their response is all wrong. They think they can ridicule it away. They can't. They need to address the concerns before it gets out of hand.
I say this as a patriot who loves his country: politicians in Washington, please pull your heads out of your asses. Your employers are pissed. Do something to calm them down, before this gets ugly.
Also, I've set the blog up to be available on mobile, in mobile format. This should help greatly when I want to text somebody my blog address and refer them to a specific writing while we're in a bar or some such.
I would especially like to recommend No Rest For The Awake, especially considering that is where the bulk of my traffic comes from. Least I can do is try to return the favor.
Now that I've made my blog much cleaner and more user friendly, I suppose I'll have to start writing on it some more.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Free enterprise has never lacked for moral critics. In the mid-18th
century, for instance, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected the
proposition that the free exchange of goods and services, and the competitive
pursuit of self-interest by economic actors, result in general prosperity—ideas
then emanating from Great Britain. In a commercial society, according to
Rousseau, the people are "scheming, violent, greedy, ambitious, servile, and
knavish . . . and all of it at one extreme or the other of misery and opulence."
Only a people with "simple customs [and] wholesome tastes" can be
Of note is that Rep. Ryan does not dispute this premise. It is instructive to understand that Rep. Ryan does not, at any point in this article, dispute any of the moral criticisms directed toward capitalism, but rather offers his own moral criticisms of the author's suggestions. The article is hardly a full-throated endorsement of capitalism, and it isn't the type of ideological thumping which I've come to expect from anybody discussing politics these days. His responses are thoughtful, he acknowledges certain failings of our system, and even posits that there may be a better way forward, but that the author's suggestions are not it. In short, it's one side of the type of discussion intellectuals on both sides of the political divide ought to be having, would that we could shut out the noise. To wit:
Mr. Sachs is honest enough to acknowledge that the "rich" are not nearly
rich enough to pay for his ever-expansive vision of government. We're told that
"each of us with an above-average income" (i.e., $50,000 per household) must
"understand that if we are prudent, we can make do with a little less take-home
Such appeals to the citizenry to make sacrifices might be more
compelling if Mr. Sachs coupled them with calls for spending restraint in
Washington. Instead, his budget proposal insists on the need to "augment"
government spending by trillions of dollars in the years ahead. Thus the
sacrifices of citizens are to be made to increase the size and scope of a
federal government that Mr. Sachs admits has demonstrated little aptitude for
allocating resources efficiently or even fairly. This conundrum leads him to a
conclusion that would be comical if he were not deadly serious: "Yes, the
federal government is incompetent and corrupt—but we need more, not less, of
Rep. Ryan offers us a false choice here, however. It's not simply a question of "more government" versus "less government". There's also "efficient government", "effective government", and "useful government", as opposed to the often wasteful and clueless government we have now. In short, we could simply decide to cut spending or increase spending, as though those goals are ends in and of themselves, or we can decide which government agencies and programs are worth preserving, which are not working, and why. Once we establish the "why" of whether a program is working or not, we can decide whether it's a question of doing something better or whether it's not worth doing at all.
An example of a program which is worth doing but could be done better is the Department of Defense. Just because this is an essential agency does not mean that every expenditure by DoD is essential. Obviously. On the flip side would be the public housing program, which is widely acknowledged as a failure not due to a failure of delivery, but because the program as designed failed to meet its objectives. The larger point is that simply because programs which are designed to alleviate poverty often fail to do so (although that is up for debate) does not mean that alleviating poverty is not a goal worth pursuing. Returning to a pre-New Deal economic model is not the answer. To argue that we need to move away from a 20th century model does not mean that we need to move toward a 19th century model. We need to find a new model for the 21st century -- one which meets the challenges of the day.
Ryan wraps up with this:
The dialogue between capitalism and its critics is an old one, and it will
continue. But as citizens of a self-governing nation, Americans must choose from
time to time between alternative visions for our future. This book's budget
proposals and economic policies are profoundly revealing. They lay bare the real
agenda of those who wish us to abandon the American idea and consign our nation
to the irrevocable path of decline. If only in that sense, "The Price of
Civilization" is a useful contribution to the conversation we must have in order
to make informed political choices in the years ahead.
And in choosing that vision as his foil, I would argue that Rep. Ryan is reaching for low-hanging fruit. This may be an easy argument to defeat, but doing so isn't particularly enlightening. I give Rep. Ryan more credit than that regarding his intellectual acumen, so I can assume that this article was a way to frame the discussion as a choice between Republican policies and America's decline. The two are not mutually exclusive, frankly. Austerity is a sort of tacit admission of decline; it says we simply cannot afford the excesses of yesterday and we have to make do with less. This may or may not be true, but scaling back social safety nets to protect those most vulnerable is not a sign of strength. A truly virtuous and strong society makes a determination that those who have benefited most from our economic system have a responsibility to help those who have fallen between the cracks. A free market economy is not equipped to handle that responsibility. When profit is the ultimate virtue, then charity is a vice. Only government has the resources and authority to fill those gaps.
What is needed is a means by which to change or eliminate programs which are not meeting their objectives. Often, entrenched interests (be they civil servants or contractors who make their living off these programs) will resist efforts to eliminate programs which aren't doing the job. Writing performance metrics into legislation as a prerequisitive to continued funding may be a way to circumvent that. If, for instance, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act fails to substantially reduce the number of uninsured Americans, then it should be eliminated and replaced with something else. As it stands, it has yet to even be fully implemented. To call it a failure at this point would be, to say the least, premature.
I'm glad to see the Rep. Ryan wishes to engage in a real discussion as opposed to the shouting past one another I too often hear in the larger debate in this country. Simply winning the next election should not be our goal. Actually meeting the challenges facing our country today should be the end to which winning an election is the mean. I hope to see more of this type of debate.
Friday, September 23, 2011
On the other hand, my roommate draws on a chalk board and posts a picture of it online, and it goes viral.
If it sounds like I'm bitter, I'm not. My roommate's awesome. It just occured to me that perhaps this blog could use a bit more humor, and would do well to take itself a little less seriously. The world ain't so bad.
So that's what I'll try to do. I tend to only blog about larger things, probably stemming from my days in the military when I had to maintain a degree of anonymity. But bringing it back down to earth would probably be a net positive.
Oh, and HumorTouch.com... really? You branded my roommate's picture? You didn't take that picture, you pulled it off of BuzzFeed. Come on.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
I suppose it is to be expected that the media would spend lots of air time memorializing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, much of the national media are based out of New York. For them, this is not simply something which happened, but a deeply traumatic event in their own lives. Different communities have different shared experiences. I remember watching the towers fall while stationed far away in South Dakota. Somehow, everybody knew we were going to war, even though, as I pointed out, we didn’t yet know who was behind the attack. Somehow, the media immediately grabbed the name Osama bin Laden and ran with it as the most likely perpetrator, given his history of attacking U.S. targets. And somehow it didn’t matter either way. There would be blood. We’d figure out whose shortly.
There was a moment in which it seemed as though the nation was coming together, united by our common shock. Pundits like to refer to it as a lost opportunity to improve ourselves, to build an even more perfect union. Let us be candid about this point: that was fear, not some sort of new-found love for our fellow Americans. These were petrified Americans, not patriotic Americans. President Bush accurately measured the national mood. While there was some desire to turn the nation’s attention toward a higher purpose, the nation mostly reacted like a wounded animal. Their President was happy to stoke the bloodthirsty mob toward his ends… and then tell them to go shopping.
See, we had a volunteer military to handle the dirty work. No need for tax increases, we would simply borrow the money to pay for our great national bloodletting. No need for a draft, we have enough volunteers willing to risk their lives. Thank them for their service, listen to country music, slap a (magnetic, we don’t want to damage the paint job) yellow ribbon on your SUV, max out your credit cards, and vote Republican! This is what was asked of most Americans. No call to service, not even something domestic like Americorps. Indulge all your consumer desires, and don’t worry: statistically speaking, most of you probably don’t know anybody in the military, anyway.
Vietnam syndrome, thwarted.
The Iraq campaign eventually became deeply unpopular, especially after it had dragged on for over a year (imagine!) and it was revealed that, oops, guess they weren’t stocking WMD and didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 and really weren’t a threat to us at all and our military has been stacking prisoners in naked pyramids and menacing them with dogs and all this tough talk about how it would be good if we had a long, bloody campaign to prove our mettle typed up by courageous keyboard warriors were just so much bluster and that even if we could “take it”, the price we were paying for… what again?... wasn’t worth it anymore. Never was. But somehow, in their heart of hearts, the electorate remained deeply, deeply afraid… of gay marriage. And as such, they gave the unelected buffoon who oversaw the greatest terrorist attack on U.S. soil and dragged us into a costly and unnecessary war his first electoral mandate as President, saying with conviction, “four more years”.
Hurricane Katrina finally awakened the portion of the American people who know that the earth revolves around the sun that President Bush did not have the people’s interests in mind when making policy decisions. He had set us on a path to self-destruction which would ultimately be realized when the economy collapsed in the final months of his presidency, and he mostly treated it like a big joke. Our dopey, impetuous President, grinning like the Cheshire Cat with blood dripping from his teeth, was finally revealed for the fraud he was. The stubborn partisans who had cheered his war mongering mostly went into hiding until tax day in 2009, in which they rebranded themselves “Tea Party Patriots”, shifting the discussion entirely to the economic policies of the new administration, one of the most huge and successful acts of changing the subject I’ve ever seen.
The subject has been changed. The page has been turned. After President Obama took office, we heard nary a word about Osama bin Laden until President Obama’s May 2, 2011 announcement of his death. We no longer endure a barrage of transparently political “terror alerts”, always timed to distract from news which would be embarrassing to the administration.
And yet, some of us haven’t moved on… haven’t turned the page. The sound of rocket fire is a distant four year-old memory for me, but the barrage of 9/11 coverage has called back the rage and frustration I felt over the senseless destruction and loss of life. The alchemy of war is to turn blood into gold. KBR and Blackwater knew how to do that with ease. Rifle fire, explosions, and helicopter blades were my lullaby, but defense contractors couldn’t hear it over the sound of their coffers filling up. “Thank you for your service,” they said with a grin and a Scrooge McDuck money bin. And as a nation, we have yet to come to grips with what we did. Neo-conservatives mostly keep their heads down, although Dick Cheney has been making the rounds. Charles Krauthammer, in his characteristically pompous manner, has recently tried to renew the old and discredited justifications. Liberals occasionally mention Iraq as one of the wrong-headed policy decisions of the last administration, but only ever in a detached, academic way, not with the passion of those who remember 9/11 personally.
And the average American citizen would just as soon forget it ever happened. To them, electing Obama was their mea culpa. He promised to end the war. He was black and had a Muslim name. No more was required.
Please don’t thank me for my service any more. Instead, go to a veterans’ cemetery, look for a grave with the words, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” inscribed on it, lay a rose next to it and very quietly and quite sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”
Monday, July 25, 2011
A federal jury has ordered former New Orleans City Councilwoman and state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt to pay back roughly $1.1 million of the $1.4 million that prosecutors said was stolen in a scheme to loot a string of Central City charities controlled by the family of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.A lot of these sweetheart deals ceased after she was unseated from the New Orleans City Council by Stacy Head, but then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was able to keep a lot of the money flowing, at least until he was subsequently defeated by Republican Joseph Cao in 2008 (whom Head crossed party lines to endorse) and convicted of bribery.
The indictment was "fiction, " Washington promptly declared at a rally she organized as chairwoman of the Justice for Jefferson Steering Committee. She reminded those present that "the Constitution says that a citizen is presumed innocent until he or she has had the opportunity to defend himself."
Jefferson's supporters will not have needed reminding for they are forever quoting that part of the Constitution. This is an admirable feat of memory, considering that it does not exist. The Constitution nowhere mentions the presumption of innocence, a concept derived from the English common law.
An argument might be made that it is implicit in the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process, but Washington was not in the mood for subtlety that night, or, indeed, for understatement. Jefferson, she declared, was the victim of the "Machiavellian twisting of Karl Rove and his Brownshirts."
Staunchly defending an indicted congressman....
Her latest opponent is lawyer and activist Tracie Washington, who posted a few of Head's e-mail communications on her group's website. The stunt was designed to embarrass Head as much as possible and cause her significant political damage. It is too early to determine the political fallout for Head after the selective release of these inflammatory e-mails....and attacks the councilwoman who unseated Gill Pratt and has been working to combat graft and corruption in city government as a racist.
In the e-mails, Head complained about the city's incompetent technology chief, Anthony Jones, who lied about his credentials, but was still on the city payroll and receiving $80,000 per year. She also blasted her council colleague Jackie Clarkson, community activist Jerome Smith and related an upsetting incident involving a "chick" using food stamps at a grocery store.
After posting the e-mails for several hours, Washington removed them from her website. Washington released the e-mails even though the State Supreme Court blocked the distribution of the messages. The Supreme Court action came after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal overruled District Court Judge Lloyd Medley and gave permission for Washington to release the 400,000 e-mails.
This whole episode is a rather troubling insight into the racial politics of New Orleans. In her initial public records request, Washington only targeted white council members and did not solicit the e-mails of any of the African American council members. Washington secured the e-mails only through the cooperation of Veronica White, who despises Stacy Head. It is outrageous that the Sanitation Director would be involved in such a record request. For this offense, she should have been fired, but, sadly, White remains on the city payroll with her bloated salary.