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Archive for August, 2011

Dedra Johnson of ‘The G Bitch Spot’ Wins Rising Tide’s Ashley Award

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Each year at the Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans the coveted Ashley Award, named in honor of the legendary, larger-than-life Ashley Morris,* is presented to a blogger who has made outstanding contributions to writing about post-Katrina New Orleans.

This year’s winner is Dedra Johnson (right) of The G Bitch Spot, “at which a mad black woman rants about New Orleans, insomnia, teaching, education . . .”, particularly about life in the post-Katrina New Orleans school system. Click here for a video of the presentation, with praise for Dedra by Mark Moseley of The Lens, and here for a special congratulations by someone who knows Dedra well: her husband, Derek Bridges.

To celebrate Dedra’s award and to showcase her strong, no-nonsense writing, we’re showing some samples of her writing. The blog posts chosen have also appeared in A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans, edited by Sam Jasper and Mark Folse (Gallatin & Toulouse Press, 2010).

Dedra Johnson is a creative writing teacher and author of Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow (2007), a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s New Orleans. Sandrine’s Letter was praised by Robert Olen Butler as “an important novel by a true artist” and hailed by Frederick Barthelme as “a remarkable debut novel” that conveys “the intricacies of a vexed family life.” Dedra received her MFA degree from the University of Florida, where she was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow was a runner-up for the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Award in 2006. She is also an AOL travel contributor (see “New Orleans Mythbusters”).

Where You Said You Live At? or Margaritas as Coping Strategy,” posted on March 19, 2006, conveys the fatigue of living in a battered, depopulated city that nearly drowned in floodwaters a half year earlier and is slowly being strangled by bureaucratic red tape and incompetence. This post was selected not only for its evocative prose but because it reflects conditions that persist in many parts of America and may spread with any given natural or unnatural disaster.**

The following is a selection. Click here or on the title above for the full post.

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Where You Said You Live At? or Margaritas as Coping Strategy  

Why no N.O. news, commentary, rants, pleas? Because it rankles enough to live it, much less reiterate it for the consumption of others. Each front page of the Times-Pic is demoralizing, infuriating—early pundits bashing New Orleanian stupidity in not getting flood insurance when a large percentage HAD flood insurance; every senator and representative bitching and moaning over the Gulf Coast being OK (and needing no more money) since they see clips of the French Quarter up and running on national news then being agog at their first superficial glance of Lakeview (where WHITE people and PROFESSIONAL people lived, not welfare queens and drug dealing pimps specializing in crack whores of all hues) and then the Ninth Ward, not even taking a look at the chaos of half-repaired and completely ignored traffic lights, piles of debris, refrigerators and 3+ weeks’ worth of garbage and a coming election that is plagued by chaos, in-fighting, racial contempt and deep-seated conflict, federal neglect and unprocessed hurt and anger; and the bullshitting cockamamie half-assed amateurish job being done by all decision-makers and -influencers on the local, state and federal level; and then there’s the particular chaos and neglect and fraud and graft that is FEMA.

I’m shattered and nothing happened to my house.

No one is being decisive or honest. Much of the money directed our way in the early days has been wasted. Entergy and LSUHC saw the post-Katrina atmosphere as one in which they could get concessions and privileges no one would give them before—LSUHC closed Charity and University, “furloughed” most of the employees (all while LSU hospital staff were retained and many helped with housing), and claimed the Charity hospital building was unusable and the federal government needed to build a brand new hospital for them; and contractors ran loose and wild with money, squishing the huge amounts they got through more and more subcontractors and therefore smaller funnels until those who actually did the work got paid shit. It offends all my sensibilities, fuels all my social resentments (one, that Entergy, a private for-profit company, owns a utility at all; none of this would’ve happened if we still had NOPSI [New Orleans Public Service, Inc.] b/c there would’ve been no incentive/profit in delaying repairs or service or paperwork gimmicks). Shaw [the Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 construction and engineering firm based in Baton Rouge] made a shitload of money, too. Meanwhile, no one knows what to do while FEMA drags its barely-competent feet on new flood maps and SBA loan requirements and amounts change at random and Burger King pays better than most of the non-construction jobs in town. I feel like my chest is weighed down, and also feel forsaken. Again.

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* Ashley Morris, Ph.D., who died in 2008, was one of the founders of the Rising Tide conference and an inspiration for the character Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman, in HBO’s Treme.

** If you think conditions in storm-damaged America may have improved since 2006, just listen to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [R-Va.] insisting that federal funds for disaster relief after Hurricane Irene should be offset by additional spending cuts.

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Dedra Johnson after being presented with the Ashley Award by Mark Moseley and Leigh Checkman at Rising Tide 6 at Xavier University, August 27, 2011. Photo by Derek Bridges. More RT6 photos here and here.

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Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 6

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

A conference on the future of New Orleans

Xavier University, New Orleans

Tune in to webcast here. Rising Tide 6 main web site here, and RT6 blog here. Photos here, here, and here.

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Usually we worry that Rising Tide might be disrupted by a hurricane—after all, it’s held each year on the anniversary of Katrina. Ironically, this year, while Hurricane Irene is lashing at the East Coast and New York City is evacating some 250,000 people from low-lying areas, the weather in New Orleans is warm (okay, hot), clear, calm. At the conference some of us are scratching our heads and asking of the millions who live along the East Coast, susceptible as it is to hurricanes, Why do they live there? 

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Dedra Johnson of The G-Bitch Spot Blog Wins 2011 Ashley Award 

Congratulations to Dedra Johnson of The G-Bitch Spot—a blog that doesn’t just have a great name, but shines with clear, independent thinking and sharp, sassy writing—in which “a mad black woman rants about New Orleans, insomnia, teaching, education, and ‘education,’ various -isms and anything involving a bitch, a spot or the letter g.”

4:30 Presentation of the Ashley Award 2011

Presented by Mark Moseley of The Lens and Your Right Hand Thief and Leigh Checkman of Liprap’s Lament.

The Ashley Morris award was established in 2008 to honor and remember the late Dr. Ashley Morris, one of the founding members of Rising Tide and still a guiding spirit. The award is given each year to someone who embodies Ashley’s fierce passionate defense of New Orleans, its people and culture. And the winner is . . . Dedra Johnson (see above).

3:05 Panel Discussion: New Orleans Food: Continuity and Change

Chris DeBarr, chef at Green Goddess, longtime N.O. blogger as “excitable chef”; Alex del Castillo, chef and owner of Taceaux Loceaux; Adolfo Garcia, chef and owner of RioMar, LaBoca, etc.; Rene Louapre, food columnist at Offbeat magazine; and Todd Price, freelance writer.

2:00 David Simon, featured speaker

Creator of HBO’s celebrated TV show Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and of HBO’s The Wire.

An argument against “standing.” Not clear at first what Simon means by “standing.” Sounds like a synonym for legitimacy, credentials.

Began as a reporter in Baltimore, covering police beat in a mainly African-American neighborhood. As a young reporter it struck me how few reporters would not want to ask questions to which they did not already know the answer. But I would ask anyone anything. Tells the story of a former Pulitzer Prize–winning Herald Tribune reporter who asks so many questions that an Esso executive complained to the editor why did you send this idiot to interview me? He didn’t know anything; I had to explain everything to him.

As I approached New Orleanians to make the show Treme with Eric Overmeyer, I decided to hire local people, and determined to be very deferential to the people in this city who had suffered through such a terrible trauma. There are no rules. Standing is the lamest way of judging quality, authenticity. I don’t believe standing matters.

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Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Begin here, President Obama: Create jobs by approving all G.O.P. requests for stimulus funds.

Here’s the best new idea we’ve heard in a long time (h/t to Rachel Maddow): When HuffPo’s Sam Stein reported that “Michele Bachmann Repeatedly Sought Stimulus, EPA, Other Government Funds,” Steve Benen of Washington Monthly thought of something politically savvy that could jump-start new job creation:

How about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?

Here’s the pitch: have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he’ll gladly fund all of the Republicans’ requests that have not yet been filled.

This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas. When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”

So, how about it? If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?

Steve Benen, this is brilliant. It could work.

Never Mind the Hypocrisy—Just Get It Started.

What Sam Stein found through a Freedom of Information Act request for federal records was that Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who poses as a fiscal conservative and has publicly denounced the “orgy” of federal spending and called the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “fantasy economics,” has asked the federal government for financial help for her district on at least 16 occasions. Well, we can’t blame her: she knows that federal spending does create jobs by funding projects to build roads and bridges, hire teachers and police officers, and so on. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (above) knows it, too. 

Steve Benen’s bright idea—and we should all push the White House (202-456-1111; comments@whitehouse.gov) and Congress to put this into action immediately—is to approve all the requests by congressional Republicans for federal funding of projects in their districts. Never mind the hypocrisy. This should come very easily to this president, who can’t seem to say no to Republicans anyway.

Obama should call in the press as he approves the projects in batches, day after day. He can use a big rubber stamp and say, “Yes to Republican Representative Bachmann who asked for funding for the Trunk Highway 36 bridge project over the St. Croix River to produce 1,400 new jobs. Approved. Yes to Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who asked for stimulus money for an ethanol plant to create 750 jobs. Approved . . .” And then, after illustrating the point day after day, move on to approve Democrats’ requests.

[ Click for PDFs of letters from Republican members of Congress citing job creation in requests for stimulus funds for their districts (Bachmann, Sessions, Moran). ]

‘S’ Is for Stimulus—But Call It Whatever You Want

On the Rachel Maddow Show, Steve Benen said that it doesn’t matter whether we use the term “stimulus” or “jobs program,” which Republicans hate, or whatever. Just do it.

If this is a list that Republicans came up with, saying these are things that they believe will create jobs in their own communities, their own districts, their own states, then at a minimum, if Democrats want to make these investments and create jobs, then just start here. Now, one might say, well, at that point, you might look at job opportunities in blue districts and blue states. but fine, we can get to that later. If we just want to . . . inject capital into the system, create jobs right away, we want to create demand in this economy, we can start with the list Republicans came up with and make an immediate difference. . . .

[Bachmann] is one of many who have requested public funds . . . but then publicly rail against public spending. . . . So, to a certain extent, she’s not unique. But at the same time, she is uniquely brazen. She . . . requested funding from the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, for her district despite the fact that she doesn’t believe the EPA should even exist, and she actually wants to eliminate the agency altogether. And so, . . . trying to communicate to Republicans the importance of these kinds of projects, Democrats are in a position to say, well, [if] even Michele Bachmann believes that all this public spending can create jobs and help the economy, then other Republicans can certainly go along because she’s to their right.

Don’t Wait for Congress to Act, Mr. President. FDR Established the WPA by Executive Order, Employed 8.5+ Million.

As we wrote to President Obama (and to Democratic members of Congress in similar letters) during the debt ceiling crisis in July:

The millions who voted for you are begging you to address the nation’s real crisis and launch an ambitious WPA-style jobs program and lower the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 55. That would restore public and investor confidence, and would invigorate this lame, sucking economy. If tax rates were fair, this wealthy nation could afford it. You could help make it happen. 

Your reelection would be less in doubt if you gave America’s 15+ million unemployed and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure a comprehensive WPA-style jobs program at least 10 times as aggressive as the ARRA stimulus: public works, transportation (not just high-speed rail), public housing, environmental conservation (think CCC), schools, hospitals. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t wait for Congress: he established the WPA in 1935 by executive order. You could do the same.

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See “After Voting to Kill Recovery, 110 GOP Lawmakers Tout Its Success, Ask for More Money” •  “Freshman Republicans Lobby Federal Agencies for Millions Amid Spending Critiques” • “Stimulating Hypocrisy: Scores of Recovery Act Opponents Sought Money Out of Public View” • “Jindal Tours Louisiana Attacking ‘Washington Spending’ While Handing Out Jumbo-Sized Stimulus Checks” •  More links at Crooks and Liars’s coverage of The Rachel Maddow Show’s “They’re Not Embarrassed” • “They’re Not Embarrassed” video link

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A Heartland Question for the President

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd quotes a politely phrased but hard-hitting question put to the president last week by an Iowa voter, a mother named Emily who is an Obama supporter, during a town hall meeting with the good folks of Decorah, Iowa. Dowd notes that the president “seemed to tense up as Emily spoke.”

“So when you ran for office you built a tremendous amount of trust with the American people, that you seemed like someone who wouldn’t move the bar on us. . . . And it seems, especially in the last year, as if your negotiating tactics have sort of cut away at that trust by compromising some key principles that we believed in, like repealing the tax cut, not fighting harder for single-payer. Even Social Security and Medicare seemed on the line when we were dealing with the debt ceiling. So I’m just curious, moving forward, what prevents you from taking a harder negotiating stance, being that it seems that the Republicans are taking a really hard stance?”   —“Field of Dashed Dreams,” NYT, Aug. 16, 2011

As the president himself might say while mentally preparing his response (it was not a reassuring answer), Well, Emily, we’re glad you asked that question. All we’ll add for now is that within Emily of Iowa’s question can be found pretty much the entire political, electoral predicament facing this once so promising president and the nation he was elected to lead, so very long ago.

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Rising Tide 6 Is August 27, So Register Today

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

A Conference on the Future of New Orleans

After a week of economy-strangling legislation in Congress, Wall Street plunges, and a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, maybe you’re ready for some positive news? The Best Thing Happening—we’ll be there and we can hardly wait—is the 6th annual Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans on Sat. Aug. 27 at Xavier University.

Held every year since 2006 on or near the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Rising Tide brings together experts, bloggers, writers, activists, new media peeps and other ordinary folks who care about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: the culture, the environment, the politics, the food and music, the Saints, and the rebuilding and restoration . . .

This year’s RT, with meeting space generously provided by Xavier University, will be bigger and better than ever: two very interesting keynote speakers—David Simon, creator and executive producer of HBO’s popular New Orleans drama Treme, and the brilliant N.O. geographer and acclaimed author Richard Campanella—plus two simultaneous programs: the panel discussions on one stage, and, for the first time, a Tech School focusing on social media and blogging topics (more below).

Check out the Rising Tide Facebook page and Flickr site, then click here to register.

The panels this year are on Social Media, Social Justice  Louisiana’s Coastal Health, featuring our friend Len Bahr of LaCoastPost and Pulitzer winner Bob Marshall of the Times-Picayune • New Orleans Food Writing and Brass Bands. And, if you want to go to Tech School, you can get hands-on training in social media and blogging, learn advanced WordPress techniques, ways to improve your photography, and the latest in web strategies and online tools.

Two Must-Hear Speakers: Richard Campanella and David Simon

We are big fans of Rich Campanella (right) and his books Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans, New Orleans Then and Now (with Marina Campanella), and Time and Place in New Orleans. This Brooklyn-born geographer–historian–demographics geek has a rare gift for appreciating and explaining New Orleans’s neighborhoods and demographic changes as well as the city’s cultural riches and complexities. Rich will be speaking on “on the origins of how we’ve come to perceive, delineate, and name New Orleans neighborhoods.” See our write-up of his remarks at a 2009 panel discussion we attended at Loyola University, “What Is New Orleans?”

Fans of the hit HBO show Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans, will want to hear producer David Simon (see Salon.com’s interview with him)—also creator of HBO’s The Wire—and should check out the blogs Back of Town, many of whose writers are among the organizers of the Rising Tide conference, and Watching Treme.

Networking, Sharing Ideas, and Making Blogging Sexy

As usual, there will be a festive Friday night warm-up (location TBD), and at the conference Octavia Books will provide a literature table of the panelists’ published works available for purchase. Registration includes breakfast beverages and pastries as well as a tasty lunch prepared by J’anita’s.

“We come together to dispel myths, promote facts, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a “real life” demonstration of internet activism as we continue to recover from a massive failure of government on all levels.”

Previous RT venues have been appropriately casual and informal (and much appreciated), but Xavier’s hosting of the event brings Rising Tide up to a more serious and professional level. The organizers are grateful to the university administration and to Bart “Editor B.” Everson of Xavier’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching for arranging the venue.

Past keynote speakers have included Mac McClelland (left), human rights reporter for Mother Jones; actor and filmmaker Harry ShearerJohn M. Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America; and Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, (former) Wall Street Journal correspondents and authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security. Click here for past years’ lineups and panel discussions.

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What a Deal

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Is This What “Winning the Future” Feels Like?

“Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.”

—Joe Nocera, “Tea Party’s War on America” (see below)

“With all this incessant emphasis on deficit reduction, it’s going to be extremely tough to convince people that we actually might need to spend some money right now, in the short run, to help get this economy out of neutral.”

Jared Bernstein, former White House economic advisor (see below)

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Well, gentle readers, our weekend of faxing earnest, carefully crafted letters to Democrats in Congress (“Tell Obama to Use the Constitutional Option”) had the usual, predictable result.

Below are a few selections of choice commentary on the agreement reached Sunday by Senate leaders Reid and McConnell and Obama—but not yet voted on by Congress. The Senate is expected to pass it today. The House may vote by this evening, though large numbers of Pelosi’s and Boehner’s representatives may yet balk.

[ Timeline of debt ceiling negotiations ¶ How the plan would work ¶ Text of the bill ]

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New York Times editorial: “To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal

. . . a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists. It will hurt programs for the middle class and poor, and hinder an economic recovery.

. . . this episode demonstrates the effectiveness of extortion. Reasonable people are forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.

Paul Krugman (NYT): “The President Surrenders

. . . the deal itself . . . is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status. . . .

Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.

. . . It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.

Joe Nocera (NYT): “Tea Party’s War on America

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) . . . The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

. . . What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. . . . Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

One thing Roosevelt did right during the Depression [as opposed to 1937 spending reductions] was legislate into being a social safety net to soften the blows that a free-market economy can mete out in tough times. During this recession, it’s as if the government is going out of its way to make sure the blows are even more severe than they have to be.

. . . Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card. . . . Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. . . . Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

Steve Benen: “Don’t Call It a Compromise

I’ve seen several reports on the debt-ceiling framework describe it as a “compromise” between Republicans and Democrats. That’s far too generous a term. Is this a deal? Sure. Is it an agreement? Absolutely. Can it fairly be characterized as a “compromise”? Not at all.

Republicans threatened to crash the economy, on purpose, unless a series of radical demands were met. Democrats made an effort to lessen those demands and make them less painful than intended. The result, not surprisingly, is rather ugly, which is to be expected.

The debt-reduction framework isn’t a compromise; it’s a ransom. . . . If you’re looking for good news in this agreement, you’ll be looking for a long time. Overall, what we’re left with is bad news and less-bad news.

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