Levees Not War
National Security Begins at Home

“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”:
A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy

11/22/13

“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

JFK 1952 by Philippe Halsman

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” commencement address at American University, Washington, June 10, 1963

“And death shall have no dominion” —Dylan Thomas

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Rarely has a November passed by that this blog has not paused to pay respects to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. We keep an “eternal flame” of our own lighted not only because of a feeling of personal connection to him—from an Irish Catholic family kinship, and having been taken as a toddler to a 1960 campaign stop at an airport in the South, and being just old enough to watch the post-assassination and funeral coverage on a black-and-white TV—though these would be reasons enough. We repeatedly bring President Kennedy to our readers, or vice versa, because of what he stood for, what he accomplished, and what he symbolizes.

What Does ‘John F. Kennedy’ Mean?

It may be that, despite the limitations of what he was able to accomplish during his too-brief presidency, because of the ideals he represents, because of the hope and activism he still inspires, President Kennedy is more influential postmortem than during his lifetime. And it’s possible that the murky, still nebulous circumstances of his death (by whom, really, and why?) add to the mystique of the Dead King, the Slain Prince, and all that might have been possible, and might still be possible, if we summon his spirit. He dwells now on the mythological level, in the realm of ideas and legend. (This may explain the success of Jacqueline Kennedy’s posthumous establishing of a “Camelot” myth. At least in the public mind, there was no Camelot connection with the Kennedy White House before Nov. 22, 1963: Mrs. Kennedy’s myth-making began with an interview with Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President 1960, a week after the assassination.)

kennedy-for-president-buttonjpgNow, on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination in Dallas (November 22, 1963, was also a Friday), many other, more learned voices are commenting on the accomplishments and significance of President Kennedy’s “Thousand Days” in office—what he did and what he failed to do. We only wish to honor his long-standing commitment to peace; his refusal to be cowed or bullied by the military chiefs or the CIA during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (especially after he was burned by the CIA’s brilliant idea for an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961); his reluctance to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and his intention to withdraw troops; his establishment of the Peace Corps, etc.

He supported, though cautiously at first, civil rights and desegregation of public facilities, especially in the South. He had a plan for expansion of medical coverage for the poor and elderly that became what we know as Medicaid and Medicare, and he supported strengthening voting rights. Much of his desired or proposed legislation was left to his able successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, to push through Congress—thus the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 through expansion of Social Security.

Because of the historical circumstances of his time, the national priorities, and his own proclivities, Kennedy was more focused on foreign affairs than on domestic policy (the Soviet Union’s building of a wall through Berlin, supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba, and beginning to build ballistic missile silos in Cuba, etc.). But he also called the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (this too had national security components), and his vision was realized by the successful mission of Apollo 11 in 1969.

About the Assassination, and the “Conspiracy” Controversy

And, of course, on this fiftieth anniversary, many media pundits and  establishment historians are busy pouring concrete over the hardened conventional wisdom about the lone gunman, the “case closed,” the truths proved by the Warren Commission Report, etc. This is not the occasion—and perhaps not the place—to expound our views on the assassination, but we have read enough books and articles, seen enough documentaries, and attended enough panel discussions to be thoroughly convinced that the president was shot at by multiple shooters, and we doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them. (As for the plausibility of a “conspiracy theory,” remember that the attacks of 9/11, too, resulted from a conspiracy.) The most convincing explanation we have found of why Kennedy was killed is in the sober and methodical JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass, excerpted below.

405px-John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

About the presidency of John F. Kennedy, among many other excellent sources, we recommend:

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), by the former special assistant to the president

Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (1965), by the former special counsel to the president

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

Robert Dallek and Terry Golway, Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words (2006), book and CD. “Perhaps the best of all the books on JFK.” —Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For more about the assassination:

James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008)

Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy (1988), by the former district attorney of New Orleans who brought the only case relating to the assassination to trial (1967)

Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President: The Complete Photographic Record of the JFK Assassination, the Conspiracy, and the Cover-Up (1993). Groden served as a photographic consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966, 1992)

Films:

Thirteen Days (2000, on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), directed by Roger Donaldson

JFK, directed by Oliver Stone (1991)

The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1988), a comprehensive, multi-part British production, refreshingly independent of biases of mainstream U.S. media

Other sources about John F. Kennedy:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Warren Commission Report (digitized)

And more here . . .

Unspeakable1-199x3001JFK and the Unspeakable

“John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.”

—James W. Douglass, from the Preface to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

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Related Topics at Levees Not War:

We Cannot Fail to Try

So Let Us Persevere . . .

Marching on Washington for Economic and Social Justice

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica

Tom Hayden, SDS and SNCC Alums: Happy 50th, Port Huron Statement!

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

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[ This post also appears at DailyKos ]

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Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 1952, by Philippe Halsman; official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler (1970). Photograph on book cover by Jacques Lowe, Coos Bay, Oregon, 1959.

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GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

10/17/13

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

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Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

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What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

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gop_demands1

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Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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Positively Giddy

10/5/13

The Only Thing They Have to Fear Is . . . Government Itself

Pre-Existing Condition

“We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” —Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)

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“The mood in the Capitol on Saturday, at least among Republicans, was downright giddy. When Republican leaders presented their plan in a closed-door meeting on Saturday, cheers and chants of “Vote, vote, vote!” went up. As members left the meeting, many wore beaming grins.” —NYT 9/28/13

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“[Economists] make all sorts of predictions. . . . Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions. —Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)

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“There is no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country. I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling we will default on our debt. We won’t.” —Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on CBS This Morning, 10/8/13

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They’ve Been Planning a Shutdown for Years

Isn’t it delightful that they are so pleased with themselves? The 80-odd members of Congress known as the Tea Party caucus who insisted on this government shutdown and repeatedly refused to negotiate a budget with the Senate—these distinguished members of Congress continue to be paid from their $174,000-per-year salary. (Congressional salaries have come to $2.6 million as of Oct. 10; see chart below.) Meanwhile, 800,000 “nonessential” federal workers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Hurricane Center, the Centers for Disease Control, inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission; staff at NASA, EPA, FEMA, and the National Park Service, and other federal agencies and departments are made to stay home with no pay, or to work with no pay. (See “Five Ways the Government Shutdown Is Threatening Our Health and Safety.”)

These distinguished members of Congress who style themselves “fiscal conservatives” and rail against federal debt, who recently voted to cut $4 billion per year from programs that feed the needy, are costing the nation $1.6 billion every week while the government is shut down. That’s $40 million per hour. The shutdown is now in its second week, and, other than insisting on getting their way, and issuing new demands daily, the House Republicans have no plan to restart the U.S. government.

US deficit 2013[ Republicans speak constantly of “this growing federal deficit,” but ignore the fact that in the Obama years, the deficit has been steadily shrinking, and ignore the fact that in 2001 George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton, and (aided by their votes) left Barack Obama with a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. The bar graph here—click for a closer look—shows the years 2008–2013 (projected). See the bars getting smaller? ]

From Think Progress and The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, here are  just a few of the immediate consequences of the government shutdown:

Food and Nutrition: Food stamps will still be available, but the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a service meant to help new and expecting mothers and their young children get nutritious foods, will not. Roughly 9 million Americans depend on WIC.

Housing: The nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities will stop receiving payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Disaster Relief: In preparation for a potential shutdown, the Utah National Guard is holding off on sending a team to help rebuild areas in Colorado devastated by massive floods last week.

Health Care: The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients and delay or stop clinical trials.

Financial Services: The Small Business Administration will stop making loans, federal home loan guarantees will likely go on hold, and students applying for financial aid could also see delays and backlogs in applications.

Think Progress notes, “All this will come at a price. The last two shutdowns during the Clinton era—one lasted six days in 1995 and another stretched 21 days at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996—cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses—as government employees abandoned their jobs to prepare for the shutdown.”

For more on how the shutdown will affect day-to-day life, click here and here. The NBC News chart below was published on Oct. 10, ten days into the shutdown.

ShutdownChart

The Shutdown Is Not (Only) about “Obamacare”

“We need to make sure that you are going to be with us when we shut down the government, which we will do if we win the majority this year.” —Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), addressing Faith & Freedom Conference, 2010

The tactic of shutting down the government, threatened or promised in 2010, as it was carried out by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, was originally intended to enforce fiscal restraint. The hardline Tea Party caucus of some 80 members pivoted to apply the threat of a shutdown as a way of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which they call, pejoratively, “ObamaCare.”

“We urge you not to bring to the House floor in the 112th Congress any legislation that provides or allows funds to implement ObamaCare . . .” —Aug. 21, 2013, letter from Reps. Michele Bachman, Jim Jordan, and about 80 other Tea Party caucus representatives to Speaker John Boehner

6th Congr.Distr-LAIt is important to understand that the Republican members driving this thing have been not only threatening but also promising to shut down the government at least since they were running for office in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. These radical congressmen—and they are not “conservatives,” as they like to call themselves, but are extremists, anarchists—are mostly white men from gerrymandered districts who are largely safe from any electoral consequences: they won’t have to pay a price for their brinksmanship and shenanigans in the next election because everyone in their district (which may look like the 6th district of Baton Rouge’s Bill Cassidy, M.D., shown at right) thinks very much the way they do. Either they do not have many poor people, people of color, immigrants, or college-educated liberals in their districts to worry about, or those minorities who do live, or try to eke out an existence, in their districts will most likely have a harder time voting, if they’re still on the list, next time around.

“Cut It or Shut It . . . We Want Less”

Before the current shutdown, Congressional Republicans have threatened seven times to take the government down, or take the economy over a cliff (remember the fiscal cliff?), just since early 2011. They have been looking for excuses to “cut it or shut it.”

As Steven Benen wrote in “A Series of Near-Death Experiences” at the Maddow Blog:

In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. 

And now . . .

Why John Boehner is allowing a comparatively small group of representatives in the House to control the agenda is beyond our understanding, though we can imagine he wants to keep his position as Speaker of the House. At least it was beyond comprehension before a front-page article in the Sunday, Oct. 6, New York Times, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning,” reported that the billionaire conservative activist Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, had put some $200 million into fighting the Obama healthcare law, funding such groups as Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action, a close relation to the Heritage Foundation. These groups ran media spots against some 100 Republican members of Congress who declined to sign on to the Tea Party letter to House Speaker John Boehner mentioned above.

Cracks Appear in Republicans’ United Front

Business, and even some conservative action groups, worried that this has gone on too long already, are beginning to back away from the hardline House Republicans. On October 9, the Koch brothers sent a letter to Congress stating that Koch Industries “has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution [for funding the government] to defunding Obamacare.” Similarly, on the same day, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham gave essentially the same message to reporters.

“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” —Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

photo-tea-party-shut-it-down1The Republicans have no plan to end the standoff. They have dug themselves in too deep to pull back out. They insist that the president and the Democrats must compromise. But the Senate passed a continuing resolution some six months ago, and at least four times the House Republicans refused to join in a conference to work up their own budget proposal (as happens in a functioning Congress) because that would have required some compromise. Further, the “clean” budget bill that the Senate has been trying to get the House Republicans to vote on is billions below what the White House requested. The House Republicans held off because they wanted to drive this up to the very brink—they wanted leverage to make demands for further cuts, and then, with the Tea Party caucus’s urging, for defunding and repeal of “Obamacare”—and then, if necessary, over the cliff. Now the car is falling, falling, and they don’t know how to repeal gravity, either.

What worries business leaders and Wall Street is that vocal members of congressional Republicans apparently do not believe that blowing through the debt ceiling (around November 1) is anything to worry about. Economists across the spectrum see a default on the national debt as insane and catastrophic, with global repercussions that could dwarf the financial meltdown of 2008, but even Republican senators are blithely unconcerned. On Oct. 9, the ninth day of the shutdown, Fidelity Investments sold off its U.S. Treasury bonds out of concern that the government may indeed default, and the U.S. government’s borrowing costs have risen sharply—another unnecessary addition to the national debt brought to us by the “fiscal conservatives.” (“Deadlock Worry Jolts the Market for T-Bills”)

The Huffington Post has been running a list of Republican members of Congress who say they are willing to cast an up-or-down vote on a budget without “repeal Obamacare” strings attached. These members of Congress should be encouraged (contact information here) to stand up, speak out, and implore their likeminded members to vote with Democrats to restart the government. Perhaps this has gone on long enough?

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Geography of Inhumanity Posing as Fiscal Discipline

Below are two maps, the first (by The New Yorker) showing the congressional districts of the “suicide caucus” of Tea Party Republicans who pushed for the government shutdown. Almost every district has been made into an impregnable fortress where the representative can be as extreme as he or she wants to be without worrying about having to pay an electoral price.

Note the geographical similarities with the second map (by The New York Times), which shows the areas of the United States where poor and uninsured Americans live. The two maps are essentially the same: the hardline conservatives pushing the shutdown largely represent the states whose governors and legislatures refuse to allow expansion of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), even though they have high populations of poor, unhealthy people.

•  “Where the Suicide Caucus Lives” (The New Yorker, 9/26/13), showing districts of Republicans who signed a letter demanding that Speaker John Boehner pass legislation to defund Obamacare

•  “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law” (The New York Times, 10/2/13)

SuicideCaucusCongressDistricts_final_big-01

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Where Poor and Uninsured Americans Live

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Top illustration by Chamomile Tea Party.

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Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81

10/4/13

FEMA2

Former Head of Army Corps of Engineers Regretted Not Fighting for Storm-Surge Gates
As Tropical Storm Karen approaches the Gulf Coast, and FEMA employees, furloughed by the latest GOP Government Shutdown, are called back to work without pay, The New York Times reports the death of Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, “who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.” Gen. Heiberg died last Friday, Sept. 27, in Arlington, Va. He was 81. In June 2007, the Times reports, “nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that ‘As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.’ ” After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to build flood-surge gates at the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain at the Chef Menteur and the Rigolets passes to be lowered in case of an oncoming hurricane (map below). Environmentalists worried that the presence of the floodgates would make it easier for developers to drain areas for development and that the flow of water would be blocked.Luke Fontana, executive attorney for Save Our Wetlands Inc., filed a lawsuit to block the floodgates. In 1985, twenty years after Hurricane Betsy, the Corps gave up the plan. (The plan and its defeat—“death-by-environmentalism,” we call it—is discussed in detail in Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid’s excellent 2006 book Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. See our interview with Schleifstein here.) In an interview cited by NPR online, Gen. Heiberg said, “I think that’s probably the biggest mistake I made, quitting instead of fighting. . . . I think Katrina proved that.” (See “Why Did the 17th Street Canal Levee Fail?” NPR, May 19, 2006.)   1965CorpsFloodgatesPlan The New York Times obituary in full appears below.
Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81
04heiberg-popup Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, died last Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 81. The cause was cancer, said his daughter Kay Bransford. In June 2007, nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that read: “As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.” He explained that in the 1970s, when he commanded the New Orleans district, the corps planned to protect the city by building gates at the east end of Lake Pontchartrain. Environmentalists opposed the project, and local interests objected to sharing the costs, as federal law requires. A federal judge blocked the project and called for a more thorough analysis of its environmental impact. In the 1980s, when General Heiberg was commander of the corps, or chief of engineers—the youngest man to head the corps since the 19th century—the fight over the so-called barrier plan was still going on. “I was discouraged and decided to stop fighting for the barriers any longer,” he wrote in The Times-Picayune. “In retrospect, that was the biggest mistake I made during my 35 years as an Army officer.” In lieu of the barrier, the corps turned to raising levees and floodwalls around the city. It turned out to be a patchwork project that was still not complete when Katrina hit 20 years later and many segments of the floodwall failed. The official corps report on the disaster called the hurricane protection system “a system in name only.” General Heiberg’s letter fed an argument that had begun circulating soon after the storm that had blamed environmentalists for the destruction of the city, accusing them of blocking efforts to protect it. The conservative FrontPage Magazine called their tactics “Green Genocide.” But the barrier envisioned by the corps would have been ineffective, said G. Paul Kemp, an author of Louisiana’s official report on the disaster and an adjunct professor at the Louisiana State University department of oceanography and coastal sciences. Much of the water that inundated New Orleans, he said, had flowed in from a corner of Lake Borgne, which lies to the south and east of the city and which would have been outside the barrier’s reach. Alfred Naomi, a former senior project engineer for the corps in New Orleans, agreed that the barriers “might not have made a difference for Katrina,” though he argued that some areas might have suffered less damage had the barriers been there and that the project would have improved safety overall. He expressed admiration for General Heiberg and his public stand. “That showed integrity and moral certitude that you don’t find a lot in today’s society,” he said. “Right or wrong, he took the hit — and took some responsibility.” Elvin Ragnvald Heiberg III—he went by “Vald”—was born on March 2, 1932, at Schofield Barracks, the Army installation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Like his father and a grandfather, he joined the Army and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point; the grandfather served as military attaché in Rome and died when he was thrown by a horse while visiting the Austro-Hungarian front in 1917. Vald III graduated from West Point in 1953 and earned master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University. His career in the Army and Corps of Engineers took him to wartime service in Korea and Vietnam and to Saudi Arabia, where he oversaw $14 billion in corps-led construction projects for the country’s national guard. He led the corps’ cleanup and rebuilding effort after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State in 1980, and ran the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program, a precursor to the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” plan. General Heiberg’s many decorations included the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross from his Vietnam service; he twice earned the Distinguished Service Medal. After retiring from the military, he worked with a number of companies, including Dawson & Associates, a consulting and government relations firm with expertise in water resources, where he was a senior adviser. In addition to Ms. Bransford, General Heiberg’s survivors include his wife, the former Kathryn Schrimpf, whom he married in 1953; another daughter, Kathryn Heiberg-Browning; two sons, Walter and Elvin IV; and a sister, Dorethe Skidmore. Contacted by a reporter last year to discuss the old barrier plan, General Heiberg said, “I haven’t changed my mind on any of that.” New Orleans is now protected by a $14 billion ring of walls, levees and gates, including a two-mile barrier at the northwest corner of Lake Borgne, and gates that can close the city’s drainage canals to block any surge from Lake Pontchartrain. Barriers for Lake Pontchartrain are again under consideration. #


Deliberate Fiscal Crisis 2013

09/30/13

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“Governing by Near-Death Experience” and Other Observations

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“This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That’s it. That’s why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt. . . .

Imagine if the Republican Party had won the 2012 election and Senate Democrats threatened to breach the debt ceiling and cause a financial crisis unless Republicans added a public option to Obamacare. Does anyone think a President Mitt Romney would find that position reasonable? Does anyone think that position would be reasonable?” —Ezra Klein, “Don’t Forget What the Shutdown Is Really About,” at Wonkblog

In reply, a reader writes in to Wonkblog:

“There might be an even more instructive analogy. In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against.”

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capitolupsidedownYou cannot have this reckless, nihilistic, fundamentalist, ideologically driven governance. . . . Ultimately, advocacy can’t trump governance.” —Paul H. Stebbins, executive chairman, World Fuel Services Corp., and member of Fix the Debt

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“For all the ubiquity of political polarizing and heightened partisanship, no honest observer can deny that the rise of crisis governance and various forms of legislative hostage taking comes entirely from the GOP. . . . This is the reality that finally brought Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of DC’s most fastidiously sober, even-handed and high-minded arbiters of political standards and practices, to finally just throw up their hands mid-last-year and say ‘Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.’ ” —Josh Marshall, “Broken Windows, Broken States,” Talking Points Memo

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“There is no need to watch Gone with the Wind to grasp the American South’s taste for lost causes. Just watch Congress . . . [A]s Obamacare’s socialist, secular machine gradually mows down what remains of civil society, diehards can comfort themselves they were brave enough to lie in its path. It will be a glorious defeat.” —Edward Luce in The Financial Times

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“Against the backdrop of a government-shutdown deadline, Karen Tumulty noted yesterday the ‘cumulative effect of almost three years of governing by near-death experience.’ It’s phrasing that rings true for a reason—since Republicans retook the House majority in January 2011, no major legislation has become law, but we have endured quite a few crises.

“In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. And right now, in September 2013, the odds of a government shutdown are quite good once again.

“That’s eight self-imposed, entirely unnecessary, easily avoidable crises since John Boehner got his hands on the Speaker’s gavel—a 33-month period in which Congress racked up zero major legislative accomplishments.

“ . . . great nations can’t function this way. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises. It cannot do both.” —Steve Benen, “A Series of Near-Death Experiences,” at Maddow Blog

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“Listening to the Republicans lie outrageously on the Sunday shows about the catastrophic effects of a program that isn’t even in effect (while denying that climate change exists!) is enough to give me a headache. It reminded me of . . . [Rick Perlstein’s] fascinating article for The Daily Beast about what he calls our ‘mendocracy’—which means a society ruled by liars.” —Digby, “Exchange Grate,” a Hullabaloo

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WDC_at_dawn.DougMills.NYT

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Photo credits: Top: White House photo; upside-down reflection of Capitol by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg; Washington at dawn by Doug Mills for The New York Times



Debt Limit Hostage Crisis 2013: House Republicans Demand Goodies

09/27/13

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There are some basic notions that undergird the operation of a democracy. When there’s an election, the candidate who gets more votes is the one who takes office. When a bill is passed through Congress and signed by the president, it’s now the law. And when you lose, you don’t get to demand that your agenda be enacted, for no reason other than that you’d prefer it that way. If you want a bunch of policy changes, you have to win an election, then pass that agenda through the legislative process. That’s how it works. Baseball players who strike out don’t get to just demand that they be given a triple or else they’re going to set fire to the stadium.

—Paul Waldman, “Memo to Republicans: You Lost. Now Deal with It

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Set This House on Fire

A continuing resolution funding the U.S. government expires Monday, Sept. 30, and without new funding legislation, federal agencies will be forced to shut down. The Treasury secretary has notified Congress that if the federal debt ceiling is not raised, then by Oct. 17 the United States will be unable to borrow to pay its bills. (For more detail, see “Shutdown vs. Default: The Relative Impact” [NYT 9/23/13].) For months, and still, at this late hour, Republicans in Congress have been threatening to refuse to vote for any debt ceiling increase unless all federal funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is stripped away. Republicans are divided over how hard to push the issue, but so far the hard-liners have refused to yield.

The White House and congressional Democrats say the Affordable Care Act, passed in March 2010 and upheld in a 2012 Supreme Court decision, is the law of the land and is nonnegotiable. “This is it. Time is gone,” warned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sept. 27. “Here’s a president who less than a year ago won election by five million votes. Obamacare has been the law for four years. Why don’t they get a life and talk about something else?”

20 Treats Now!

Now get this: In an effort to win agreement from hard-line House Republicans to vote to raise the debt limit, GOP leaders have put forward a tantalizing wish list of just about everything they (that is, their campaign contributors) have ever wanted. The Republican caucus is still some 15 members away from enough votes to support a debt limit measure. If the reluctant representatives were to agree, the Republicans would be sending to the Senate the following list of demands in exchange for votes on what used to be, in olden tymes—say, before January 2009—a fairly routine legislative procedure. (Congress raised the debt ceiling 7 times under George W. Bush, 18 times under Ronald Reagan.)

Roll Call reports, “According to a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, that ‘wish list’ contains 20 ‘additional options’ for the debt limit bill, on top of four principles in the ‘Core Package’—a one year debt limit increase for a one year delay of Obamacare, the agreement of tax reform instructions and the Keystone pipeline.

“The 20 additional options, according to the document, are:

Budget ClashEconomic Growth

1. Offshore Energy Production

2. Energy Production on Federal Lands

3. Pipeline Permitting Reform

4. Coal Ash

5. Prohibit EPA from Regulating Greenhouse Gases

6. REINS Act

7. Regulatory Process Reforms (APA)

8. Consent Decree Reform

9. Regulatory Flexibility Improvements

10. Block Net Neutrality Regulations 

graphicNon-Health Care Reforms:

1. Federal Employee Retirement Reform, which Republicans estimate will save $20 to $84 billion.

2. Eliminate Dodd-Frank Bailout Fund, which they estimate will save $23 billion.

3. Eliminate Mandatory Funding for CFPB, with estimated savings of $5 billion.

4. Require SSN to Receive Child Tax Credit, with estimated savings of $7 billion.

5. Eliminate Social Service Block Grant, with estimated savings of $17 billion. 

Health Care Reforms:

GOP descends1. Increase Medicare Means Testing, which Republicans estimate will save $56 billion.

2. Reduce Medicaid Provider Tax Gimmick, which Republicans estimate will save $11 billion.

3. Medical Liability Reform, with estimated savings of $49 billion.

4. Disproportionate Share Hospitals, with estimated savings of $4 billion.

5. Eliminate Public Health Slush Fund

 

Well, that’s not asking much. Anything else we can get you?

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect comments, “I’m sure that if you asked them the logical question—Are you people insane?—they’d respond that this is an opening position for negotiations, and we can go from there. Sure, maybe we won’t get everything on the list, but maybe we could bargain it down to, say, delaying the ACA for a year, handcuffing the EPA, the Keystone XL pipeline, and cutting money for public health.”

Once There Was a Surplus

Remember, America, George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus when he succeeded Democratic president Bill Clinton in January 2001. Projections released by the Congressional Budget Office in January 2005 showed that “changes in law” enacted since January 2001 had increased the federal budget deficit—which, again, had not existed, when Bush took office—by $539 billion. By January 2005, tax cuts along with defense and homeland security expenditures accounted for 85% of that deficit. Only six months into Bush’s first term, after Congress (with help from Democrats) passed a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut, the Associated Press reported that “the Treasury Department was tapping $51 billion of credit in order to pay for the budgetary cost of the first round of Bush tax cuts’ rebate checks.”

Think Progress observed in 2011, “The opponents of the tax cut turned out to be right. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts combined have blown a $2.5 trillion hole in America’s budget and created deficits stretching on for years.”

See “2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began” (LNW 7/20/11)

 

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Ready for Burlesque Fest, New Orleans?

09/19/13

burlesqueTime for the 5th Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival, Sept. 19–21

Of course New Orleans is ready for another burlesque festival. A good warm-up for Halloween, perhaps. Or just a good warm-up for its own sake. If you’re ready—or might be ready, as we totally are—for Coco Lectric, Dinah Might, Honey Touche and the Touchettes, Cora Vette with Dames D’lish, Ray Gunn, Jett Adore as Zorro (yes, dudes too), Miss PetitCoquette, Trixie Little & Evil Hate Monkey, and the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue, then the Burlesque Festival has the shows for you.

Opening night features the Strut at Harrah’s: “Award-winning male burlesque stars deliver pure prime beef, emphasizing the masculine side of the tease with their sizzling surprise reveals, and tongue-in-cheek exploits! Starring world-renowned super troupe The Stage Door Johnnies!” You’ll want to come for the Siren of the South (“Athena, the Goddess of the Bodice”), Mondo Burlesque (“A variety of burlesque entertainers perform acts that have driven audiences wild at clubs and theaters around the word. Sexy, funny, naughty, and très amusant!”) and Bad Girls of Burlesque (“Luscious and lascivious ladies of burlesque entertain you in this rowdy, standing-room-only show . . . a celebration of the wicked, the wayward, and the wanton”). Click here for the schedule.

Classes and Instruction

Workshops, held at the Hilton Riverside, 2 Poydras Street, are sponsored by the Ruby Room of Dallas (that sounds scary). “We know y’all want to sleep late, so all workshops are scheduled between 12 noon–5pm!”

BURLESQUE BODY WORKOUT: In this high-energy workout class taught by the 2013 Miss Viva Las Vegas, Missy Lisa, you will use the most popular techniques from fitness and dance to strengthen and condition your body. You will easily break a sweat with moves specifically chosen to tone hips, thighs, buns and abs. Appropriate for all skill levels.

BUMPS & GRINDS: Perfect your bump and refine your grind with the 2011 Queen of Burlesque, Ginger Valentine. This class focuses on quality of movement and sensuality in classic burlesque, while burning calories and toning muscles. Before you take it off, learn how to tease and tantalize like a pro.

GirlsGirlsTHE ELEMENTS: Taught by Ray Gunn of the famed Stage Door Johnnies (Best Boylesque–2013 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Best Group–2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame), this lecture and discussion class for both men and women will cover the basic components of constructing, focusing, and editing a successful burlesque act. Participants will focus on refining composition, identifying the four main elements of an act, analyzing the thirteen types of ‘teases,’ and more.

SECRETS OF STAGE PRESENCE: How do you mesmerize an audience? What is stage presence and how can you achieve it? Unlock the tools to combat self- consciousness and stage fright, learn about “Active Intension” onstage, and find the burlesque superstar within you! Jett Adore of the acclaimed Stage Door Johnnies outlines his “Five S’s of Burlesque,” vital components to achieve the full potential of your own star quality. Bring a rehearsal boa if you have one and note-taking materials.

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Cold shower time. We’re all worked up just writing about it . . .

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Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 8 in New Orleans

09/14/13

RisingTide

Live-streaming of Rising Tide conference here.

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Keynote Address: Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré on leadership and environmental justice

New Orleans Advocate publisher John Georges introduces Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, augmented by video footage from CNN.

Standing ovation for Honoré. Honoré thanks audience for being an active community sharing respect for environment, the place where we live, for sharing a common purpose to be able to live in a place where you don’t have to worry about the quality of the water and air. I like my oil in the engine of my truck, not in the water or on the ground. “We can do better.”

Honoreleadership“I want to talk a little about leadership (and to shamelessly promote my book, Leadership in the New Normal).” You have to be able to get people to willingly follow. For instance, for the goal of environmental justice and social justice. There’s a purpose to teaching children how to read; part is to prevent these same children from later being in the prison system.

If you think you have it hard, think about how hard Gen. George Washington and his troops had it in the winters of the Revolutionary War. We are now in a kind of fight like the one during the 1770s. The elected officials in Washington with their air conditioning think they’ve got it hard, but we do not have it hard like the soldiers in Washington’s volunteer army had it. This war that we are fighting [for environmental and social justice] is a war we can win, because we are on the right side.

My public school teacher in Pointe Coupee Parish told me we know you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so let me tell you three things that will help you in the future: (1) Learn to do routine things well. Brush your teeth, be respectful, do your homework, etc. (2) Don’t be afraid to take on the impossible. This came back to me when we landed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (3) Don’t be afraid to act even if you’re being criticized.

If oil and gas are so good for Louisiana, why are we one of the poorest states in the union? Why don’t we all get to go to private schools? Just speaking critically of oil and gas industry and its effect on our state will get you criticized. We want tourism and visitors, and oil and gas industries can be here, but they can’t destroy the place. “You can’t trash the place.” We’re not saying they can’t be here, but they have do it the right way, responsibly. Too many public officials will say, any time there’s a chemical leak, or several employees die at the plant, that the chemical release was minimal, or the loss of life was minimal. This is not acceptable.

We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. We have to show it to people in other countries. If you grew up in Louisiana, you grew up smellin’ stuff. Maybe the sugar cane burning, or something from an Exxon plant or a paper mill. It’s a part of the culture, and it doesn’t mean much as we’re growing up, but people from other places ask, “What is that?” • I was on CNN and I said I’m not going to call this the “Gulf oil spill,” this is the BP oil spill. The Gulf of Mexico didn’t cause this. This was created by a company. Same with the sinkhole, or the Jefferson Island salt dome collapse.

How is that the EPA is prevented from coming into a state to take action against a violation of the Clean Water Act unless the state government invites it in. If there’s a violation of a drug smuggling law, the federal forces can take action. But it was written into the Clean Water Act that the EPA is limited from enforcing the law. Self-regulating is not an option. These companies messing up this state don’t even have their headquarters here. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. We have a serious water problem. The aquifers are depleting seriously because of the industries’ use. Why aren’t they using the Mississippi River? Because the aquifers, which should be reserved for the local people’s drinking water, are easier for the companies to draw from. And what are we going to do with the orphan wells? These abandoned oil wells have been abandoned. Streams of oil all over the place, just leaking. You can see them all over Plaquemines Parish, still lying knocked over by Hurricane Katrina, and the companies have been allowed by the Louisiana legislature to leave them abandoned. We have to make it visible. This is your war. This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in. What we have going on off our coastline is like what they have going on in Nigeria. How many of you could make a list of 10 people you could bring on the team for environmental justice, for social justice?

Sandy Rosenthal of Levees.org asks Honoré about the SLFPA-E lawsuit and Gov. Jindal’s attempts to have control over the membership of the Flood Protection Board. The governor may be forgetting that he will not always be governor. How is he going to explain to his children or grandchildren that they can’t go out and play because the air is too polluted? • Audience member commends Honoré for speaking out about environmental issues. You have some of the best guerrilla fighters in the state in this room now, but we need leadership. Please run for governor. [Applause.] • You have to get busy on the college campuses and get the students mobilized. You’ve got to be prepared to do civil disobedience; that’s the only thing that will get these people’s attention. It’s likely going to look foolish to the rest of the country, but it’s got to be done. It’s going to take the voice of the people speaking out. It’s going to take some community organizing. Get the restaurateurs involved; they need clean seafood, so it affects them too.

Magnus & WilderAshley Award Presented to Greg Peters

Received by Greg’s sons, Magnus and Wilder, after introductory remarks by Alli de Jong about our late friend Greg Peters (1962–2013).

Charter Schools: Access & Accountability

11:30 Moderated by Scott Sternberg. Panelists: Nikki Napoleon, Marta Jewson, Jaimmé Collins, Aesha Rasheed, and Steve Beatty.

Questions posed to the panel include: Are charter schools in New Orleans more or less responsive to democratic principles than our old School Boards, and how can we address the access and accountability issues for the present and future of New Orleans?

Eighty percent of New Orleans schools are now charter schools. Questions of accountability, transparency. Because the school or school system is not strictly a public entity in the traditional sense of the public school, its administrators are not accustomed to requests for public records, or have different understandings of accountability—they may be quick to comply with requests for information, or they may say “that’s none of your business.”

Re: parent engagement, Jaimmé Collins says that all of us should be more active about attending the board meetings. This would begin to change things. We could each commit show up to at least one board meeting per year. Set an example and become a more engaged member of the community. Steve Beatty, editor of The Lens, says that the boards should schedule meetings at a time of day when parents can actually attend, not during the workday. If a school is not giving satisfactory performance or accountability, parents can “vote with their feet” by withdrawing their child and going somewhere else. In Q&A, a teacher says that that is often not a realistic option. Nikki Napoleon did pull her child from one school and placed him in another.

Jaimmé Collins says that school administrators should pick two or three things on which they are willing to engage in particular with parents to help the school improve in a more focused way for students. Started a parent-school review to design a process by which parents could evaluate how well the school is performing, but getting five or six parents to commit and attend meetings is sometimes a challenge. A good idea but sometimes a challenge to execute.

Steve Beatty says the city of New Orleans doesn’t have a charter school system; we have a lot of different charter schools operating independently.

 

CharterSchoolPanelCharter Schools panelists, from left to right: Nikki Napoleon, Marta Jewson, Jaimmé Collins, Aesha Rasheed, and Steve Beatty.

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MelaNated Writers Collective: Creating Community for Writers of Color

10:05 Jarvis Q. DeBerry introduces MelaNated Writers Collective panel, Jewel Bush, David Thaddeus Baker, Kelly Harris, and Gian Smith. Young writers of color in New Orleans seeking a community of other writers of color, seeking support, fellowship in what is by its nature a very solitary pursuit.

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 Jewel Bush speaks at Rising Tide’s MelaNated Writers Collective panel. From left to right: Jewel Bush, David Thaddeus Baker, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Gian Smith. 

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Discussion of the importance of not caring about—not being held back by—what white people think, or would think, of what I’m writing. Part of the necessary self-liberation for a black writer is to (try to) be free of these considerations. Reference to a famous essay by Langston Hughes (cite:TK). • The effect of Hurricane Katrina on these writers’ work. Gian Smith says it took being separated from New Orleans to realize how important the city and its people are, and to make me determined to represent what is not known to the rest of the world. Partly in reaction to the television representations of New Orleans, of black people of New Orleans. • How has being in New Orleans affected your writing? Kelly Harris-DeBerry: being in N.O. has made me more playful in my poems. Gian Smith: I think it’s a distinct advantage to be in New Orleans. Just as all of Stephen King’s novels are set in New England, mine are definitely set here. The settings for the action are local. Question about how the memory of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina affected your writing? Jewel Bush says the storm is there as a background to the present action of a story. It’s always there as a presence, an internal chatter that’s always on. David Thaddeus Baker says he has written two poems relating to Katrina, but he cannot let the storm dominate his focus or overpower what he is writing. Kelly Harris-DeBerry says she is hesitant to write about the storm because she is not from here and she was not here at the time of the storm (2005).

Q&A

Pat Armstrong asks if writers feel pressure or expectation to “cross over” and serve as a “tour guide” to New Orleans and to the community of color for readers outside New Orleans. Jarvis DeBerry says there is sometimes an indifference among New Orleanians about whether outsiders get what we’re about or not. Lance Vargas asks, How do you get into that contemplative space needed to start writing? David Thaddeus Baker: I go for a walk and think about things. Jewel Bush: I like to listen to music; gets me in the mood. Gian Smith: I try to clear my schedule so that I am not distracted by other obligations. Kelly Harris-DeBerry: I don’t really have a ritual, but I try to write with pencil or pen. I feel I’m more thoughtful and concentrated when I’m writing by hand rather than by typing. I seem like I take my time and I’m more thoughtful.

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10:00 Introductory remarks by RT secretary Patrick “Cousin Pat” Armstrong. Thanks to Xavier University of Louisiana for hosting this conference, and to sponsors The Lens, WWNO, and WTUL. Welcoming remarks by Xavier Univ. Student Council president Javon Bracy. Emcee is George “Loki” Williams. T-shirts and posters designed by Greg Peters for sale.

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