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Jindal “No Go!”

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

New Orleans    It’s not often that almost everyone agrees on something throughout the land and perhaps the globe, but Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, formerly a Republican presidential hopeful, has truly succeeded in bringing everyone together.  He did so with his crazy, controversial remarks to a conservative group in London named after former Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State.  While there he went on at some length about the fact that there were “no go” zones in cities in Britain, France, and elsewhere that non-Muslims and even the police didn’t go that were functionally ruled by sharia law.

When he left Louisiana, he claimed he was on his way to Europe to drum up business for the state.  Hopefully when he’s talking to corporations over there he will mention that he is on the downside of his last term in office and can’t run again, so it may be safe for them to come to the Bayou State without embarrassment.  Definitely, his sudden notoriety will make it clear that they should wait until he’s gone from the governor’s mansion and the coast is clear.

Fox News jumped on the bandwagon with some of its commentators also parroting the “no go” line.  They have quickly apologized four times on the air and retracted every last line of their remarks. The Mayor of Paris has announced that she is going to sue Fox News for slander, and why not.

In Louisiana, where few agree on anything, both newspapers in New Orleans the daily Advocate and the every once in a while Times-Picayune led with editorials making it clear that Jindal’s hate speech didn’t speak for Louisiana.  They were both embarrassed and horrified by his remarks. The last time they agreed so strenuously was in their assessment that Hurricane Katrina was in fact a bad thing!

It’s easy to understand Jindal’s predicament. He thinks he should be president. Fortunately no one else does. The last poll among Republicans had him in the 2 or 3% range in terms of support and recognition. Jindal’s strategy has been to pretty much leave Louisiana alone, it being Louisiana I can’t say “high and dry,” which is somewhat a good thing, and try to carve out some notice for himself on the far right. He’s willing to go speak to right wing groups and church gatherings that no other candidate will touch.  He’s organizing a prayer thing that seems like it’s a path to perdition itself from the way folks are running away from it. The budget in Louisiana is fabricated on oil and gas revenues so any claims Jindal might have had about finances in the state are long gone and all of his tricks with the numbers are going to haunt the rest of his term and whoever is elected along with the citizens of the state for years.

Jindal’s reaction to all of this? Well, he’s doubled down by releasing a 1700 word press statement in Baton Rouge restating the so-called “evidence” of his “no go” remarks.

I think the only place there is really a “no go” rule is that Jindal is no longer welcome in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France again.  It seems it won’t be long before Louisiana is also a “no go” spot for Jindal as well.

Is “American Sniper” an Anti-War Movie?

fb_shareNew Orleans   The papers are buzzing about the surprising opening weekend success of Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper, who was also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.Hollywood is scratching its head as if they had found a new audience in the South and the West for war movies.  Quelle shock!

According to the Wall Street Journal eight of the top ten markets for the movie were in the South or Midwest including San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Nashville, and Albuquerque.  The movie did $105.3 million in business in the US and Canada over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  “Sniper” enjoyed the “largest opening ever for a drama or R-rated film and more than doubled the prior record for Martin Luther King Day weekend.”

So what’s up?  Was this just a situation where the yahoos, vets, and necks drove the box office in a red meat, blood curdling frenzy?

We went to see the movie in Chalmette, a working class community downriver from New Orleans, and the theater was packed for a Sunday night flick with most in the audience probably not having a day off for King Day.  The movie was riveting, action-packed, and well-acted.  There was no applause, but virtually no one left their seats until after the credits ran showing real life footage with pictures of Chris Kyle and his wife and the funeral cortege traveling the Dallas interstate and passing crowds of people on the way to a military funeral in Texas Stadium in Arlington, home of the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

Is this the kind of response to the film that should worry progressives and lead them to ask questions about how bloodthirsty we are becoming as a country? My answer would be “no.”

“Sniper” is a movie without any real vocal or visible politics.  In fact one of Kyle’s team questions whether the war is worth it and whether or not we should be in Iraq during their 2nd or 3rd tour together, and dies later.  His own brother leaves him head scratching when he runs into him on his 4th tour expressing plainly his disgust for the war in four letter terms.  For Kyle, reportedly American’s deadliest sniper ever with almost 200 confirmed kills, this is his “job” and his patriotic responsibility to his country, but even more so the movie is clear that it’s personal and about protecting his fellow soldiers and community.  In the movie’s metaphor he’s the “sheepdog” protecting the sheep. The movie makes it obvious the soldiers are untrained and unprepared for this war and clueless and trusting about any big picture. War is hell here, and any viewer can’t mistake that it is blind luck and fickle fortune that allows any of the soldiers to live from day to day, including Kyle, despite his SEAL training and marksmanship.

To the degree that veterans are flocking to the movie and giving it thumbs up as they leave and saying that Eastwood “got it right” in his depictions of Iraq and the war, any sober minded viewer can only conclude that this may be one of the more powerful anti-war movies ever made.  The toll on the battlefield is no more intense than the adjustment on the home front.  The struggle in the field is almost less than the fight later in the VA hospitals.

The moral of the movie seems to me: it’s all right for all of us to love America, but war is crazy, deadly, and permanently wounding.

Global Inequality is Increasing Dangerously

yacht-landscape-billion-oxfamNew Orleans        Rev. Martin Luther King’s last campaign was about poor people and human rights, taking another step down the road from civil rights.  It’s no surprise that Oxfam International, even though based in the United Kingdom, chose the day set aside to celebrate King’s legacy as the day to release a report on the soaring increases in global inequality just in recent years.

Their report is hard to ignore when you look at the figures alone:

In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet.  Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years… with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.

Rising inequality is not like climate change where you can wonder what the world might look like in 20, 30, 50, or 100 years.  This is happening right this second last year, this year, and next year and demands action.

As startling, we can almost put faces and names on this problem since so few now have so incredibly much:

The wealth of these 80 individuals [at the top of the Forbes list] is now the same as that owned by the bottom 50% of the global population, such that 3.5 billion people share between them the same amount of wealth as that of these extremely wealthy 80 people.5 As the wealth of everyone else has not been increasing at the same rate as that for the top 80, the share of total wealth owned by this group has increased and the gap between the very rich and everyone else has also been increasing. As a result, the number of billionaires who have the same amount of wealth as that of the bottom half of the planet has declined rapidly over the past five years. In 2010, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population; by 2014, the figure had fallen to just 80 billionaires

Oxfam’s report is a little different though because it involves more than wringing their hands about the grossness of the inequality.  They bell the cat by pointing out that much of the concentration of wealth is coming in the finance, insurance, health, and pharmaceutical sectors and is correlated directly with not just the amount these industries are over compensating their owners and executives, but also the amount they are investing in lobbying.  Almost $1 billion was spent by the financial industry between lobbying and direct election contributions in the last year.  Healthcare and drugs spent $500 million in lobbying last year.  Oh, yeah, all of that is in the United States, where so much of the wealth is concentrated, but even in the EU the Oxfam count is $150 million euros and $50 million by finance and health respectively.

If you follow the money and want to decrease inequality, it’s hard to ignore the Oxfam argument.  The chicken and the egg question is straightforward in their report.  Curtail the ability of the these industries and the rich to buy special treatment and favors through lobbying and politics, and we might have a chance to finally start narrowing the inequality gap here and abroad between the very, very, very rich and the poor and poorer, which is pretty much the rest of us.

Post-Ferguson: It’s Not the Tactics, It’s the Troops

713Highway Blocked

Boston highway blocking

New Orleans     Historians, celebrities, names in the news, and old warriors of the civil rights movements are being put in the uncomfortable position of being asked by the press as so-called opinion leaders to comment on everything from the movie, Selma, to the tactics of protestors in the post-Ferguson moment of pushback and leap forward for more racial equality and rights.  A lot of the talk seems fuddy-duddy and old fashion as too many try to both line up with the drive to end injustice but shrink from the tactics, often seeming to channel school marms and old aunts.

Street blocking has been a favorite tactic of current protestors with dramatic impact.  In Oakland several weeks ago the interstate along the east Bay was blocked for hours attracting wild publicity.  More recently several dozen protestors chained themselves to 1200 pound concrete barrels and blocked a highway coming into Boston for hours there as well.  There are reports of “speaking truth to power” actions where protestors interrupt lunches in restaurants with largely white clientele to demand that they deal with the issues.

All of this invariably leads to the general wet noodling by outsiders that adopt the standard line that they agree with the goals, but abhor the tactics.

David J. Garrow, the award winning and great historian of the civil rights movement is a good example of a less than helpful tendency to scold and deprecate.  Saying to the Times:

 

…the impromptu protests that had erupted in recent months were not comparable to the strategies used by civil rights groups of the 1960s, which had clear goals such as winning the right to vote or the right to eat at a segregated lunch counter. “You could call it rebellious, or you could call it irrational,” Mr. Garrow said of the new waves of protests. “There has not been a rational analysis in how does A and B advance your policy change X and Y?” Mr. Garrow compared the protesters to those of Occupy Wall Street. “Occupy had a staying power of, what, six months?” Mr. Garrow said. “Three years later, is there any remaining footprint from Occupy? Not that I’m aware of.”

 

Even Rev. Al Sharpton, who knows something about protesting, took some shots by saying of the protests,

 

“I think some of them are absolutely what we need,” he said. Of others, he said: “I think some of them are hustling the media, they have no real following, no real intent, and they may not be around in four months.”

Rev. Sharpton knows something about working the media, and part of the tactical dilemma faced by today’s civil rights protestors, just as by others 50 years ago, is how to get enough attention to convert the protest to pressure.

From an organizing perspective the tactics don’t seem problematic to me.  The fact that the actions are small and broadcast a limited base is what worries me.  You can’t make change without troops, and putting lots of people in motion, and the choice of tactics in some of the more dramatic actions has been more about a vanguard leading, than building a movement for change.  A movement for change can’t crystallize around folks watching YouTube videos of other people engaging risk and taking action.  Unless this generation of organizers and activists starts assembling tactics that allow broad engagement and participation, the naysayer army is always mobilized and will drown them out and beat them down.  If we look small, we quickly become irrelevant.  Organizers can’t allow that to happen on campaigns of this importance.

Attacks on Fair Housing and Affordable Housing Demands

rallyNew Orleans    Talking on “Wade’s World” on KABF with George Washington University sociology professor and frequent author, Gregory Squires, about his recent piece in Social Policy on the impact of the Occupy movement, he underlined his concern that the “disparate impact” theory is under review in the term of the US Supreme Court and the threat that decision could hold for fair housing advocates.  It’s worth the worry.

As a Justice Department official noted several months ago, real estate agents, landlords, and others have cleaned up their act so that there is little of what she called “pants-down discrimination,” in what they say, but there is still plenty in what they do, and the “disparate impact” theory has been the prevailing tool to assure fair housing without discrimination.  If the impact is discriminatory, regardless of the intent, then it has to stop so that diverse populations do not face housing discrimination.  HUD according to all reports is hustling to enshrine one single standard for disparate impact in regulations in hopes that the Supreme Court will follow its usual tendency of allowing the government and its regulations to prevail in the separation of powers.  Given the recent tendency of the Court’s majority to bend over backwards in pretending that the days of discrimination are over, it’s a valid fear for housing advocates.  The Justices might be persuaded to temper there 1950’s “good times are back again” viewpoints in the wake of Ferguson and New York City protests and disturbances, but we certainly can’t count on it.

We also talked about the ongoing “push out” of low and moderate income families from executive cities because they can’t afford the housing.   Squires and the DC-based community organization, ONE, Organization of the North East, have been campaigning for equitable development and have a 2nd conference on the issue coming to Washington soon.  Coincidentally, I had just heard from a colleague studying at the Yale School of Architecture about an assignment they have to try to design 100,000 units of affordable housing in San Francisco.  It’s not academic when you read recently that experts are referring to the Tenderloin, the San Francisco district known largely for union local headquarters and derelicts over the years, as the last “working class neighborhood” in the city.

Ottawa ACORN was also in the news on the same kind of issue in Canada, where they are putting on pressure to win “inclusionary zoning” that would establish affordable housing as a mandatory requirement in any new housing development over a certain size.

Ottawa ACORN coordinator Curtis Bulatovich said they want inclusionary zoning and hope a private members bill, introduced in Queens Park by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Liberal MPP Peter Milczyn, is approved. It would give cities the power to mandate a certain percentage of total units as affordable housing in residential development of 20 or more units that require by-law amendments.  “We wouldn’t have as many “ghettos” in this city and cities across the province. It would be an affordable enough thing for developers to do and it would also show that they are giving back to their communities,” Bulatovich told CFRA News. He said the time to act is now.

“In a lot of areas, specifically Westboro, you have a lot of empty, beautiful newly built condominium (units) and I was thinking you could easily, easily have those to inclusionary zoning.”

He could have added “before it’s too late,” which increasingly seems to be the crisis we’re facing in a number of cities in the United States and in places like London and Paris around the globe.

Is President Obama Finally Joining the Battle Against Telecoms?

15109096143_dba3fd3020_z-620x360Little Rock       I’m crossing my fingers that now that President Obama doesn’t have to raise money for another campaign, he’s finally getting the fact that his buddies at Comcast and the rest of the telecoms have been playing him and almost every other governmental body and politician in the country for patsies while they shakedown the American people on a monthly basis while giving us slow internet and shlock.  We may have lost some battles with these boys, but suddenly we seem to have an ally and a chance at winning the war.

First, the President declared fully he was against a fast and slow lane on the internet.  And then, hallelujah, he finally weighed in on pushing the FCC to regulate the internet as a public utility giving us hope of real protection over time.  He even seems to have whispered to Tom Wheeler, the FCC head, behind the woodshed, and Wheeler seems to have converted to the Obama position.  There’s no word on blocking the Comcast and Times-Warner merger, but now there’s real hope.

There was more evidence in Cedar Rapids recently where the President not only trumpeted the local municipal utility there for creating a superfast fiber optic system for internet but said he was willing to do whatever it took, even though it is late in the game, to preempt the ability of big cable telecoms to stop other cities and states from building higher speed lines and breaking their monopolies.   As quoted in the Des Moines Register, he seemed like one of us:

 

“In too many place across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors,” he said. “In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one that you’ve got here in Cedar Falls. So … I’m saying we’re going to change that.”

 

Some “big companies.”  You hear that Comcast, AT&T, Cox, and the like?  He’s naming and shaming you!

Susan Crawford from Harvard whose book, Captive Audience, a couple of years ago was the definitive indictment of the cable company monopolies and their almost criminal stranglehold on the internet that was holding us down with low speeds and exorbitant pricing blocking more than a quarter of our population, in the wake of these latest statements started calling Obama, the “FDR of the internet.”  Whoa, baby, hold on!

She’s clear what has to happen though is many more of these fiber optic systems:

 

The FCC has suggested that 25Mbps is a good potential threshold for high speed Internet access in America, but 90 percent of 25Mbps subscriptions in the US go to local cable monopolies that can charge whatever they want. DSL just can’t compete for these higher speeds: Where local cable monopolies face competition only from copper, they get 98-99 percent of subscriptions for 25Mbps. This landscape is radically transformed by the presence of a fiber competitor. Where fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) exists, cable gets just 56 percent of subscriptions for 25 Mbps. But there is very little FTTH in the US: FTTH makes up just 9.5 percent of overall US subscriptions.

 

There’s real hope now.

And, for just a bit more good news, it turns out the internet isn’t bad for you after all.

 

“…new study by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University found the opposite: Frequent Internet and social media users do not have higher stress levels than those who use technology less often. And for women, using certain digital tools decreases stress.”

 

The President is telling all of us, “Relax, get happy, go on-line!”

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Please enjoy Lee Ann Womack’s Send it On Down, Thanks to KABF.