Truthout Stories Sat, 29 Aug 2015 21:34:07 -0400 en-gb Shock Doctrine: A Look at the Mass Privatization of NOLA Schools in Storm's Wake and Its Effects Today

Just two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the city fired 7,500 public school teachers, launching a new push to privatize the school system and build a network of charter schools. Many accused lawmakers of trying to break the powerful United Teachers of New Orleans union. Today former President George W. Bush will return to the city to speak at the Warren Easton Charter High School. We speak to the New Orleans actor and activist Wendell Pierce, whose mother was a teacher and union member for 40 years, as well Gary Rivlin, author of Katrina: After the Flood. He recently wrote a piece for The New York Times titled "Why New Orleans’s Black Residents Are Still Underwater After Katrina."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we are joined by three guests here: Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; Gary Rivlin, author of Katrina: After the [Flood]; and Wendell Pierce, the actor and also author of The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken.

Gary Rivlin, I’d like to start with you on this segment, the issue on education. One of the most astonishing things that occurred in the weeks after the storm was a decision of the then-governor, Kathleen Blanco, to close the entire public school system and reopen a recovery authority school system. Could you talk about what happened to the schools, the privatization and the creation of all these charter schools in New Orleans, and what’s been the result 10 years later?

GARY RIVLIN: It makes me think of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, the opportunity that a disaster presents. The governor had wanted to take over many of the local schools in New Orleans prior to Katrina, and she had taken over a few of the worst-performing schools. Katrina happens, and within two months the state had taken over virtually every public school in New Orleans.

And, you know, the real problem is that for years, for six, seven years, it just was chaos. Here are people who were displaced. You know, they’re struggling to come home, and they just want a sense of place, a sense of home. There are no neighborhood schools anymore. People would sign up for one school, a charter school, and it would be closed a year or two later, and they have to go find another. Parent after parent told me the story of their child at a bus stop at 6:00 a.m. in the dark to, you know, take two buses to get to their school every day. It just—it was chaos.

There was cherry picking. You know, I mean, nowadays we all know that schools are measured by how high their scores are. And so, especially early on—it’s gotten a little bit better, but especially early on, they would just refuse some students. The highest expulsion rate in the country was in Orleans Parish schools. Why? Because they wanted to improve their numbers. You know, there was a lawsuit that the schools were not doing their duty of taking care of the special needs students. It was settled a year or two ago, and seemingly it’s gotten better.

But, you know, it’s just like a generation of kids who it had endured. You know, they’re eight, 10, 12 years old at the time of Katrina. They see that the government doesn’t care about them. They’re scattered to the wind, some of them, you know, under gunpoint. I mean, remember, people were being brought on planes, on buses, with armed soldiers as if they were prisoners, sent somewhere off without being told where they’re going. You know, they’re living disembodied for several months, for a couple years. And, you know, they come back to chaos. There’s traumatized kids in this traumatized system.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to put this question to Wendell Pierce. It was a piece that appeared in Chicago by an editorial board member of the Chicago Tribune. Her name was—is Kristen McQueary. She wrote a piece about Chicago’s financial crisis, titled "In Chicago, Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina." She wrote, quote, "I find [myself] wishing for a storm in Chicago—an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto [the] rooftops." She later apologized for offending the city of New Orleans. Wendell Pierce, you’re a New Orleans native. Your parents are from New Orleans. Your grandparents are from New Orleans. Can you respond to this? And also talk about the struggle for who has made it in the last 10 years in New Orleans and who hasn’t, what communities have thrived, and the fact that 100,000 African-American New Orleanians are no longer in New Orleans.

WENDELL PIERCE: First of all, I found that editorial so offensive. I called it "blasphemously evil" for someone to wish for a disaster that killed over 1,800 people as a way to cleanse their city of some sort of political policies that she disagreed with. Not only was the writer offensive and owed the city and all of those who lost relatives 10 years ago an apology, but I can’t believe that the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board allowed it to go into print. So that was the thing that was really offensive.

And just doubling back on what Gary was saying about the education system, I want you to remember that the United Teachers of New Orleans, the union that my mother was a part of all of her life, her 40 years of teaching in the school system, was one of the largest unions and most powerful unions in the state of Louisiana. It was predominantly African-American and women. And when the floodwaters were still rising in New Orleans, the first official—one of the first official acts that the governor did was to fire all the teachers. It wasn’t by happenstance, it was by design. You saw the political manipulations and taking advantage of the crisis, as it were.

And we should not let the education reform that is happening in New Orleans go unchallenged, because just in October of last year, the Cowen Institute at Tulane, that put out a study and released data on the progress of the charter school system now, actually had to admit that they cooked the books, that they changed the data to make sure that it looked better, because what’s happening is a raid, a raid of the treasury, of the money set aside for public education to be given to private companies, private companies in education. And then they’re changing—they’re changing the status quo to make sure that they keep their charters, to make sure that they keep the flow of money coming into the corporation. Remember, the first rule of law when it works—in a business or in a corporation, is to make a profit. And the only way you make a profit if you’re a charter school is to keep that charter. And the only way you keep that charter is to make sure that you give the appearance that you are not failing.

And they’re leaving a lot of people and a lot of kids on the way—on the side. And they’re leaving them in a worse position than they were before. If you don’t go to the most needy children in your society and help them—as Gary was saying before, the disabled and special needs and special education kids were not having any of their needs met, because it is not required in so many of the charters to even have that sort of part in your education system. So, a lot of people are being left behind.

I have, in Pontchartrain Park, a community development corporation, where we, residents, initiated our own reconstruction, but—as we got the properties that were sold back in the Road Home program in our community of Pontchartrain Park, so that we can put them back into commerce. But we are restricted to only selling to low-income, 80 percent average median income and below. I have no problem with bringing in low-income people to the community. That’s how my parents got a chance at first getting their first home in the 1950s. But what’s happening is to make sure that you displace people who have been forced out of public housing and have only certain areas that they can have access to homes, because then public housing is only one-third public housing anymore, the other two-thirds is now market rate.

And it’s taken all 10 years to rebuild those public housings. I call it displacement by delay. You know, it took so long for us to even reconstitute public housing in New Orleans, that 10 years, if somebody hasn’t, you know, placed roots in Atlanta or Texas or wherever they were displaced to, the likelihood of them coming back is very small. So, it’s by design, it’s by policy. You know, I say in my book, my grandparents always taught us there are those who don’t have your best interest at heart, and there are people in positions of power and policymakers who don’t have all the city’s best interests at heart. And they’re constituting policy and taking actions to make sure that only certain communities are coming back and other communities are suffering.

News Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People": Reflections on Kanye West's Criticism 10 Years After

On Sept. 2, 2005, during a nationally televised telethon benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina, hip-hop legend Kanye West went off script to directly criticize the media and the White House’s handling of the storm. "I hate the way they portray us in the media," he said. "If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re searching for food." West went on to say, "George Bush doesn’t care about black people." Bush later wrote in his memoir that this moment was an all-time low of his presidency.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guests are Monique Harden, environmental and human rights lawyer in New Orleans; Gary Rivlin, author of Katrina: After the Flood; and author and actor Wendell Pierce, The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to go back to an infamous moment shortly after Hurricane Katrina when the hip-hop star Kanye West spoke out against President Bush on NBC’s nationally televised concert for hurricane relief. He was appearing alongside actor Mike Myers. This is Kanye West.

MIKE MYERS: With the breach of three levees protecting New Orleans, the landscape of the city has changed dramatically, tragically, and perhaps irreversibly. There’s now over 25 feet of water where there was once city streets and thriving neighborhoods.

KANYE WEST: I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food. And you know that it’s been five days, because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I’ve tried to turn away from the TV, because it’s too hard to watch. I’ve even been shopping before even giving a donation. So now I’m calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give. And just to imagine if I was—if I was down there and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help with the set-up, the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible, I mean, this is—Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they’ve given them permission to go down and shoot us.

MIKE MYERS: And subtle, but in even many ways more profoundly devastating is the lasting damage to the survivors’ will to rebuild and remain in the area. The destruction of the spirit of the people of southern Louisiana and Mississippi may end up being the more tragic loss of all.

KANYE WEST: George Bush doesn’t care about black people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Kanye West. And this is President Bush later—who later wrote in his memoir that this moment was an "all-time low" of his presidency. He spoke about it in a 2010 interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I didn’t appreciate it then, I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, you know, "I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business." It’s another thing to say, "This man’s a racist." I resent it. It’s not true. And it was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.

MATT LAUER: This from the book: "I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low."

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, still feel that way as you read those words. Felt them when I heard them. Felt them when I wrote them. And I felt them when I’m listening to them.

MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency.


MATT LAUER: I wonder if some people are going to read that, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I don’t care.

MATT LAUER: Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.

GEORGE W. BUSH: No. And I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply, as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book, and it is a disgusting moment, pure and simple.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President George W. Bush in 2010. Monique Harden, your thoughts as you hear those clips?

MONIQUE HARDEN: You know, I think one of—for me, I think it’s important people understand that this is the same president that adopted within the State Department a policy for protecting human rights when people are displaced by a disaster in foreign countries, and with the understanding that if you don’t ensure that they have the right to return, the right to recover, that destabilizing effect of displacement can create serious setbacks that could last several generations into the future. And you can go from destabilized people and families to destabilized communities and areas and regions where the disaster and the displacement occurs. And so, to do that in the year before Hurricane Katrina and then to turn around and do the complete opposite—ignore the need for evacuation, ignore the need for preparation, ignore the tremendous need for recovery that’s equitable and just and protects human rights—is part of his legacy, and it’s something that he created.

I mean, when you look at the federal law, all of the decisions come from the president. Once something is declared as a national disaster, this law says all decisions, and the decision to act or not to act, are entirely discretionary and immune from lawsuit. And this is how he chose to exercise that power—to let people wait and suffer in flooded cities on rooftops and convention centers and the Superdome without adequate support and services; to evacuate families without—parents without children in a really inhumane and harsh condition; and to set about this conservative recovery agenda [inaudible] caused displacement of so many people, African Americans, in particular, from New Orleans and the Gulf region, and put money in the hands of folks who are not in need of any recovery but are just profiting from the disaster. He did all of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Wendell Pierce, if you could respond? Where were you when you heard what Kanye West said? And then, you talked about your parents among the first to live in Pontchartrain, an African-American suburb in New Orleans, but your history goes way back—grandparents, great-grandparents. A brief biography of your family and its connections to New Orleans?

WENDELL PIERCE: Yeah, I was in the middle of St. James Parish, where we were—where we rode out the storm. We were without power. We were in the middle of the storm at an uncle’s home. And I didn’t see Kanye’s expression on television until later on.

But getting back to what the president, President Bush, said, that he was disgusted, I was truly disgusted. You know, the 82nd Airborne can be anywhere in the world in 48 hours, and they’re in Georgia, just a couple of states away, a couple of miles away from New Orleans. I was disgusted when I watched the president of the United States fly over the disaster that was happening in New Orleans rather than come there. You know, in 1965 during Betsy, when I was a little boy, another devastating hurricane, LBJ came down to the Lower Ninth Ward with a flashlight, wading through the water, saying, "I am your president. I am here. Come out. We are here to do something for you." And it was just this stark contrast of a president who just was—just showed neglect.

And to say that it wasn’t about race, I’m sure that—I kept saying to people who finally got in touch with me in the middle of the night, and I would tell them, "We are in great need down here." And they kept telling me, "Wendell, we’re watching it on television." And I said, "You can’t be telling me that you’re watching it on television, because there would be some response." And to find out later, once I got out of Louisiana, to see that it was something that was broadcast around the world live—and those same people we saw at the Convention Center tried to walk out of the city, met on the other side of the bridge by racist cops who shot into the crowd, over their heads, saying, "Go back. We don’t want you to come into our community of Gretna," which is a white suburban neighborhood and city just across the bridge—I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget how people responded to people of color. If those had been white American citizens, you would have seen a more immediate response. I doubt that if in the Marina section of San Francisco after the earthquake in the late ’80s, that people would have sat back and done nothing. They knew that was one of the most cherished neighborhoods in America and one of the most cherished and profitable cities in America, and so they responded. It was all about race—the lack of attention, the fact that you saw these images of people in need.

And so, I think back to how my parents’ generation created Pontchartrain Park, the neighborhood that I grew up in. It came out of that same sort of racist neglect during Jim Crow. You could only go to the park only one day of the week if you were black, and that was Wednesdays, Negroes’ day, Negro day. And Pontchartrain Park was in response to that, of the advocacy of the civil rights movement, so that we could have access to this post-World War II suburbia that was happening after the war. My father, who fought in World War II, came back, took advantage of the G.I. Bill and created Pontchartrain Park—a golf course, a thousand homes around it, where they would have access to what was that Levittown sort of suburbia that was happening in America.

We were in some of the deepest part of the flooding, and we took it upon ourselves to initiate our own redevelopment, resident-initiated, the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation. So now we have these homes and are trying to bring people back. We’re restricted by those who don’t have our best interest at heart, because we’ve turned away people with cash, saying, "Here we are and want to buy a home in your community, come back. Just like you, Wendell, I heard the call." This Joshua generation, honoring that Moses generation that gave us a great foundation, a great place to grow up in, and we have to turn away people with cash because of these policies that are restricting us from selling to any sort of middle-class or working-class person who wants to come, because they’re using our redevelopment to displace all of those from public housing. So we’re restricted to only take in those who are in need from public housing, as they take back and reclaim the center of the city and other parts of the city that had public housing that they want. I call it the new blight, because two-thirds of it sits empty at market rate, where you have only one-third that is public housing. So you see, over the course of generation and generation and generation, racist policies that are not in the best interests of communities that are doing everything possible to thrive on their own. And so, you have to be ever vigilant, from my grandparents’ generation, where people were coming—night riders coming and burning cars in the black community in Assumption Parish, to my mother’s generation and my parents’ generation, who brought us up in Pontchartrain Park.

And now, as we mark this 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the most profound thing about this commemoration is the fact that we have another window of opportunity to get it right. And while some people have said that I am a voice of cynicism, that I am not being as celebratory as everyone else, you’re absolutely right, because I choose to look at what is going wrong and saying we have an opportunity now to attack those issues and those policies that are going to have a negative impact, and let’s try to bring back those people who want to come home, that 100,000 displaced New Orleanians who love New Orleans. And being a culture matron, as an actor, to know that most of the culture you’re familiar with in New Orleans comes from that history of oppression and is known around the world. Second lines were because black communities were redlined by insurance companies, so we put together own social aid and pleasure clubs. You understand the pleasure part. The social aid was to make sure that we pooled our monies—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

WENDELL PIERCE: —so that we can take care of ourselves. So, that’s the thing that I want to remember the most—the legacy of the culture that came before, the fighting those that don’t have our best interest at heart—

AMY GOODMAN: Wendell Pierce, I want to thank—

WENDELL PIERCE: —and looking forward to the future.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. The book, The Wind in the Reeds. Also Gary Rivlin; his book, Katrina: After the [Flood]. And Monique Harden, thanks so much for being with us.

News Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sen. Bernie Sanders: From Greece to Puerto Rico, the Financial Rules Are Rigged to Favor the 1%

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently convened a panel of economists in Washington to discuss the debt crisis in Greece and throughout the world. In his opening statement, Sanders talked about the debt crisis in Greece as well as in Puerto Rico. "It is time for creditors to sit down with the governments of Greece and Puerto Rico and work out a debt repayment plan that is fair to both sides," Sanders said. "The people of Greece and the children of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who recently convened a panel of economists in Washington to discuss the debt crisis in Greece as well as, well, throughout the world. Senator Sanders said austerity has worsened the situation in Greece. This is some of what he had to say.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: [What] we are here today to talk about is the very, very important issue regarding the ongoing debt crisis in Greece and the way that people and governments all over the world are struggling with too much debt. This is—we’re going to be focusing on Greece, but, in truth, this issue goes beyond Greece. And countries that are struggling not only with too much debt, too much inequality, and too little growth and income.

Today, as I think all of you know, there is a very, very serious economic situation unfolding in Greece. In many ways, Greece today resembles the United States of the 1930s in the midst of the worst depression, economic downturn in the history of our country. The Greek economy has basically collapsed, and the people of Greece are trapped in a very, very deep depression.

I want to begin by expressing my solidarity with the people of Greece, where five years of cruel and counterproductive austerity policies, policies demanded by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, have left the people of Greece facing a full-blown humanitarian crisis. In my view, there is no more obvious example of the failure of austerity policies than what is going on in Greece.

For more than five years, Greece has cut pensions. Greece has slashed its government workforce. Greece has made deep spending cuts that have eviscerated its social safety net. In other words, despite what we have been led to believe by many in the media, Greece has not gone on a shopping spree. It has not overfunded its government. Rather, it has imposed massive spending cuts that have caused devastating pain to some of its most vulnerable people. It has done this because its creditors, led by Germany, have insisted that austerity is the only way to dig Greece out of its debt.

As a result, today, Greece has the highest levels of inequality and the worst unemployment rates in Europe. The official unemployment rate is 26 percent—26 percent. Youth unemployment in Greece today is more than 50 percent. More than 30 percent of the people in Greece are living in poverty. And the Greek economy is 25 percent smaller, has shrunk by 25 percent over the last five years. That is really quite incredible.

Instead of solving the problem, austerity, in my view, has made a bad situation much worse. Greece has seen its debt-to-GDP ratio shoot up from about 120 percent to about 175 percent today. And now to, quote-unquote, "fix" the problem, the troika wants Greece to borrow more money and make deeper cuts to wages, pensions and other social programs.

In January, as you all know, the people of Greece stood up and said, "Enough is enough." They elected a new government, known as Syriza. Their promise: to end the harsh austerity policies—that was their campaign pledge—by increasing their minimum wage, by increasing job production, by protecting the most vulnerable against pension cuts, and ensuring that the wealthiest people in Greece started paying their fair share of taxes, a very serious problem in that country. But instead of working with the new government to find a rational path forward, the troika demanded more austerity than ever.

On July 5th, the people of Greece spoke once again: In an overwhelming show of solidarity with their government, 61 percent of the people of Greece said no to more austerity for the poor, for the children, for the sick and for the elderly. Yet, instead of working with the Greek government on a sensible plan that would allow Greece to improve its economy and pay back its debt, Germany and the troika continued to push Greece to accept even greater austerity.

They want even deeper pension cuts; an increase in the regressive VAT tax from 13 percent to 23 percent; automatic budget cuts if the Greek economy underperforms; privatization of state assets, including the electricity grid; deregulation of the transportation, rail, pharmaceutical and other sectors in the economy; weakening of trade unions. In other words, the people of Greece are being told that their voices, which they cast in two elections, really do not matter, that their misery does not matter, that an entire generation of young people who are unemployed or underemployed does not matter, that the sick and the elderly do not matter, that democracy itself does not matter. And that, to my perspective, is unacceptable.

I believe that this plan is simply unsustainable. In my view, austerity has failed, and continuing with austerity means the Greek economy will continue to fail its people. Unemployment, poverty and inequality will increase from already obscene levels.

And maybe, just maybe, some people are beginning to wake up to this reality. In a confidential report that was made public earlier this month, officials from the IMF warned that the IMF could not take part in any new bailout for Greece unless the Greek government was offered a substantial debt relief package as part of any new deal. In light of this report, it is time for the troika to provide the Greek government with the flexibility it needs to create jobs, raise wages and improve its economy. Without a substantial improvement in its economy, Greece will never escape its debt crisis.

And let us not forget a little bit about history. Let us not forget what happened after World War I, when the Allies imposed oppressive austerity on Germany—on Germany—as part of the Versailles Treaty. And I think all of you who know anything about history understand what happened. And that is, the Germany economy collapsed, unemployed skyrocketed, people were pushing their money around in wheelbarrows to buy a loaf of bread. And the result of all of that massive discontent was that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party won an election and took power. And you all know the results of that.

What many people do not know about Greece today is that the party that finished third in the Greek—recent Greek election is called Golden Dawn. This is a party which some people call a neo-Nazi party, but other people believe that it is nothing "neo" about it. It is a Nazi party, which came in third place in the recent election. In my view, we should learn from history. And we should understand that when democracy fails, when people vote for something and cannot get what the government promised because of outside forces, this leads to massive discontent, it leads to contempt for democracy, and it opens the path for right-wing extremist parties, like Golden Dawn.

Finally, let us remember that one of the main reasons why Greece was unable to take on so much debt was because it had help from Goldman Sachs, who helped disguise the nature of the Greek debt. Today, when we talk about debt, we should appreciate that something similar is happening right now in Puerto Rico, where the government there is struggling with unsustainable debt, and a group of hedge fund billionaires are demanding austerity in Puerto Rico. They are demanding the firing of teachers, the closing of schools, so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico. It is time for creditors to sit down with the governments of Greece and Puerto Rico and work out a debt repayment plan that is fair to both sides. The people of Greece and the children of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less.

Over 70 years ago, the major economic leaders of 44 countries gathered at a hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to establish international economic and financial rules. As a result of that conference, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were established. I think it is clear to anyone who has taken a look at this situation that the rules regarding our international financial system today are rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of everyone else. Today, 85 of the wealthiest people in this world own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population, over 3 billion people. By next year, Oxfam has estimated that the top 1 percent of the world’s population will own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population. In my view, we have got to begin—and I hope this forum today is a start in that process—a serious discussion about how we change our international financial rules to expand—expand economic opportunity and reduce income and wealth inequality, not only in Greece and in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world. The global economy is simply unsustainable when so few have so much and so many have so little.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaking in July at a hearing he convened at the Hart Senate Office Building on the Greek debt crisis. On Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced his resignation, paving the way for new elections, in which Tsipras will run.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, July is the hottest month on record. This year, so far, has been the hottest year in history. We’re going to talk about the links between climate change and the California drought. Stay with us.

News Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Do You Know What It Means to Love New Orleans?

A flooded neighborhood adjacent to the 12th Street levee in New Orleans, Sept. 1, 2005. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times)A flooded neighborhood adjacent to the 12th Street levee in New Orleans, September 1, 2005. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times)

The island in the center of my kitchen is red upon green. These are not the colors of the countertop; they are the decorations provided by our absurdly productive garden. Zucchini the size of nuclear submarines, cucumbers big enough to club a Grizzly bear to death, string beans and snow peas all the way around the block, and tomatoes ... oh my goodness, the tomatoes this year, beefsteak and early-girls and cherries coming through the damn window, a riot of red.

The smell on my fingertips after I do a harvest is ... I suppose "humbling" would be the proper word. I don't have another one, and I lack the adequate vocabulary to explain the scent, or the product. Nothing I will ever do can equal the simple beauty that grows from the ground. The counter is covered, and the kitchen windowsill is likewise packed to the final inch. Once I'm done blanching, blending and freezing the tomatoes, I'm never going to have to buy a can of sauce again, and I will make lasagna this winter by the long ton.

There's a ritual involved. One morning early this summer, when the grass was spring-long and riddled with dandelions and busy bees, I wore sandals to the garden and got stung on the foot for my trouble. Now, therefore, it's a sturdy pair of shoes, a broad gardening hat, my old work gloves and a canvas bag to collect whatever has arrived. I swim through an ocean of goldenrod to get there, and my nose quite simply sings. The garden, encased in stone, hums like a live transformer from the tilling of the insects. I pay them no mind, and they pay me less. We work, and then we feast.

Here's the thing about a garden: You sit there, weeding or seeding or planting or picking, and the whole time you're saying to yourself, "Well, next year, I'm going to do this different" or "that different" or "I'm going to try something new." In the verdant green of that present moment, with the soil under your nails and the hot lovely stink of life on your fingers, you dream of tomorrow, of what may be, and the bees hum your name as you do. Gardens are about the future.

I sat in the garden on Thursday under the shade of my wide-brim hat, picked beans and tomatoes with my gnarled old gloves, listened to the bees ignoring me, smelled the earth, felt the sun on my skin, paused in that basic splendor, and thought of New Orleans. Ten years ago Friday, a storm half the size of Texas hit that old blues town in the teeth, and the ocean rose, and the sky fell, and the jazz stopped in jangled discordance, and everyone ran for their lives.

And the people were abandoned. It took George W. Bush and his mob of hapless brigands days simply to get water to dying citizens in one of the most important and iconic cities on the continent. Why? Because the people were Black, and poor? Because Bush and his people were incompetent beyond the bounds of useful language? Because greedy people plundered the levee budget to the tune of nine figures to "fund" the Iraq war prior to the storm? Yes, in my humble opinion, on all three counts.

Native Americans had lived for more than a thousand years in and around what became the city of New Orleans when the French founded it in 1718. In the War of 1812, the British attempted to capture the city, but were thrown back by Andrew Jackson and a ragtag band of defenders. The Port of New Orleans is as important to the world as the femoral artery is to the body. It is history, distilled.

The unique musical phenomenon called jazz emerged in the late nineteenth century in New Orleans as musicians like Buddy Bolden fused elements of blues and ragtime on the heels of Papa Jack Laine. Nick LaRocca and Jelly-Roll Morton followed, along with Bunk Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Ellis, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Harry Connick, Jr., for openers. All of the musicians who enjoyed a role in the creation of this nation's unique music culture have played their asses off there, often more than once.

So I sit in my garden, girded by dirt and green and growth, I smell life ... and I think of New Orleans. Ten years ago, the sea rose up and did damage the likes of which we've never seen. People were scattered to the wind, the Lower 9th Ward was subsumed and then devoured by developers, fast after the buck to be plucked from the wreckage left behind by good people in flight. Wreckage upon wreckage.

I remember Katrina. But I also remember "Acknowledgement." I remember "Kind of Blue." I remember "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." I remember the blues, and jazz, and the long river that raised them both like a pair of talented, fussy children in a Louisiana port city that smells like life.

And I remember, in my own little patch of earth, that everything grows back soon enough, given time. The ground looks to tomorrow, because that's all it has. My garden, and New Orleans, know the truth of this full well.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Culture Change - Not Policy Change - Is Needed: Reflections on Gun Violence in the US

"We don't talk about why our culture is grounded in a romanticization - and in fact, a sexualization - of gun violence ... And when the noise dies down, we return to accepting the mundane," says Kelly Hayes.

(Photo: US Guns via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: US Guns via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

This week, I saw a statistic that made my skin crawl. It was one of those numerical comparisons that makes perfect sense when you see it but also causes a shudder or two when you grasp its full meaning. According to numbers pulled from various sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans have died as a result of gun violence here in the United States since 1968 than have died in all US wars combined. When one considers the enormity of the bloodshed that has occurred over the course of US conflicts, the extremity of this internal violence is indeed quite staggering.

The Vietnam War sparked one of the most potent social movements of the last century and inspired connections between evolving movements. The tragedy of the Civil War - which pitted "brother against brother" - has been the subject of countless books and films, with many going so far as to romanticize the bravery of those whose fight was ultimately waged in defense of slavery. We marvel at the horrors of war, dramatize them and perpetually claim to learn from them, but we allow the horrors of our own culture to fade into the realm of the mundane. Barring a headline-worthy statistical anomaly that allows for the use of sensationalist language like "epidemic" or "crime wave," our attention is rarely roused by everyday violence in the United States.

Occasionally, however, a spectacle of violence manages to grab our collective attention.

The gunning down of two Virginia journalists during a live news broadcast on Wednesday did just that. Like many victims of violence, Alison Parker and Adam Ward were simply going about their daily lives when they were struck down by gunfire. Their deaths hit some Americans especially hard because, as viewers and consumers of media imagery, they weren't expecting it, either. Most Americans only hear or read about gun violence. They are removed from the day-to-day reality of it and spared the role of witness.

The striking exception to our common exemption is, of course, the commonplace publication of videos and images of police violence inflicted upon Black people and other people of color. But many also avoid those images or regard them as irregular, or worse, as an unfortunate consequence of the maintenance of law and order.

But to see violence up close, not uncovered or exposed in the pursuit of justice, but brandished on social media by the killer himself, made many feel as though they had been roped into the position of bystander. And they were. But what does this say about us as a culture, that we treat something so common as something utterly extraordinary?

When Hillary Clinton was recently called out by Black Lives Matter activists for her complicity with the expansion of the prison industrial complex - an expansion that has only fueled greater harm in Black communities - Clinton garnered a great deal of attention by telling the activists, "I don't believe you change hearts; I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate." Clinton went on to stress that if the activists only succeeded in changing hearts, "We'll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation."

The problem with that logic, of course, is that laws have been changed over the course of social movements, and we're still back here having the same conversations. Laws are broken and bent backward over time when culture fails to change with them. Rules are disregarded or unraveled by insidious policy changes such as voter ID laws.

When it comes to violence, Clinton's theory of changing laws rather than hearts has already proved false during her own time in politics. Three-strikes laws and mandatory minimums were championed by the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency, but as we have seen over the course of prison expansion, stiffer penalties don't make for safer communities. It's not surprising that policy makers are attached to the notion of their own relevance - the idea that the world can be rewritten by the legislation they author and promote - but the world has a way of disregarding and undoing any change it's not ready for, and that is a difficult reality for any policy maker to swallow.

Now, in the wake of Wednesday's shooting, many on the left are discussing gun control. While I understand the intentions of such conversations, most fail to address the root issues at work. Why is it that violence is so inevitable in our country? Is it because we have access to guns, or is it because we are so attached to them? Both American pop culture and our manner of appreciating history indicate that gun violence is something that we simply can't stop consuming. And when has illegality ever curbed the destructive habits of any population?

In reality, most of the measures that liberals push for at a legislative level wouldn't keep guns out of the hands of most high-profile killers. But intensifying the aims of those would-be legislative cures wouldn't curb our collective habit either. There is something deeper at work that manifests itself in the hands of Americans who pick up loaded weapons. But our problem-solving skills have been limited by the logic of politicians like Clinton, who sells quick fixes for cultural problems - fixes that never seem to work.

Many are also talking about mental health in the wake of Wednesday's shooting. And while a lack of resources for those with mental illness is a very important topic, these conversations tend to follow a similar pattern to those that center on gun control in the wake of tragedy. The daily suffering of people with mental illness who have been denied resources - mental anguish, self-medication, homelessness and suicide - fade into the mundane in the United States, while a violent man with a gun conjures arguments about mental health being important because, well, without it, people with mental illness might kill us, or so the notion goes.

The fact that people who are mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violence than to commit acts of violence is, of course, completely lost in these dialogues.

We don't talk about creating a culture that cares for its own because they are deserving of care, or about how our treatment of vulnerable people is a reflection of our humanity. We don't talk about why our culture is grounded in a romanticization - and in fact, a sexualization - of gun violence. Instead, we argue about laws when extreme circumstances unfold. And when the noise dies down, we return to accepting the mundane.

Hillary Clinton was wrong. What's needed is a culture change. No policy or law can save us from ourselves. No amount of criminalization has prevented us from killing ourselves in greater numbers than any foreign enemy ever has, and no policy or law ever will. Hillary Clinton missed an important opportunity when she talked down to those young activists. She was talking to a group of people from a community deeply affected by violence, to whom suffering has not become mundane. She was hearing an honest analysis of the part she had played in making the world such as it is, and she was being given the opportunity to have an honest dialogue about how we can dismantle the ugliest aspects of our culture. Clinton passed up that opportunity, but the rest of the country doesn't have to.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Since When Has Monoculture Been a Founding American Principle?

With the Republican presidential candidates each trying to say increasingly offensive things about immigrants in order to prove to the base how opposed to immigration they are, it's no wonder that my Facebook feed is filling up with depressing anti-immigrant memes from my conservative friends and acquaintances. One person has been on an aggressive tear, sharing every post she can find condemning immigrants as "illegals" who mooch off our tax dollars, steal our jobs and destroy our country.

While scrolling through her page, I stopped shaking my head in frustration long enough to chuckle at this particular meme:

"If you don't like it, leave!" is actually a common refrain in her posts, but the hypocrisy had only finally struck me. How do these two schools of thought coexist? In one breath, this person is encouraging someone to emigrate if they're not happy with their homeland. In the next breath, this same person is condemning people for emigrating from their homelands to make a better life. If she doesn't want the outcasts from one country, what makes her so sure that another country would want the outcasts from ours?

What I've realized by perusing these conflicting memes is that it's really not about people immigrating to or emigrating from the United States. It's about a strong desire for monoculture, a desire to be surrounded by people who think and act like themselves. You don't agree with me? Leave! You don't speak my language? Stay out!

Several of other posts I've seen address how no one respects the principles this country was founded on anymore. Of course, history tells us that this country was built on immigration, welcoming "huddled masses" from all over the globe in search of a better life. Native Americans comprise less than the two percent of the U.S. population at this point, so you'd have to be kidding yourself to think that the United States was founded on the idea of keeping immigrants at bay.

We've seen members of the Christian right seek office and openly use the Bible to guide their decisions and ignore the rule of law. Yet this group of people is the same one that blasts President Obama for "destroying" the Constitution when he pushes for affordable health care. The "Constitution" gets used as a cover to protect certain rightwing views, even though there's plenty of protections that document provides Americans that conservatives would happily ignore.

It takes some real hutzpah for someone to proclaim their own views as being "patriotic" while outright dismissing the rest. That First Amendment right that allows someone to tell people off is the same one that allows other Americans to dissent and fight for democratic change, all without being asked to leave the country.

America is and always has been a diverse group of people with a variety of ideas coming together to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps those who cannot handle immigrants or natural-born citizens who have different politics or view the world in a different light should be the ones who need to find another country.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Three Necessary Reforms to Reduce Gun Violence in America

Every day, 31 Americans are murdered with guns. In our society, we're inundated with statistics — but these 31 Americans aren't just an abstract number. They are our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. They are men, women, and children — people with dreams for the future.

After a gunman opened fire inside a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Amy Schumer's film "Trainwreck," killing two people and himself, the film's writer and star described the personal connection she felt to the shooter's victims. In remarks made Monday, she described Jillian Johnson as "a mother, daughter, sister, and a wonderful wife," adding, "She was an artist. I think we would have been friends." Schumer conveyed the heartache experienced by those left in the wake of gun violence, but also emphasized the resolve to transform our country's lax policies. "Unless something is done and done soon, dangerous people will continue to get their hands on guns," Schumer said.

Weak gun laws are strongly correlated with a higher prevalence of gun violence. As a prime example, Louisiana's firearm laws are practically non-existent. As the state's governor, Bobby Jindal, famously proclaimed, "We love us some guns." This love for firearms directly translates into some of the highest levels of gun violence in the country.

As evidenced by the press conference held Monday featuring Schumer and her cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, taking action to promote stricter gun laws is no longer taboo. However, these actions must be bold. There are three clear steps that Congress and state legislators can and should take if they truly intend on preventing future tragedies.

  1. Close the private gun sales background check loophole.

Background checks have been proven to be extremely effective. The Brady Act, authored by Senator Chuck Schumer and passed in 1993, has stopped over 2.1 million gun sales from taking place, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But we must finish the job that the Brady Act began. The law does not extend to private transfers of firearms. 40 percent of gun sales are considered private sales, which means the buyer isn't required to undergo a background check. Allowing private gun sales to take place without any type of restrictions only makes our cities more dangerous.

Some cities and states have taken matters into their own hands through the use of ballot initiatives. For example, Seattle's voters approved expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers in 2014.

  1. Ensure that domestic abusers and stalkers don't have access to guns.

Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from gaining access to a gun — unless of course it's through a private sale. Although closing the loophole for private gun transfers is key, it is also necessary to mandate a more comprehensive definition of "domestic abusers" under the current law.

For example, the law excludes domestic abusers who are in dating relationships. This is commonly referred to as the "Boyfriend Loophole." Thankfully, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress to strengthen existing domestic violence prevention laws. This bill would prevent convicted stalkers from owning a gun, as well.

Despite 82 percent of Americans voicing support for the measure, the gun lobby managed to successfully stop a similar bill in Louisiana this year by misrepresenting the effects of the law.

In addition to adding new regulations, we must enforce our current laws. The federal government has failed to take away guns that individuals had in their possession prior to their domestic abuse conviction. This is especially dangerous — as one study found, "perpetrators who continued to possess firearms after they were prohibited from doing so by federal law were more likely to attempt homicide or threaten their partners with guns than domestic violence perpetrators who had relinquished their firearms."

  1. Stop open carry laws in every state.

Open carry laws are a direct threat to public safety. As research shows, more guns do not equal a safer society. The idea that we need more "good guys" with guns has proven to be a myth.

Thirty-one states currently allow citizens to open carry without any type of license or permit. Guns in the public space both normalize weapons and violence that can occur with their use. As one Slate author wrote, "If it communicates anything, carrying a gun in public tells bystanders that the carrier is prepared to kill someone."

From popular chains like Whataburger, to college officials and schoolteachers, people are taking a stand against laws enabling guns to remain a ubiquitous staple in our country. Hopefully, this opposition will reach the halls of Congress as well.

These policy changes won't stop gun violence completely. But they will provide meaningful first steps in fighting our national gun epidemic, in addition to proving that elected officials are committed to protecting the public safety — as they've sworn to do.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Reflections on New Orleans' Uneven Recovery

New Orleans' politicians are slapping themselves on the back for a job well done, clinking glasses and proclaiming the city to be better off than it was before Hurricane Katrina pummeled the coastline ten years ago. But are they right?

The numbers paint a markedly less triumphant picture of the postdiluvian decade. According to a Data Center analysis, of the million-plus residents displaced by the storm, more than a hundred thousand still haven't returned – most of them black. The African-American share of New Orleans' population has dropped from 67 to 59 percent, and the white population has jumped from 27 to 31 percent. Some lifelong residents are trying to keep that demographic shift from affecting the cultural landscape. "The city is different. It doesn't look the same," said Jeremiah Group Lead Organizer Jackie Jones. "We had a lot of folks who came in after the storm and they took up residency here. And I think people here in New Orleans do not want to lose the heritage, the culture, and I think they are willing to have their voices heard and to do the work that's necessary to keep some things in place."

The Data Center recently released the New Orleans Index at 10, which graded the rebuilding efforts of the eight-parish metro area in four main categories: economic growth, the inclusion of low-income populations in the recovery, quality of life and sustainability. The report card was mixed. It found infrastructure investments and an influx of federal money benefitted the overall economy with an entrepreneurship boom. The region also made significant strides in educational and criminal justice systems. Revenue flowing to arts and culture nonprofits were four times the national average. But the region scored abysmally on measures such as poverty, violent crime, incarceration rates, affordable housing and income inequality. New Orleans' poverty rate was a crushing 27 percent, and black families were suffering the most. Researchers found white households' median income to be on par with the national average, but the median income for black households was 20 percent lower than black households nationally. The income disparity was 54 percent, well above the national average of 40 percent. To exacerbate matters, wages have not kept up with the ballooning housing, property tax and flood insurance costs, and the city does not have the authority to raise its minimum wage above the federal baseline of $7.25. "The stagnant post-Katrina income for the poorest New Orleanians suggests that many are not benefiting from the New Orleans economic recovery," concludes the study.

As lopsided as it has been, the recovery would be even less equitable were it not for the persistent efforts of several organizations. As rental rates and home prices started skyrocketing, the Jeremiah Group advocated for affordable housing so displaced families could return home, but their goal was to build community wealth, not enrich landlords. "A house that may have cost you $500 or $600 [per month] to live in pre-Katrina, post-Katrina, you paid $2,200, $2,300, $24 – I mean, there was just no cap on what people were charging on rent because people wanted to come back and so those who were able, they came back and they could pay that high cost for rent," said Jones. "There was an affordable rental program, and that program would give money to landlords and they would agree to rent those units or houses for so much, for a certain period of time. … We said, if we're gonna bring people back and we're gonna rebuild this city, one of the best ways to do it is through homeownership, because we believe homeownership would stabilize the community. We believe that it would give opportunities to folks who would never be able to become homeowners – that would be made available because funds were coming here. So we began to meet with the LRA, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to talk about what it would look like to have funding made available for homeownership, affordable homeownership versus affordable rental. … We fought long and hard for it, and we were able to win a unanimous vote by the LRA for $75 million for an affordable homeownership program. … The Jeremiah Group created the largest homeownership program in the city, in the history of the city of New Orleans."

Another organization that has been championing a just recovery is One Voice Louisiana. It's been pursuing multiple pathways, including the development of leaders that are representative of and accountable to their communities. "Here we are ten years on the other side of it and we do have an opportunity to be proactive, we have an opportunity to say what we want, we have an opportunity to build what we want," said Director Ashley Shelton. "What are those strategies that allow us to build voice and power? What are the tools that we need to be able to do that? … We need you to think about, would you run for city council? Would you run for the school board? What's the pipeline that we're building? How are we encouraging people in community to step up and have a voice? … How do we encourage more women of color to run for office? How are we encouraging more young people to run for office?

Not only has it done its own advocacy, One Voice has also armed fellow advocates with valuable research to sway policymakers. "We've worked with several organizations in providing support and data for the purposes of action, policy action, to a series of different campaigns, so whereas those campaigns really focused on serving the needs and the issues of vulnerable families, we really had a great opportunity to serve those organizations with data and information that they could then use to make sure that the actions that they were taking to change policy could be realized," Shelton said.

Another facet to a fair recovery has been the fight to keep the million-plus residents who fled New Orleans enfranchised. "One of the most interesting memories of Katrina was trying to ensure that everyone that had been displaced would be able to participate in the elections," said Shelton. "It was really important because it meant that you still mattered and you still counted and that even though you weren't here, that there was this possibility that you could come back, that we were gonna figure it out, we were gonna fix the city of New Orleans better than it was before and that you would have a place in whatever that solution was."

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Self-Governing Association in El Salvador Offers Local Solutions to Global Problems

While Washington pays lip service to Central America's dire social situation, local communities in the region are doing something to address the root causes of poverty and violence, from the lack of educational and economic opportunities to environmental degradation.

The banner on this “Romero Vive” painting reads, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the struggle of my people." (Photo: EcoViva Photo Archive)The banner on this “Romero Vive” painting reads, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the struggle of my people." (Photo: EcoViva Photo Archive)

Much of the news coming out of El Salvador these days highlights the violence and suffering plaguing the small Central American nation of 6.34 million people. The country has seen a worrying amount of violence of late, with 3,830 murders since the new year, earning it the dubious distinction of having one of the world's highest homicide rates. Along with many other countries in the region, El Salvador also faces widespread poverty, wealth disparities, narco-traffic and ecological degradation. Insecurity and violence have reached levels not seen since the end of the civil war in 1992. Simultaneously, Salvadoran farmers are losing their crops to severe drought caused by a particularly strong El Niño. Only in the last couple of weeks have they seen some rain and relief.

But while many fret over escalating violence, and others in Washington pay lip service to Central America's dire social situation, local communities are doing something to address the root causes of poverty and violence, from the lack of educational and economic opportunities to environmental degradation. Indeed, local actors are taking the reins and are tackling climate change as they live it. There is a growing grassroots movement that is working toward finding solutions to the problem of rural development and environmental conservation and promoting democracy and youth leadership.

Communities in the global South have already organized movements and implemented practices to save their environment and confront the impact of climate change. One such movement, headed by a network of communities in coastal El Salvador, shows what can be done. Nestled between the mangroves and farmland of the Lower Lempa River Basin, the Mangrove Association was formed by peasant farmers who fled the repression of the Salvadoran government during the brutal, 12-year civil war that spanned the 1980s and tore apart Salvadoran society (See Hancock, 2007). The refugees returned to the country at the end of El Salvador's conflict to rebuild their lives on land granted to the displaced in the 1992 Peace Accords. They named the heart of their new territory "Ciudad Romero" and have sought to create an egalitarian civil society where local democracy and environmental stewardship are key principles.

Local actors are taking the reins and are tackling climate change as they live it.

Since its formation, the Mangrove Association has grown to include more than 100 communities and over 20,000 members. It is governed locally by representatives selected by community councils, who then elect a board that promotes the goals of environmental protection, sustainable development and fair representation for all who participate. Today, this movement has produced national legislators and government leaders who carry the message that immense, non-local problems like climate change have local solutions too.

From its beginning, the Mangrove Association has been concerned with the effects of droughts, flooding and damaging storms. Its territory consists of land at the delta of the Lempa River and the Bay of Jiquilisco, which contains Central America's largest mangrove forest. Communities originally came together in the mid-1990s to protest the sudden and unannounced release of water from a government-run hydroelectric dam system that flooded their lands every rainy season.

Community emergency response crews evacuate residents following severe flooding in 2011. (Photo: Mangrove Association Archive)Community emergency response crews evacuate residents following severe flooding in 2011. (Photo: Mangrove Association Archive)

The Mangrove Association set up a community radio network to alert nearby communities when flooding was imminent. After a tropical storm in 2011, while nearby communities suffered numerous casualties, the youth-led emergency response network prevented any loss of life in the Mangrove Association area. The communities of the Lower Lempa engaged in organizing together and eventually received cooperation from the Salvadoran government concerning notice and timing of the release of water. Government officials and local leaders went on to work together to rebuild the levees to better protect the communities from future floods.

Immense, non-local problems like climate change have local solutions too.

For one, national farming cooperatives are producing high-quality corn seed that out-competes that of agricultural giants like Monsanto. These corn seed varieties, developed in El Salvador, have proven resistant to the country's harsh climate and drought-prone summers. In 2014, the country had record yields of corn despite prolonged drought. A government aid program, which distributed domestically produced seed to over 400,000 subsistence farmers that year, largely facilitated the country's record production. As drought-resistant varieties adapt to the tropical climate, these hearty seeds are suitable for mitigating the food-related impacts of climate change and the extreme weather events communities throughout El Salvador are already having to face.

The Mangrove Association’s other accomplishments include:

• Building a network of municipalities to introduce and teach the most effective methods of protecting the natural resources found in Central America's largest mangrove forest;

• Organizing a system of local beach and boat patrols, which has, among its other achievements, helped the communities on the Bay of Jiquilisco convert from unsustainable blast fishing to sustainable line-fishing practices. Local communities have built an aquaculture economy that markets sustainably caught local seafood and have also learned to protect endangered sea turtle species by gathering and incubating eggs in local hatcheries for release, diverting them from underground market consumption;

• Diversifying local agriculture from pesticide-intensive mono crops to organically grown fruits and vegetables, while advocating for a landmark national ban on 53 dangerous agrochemicals in a country where chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an epidemic;

• Playing a key role in organizing corn-growing co-ops to bid for and obtain government contracts for local seeds as an alternative to genetically modified seed from Monsanto-backed competitors, who used to dominate seed supply;

• Introducing a law to the Salvadoran Legislature making clean drinking water a human right and implementing policies and initiatives throughout El Salvador to deliver potable water to thousands in rural areas;

• Creating a local egalitarian civil society, which is becoming a model for providing community solutions to environmental and egalitarian issues, including the empowerment of women in communities that are part of the Mangrove Association to take leadership in the local councils; (Proudly, Estela Hernandez, the former executive director of the Mangrove Association, is now a popular Salvadoran legislator advocating for environmental protection versus unchecked development.)

• Promoting youth leadership and developing projects for youth entrepreneurship and employment, including a youth-operated radio alert system, which mobilizes area communities hit hard by hurricanes and floods;

• Developing public sector and civil society partnerships to confront vulnerabilities exacerbated by climate change. Local coastal populations, which have already suffered intense drought and flooding, are living the reality of higher-than-average temperatures, more frequent and intense storm events and longer dry periods or drought.

Communities developed their own network of emergency response to make their communities more resilient to climate change. Thanks to those concrete plans and actions, the government of El Salvador completed an innovative public policy process that will integrate climate response across the majority of its public agencies. Today, El Salvador has reduced its vulnerability rating - thanks in great part to the heavy lifting done by civil society in coordination with the public sector. There is much work to be done, but also much to be learned from El Salvador's continued struggle.

We owe a debt to the communities already experiencing climate change without having contributed to the global warming that is causing it. A good way to recognize that debt is to support communities that are suffering from extreme weather and flooding resulting from climate change and finding ways of building a resilient, sustainable society in the face of these challenges. The Mangrove Association is an example of a local organization that is applying its principles in its everyday work.

Note: Parts of this article were adapted from an article that appeared previously on EcoViva. EcoViva staff also contributed to this piece.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
If You Are Poor, It's Like the Hurricane Just Happened: Malik Rahim on Katrina Ten Years After

We continue our coverage of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by speaking to Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective and one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party. In 2005, he and the Common Ground Collective helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the city, Malik took us around the neighborhood of Algiers, where he showed us how a corpse still remained in the street unattended, lying right around the corner from a community health center. Malik returns to Democracy Now! to talk about the storm a decade later.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In a moment, we'll be joined by Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to help rebuild New Orleans after the storm. But first, I want to rebroadcast a part of theinterview that we did with Malik on Democracy Now! just days after Katrina hit in 2005, when we went down to New Orleans and the community, the neighborhood of Algiers. Malik took us around to the corner at a community health center, a multi-service center, and he showed us how a corpse still remained on the street unattended. Let's go back to that day.

MALIK RAHIM: You could basically smell it from right here. You know, and the police, they pass by. They look at it, and they ain't gonna do nothing, you know, to pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik then walked us down the driveway next to the health center and lifted up a sheet of corrugated metal marked with an X, revealing the dead body underneath.

MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow. All right. That this man's body been laying here. And there's no reason for it. Look where we at? I mean, it's not flooded. There's no reason for them to be—left that body right here like this. I mean, that's just totally disrespect. You know? And I mean two weeks. Every day, we ask them about coming and pick it up. And they refuse to come and pick it up. And you could see, it's literally decomposing right here. Right out in the sun. Every day we sit up and we ask them about it. Because, I mean, this is close as you could get to tropical climate in America. And they won't do anything with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, do you know who this person is?

MALIK RAHIM: No. But regardless of who it is, I wouldn't care if it's Saddam Hussein or bin Laden. Nobody deserve to be left here, and the kids pass by here and they're seeing it. I mean, the elderly. This is what's frightening a lot of people into leaving. We don't know if he's a victim of vigilantes or what. But that's all we know is that his body had been allowed to remain out here for over two weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: We're standing right outside the health clinic. Its doors are chained. The building is not seriously damaged. Have you reached people there? What authorities have you talked to to pick up this body?

MALIK RAHIM: We done talked to everyone, from the Army to the New Orleans police to the state troopers to—I mean, we done talked to everybody who we can. I even talked to Oliver Thomas, who is the councilman-at-large, yesterday about this body. He said he was surprised to see that this body is still there. But it's two weeks, two weeks that this man been just laying here.

AMY GOODMAN: As Malik Rahim was speaking, as if on cue, every level of authority he mentioned drove by. There's a dead body right here. Is—who are you with?

SOLDIER: We're with Bravo 15.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is?



SOLDIER: Army, yes. Regular Army.

AMY GOODMAN: There's a dead body right here. Can you guys pick it up?

SOLDIER: I don't think we can pick it up, but we can call the local authorities to come and pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: This gentleman who lives in the neighborhood said that they have been trying to get—here, let me ask these guys, too. Excuse me. Excuse me. Hi. There's a dead body right here. Can Louisiana state troopers, can you pick it up?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer, Ma'am.

AMY GOODMAN: It's been here for two weeks. We filmed it last week, and gentleman over here said he's been trying to get it picked up for two weeks. And Louisiana state troopers, the police, the Army, no one has responded. We're looking right over at it right there.

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer and contact him at the troop.

AMY GOODMAN: Your name is?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know about the body?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Sir, do you know about the body over there?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: Ma'am, you talk with our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what they should do to get this body removed?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: I have no idea. I can't tell you. I don't know. There's been several people over here looking at it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Homeland Security that just went by. Sir, what were you saying?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: There's been several people over here looking at it, but, you know, like I said, I haven't seen anybody take it.

AMY GOODMAN: Several Army guys?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: Army. I've seen police over here looking at it. Seen ambulances looking at it. That's about it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a part of our coverage 10 years ago in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That last speaker, Robert Gonzalez, was with the Army National Guard, one of the many different levels of law enforcement that drove by within minutes of us going near that corpse. The body had been there for 13 days at that point.

Well, for more, we go back to New Orleans, Louisiana, where we're joined by Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party before that.

Malik, it's hard to ever forget that day. Talk about what happened to that body and also what's happened to your city, New Orleans, in this past 10 years.

MALIK RAHIM: Well, first of all, it's an honor to be on your show once again.

What happened to the body, I would say the next day after it was viewed on Democracy Now!, they picked him up. They picked up that one and other bodies that was laid out in Algiers. All of a sudden, it was like you had waved a magic wand, you know, by bringing awareness to the tragedy of Katrina, that they started making a move.

Over the 10 years, you know, New Orleans is still a story of two cities. You know, if you're white or if you're part of that privileged black class or free people of color class, then, you know, I mean, it's recovered. But if you're poor and part of that African or Maroon class, then it's like the hurricane just happened last year.

Right now we're in the midst of some of the most violent times in the history of this city. And it's only because of the fact that that 10-, that eight-year-old, that six-year-old child, that 12-year-old child, that was in the Convention Center and abandoned in that Superdome, now they are 22, 16, full of rage, because we did not deem—have any trauma counselors there with them through this.

We have unemployment is over 50 percent. And the ones who are blessed with a job, the disparity of wages is that they make three times less than their white counterpart. Public housing is no more. They displaced everyone. The only equal opportunity employer is the drug dealer. So now we've been in the midst of a drug war. And the tails of it is just in the last two days there has been maybe six shootings. So, again, you know, by the fact that our administrations—and I'm talking about on all levels—refused to address the real, pertinent issues of the aftermath of Katrina is the reason why we are in this way, in this dilemma now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you a question. Kristen McQueary of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board recently wrote a piece about Chicago's financial crisis titled "In Chicago, Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina." She writes, quote, "I find [myself] wishing for a storm in Chicago—an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto [the] rooftops." She later apologized for offending the entire city of New Orleans and beyond. Your response in this last minute we have with you, Malik?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, again, I think that it was totally disrespectful for a person to say that, because, I mean, as an African American, more of my people was killed in the aftermath of Katrina than at any time in the history of this nation. Never at one time have we lost over a thousand lives. And we lost almost 1,200 just in the Lower Ninth Ward. So I feel offended with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would you say to President Obama today as he makes his way to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans?

MALIK RAHIM: I wouldn't know what to tell him, because of the fact that, you know, our people have seen over six years of President Obama administration, and nothing have changed.

AMY GOODMAN: But they're hailing New Orleans as a great victory, a remarkable trajectory of progress.

MALIK RAHIM: Yeah, again, that's among that white and that privileged black class. But that's only part of this population. And it's not even the majority. That's that 40 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, and for being there for these 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, not to mention before—Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from around the world to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—speaking to us from New Orleans.

News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400