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Still Waiting, Still Dreaming November 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

“Nothing to be done.”
–Estragon in Beckett’s
“Waiting for Godot”

Was it a year ago or more that I found something comforting in New Orleans’ embrace of Samuel Beckett’s dark play “Waiting for Godot”. There was certainly something apt about it, to be embraced by those so many who stand in a barren landscape and wait, our frantic debates simply filling the time while we wait for some abstract Redemption.

If we wait, we will find ourselves like Beckett’s characters, left despondent by the news that Godot will not come today, and may or may not come tomorrow, debating how we might go about hanging ourselves and in what order. At least that’s the cheerful feeling I take away from reading the paper this week.

First there was the CNN One Crime at a Time special on crime and corruption in New Orleans. It was a sloppy piece in many ways, giving a complete pass to Mayor C. Ray Nagin on corruption and focusing on excessive use of city cars as its best example of dysfunctional government. Blogger Mominem of Tin Can Trailer Trash offered this better list in an email discussion of the city’s dysfunction, and called us a Failed State.

I don’t know about “broken windows” but “broken government” is certainly an thread. As far as I can tell there is not a single process in City Government that works up to the level of incompetence.
It takes 4-6 months to correct an error in property taxes.
It takes 2 years to get a property tax refund and you can’t apply over payments to future taxes.
The Sanitation Department doesn’t know what houses to tear down
The Police can’t keep track of evidence.
The DA can’t file motions to seize cash from drug dealers.
The Sanitation Department doesn’t know how many houses it’s being billed for, so it just pays the same amount every month.
The City has no idea how many cars it owns, who has them or who uses city gas credit cards.
The IT department can’t get crime cameras installed.
The IT department can’t get crime camera’s repaired.
It takes the city a year to get computers for the [Inspector General].

Our Chief of Police, Warren Riley, was also given free reign to rehearse his stock hand-wringing speech about poverty and bad schools, while offering no hope or relief for either his beleaguered officers or the citizens. It was a speech I would get to hear twice this week, which I will get to in a minute.

Then came the announcement that our Betters have come to a decision on building a new hospital complex downtown. Rather than take the advice of the citizens to rehab the historic Charity complex (and some some loot to boot), or perhaps to take the idle ruin of old Lindy Boggs/Mercy Hospital in my own neighborhood of Mid-City, they will instead demolish an entire neighborhood of hundreds of homes in lower Mid-City to build their bio-science field of dreams.

One ignored side effect of this is that the area where I worked for the last year-and-a-half, the north side of the Central Business District, will remain mostly a ghost town of abandoned commercial buildings. All that is needed to complete the hair-brained scheme to convert downtown into some sort of condominium time-share hell is the other bright idea of our recovery leaders to move the civil district courts into the criminal justice complex down Tulane Avenue (adjacent to the new Hospital World), leaving the city’s commercial center a whistling ghost town.

I could go on, but I think Karen of Squandered Heritage has said it all.

Then there was the joyous holiday news that New Orleans is once again Queen of the South, and perhaps of all America and much of the world, a true leader in the field of crimes committed in our streets. Riley predictably attacked the statistics (as City Hall will do when they hear bad news about the city), and gave again his standing spiel on poverty, bad schools and crime, but offered no vision for how to get out of the hell whole the city has found itself in.

Again, I defer to Jarvis DeBerry, who pretty much sums up my own reaction here.

There is no hope under Louisiana law of recalling Nagin and booting Riley or the rest of the band of buffoons who make up his administration. (Still, go sign the petitions anyway). So many opportunities we have missed, from squashing the culture of crime as the city slowly repopulated to turnig a city full of aging and dilapidated homes into a vibrant place again, to perhaps “shrink the footprint” of the city into a space more easily defending against flooding not by government fiat but my making the city core an attractive place to live again.

Nothing to be done, Estragon says. I don’t want to sink into that sort of lyrical dog philosopher cynicism. There is so much to be done. If we cannot drive out Nagin and his crony’s short of a touch-and-pitchfork assault on their castle, then there is a life to be lived here, to day-by-day prove the naysayers wrong. There are letters to write, calls to be made and petitions to be signed. There is a band to see tonight with old friends on Frenchman Street, and a meal to be eaten with my visiting father-in-law in one of our favorite restaurants.

There is the day to day battle of New Orleans: not a glorious moment like the defeat of the British in 1815 or an ignominious one like the uprising of the Klan against Reconstruction. This is the long campaign to make this city livable again by the act of living here against all odds and saving what we can. When Nagin and his crew are memories we will still be here.

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Profiles in Courage, Excellence & Garbage August 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

Blogger Bayou St. John David once again takes apart the city’s fabulously inflated garbage contracts, raising the question: why isn’t Sidney Torres of SDLC on the the Excellence in Recovery Host Committee. I would think he would find Nagin, like, most excellent, dude.

And in light of my own recent question about Black politicians who use racial code and open racial attacks to protect themselves from questioning over palpably questionable behavior, David doesn’t hesitate to ask “Perhaps we should ask the [Southern Christian Leadership Council] why Richards Disposal is offering predominantly white Jefferson Parish a significantly lower price today than it negotiated with predominantly black Orleans Parish two years ago?” You may recall that the SCLC was not afraid to taunt the New Orleans City Council and threaten an economic boycott of New Orleans, suggesting that any challenge to these smelly garbage contracts was racist.

These garbage contracts are anything but “lemony fresh-smelling“.

Selling Wolf Tickets to Ginny Women August 16, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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4 comments

N.B. While I understand Carmen’s concern in her comment below that Nagin boosters will dismiss this (I know the dude, and he’s not…), I am determined to move the bar, to make it clear that the word applies to those like Nagin (or Head or the rest of them) who play the card to win.

Times-Picayune editorial writer and columnist Jarvis DeBerry show us he still still a man “in touch with the street”, as old white guys in politics used to say when I was a young white guy in politics. He treats us to a bit of street talk in his Aug. 10 column on Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s latest show of tail feathers over the bloggersourced NOAH scandal. Nagin is, he tells us

A walking embodiment of the black vernacular, he called certain mail critics “ginny women.: He accused others of “selling wolf tickets”….

Sadly, Mr. DeBerry doesn’t bother to explain to us cracker-ass, recovery-hating bloggers what these terms mean. Thank bog for the Internets, that series of tubes which we nattering nabobs of negativism have excavated beneath the city’s recovery like medieval miners trying to fell a castle wall.

Oddly, I found the definition for “ginny woman”, a man who likes to gossip or involve himself in “women’s business”, under the Wikipedia entry for Yat (scroll down to the glossary), a uniquely working class white vernacular. I wonder if all of the Yat’s are supposed to drop using ginny woman now the way blacks stopped saying “brah” for brother the minute the white guys at Kennedy High School took it up.

Selling wolf tickets is more genuinely black vernacular, if the unruly mob behind Wikipedia are to be trusted. Sadly DeBerry missed a grand opportunity for irony in the service of clarify when he didn’t use the Lord Mayor’s own feeble threat to “cold cock” members of the local news media as a living definition. Either that or he ran over his word count, as people who live and die by the column inch must sometimes do when they’re on a roll, and something had to go.

In all fairness, DeBerry and columnist Stephanie Grace deserve full credit for their tag team Sunday columns (his here, her’s here)calling out the mayor. Jumping Nagin is something the Picayune seems very cautious about in its news column. I especially like the part where Stephanie jumped into the ring with the folding chair and whacked Hizzoner upside the head. (OK, that was gratuitous and entirely too much fun to type). Others have analyzed the full dynamic of their one-two punch better than I: Moldy City in particular.

All frustrated newspaper columnist cleverness on my part aside, I have a lot of respect for DeBerry. If I’ve deeply insulted him by any of the above, I apologize and in the same breath suggest he needs to lighten up and get out of the newsroom a little more often. I respect him because he is the child of middle-class Black parents who is an editorial writer at a paper ruled by the white uptown elite in the person of Ashton Phelps, Jr. I am sure DeBerry must walk a very fine line between what he wants to say and what he can or must say if he wants to keep his job, much as the politicians he sometimes writes about must do.

That may be the reason behind the failure of his Sunday column fails. It fails because it starts down a path it does not follow to its logical end. DeBery is in a unique position to speak out to all communities, as an editorialist for a mainstream newspaper who routinely speaks to the Op-Ed reading elite, and as a son of black New Orleans. I think he could call the mayor out on the most important score of all more effectively than my sorry Bunny Bread ass ever can, sitting here typing for an audience of a hundred (on a good day). Still, that is a Rubicon DeBerry has not yet crossed, and perhaps never can with Phelps looking over his shoulder. So once again I’m stuck out here in the wilderness with locusts and honey stuck in my teeth and not so much as a twig in sight, speaking what must be said:

Nagin is a racist.

His use of black street slang isn’t just machismo, as DeBerry suggests. Nagin is speaking in racial code to advance his agenda, circling “his people” around him as a buffer from any criticism. Anyone who so openly panders to one race over the other, who falls back upon the defense that “they” are out to get one of “us”, differs from David Duke in degree and not kind. Speaking in code just makes it worse, more insidious. Were the White Citizen Councils somehow different or better than the Ku Klux Klan? When I say this (or if James Gill or Stephanie Grace try it), well, we’re just them: Exhibit A in the argument that We’re out to get the Brother-In-Chief of the city.

What bullshit.

If you pander to racial divisiveness, you are a racist. It doesn’t matter if you drape yourself in your wife’s best sheets or the lingo of the streets, the game is the same. And that is what Nagin does, just as Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis did with the Inspector General debate When you pack the council with an angry, racial mob to get your way, does it matter if they are black or white? What difference does it make? Not that Nagin or the Cynthias are alone. Stacey Head is not above giving tit-for-tat, publicly disrespecting the other side to curry favor with her own. She is the obverse of the Nagin coin. Her taunting of public housing residents and clash with Tamborine and Fan are equally unacceptable.

What no one in the Times Picayune is likely to step up to say is the one thing that needs most to be said: people who stir up racial division are the ones who do the greatest damage to the recovery, even more than the looters in suits who siphon off recovery money.

Yes, you, C. Ray Nagin. You are not only a racist, you are one of the greatest threats to the city’s recovery. You are what I have railed against since I started blogging back in August 2005 and all through the darkest days of the rest of that dark year, back when I wrote about the Knights of the Invisible Hand, or a year and a half later when I wrote about the inspector general battle.

My position remains the same: We can not afford this. We couldn’t in September 2005, or November 2006 or August 2008. At the one bright moment in the history of the entire slavery-cursed South when everyone in one community had the largest event of their lives in common, were united in solidarity by the flood; when history presented us our Augenblick, our opportunity to seize the day and make the revolution Martin Luther King prophesied, you chose instead to whip it out and piss all over it just to show you’re one of the folk, one of the guys. When you were done you shook the brothers down for all they had in their pockets for your car fare to get uptown and collect your campaign checks, and you laughed all the way to the bank.

What a tremendous accomplishment and legacy. We shall have to erect a statue to you in memory of these times, perhaps where the Liberty Monument once stood, to remind us how you helped to destroy the second reconstruction of New Orleans. We can all look at it and hope that some day we will all join together to pull it down.

Oh, and Mr. Mayor: if you think the bloggers are out to get you, we are. In case you haven’t noticed, the NOLA Bloggeres are out to get anyone who threatens or interferes with the recovery. FYYFF.

Crazy Like A Fox February 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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4 comments

There’s not much I can add to all of the other commentary on Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s outburst on WWL-TV today. Just check out the usual suspects: Adrastos, Ashley Morris and American Zombie in the column to your right. The mayor’s public tantrum came in response to a story that will air at 10 p.m. central detailing exactly what he has been doing to bring the city back over the past year. From the teasers, the answer some will find in a close examination of a year of his calendar is: not much.

Perhaps the news we have an absentee landlord of a mayor come as a surprise to some visitor who happens to be in their room at 10 tonight and not out partying, but it will not surprise anyone who lives here. We have a mayor with a home in Texas who is invisible to the public unless he’s doing something incredibly stupid, like brandishing an assault rifle at a press conference detailing how the city has squandered millions of recovery dollars buying SWAT gear when the guys we have on the front line don’t have what it takes to get the job done.

The simple fact is Nagin is, like a significant portion of the population here, in some form of burnout from the entire recovery experience. The difference between Nagin and every other poor schmuck out there is that when he swings the hammer and misses, he hits us all.

I’ve stood up for C. Ray in the long ago. Since then, I have witnessed a combination of ineptitude and the continuous appearance of impropriety and his prior public breakdowns. The sympathy, such as I had when I wrote the Vast White Ring Conspiracy post on Wet Bank Guide almost a year ago is replaced entirely by disgust.

There were hints in his morning interview of attempts to play the race card, and I’ve seen a reaction of that sort already on a mailing list I belong to, an otherwise thoughtful person buying into the “well there are a lot of racists who don’t like him.” Well, there are a lot of racists who don’t like people of another color, but the mental space Ray has entered is as far out there as that of the readers of the Turner Diaries, an alternate universe in which their own personal failings are excused by a racial boogie=man other.

Except I am not so sure that Nagin is that crazy. More, as my trite headline suggests, crazy like a fox. What is hiding behind the public buffoonery is a concerted program of looting the city recovery money via extravagant, no-bid contracts to his contributors. I plan to come back and work on a post, in fact hope to fulfill some of the mayor’s paranoid delusion by encouraging other bloggers in New Orleans to take up Bayou St. John David’s call for a concerted campaign to publicize the clear appearance of corruption in City Hall.

For now, visit his blog–Moldy City— and Dambala’s American Zombie and read what real journalism looks like. The WWL-TV piece promises some of that tonight, but if you want to see it in black-on-white, you can forget the daily Times-Picayune and the weekly “alternative”/lifestyle magazine Gambit. You’ll have to read the best of citizen journalism in the NOLA Blogosphere to start to see the real reason Nagin is mostly invisible when he’s not playing the fool or tossing gasoline on the smoldering racial tension in the city. It’s a great cover for doing with what’s left of the recovery dollars what was done by friends of the White House with the vast majority of the over $100 billion Congress think they’ve spent down here.

Part of the mayor’s tirade was against “bloggers”, but which other bloggers think he means the sort of scum who spend their days on NOLA.Com forums and comment threads of the T-P stories they published. There NOLA.com comment and forum rooms are certainly a human sewer. The sort of psychotic venom found there would be sufficient data for any advanced, space-faring race that happens to drift by to assume humanity are some sort of terrible disease this planet has caught and which they would be doing all the other life forms a favor by exterminating.

I believe that the mayor reads actual bloggers. I think he knows who he means, and it scares the hell out of him that at some point someone in a position of authority in a media outlet outside the city, or perhaps someone in the U.S. Attorney’s office, might also find them. Bloggers like AZ and BSJD have done all the heavy lifting. All some enterprising Pulitzer hound needs to do is stumble into their extensive indexing of the stories that have actually appeared in the Times-Picayune, stories the T-P must be consciously choosing to not link together,in order to tear away the facade of transparency and reform to reveal was it festering underneath.