Adios, Andrew Breitbart

Andrew Breitbart

New Orleans   Andrew Breitbart’s career speaks loudly to the ongoing American phenomena of the winking carnie barker, P. T. Barnum huckster who always had something to sell and could find the suckers that would buy it.  Breitbart’s passionate mission to destroy “progressive institutions” was clearly stated and there were plenty of rubes in cities large and small ready to fall for whatever tricks he had up his sleeve.  Truth or fiction hardly mattered as long as it drove traffic to his websites, dollars to his pockets, and stirred up a mess, which then drove more traffic.  That was his business and that was all he really cared about.  For him the rest was no regrets and road kill.  He built nothing, since hate, lies, and innuendo were the tools he wielded and they were only useful in trying to destroy.

I’m sorry he’s dead, but the plain truth is that he was already beaten.  The voices he attempted to silence were no longer as loud, but they still were raised for justice, including mine and many others.  Breitbart’s moment coincided with the Tea Party and fell as fast as they ebbed.  He watched and railed while strange things, like the Occupy movement filled up space, and his base became narrower and narrower as his allegations became wilder and more farfetched around the litany of his personal enemies list.   I was proud to have been high on his list, though I bore the buffoon no rancor.  I understood his game, and he played his part well.

His credibility was shot, and even a huckster needs a thin reed of fact to grasp in order to hustle the sale.  His obituary on the Associated Press (AP) wire minced no words in writing of the spurious editing behind the ACORN videos he promoted.  The New York Times was more circumspect because they are still smarting from having swallowed his bait hook-line-and-sinker as leaders of the sucker brigade and the media outfits he abhorred.  His attack on Shirley Sherrod and unconscionable editing of her remarks to the NAACP were harder for any fair minded person of any persuasion to stomach, and was the final coup ending his claim to any credibility.

When obits are reduced to saying that you cared about your family and were loyal to your spouse (“according to friends”), oh, and maybe you didn’t hate gay people, there can’t be any doubt that liberalism is still alive and well and searching for something nice to say.   Amen!

I’m sure he didn’t beat his dog either, and neither will I beat on him now that he’s down.  An early and untimely death is never a cause for any joy for anyone.  There is nothing to celebrate there, and I won’t.

But, Breitbart had already lost where it counted, and where he wanted to be counted, in the larger political and public life of the country.

Adios and vaya con dios!

Bringing Down Occupy NOLA

New Orleans               Front page headlines in the Times-Picayune had trumpeted the curious court battle around the removal of Occupy NOLA from Duncan Plaza across from City Hall to parts unknown.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu had summarily pulled up the encampment only to have his hands slapped by a federal court judge ruling it was illegal and giving Occupy NOLA a surprising legal reprieve and allowing them to relocate for an additional seven (7) days while he considered whether they could come or go.

We went by the General Assembly to hear the news Tuesday night.  The 40 or so folks left were sitting or lying on a small mound of grass in the Plaza listening to the legal team report on the judge’s decision, which, predictably, was grim and go.  In a short order Judge Lance Africk simply wrote with no elaboration that “…the Court finds that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits….”  Mark Gonzales, one of the volunteer lawyers, told them plainly that more detail from the Judge was not going to provide better news.

There was concern about goods and property lost by the police’s illegal eviction and whether there would be any compensation.

There were offers of new locations.  Empty lots in the lower 9th ward, still devastated and 80% vacant since Katrina, was one suggestion.  Another speaker suggested an Episcopal Church that seemed to be closing on Canal Street.  People drifted around the meeting.  Others listened carefully.  There was calm.  Two people had decided to be arrested at 10 PM when the police were scheduled.  Some would watch from across the street and down the block as witnesses.

This was dénouement.   Ground conceded.  Point long made.  Future uncertain.

Military Schools Trump Charters in a Vote for Equity and Anti-Racism

New Orleans               News flash from the military of all places!

If you create a level of equity and seek to eliminate racism in the classroom, results will shine, and you will out public schools.  If you try to teach and actually educate children, rather than “teaching to the test,” their reading and other scores on those same tests will surpass their competitors.    In a column in the Times by Michael Winerip we got some good news for a chance from unexpected, uniformed sources.

The comparisons were stark.  Where states are uniformly muscling in on local school district governance and educational programs (he uses TN as an example, but Louisiana is the frontrunner!), the military “doesn’t micromanage” in fact they claim to let, “Individual schools decide     what to focus on.”  The class sizes on average are 18:1, on a par with private schools, despite the nay saying about class size from Mayor Bloomberg and other so-called reformers.  Relationships between military and their unions in the classrooms are smooth, imagine that, but of course collective bargaining and seeking agreements continues to be implemented federal policy so perhaps that should not be a surprise.

An op-ed in the same edition of the Times by several education experts, Helen Ladd from Duke and Edward Fiske formerly the Times education editor, underscores the same points.  The gut grabber:  “The Occupy movement has catalyzed rising anxiety over income inequality; we desperately need a similar reminder of the relationship between economic advantage and student performance.”  Hello!

In their argument they cite a new study that continues to find a huge achievement gap between high-and low-income children over the last 50 years that is even greater that the gaps created by race.  In fact one of the advantages the military seems to enjoy is the ability to press down those gaps in their classrooms where the differences are a matter of grade, not of class.  Ladd and Fiske note that nothing in Leave No Child Behind recognizes this reality, which is another reason for its abysmal failure under both the Bush and now the Obama Administrations, which continue to pretend to be income and color blind while children suffer without remediation.

Interestingly, the United States military has no choice.  They have to produce the kind of citizens they want to fill uniforms in the future, and keep happy the ones that are wearing them now, none of which seems to matter much to too many administrators in their flight to fashion and away from the children.  That’s their business.

The experts argue that it’s a question of morality for the country and past time citizens and their leaders faced up to the challenge.

Good luck with that.  The military seems to know that it has a job to do and there are consequences to failure.  For the rest of us, morality might be the question, but that turns out to be one of the easies questions American citizens have to ignore.

Taking Back the Capitol

 New Orleans               There are few organizations anywhere that are better at pure and simple communications than MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union, but they just about met their match in trying to turn up the heat with a demonstration culminating SEIU’s Fight for a Fair Economy campaign in DC.  To the media this was just another action signifying nothing and went unnoticed in the Times and on the wire services.  I was able to find a piece in the Washington Post, but the message was garbled between the Take Back program and the ongoing tensions and conflicts in the Capitol with the Occupy forces.  To the message the media seems to have gotten is that this was just another salvo of many from the Occupy movement albeit with more high powered support from SEIU and MoveOn.org.

One of the dangers of organizing work is that sometimes the tactic can swallow the strategy, and this seems to have happened in DC.  The news was all about 60 to 70 arrests for this and that and a lot of attention was paid to the street blocking and traffic delays as folks tried to gum up the works.

The press may have thought that this was all Occupy all the way, which speaks to the power and impact of a legitimate movement and the savvy of SEIU and others to attach themselves to something with traction, but seeing the following quote from one of the arrestees was labor all the way:

“K Street is the place to be if you’re going to stop the moneybags who are corrupting our government,” said Jim Sessions, 75, a Methodist minister from Tennessee who was arrested Wednesday. He and eight others from Texas, Massachusetts and Washington state had linked arms across K and 16th streets and refused to move.

I couldn’t help smiling seeing my old friend and comrade (and Labor Neighbor Training and Research Center board member!), Rev. Jim Sessions, whose history and credentials within the labor movement and many other progressive causes is blue ribbon all the way from his time supporting the Pittston Strike to his directorship of the Highlander Center and then his efforts to build the Union Community Fund for the AFL-CIO until returning to Knoxville, taking one for the team and staying on message.  Nonetheless this was all run as Occupy.

Another article looked extensively at whether or not the street blockings and arrests advanced the 99% cause or not, which is always the argument when message gets consumed in the tactics.  Given that this was really the hard paws of labor sending a message to the Capitol, I hope the message was not lost on the White House, even if it is likely to end up as hours of debate before the Occupy DC general assembly in coming days.

No question we took a shot.  Just unclear if it came within a mile of the real targets.

Encampments Down, but Occupy Up: Occupy Marines

New Orleans               The news is full of Occupy confusion.  They are homesick for the encampments.  Many of the big ones are going down.  Los Angeles was evacuated with 1400 police from the LAPD and 300 arrests last night.  Philly is down.  There are a surprising number still up in places like New Orleans, Little Rock, and a host of other cities and towns.  As interesting to me in some ways is the vitality that is still stirring in odd places and spaces, some of which have never been physical, but speak to an interesting and robust future, and that brings me to OccupyMarines.

A friend sent me their way to have a look with the warning that this could be a real deal or something sketchier.  My buddy, the outlier from a long line of generals in the army going back to the Battle of the Big Horn, and myself a veteran of many family gatherings and Thanksgivings where GS rankings and military slang from decades of service were an important foreign language to acquire, both thought the Occupy Marines site seemed to be authentic, especially when we took the long tour through a 20-minute YouTube interview with a Dutch reporter on the website.  The action-plan, tactical drawings looked military all the way.

In the leaderless, consensus system that so clearly characterizes Occupy around the world, the Occupy Marines contribution is an anomaly and a bit of a contradiction, since they avowedly offer to make their work in the movement based on their military training in logistics, supply, support, and “leadership.”  For example one offering from them focused on winter camping and how to manage it, which might have been helpful to some of the longer rooted Occupy sites.

The Occupy Marines website seems to be under attack or some tension currently.  Hitting a link brings up a warning about “unauthenticated certificates,” which may mean that there is trouble in Occupy uniform?  There has been discussion from Occupy Marine about migrating to OMC to assuage the concerns of some of the more conservative leathernecks out there and about.  Their Facebook site has 18,000 fans and is one of the more serious of such sites, and perhaps the easiest way to follow what they are up to.

If something like this starts to grow, it creates not only capacity for the overall movement, but a series of new “fronts” in pushing for deeper and deeper social changes in hard to reach places and spaces.  At the point Occupy is encamped firmly in everyone’s mind, victory is assured, and the rest is tactics and timing.


“They’re Children:” Police Building Occupy Movement Again

New Orleans        Certainly it is presumptuous to compare the Civil Rights Movement with the Occupy Movement, but it takes a while to think of another movement in the USA which has gotten more of a boost from police oppression.  Occupy seems to find Bull Conners-wannabes everywhere, whether in New York City or now on the campus of the University of California at Davis where rouge police simply walked down the seated line of students and pepper sprayed them in the face.  Unbelievable!  I’m used to understanding how rouge the New Orleans police force seems to continue to be despite best efforts of one mayor after another, but increasingly it seems rogue is simply a defining characteristic.

The bystanders who could only comment that, “They’re children,” brings a chilling comment to the forefront of these movement, when even passive non-violence provokes repression.  Where do we live, Tahrir Square?   Is this the only invitation to dialogue that the 1% offers to the 99%?

Those forces need to beware.  It could be reactions like these from police forces in service to god knows whom, that deepen the support for this movement more broadly across America.  Even when we are not in agreement, we tend to support the ability to ask questions in peace and in public.