Showing posts with label The Nation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Nation. Show all posts

Monday, October 04, 2010


Katrina vanden Heuvel is worried about poverty -- it's getting bad.

Really bad.

Really, really bad.

Crazy bad, says the editor and publisher of The Nation in her Washington Post column last Tuesday:
It's clear that the Great Recession battered those on the bottom most heavily, adding 6 million people to the ranks of the officially poor, defined as just $22,000 in annual income for a family of four. Forty-four million Americans -- one in seven citizens -- are now living below the poverty line, more than at any time since the Census Bureau began tracking poverty 51 years ago. Shamefully, that figure includes one in five children, more than one in four African Americans or Latinos, and over 51 percent of female-headed families with children under 6.

These numbers are bad enough. But dig deeper -- as Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman has been doing for nearly 50 years in his battle against poverty -- and the story told by these figures is even more staggering.

Edelman points out that 19 million people are now living in "extreme poverty," which is under 50 percent of the poverty line, or $11,000 for a family of four. "That means over 43 percent of the poor are extremely poor," said Edelman, who served as an aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and in the Clinton administration before resigning in protest over welfare reform that shredded the safety net. "That's over 6 percent of the population, and that figure has just been climbing up and up."


Beyond what Congress can do immediately, it's clear that America needs a broader movement to create a more just and higher-wage economy. Edelman and other advocates say that we will need to push to make it easier for people to join labor unions through an Employee Free Choice Act or at least reduce legal barriers to organizing. The minimum wage should also be indexed to half the average wage.

"But you're still going to have a gap," said Edelman. "And you essentially have to invent some new idea of a wage supplement that starts from the premise that the so-called good jobs went away a long time ago and we've become a nation of low-wage work."

That's why 100 million people are struggling to make ends meet on less than $44,000 per year.

This devastating economic reality has the potential to create new political alliances -- and shape a 21st-century anti-poverty movement. Such a movement is urgently needed because the voices of the poor, of workers and of those struggling to get by are barely heard in the halls of power these days. Anti-poverty groups and advocates with ideas for a more equitable economy are often marginalized within even Democratic Party policy circles that seem hard-wired to reject them.

We know what needs to be done to reduce poverty. The question is who will fight that fight? And who will listen?
SOMEBODY HAS to do something about this, and the leftist journalist wants to know whom that will be.

Well, obviously not the leftists -- and note I don't use "leftist" as a perjorative; I tend to be one on many issues. That's because leftists like vanden Heuvel, back in 1972, blew up the broad-based, left-of-center Democratic coalition in favor of a purer, narrower radical coalition dedicated not to eliminating poverty and advancing social justice, but instead to promoting the sexual revolution and smashing the influence of social conservatives in the party.

That gave us a Democratic Party unable to beg, borrow or buy the kind of presidential and congressional clout it enjoyed before the "revolution." It gave us one contentious term for Jimmy Carter, while also giving us the reality of Reagan Democrats. Not to mention Ronald Reagan himself.

The libertine left also gave us the religious right.

And Bill Clinton surviving for two terms only by governing as a just-right-of-moderate Republican would have -- by gutting welfare (which vexes the left so) and giving Wall Street slicksters the keys to the candy store.

As we well know, this has led us to the fine mess we enjoy now, including those exploding rates of extreme poverty, as well as an anything-goes social and familial landscape of such chaos that it scarcely can deal with flush times, much less the Great Recession.

Thus, after much deliberation, more observation and ample aggravation, this New Deal-loving, old-time Catholic lefty has something to say to Ms. vanden Heuvel and her fellow secular, upper-crust, boutique lefties about the river they're crying on behalf of the impoverished abstractions they probably never encounter concretely:

I call bullshit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If not for the FBI. . . .

Among the great tragedies of Louisiana is the sad fact that its moral compass is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That is why this story -- which first came to light one year ago today in The Nation, more than three years after the fact -- is getting another of its sporadic moments of traction in New Orleans. And why is that? Because it's the focus of an FBI investigation.

What happened on Algiers Point in the days following Hurricane Katrina -- bands of white vigilantes shooting black "looters" at will and cops allegedly carrying out executions -- got some small local attention when The Nation and Pro Publica broke the story. More likely, though, you'd find far more attention paid in places like this.

TO BE FAIR, the story of Algiers Point and other instances of alleged police misconduct pops up in the Times-Picayune (most notably in a recent series) or on one TV station or another when there are fresh developments in the federal investigation.

The latest is a report on WWL-TV:
“King was yelling out the window, my brother got shot, my brother got shot,” Tanner said.

Suddenly nine or 10 officers pointed guns at them, Tanner said. He said the police immediately handcuffed all three of them, leaving Glover still bleeding in the back seat.

“We handcuffed, his brother yelling, ‘help, my brother,’ – this and that and that. He still acting hysterical,” Tanner said. “A black cop came through the ranks and slapped him so hard I felt the slap, and knocked him out.”

Tanner said the police might have assumed they were looters, but swears he had done nothing wrong and there was no evidence he had done anything wrong.
But he said they accused them of all kinds of things.

"You niggers come out there and beat up, you know, tourists and everything like that, mugging them and everything like that," Tanner said.

He said they then began beating them.

“The cop kicked me two times in the stomach around my ribs and hit me with an m-16 rifle with a laser sight, right on my cheek right here,” Tanner said. “So I was hurting.”

He said the officers threw the three of them into the back of a squad car and kept them there for hours. He said they took his toolbox, jumper cables and a gas can out of his car. Then the officer who had beat him drove off in his car, he said.

Tanner said he was afraid for his life. Then a policewoman he had met previously appeared to intervene for them, and the police released them.

“If she hadn’t did what she did, they probably would a shot us or killed us,” Tanner said.

Just days later, private investigator Michael Orsini and his partner found Tanner's charred car with human remains inside.

BUT THE POINT IS, and the fact remains, that Louisiana is perfectly happy to keep all the ugliness under wraps -- far away from both disinfecting sunlight and the judicial process -- until the national press and the FBI force its hand.

This says nothing good about the state's press corps or about the prospects for any semblance of a civic society taking root there after three centuries of entropy.

One only can hope the FBI also is investigating this as well. It's important.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Somewhere in Louisiana, it's always 1959

In Louisiana, you're OK, I guess, so long as you're posting stuff critical of the gay-rights movement.

A commenter on my last post had this advice for me: "Please post more like this rather than the anti-Louisiana stuff, okay?"

Not a chance.

Not when there's so much "anti-Louisiana stuff" to choose from. Not when it's so factually irrefutable. Not when the "anti-Louisiana stuff" usually is about things so egregious they take Nebraskans' breath away -- just as they do others unfamiliar with the state's certain reductio ad absurdum je ne sais quoi.

THERE'S NOT a chance in hell I'll quit posting the "anti-Louisiana stuff" so long as, for example, Louisiana vigilantes can kill a man just for being black . . . and Louisianians are OK with that. Naturally, the latest "anti-Louisiana stuff" -- the latest "anti-Louisiana" horror, actually -- has bubbled up from New Orleans like so much swamp gas . . . straight into the pages of the latest edition of The Nation:

The way Donnell Herrington tells it, there was no warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted.

It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. "I just hit the ground. I didn't even know what happened," recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.

The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington's companions--his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. "I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck," Alexander recalls. "I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again." Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander's back, arm and buttocks.

Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn't even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, "Get him! Get that nigger!"

The attack occurred in Algiers Point. The Point, as locals call it, is a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a small cluster of ornate, immaculately maintained 150-year-old houses within the larger Algiers district. A nationally recognized historic area, Algiers Point is largely white, while the rest of Algiers is predominantly black. It's a "white enclave" whose residents have "a kind of siege mentality," says Tulane University historian Lance Hill, noting that some white New Orleanians "think of themselves as an oppressed minority."


During the summer of 2005 Herrington was working as an armored-car driver for the Brink's company and living in a rented duplex about a mile from Algiers Point. Katrina thrashed the place, blowing out windows, pitching a hefty pine tree limb through the roof and dumping rain on Herrington's possessions. On the day of the shooting, Herrington, Alexander and Collins were all trying to escape the stricken city, and set out together on foot for the Algiers Point ferry terminal in the hopes of getting on an evacuation bus.

Those hopes were dashed by a barrage of shotgun pellets. After two shots erupted, Collins and Alexander took off running and ducked into a shed behind a house to hide from the gunmen, Alexander tells me. The armed men, he says, discovered them in the shed and jammed pistols in their faces, yelling, "We got you niggers! We got you niggers!" He continues, "They said they was gonna tie us up, put us in the back of the truck and burn us. They was gonna make us suffer.... I thought I was gonna die. I thought I was gonna leave earth."

Apparently thinking they'd caught some looters, the gunmen interrogated and verbally threatened Collins and Alexander for ten to fifteen minutes, Alexander says, before one of the armed men issued an ultimatum: if Alexander and Collins left Algiers Point and told their friends not to set foot in the area, they'd be allowed to live.

Meanwhile, Herrington was staring at death. "I was bleeding pretty bad from my neck area," he recalls. When two white men drove by in a black pickup truck, he begged them for help. "I said, Help me, help me--I'm shot," Herrington recalls. The response, he tells me, was immediate and hostile. One of the men told Herrington, "Get away from this truck, nigger. We're not gonna help you. We're liable to kill you ourselves." My God, thought Herrington, what's going on out here?

He managed to stumble back to a neighbor's house, collapsing on the front porch. The neighbors, an African-American couple, wrapped him in a sheet and sped him to the nearest hospital, the West Jefferson Medical Center, where, medical records show, he was X-rayed at 3:30 pm. According to the records, a doctor who reviewed the X-rays found "metallic buckshot" scattered throughout his chest, arms, back and abdomen, as well as "at least seven [pellets] in the right neck." Within minutes, Herrington was wheeled into an operating room for emergency surgery.

"It was a close-range buckshot wound from a shotgun," says Charles Thomas, one of the doctors who operated on Herrington. "If he hadn't gotten to the hospital, he wouldn't have lived. He had a hole in his internal jugular vein, and we were able to find it and fix it."

After three days in the hospital, which lacked running water, air conditioning and functional toilets, Herrington was shuttled to a medical facility in Baton Rouge. When he returned to New Orleans months later, he paid a visit to the Fourth District police station, whose officers patrol the west bank, and learned there was no police report documenting the attack. Herrington, who now has a wide scar stretching the length of his neck, says the officers he spoke with failed to take a report or check out his story, a fact that still bothers him. "If the shoe was on the other foot, if a black guy was willing to go out shooting white guys, the police would be up there real quick," he says. "I feel these guys should definitely be held accountable. These guys had absolutely no right to do what they did."
IN MUCH of this country after a natural disaster, sworn law officers wait to see evidence of looting, take the looters into custody and then read them their Miranda rights.

In New Orleans after a natural disaster, the cops either haul ass or turn into Mad Max, and armed good ol' boys shoot first, then yell "nigger."

But that only happens because Yankees hate Louisiana, right?

Fellow militia member Wayne Janak, 60, a carpenter and contractor, is more forthcoming with me. "Three people got shot in just one day!" he tells me, laughing. We're sitting in his home, a boxy beige-and-pink structure on a corner about five blocks from Daigle's Grocery. "Three of them got hit right here in this intersection with a riot gun," he says, motioning toward the streets outside his home. Janak tells me he assumed the shooting victims, who were African-American, were looters because they were carrying sneakers and baseball caps with them. He guessed that the property had been stolen from a nearby shopping mall. According to Janak, a neighbor "unloaded a riot gun"--a shotgun--"on them. We chased them down."

Janak, who was carrying a pistol, says he grabbed one of the suspected looters and considered killing him, but decided to be merciful. "I rolled him over in the grass and saw that he'd been hit in the back with the riot gun," he tells me. "I thought that was good enough. I said, 'Go back to your neighborhood so people will know Algiers Point is not a place you go for a vacation. We're not doing tours right now.'"

He's equally blunt in Welcome to New Orleans, an hourlong documentary produced by the Danish video team, who captured Janak, beer in hand, gloating about hunting humans. Surrounded by a crowd of sunburned white Algiers Point locals at a barbeque held not long after the hurricane, he smiles and tells the camera, "It was great! It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it." A native of Chicago, Janak also boasts of becoming a true Southerner, saying, "I am no longer a Yankee. I earned my wings." A white woman standing next to him adds, "He understands the N-word now." In this neighborhood, she continues, "we take care of our own."

Janak, who says he'd been armed with two .38s and a shotgun, brags about keeping the bloody shirt worn by a shooting victim as a trophy. When "looters" showed up in the neighborhood, "they left full of buckshot," he brags, adding, "You know what? Algiers Point is not a pussy community."

Within that community the gunmen enjoyed wide support. In an outtake from the documentary, a group of white Algiers Point residents gathers to celebrate the arrival of military troops sent to police the area. Addressing the crowd, one local praises the vigilantes for holding the neighborhood together until the Army Humvees trundled into town, noting that some of the militia figures are present at the party. "You all know who you are," the man says. "And I'm proud of every one of you all." Cheering and applause erupts from the assembled locals.

Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful" -- her cousin was happy that "they were shooting niggers."
THE PROBLEM with Louisiana is that Louisianians are more upset that their dirty laundry gets aired than they are that their laundry is so dirty in the first place. I don't know how you fix such a culture.

But maybe if I, and others, write about "the anti-Louisiana stuff" enough, someone just might get embarrassed enough to come up with something.
But that might take a while because, as I 've written before on this blog, somewhere in Louisiana, it's always 1959.