Friday, December 31, 2010

Parody Music Video by Local Artists is International Hit

2-Cent Entertainment, a local collective of young Black media makers, are known for both entertaining and inciting. They have worked with local grassroots groups like the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, documented protests and rallies, and produced music videos for up-and-coming and established artists. Brandan “BMike” Odums, one of the founders of 2-Cent, currently has 3 videos on steady rotation at MTV Jams, MTV Hits and VH1 Soul.

2-Cent describe themselves as "a collaborative effort of creative, frustrated, and comedic twenty-somethings with the innate ability to convey humor and urgency toward issues that plague not only New Orleans, but also America in general. 2-Cent is a PBS documentary, an SNL skit and an In Living Color spoof all rolled into one." Their videos have featured appearances by everyone from musical stars such as Mos-Def and Common to movement leaders and intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson and Fred Hampton, Jr.

For the second year running, 2-Cent has released a Christmas video, parodying some of todays most popular Rap/Hip Hop and Pop music artists. The video features members of 2-Cent and their friends doing hilarious and spot-on impressions of an incredible range of artists, including Kanye West, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, Rihanna, Baby, Plies, Waka, Willow Smith, Drake, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Wyclef and Chris Brown. The video, called Good Christmas, has already been reposted on countless news, music and entertainment sites, and has been viewed more than a million times in the week since it's premiere.

Equipped with social consciousness, music as the backdrop, and the cold hard facts, 2-Cent have gained a loyal following, and won high-profile awards, including a 2008 NAACP award, and Silverdocs: AFI Discovery Channel Documentary Film Festival Award for documentary filmmaking excellence. The entire time, they have never forgotten to lift up the stories of New Orleans.

Georgia Prison System Retaliates Against Prisoners Involved in Historic Protest

From Our Friends at the US Human Rights Network and the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights:
The Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights learned that on or about December 16, Terrance Bryant Dean was severely beaten by guards at Macon State Prison where he was incarcerated. The Coalition asserts this brutal beating was not isolated and was a retaliatory act carried out by the Department of Corrections (DOC) against non-violent striking inmates. The Coalition was formed to support the interests and agenda of thousands of Georgia prisoners who staged a peaceful protest and work strike initiated in early December.

The Coalition is concerned about continued violent retaliation against the multiracial group of prisoners who staged a peaceful protest to be paid for their labor, for educational opportunities, access to family members, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, and other human rights. The eight-day strike, begun in early December, involved united prison populations at various prisons, including Hays, Smith, Telfair and Macon State Prisons.

Dean’s mother, Mrs. Willie Maude Dean, stated that since she learned from inmates that her son had been beaten, she has been given no information about his condition or whereabouts by the DOC, and that she and Dean’s sisters, Wendy Johnson and Natasha Montgomery, have been denied access to him since they discovered he was hospitalized at Atlanta Medical Center.

It was around the same time of this beating that the Coalition was meeting with the DOC making the demand that a Coalition fact-finding delegation be provided access to certain prisons to investigate conditions inside.

The DOC acceded to provide such access to a Coalition delegation—starting at Macon State Prison. However, even as the delegation visited Macon State, the DOC was apparently covering-up Dean’s reported retaliatory beating there by several CERT (Correctional Emergency Response Team) Team members, who witnesses reported restrained Dean after an alleged altercation with a guard, dragged him from his cell in handcuffs and leg irons, removed him to the prison gym and beat him unconscious. The beating remained unreported by the DOC even though the Coalition specifically raised questions about reports of retaliatory beatings and about the status and whereabouts of 37—or more—men the DOC identified as strike “conspirators.”

Mrs. Dean told Coalition leaders last night that when she asked Macon State Warden McLaughlin where was her son, based on concerns raised by prisoner reports he had been beaten nearly to death, McLaughlin told her he was “in the hole,” or, an isolation cell. In fact, Mr. Dean was already in the hospital.

The Coalition is raising concerns about the potential cover up of an attempted murder and the refusal, to date, of the prison to identify the missing 37 or more inmates deemed “conspirators” by the DOC. The Coalition is calling for the DOC and other state officials to sit down with the inmates to start a process to realize the inmates’ human rights.

The Coalition, which has grown into an entity of thousands of supporters and hundreds of organizations across the U.S. and internationally, includes the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the ACLU, the U.S. Human Rights Network, All of Us or None, The Ordinary People Society and many others, and is co-chaired by Dubose and author-activist Elaine Brown.

A Coalition fact-finding delegation visited Macon State Prison on December 20 and was visiting Smith State Prison yesterday, December 29th, when the Coalition uncovered facts about Mr. Dean’s reported, brutal beating. The Coalition is planning to release a full report of its investigations and prison visits once the investigations are completed.

Family members and Coalition members, including NAACP Georgia State Conference President Ed Dubose and Georgia ACLU Legal Director Chara Jackson, will attempt to see the beaten prisoner today at Atlanta Medical Center.

Photo Above: Young prisoner Rodriques Dukes in solitary confinement at Georgia's Hays State Prison.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eight Homeless Youth Die in New Orleans Fire – What Does It Say About US?

By Bill Quigley

Eight young people, who the Fire Department said were “trying to stay warm,” perished in a raging fire during the night in New Orleans. The young people were squatting in an abandoned wood framed tin walled warehouse in a Ninth Ward neighborhood bordering a large train yard. The young people apparently had a barrel with wood burning in it for heat. Officials said this was the city’s most deadly fire in twenty five years.

The eight young people, estimated to be in their late teens and early twenties, remain unidentified. “We don’t know their IDs,” said the Fire Department, “they were so burned we cannot even tell their genders.”

Audrey, a young woman with brown dreads and a Polish last name, arrived at the scorched scene. She spent the night in the warehouse a couple of times. Because last night was so cold she and a few others begged money from people in the French Quarter and got enough to spend the night in a hotel. Do you know who was in there? “Usually 10 to 15 people, nobody uses last names, but Katy, Jeff, Sammy, Nicky, John and Mooncat usually stay there,” she sobbed. Why did people stay here? “A lot of freight hoppers stay here,” she said, pointing to the nearby trains. “We are just passing through, hopping trains. We don’t have any money.” Behind her a group of young people were crying and hugging as they picked up pieces of a navy blue sweatshirt from the burnt remains.

There are an estimated 1.6 to 2.8 million homeless youth in the US, people between the ages of 12 and 24, according to a June 2010 report of the Center for American Progress. Most are homeless because of abuse, neglect, and family conflict. Gay and transgender youth are strikingly over-represented.

The fire happened in an area of abandoned warehouses at the end of Prieur Street, two blocks towards the train tracks down from the new Family Dollar on Claiborne. It is a modest neighborhood. Some people are back, some aren’t. One block from the warehouses is a long lime green shotgun house with a beautiful red rose bush in front. Next door stands a big grey double shotgun with a wide open door and tattered curtains hanging out broken windows. Untouched since Katrina, the grey house sports OWNER HAS DOG spray painted on the front and the date, 10.8.5. “After Katrina, people don’t have the money to fix their houses up,” said the firefighter.

Across the street from the blackened warehouse is a vacant lot with a tiny handmade wooden shelter at its end. No electricity, no water. Inside are a mattress and some clothes. Follow the path through the weeds and there is another long vacant building that looks like it was once a school. Clearly people stay here as well. Empty cans of baked beans, chili, and Vienna sausages are piled next to Four Loko cans, jars of peanut butter, and empty juice boxes. “Where’s our skate park?” is painted onto the wall in blazing red. A Thanksgiving card with a teddy bear on the outside lies on the pavement. Nana wishes the best to granddaughter Heather and son Dave.

New Orleans has 3,000 to 6,000 homeless people living in abandoned buildings according to an August 2010 report by Unity of Greater New Orleans. The report, “Search and Rescue Five Years Later: Saving People Still Trapped in Katrina’s Ruins,” notes homelessness has doubled since Katrina. Seventy-five percent of the people in those buildings are survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Outreach workers report many are disabled but many also work. Inside abandoned buildings live full-time sitters and restaurant workers.

Since Katrina, New Orleans has a severe homeless problem because of the scarcity of affordable housing. HUD and local governments demolished over 4000 affordable public housing apartments after Katrina. “The current housing crisis in New Orleans reflects the disastrous impact of the demolition policy,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in a February 2010 report very critical of the United States. Rents rose. Tens of thousands of homes remain vacant. Over 30,000 families are on the waiting list for affordable housing.

A November 2010 report from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center pegs the number of vacant and blighted properties at over 40,000 in New Orleans with more in the suburbs – 14,000 of which are owned by the government.

Unity for the Homeless has been asking for help for people living in abandoned buildings for years. They have four outreach workers who nightly check on people living in abandoned buildings. Five recommendations from Unity to help these thousands of people: convert abandoned building into housing for the homeless; fund case managers to help people with disabilities move into housing; additional outreach and housing search workers; create a small shelter with intensive services for people with mental health problems who are resistant to shelters; and serious investment in affordable rental housing. There are several hundred housing vouchers available for disabled homeless people but no money to fund the caseworkers they need.

Nationally, the US has severely cut its investment in affordable housing despite increasing need from the foreclosure and economic crises. Homelessness is of course up all over. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in December 2010 that demands for food and housing are up across the country. The causes? Unemployment, high housing costs and low wages.

Will we look into our abandoned buildings and look into the eyes of our abandoned daughters and sons and sisters and brothers? Will our nation address unemployment, high housing costs, and low wages? Will we address the abuse, neglect, and family conflict that create homelessness for millions of youth, especially gay and transgender youth? Or will the fires continue and the lives end?

Bill Quigley is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Did the Media Fail to Report What They Knew About Police Violence After Katrina?

On December 10, journalist AC Thompson wrote:
Nobody within the New Orleans Police Department ever tried to bring Warren, McRae and the rest to justice. Nobody went to the chief. Nobody went to internal affairs. Nobody went to the local district attorney or the state attorney general or the U.S. Department of Justice. Every single officer who knew about the circumstances of Glover's demise, and there were easily a dozen of them, was content to simply let him disappear.
He's right. The problems at the NOPD go beyond those officers brought on trial. As Thompson says, "the issues with the New Orleans police go far beyond the misconduct by a few rogue cops." The problems in the NOPD are systemic, and demand a systemic change, including a shifting of priorities towards valuing the lives of the city's African-American majority.

However, there is one topic that Thompson has failed to address, and that's the role of our local media - very much including the Times-Picayune - which also may have failed to report what they knew, or at the very least placed a lower value on stories that contradicted the official narrative of police heroism.

In an important article in Sunday's Picayune, Jarvis DeBerry reports that Alex Brandon, who at the time of the Hurricane and it's aftermath had worked as a photographer for the Times-Picayune, "saw things and heard things that proved to be useful in a criminal investigation. He didn't report them as news." DeBerry says that Brandon "let down his profession and the people who pick up this newspaper in a search for the truth."

During the recent trial of the officers who are accused of killing Henry Glover and covering up the crime, Brandon - who was also on Danziger Bridge in the aftermath of police killings there - testified that he saw officers beating Glover's brother Ed King and good samaritan William Tanner, and later heard his "good friend" Officer David Warren admit that he had shot Glover. He stayed silent, even when directly asked about the cases by photo editor Doug Parker.

DeBerry asks the question, "Glover's family had to wait more than five years for justice. Would it have been that long if Brandon, who now works for The Associated Press, had been the courageous journalist he was believed to be and had told the world what he knew?"

The question now becomes, what other reporters didn't report all that they knew, either because they were participating in a cover up, or - more likely - just because they didn't prioritize the stories of police violence, deferred to official reports, and didn't want to make waves.

Pictured above: Former Times-Picayune Photographer Alex Brandon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

State of Louisiana Attempts to Deny Legal Birth Cerificate to Child Adopted by Gay Couple

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:

Today the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging a federal appeals court to uphold its earlier decision ordering Louisiana to issue a birth certificate with the names of both parents to a boy who was adopted by a gay couple in New York.

On February 10, 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit ruled that the State of Louisiana must treat the boy, born in Louisiana but legally adopted by his two fathers in New York, exactly as it treats other adopted children born in Louisiana, and issue a birth certificate with the names of both of the child's legal parents. The court affirmed the lower court's order requiring the Louisiana Registrar of Vital Records, Darlene Smith, to issue a new birth certificate reflecting the information required by state statute.

Upon request of the Registrar, the case was accepted by the entire U.S. Fifth Circuit acting “en banc” and is set for hearing on January 19, 2011. “It is morally wrong, as well as a violation of longstanding constitutional law, to deny a child an accurate birth certificate just because a state official objects to the child's parents,” said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Punishing a child for who his parents are defies all logic as well as all legal principles, long upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Louisiana officials should stop trying to dictate morality at the expense of children who need their protection."

The child's parents, Oren Adar and Mickey Smith, adopted their Louisiana-born son in 2006 in a New York court. Although Louisiana law requires issuing a new birth certificate to adoptive parents listing both of their names, the Louisiana Attorney General objected and advised the Registrar that she didn't have to issue the birth certificate because the couple is unmarried and the adoption would not have been granted if they lived in Louisiana. Two courts have already ruled that the Register must issue the birth certificate as requested by the parents, who have hoped to use it to demonstrate Mickey Smith's status as the child's father for health insurance purposes..

It its friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU charges that denying a child of unmarried parents a birth certificate that accurately reflects his or her relationship to his or her legal parents singles these children out for discrimination. According to the brief, the only possible reason for the state to deny children of unmarried couples a birth certificate is to express moral disapproval of unmarried couples, which is unconstitutional. Only adopted children of unmarried couples are denied accurate birth certificates under the Registrar's policy, which consigns those children to a less-than-equal status in violation of their rights.

"The Fifth Circuit has already recognized that discrimination against children based on their parents' status is against the law,” added Esman. “We hope that the entire court will rule as its panel did previously, when it upheld the district court's ruling in favor of fairness and equality for all Louisiana-born children.”

Oral argument in the case will be held on January 19, 2011. Lawyers on the ACLU's brief include Katie Schwartzmann, legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana, and Noah Levine, P. Patty Li, and Matthew D. Benedetto of the New York law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

A copy of the ACLU's brief can be found at this link.

Friday, December 17, 2010

US Government Announces Qualified Support for UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This news release, below, comes from the International Indian Treaty Council:

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) welcomed the announcement today by US President Obama of the United States’ support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The President's long-awaited statement of support was made in Washington DC during a Tribal Nations Conference attended by over 300 Tribal Leaders from throughout the US.

The President stated that “… today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this Declaration. The aspirations it affirms -- including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples -- are ones we must always seek to fulfill.”

This endorsement by the US for the Declaration is a positive, necessary and long-overdue step forward. The US is the last country to express its support for the Declaration which recognizes a broad range of rights for Indigenous Peoples in the US and around the world. Australia, New Zealand and Canada joined with the US to vote “NO” when the Declaration was adopted by a vote of 144 countries in favor at the UN General Assembly on September 13th 2007. With today’s announcement, all 4 of the opposing States have changed their position.

IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, participated in the work on the Declaration at the United Nations over many years. Hearing today’s news, she expressed IITC’s appreciation to the thousands of Indigenous Nations, organizations and human rights allies who called upon the US to express unqualified support for the Declaration since the US announced the “formal review” of its position in April of this year.

However, she also expressed IITC’s strong disappointment with the limitations the US decided to place on its support. The “Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” released today contains a number of qualifications which call into serious question the US government’s intention to fully recognize and implement many of the key rights contained in the Declaration.

Several references are made to implementation of rights in accordance with existing Federal Laws and policies. Of particular concern is the statement that the US plans to recognize “a new and distinct international concept of self-determination specific to indigenous peoples…“different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.” This interpretation by the US has no basis in the actual text of the Declaration or the principles of international human rights standards which uphold non-discrimination and equal rights. In Article 3, the Declaration defines Self-determination for Indigenous Peoples consistent with the language affirming this right for “All Peoples” in international law.

The US statement also limits the US interpretation of the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent contained in many provisions of the Declaration to “consultation”, a much more limited and diminished standard.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an international standard adopted overwhelmingly by the UN General Assembly. It must not be subject to selective redrafting or new interpretations by the US or any other State attempting to redefine or limit the inherent rights it recognizes. It also can’t be limited by narrow interpretations subject to existing federal laws and policies. The IITC calls upon the US government to reassess its position on these qualifications and express its full support for all of the Declaration’s provisions. The next step will be to evaluate and, wherever needed, raise its own laws and policies up to the minimum standard contained in the Declaration. These actions will convey the good faith, mutual respect and true spirit of partnership between States and Indigenous Peoples which the Declaration intends to promote.

Chief Gary Harrison of Chickaloon Village Traditional Council in Alaska participated in many of the United Nations sessions during the Declaration’s development. As a tribal leader, he was present at the meeting today in Washington DC when the announcement was made by President Obama. Chief Harrison also focused on the need for implementation. He said that “It is about time the US took this step after opposing the Declaration for so many years. Now they need take measures to ensure that it’s more than just an aspirational document for the American Indian, Alaska and Hawaiian Native Nations. Since Chickaloon Village is currently facing threats of unwanted coal mining in our traditional homelands, the rights in the Declaration to free prior and informed consent, self-determination, subsistence, land and resource rights are especially important to us. Implementation is what we are waiting for now”.

The UN Declaration was the first UN human rights instrument developed with the consistent, direct and full participation of the "subjects” of the rights under discussion. Any programs, policies or mechanisms established by the US to implement its new commitment to Indigenous Peoples must be planned and implemented with the full participation and consent of Indigenous Peoples to be in keeping with the provisions of Declaration. Reviewing the status of compliance with US Treaty obligations to Indigenous Nations, and establishing a fair and participatory mechanism to provide effective redress, would be a good place to start in this process.

The International Indian Treaty Council was founded in 1974 in Standing Rock South Dakota and was the first Indigenous organization to receive Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council in 1977. IITC was involved in each stage of the 25-year process at the United Nations to draft and adopt the Declaration.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

One Hundred Haitian Immigrants Moved to Louisiana Prisons are Facing Immediate Deportation

We have recently heard from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) that 100 Haitians facing deportation have been moved to prisons in Louisiana, including the detention centers in Jena, Waterproof, and Basile.

According to a statement from FIAC:
Nearly a year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake which devastated that country, 1.5 million people remain homeless, most of them living in tent cities. A recent cholera outbreak has killed more than 2,300 Haitians and has sickened over 104,000 others. A contested election has sparked violence, and both Haiti and its government are on the verge of total collapse. Conditions are so dire that on Thursday the U.S. State Department issued a warning against any travel to Haiti.

Against this backdrop, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun to detain, and has stated it will begin to deport, Haitians who have completed criminal sentences in the United States, without any notice to the individuals or their families. On Tuesday, roughly 100 detained Haitians in South Florida were transferred --- again without notice --- to rural Louisiana, ensuring that the detainees will not have access to their families or attorneys before they are deported to an unsafe and unstable Haiti. Just two weeks before Christmas, American family members are devastated to find that they may never see their loved one again. Although Haitians who qualify may register for Temporary Protected States (TPS) through January 18, 2011, many will now be afraid to come forward because of ICE's unprecedented actions.
The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center is calling on the US to halt all deportations to Haiti. "Removing individuals to Haiti under these circumstances is unconscionable", said FIAC Executive Director Cheryl Little.

Although much of the argument against deportations to Haiti has been based on arguments about the dire situation the country is in, we would like to add that deportations like this would be wrong in any situation, to any country. As Arizona's Repeal Coalition has stated, "we believe everyone should have the freedom to live, love and work wherever they please."

Photo above: Evelyn, a Haitian immigrant, wears a permanent tracking device while she awaits a decision from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on whether she will be deported back to Haiti or allowed to stay with her 5-year-old daughter, who was born in the US.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Activists Across US Protest Red Cross in Haiti Solidarity Action

This Saturday, December 18th, activists in more than ten cities across the US will make a coordinated and simultaneous public stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti. Between 2:00pm and 4:00pm EST people committed to Haiti's recovery will assemble in front of local offices of the American Red Cross calling for greater transparency and a full accounting of the money that has been raised for the purpose of helping Haiti rebuild.

In New Orleans, which has a long history of connections with Haiti, activists will assemble from 1:00pm to 3:00pm CST at the Red Cross office at 2640 Canal Street, near Broad. According to a statement released by organizers, fact sheets will be distributed and the event will be recorded. The news release also says, "We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for full accountability and transparency on the part of the American Red Cross. We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for a full disclosure of the US role in Haiti, during this current crisis and historically. We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for full recognition and respect for their human rights (a decent standard of living, proper education, health care, housing, political freedom, etc.)"

Activists say the American Red Cross has yet to release the bulk of funds collected for aid to Haiti, yet "is also earning interest on those unused funds - and has stated the interest will go to other projects." Activists say that the American Red Cross was chosen for this protest because of their role as a leading Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) involved in Haiti relief, but they stress that Red Cross is one of many organizations who have behaved unaccountably in this disaster.

Perhaps nowhere in the US is Red Cross as unpopular as in New Orleans, where the memory of post-Katrina discrimination and corruption by the aid agency is still fresh.

A February 2006 report from New York City’s Foundation Center points out that the Red Cross, which raised perhaps two billion dollars from Katrina appeals despite widespread accusations of racism and mismanagement, “ranked as by far the largest named recipient of contributions from foundation and corporate donors in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” receiving almost 35 percent of all aid, while grassroots and locally-led projects received virtually no support.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, foundations “seem to have been preoccupied with the issue of accountability. Many foundations wondered how they could be certain that grants to local groups would be well spent and, therefore, publicly accountable.” While those are reasonable concerns, it also reveals a double standard. The Chronicle writer goes on to state, “the question of accountability didn't seem to bother the large foundations that gave so generously to the Red Cross, which had a questionable record of competence to begin with and attracted even more criticism in the aftermath of Katrina over its unwise use of funds, high administrative costs, and lack of outreach to minorities.”

In Haiti post-earthquake, similar concerns were raised almost immediately. In addition, when the vast majority of post-earthquake aid went to NGOs like Red Cross, it played the role of further undermining the government’s sovereignty.

Red Cross and other large and bureaucratic aid agencies that function without and means of community accountability were quick to fundraise for Haiti. But did their aid reach people on the ground? The Associated Press reported that for every one dollar of U.S. aid to Haiti, "42 cents is for disaster assistance, 33 cents is for the U.S. military, 9 cents is for food, 9 cents is to transport the food, 5 cents to pay Haitians to help with recovery effort, less than 1 cent for the Haitian government and ½ a cent is for the government of the Dominican Republic."

Tracy Kidder, of the Haiti-based organization Partners in Health/ Zanmi Lasante, said it very well: "There are 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti, and Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world - then something‘s wrong with the way things are, the way aid is being administered."

A statement signed by six human rights organizations brought these concerns to the discussion of Haiti relief. "There is no doubt that Haiti's hungry, thirsty, injured, and sick urgently need all the assistance the international community can provide, but it is critical that the underlying goal of improving human rights drives the distribution of every dollar of aid given to Haiti," said Loune Viaud, Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at Partners in Health, one of the drafters of the letter. "The only way to avoid escalation of this crisis is for international aid to take a long-term view and strive to rebuild a stronger Haiti -- one that includes a government that can ensure the basic human rights of all Haitians and a nation that is empowered to demand those rights."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Glover Trial: The Jury's Still Out

By David Soublet

Although a verdict was announced on December 9 in the Henry Glover case, whether justice has been served is still debatable. A clearer picture won't materialize until those found guilty are sentenced months later. No matter how sentencing turns out, glaring injustices are already apparent in the jury verdict and immediate aftermath at NOPD.

Glover was shot and killed by former police officer David Warren outside an Algiers mall days after Katrina. Warren was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Most accounts, including Warren's partner Linda Howard, who was an eye witness, indicate that Glover was not close enough to present a threat to Warren's life, did not have a weapon, and was retreating from the area when he was hit with a fatal bullet from Warren's brand new high-powered rifle. Warren's claims of Katrina stress and seeing a shiny object in Glover's hand were apparently bought by the jury, and murder charges were reduced to manslaughter.

Officer Greg McRae's fate was sealed from day one before he testified when, in opening arguments, his attorney announced that McRae drove a vehicle containing Glover's body over an Algiers levy and torched it. His defense, ludicrous at best, is that he was exhausted, had been ordered to remove Glover's remains from the police compound, and he didn't want to smell the rot of death. Fortunately, the jury rejected his sympathy plea and found him guilty of 4 of 5 counts. The verdict in Mc Rae's case appears to fit the crime as it relates to Glover.

Travis McCabe was found guilty of writing a false police report and lying to a grand jury. In a way, his actions may have been the most despicable of the 3 convicts. Having the responsibility and opportunity to clear the air and expose the truth about what happened; he lied and covered up for his pals. It is this cowardly behavior that must change before true internal cultural progress will occur in NOPD. He deserves the maximum prison term available by law.

The most egregious error in the verdicts was the acquittal of Lieutenant Dwayne Scheurmann. Among other charges, Scheurmann admitted following McRae to the levee to dispose of Glover's body and watching him burn it. He concealed the matter until it was apparent that he'd be headed to prison with McRae. If he did not obstruct a federal investigation, as he was charged, then how is obstruction defined? When one does not come forward with the truth immediately in such a horrific case as this, he personifies obstruction!

Ultimate justice begs answers to many other questions in the Glover case, including: How many years will Warren, McRae and McCabe get? Who will appeal and what will result from those appeals? What happened to Glover's skull? Who will be held accountable for ordering Glover's body removed from the compound? Will Chief Ronal Serpas fire several other cops who admitted lying to federal officers or the grand jury, or simply blend them back into police uniforms? Henry Glover's family and his headless remains will cry out for complete justice until these questions are answered.

Reprinted from 12/13/10 Newsletter
Photo/Newsprint from Mike Therealist's Facebook Photos

Friday, December 10, 2010

Excluded Workers Unite to Expand the Human Right to Organize

From our friends and allies at the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference, which starts today in Birmingham, Alabama:
Excluded Workers Report Introduced on International Human Rights Day

Today, International Human Rights Day, workers from sectors historically excluded from labor protections and the right to organize are speaking out in Birmingham, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, and here in New Orleans.

After launching the Excluded Workers Congress at the US Social Forum in Detroit earlier this summer, representatives from 9 different sectors have released “Unity for Dignity: Expanding the Right to Organize to Win Human Rights at Work,” a report highlighting on-going efforts to dramatically expand workers’ human right to organize and collectively bargain.

The Excluded Workers Congress and the report highlight workers who have historically been excluded from labor protections, the right to organize, and underrepresented in the labor movement - domestic workers, farmworkers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, day laborers, guestworkers, workers from Southern “right to work” states, workfare workers and formerly incarcerated workers.

In addition to highlighting specific stories of workers, the report discusses on-going campaigns of their organizations, and innovative strategies to expand the right-to-organize in the United States, including the fight to win collective bargaining rights for domestic workers and the campaign for the POWER Act, which would protect immigrant workers from employer retaliation if they file a labor complaint. “Unity for Dignity” lays out a vision for an expanded labor movement, including collaboration between sectors, traditional trade unions, worker centers, and international partners.

“Expanding the workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain in existing and new jobs is a key factor in guaranteeing a real economic recovery,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice. “When working families have the means to live a dignified life, the economy as a whole will benefit.”

The Excluded Workers Congress is currently laying the groundwork for upcoming action in the New Year.

To see a video of the first Congress of Excluded Workers at the US Social Forum, go to this link.

Three Officers Convicted in Henry Glover Killing And Cover-Up But Those Who Planned the Cover-Up Go Free

As verdicts were read yesterday in the first major trial involving the killings carried out by New Orleans police officers post-Katrina, reactions across the city were mixed. US Attorney Jim Letten, who refused for years to investigate the killings, hailed the verdict as a victory for not only his office but for "honest police officers." Activists also expressed optimism - Community United for Change co-founder Malcolm Suber expressed hope that "this may be the start of a new day," for the NOPD.

As reported on the website Pro-Publica, which first broke the story two years ago,
The jury found ex-cop David Warren guilty of shooting Glover, officer Greg McRae guilty of burning Glover's body, and Lt. Travis McCabe guilty of creating a false police report and misleading federal authorities when questioned about the case.

Two other police officials, Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann and former Lt. Robert Italiano, were acquitted of all charges against them. Scheuermann had been accused of participating in the burning Glover's body and beating the men who sought to rescue him after he was shot. Italiano had been indicted for trying to cover-up the crimes.

The acquittals of Scheuermann and Italiano, who seem to have been the officers who directly oversaw the cover-up, is especially disappointing. As recently reported by Pro-Publica and the Times-Picayune, Scheuermann seems to have benefited from the protection of his fellow officers many times over the years:

The lieutenant has weathered more than 50 separate complaints, ranging from accusations of brutality and rape to improper searches and seizures. But none of the allegations ever stuck, although two complaints are still pending. Every time, Scheuermann was cleared and sent back onto the streets.

He has also fired his gun in at least 15 different incidents, wounding at least four people. Experts on police practices say the number is unusual -- most officers never fire their weapons.

Scheuermann's lawyer told reporters that Scheuermann is "extremely happy about all of this. He's disappointed about his fellow officers who were convicted. He's a police officer for the city of New Orleans. He'll be at work tomorrow doing what he does and what he's always done."

One thing should be clear from this trial: the NOPD has an honesty problem. Almost all officers involved testified to lying at some point, or heard other officers testify that they had lied. The trial revealed that officers had lied in the reports they wrote, that they had lied in discussions with each other, and that they had lied to federal investigators.

Rebecca Glover, Henry Glover's aunt, told reporters, "all of them should have been found guilty. They all participated in this."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Immoral Experiment? Louisiana-Style Education Reform and the Value of our Children

By Shaena Johnson, with Titus Lin
Jonathan Swift, a member of the British literary canon, wrote A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public as a satirical essay mocking the enslavement of young children and authority of British officials in 1729. Swift suggests in his essay that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by experimenting with the act of selling children as food for rich men and women of Ireland.

When I read Louisiana’s Act 35, which provided for the experimentation on New Orleans’ public school children, I thought that I was reading the sequel to “A Modest Proposal,” but quickly remembered that Jonathan Swift had passed away at least 200 years ago. I was immediately frightened, because there was nothing satirical about Act 35’s purpose. Our legislators were dead serious about experimenting on the lives and future of New Orleans’ public school children – playing politics, as it was then – to shift power from an elected board to one person who could be and was controlled for the benefit of the city and state’s budget.

But why use New Orleans public school children as “lab rats” when other cities across the country have developed better mechanisms – Best Practices – for decreasing operating costs while enhancing the quality of public education? While the answer might be daunting, the truth lies in the accepted mediocrity of the abilities of our public officials and the lack of transparency and accountability that enables them to secure their jobs. Greed and the dehumanization of the less fortunate also play major roles in their decision to experiment on our children.

A disturbing number of national school reformers – experts – refer to the transfer of almost the entire New Orleans public school system to the Recovery School District (RSD) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the conversion of the majority of the city’s public schools into charter schools as an epic experiment in education reform. According to RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas and State Schools Superintendant Paul Pastorek, this experiment has been a resounding success. In the report released by the RSD and the Louisiana Department of Education last month, Pastorek and Vallas claim that the Great New Orleans Experiment has had miraculous results, “dramatically” improving academic performance in failing schools and becoming a model for school turnaround around the nation.

A “success”? “Dramatically improved”? How can an experiment be labeled as a success if the scientific method forbids making conclusions from an experiment prior to the application of a rigorous process or methodology to test the results? Without strict controls (accountability and transparency, in this case), one can formulate – even create results that are at the very least inconsistent, if not inaccurate and misleading.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer – scientific – look at this grand experiment called the RSD. What is their method of experimentation? I am going to attempt to explain this using the Scientific Method as a platform. The Scientific Method is a process for experimentation that is used to answer questions, but does not always provide a definite answer for all questions. The steps of the Scientific Method are as follows:

· Observation

· Hypothesis

· Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

· Analyze Your Data

· Draw a Conclusion

Here’s the caveat: An experiment is used to test theories in order to support them or disprove them. Therefore, there are no “Best Practices” when performing experiments. There are no definite answers, and mistakes are permissible while performing experiments. With this said, is it really morally or ethically appropriate to use children as the subjects of an experiment?

1. Observation

· According to the Louisiana Performance Accountability System, the achievement accountability bar for the Recovery School District has been consistently set below a passing rate of 60%, which means that very little has to be done to show tangible results.

· Recovery School District (RSD) Schools have an average School Performance Score (SPS) of 60.6 while a score of 100 or above is considered “3 Stars,” i.e. where at least 70% of students are performing at their correct grade level.

· The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) has been riddled with controversy for years prior to the creation of the RSD. This gives rise to a situation where failure and disgrace is the “norm,” and any improvement in our schools, no matter how insignificant, can be seen as a success.

· New Orleans has been the “poster child” for failing public education for decades, giving rise to a “messiah complex” - the thought that a single hero will come and save the day for the public schools in Orleans Parish. Between 1996 and 2005, the district had nine such “messiahs” (better known as superintendents) come in to save the day. Most of these individuals had long records of failing in other school districts that were largely ignored during the hiring process. All of these individuals left OPSB in a worst condition than before their tenure. Furthermore, there was never an effort for a systematic overhaul of the OPSB during this 9-year period, just an exchange of saviors. This dysfunctional complex has continued, but is now channeled through a new incubator mechanism – the Recovery School District.

· Hurricane Katrina provided the perfect environment of disarray to produce an out-of-control mechanism to create charter schools with little to no accountability as a result of being in a district run by the state, and also as a result of being allowed independent school boards.

2. Hypothesis

Given that our government has already failed our students, that even minimal performance can be held out as success, and that little to no public accountability exists, there is huge opportunity to create a system that is wasteful, ineffective, and gives minimal productivity for maximum cash.

3. The Experiment

Here are the steps taken so far by the state in conducting its experiment:

· Reform education law by passing Act 35 to significantly expand the state’s authority to take over “failing” schools. In conjunction, redefine “failing” to include many New Orleans public schools that previously had not met this definition.

· Expand the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) to take control over most New Orleans schools post-Katrina. Operate it side by side with the OPSB as a second, larger school district in the same geographic area, while at the same time significantly reducing the scope of the OPSB.

· Transform the majority of RSD-run schools into charter schools.

· Remove local control and oversight by vesting school management in state agencies and independently selected school boards.

· Hire an inexperienced superintendent (Robin Jarvis) to oversee the turnover. Present her as another of the accepted messiahs, and let her be the first ‘fall guy’ when the initial plan to miscategorize schools fails. Hire another messiah (Paul Vallas) - a man with a history of going in to school districts, providing ‘quick fixes,’ and getting out before things fall apart - to replace the outgoing superintendent.

· Fund the RSD and charter schools through federal assistance and public funds, at the expense of the OPSB. Cut costs by hiring young and inexperienced teachers. Continue to make the argument that the OPSB is not capable of educating students.

· Control data and standards. Never publish the resumes of top administrators and keep information out of the hands of the public. Set low benchmarks for measuring success on the part of the RSD. Set high benchmarks and impose stringent standards on the OPSB.

4. Analysis

Analysis of the state’s experiment reveals a number of disturbing trends:

· New Orleans Schools will remain in the RSD for years to come.

According to Pastorek and Vallas, “dramatic” academic progress has been made by RSD schools. However, RSD schools only improved an average of 8 SPS points per school over the past 3 years. This translates to an improvement of only 2.7 SPS points per school per year. With an average SPS of 60.6, it will take the RSD 15 years to bring the schools up to a basic level of “3 Stars,” which is set at SPS 100.

It will take 33 years for the average RSD school to reach the level of “5 Stars” (SPS 150). Under Vallas’ recent proposal, it would take about 6 years to meet the minimum bar required for schools to even have the choice of leaving the RSD (SPS 75).

Furthermore, the new proposal by Pastorek and Vallas calls for stringent and unrealistic requirements to be placed on the OPSB (which makes it very hard for the OPSB to take back schools from the RSD), prevents underperforming schools from leaving (see above), and gives schools the choice of staying in the RSD even after reaching the requirements for leaving. These kinds of academic and administrative hurdles, combined with the extremely slow rate of progress in the present RSD schools, provides for a very sustainable model in which the RSD will continue to exist at its current size far beyond its original 5-year mandate.

· The RSD is very profitable.

Post-Katrina, the RSD has been on the receiving end of massive amounts of funding from federal and state agencies, and private foundations such as Walton and Bill Gates, all with their own agenda for reform, none with real ties to those folks who actually educate their children in the New Orleans Public Schools.

In addition, because more money is made available to charter schools under federal law, the RSD has also been able to receive significant amounts of funding through transforming the majority of its schools into charters (and Paul Vallas wants to convert all RSD schools to charter schools by 2012). At the same time that the RSD is receiving all this money, however, it has also been getting rid of experienced teachers and replacing them with inexperienced teachers to cut costs (which also slows down the rate of progress at individual schools).

All this has resulted in a large amount of money floating around in the RSD, and with top-level administrators being paid large salaries. Paul Vallas is the highest paid superintendent in the state in Louisiana. In 2008, he took in $238,386. Also, in a legislative audit conducted in 2008, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found significant fiscal mismanagement in the RSD, with former RSD employees being overpaid a total of $427,695 as of September 30, 2007.

The public money going into the RSD is not the only source of profit for Vallas. Prior to coming to Louisiana, Vallas sold the rights of “his” school reform model to consultants at Solomon Consulting Services, a private, for-profit company specializing in education reform services, which was composed in large part by administrators who worked under or with Vallas.

· RSD does a poor job of educating students.

As mentioned above, the average rate of academic progress in RSD schools is shamefully low. In addition, the widespread reliance on charter schools in the RSD has given rise to significant problems regarding disparate or unequal educations. Thus far, the RSD has done little to address this problem. In fact, charter schools are a great way to weed out the children who have been the victims of poor quality education to give the illusion of school improvement, while the other 54% get left behind. This multi-tiered system of education in New Orleans is necessarily creating an intractable bottom tier, that is, schools that are forced to enroll those students no other operator wants and/or expels once realizing the difficulty in providing that child’s complete education services.

5. Conclusions

Despite the claims to the contrary by Vallas and Pastorek, the grand RSD experiment has not been a success by any reasonable measure. While test scores have improved, they are improving so slowly that New Orleans schools will be stuck in the RSD for years to come. In addition, the few small gains that have occurred have come only at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Rather than foster academic achievement in our children, the RSD model seems better suited for creating an insulated, self-perpetuating system that takes control of the schools out of the hands of the community and provides great rewards to a few top administrators for minimum results.

However, as disappointing and shameful as these results are, they do not get to the heart of the matter. The real shame is that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the children of New Orleans became guinea pigs in an experiment in radical and untested school reform, and that such experimentation was done with the full support of our legislators and politicians. In our children’s greatest moment of need, they were not given time tested medicine. Instead, they were forced to undergo experimental treatment, with no warning as to the side effects. As was mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the point of an experiment isn’t to make anything better or worse. The point of an experiment is just to test a hypothesis. The welfare of the test subject is unimportant, and bad results are just as valuable as good results to the ones conducting the experiment. While this is the way that science is conducted, it is shocking that all too often poor and minority communities are the ones that are forced to play the role of the lab rat.

The RSD is charged with reforming and rehabilitating failing schools, with the ultimate goal that those schools be reintroduced back into their native school districts. Rather than do their job, however, the people in the RSD have chosen to engage in a dangerous experiment in the education and futures of our children. And with the recent release of their proposal, it seems they want to continue the experiment, indefinitely.

Unless we take a step back and take a good, long look at what the RSD has done and what it plans to do, the children of New Orleans will continue to act as guinea pigs in this unrestrained experiment in education reform. Moreover, if nothing is done, this bad joke will only happen time and time again in other communities and, once again, progress will come at the expense of the poor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Orleans Youth Join National Day of Action

From our friends at the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association:
Today, two local non-profit organizations, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA-NO) and LatiNOLA join the national day of action in support of the DREAM Act with a candle light vigil. First and second generation Vietnamese and Latino immigrant youth in New Orleans are raising their voice together in solidarity in support of the DREAM. The DREAM Act is a proposed piece of federal legislation allowing undocumented students the opportunity to earn citizenship if they meet certain requirements, such as pursuing higher education or serving in the US military. DREAM in the DREAM Act stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

Currently, there are 1.7 million undocumented immigrants from many diverse ethnicities under the age of 18 nationally who were brought here as minors. Every year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school unable to realize their potential and fully participate in American society. With the understanding that this legislation might be voted on some time this week by the US House of Representatives, LatiNOLA and VAYLA-NO stand on this national day of action, to raise our voice in support of passing the DREAM Act.

At 6pm, New Orleans youth DREAMers will give light to our hopes for our DREAMs in Annunciation Square, 800 Race St, New Orleans, LA 70130. Vigils are also planned concurrently in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington. The vigil is open to the general public.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Birthplace of Jazz, Graveyard of New Orleans Public Housing?

Return to Iberville

George W. Bush’s bulldozing of 5,000 badly needed and little damaged public housing apartments in post-Katrina New Orleans was one of the cruelest measures he imposed on the city’s poor and working class Katrina-survivors. Yet even Bush, and his henchman, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, could not get their hands on the over 800 handsome, sturdy, red brick apartments of the Iberville Public Housing development, located on the grounds of the former Storyville district where Jazz flourished in the first two decades of the 20th century. Protests by the grass roots group C3/Hands Off Iberville before Katrina to oppose privatization, street actions after the storm by multiple groups to demand its reopening, and direct action by displaced residents reoccupying their apartments, all stymied Jackson’s attempt to make a “clean sweep” of New Orleans’ conventional public housing. Protest forced Jackson to back-off and disassociate himself from any attempt seize the property. As he told housing advocate James Perry in a 2006 interview “I know people want to do it [Iberville] as a land grab” but, he underscored, “it’s not going to happen on my watch.”

Obama Time: From Public Housing to Social Security

Barack Obama is ready to finish the job, on his watch, that Bush and Jackson could not. Just as sadistic New York City cops screamed its “Guiliani time” as they began torturing Abner Louima in the 70th precinct station house bathroom, the announcement of plans to “redevelop” Iberville presages the reaming, on a mass level, of the city’s poor and working class. Yet instead of thuggish, Brooklynese-speaking cops proclaiming the new era, Obama has well-educated, mannerly, white-collar gangsters like David Gilmore to do the job.

Gilmore--the federally appointed administrator of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and key player in the 1989-1992 commission that birthed the Clinton-era HOPE VI public housing demolition/privatization program--is now requesting bids for a demolition/privatization plan of Iberville. But unlike Guiliani’s cops who made no attempt to mask the savagery they were about to engage in, the affable, private consultant/university professor Gilmore sugar coats his intentions. He reassured the community, in a recent interview with Times Picayune reporter Katy Reckdahl, that “residents need and deserve better” as he prepares to drive yet another low income black community from highly-prized inter-city real estate. But since HOPE VI, the former scheme he helped cook-up to drive out the poor, is so discredited he and other members of Obama’s neoliberal housing brain trust have come up with a new, nice sounding name --“the Choice Neighborhoods program”-- to do the same old dirty job of “negro removal”. It’s old wine in new bottles.

Obama’s attack on Iberville--one that even Bush could not get way with--is not an aberration. The assault on this badly needed source of affordable housing in New Orleans is one component of the ruling class’--both the Republican and Democratic Party wings--rapidly advancing austerity offensive. Obama wants to complete the assault on public housing, social security, and other remaining elements of the US’s already shredded safety net and welfare state that his Republican predecessor could not. Thus an effective defense of Iberville and the rest of public housing must be linked to building a broader fight back and working class alternative to the Obama-led ruling class program. Before we outline that alternative agenda, and how it can be won, we need to first outline the particularities of Iberville.

Class and Ethnic Cleansing at Iberville: Then and Now

The Obama administration’s attempt to drive out hundreds of low-income, black working class families from the 30-some acres of the Iberville development is not a historical first. The land that Iberville sits on has witnessed two instances of class and ethnic cleansing in little over a century--and Obama would like to make it three.

In 1897--only a year after the Supreme Court ruled against nearby Treme neighborhood resident Homer Plessey’s challenge to segregation laws--the area where Iberville now stands was designated as the Storyville red light district--named after a city councilman that created the proposal and ordinance. The ensuing increase in land and housing costs led to the displacement of many residents of this long-established black community. After the closing of the district during World War I, housing and rents became affordable, and by the 1930s it was again a predominantly low income back community--but not for long. In 1937 the newly created Housing Authority of New Orleans appropriated the property through eminent domain for the then-new--and white-only--Iberville public housing development. Black families were forced to pack-up again. It was not until 1965, following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that black working class families were again able to reside in the area. Since then there has been an incessant campaign by real estate interests to seize this valuable property for their profit-making ventures, rather than to meet human need.

The only difference with the contemporary eviction plans are the faces and pretexts. Expulsions are no longer carried out under a Jim Crow, all-white officialdom as before, but instead in a post-segregation context, in which some African Americans are in positions of authority. A second difference is that in the past cases of ethnic and class cleansing there was little or no effort to legitimate the initiative. In contrast, developers and public officials now expound on theories of “deconcentrating poverty,” drawn from academic sociology, to explain why driving poor people from their homes is actually a benevolent enterprise. Facts, such as Mike Howells’ study showing Iberville being safer than the French Quarter, do not sway these ideologues away from their incessant demands to “break-up poverty”. (1) What ties the different historical periods together is that power and profits--despite all the benevolent rhetoric--are still the driving forces behind the racist land grabs.

The current attempt to demolish Iberville comes at a time when affordable housing is in extremely short supply. A recent study by HUD--the same agency working to demolish Iberville--provides a window into the on the extent of the crisis in New Orleans. Below are some of the reports “highlights”:

• Mid-priced rental units, in the $300 to $600 range, fell to 19,300 in 2009, from 66,300 in 2004.

• Since 2004 the number of poorest households in the region grew by 22 percent, defined by HUD as people who either paid more than half their income on rent,

• In 2004, the average monthly cost was $662, compared with $882 in 2009. The 13% decline in the number of housing units since Katrina has contributed to the jump in housing costs

• The number of Homeless people has doubled since 2005.

Despite this distress the local housing authority and the Obama administration want to demolish over 800 rent-controlled apartments at the Iberville where poor families pay an affordable 30% of their income for rent and utilities. The callousness that Obama is showing towards New Orleans reflects his lack of concern for the unemployment, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and other capitalist-made suffering increasingly confronting people across the country as the economic depression for the working class deepens. Indeed, Obama not only has no plans to alleviate this misery through, for example, a public works program, but instead plans to increase the pain. How, you ask? By working with his ostensible Republican adversaries to impose even more draconian cuts! The bi-partisan, Obama appointed “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” will report back in December--after the elections--on how they can get the working class to pay for the capitalist crisis through massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and what is left of poor people services, such as public housing.

Non-Profits, Labor Bureaucrats, and Building a Real Fight Back

The rapidly brewing capitalist storms, including the attack on Iberville and Obama’s larger austerity initiative, underscores why workers need to immediately go on the offensive with a proactive agenda. Yet, to forge this political-economic alternative, the US working class will have to confront the liberal-professionals, and their collection of non-profit and union bureaucrats. These officials serve as a protective layer of capitalism, employing soft glove strategies to disarm worker movements.

The obstacles this layer presents to building a fight back is evident in the current struggle to defend Iberville. Activists with New Orleans’ C3/Hands Off Iberville public housing group have had to do battle not only with developers and housing officials, but with “progressive” non-profits who counsel accommodation to the ruling class’ neoliberal offensive. These non-profits--wholly consistent with the role most of these foundation funded outfits play--encourage Iberville residents and their community supporters to be “realistic” and work out a compromise within the neoliberal parameters laid out by the ruling class. This thinking and associated political practice is precisely what must be challenged if we are to build an effective political challenge.

Likewise liberal journalist Katy Reckdahl, a darling of the local non-profit complex, also plays an important role in helping cultivate resignation and acceptance. Her September 10 article in the local corporate daily, the Times Picayune, regurgitated the line of the unelected, sell out, developer-paid “tenant representative”, Kim Piper, that the deal “seems inevitable”. Voices of opposition were not included in her front page article heralding the “Change Iberville”.
The AFL-CIO and NAACP conveners of the October 2nd “One Nation” rally planned for Washington DC play a similar role to the New Orleans non-profits. They are using the gathering to push a “fight the right,” Democratic Party pep rally for the November elections that will protect Obama from any embarrassing expressions of opposition from below to his right wing agenda. The illusion of the Tea party clowns as the only opposition must be maintained. Instead, as Black Agenda editor Glen Ford has underscored, workers must raise their own demands or else face turning into “just a bunch of Democratic Party groupies with delusions of relevance to the burning issues of the day.”

The demands endorsed by a recent gathering in Newark, New Jersey of over a dozen labor and immigrant rights groups is what this writer and a growing movement will be raising in Washington: Jobs For All, Legalization For All, NOW! We will not accommodate to the destruction of Iberville and other public housing developments, or other public services either, as advocated by the non-profits. Instead of accepting cutbacks, we will be demanding that the federal government massively expand public services and employment through a direct-government employment (no contractors) public works plan. Instead of workers fighting among ourselves, we call for legalization of all workers to guarantees their eligibility to participate in the public works program. All workers, be they immigrants with no papers, or formerly incarcerated citizens who have lost access to public sector employment and other rights, would be eligible.

Only by uniting all workers to fight for what we want, not what the union bureaucrats and non-profit officials say is possible and permissible, will we create the class power needed to scare the ruling class and win our demands.
To support the movement to defend Iberville, as well as the Jobs for All, Legalization for All campaign, and how your local group can endorse the demands and join the growing campaign, go to or call Jay Arena at 504-520-9521.

1) Mike Howells, ‘Iberville: No Murder, No News.’

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leah Chase, Civil Rights Leader, To Receive Award from ACLU of Louisiana

From our friends at the ACLU of Louisiana:
Leah Chase, restauranteur and stalwart of the civil rights movement in Louisiana, will be presented the 35th Annual Ben Smith Award by the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. This award honors people who have demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana. It is named for the late Ben Smith, a founder of the ACLU of Louisiana and a civil rights lawyer who was arrested for his work to end segregation and for participating in mixed-race gatherings.

Chase, best known for her family's restaurant Dooky Chase, is often forgotten for her bravery during the 1960's when simply meeting with someone of another race was a crime in Louisiana. Leah and her husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase, opened a back room in their restaurant for the use of civil rights workers – and risked both arrest and the loss of their business. During the heyday of segregation, her restaurant was the place of refuge for civil rights workers, and it was one of the only places where blacks and whites were allowed to socialize together.

“Leah Chase is a true beacon of civil liberties in Louisiana and in the United States,” said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “We're proud to honor the woman who helped bring Ben Smith's dream of racial equality closer.”

A dinner honoring Leah Chase will be held on February 12, 2011 at the New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor, Marc Morial.

Information on the dinner in honor of Leah Chase is available at the
ACLU of Louisiana website.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Angola Project Presents Art, Prerformance and Symposium

From our friends at Resurrection after Exoneration:
The Angola Project
Produced by the Early Childhood & Family Learning Foundation and Prospect New Orleans, at the Mahalia Jackson Center, 2405 Jackson Avenue, 504.359.6802.

The Angola Project consists of a series of programs exploring the social issues surrounding crime and the penal system through art, featuring exhibitions, a visit to the Angola Prison for area school children and other activities produced in collaboration with schools in Central City, and a free two-day public event with a performance by members of Resurrection after Exoneration and a symposium.

November 22 – December 31, 2010: Art Exhibition
Mon – Fri 10:00am - 5:00pm (Please check with the Center for Holiday hours)
The exhibition, installed in the Early Childhood & Family Learning Foundation premises on the second floor of Building C of the Mahalia Jackson Center, features Prospect New Orleans artist who have developed work in and about Angola State Penitentiary, presented alongside a selection of art by Angola prisoners.

Friday, December 3, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Mahalia Jackson Center, Auditorium: Theatre Performance by Resurrection after Exoneration
Presentation of Voices of Innocence, a stage performance by four exonerees, who collectively spent 54 years in prison, 33 of them on death row. The production gives voice to each man’s struggle to survive wrongful conviction, a long prison sentence and, ultimately, exoneration and their return to a changed, often-unwelcoming world. The performance will be followed by a question-and-answer session and refreshments.

Saturday, December 4, 3:00pm – 5:00pm, Mahalia Jackson Center, Auditorium: Symposium
Moderated by David Johnson of the Louisiana Endowment for Humanities, the panel will include artists, representatives from Innocence Project and RAE, and other community members who will address the difficult ethical, social and legal questions surrounding imprisonment, as well as how we treat the past, how we address the future, and what role art plays in dealing with these issues. Featured artists include Willie Birch, Bruce Davenport Jr, Jackie Sumell and Lori Waselchuk.

Thursday, January 13 - Sunday February 13, 2011, Thursday-Sunday 10:00am - 5:00pm: Children’s Art Exhibition at Ogden Museum of Art, 925 Camp Street
Following their visit to Angola Prison, and the participating artists’ talks at their schools, students will create their own work reflecting on the experience. The Early Childhood & Family Learning Foundation and Prospect New Orleans have partnered with the Ogden for the presentation of this special exhibition.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Louisiana Justice Institute Joins Observation of Haiti Elections

Summary of Election Day - 11/28/10 23:14EST
Louisiana Justice Institute Observer Group

Jacmel, Haiti

Despite the calm, peaceful and relatively orderly atmosphere earlier in the day a growing number of voters were confused about where to vote by mid-morning.

Registered voters who had been assigned a polling location at the time they received their identity card, could not vote at their assigned location. Reactions ranged from disappointment to rage. Many searched multiple locations unsuccessfully, seeking their name on any voter list but instead finding many of their deceased neighbors and family members listed.

In one case, a voter found his name on the voter list posted outside of the polling station, but that voter’s name did not appear on the official roll of voters inside the voting station managed by the voting officials. Initially he was denied the right to vote until a non-partisan observer intervened on his behalf. A polling official marked his ballot as provisional.

By early afternoon, conditions began to deteriorate, as voters exchanged stories about their personal experiences and frustrations, trying to cast a ballot.

Eleven months after the earthquake, and in the midst of a deadly cholera epidemic, many voters expressed a strong desire for change and their determination to claim their right as a citizen of Haiti to cast their ballot.

A consensus began to emerge by mid-afternoon that the credibility of the election was seriously challenged.

As news about the developments in Port au Prince reached Jacmel, the situation became unstable. Spontaneous manifestations broke out, beginning in the suburbs of Jacmel and spreading to the city with marches, tires burning in the streets, and an attach on the police headquarters with four burning tires and throwing rocks in the street. People gathered in small, anxious groups at storefronts, on the steps of houses, porches and in the streets.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Former Jena 6 Defendants Play in Bayou Classic

From the Friends of Justice Blog:
When the Grambling Tigers and the Southern Jaguars meet today in the New Orleans Superdome to play in the annual Bayou Classic, two members of the Jena 6 will be on the field.

Robert Bailey Jr. is number 85 for the Tigers and Mychal Bell is number 26 for the Jaguars. The game is being broadcast Saturday, November 27 at 1:00pm. Robert and Mychal are both working hard and maturing into fine young men. Two other former Jena 6 defendants are also involved in college sports: Corwin Jones is playing football with Tyler Jr. College in Texas and Bryant Purvis is playing basketball with Southern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. Theo Shaw is enjoying his studies at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, and Jesse Ray Beard graduated from high school in 2009.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Louisiana Justice Institute Joins Human Rights Groups in Expressing Concerns About Upcoming Haitian Elections

Experts will be in Haiti for the elections, Sunday, November 28.

A delegation of U.S. and Haitian human rights organizations are in Haiti as unofficial election and human rights observers to monitor the Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Sunday November 28. The delegation is concerned that the rapid spread of a cholera epidemic across the country could gravely affect voter participation and threatens the validity of the election process. The group will be in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas from Monday, November 22 through Wednesday, December 1.

Over the last several months, organizations represented in the delegation have been monitoring the situation on the ground. Despite overarching concerns about the increasingly desperate situation of Haiti’s homeless Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and about the exclusion of a number of political parties from the electoral process, representatives of the organizations and partners have been preparing in good faith to observe events during Haiti’s elections. There is a particular concern of insufficient preparation and response on the ground from those responsible for curbing the cholera epidemic, including international NGOs and international donor nations. With such pressing concerns unresolved, many members of Haitian civil society organizations, as well as numerous Presidential candidates, believe it nearly impossible to hold elections that would meet the most minimal standards of fairness and credibility at this time.

While in Haiti the delegation will monitor the human rights and political situation surrounding the elections, with particular attention to those most affected by the Quake, including police and U.N. response to protests, possible voter boycotts, voter access and participation levels, the cholera epidemic response; and the status of overall relief efforts. The delegation’s members will be in close contact with an array of local and national civil society organizations during their stay.

Among those who will participating in the delegation:

Melinda Miles, Director, Let Haiti Live, a project of TransAfrica: “Cholera is a game changer in the most fundamental sense. It is an immediate and critical crisis that requires all hands on deck in response. It is not for us to predict when the crisis will level off. What we can say, definitively, is that now is that the time for focus on the human needs first and not politics.”

Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye, Noise Travels, News Spreads: “Although the elections are necessary, in the midst of a humanitarian crisis there needs to be more attention to vulnerable populations. The NGOs have not responded adequately to the crisis and everyday there are more people dying, more people becoming infected due to a lack of potable water. Attention needs to be paid to the people who continue to live under tarps today. It is sad because these elections will not change anything, you see many people expressing their lack of support for the process.”

Alex Main, Policy Analyst, Center for Economic and Policy Research: "These elections were already highly problematic before the cholera epidemic began to spread. Haiti's electoral authority - the CEP - suffers from a lack of credibility; legitimate parties have been excluded from participating in the legislative elections; and very few effective measures have been taken to ensure that Haiti's over 1.3 million displaced people would have access to the polls. As a result of these problems, there was already a high probability that voter turnout would be very low and that the elections would be widely seen as illegitimate.”

Jacques Etienne Morial, Co-Director, The Louisiana Justice Institute:
“As respectful, understanding and supportive as we are of the determination of Haiti to assert its independence and stand on its own feet, the growing cholera epidemic imperils the legitimate elections that Haitians so urgently need to achieve this noble goal. Moving forward under the prevailing conditions undermines public confidence in any outcome that the people of Haiti deserve and need to move their recovery forward.”