No Place to Hide from Climate Change

Baton Rouge area

Baton Rouge area

New Orleans   For the second time this year Louisiana has been hit by unexpected flooding. The latest and most horrific is the so-called 1000-year rain and flooding event that has already pushed more than 87,000 to apply for FEMA relief and has decimated homes and communities in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Tangipahoa Parishes. A cloud formation hung over these areas on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, overfilling rivers, canals, and bayous with rising water with no place to go, and actually pushing water backwards against and reversing normal flow. So many of these areas were outside – far outside – of normal flood maps and low-lying areas that the vast majority, in some cases more than 90%, had no flood insurance meaning that the likely $30,000 cap on assistance will leave tens of thousands of families far short of recovery.

It’s not the Katrina of 2005, but it’s a big league disaster. Taylor Swift has committed one-million. Lady Gaga has come in with a big pledge. Trump and Pence have been down. Obama is coming next week. Many are thanking the “Cajun navy” of volunteers in skiffs running up and down the waterways for rescuing thousands. Big retail, like Walmart and Home Depot, are stepping up. Sadly, this is a scene we’re seeing repeated too frequently now. This is more like “standard operating procedure,” than emergency preparation or reaction.

Is there any place to hide from this level of emerging climate change and the disasters it triggers? How many times does a 500-year or 1000-year rain become so common that such an event becomes a 100-year rain or just something we see with regularity? Will this kind of rain become the “new normal” in Louisiana and elsewhere?

One of the morning papers speculated on what the difference might have been if several proposed diversion and reservoir projects had been implemented or completed. Looking at the charts, it might have saved 30% of the homes in some areas, but these would have been big-time infrastructure projects, and the experts seemed to be saying that it was probably cheaper to let the water come than make a place for it. That’s a sobering conclusion. The reality of climate change may be to keep your valuables on the second floor and keep a canoe on your patio and a generator at the ready like I do in New Orleans. You get the message: we’re on our own now, less citizens, and more survivalists.

And, we’re not talking about temperatures rising and their impact as well. A map the New York Times showed the distribution of the coming heatwave of over 100 degree days by 2060 and 2100. 77 days in Hot Springs, 98 in Dallas, 62 in Houston, 77 in Jackson, 64 in Memphis, and even 39 days in the home of humidity, New Orleans. Outside of the upper northwest and upper northeast around Maine, the only areas not sweltering ran along the western slope of the Rockies and nearby areas from northern New Mexico through much of Colorado and western Wyoming into southeast Montana from the Centennials to the Bitterroot Mountains.

We’re past the point of arguing about what we read and hear. It’s now come down to what most of us can feel and see for ourselves. There are few places left to hide from rising water and heat, so before all of this is an everyday deal, we better change not just our “where,” but our ways.


The Trump Uniform and Other Stereotypes

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speak with flood victims outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Central, Louisiana, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

New Orleans    Donald Trump showed up for three hours in Baton Rouge yesterday to make whatever hay he might out of the 1000-year flood in the area. Obama will be coming next week. He’ll be leaving his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard or some such and answering the cries of daily editorials in the Louisiana newspapers calling for him.

There was a picture of Trump in many of the newspapers along with his vice-presidential running mate, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence. The photo op had them helping unload a truck with donated supplies and helping hand those out in the blistering heat and suffocating humidity that makes a Louisiana day in an August summer the stuff of tropical legend. What struck me though was the fact that Trump was still “in uniform.”

Pence was wearing a short sleeve shirt with an open collar. Trump had on his now iconic white golf cap, which reportedly is his sartorial strategy to hold the comb over in place so he doesn’t get caught by any of the political photojournalist paparazzi with his remaining hair flying akimbo in all directions. Not surprisingly, it was also one of his key fundraising strategies throughout the campaign. He was wearing his usual white shirt and dark jacket. No tie, but this is clearly his all-purpose uniform. He has no message discipline, but total and absolute fashion discipline. His image is clearly what he sees as important and paramount, not his message. I find that fascinating and frightening at the same time. This is what presidential means to him.

But, it’s also a product of the media flesh-eating machine. Over the last week we’ve had more than our share of articles about the “buns” in the women’s hair at the Olympics and the number of sequins and rhinestones in the women gymnasts’ outfits. It all got to the point that a rouge feminist interviewer in Rio, watched by my daughter, was interviewing male Olympians and asking them about their uniforms and asking them to “take a twirl” for the viewers.

Reading the business section of the big national newspapers it becomes easier to follow the Trump uniform and its challenges, particularly at the gender divide. For Trump – and many other business folks – this is all about their “brand.” Women pictured in those pages and elsewhere have greater challenges. Of course there is Hillary and her pantsuits and big jackets, Marissa Mayer and her colorful combinations at Yahoo, or Sheryl Sandberg and her dark-colored monotones at Facebook, but for the rest of the tribe there is uncertainty. Do they go with the rigid, formal suit or the summer flounce to message professionalism or friendliness?

Why can’t we move past the trivialities of “dad” jeans and sleeveless dresses? Certainly Trump doesn’t mean to teach us anything, but his boring, standard issue uniform is a clear message he is shrewdly planting in all of us, whether we like it or not.


Breitbart News Taking Over Trump Campaign – OMG!

Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Stephen Bannon Hosting Radio Show Photo Credit: Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

New Orleans   The devil has now taken over the details for the Trump campaign. It’s official now with his announcement this week that Stephen Bannon, the head the Breitbart News abomination of websites, clickbait, and hate speech, will now be running his entire campaign operation. Bannon has never managed a campaign at any level, but he’s qualified on two counts in Trump world. He’s worked his own “art of the deal” on Wall Street for years and of course he is a committed media provocateur. We can’t say he’s Trump’s evil twin, because he’s more like Trump’s real twin, if any of us can imagine such a thing. What a horror!

What does this signal? Well, it would seem that we are at the end of the road for any more of this “acting Presidential” posing from Trump. As he’s been warning, he wants to be himself again. This is going to be more of the “dancing with who brought me here,” and “doing it my way” shtick that he displayed so endearingly to his red-meat, mouth-breathing base during the Republican primaries.

But, wait a minute, I like red-meat, as much as the next person, and breathe out of my mouth whenever I need too as well, so let me be clear, deriding the Trump antics as “populist,” is elitist and offensive. These pundits, commentators, politicos, and others need to call the Trump stuff what it really is rather than trying to slander it as populist. They may not like Trump, but that doesn’t mean they like any of the rest of us any better!

A populist is someone, especially if it’s a politician, who wants to represent “ordinary” people, if there is such a thing, and the “common” people, who are very uncommon. That’s not Trump. Demagogue, yes! Rabble-rouser. Hate-speaker. Oh, yeah. Racist? Seems so. But, populist, no way! Look at his tax plan, which would be little more than another rich giveaway for proof positive.

Now with the Breitbart folks in charge, it’s likely that we haven’t seen anything yet. Roger Ailes, the recently canned impresario who built the even larger rightwing echo chamber at Fox News, is also reportedly advising the Trump effort now. These are peas in a pod. It could be that we won’t see anything worse than we have to date, but this is simply a refreshing bit of transparency for the Trump campaign. These guys have been on the sidelines and behind the curtain, and now they’re front-and-center.

Judging from the way Breitbart has now admitted paying for the video-scam attacks on ACORN though, this new legitimacy of sorts on the national scene is frightening, because if anything, win, lose or draw, it now appears that Trump and his foul-mouthed and minded friends are going to be bootstrapping their way from this campaign into more of the same after the election is over. Trump seems to be preparing himself to lose, but he’s building a future which will be built on the same hate and fear that Breitbart and his other cronies believe is what spurs their kind of action. They may be deciding that they are content with their 40% and want to lock it down even harder as a place and base for their future.

Heaven help all of us and the country where we live, but be clear, it’s not about the people, it’s only about them.


Crisis in Home Ownership for Working Families and Minorities

San Jose much for sale but few are being sold (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Much for Sale in San Jose   (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

New Orleans   Something big is happening in housing. Maybe big and bad. Maybe big and unknown, but scary in its uncertainty for the future.

Here are the facts that frighten.

Home ownership dropped again in the last quarter of 2016 and when it did so, it fell below 63% to the lowest level in 50 years.

Mortgage loans to African-American families fell in the review period between 2004 and 2014 from 7% of total mortgages for blacks to only 5% of mortgages issued. Hispanic families budged up slightly from 7 to 8%, Asian families stayed at 5%, and mortgages to white families zoomed up from 58% to 69%.

This analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data was done by the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. They argue in their report that this drop has to do with a tightening of credit standards after the 2007 housing meltdown. Couple that information with another recent statistic that prices in the housing market now are only 2% lower than their historic highs achieved in 2006 before the bubble burst. For the real estate brokers, it is in their interest to have their cake and eat it, too. A return of high prices means happy days for them. Claiming the decrease in much of minority-based lending is based on a change of standards, rather than a clearer manifestation of discrimination is also squarely in their interest.

The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the reasons that minorities are getting a smaller share of loans is the return of the jumbo mortgages to “more affluent borrowers with loans exceeding $417,000.” Mumbo-jumbo. Report after report also indicates with this surge in pricing what used to be “jumbo,” is now just standard operating procedure. Average housing prices have now hit $1 million San Jose for example. Meanwhile other reports speak to housing and income growth in center cities around the country, including in areas like Detroit and Philadelphia and deterioration of income and housing prices and values in working class areas of cities, along with the paradox of millennials wanting to live downtown which is pushing the prices up now, while Pew Research surveys are also saying they are only committed to living downtown for five or ten years. What then?

Anyway we shake-and-bake these figures, it is hard to maintain a belief that that part of the American Dream that included home ownership is still alive. We can’t have both stagnant incomes and rising home prices with narrower lending parameters and believe that home ownership can increase among low-and-moderate income families. The conservative blame-game that tried to saddle the housing collapse not on Wall Street recklessness but on lax lending standards has mutated into a form of de facto national housing policy.

Does that mean there will be more affordability in the rental market? There’s no indication of any new trend there, and in fact market-rate construction for the millennials is still the driver. Meanwhile neither political candidate has a program around housing, much less affordable housing, and if values are falling in low-and-moderate income communities that are not on the gentrification list, that also means that citizen wealth will continue to drop like a rock.

Housing is now on the trajectory from problem to issue to crisis, and the silence around solutions is depressing and deafening.


Please enjoy East Coast Girl by Butch Walker. Thanks to KABF.


Lynching, Police, and Black Lives Matter

Front page of the New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1900, after Charles was killed

Front page of the New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1900, after Charles was killed

New Orleans   A book on lynching is really not the kind of thing that a lot of people would pull off the shelves for a summer read, but they might be wrong for thinking that way, at least if listening to Dr. Karlos Hill on KABF’s Wade’s World is any indication. Dr. Hill, a professor now at the University of Oklahoma and formerly at Texas Tech, was talking about his book Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory. Although he was writing largely about the history of lynching between 1880 and 1920, he argued that history shapes the crisis in police-community relations that exists to this day and that the roots of these experiences also branch directly to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although the rural communities of the Mississippi River delta along Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi are infamous as the heartland of racially-based lynching, Hill notes that lynching was a national phenomenon equally feared and a part of community experience and consciousness in cities from Atlanta to New Orleans to Los Angeles. Hill draws direct connections between lynching and vigilantism that many mythologize as part of the Wild West, Gunsmoke, and cattle rustling. In the post-1880 period, such vigilantism meted out rough justice in areas where there was either lawlessness or a sense that white officials would not handle crimes against black individuals. There were cases of blacks being lynched by blacks for major crimes like rape or murder. To put this in perspective, Hill examined the actual cases that he could identify during that period from his research, 14% were black-on-black hangings, while 86% involved blacks being lynched by whites.

Hill also noted that there was a change in the way victims were seen over the 40-year period he studied. In the hands of some, like muckraking reporter Ida B. Wells, victims began to be seen in a different light not in the brutish, “black beast” framework, but more as figures of resistance who were almost heroic. The week long fight of Robert Charles in New Orleans after an altercation with a policeman there was perhaps the best example.

Before anyone dismisses all of this as simply a shameful oddity of long dated history, think for a minute, as Hill and I did, about the powerful legacy such experiences have embedded in the black community and experience. Even more so consider how little modern police force and modern community policing has done to moderate this painful legacy. I can still remember my first arrest at an action in Springfield, Massachusetts. Every one of the members, black, brown and even white, were convinced that if arrested, the police would beat you. Period. No question. In fact, when I was arrested, even though I was going voluntarily and telling people to be calm, there was a tug-of-war between the police and the members with me in the middle, because the members felt this so strongly and felt obligated to provide protection for what they saw as inevitable.

Reflecting on the police killings in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge and elsewhere, Hill was careful to say that though some have seen these actions as modern “lynchings,” that they are not, but though different he believes they come from the same historical and evil seeds. Before Dallas,  he thought for a brief time there might be a real reassessment of community policing and its impact on minorities, but he fears that moment may have been lost in the confusion between black lives mattering and blue lives mattering.

In truth all lives matter, and change has to come. Hill is right: history matters. For the present we have to accelerate the process to achieve justice, because without justice, as the chant goes, there can be no peace.


The Poignant Moments of Escorting a Soldier Home

13962608_10101820071738685_4811447333640032288_nNew Orleans   As we prepared to take off from Denver on the last leg of our flight on United Airlines, the pilot came on the intercom with an announcement that fortunately I had not heard in all my miles of air travel. He said that we were carrying an escort who was flying a solider home with us. He said that American soldiers pledge to stand between the enemies of our country and American citizens, and that we were carrying a soldier back home who had honored that pledge and made that sacrifice. He said that he would announce this again when we landed, though as it turned out it was not needed, but he asked that we would allow the escort to depart the plane first before rising to leave the plane on arrival in New Orleans.

I had seen a ramp worker walk the Air Force sergeant onto the plane before any other passengers. When we entered, he was seated on the aisle in a bank of three seats on the left side of the plane by himself in the first row that follows first class, only a couple of rows up from us. Before we departed, while the air conditioning was still coming on, I listened as the attendant approached the escort and asked if she could take his jacket. This was his uniform. He of course refused. He sat silently throughout the less than two hour flight without reading, talking, or rising from his seat. He never looked back, only forward.

Anyone who has ever flown knows that when the bell dings that the gate airway ramp has been lowered and the door is ready to open, it is a mad scramble as people get up from their seats and collect their bags, sometimes pushing forward to get a preferred place in line to leave. This was different. Looking forward there was no one rising. I turned to look towards the back of the plane, no one was standing. It wasn’t just a matter of keeping the aisle open, as the pilot had requested, which some might have done by rising and getting ready, but keeping out of the aisle. This time no one was moving, everyone was sitting silently, and waiting. Even after the escort rose and walked out of the plane there was a minute or two when no one moved still, making sure the way was clear.

Chaco and I walked up the airway ramp and into the large circular waiting area where a dozen gates departed. We stopped in front of the ticket counter near the bank of windows. We were not alone. There had been no announcement in the waiting area, but somehow people knew something was happening. There were hundreds of people standing up, standing on chairs, and watching the runway below where a black hearse was parked on the tarmac near the baggage chute. Two police cars had their lights flashing next to the hearse. Several ramp workers in orange vests were standing alongside two women, and off to the side behind them were a half-dozen blue uniformed Air Force personnel who stood straight and at attention.

The pallbearers marched towards the plane as the casket glided down the chute and took it to the hearse. The rain had begun to pour and a ramp worker walked a large umbrella over and raised it above the head of the two African-American women, perhaps a mother, a sister, a fiancé, a wife, but certainly two women who were locked in an embrace without moving from the moment the casket had left the plane with their loved one.

They had a private moment as hundreds watched in unknown silence. Some weeping. Many, me among them, with tears in our eyes. No one seemed to move until the hearse door was closed. A German couple next to us, looked at me and said, “So sad.”

We were all civilians. The public being protected. This was a tragedy. A reminder that the war and the killing go on, many thousands of miles away in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, where soldiers are lost and lives are sacrificed. For a moment we were all touched and jolted into the reality of war as this solider came home, and as we came home, and we all were welcomed into a lifetime of mourning for lives lost that had hardly begun.