Saturday, September 24, 2005

Who Will Rebuild New Orleans?

Who should rebuild New Orleans is displaced New Orleans people—mostly black but also poor white-- who have lost their jobs and homes. The government should set up a large federal project restoring the wetlands that protect the city and rebuilding the city itself. The jobs should be above minimum wage and with benefits.The government should set up a program like the Works Project Administration (W.P.A.) that the New Deal had during the Depression that put unemployed people to work buiding everything from the San Francisco Gate Bridge to schools, libraries, roads all across the nation. The W.P.A. was incredibly successful helping people reconstruct their lives as well as building bridges, roads and buildings we still use today seventy years later.

Is this going to happen? No.

President Bush has already suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires the government contractors to pay prevailing wages in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. Also the Department of Homeland Security has suspended sanctions against employers who hire workers with no documents.

So who will be hired? Not blacks from New Orleans who were instrumental in creating the rich culture of the city and who have been left with nothing. Not poor white Cajuns whose families have lived in the region for 200 years also instrumental in creating Louisiana's culture. Not them. Oh no.

Government contractors are hiring Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central America and sending them to Louisiana. Gregory Rordiguez in the September 25, 2005 LA Times reports that these male workers “live outside New Orleans in mobile homes without running water and electricity.” Rodriguez quotes President Bill Clinton on NBC’s “Meet the Press” saying that “New Orleans will be resettled with a different population: the evacuees will be forced to relocate and will be replaced by poor Latinos.

One subtitle Rodriguez uses in his article is “Latinos to the Rescue,” point out the many contributions of immigrant labor. Indeed, immigrant labor including Mexican immigrants have made huge contributions, but New Orleans could very well be rescued by the labor of its own citizens, giving them a decent life in the process. Instead the government will exploit desperately poor Latinos in order to rebuild the city. Of course, any workers who help to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf should be given legal status, electricity, running water, and wages above the minimum.

But the jobs should firstly go to people from New Orleans who have been forced out so they can return to their city to rebuild their city, their neighborhoods, and their lives. We should pressure Bush to follow the previsions of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires the government contractors to pay prevailing wages in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. We should pressure Bush to restart a Works Progress Administration . We should have government contractors hire evacuees and house them in trailers with electricity, running water, and a decent wage. We should also demand that any immigrants who work rebuilding New Orelans be given legal status, basic rights and a decent wage. That's the way New Orelans should be rebuilt.

Monday, September 19, 2005

World Festival of Sacred Music is Dynamite!

I attended last Saturday, September 17, at UCLA the opening concert for the World Festival of Sacred Music. This festival has 43 events performed by 1000 dancers, singers, and musicans held at spaces secular and sacred all over Southern California from September 17 through October 2.

The opening event was held in an amphlitheater at UCLA under a harvest full moon where we hear 5 music groups from around the world. First, there was the opening blessing by Cindi Moar Alvitre and the Tia'at Society, members of the Tonga people, the Native Americans of Los Angeles area. What I found fascinating was the Ti'at Society was reviving the "ancient Southern California Indian tradition, the Moomat Ahiko, a sacred canoe, whose name translates to "Breath of the Ocean."

The first musical group was Gonja Dreams, led by Iddi Sakka, which had musicians and danacers from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Brazil, Israel and the U.S. performing music of the Gonga people of Northern Ghana but combining African and Western rhythms and instruments.

Next was Los Folkloristas, a group that plays traditional music and Mexico and Latin America as well as Danza Floricanto/USA, the oldest professional Mexican folk dance troup in Los Angeles. Los Floristas' songs ranged from the Mexican song "Raiz Viga" (Living Roots) to an Bolivian Indians' lament, to "Tierra Mestiza" about Chicano immigrants in the U.S. to "LA Paloma" (the dove" from Chile.

Next they had two groups performing at the same time. On the main stage the KNUA Korean Traditional Performing Arts Troupe, just having flown in from Korean, played haunting melodies on traditional instruments of flute, gong, and a stringed violin-like instrument. Some of the songs and dances were in honor of Buddhism while the last was of shamanistic origin whose purpose was "to wash away evil spirits or misfortune." At the same time The Hung Lakorn Lek Puppet Theater Troup from Thailand was performing scenes from the great Hindi epic the Ramayana. George Abe next performed on the Japanese flute in praise of the moon which loomed full, ripe and rich overhead.

The next group was Chirgilchin which is translated as "miracle" from the Tuvan language of Siberia. Chirgilchin are three young Tuvan throat-singers. The movie "Ghengis Blues" was
a international hit about the Tuvan throat singers who are quite amazing. The three played unusual Tuvan instruments of a lute, two-stringed violin, and rattle used by Tuvan shamans. I thought the music sounded like Siberian cowboy music with a beat and based on a scale like American blues. Indeed, Tuvans were a nomadic horse culture, so many of the songs are about, of course, horses, nomadic way of life, and nature. They were awfully wonderful.

Lastly was Jri Pavlica & Hradistan Dulcimer Band from Czech Republic who preserve the folk music of Southern Moravia who were also terrific. The opened with traditional Moravian and Bohemian folk songs; then they had a song cycle covering pagan singing from before 1000 a.d., early Christain choral music, medieval drinking songs, Baroque dance songs, and village songs. They closed with Jiri Pavlica's wonderful, contemporary songs. These like the Tuvan throat singers were virtuoso musicians.

At the end all the musicians and dancers came on stage--from Native America, Africa, Latin America, Korean, Siberia, and the U.S.--while Brenda Jackson, an African-American opera singer sang "Amazing Grace" acompanied by everybody. Quite a sight. The World Festival of Sacred Music shows Los Angeles at its dazzling best.

To find out more, check out the festival's website www/

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Notes from Inside New Orleans

I'm reprinting Jordan Flaherty's article "From Inside New
Orleans" because I thinkthe mass media's scapegoating
of the people of New Orleans this last week must
be addressed.

Scientists had warned for years of dangers that
a hurricane would flood New Orleans but all levels of
government from the city to the federal government
ignored the warnings.

Doctors without medicines in
New Orleans were even"looting," or breaking into stores to
get medicines for their patients who werein danger of
dieing without them. Also, the people who were starving,
without water,or medicine in New Orleans said people broke
into stores to get food and water--which people needed to
live. Yet all week certain news commentators called this

Notes From Inside New Orleans
>by Jordan Flaherty
>Friday, September 2, 2005
>I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled
from theapartment I was staying in by boat to a
>helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to
examine the attitudeof federal and state officials
>towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise
you to visit one ofthe refugee camps.
>In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway
near Causeway,thousands of people (at least 90%
>black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash
behind metalbarricades, under an unforgiving
sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard ove
them. When a bus would come through, it would stop
at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of
the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no
information given about where the bus was going. Once inside
(wewere told) evacuees would be told where the bus was
taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas,
or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a
bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family
and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get
out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no
choice but to go to the shelter in
Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans
to pick youup, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.
>I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers,
>Salvation Army workers, National
>Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could
>give me any details on when
>buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other
>information. I spoke to the
>several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been
>able to get any information
>from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all
>of them, from Australian tv to local
>Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess.
>One cameraman told me "as
>someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only information
>I can give you is this: get
>out by nightfall. You don't want to be here at night."
>There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to
>set up any sort of transparent
>and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to
>register contact information or find
>family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone
>services, treatment for
>possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.
>To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to look at
>New Orleans itself.
>For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a
>incredible, glorious, vital, city. A
>place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A
>70% African-American city
>where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous,
>subversive and unique culture of
>vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras
>Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz
>Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a
>place of art and music and
>dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.
>It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block
>can take two hours because you
>stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls
>together when someone is in
>need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling
>the gaps left by city, state and federal
>governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public
>welfare. It is a city where someone
>you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an
>It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city
>of New Orleans has a population of
>just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them
>centered on just a few,
>overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying
>that they don't need to
>search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a
>shooting, the attacker is shot in
>There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much
>of Black New Orleans and the
>N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused
>of everything from drug
>running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans
>police officers were recently
>charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high
>profile police killings of
>unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has
>inspired ongoing weekly protests
>for several months.
>The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders
>will not graduate in four years.
>Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child's education and ranks 48th
>in the country for lowest
>teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young
>people drop out of Louisiana
>schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on
>any given day. Far too
>many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison,
>a former slave
>plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of
>inmates eventually die in the
>prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs
>are are low-paying, transient,
>insecure jobs in the service economy.
>Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This
>disaster is one that was
>constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina
>was the inevitable spark
>igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the
>neighborhoods left most at risk, to the
>treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims,
>this disaster is shaped by race.
>Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this
>week our political leaders have
>defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached,
>our Governor urged us to
>"Pray the hurricane down" to a level two. Trapped in a building two
>days after the hurricane, we
>tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations,
>hoping for vital news, and were told
>that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic
>began to rule, they was no
>source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and
>reporters said the water level
>would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like
>wildfire, and the politicians and
>media only made it worse.
>While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way
>to get there were left
>behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have
>spent the last week demonizing
>those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in
>it, this is the part of this
>tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.
>No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely
>closed stores in a
>desperate, starving city as a "looter," but that's just what the media
>did over and over again. Sheriffs
>and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of
>perform rescue operations.
>Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed
>into black, out-of-control,
>criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be
>insured against loss is a greater crime
>than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of
>dollars of damage and
>destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties
>focus on "welfare queens" and
>"super-predators" obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes
>the Savings and Loan
>scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are
>being used as a scapegoat
>to cover up much larger crimes.
>City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here.
>Since at least the mid-1800s, its been
>widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of
>1927, which, like this
>week's events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of
>natural disaster, illustrated
>exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently
>refused to spend the money to
>protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others
>warned of the urgent impending
>danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to
>reinforce and protect the city, the
>Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to
>fund New Orleans flood control,
>and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of
>global warming. And, as the
>dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response
>dramatized vividly the callous
>disregard of our elected leaders.
>The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a
>US President and a
>Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.
>In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New
>Orleans. This money can either be
>spent to usher in a "New Deal" for the city, with public investment,
>creation of stable union jobs, new
>schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be
>"rebuilt and revitalized" to a
>shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with
>chain stores and theme parks
>replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz
>Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty,
>racism, disinvestment,
>deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this
>pre-Katrina hurricane will take
>billions to repair.
>Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on
>Katrina, its vital that
>progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a
>rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is
>a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.
>Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn
>Magazine ( He is not
>planning on moving out of New Orleans.
>Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based resources,
>organizations and institutions
>that will need your support in the coming months.
>Social Justice:
>Cultural Resources:
>Current Info and Resources:

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Republicans and New Orleans Castastophe

Because of the horrible events all week in New Orleans and the Gulf, I'm reprinting Michael Parenti's article.

An article Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, in the LA Times said that lots of news media had run stories predicting a disaster for New Orleans: in 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, the largest newspaper in Louisiana, ran a 5-party story about disaster could could happen to the city which won numerous awards; National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" in 2002 laid out how New Orleans was at risk; the New York Times ran an article saying thousands of lives were at risk. After the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran its 2002 story, it ran 9 more stories "reporting that the combination of tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and the demands of homeland security had led President Bush's administration to repeatedly reject urgent requests from the Army Corpos of Engineers and Louisianas's congressional delegation that it allocate the money to save New Orelas." Also, all of New Orleans' people could have been evacuated just like Cuba evacuated 1,300,00 people in 2004 and housed in tents before Hurricane Karina hit--saving thousands of lives.

How the Free Market Killed New Orleans*

By Michael Parenti

The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New Orleans
and the death of thousands of its residents. Armed with advanced
warningthat a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to hit that city and
surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free market.

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected to
devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just as
the free market dictates, just like people do when disaster hits
free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual
pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an
optimal outcome for the entire society. This is the way the invisible hand
works its wonders.

There would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as
occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island
last year, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood citizen
committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.3 million
people, more than 10 percent of the country's population, with not a
single life lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in
the U.S. press.

On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was already
clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American lives had been lost
in New Orleans. Many people had "refused" to evacuate, media reporters
explained, because they were just plain "stubborn."

It was not until Day Three that the relatively affluent telecasters
began to realize that tens of thousands of people had failed to flee
because they had nowhere to go and no means of getting there. With
hardly any cash at hand or no motor vehicle to call their own, they had
to sit tight and hope for the best. In the end, the free market did not
work so well for them.

Many of these people were low-income African Americans, along with
fewern numbers of poor whites. It should be remembered that most of them had
jobs before Katrina's lethal visit. That's what most poor people do in
this country: they work, usually quite hard at dismally paying jobs,
sometimes more than one job at a time. They are poor not because
they'relazy but because they have a hard time surviving on poverty wages while
burdened by high prices, high rents, and regressive taxes.

The free market played a role in other ways. Bush's agenda is to cut
government services to the bone and make people rely on the private
sector for the things they might need. So he sliced $71.2 million from
the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent
reduction. Plans to fortify New Orleans levees and upgrade the system
of pumping out water had to be shelved.

Bush took to the airways and said that no one could have foreseen this
disaster. Just another lie tumbling from his lips. All sorts of people
had been predicting disaster for New Orleans, pointing to the need to
strengthen the levees and the pumps, and fortify the coastlands.

In their campaign to starve out the public sector, the Bushite
reactionaries also allowed developers to drain vast areas of wetlands.
Again, that old invisible hand of the free market would take care of
things. The developers, pursuing their own private profit, would devise
outcomes that would benefit us all.

But wetlands served as a natural absorbent and barrier between New
Orleans and the storms riding in from across the sea. And for some
yearsnow, the wetlands have been disappearing at a frightening pace on the
Gulf' coast. All this was of no concern to the reactionaries in the
White House.

As for the rescue operation, the free-marketeers like to say that
reliefn to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private charity. It
was a favorite preachment of President Ronald Reagan that "private
charity can do the job." And for the first few days that indeed seemed
to be the policy with the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The federal government was nowhere in sight but the Red Cross went into
action. Its message: "Don't send food or blankets; send money."
Meanwhile Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network---taking
a moment off from God's work of pushing John Roberts nomination to the
Supreme Court---called for donations and announced "Operation Blessing"
which consisted of a highly-publicized but totally inadequate shipment
of canned goods and bibles.

By Day Three even the myopic media began to realize the immense failure
of the rescue operation. People were dying because relief had not
arrived. The authorities seemed more concerned with the looting than
with rescuing people. It was property before people, just like the free
marketeers always want.

But questions arose that the free market did not seem capable of
answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few
helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it
take helicopters five hours to get six people out of one hospital? When
would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the feds? The
state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses and trucks?
theshelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies and water?

Where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the
$33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? Even ABC-TV evening news
(September 1, 2005) quoted local officials as saying that "the federal
government's response has been a national disgrace."

In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of
foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany and several other nations.
Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other materials for
the victims. Predictably, all these proposals were quickly refused by
the White House. America the Beautiful and Powerful, America the
SupremeRescuer and World Leader, America the Purveyor of Global Prosperity
could not accept foreign aid from others. That would be a most
deflating and insulting role reversal. Were the French looking for another punch
in the nose?

Besides, to have accepted foreign aid would have been to admit the
truth---that the Bushite reactionaries had neither the desire nor the
decency to provide for ordinary citizens, not even those in the most
extreme straits. Next thing you know, people would start thinking that
George W. Bush was really nothing more than a fulltime agent of
Corporate America.
> -------
> Michael Parenti's recent books include Superpatriotism (City Lights)
> and
> The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), both available in
> paperback. His forthcoming The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press)
> will be published in the fall. For more information visit: