Truthout Stories Sun, 30 Aug 2015 10:03:50 -0400 en-gb Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: The Case of Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman at Festival Filosofia 2010.Zygmunt Bauman at Festival Filosofia 2010. (Photo: Città Di Modena/Flickr)

The recent charge against renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman alleging repetitive counts of "self-plagiarism" represents a shift in academia from engaging with political ideas to waging personal attacks - a form of intellectual violence that plagues the academy, according to Evans and Giroux.

Zygmunt Bauman at Festival Filosofia 2010.Zygmunt Bauman at Festival Filosofia 2010. (Photo: Città Di Modena/Flickr)

In a recent study published in the Times Higher Education supplement, the world-renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman was charged with repetitive counts of "self-plagiarism." As Peter Walsh and David Lehmann of Cambridge University claimed to have discovered, following an alleged meticulous reading of some 29 of Bauman's works, "substantial quantities of material … appear to have been copied near-verbatim and without acknowledgement from at least one of the other books sampled. Several books contain very substantial quantities of text - running into several thousands of words, and in the worst case almost twenty thousand - that have been reused from earlier Bauman books without acknowledgement." This recycling of prose, they argue, constitutes a monstrous "deception" on the part of the author, undermining one of the fundamental pillars of credible scholarship - the ability to cite with authenticating safeguards.

But what is really the charge here? Why would an emeritus reader at Cambridge University and doctoral student spend so much energy investigating and attempting to reveal questionable failures of another scholar? There was no doubt a personal agenda at work here (Walsh had already leveled such an accusation at Bauman's work beforehand). That much is clear. This sordid affair however speaks more broadly to the tensions and conflicts so endemic to the neoliberal university today. It strikes at the heart of what passes for credible intellectual inquiry and scholarship, and reveals more purposefully the shift from engaging with the ideas that embody a life, especially one rooted in a quest for political and economic justice, to the penchant for personal attacks that seek to bring into question the character and credibility of respected authors. This is more than the passing of judgment from a moral position that is upheld by histories of elitism and privilege. It is tantamount to a form of intellectual violence wrapped in objective scholarship that plagues the academy. Within the neoliberal university, not only has the personal become the only politics that matters when politics is even addressed, it has also become a strident form of careerism in which getting ahead at any costs mirrors the market itself.

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Anybody who is familiar with Bauman's tremendous corpus will appreciate the repetition in his narrative and prose. This is especially the case in his later works with his deployment of the metaphorical term "liquid," which has been purposefully applied to many of the various facets of late modern societies - from economy, terror and weather to social and personal relations. The concern here however is not one of repetition as an act of plagiarism, as if the latter term is the only category to employ in this case. It's what Bauman embodies as a public intellectual and critical scholar who is less concerned with hierarchy and deference, than he is for offering a fundamental challenge to established doctrine. But then again this is a methodological assault, one that is purposely designed to camouflage both the authors' politics and what actually counts in the relationship between scholarship and the need to address broader social issues.

This sordid affair ... is tantamount to a form of intellectual violence wrapped in objective scholarship.

Personally we have never once felt "deceived" by any of Bauman's important works. Yes, there is repetition. By why is that such an issue? There is of course much to be said for reading the same ideas with a different angle of vision and in a different context. But there is even something more critical at stake here, namely, the formation and subsequent authentication of "thought processes" and "regimes of truth." Citations are deemed essential to academic practices in terms of pointing to authoritative sources of factual claims, while giving due credit to the labors of others. Leaving aside well-established concerns with the need to cite particular authorities, as if this process were objective and certain (with the evident racial, gender and class bias this invariably produces), what is being further demanded here is the need to give due credit to oneself? Bauman is thus seen as guilty of not citing, well, Bauman! Why, we might ask, is this necessary, if not to simply further authenticate a system of intellectual propriety and policing that is less concerned with pushing forward intellectual boundaries than maintaining what is right and proper to think. The lesson here is clear. For thinking to be meaningful whatsoever, it needs to conform to the set parameters and rules of the game. As Walsh openly admits in his defense, "Age and reputation should not exempt anyone from the normal standards of academic scholarship." There is a curious if not revealing silence here regarding the history of power relations that define alleged "normal standards of academic scholarship." After all, left theorists have been punished for decades in the academy for publishing either controversial political work or for not publishing in "acceptable" academic journals or publishing houses that are often extremely conservative and mirror the reigning ideology and professionalism of the academy.

Any student of the history of intellectual forms of violence will no doubt appreciate the discursive move being deployed here. The invocation of "the norm" is the surest way to suffocate different ways of thinking about and interrogating the world. Often sanctified in some universal regalia (as recycled here by Walsh's all too familiar insistence), as if to indicate the natural and uncontroversial order of things, normalization is the mask of mastery for those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. What becomes proper to thought as such is already set out in advance, hence framing in a very narrowly contrived way what it means to think and act with a conformist diligence.

The real task is not to count repeated ideas but to ask how an author's work gains in meaning over time as it is understood in terms of earlier interventions and evolving changing contexts.

Might we not insist here that the accusers follow their own demands for scientific veracity? Maybe they ought to conduct a qualitative study of his readership to see how many actually feel "misled" in the way they take as conclusive? Personally, we remain humbled and privileged to have come to know Bauman and his work. That he still has the energy, dedication and fight to challenge oppression and injustice should be the source for affirmation and not critique. We are not suggesting here that Bauman's ideas should not be put under the critical microscope. They certainly should. But we need to be mindful of much greater deceptions. The recycling of ideas and passing it off as original by claiming some positivist ascription of an "objective reality" is problematic enough. The pride taken by some in academia today to instigate forms of public shaming that are tantamount to a Stasi witch hunt is unacceptable.

For what we elect to term the "gated intellectuals" of consumer laden capitalism - for whom every thought has to be new and packaged in a glittering endnote, preferably a shiny illumination and display of what might be called the culture of positivism or empiricist hysteria - Bauman has been charged with the alleged insidious crime of repeating some of his own work. Of course, we all repeat ideas in our work, and theorists such as Slavoj Zizek even make such repetitions central to how they define their work. We would argue that is a perfect case of strategic repetition. But, Bauman according to the academic police squad at Cambridge University has plagiarized his own work. We have read almost all of Bauman's work, have taken endless notes on it, and always learn something even if some issues are reworked. Who doesn't rework important themes in their work?

Of course, in the world of the orthodox empiricist these kinds of questions are only discussed in terms that are quantified, not thought through so as to ask how such work further deepens and layers complex ideas, concepts and paradigms. The real task is not to count repeated ideas but to ask how an author's work gains in meaning over time as it is understood in terms of earlier interventions and evolving changing contexts. Reading an author's work in terms of its assemblage of formations, especially with regard to how it articulates with larger issues that are evolving over time, is a crucial critical task, but not one empiricists are concerned about. They are bean counters who eschew substance for the reification of method. They now inhabit the academy and mimic the work of accountants who inhabit the small rooms of factories making No. 2 pencils.

First, strategic repetition is important not only to mediate the overabundance of information that people confront, but also to reach as many audiences as possible. Strategic repetition is all the more necessary in a world in which there is an immediate access to an abundance of digital-visual information often making it all the more difficult for readers to pay attention to or even follow the development of a logically connected argument. Bauman's use of strategic repetition makes it easier for the reader to follow his narratives, keep focused on the argument and reflect on the material being read. Second, the apostles of data mining, empirical banking methods and a reductionistic instrumentality abhor Bauman's kind of critical argumentation; their interests are in reducing the value of scholarship to the trade in information that provides useful predictions for corporations and the Defense Department. Grasping ideas means thinking through them carefully and is less the result of an emphasis on merging empirical methods with arid calculations obsessed with alleged repetitions than it is an attempt to encourage acts of translation, awe and insight. Bauman's scholarship attempts to expand the imagination and to elevate language to an act of resistance to the dumbing down of intelligence that assumes that data is all that matters. And this is precisely what Bauman has mastered with his use of strategic repetition.

Bauman once explained how his writing is like walking into the same room through a different door. This metaphor illuminates how he is not tirelessly repeating his work, he is building on it, expanding it, and endlessly trying to refigure its implications under changing circumstances. This charge against Bauman is truly despicable and is a reactionary ideological critique dressed up as a discourse about method and indebted to the tired legacy of depoliticized empiricism. What these guardians of orthodoxy really are afraid of is hearing his ideas over and over again, recognizing that they are reaching more and more audiences while modeling not what is euphemistically called scholarship but the role scholars might play as public intellectuals who address important social issues. Self-plagiarism of ideas is a preposterous idea. The willful plagiarism of policing methods to authenticate what is proper to thought is what reproduces intellectual servitude; now that's a problem that demands our vigilance and needs to be critiqued!

None of us own our ideas. They are always the product of many conversations that too often go unacknowledged.

The point is also further stressed by JPE Harper-Scott, who, writing in Open Democracy, notes that the real charge against Bauman is that his depictive self-plagiarism ultimately constitutes a "sin against capitalism, one of whose doctrines is that there must always be new things to sell so that the consumer can buy with confidence." It is then as Harper-Scott rightly observes, part of a broader intellectual shift that cannot be divorced from the changing institutional settings in which the personal criticisms originate and assume the status of a "public concern," even though at their ideological core is a desire to destroy anything of the commons.

We are not suggesting here that the demands for previously unpublished originality are unimportant in certain contexts. There is a clear appreciation that academic journals demand this consideration. Bauman is actually exemplary in this regard. Students are also subject to the same criteria, as self-plagiarism is deemed problematic by most academic institutions in assessment criteria. This however is set as a means for expanding student awareness and critical insight, not to limit understanding and knowledge. What is more important here is precisely the "standardization" (a term Walsh refers to) of critical thinking and public engagement. Bauman understands better than most that no piece of work can speak in a universal language. There is a need in fact to write the same ideas in different ways such that one is respectful of the audience and doesn't assume homogeneous readership. The problem of course is that Bauman doesn't conform to the standardization of thought as set out in normalized academic protocols. In short, there is a profound failure here to grasp that he fully understands the value of writing in different media, for different audiences, with varying languages and critical insight. Bauman exemplifies a conceptual persona who has truly broken out of the ivory tower and its outdated insistence that academics simply write for academics or established forms of power. That's what really perturbs.

We are also mindful here that there is a danger of countering a pernicious critique with a more authenticating position to hyper-moralize critical thought. Anybody can be a critic. That's not in question. What concerns us is the ethics of critical engagement, especially the difference between those who invoke a critical position in order to set out the parameters of thought, against those whose critical dispositions are tasked with liberating what it means to think and act in the world with ethical care and political awareness in terms of its consequences. We could do no better here than cite Bauman's final words from his wonderful book Collateral Damages:

Dialogue is a difficult art. It means engaging in conversation with the intention of jointly clarifying the issues, rather than having them one's own way; of multiplying voices, rather than reducing their number; of widening the set of possibilities, rather than aiming at a wholesale consensus (that relic of monotheistic dreams stripped of politically incorrect coercion); of jointly pursuing understanding, instead of aiming at the others defeat; and all in all being animated by the wish to keep the conversation going, rather than by a desire to grind it to a halt. (p.172)

Given that Bauman has no interest in being part of some quantifiable research assessment exercise (which has notably led to the valorization of positivist methodologies in the United Kingdom), these concerns with "self-plagiarism" only really matter in an age where thought has to become quantifiable like any other property. It is worth reminding that none of us own our ideas. They are always the product of many conversations that too often go unacknowledged. Ideas in this regard always belong to the commons. A much greater deception as such is the processes through which thought becomes objectified and commodified as though all previous thoughts and ideas are now obsolete. As such, these demands for "rigor" have less to do with understanding the contested genealogies of complex thought systems, than reference a domesticated term so often deployed to validate methodological approaches that end up conforming to the status quo. The parallels with Eric Dyson's criticisms of Cornel West are all too apparent. [1]

Such character assassinations ... point to the neoliberal assault on global academia.

There is a bankrupt civility at work here, disingenuous in its complicity with the intellectual forms of violence it authors and yet blinded to the moral coma it attempts to impose. What is abandoned in this particular case is the very notion that the public intellectual might have a role to play in resisting authoritarian politics and the tyrannies of instrumental reason that promotes isolationism over collegiality. This is the civility of authoritarian voices that mask their intellectual violence with weak handshakes; apologies for their necessary assassinations; forced smiles, and mellowed voices. Like the punishment dished out to a recalcitrant child through instrumental rulings or outright public shaming, more "mature" ways of thinking about the world (the authoritarian default) must eventually be shown to be the natural basis for authority and rule. In this instance, intellectual violence undermines the possibility for engaging scholarship through the use of rigorous theory, impassioned narrative, and a discourse that challenges the unethical grammars of suffering produced by neoliberal modes of instrumental rationality that have overtaken the academy, if not modernity itself. What we are dealing with here is a kind of neoliberal violence that produces what Frank B. Wilderson III has called "the discourse of embodied incapacity." [2]

Such character assassinations should not therefore be viewed in isolation or removed from political struggles. They point to the neoliberal assault on global academia that is now so pervasive and potentially dangerous in its effects that it is must be viewed as more than a "cause for concern." While the system in the United States of America, for instance, has been at the forefront of policies that have tied academic merit to market-driven performance indicators, the ideologically driven transformations underway in the United Kingdom point in an equally worrying direction, as the need for policy entrepreneurship increasingly becomes the norm. The closures of entire philosophy programs signify the most visible shift away from reflective thinking to the embrace of a dumbed-down approach to humanities education that has no time for anything beyond the objectively neutralizing and politically compromising deceit of pseudo-scientific paradigms.

Instrumentalism in the service of corporate needs and financial profit now dominates university modes of governance, teaching, research, and the vocabulary of consumerism used to describe students and their relationship to each other and the larger world. One consequence, as the Bauman Affair shows, is that discourses, ideas, values, and social relations that push against the grain, redefine the boundaries of the sensible, and reclaim the connection between knowledge and power in the interest of social change too often become not only inconvenient but also rapidly accelerate to being viewed as dangerous. But since there is little appetite to engage the ideas at any substantive level beyond the superficial, following an all too familiar move, criticism turns instead to questions of individual pathology and character deficiencies. This is a textbook power play. This is a form of intellectual violence that empties words of their meaning and takes on the mantle of shaming.

Intellectuals are continually forced to make choices (sometimes against our better judgments). In truth there are no clear lines drawn in the sand. And yet as Paolo Freire insisted, one is invariably drawn into an entire history of struggle the moment our critical ideas are expressed as force and put out into the public realm to the disruption of orthodox thinking. There is however a clear warning from history: Our intellectual allegiances should be less concerned with ideological dogmatism. There is, after all, no force more micro-fascist or intellectually violent than the self-imposed thought police who take it upon themselves to be the voices of political and intellectual purity. Bauman's pedagogy has always insisted that the task of educators is to make sure that the future points to a more socially just world, a world in which the discourses of critique and possibility, in conjunction with the values of freedom and equality, function to alter, as part of a broader democratic project, the grounds upon which life is lived. This is hardly a prescription for intellectual short cuts or taking the easy road: it embodies a lifelong commitment to a project that as Stanley Aronowitz has observed, continues to give education its most valued purpose and meaning, which in part is "to encourage human agency, not mold it in the manner of Pygmalion." [3]

Figures such as Bauman remain important as ever. This is especially the case in the contemporary conjuncture in which neoliberalism arrogantly proclaims that there are no alternatives. Such an ethical disposition, as Foucault critically maintained, requires waging an ongoing fight against fascism in all its forms: "not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini - which was able to use the desire of the masses so effectively - but also the fascism in us all, in our heads, and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us." [4] Precisely, in other words, the types of petty punishments and normalized practices of public shaming and violations that take direct aim at the dignity and value of a fellow human.

Academics and public intellectuals have an ethical and pedagogical responsibility to unsettle and oppose all orthodoxies, to make problematic the common-sense assumptions that often shape students' lives and their understanding of the world. But we also have a responsibility to energize students to come to terms with their own power as individual and social agents. Higher education, in this instance, as Bauman continually reminds us, cannot be removed from the hard realities of those political, economic and social forces that both support it and consistently, though in diverse ways, attempt to shape its sense of mission and purpose. Politics is not alien to the university setting - politics is central to comprehending the institutional, economic, ideological and social forces that give academia its meaning and direction. Politics also references the outgrowth of historical conflicts that mark higher education as an important site of struggle. Rather than the scourge of either education or academic research, politics is a primary register of their complex relation to matters of power, ideology, freedom, justice and democracy. None of which are raised as issues in this latest intellectual assault.

We don't steal our own work. On the contrary, we expand its reach, and build on it, thereby making it more relevant as the contexts that produce it change.

To get a sense of the real absurdity of all this, just imagine for a moment a reworking of the United Kingdom's Independent newspaper's headline, "World's leading sociologist accused of copying his own work" but instead of referring to Bauman the sociologist, we wrote of Van Gogh, Francis Bacon or Pablo Picasso. Our indignation at the claim (which could be rightly made if one considers the use of the same techniques and repetitive imagery) would require no further justification on account of its patent idiocy and sensational provocation without any grasp of the form. Critical thinking is no different. Indeed as Bauman himself acknowledges in his aptly titled book The Art of Life, one of the most deceptive claims regarding politics, sociology and philosophy has been their reductionist assignation to the realm of "social science." These fields of inquiry should instead be seen as an art form that is integral to the creation of new ways of thinking about the world and its poetic and creative modes of existence. They cannot be so easily reduced into the quantifiable matrix without stripping life of its all too human qualities.

The hidden structure of politics in these charges is the refusal of the gated surveillance academics to use their time figuring out how capitalism and its empiricist acolytes recycle the same dreadful ideologies about the market over and over again. Unlike Bauman's work, which uses deftly what might be called strategic repetition, the methodological embrace of citations and the obsession with repetition amounts to what Marcuse once called "scholarshit" - truly a crime against justice and social responsibility.

This charge against Bauman is truly despicable. It's a reactionary ideological critique dressed up as the celebration of method and a back-door defense of a sterile empiricism and culture of positivism. This is a discourse that enshrines data, correlations, and performance, while eschewing matters of substance, social problems, and power. As Murray Pomerance points out, plagiarism is a form of theft, and we don't steal our own work. On the contrary, we expand its reach, and build on it, thereby making it more relevant as the contexts that produce it change. What these guys really are afraid of is hearing his ideas over and over again, recognizing that they are reaching more and more audiences. Theft has nothing to do with strategic repetition in the interest of clarity, expanding and deepening an issue, or building upon one's own work. On the contrary, theft is about claiming false ownership, allowing power to steal one's integrity, and engaging in those corrupt practices that erase any sense of justice.

In the world of gated intellectuals who thrive in a university landscape increasingly wedded to data banks, thought itself becomes another casualty of disposability. Metrics now merges with a business culture that has little time for anything that cannot be quantified. Matters of identity, justice, power and equality - if not freedom itself - are reduced resources for generating data, developing surveys and measuring intellectual output. The value of what an intellectual such as Bauman writes or says is irrelevant in a neoliberal world in which personal smears parade as scientific understanding and the stripped-down discourse of empiricism is presented as truth. Scholarship, intellectual output, and engagement with social problems are all interventions that travel in a variety of forms. It is the richness of the forms and the substance of the arguments that matter. The Cambridge surveillance team seems to have missed this point - or is it more that they willfully buried it? Utilitarianism has always shared an easy space with contempt for intellectual and politically insightful work, or what Richard Hofstadter once called the "life of the mind."

Maybe what is really at stake here is not the reworking of ideas but a kind of hostility to critical pedagogy and modes of writing that push against the grain not once but over and over again. There is a kind of toxic ideology at work in this charge against Bauman - one that not only trivializes what counts as scholarship but also elevates matters of surveillance and policing to a normalized standard of evaluation.

Certainly the authors of the pernicious article about Bauman could do with reading Deleuze's Difference and Repetition to have a modicum of philosophical appreciation here - or better still, at least be honest about their own methodological plagiarism, which since the dawn of the humanities, continues to produce self-anointing thought police who operate more like micro fascists, policing what is acceptable to thinking, and whose all too political agenda's are less concerned with the quality of the work, than condemning those who provide a fundamental challenge to their sense of privilege and their self-imposed illusions of grandeur. So a reality check is needed for the likes of Walsh and Lehmann. You are not standing on the shoulders of giants. You are but one entry in the employment inventory of intellectual surveillance.

Note: A version of this piece was previously published on CounterPunch.


1. Henry A. Giroux, "The Perils of Being a Public Intellectual," CounterPunch (April 27, 2015). Online:

2. Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, White, and Black, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), p. 30.

3. Stanley Aronowitz, "Introduction," in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7.

4. Michel Foucault, "Preface" in Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London, Continuum: 2003) p. xv.

Opinion Sun, 30 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
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
Corporate Developers Seize Indigenous Lands in Brazil and Hire Hit Men to Murder Residents

The number of indigenous people killed in Brazil in connection to huge development projects is on the rise. These projects are a principal reason that indigenous ancestral lands are not being officially recognized.

A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Translated by Miriam Taylor

In an effort to make way for new investment projects, the Brazilian government and transnational corporations have been taking over ancestral indigenous lands, triggering a rise in murders of indigenous people in Brazil.

According to the report, "Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil," recently published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI by its Portuguese initials), the number of indigenous people killed in the country grew 42 percent from 2013 to 2014; 138 cases were officially registered. The majority of the murders were carried out by hit men hired by those with economic interests in the territories.

The states of Mato Grosso del Sur, Amazonas and Bahía figure heavily in the statistics. An emblematic case was the brutal killing of the indigenous woman Marinalva Kaiowá, in November of 2014. She lived in recovered territories, land that for over 40 years has been claimed by the Guaraní people as the land of their ancestors. Marinalva was assassinated - stabbed 35 times - two weeks after attending a protest with other indigenous leaders at the Federal Supreme Court in the Federal District of Brasilia. The group was protesting a court ruling that annulled the demarcation process in the indigenous territory of the Guyraroká.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In addition to this, there has been a steady flow of people forced to move to small territories after being displaced by economic development projects, as in the case of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the population - over 40,000 people - live concentrated on small reservations. These are communities that are exposed to assassinations by hired hit men, lack education and basic necessities, and endure deplorable health conditions. Infant mortality rates in the community are high and rising: According to official statistics, last year 785 children between the ages of 0 and 5 died.

"We, the Guaraní, principally from Mato Grosso do Sul, have been the greatest victims of massacres and violence," the Guaraní Kaiowá indigenous leader Araqueraju told Truthout. "They have killed many of our leaders, they have spilled much blood because we are fighting for the respect for and demarcation of what is left of our territories that the government does not want to recognize."

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The rise in the rate of violence is related in large part to the development policies of the Brazilian government - policies that have been denounced by the Indigenous Missionary Council. Another report, titled "Projects that impact indigenous lands," released by CIMI in 2014, revealed that at least 519 projects have impacted 437 ancestral territories, directly affecting 204 indigenous groups.

The energy sector has most deeply affected indigenous people; of the 519 documented projects, 267 are energy-related. In second place is infrastructure, with 196 projects. Mining is third, with 21 projects, and in fourth place, with 19 expansive projects, is agribusiness. Ecotourism comes next with 9 projects.

"In the Amazon region, the region of the Tapajos River, we are being fenced in," João Tapajó - a member of the Arimun indigenous group - told Truthout. "The Teles waterway is being constructed and the BR163 highway widened. This is being done to transport the transnational corporations' grain and minerals," added Tapajó, who is part of one of the groups that make up the Indigenous Movement of the region Bajo Tapajós, in the state of Pará. "We live under constant threat from agribusinesses and lumber companies. There is a construction project to build five hydroelectric dams on the same river. To top it off, our region is suffering from a process of prospecting for the exploitation of minerals, by the companies Alcoa y Vale do Rio Doce."

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil’s three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil's three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Similarly, a report produced by the Federal Public Ministry, based on its own evaluations and carried out by anthropologists María Fernanda Paranhos and Deborah Stucchi, shows that the processes of social change generated by these projects principally affect those who live in rural contexts. This includes many groups living collectively who are relatively invisible in the sociopolitical context of Brazil.

"The evaluations provide evidence that the intense social changes, the possibility of the breaking up of productive circuits, the disappearance of small-scale agriculture, fishing, and forested areas, a reduction in jobs, and the impoverishment and degradation of material and immaterial conditions of life ... have led to strong reactions and an avalanche of social conflict," according to the ministry's report.

Indigenous people of ethnic Pataxo struggle to return their lands. In October 2014, they closed the highway to pressure the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous people of ethnic Pataxo struggle to return their lands. In October 2014, they closed the highway to pressure the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Hydroelectric Dams in the Brazilian Amazon

The government's Ten-Year Plan for energy expansion - 2023, which projects for the period of 2014 to 2023 an expansion of over 28,000 megawatts of energy generation by way of hydroelectric dams, claims that none of the 30 hydroelectric dams projected for construction in this country during this period will have any direct effect on indigenous lands.

Data from the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, through an initiative called Investments and Rights in the Amazon, tells a different story. According to research carried out by Ricardo Verdum, a PhD in social anthropology and member of the Center for the Study of Indigenous Populations at the Federal University in the state of Santa Catarina, of the 23 hydroelectric dams that will be built in the Amazon, at least 16 will have negative social and environmental effects on indigenous territories. They will destroy the environmental conditions that these indigenous groups depend on to live and maintain their way of life.

"The difference in results is due to the way the idea of 'impact' or 'interference' is defined conceptually and materially," Verdum told Truthout. "According to current legislation, interference in indigenous lands occurs when a parcel of land is directly affected by the dam itself or the reservoir. The territorial and environmental criteria do not consider the human and social aspects of the interference, or influence of the project on the population."

The atmosphere grew tense as Federal Police came in, although this was no surprise to the Pataxo. They have been long been rejected by cattle farmers, businessmen and people living in cities close to Monte Pascoal–one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the world. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The atmosphere grew tense as Federal Police came in, although this was no surprise to the Pataxo. They have been long been rejected by cattle farmers, businessmen and people living in cities close to Monte Pascoal - one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the world. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

A Militaristic Approach to the Economy

Brazil's development model - a model adopted by most countries in Latin America within the old international division of labor - leads the country to specialize in the export of raw materials or basic products at a low cost in relation to the import of final products that return to Brazil at elevated prices. This is a logic that is based on the colonial model, according to Clovis Brighenti, a professor of history at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. "It is an entry into the globalized world by way of intense exploitation of the environment with few results," Brighenti told Truthout. "What's more, these results are in exchange for high investment costs, made with public resources and subsidized interest rates, concentrated in a tiny group of beneficiaries. It is a dried-up model but in its death throes, it causes irreversible damage to the environment and for the people that depend on these ecosystems."

The design of this development model, according to Brighenti, is connected to the modern myth that an economy needs to grow rapidly and continuously to satisfy the material necessities of society. "However, behind this myth, is hidden the essence of the capitalist system: the need to guarantee a logic that is based on consumerism, and in this way, guarantee the accumulation and the benefit of the elites and the privileged sectors of society."

In Brazil, the belief is that material happiness is connected to the search for new spaces for development expansion. "In other words, it is searching for constant advancement into 'new' territories, where there is still a natural environment to be explored and appropriated," Brighenti said. "Thus, capital's interests revolve around indigenous and traditional territories, as ideal spaces for the execution of these projects."

He added that in Brazil there is a continuity of a militaristic mentality, due to the fact that the country was shaped by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. During that time, the United States was involved through a program called Operation Brother Sam.

The objective was to remove peasants and indigenous people from their lands to concentrate territories in the hands of businesses that currently produce soy, sugar cane and eucalyptus. These companies include Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Ford. In this sense, current governments did not inherit just the military structure but also a business platform that dominates production and the raw materials market. "The principal similarity between the military government and what we are currently living is the development perspective, which means thinking about natural resources as infinite and readily available. In order to make a country grow economically, the amount of territory that is occupied for economic projects must increase," Brighenti said.

Another similarity is the relationship that they establish with communities. "It could be said that there is no dialogue," Brighenti said. "The government makes a decision and all that is left for the communities to do is to hand over their territories in the name of these initiatives. Trying to keep indigenous communities quiet is a recurring action in the sense that these populations are seen as barriers to the establishment of these projects ... thus, the continuance of a militaristic mentality is explicit - proceed with development and stop the protests of those who are affected."

An essential point that sets the period of the dictatorship apart from progressive governments is the source of financing for the projects. "Today the works are financed with public resources, through the National Economic and Social Development Bank, which is the principal funder of these megaprojects, while under the military dictatorship they were financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank," he said.

In 2013, the Brazilian government published an order that allowed the intervention of the Armed Forces in protests against development projects. That same year, the military police in southern Brazil killed an indigenous Terena man and wounded others in the fulfillment of an order to re-take the land that the Terena had reclaimed as part of their ancestral territories. This was disputed by Ricardo Bacha, a former congressman from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who said that the lands had belonged to his family since 1927.

Similarly, at the request of the ex-governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, who is the current defense minister of Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff signed in 2014 an authorization by the federal government to dispatch close to 500 military personnel to the Tupinambá territory, alleging that his objective was the "guarantee of law and order" and to "pacify" the region. To this very day, the Tupinambá region continues to be militarized.

Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Institutional Violence Against Indigenous Communities

The assassinations are just the tip of the iceberg. Among the constitutional amendments that are being debated in Brazil's Congress is PEC-215, which transfers the power to decide the demarcation of indigenous territories to the legislative branch, when it has historically been in the hands of the executive branch. The amendment would leave indigenous people in the hands of Congress and the Senate, which are primarily made up of the family members of large businessmen and the owners of huge extensions of land.

"These proposed constitutional amendments favor a group of 264 parliamentarians of Brazil's Congress, who have received campaign financing from multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. PEC-215 favors the expansion of big agriculture, using the discourse of food production, but Brazil's food is produced by small-scale producers," Lindomar, of the Terena people, told Truthout.

The principal cause of the conflicts, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, is the negation on the part of the Brazilian government to recognize and demarcate indigenous territories. In 2014, of the almost 600 indigenous territories currently claimed by different groups, only two were recognized (Xeta Herarekã, in the state of Paraná, and Xakriabá, in the state of Minas Gerais) and one was approved (Paquicamba, in the state of Pará). The current government of the Workers Party, led by Dilma Rousseff, is that which has demarcated the fewest indigenous lands since the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil.

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the state with the highest rates of violence against indigenous people, communities live on the edges of highways, in precarious living conditions. The recognition of indigenous territories was outlined in an agreement that was signed in 2007 by the National Indigenous Foundation, a government agency, which later broke the agreement. Even if the demarcation had gone into effect, indigenous people would only occupy 2 percent of the state, in one of the regions of Brazil where the largest number of indigenous people reside.

Resisting the Old Development Model

According to Brighenti, since the start of the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) administration, indigenous people have expressed to the government that they wanted to share their knowledge and practices with the new administration. "But the government ignored them, and what's worse, Lula declared that Brazil needed to overcome three great obstacles to development, including indigenous groups, environmental laws and the Federal Public Ministry," he said. "Thus, since the beginning, he made it clear that for the indigenous movement and its allies, the government had chosen a different model and aligned himself with other sectors that are unfortunately at odds with indigenous groups, big agro-industry."

Indigenous people realized that they needed to come together to avoid losing their rights. "Few social and union movements supported them. Each social movement defined its relationship with the government and indigenous people were many times criticized for their radicalness," Brighenti added.

Indigenous lands in Brazil, as recognized by the federal government, are property of the government. Indigenous people can possess and use the land, with the exception of the subsoil and water resources. "It is necessary to advance in the sense of constructing autonomous communities, which does not mean independence, but the freedom to decide their own future," Brighenti said.

Even with the demarcation of indigenous territories, there is no assurance against intervention in indigenous lands, since the law allows for the intervention of the federal government at any time because the lands are considered property of the government.

"All the government projects are threatening to us and the entire Amazon," María Leus, an indigenous Munduruku woman, told Truthout. "We do not accept any negotiation with the government, because we cannot make negotiations regarding our mother and because we do not accept any of these projects that are going to affect us. We have always been here: These are the lands of our ancestors, and today we continuing fighting for the respect for our way of life, because governments have never respected how we live, and today they are devastating what is left of our lands in order to continue with their projects."

News Sun, 30 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