Doesn’t it seem ridiculous that our collective mood should rise and fall based on what this guy says in his speech?

Tonight, the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before.

And tonight I’m pleased to announce that, in April, we will host this year’s North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.

I don’t trust anything this president says. I don’t trust any president for that matter, but most especially this president. His famous speech at Jackson Square, in the aftermath of Katrina, was so full of broken promises. How could any of us trust him again?

And yet it is good to be remembered, unlike last year.

Yes indeed. It seems somewhat ridiculous.

Update: As usual, Oyster has a more insightful analysis.

Panel #1 (cont.)

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on a panel discussion, but I forgot that I had a written version of my opening statement which I might as well share. Curiously, I also forgot to bring a written version to the event, so I had to extemporize. I wrote this after meeting with some representatives of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Fund, and it’s a little rough, but it represents my thoughts such as they are. Anyway, here’s what I said, more or less.

Shortly after Katrina, President Bush said that “the storm didn’t discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort.” It was an admirable notion, and most Americans surely approved of the sentiment.

But there have been rumblings and grumblings ever since. Some have alleged that there are racist plots afoot to engineer a demographic shift, to keep certain New Orleanians from returning. However, one needn’t to resort to exotic conspiracy theories to see inequities in the recovery. Simple logic dictates that those who have money and own property will have an easier time recovering, on the whole, than those who don’t.

In other words, it was easy to predict that the recovery certainly will discriminate on the basis of class. We also know that there’s a high correlation between socio-economic standing and race. Therefore, inequities in the recovery will also tend to break down along racial lines.

Since the flood, we have seen this play out exactly as one might have anticipated. Who’s been able to come back? Who’s been able to recover? We don’t have census data, but we look around our neighborhood of Mid-City and the truth is plainly obvious. Our white, middle class, property-owning neighbors have bounced back much more quickly than our neighbors who are renting, who are working class, who are African-American. Before the flood, the latter group(s) represented the majority of Mid-City residents. Even now, more than two years since the flooding, a great number of these residents remain displaced, and with every day that passes it is less likely that they will be able to return.

To put it bluntly, the recovery is indeed discriminating, and demographic shifts are indeed taking place. And while that’s hardly surprising, it is disheartening.

As author Naomi Klein writes:

Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart, when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state…

We see these broad forces at work in our city and our neighborhood. But the people of Mid-City will not allow this disaster to tear us apart. We will not be divided. We recognize that our diversity is our strength. Our community spoke very clearly in our neighborhood recovery plan from 2006:

Mid-City is a unique and historic New Orleans neighborhood that was severely flooded due to levee breaks on August 29th, 2005. As Mid-City recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we envision a neighborhood where people of all races and economic backgrounds can find and enjoy a high quality of life together and find opportunities for meaningful employment and home ownership. We want a safe walkable and bikeable neighborhood with plenty of green space. We want mixed-use buildings, with appropriate locally-owned businesses interspersed intelligently with private residences. We want an increasing number of owner-occupied homes. We want to preserve the historic character of our neighborhood while expanding modern amenities. The recovery of Mid-City should be just, humane and democratically controlled by the people of Mid-City.

So this is the fight in Mid-City. I am encouraging the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to rededicate itself to the values articulated in our neighborhood plan. We will fight for an equitable recovery that does not discriminate on the basis of race and class. To achieve this we must aggressively combat underlying social inequities. But our effectiveness as an organization is a function of how truly representative we are of all the people of Mid-City. To this end, we must also rededicate ourselves to organizing in the whole community, in as broad and inclusive a fashion as possible.

Shame on You, President Bush

Not a mention, not even a word.

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Bush talked about all manner of subjects, but he didn’t have a thing to say regarding the devastated Gulf Coast region or the slow pace of recovery in New Orleans.

I’m not really surprised. It’s kind of like getting kicked in the teeth in slow motion. You see the boot coming toward your face, you know it’s going to hurt, and there’s nothing you can do. You’re already lying on the barroom floor, beaten to a bloody pulp, so one more kick in the teeth doesn’t even really matter. It doesn’t even hurt anymore. It’s more disappointing than anything else.

Ever since the Federal Flood, New Orleanians have suffered a feeling of abandonment that would be almost paranoid if it weren’t so true. In the sixteen months since, we’ve seen a steady flow of volunteers coming to help, so we know there are plenty of Americans who haven’t forgotten. But last night’s speech made it clear that the President would very much like to forget about us. We are an embarrassment to his administration.

A quarter of a million people are still displaced by this disaster, and the President doesn’t say one word about it? Shame on you, President Bush. Your people are suffering. Words in a speech wouldn’t help put people back in their homes, but saying nothing is both demoralizing and immoral.

Saint Bush

People in New Orleans are getting excited about Bush. No, not George W. Bush — Reggie Bush. He’s some sort of new football guy for the Saints that people are hailing as the team’s savior, even the city’s savior. It is surely the height of foolishness for me to opine on a subject of which I am so clearly ignorant (namely, sports) — but if there’s one piece of wisdom I’ve garnered over in my years here, it’s this: Never get your hopes up about the New Orleans Saints. As soon as you start thinking they can win, your hopes will be crushed.

2006 != 1959

According to a story in today’s paper:

The heights of floodwalls and levees now being rebuilt by the corps are based on research for a likely worst-case storm done in 1959. When new weather service research in the 1970s increased the size and intensity of that storm and its projected surges, the corps stuck to its original design specifications when work began in the 1980s, including for structures that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

To reiterate, the Corps is building to 1959 specs right now, despite the fact that this data is known to be outdated.

This does not inspire confidence.

Meanwhile, George “Whatever It Takes” Bush is visiting our city again today. Maybe this time he’ll actually visit some of the flooded areas instead of sticking to the Garden District. Sure, it’s a photo opportunity, but when you’re the president of the United States, even your photo ops are important. If the president visits the floodzone, then the floodzone will be on the evening news.

Sorry State

I watched Bush’s State of the Union address last night. It was the first time I’ve watched this political spectacle in years, I think. I tuned in because I knew he was going to say something about Katrina and the Gulf Coast.

I waited and waited, as he talked about Iraq and Iran and our addiction to oil. He talked for about an hour, and towards the end he made a brief passing mention about us and our situation down here.

I didn’t expect much. I didn’t expect he’d expand the federal commitment to hurricane recovery. I didn’t expect anything bold.

But I expected more than this. I hoped he’d at least reiterate some of what he’d said in his Jackson Square Speech. It would have had some symbolic value.

This tells me that we are slipping further and further from the national consciousness. This saddens and alarms me.

A co-worker said to me the other day that we may have to “wait out the Bush presidency” to get real help. But I wonder. Will Katrina become a campaign issue? That seems unlikely. I’m trying to imagine a candidate selling hurricane relief in the heartland. I’m skeptical.

But at least one local guy thinks otherwise. And he’s got a point. The way things are shaping up, Democrats might have a shot at Louisiana. I don’t know about Mississippi.

Anybody outside this region might not really understand what we’re facing. Apparently Bush doesn’t understand, and he’s the President, with a whole staff to inform him, so why should the Average Joe understand?

Another local blogger puts it well:

He said the state of our Union was strong, when a major city in the Union has entire neighborhoods unfit for living, where the residents are still only allowed to “look and leave” five months after Katrina hit and the levees failed. Power is not restored to the entire city. Gas is not restored to the entire city. Healthcare in the city is crippled. Half of the residents haven’t returned or can’t return. Almost 3000 trailers are acting as homes for residents who have returned and 17,000 more have been requested. Some streets are still blocked by houses knocked off their foundations.

Or try these numbers:

Nearly 1,100 Americans are dead and 3,600 are still missing on American soil, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Over 200,000 homes are destroyed, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Over 400,000 Americans are displaced, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

An entire American city is in the throws of death, yet George Bush barely spoke 163 words about this out of 5300 words in his State of the Union address.

Maybe it’s time for a mock secession. Or maybe something more substantive.

Hmmm… This is gonna get interesting.

You Know You’re in Trouble When You Rile Up the Catholic Schoolgirls

New Orleans Protest

Photo by howieluvzus.

Yesterday President Bush visited New Orleans.

Howie’s posted some pix of a demonstration at Jackson Square, where hundreds of Catholic schoolgirls showed up in life vests and wading boots.

I couldn’t make it myself, but I’ve attended a number of rallies over the years, particularly anti-war rallies. I’ve often been frustrated at how the message gets confused or diluted with all sorts of different agendas.

But this rally seems to have been remarkably well organized and clearly focused. The message was unmistakable, because it was repeated again and again on handmade placards: “Cat 5 Levees and Coastal Restoration Now.”

There was very little anti-Bush or pro-Bush sentiment. No partisan bickering. Another popular sign read “Party Affiliation: Louisianan.”

Something about the image of young people making this demand seems very compelling and poignant. I hope it made the national news.


Ever heard of Nickleby? That’s teacher slang for NCLB — No Child Left Behind. I’ve been hearing a lot about it lately as Xy was informed that, as of last Tuesday, all 6th grade teachers in the New Orleans system must be “highly qualified,” and that she wasn’t, and so they were busting her down to 5th.

But she found a piece of paper in her portfolio which indicates that she is, indeed, “highly qualified.” So she took it in today and showed it to her principal and now she’s teaching 6th again. The principal told her to save the paper in case the State comes knocking.

And then Xy went by the NOPS payroll office and re-enrolled in the benefits program, which they’re making everybody do for some reason, probably related to the school system’s ongoing fiscal nightmare. Because she came early, she gets a chance in a raffle for a $500 spending spree at WalMart!

Wow, $500 of cheap crap from WalMart… That would probably fill our entire house.


Today there was a march in New Orleans as part of the global day of protest against the war in Iraq. It’s been two years since the United States invaded. Over 1,500 US soldiers are dead and countless civilians — maybe as many as 100,000. It’s time for this madness to end.

So we marched through the Central Business District and the French Quarter. It was a beautiful day. There were a couple hundred people there. Protests in New Orleans tend to take on the appearence of parades, with brass bands and outlandish costumes. Daiquiri-sipping tourists get caught up in the festive atmosphere before they even realize it’s a protest. Well, not really, but I can dream…

I was disappointed to see a number of anti-Bush signs at the march. It makes it seem like we’re a bunch of sore loser Democrats. The fact is, we’d still have been marching today even if Kerry was in office. A protest like this needs to send a focused message of opposition to the war. Many Americans, even Republicans, may oppose the war, but they will be turned off by any disrespect to the commander-in-chief. Anti-Bush rhetoric is like burning the American flag. It tramples on a symbol that some people hold dear, which only further divides us, and doesn’t help build an anti-war movement. I wish people would give a little more thought to such things.


For about the past month or so the local NPR affiliate has been saying that “many of our listeners have told us that NPR is more important to them now than ever,” followed by a plug to support the station financially. Could there be any doubt that “now more than ever” is a coded reference to Bush’s electoral victory?

Votes per Dollar

My friend Jason Neville put this together from data collected at and CNN. He couldn’t find a vote total for Peroutka, but I found a number on the candidate’s website. I thought it put an interesting perspective on the 2004 presidential race.

Candidate Votes Money Raised Votes-Per-Dollar
Cobb 104,087 $133,576 0.78
Badnarik 373,729 $841,498 0.44
Peroutka 129,255 $654,757 0.19
Kerry 55,546,066 $317,788,245 0.17
Bush 59,106,230 $360,651,752 0.16
Nader 391,330 $3,950,963 0.10

Update — Perhaps the point is better made by figuring dollars per vote:

Candidate Votes Money Raised Dollars-Per-Vote
Cobb 104,087 $133,576 $1.28
Badnarik 373,729 $841,498 $2.25
Peroutka 129,255 $654,757 $5.07
Kerry 55,546,066 $317,788,245 $5.72
Bush 59,106,230 $360,651,752 $6.10
Nader 391,330 $3,950,963 $10.10

Tragic Gaiety

It doesn’t take a genius to discern that, even though the election results are not official yet, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention rending of garments and beating of breasts, amongst those who voted for Kerry and those who despise the Bush administration.

But that’s absolutely the wrong attitude!

Yes, the results of this election seem overwhelmingly negative, with conservatives sweeping into office and anti-gay measures passing everywhere. But tough times call for courage, not despair. Suck it up, people.

Now is not the time to weep and bemoan the state of affairs in our country. Instead, it is all the more necessary that we adopt an attitude of tragic gaiety. We need to be brave. We need to laugh in the face of doom.

We need to look square into the face of what our country is becoming, and redouble our resolve to change it. And we need to be joyful, relishing the task ahead of us, or we’ll just burn out.

Remember, voting is a basic duty in an alleged democracy, but it is really the least of our duties, and one of the least effective ways to make real change, given the system we have. We are not going to vote our way out this mess.

Today is the International Peace Holiday, a good time to reflect on what we can do to make our world a better place. Locally, some people are gathering at Lee Circle from 3-6 p.m. for “public art, public expression, public dissent, public fellowship in a public space.”

Do whatever you need to do, but do it with celebratory anger. Show ’em a fist and a smile.

Electoral Strategery

Two days until the election. I know a lot of people are sick of the hype. If you’re sick of it, please read no further. I just want to record my thoughts on the election before it goes down, for my own sake at least.

I predicted a Bush victory six months ago, and I’m sticking by that. Of course, I have no crystal ball; I don’t really know what will happen. But this prediction has proved to be a good psychological coping mechanism.

The Bush presidency has been far worse than I could have imagined, mainly because of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which Noam Chomsky called a “gift to the hard jingoistic right.” The attacks gave Bush huge popular support, and he squandered it on an unjust war. The U.S. government often does bad things, but the war in Iraq is the most massive and blatantly unjust action I’ve witnessed yet.

All of which makes this election seem like the most important of my lifetime. Of course, this is only the seventh presidential election of which I have been cognizant. I don’t remember the Vietnam era.

So obviously, I’m against Bush. That much is simple.

So who to vote for on Tuesday? This is where things get complicated.

I’d prefer to vote for a candidate who reflects my values, like David Cobb of the Green Party. He can’t beat Bush, though. There’s only one man who can: John Kerry.

I don’t like the fact that Kerry supported the war on Iraq when even I, a private citizen, could see that it was unjustified. I don’t like the fact that he supported the Patriot Act which tramples on civil rights. I don’t like the fact that he has supported so much of the Bush agenda.

I can’t support Kerry on his merits. But perhaps I should vote for him for strategic reasons. I know many people who don’t like Kerry but are voting for him anyway. Most of these people seem to regard themselves as making a realistic and pragmatic choice in difficult times. They are going to choose Kerry not based on his merits and his record, but as a strategic or tactical vote. They are voting for him because he is not Bush, and he is the only candidate with a realistic chance of beating Bush. He may not be much better than Bush, but at least he’s a little better, and even a little difference makes a big difference, if you follow me. This is the well-known “lesser of evils” strategy which dominates American politics today.

I used to despise this kind of thinking, but I’ve become resigned to it. Until our electoral system changes, strategic voting and lesser-evilism are here to stay.

In fact, I’ll go one further. Suppose Kerry is not even a little better than Bush; suppose he is, on balance, exactly the same — better in some ways, worse in others; or suppose he is actually worse. We won’t really know unless he takes office, of course, but this is a thought experiment, so just suppose. Even if Kerry makes a worse president than Bush, our first premise in this tortuous train of logic is still intact: He is still not Bush. If you are deep into the “Anybody But Bush” mentality, then this alone provides all the justification you need to vote for the man. Let us further assume that presidents in their second term are always more powerful and capable. A second Bush term would validate all the terrible things he’s done in the first term, and presumably he’d escalate his campaign to destroy America. But a first term by somebody else — anybody else — would mean a weaker president, less capable of damaging the country.

I’m not saying I accept this logic, but grant it for the sake of argument, because it takes the issue of Kerry’s merits off the table completely, and allows us to focus on the question:

Should I cast a strategic vote for Kerry? If we grant all of the above, the answer would seem to be “yes.”

But if I’m going to be all strategic about my vote, all pragmatic and realistic, I really need to consider the electoral college. It’s abundantly clear that all of Louisiana’s electoral votes will go to Bush, and exactly zero will go to Kerry. And in most states this is true, either one way or another. There seem to be only a few states where the outcome is in question.

From the perspective of lesser-evilism and ABB-ism, the strategic value of my vote only holds true if Kerry wins by a very narrow margin indeed. If he loses, I’ve wasted my vote. If he wins by a big margin, he didn’t need my vote after all.

Some people, like my friends David Bryan or Michael Homan, seem to justify voting for Kerry in hopes that he’ll win the popular vote, even if he loses the election, but I find this a remarkably uninspiring argument.

I feel confident in the fact that, in Louisiana at least, neither Kerry nor Bush will miss my vote. However, every single vote matters very much to third party candidates. They are not running to win; they are merely running to show.

Therefore I have concluded that the most strategic vote of all is a vote for a candidate who represents values I truly believe in. If anyone happens to read this who lives in a state where the outcome is assured, then I encourage you to vote your conscience, and don’t fall for this strategic claptrap.

I especially detest all the anti-Nader hype that people are wasting each other’s time with. Yes, right here in Louisiana people are arguing about this, just like everywhere else. But Nader, or any third-party candidate, is so far from making a difference here in Louisiana that it’s laughable. He’ll be lucky to get 1% of the vote. Meanwhile, registered Democrats are gonna hand Bush our state on a platter.

Of course, all of the above comments apply only to the majority of states, where one candidate or the other has the election locked. Things are pretty cut and dried here. People who live in the so-called battleground states are facing the more interesting dilemma. I don’t envy them.

Postscriptum: It will be no surprise if the results of this election are contested. In a way, I’m hoping for another debacle, because electoral reform will only happen when people are pissed off. But eventually a winner should emerge. If Bush wins, we’re screwed. If Kerry wins, it will be no great triumph. We’ll still be screwed. I think there’s a great danger that, with Kerry as president, many Americans who got worked up about this election will think the battle is over. But it won’t be. The battle for the direction of America will continue.

Finally, for an excellent analysis of the evils of the electoral college, and why Colorado is a state to watch during this election, see the Black Commentator article “Black Vote Smothered by Electoral College.”


Today our local news daily, the Times-Picayune, weighed in on the presidential race. They are endorsing… nobody.

…we cannot recommend either George W. Bush or John Kerry with confidence….

We take the endorsement process seriously and would like to be able to offer voters our advice in this race, as we have in so many others. But we have too many misgivings about both candidates to champion either one.

They don’t mention any other candidates. Not even in passing.