Minor Relapse, Electoral Politics, and Music

Last night FOLC had its annual board election. I was excited but also a little nervous. We had a bigger slate of candidates than ever before, fifteen in all, for eight open seats. I wasn’t up for re-election myself; our terms are staggered and mine ends next year. But I was nervous because there was a real prospect for the four incumbents who were seeking re-election to be displaced. In governmental elections I have a severe anti-incumbent bias, but this is not government, and I find I have a great deal of loyalty to my fellow board members.

We had a great turnout, with over sixty FOLC members in attendance, casting their votes. In the end, the incumbents were all re-elected and we have four new board members who will hopefully provide us with a fresh infusion of energy. I’ve posted the results on the FOLC site.

I ended up having to speak at some length at the meeting, and in order to be heard by 60-odd people I had to raise my voice. Unfortunately my poor throat is still on the mend from whatever viral assault I’ve been fighting; I’ve been getting better daily but last night’s activities set me back a day at least.

Sometimes, there’s a silver lining. Some sore throats seem to skew my voice lower by almost a full octave. Here’s what I sound like today, singing the first part of “Philadelphia” by Magazine.

Philadelphia [Sore Throat] by Editor B

Voting Advice Roundup

Vote

Yes, that’s right, New Orleans is having an election tomorrow, right in the midst of Superbowl mania and Carnival madness.

I’m a little shy this time around about voicing my own opinion, but others are not so afflicted. Here’s a roundup of what some other bloggers think.

Anyone else?

I Did It

Well, I did it. I broke my promise. I crossed party lines and voted for Obama this morning.

Back in 1992 I voted for Clinton. (Not that my vote counted, because all of Indiana’s electors went to Bush the First.) I was so disappointed with him, I felt I’d been cheated and deceived. I vowed never to vote Democratic again, at least not for the office of president.

And, gosh darn it, I could have kept my promise too, if the Democrats had stuck to their strategy of nominating dull, unappealing and slightly slimy candidates.

If the Democrats had nominated Hilary Clinton or John Edwards, I wouldn’t have been tempted.

But Obama was just too appealing to resist. Not that my vote will count, because all of Louisiana’s electors will likely go to McCain. Nevertheless it was cool to see the massive turnout at our polling place this morning. I was particularly impressed to see so many young people voting.

Despite the big turnout things were moving along. It only took me thirteen minutes to vote, from the moment I got in line until I cast my ballot.

I was a little disturbed that the poll worker seemed to be having trouble getting the booth ready for me. She was punching all sorts of buttons but they didn’t seem to be working as she expected. It made me wonder if the person before me was properly processed, or if her vote just vanished into the ether. Who knows? I find the whole electronic voting procedure highly suspect. We should get a paper receipt.

But then again we should do a lot of things. We should make like Maine and Nebraska and use the Congressional District Method for allocating electors. (Or better yet, a simple proportional allocation.) We should use Instant Runoff Voting so we don’t have go back to the polls in December to elect our Congressional Representative.

Obama’s promised to bring “the change we need.” And I do believe we need deep and fundamental change. I don’t believe the oldest and most powerful party in the world is capable of bringing that change. I still believe only an insurgent third party can do that. Our current system favors two powerful parties, so an insurgent third party would likely displace one of the two dominant parties.

That doesn’t appear to be happening in this election cycle. So here’s hoping the G.O.P. goes down in flames and thoroughly self-destructs. Here’s hoping the political landscape is completely reconfigured. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s a nice thought.

P.S.: The weather is beautiful, and it feels like a holiday.

And Yet…

I’ve articulated some of my thoughts on the election, yet I see I have left some important stuff out.

For one thing, although I’ve been mildly disgusted by this presidential campaign, I’m actually less disgusted by the two major candidates than in any race I can remember. Some friends have expressed dismay that they can support neither McCain nor Obama. I’m like, welcome to my world. That’s how I’ve felt my whole life. Yet I actually feel less like that on this go-round.

Another thing: Despite all my reservations and qualifications and hedges and misgivings, I really want to see Obama win. I think an Obama victory would be much better for the nation than a McCain victory. In fact, I’d love to see an Obama landslide. I think that would be great.

And it’s not just opposition to McCain. I genuinely want to see Obama in the White House. There are many reasons, but I’ll mention just a couple: the war, and race.

The war in Iraq is still a huge issue in my mind, despite being eclipsed by the economy. It’s amazing to me that we have a major candidate on the ballot who opposed the war. An Obama victory would symbolize a repudiation of Bush’s doctrine of preemptive aggression.

Then there’s the race issue. We’d like to pretend we’re living in a post-racial era, but race still matters. Race is intricately bound up with class. Take race and class together, and you’ve got an issue that not only matters, but matters hugely. If we’re such an egalitarian country, how come every president we’ve had has been white and male? Obviously we haven’t quite reached the high ideals to which we aspire.

I’m not so naïve as to suppose that an Obama victory would correct that in some magical fashion. In fact, I can envision the opposite. The talking point will go like this: “There’s a black man in the white house, so stop whining about inequality.” I don’t nourish any fantasies that a black president would make our racial problems disappear.

And yet I’m reminded of something E.J. said many months ago:

…there’s been a lot of talk about facing our race problem and “talking about it,” but I get the sense everyone’s waiting for their invitation to a nice roundtable summit, one afternoon at the Convention Center, where we can engage in a dialogue about our feelings. That ain’t gonna cut it.

E.J. was speaking about post-Katrina New Orleans in particular, but those words come back to me every time there’s a racial flare-up on the national scene, like the Don Imus debacle or whatever. We need to have dialog on these issues. But it never really happens. If Obama is elected, we’ll be having some dialog all right, and it will keep coming as long as he’s in office. It won’t always be pretty. It will get downright ugly sometimes, I’m sure. And I’m not sure where it will lead — there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. I think it will be therapeutic, but therapy is not without risks.

So, yes, I hope Obama wins over McCain. No question.

Of course I’d love to see a victory by someone who more closely approximates my values. But here’s an interesting little factoid from Electoral-vote.com:

The Green Party candidate, former representative Cynthia McKinney, has raised $177,000 so far this year, a sum Barack Obama raises every hour.

Kind of puts things in an interesting perspective.

Then there’s the question of voting. But that’s another thing entirely.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Hatred

I suppose most people take political rhetoric with a grain of salt, which is certainly advisable. But I also notice a lot of people get caught up in the hateful narratives spun by the presidential campaigns and the media.

I understand, I think, the value of stoking the fires of hatred. It gets people worked up and aroused. It gets people’s attention and makes a more lasting impression than bland or even positive messages. This is a proven psychological fact.

I understand how it benefits the powers that be. But how does it benefit us? How does it benefit you?

Anger has value if it motivates to action. But wallowing in hatred is not the best thing for one’s mental health.

I’ll admit I’m seduced by these narratives as well, to some extent. I tune in to watch the presidential debates hoping to see some blood drawn. It appeals to my basest instincts. (And the debates have been rather disappointing on that front so far.) I get caught up in the fight, against my better judgment.

At the end of the day, though, I can laugh it off. My sense of ironic detachment is sufficient to keep me happy if not sane.

And yes, I’m aware of how high the stakes are. I’m aware of the eminent hate-worthiness of (insert candidate’s name here). But are you aware of how you’re being manipulated? The machinery of manufactured hatred has been especially transparent this go-round. Early on, the right targeted Hillary Clinton. The left was a little more uncertain, but a lot of the hatred seemed to be focused on Rudy Giuliani. It was amusing and instructive to see the gears grinding as the machinery had to be reconfigured and aimed at McCain and Obama. And of course, no one knew Sarah Palin from a hole in the ground until a month ago. Scramble, scramble, hate, hate, hate. It’s really kind of funny except for the toll it takes on our collective psyche.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t pay close attention or form opinions. I’m only cautioning against a certain sort of overwrought anguish to which some of us are prone.

I guess what I’m trying to say is simply this, to any family and friends who will listen: It’s a well-known fact that too much hatred is bad for the soul. So if you find yourself caught up in that mess, please check yourself. Don’t let it get you frustrated, depressed, discouraged and overwhelmed. Don’t take it so serious. Take a step back. Do whatever you need to do to regain your perspective.

OK. I’m done preaching for a while.

Oh Crap, I Have to Vote Tomorrow

Now that we’ve gone back to closed primaries in this state, I was under the impression that there would be nothing on the ballot for me tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that I cannot participate in the high-profile Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District. I believe the Democrats let independents vote in their primaries, but I’m not independent; I’m registered Green. I just assumed everything on the ballot was primary stuff, so I haven’t been paying much attention.

Frankly I was happy with that situation. Voting is the least effective means of civic participation. It’s a duty, and kind of a pain, so I was glad to be sitting on the sidelines for this one.

But it turns out there’s a bunch of stuff on the ballot that I can vote for. Or at least I think I can. The Secretary of State’s sample ballots unfortunately don’t account for party affiliation. I guess I won’t really know what I can vote for until I get in the booth.

There’s six judges and a magistrate on the ballot. There’s also the District Attorney and our district seat on the school board. I don’t understand why there is no primary for these races, but it looks like there isn’t. I am open to any and all voting advice.

There are also two propositions, a bond issue and a charter amendment. The amendment would fund the office of the Inspector General. I’m definitely voting for that.
Continue reading Oh Crap, I Have to Vote Tomorrow

Four Precincts Reporting

Thanks to my friend Carol, I got a sweet gig tonight: vote reporting! I never knew this before, but after the polls close they post the results on the door. Since I live one block from my polling place, I just walked down there. I waited for a while chatting with Deborah Langhoff’s brother-in-law. When they posted the numbers I texted them to a certain local TV station. For this I’m supposed to get $50. Easy money.

Here’s the numbers:

Precinct 04/05 Clarkson 5 Lewis 23
Precinct 04/06 Clarkson 21 Lewis 10
Precinct 04/07 Clarkson 49 Lewis 6
Precinct 04/08 Clarkson 107 Lewis 10

(They only wanted numbers for the Council At-Large race.)

Xy and I are in the 4th ward, 5th precinct — as you can see it’s the only one of the four that went to Lewis. I’d venture to guess it’s also the “blackest” of these four precincts. Someone told me the 8th precinct is full of “DINKs and yuppies,” and note their turnout was four times ours. So even this little statistical slice gives a flavor of the larger picture.


Earlier, I was at the laundromat, talking to a guy hanging out front. I asked him what he thought about the election. He replied that he didn’t vote, and cited two reasons: 1) politicians say one thing and do another and 2) the counting of votes is all rigged anyway. I wonder if seeing the numbers posted outside the door would have done anything to bolster his faith in the system.

Third Person Plural

The pundits have been remarking on how nice and polite the race for City Council At-Large has been, but yesterday the attack ads hit the radio.

We also got a mailer from the “City Council Integrity Committee.” (Looks like Varg got it too.) It’s allegedly humorous theme is “Mission: Impossible.” The facts are attributed to LouisianaTruth.com, a site about which Google knows nothing. Strange.

View the front of the mailer, the back, and here’s the inside:

Nagin's Political Mission

This text kind of jumped out at me:

If they succeed in electing HER At-Large,
they will elect her replacement next!

Interesting use of the third person plural. I wonder who “they” are. At first, I thought this was some kind of racial language. But on second glance I think it’s an inept attempt to refer to the politicians pictured at the bottom. I also wonder who the “City Council Integrity Committee” is. Any theories?


Update: My friend Paul in Indiana did the research I was too lazy to do. Here’s what he sent me via e-mail:

This is like the FEMA fake press conference — attribute stories to a site you’ve just made up and filled with your own text as “research”. The site is registered through Godaddy with Updated Date: 14-nov-2007 Creation Date: 04-sep-2007. The registration went through Domains by Proxy which is a domain ownership concealing agency.

They’re trying to be manipulative and clever, but are merely achieving ham-handed disengenousness. Probably because they were in a hurry to spread deception.

Update: Apparently this isn’t the only questionable mailer floating around. See We Could Be Famous.

Voting Philosophy

My voting philosophy is pretty simple. Here are my general rules:

  1. Vote against the incumbent, if there is one.
  2. Don’t vote for a candidate of either of the two major entrenched parties.

These are not rigid by any means. I’ll make an exception if I believe in a particular candidate or if some other calculus suggests itself.

Of course, following these rules often means voting for someone I don’t know too much about, or voting for someone who has values that are antithetical to my own. But I’m OK with that. These candidates usually don’t have a prayer of winning anyway.

For the record, I don’t consider voting for a no-chance candidate to be “throwing my vote away.” It’s a protest vote. This is not a frivolous choice. Given the current state of affairs, I think protest is the only rational approach. When the top contenders do not inspire, there’s no other way to express one’s displeasure. I wish we had a “None of the Above” option in many cases.

If I follow those rules tomorrow, I might vote like this:
Continue reading Voting Philosophy

Early Voting

A friend of mine voted early and sends the following report.

Since you gave me some advice, I’ll tell you how I voted. Just a little FYI. When it’s relevant, I’ll tell you why I made the choice I did. Generally, I don’t vote for Republicans. Also, when I’m trying to make a decision on the more obscure races, I go to each candidate’s web site. I’m looking for education, experience and positions. If they don’t have a web site, it means they’re not mounting a serious campaign, and I disregard them. I made two exceptions to the no-web-site rule though, Marcelle and Alfone.

  • Governor–Campbell. I like him because he wants to make taxation of the oil and gas industry the cornerstone of the state’s revenue, and I like that. Admittedly, I don’t know a damn thing he stands for otherwise.
  • Lt. Gov.–Landrieu. I think he’s done a good job with film and tourism in the state, which is his main job.
  • Sec. State–Wooley
  • Att.Gen–Caldwell. The only non-Republican alternative to Foti. I’d actually vote for a Republican to oust Foti, after his attempted prosecution of the hospital staff. If I had to do that, I’d run home, take a “Silkwood” shower, and cry myself to sleep.
  • Com. of Ag.–Odom
  • Com. of Ins.–Crowley
  • BESE Dist 2–Marcelle. I found out the incumbent has been sued by the government for corrupt election practices.
  • Sen. 5th Dis.–Gray. A local girl with a BA from Standford and a JD from Tulane, so she’s smart.
  • Rep. 91st Dis.–Alfone. “Toke up, bro. . .” Sure, I’d give him a try.
  • Judge, Crim, Sec A–Wainwright. Though I hate Nader, I am completely sympathetic to most of the Green party’s concerns. And certainly, on the local level, I’d welcome a successful alternative party. Actually, I’d welcome a successful alternative party on the national level, too, but you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. Hence, my vote.
  • Council at Large–Suber. If MosDef says he’s the man, HE’S THE MAN! I liked his positions on his site.
  • Judge, Mun–Davillier
  • For all the amendments.

I only shared this, because I remember your telling me my choices in the last election had influenced you. (And look at how much good it did.)

Interestingly, my friend ended up voting for all three of the candidates endorsed by the Green Party of Louisiana: Suber, Wainwright and Alfone. Wainwright’s the only registered Green, so he’s the only one who will actually have the word “Green” by his name on the ballot. You can meet all three of these candidates tomorrow night.

Reminder: The election’s on Saturday, October 20th. You can vote early at the registrar of voters office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 13.

Bring a Presidential Debate to New Orleans

Friends of New Orleans is mounting a campaign to bring a presidential debate to New Orleans.

I have mixed emotions about this.

The presidential debates are something of a farce. They should be organized by a nonpartisan group, but they’re not. They’re organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates. They claim to be nonpartisan, but they were founded by the Democratic and Republican Parties and have strong ties to them. They’re also funded by corporate underwriters. In my view the debates are highly problematic at best.

Having debates in New Orleans would surely lead to some campaign promises regarding federal assistance in the recovery. These promises would be easily made and easily broken. If New Orleans becomes a political football, it could actually do us substantial harm depending on how the dialog evolves and who actually wins the presidential election.

Debates here would bring a little more media attention to our tragic city, but that in and of itself is not an unqualified good. The slow pace of recovery could be viewed as a negative by a nation that’s become accustomed to instant gratification and quick fixes. We could be further vilified and hated by those who are tired of hearing about our problems.

Still and all, I think it’s a chance we ought to take. I’ve outlined the dangers, but in the final analysis the fact is that having the debates here would represent an opportunity for New Orleans, and we desperately need to take advantage of every opportunity we can get.

Furthermore, it might be good for the nation. The Friends of New Orleans put it this way:

It makes sense that discussions about the nation’s domestic agenda take place in New Orleans, a city that is rebuilding its infrastructure and confronting social, environmental, and security issues on a daily basis.

So if you agree, please, take thirty seconds to add your voice to the campaign. Do it today, and please share this link with others.

How to Draft a Candidate

Well, qualifying ended yesterday for the October 20 election.

There were a number of half-hearted attempts to “draft” me at the last minute. There were also attempts to draft Karen Gadbois and Latoya Cantrell. None of us will be on the ballot.

I like the idea of people drafting a candidate. I’m not sure how often it really works, if ever. Still, sending text-messages and e-mails at the last minute isn’t really an effective way to achieve the goal.

I’ve got a couple or three suggestions on how to do it better.

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute. People were trying to convince us to run when there were literally only hours left in the qualifying period. That’s really too late. Yes, I know this election kind of snuck up on us, what with Oliver Thomas’ surprising fall from grace. But if you are disappointed with the field of candidates we have, start thinking about the next election cycle now. It’s not too early. Decide who you want to draft now and starting working on them.
  2. Address concerns. If your potential candidate cites specific reasons why he or she “can’t” run, take those seriously. See if you can think of a way to address those concerns and turn that “can’t” around. For example, I said I couldn’t run because our house isn’t finished. One person told me that’s exactly why I should run, which I thought was rhetorically brilliant, but it didn’t actually address my pregnant wife’s concern that her house is going to be a construction site forever.
  3. Offer assistance. I think this is the most important point. Citizens who toy with the notion of running for elected office are daunted by the notion that they’ll be out there all alone. Of all the people who urged me to run, only one person actually made a substantive offer of help. The support of the community can be a great factor, if it’s real. So make it real.

OK, those are my ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more that could be added. It won’t be easy and the task should not be approached lightly. Remember, the idea is to send the candidate off screaming and kicking.

This might be an appropriate place to make a last-minute plug for the Green Party of Louisiana convention tomorrow. Note the change of location.

At Large

Now that Oliver Thomas has resigned, the New Orleans City Council’s At-Large seat will be on the ballot October 20.

The question is, will we get any good candidates?

It’s been extremely flattering to have had my name bandied about on the radio, on blogs, and in e-mails. People have urged me to run.

I would seem to be an unlikely candidate, but that’s the whole point. I’ve long held to the belief that ordinary citizens should run for public office as often as possible. We should not concede the power of the state to a political class. And after all, I was contemplating a run for my City Council district seat just before the storm.

So the idea is kind of appealing. But it’s not gonna happen.

Of course, there are many reasons not to run for public office. I’m not sure I have the stomach for it. The timing’s not right. And there are a thousand other reasons.

But there’s one reason that trumps ’em all. When I mentioned the idea to Xy, she wouldn’t hear of it. “You’re gone too much as it is, and the house still isn’t done.” She has a point. Here we are two years after the fact with half our house still not ready for habitation. If our renovation was complete, I might have a little more support from the spouse. Without that spousal support, there’s really no point in contemplating the prospect.

If you wanted me to run, sorry to disappoint. You can blame my contractor. Or you can blame me.

So the question remains: Who will be in the running? The paper today indicates that Cynthia Willard-Lewis (City Council) and Tommie Vassel (Sewerage & Water Board) plan to enter the race. See my comments above regarding the dominance of a political class.

I remember Malik Rahim ran for the at-large seat in 2002. I was marginally involved with that campaign, and it was not nearly as well executed as it could have been. Malik got 3,664 votes, which was only 2% and put him in last place in a field of seven. Even so it was a surprisingly good show for a grassroots candidate with virtually no funds.

I haven’t heard anything about whether Malik plans another run at the seat, but it occurs to me that his credibility and profile could only be enhanced since he founded Common Ground in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Common Ground has grown to be a big organization which continues to have an enduring impact in the area. He’d still be a very long shot to actually win.

Speaking of grassroots candidates, Schroeder posted the following:

For the At-Large seat vacated by Thomas, I’m going to suggest Mary Queen of Vietnam’s Father Luke, the Hispanic-American Apostolate’s Martin Gutierrez, and Patricia Jones of the Lower Ninth Ward community association, NENA.

All three of these activists have excellent reputations for their work in the community. I’d support any one of them. But I’m afraid they’d have to be drafted, and who has the time to go out and twist reluctant arms?

This is why I believe it’s important to revive the Green Party of Louisiana, to create an alternative to politics as usual, a framework that makes it a little easier to run citizen candidates. The party only gained official ballot status a few weeks before the flooding of New Orleans, and it’s been dormant since. Hopefully the upcoming convention will begin that revival.

Screaming & Kicking

For the last century, almost all top political appointments [on the planet Earth] had been made by random computer selection from the pool of individuals who had the necessary qualifications. It had taken the human race several thousand years to realize that there were some jobs that should never be given to the people who volunteered for them, especially if they showed too much enthusiasm. As one shrewed political commentator had remarked: “We want a President who has to be carried screaming and kicking into the White House — but will then do the best job he possibly can, so that he’ll get time off for good behavior.”

— Arthur C. Clarke, Imperial Earth, 1976

Here’s to the Losers

Yes, it looks as though everyone I voted for yesterday lost, across the board, no exceptions.

I think I was most surprised, and disappointed, that Truehill came in dead last in District B — behind Landry, behind Quentin forgodssake Brown.

Of course, it ain’t over yet. Next month we do it again in a runoff between the top contenders in races where no one scored a majority.

Our next mayor will either be Mitch Landrieu or Ray Nagin. Given the lack of leadership coming from Nagin, I think I’ll have to support Landrieu.

But I don’t have to like it.

How I’m Voting

I’m deeply conflicted about electoral politics. I participate, and I vote, but I’m skeptical of the whole process, and it frustrates me.

I’m edumacated. I’ve studied up on tomorrow’s election. But I can’t say I’ve got any confidence in the decisions I will be making in the booth.

And if it’s hard for me, who enjoys so many advantages, how hard is it for someone who is under the heel of poverty or displaced from the only home they’ve ever known? What about someone who is functionally illiterate? The harsh fact is that’s where a lot of New Orleanians are at. They should be able to have a voice in this election too.

It is a charade. And yet I get caught up in it.
Continue reading How I’m Voting

Don’t Believe the Polls

I’m skeptical of the polls on the upcoming New Orleans elections. It’s difficult to conduct an accurate poll under our current circumstances. I’ve seen at least one that used pre-Katrina landline phone numbers. The flaws in that methodology should be obvious to anyone familiar with recent events here, but just to drive the point home: Such a methodology misses me. I could never be included in that sample because my landline hasn’t worked since the 17th Street Canal floodwalls failed.

Some pollsters are apparently using cellphones, but this too misses me. Like many New Orleanians, I only got a cell phone post-Katrina, during my evacuation. Since I was in Indiana at the time, it has an 812 area code. As far as I can figure, there’s no way a pollster would know to call my number.

I don’t like any poll that can’t count me. So I scoff at the polls.

Based on these polls, pundits tell us things like “this race is all about race.” This is often presented as the crude idea that people will vote for candidates of their color: blacks for blacks, whites for whites. As Xy and I have asked around amongst friends and co-workers, however, we’ve found virtually no support for any black candidate for mayor, regardless of the voter’s race. Most of the black people we’ve talked to seem to be leaning toward Forman. (Yes, it surprised us too.) This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, that black voters will largely support either Nagin or Landrieu. In fact, I’ve only talked to one person who’s voting for Nagin.

I don’t mean to suggest that our informal poll is somehow superior to the polls I just criticized. It’s not. If anything, it’s much less accurate — wildly inaccurate, I’m sure. I’m just saying, take all these polls with a grain of salt.

Polls make some people feel like their individual vote doesn’t matter. Some people switch their vote based on polls. These effects strike me as undesirable even when polls are accurate. But this time around, when so little is known and so much is at stake, I hope people don’t pay the polls too much mind. Vote your conscience. Don’t try to game the system.

I think that’s a good philosophy, even if I’m wrong about the polls.