Political MoJo

Fade-Out: Jazz Fest and the African-American Future of New Orleans

| Wed May 17, 2006 10:10 PM EDT

Following Tuesday night's contentious debate between incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin and white challenger Mitch Landrieu, yesterday's Washington Post had a disturbing story about the changing face of New Orleans: whiter, richer and with far fewer blacks. African-Americans' neighborhoods are still devastated and too often they can't afford to return. It's not only a personal tragedy for those who lost their loved ones and for those who now can't return home, but a cultural and economic tragedy for our nation as well.

Just over a week ago, I returned from Jazz Fest, and all the infectious music in the clubs and at the festival couldn't hide the ongoing ruination of New Orleans. Yes, the reviews are in for the New Orleans Jazz Fest that finished on Sunday May 7th, with the media arriving at a consensus story-line: "New Orleans Jazz Fest emerges triumphant," as USA Today reported. But even as the musical outpouring from stars ranging from Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon to Irma Thomas and other local treasures provided a sense of joy and hope to enormous crowds, the memory of the lost lives and devastation of Katrina was never far from the surface. The glorious music or the crowds of young revelers packing Bourbon Street with their beers and hurricanes in hand couldn't mask the underlying desolation of a city with large swaths still in ruins, whether it was the crushed roofs planted atop cars in the Lower Ninth Ward or the block after block of abandoned and ruined homes, eerily quiet with a few white FEMA trailers scattered among them, even in the more affluent, recovering Lakeview area.

Outside of a few tourist sites, parts of the city were like a ghost town, having lost more than 60 percent of its population, mostly African-Americans – from 455,000 to about 150,000 people. Even in the once-bustling Jackson Square section of the French Quarter, where brass bands, solo musicians and street-vendors once plied their trade (and where George Bush promised to "do what it takes" to restore New Orleans), the place was nearly empty. Hotels and restaurants, the backbone of the city's essential tourism industry, were severely understaffed, scrambling to find workers because potential employees – and those who want to return -- can't find a place to live.

"Make Levees, Not War" was a slogan featured on T-shirts and buttons at Jazz Fest, but it was a viewpoint that hadn't had any impact on government policy or the city's fortunes. Less than half of the city's 3,000 restaurants have reopened. Convention business has plummeted, and the lost revenue won't be recouped by the new Gray Line tour, "America's Worst Catastrophe," that takes busloads of tourists through lakeside areas devastated by Katrina – although they're barred by city law from touring the wrecked black slums of the Ninth Ward. And even if the Army Corps of Engineers manages to repair the levees to a pre-Katrina level in time for the hurricane season that starts in June, there's no assurance that it will be enough to protect the city from future flooding.

"Don't let nobody fool you," a cab driver warned me. "After Jazz Fest, everything will be dead."

But for now, the still-struggling city could put on its best musical showcase, the French Quarter tourist mecca remained largely unscathed by the flooding, and there were oases of life and music scattered throughout the city that could make you believe, at least for a few hours, that New Orleans was back. Here are some snapshots from New Orleans you may have missed:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sex, Swedish-Style

| Wed May 17, 2006 6:28 PM EDT

The Washington Post has a good article about how European countries with healthy attitudes towards sex—or, let's say, the sorts of attitudes that least resemble Focus on the Family's—have fewer problems with STDs and unwanted pregnancy than, say, we do here in the United States:

A 2001 Guttmacher Institute report, drawing on data from 30 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, concluded: "Societal acceptance of sexual activity among young people, combined with comprehensive and balanced information about sexuality and clear expectations about commitment and prevention childbearing and STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] within teenage relationships, are hallmarks of countries with low levels of adolescent pregnancy, childbearing and STDs." The study cited Sweden as the "clearest of the case-study countries in viewing sexuality among young people as natural and good." …

In Sweden, compulsory sex education starts when children are 10 to 12. Without parental consent, teens can get free medical care, free condoms, prescriptions for inexpensive oral contraceptives and general advice at youth clinics. Emergency contraceptives (the so-called morning-after pill) are available without a prescription.
Shocking! Think of the children! But then again, lower rates of pregnancy and STDs… Hm, tough trade-off. Of course, this sort of thing would never fly in the United States, where 35 percent of schools teach abstinence-only and don't so much as discuss contraception. Here's why:
Religion tends to insert itself less in government policy on sex education, contraception and abortion in Western Europe than in the United States, says Michaud. The Catholic Church exerted minimal influence in Switzerland's AIDS prevention campaign, he said. "All in all, the church has been very tolerant and does not really get involved in sexual matters," Michaud wrote in an e-mail.
The article also notes, interestingly enough, that European parents don't really have to worry quite as much about their children seeing sex and nudity on TV, partly because "[s]traightforward messages on how to prevent STDs and teen pregnancy help offset the impact on teens of sexually explicit ads, movies and other mass media." Wow, just think, with better education we could halt the country's long march towards total moronification. Wouldn't that be nice.

Do Immigrants Assimilate? Yes.

| Wed May 17, 2006 3:26 PM EDT

Tyler Cowen links to a useful study looking at how well Latino immigrants are assimilating. Pretty well, it turns out. Economists tend to agree: First-generation Latino immigrants are poorer than their native counterparts (no kidding: they've just arrived, they speak little English, and they tend to work for the most exploitative companies this country has to offer), but their kids and grandkids do much better:

In a 2003 study by the RAND Corporation, economist James P. Smith finds that successive generations of Latino men have experienced significant improvements in wages and education relative to native Anglos. According to Smith, "the reason is simple: each successive generation has been able to close the schooling gap with native whites which then has been translated into generational progress in incomes. Each new Latino generation not only has had higher incomes than their forefathers, but their economic status converged toward the white men with whom they competed."

Barefoot and "pre-pregnant"

Tue May 16, 2006 9:43 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports (somewhat belatedly) that the CDC is asking all to women treat themselves as "pre-pregnant," regardless of whether they're currently trying to conceive.

Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

Set aside, for a moment, the incredibly offensive implication that all women are nothing more than incubators who should remain healthy not because it's good for them, but because it makes for healthier babies. And note that even though the report's first recommendation is that "each woman, man and couple should be encouraged to have a reproductive life plan," it never calls on the government to encourage contraceptive use. Which is, uh, pretty important for family planning.

Funding for Title X family-planning clinics, which serve more than 5 million women, hasn't kept pace with inflation. And a growing uninsured population means the demand for Title X services is likely to increase. It's not surprising that unplanned pregnancies are on the rise among low-income women. The report's authors do acknowledge that many women lack access to adequate reproductive health care, but they tell women to "manage risk factors" rather than admonish government officials who have cut funding for these programs.

Just a guess, but maybe we'd have healthier newborns if the government spent more time reducing unplanned pregnancies and less time telling women to stay away from lead paint and cat feces.

Chinese Journalist Gets 12 Years in Jail

Tue May 16, 2006 6:10 PM EDT

On the 40th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, censorship of the media in China continues. Today, Yang Tianshui was sentenced to 12 years in prison for speaking out against the government—or, in official terms, the "subversion of state power." This is familiar territory for Yang, who has already served ten years in prison for the supposed crime of "counter-revolution," resulting from his public condemnation of the military's assault on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

The latest charges, which Yang did not appeal, stemmed from several essays that he posted on the internet in support for the "Velvet Action of China," named after the Velvet revolution that successfully defeated communism in Czechoslovakia. According to Reporters without Borders, "the arrest and trial of the cyberdissident did not respect Chinese law. Yang was picked up without an arrest warrant by Security Bureau agents in plainclothes and his trial was rushed through in three hours." Not a surprise, considering China jailed the more journalists in 2005 than any other country—the seventh consecutive year they've been on top.

Carol Fisher case suggests pattern of law enforcement/judicial irregularities

| Tue May 16, 2006 2:54 PM EDT

Here is some additional information on the Carol Fisher case, supplied by the Cleveland Indy Media Center. Apparently, the usual time between arrest and indictment in Fisher's county is two months, but the time for her was eight days. Also, Ohio law requires that service of an indictment must be made at least 24 hours prior to arraignment; Fisher's notice was served to her attorney the morning of her arraignment (the attorney decided to waive right to protest). Though these facts in themselves are not particularly newsworthy, the existence of such irregularities--one of them illegal--only serve to strengthen the argument that Fisher was treated unfairly because of her political beliefs and her unwillingness to be quiet about them.

Fisher was accused of attacking police officers. She agrees that she was in a physical struggle with them, and she says it is because they were hurting her with the cuffs. This type of incident happens rather frequently; the person in question is then charged with either resisting arrest or assault on a police officer--or both.

At this point, there is still no reason to question the veracity of Fisher, especially since Cleveland Heights is a known hotbed of "liberal trouble-making" in the city. A group of Cleveland Heights citizens went to the Cleveland Heights City Council to protest what happened to Fisher, to vouch for her character, and to testify that they saw her brutalized by the police.

These witnesses, referred to earlier by this blogger, were not identified because I could not find their names and their individual statements, only a general statement in the Cleveland press that there were witnesses. I have now found them, and their statements can be read here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bush's Immigration Speech

| Tue May 16, 2006 2:35 PM EDT

I didn't bother listening to Bush's speech on immigration last night, but Kevin Drum's got a handy summary:

Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.
Well, let's see. He wants to deploy 6,000 National Guardsmen to the border. Let's do some counting. The United States has approximately 7,500 miles of remote and often rugged land border, plus miles of coastal and Caribbean border to patrol. The agents have to work in shifts. So… um… well, the TRAC project estimates that even 11,000 patrollers would come to one agent every four miles. This could be the most futile game of Red Rover ever devised. Maybe the guards can use those handy "motion sensors" to help out. We'll just hope they don't get tripped by wandering deer.

Bush is also expanding detention facilities for immigrants. If you want to see inhumane, check out this old interview I did with Mark Dow about immigrant detention facilities. "[E]xtreme forms of physical abuse are common." Seems like something the president could really get behind. And then there's this "guest worker program" business. Conservatives hate it, because the last time it was enacted, back in 1986, lots of illegal immigration ensued. Liberals should hate it because it's a way for businesses to import a captive labor force, one that won't complain about low pay or poor labor standards for fear of deportation.

So those proposals are all ludicrous. Now if either the president or Congress really wanted to crack down on illegal immigration, they'd institute a national identity card and levy steep fines on employers that hired illegally. If the supply of jobs dries up, presumably fewer immigrants will come here. So that, plus a path to citizenship for current immigrants and realistic (i.e., larger) quotas for legal immigrants would help "control" the flow of people coming in. And to his partial credit, Bush did also propose something along those lines. It's not nearly as liberal as I would have liked (Bush's is a business-friendly approach rather than a liberal approach, hence the guest-worker programs), but I guess it's a start. But seeing as how conservatives are now on suicide watch over Bush's speech, it seems quite unlikely that any sort of immigration reform will pass this year.

UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor has a good critical take on border enforcement here. I'd also note that border enforcement is often better at deterring immigrants from returning home rather than preventing them from coming in the first place. Keeping people in rather than out. So it can actually lead to a greater immigrant population than would otherwise be the case.

Can Economic Populism -- or "Authenticity" -- Save the Democrats?

| Mon May 15, 2006 11:46 PM EDT

Last week, some of the Democrats' most engaged proponents of pushing the Democrats leftwards -- including Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana and author Thomas Franks -- gathered to promote economic populism at a panel discussion (scroll down to see video excerpts) about David Sirota's new book, Hostile Takeover.
The book is a useful compendium of the way big-money interests have corrupted our political process, leading to the screwing of the public through such legislation as our energy policy and Medicare Part D.

But Sirota and other progressives are spending too much of their ire targeting the Democratic Leadership Council as corporate sell-outs. In fact, the DLC, even if there's a reasonable critique to be made of their free-trade policy, offers a range of sensible ideas on security, health and the economy that may have a better shot at Congressional passage and public support than some of the ideas pushed by Sirota. Remember, only two centrist Southern Democrats, such as Clinton and Carter, have been elected to the presidency since 1964. (Full disclosure: I'm a freelance policy analyst for the DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute, and did a scathing critique of the Bush administration's mental health policy last year -- hardly a flack for "Republican lite" policies.)

When I asked Sirota and the other panelists about previous Democratic presidential successes and past failures of populist messages nationally, he contended, "Any candidate who makes it clear that he will stand against big-money interests will inspire people on [their] authenticity beyond economic issues." Will that be enough? Walter Mondale and George McGovern believed what they said on issues, too, and that didn't seem to inspire people to vote for them. (The American Prospect's Harold Meyerson, pointed out, rightly, that Clinton, especially, campaigned to the left of where he actually governed, thus raising his hopes that a full-fledged populist could win the presidency.)

Former weapons inspector confirms in new book that report on suspected "biolab" trailers was suppressed

| Mon May 15, 2006 6:49 PM EDT

A senior member of the CIA-led Iraq inspection team says that a year after the White House's "bioweapons trailers" claim was discredited, the administration continued to suppress the findings. Former U.N. arms inspector Rod Barton claims a CIA officer told him it was "politically not possible" to refute the White House claims.

Barton talks about his 2004 experiences in The Weapons Detective, which was just published by Black Ink Agenda in Australia. He is known not only for reporting that the Bush administration wove a story about weapons of mass destruction out of two ordinary trailers found in Iraq, but also for refuting Australia's claims that it had not participated in any interrogations in Iraq.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that on May 29, 2003, George W. Bush told the nation that "We have found the weapons of mass destruction." While he was justifying the war with this revelation, U.S. intelligence officials had evidence that the so-called mobile "biological laboratories" were nothing of the kind. On May 27, two days before Bush's speech, members of a secret fact-finding mission made its final report--that the trailers found in Iraq were harmless. However, this report was kept secret and put aside while Bush administration officials continued to talk about the "biolabs" for a year.

Former CIA officials deny that any information was stifled as late as 2004, before the Iraq Survey Group's final report in October.

A Post-Roe World

| Mon May 15, 2006 6:04 PM EDT

In the Atlantic this month, Jeffrey Rosen tries to imagine what would happen if the court overturned Roe v. Wade. Pandemonium, he says. Political upheaval. Democrats would probably capture Congress and the presidency. And so on. In other words, there's a lot in the piece about the politics of a post-Roe world, but less time spent on how overturning Roe would actually affect women. The brief argument in this passage seems quite wrong:

It's conceivable that a year or two after Roe, as many as a dozen red states would adopt draconian restrictions on abortions throughout pregnancy, while a larger group of more populous blue states would offer the same access to abortion as they do now. What effect would this have on the national abortion rate? … "[I]n terms of national numbers, the effect would be small," [says Gerald Rosenberg of the University of Chicago].

For example, if the South Dakota ban survived the overturning of Roe, the national impact would be negligible. In 2000, fewer than 1,000 women obtained abortions in South Dakota, representing one-tenth of 1 percent of all the abortions performed in the United States. That year, there were only two abortion providers in the state, and about 30 percent of South Dakota residents who sought abortions traveled to other states, such as Colorado and Nebraska. If the South Dakota abortion ban took effect, that percentage would certainly rise.