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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Carnival in Washington

Posted by schroeder915 on January 25, 2007

George W. Bush spent half of his time in the State of the Union address defending his plan to send more Americans into the crosshairs of an Iraq civil war, but had not a single word of sympathy, encouragement, or support for New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast, still suffering from the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the federal levee engineering disaster which destroyed New Orleans. He narcissistically delights at the thought of himself as a war president. Were it not for 9/11, he’d have been an ineffective, unpopular president (as he is now, but he would have been denied a second term). Let’s remember how little he’s accomplished in the domestic arena other than tax cuts, which pick our childrens’ pockets tomorrow to enrich the super wealthy today. The “war against terrah” has been so grotesquely mismanaged and exploited for other agendas that even as Bush is talking about surging American troop levels in Iraq, the Taliban and Al Qaeda — who really did attack Americans on American soil — are surging again in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only answer Bush has for the mismanaged occupation of Iraq is more of the same — more troops in the wrong arena for the wrong cause. In a vain attempt to create democracy from the muzzle of a gun — what Bush himself once derided as “nation-building” — Bush is breeding more animosity and more insurgents. He has never fully engaged the international community — the Arab world in particular — in sharing the responsibility for the outcome in Iraq. His sole interest is securing control of the world’s second largest petroleum reserves under Iraq for his oil company friends. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” has always been a farce — a mere shadow of the international support his father achieved. George W. Bush is creating a giant Sunni-Shia Hydra. There may be no good answer to solving that problem, but his effort to stabilize Iraq by killing more Iraqis will only create more insurgents, kill more Iraqis, and kill more Americans. Meanwhile, by ignoring Americans still suffering from the worst federal engineering disaster here at home, a great American city — a great world city — is being destabilized.

More than 200,000 people remain displaced from New Orleans. Their homes sit idle while they wait for insurance, wait for Road Home grants — neither of which are sufficient compensation to rebuild their homes — wait for streets to be repaired, wait for water and sewer lines to be repaired, wait for street lights to be repaired, wait for the criminal justice system to be repaired, wait for schools to be repaired, wait for hospitals to be repaired, wait … wait … wait. Tens of billions of dollars spent on cleanup amounted to nothing after Bush’s friends grabbed the money. When it was all over, all that remained was $8 billion in CDBG grants for homeowners — a sum of money that George W. Bush has been spending in Iraq every four weeks for nearly four years. Meanwhile, a great American city — a great world city — has been allowed to die. Scores of thousands of more Americans across the Gulf Coast remain without hope.

It’s time for a march on Washington. I propose February 24th — the first Saturday after Mardi Gras — a perfect occasion to take the carnival revolution from the streets of New Orleans to streets of Washington. We’ll need trucks and flatbed trailers to load up with soggy, moldy furniture from houses still not gutted a year and a half after the federal levees broke. We’re going to haul the debris to Washington and dump it on Pennsylvania Avenue as a gesture of our contempt for a president who had nothing to say in the most important report he is required to provide to Congress about the well-being of our nation and her citizens. I’m calling on Americans across the nation who care about New Orleans, who care about the Gulf Coast, who care about the lives of American soldiers and their families, who care about the pressing global environmental issues that need to be addressed right now, who care about an eroding middle class, who care about America and the world being created in George W. Bush’s image. Let us Americans, all of us, march on Washington to tell George W. Bush and Congress that we don’t want their war in Iraq any more. Let’s march on Washington to tell George W. Bush and Congress that we won’t stomach the deaths of any more Americans from oil wars; we won’t stomach the deaths of any more Americans from environmental disasters; we won’t stomach the deaths of any more Americans from bloated bureaucracies and engineering failures. We demand honesty. We demand transparency. We demand accountability. We demand real solutions for the coming environmental challenges. We demand coastal restoration, and Category 5 protection from hurricanes and rising sea levels.

We are Americans. We demand an adequate answer from our elected officials when Americans are in need!

americanfleurdelisflag_400p.jpg

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Posted in Category 5 Storm Protection, Coastal Restoration, Failure is not an option, Global Warming, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, Louisiana, Most Revolting President Ever, New Orleans, Rebuild New Orleans, Wetlands Restoration, Worst President Ever | 37 Comments »

MLK on Iraq and post-K New Orleans

Posted by schroeder915 on January 15, 2007

Were he here today, what would he say about Iraq and New Orleans?

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. …

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
4/4/1967
Clergy and Laity Concerned meeting
Riverside Church in New York City

In solidarity with the needs of public housing residents.

Related:

b.rox — “Every Man a King”

Posted in Affordable Housing, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, New Orleans, Worst Mayor Ever, Worst President Ever | 6 Comments »

Out of Iraq into New Orleans

Posted by schroeder915 on January 14, 2007

T-P letters:

President Bush has proposed allocating another $1 billion to “create jobs and help reconstruction in neighborhoods. . . . to help rebuild from the bottom up, from schools to local government to political interest groups.”

The president was speaking, of course, not about New Orleans, but about Iraq.

As I witness the destruction of my city on a daily basis and hear the continued pain of its citizens, it is surreal that my tax dollars continue to flow to the rebuilding of Iraq.

Kathy Meunier
New Orleans

 

The solution to our crime problem was just answered by President Bush in his address to the country the other day.

From now on, murderers, thugs, drug dealers, etc. will be called insurgents by the New Orleans media and all government officials.

Once we have established to the rest of the country that New Orleans is under attack by these insurgents, President Bush will go to Congress to plead for billions of dollars in aid and to send additional troops to the epicenter of insurgency in the United States: New Orleans.

Lee Scherman
New Orleans

Out of Iraq into New Orleans!

Posted in Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, New Orleans, Worst President Ever | 2 Comments »

Laissez la révolution rouler

Posted by schroeder915 on January 12, 2007

The citizens’ march against crime was the largest and most diverse demonstration of community solidarity in New Orleans history. Every neighborhood, every race, every age, every class, streamed out of their homes, schools, and businesses, joining into a Cat 5000 régiment of discontent. The unified cry of anguish: our public officials have failed us, miserably! The individual messages varied: “Silence is Violence”; “Enough!”; “Out of Iraq into New Orleans”; “Thou Shalt Not Kill”; “Where’s Ray?” The expression of anguish after the murders of Dinneral Shavers and Helen Hill was more than just the grief felt at their deaths, it was a popular rage against all of the injustices that have been perpetrated on New Orleans citizens over the last year and a half by elected officials at all levels of government. The focus of that rage was New Orleans government (but it was more than just ironic that a similar protest was staged in Washington against the unpopular king installed there, now calling for more American citizens to die in Iraq for a cause he can’t explain or justify). Tired of the routine of public officials going behind closed doors to emerge with platitudes in front of a photo shoot, citizens seized the podium at the seat of New Orleans government, and held their own press conference. They tore down the statue of the king, beheaded the government nobility, and renamed the square, “Place de la Révolution.” Yes, it was a Bastille moment.

I was speculating before the march that it wouldn’t have surprised me to see effigies of Mayor Ray Nagin and NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley burned in front of City Hall, or worse, a real Bastille moment. It didn’t happen — not physically anyway — but what was unmistakable beneath the rage voiced by citizen soldats like Karen Gadbois and Bart Everson was, “this is your last chance to deal with rational people.”

I marched with a contingent of Uptown residents to the foot of Canal Street. The World Trade Center crowd numbered somewhere between 500 and 1000 there. I first sensed that the crowd was growing considerably larger as the train of marchers proceeded through downtown and turned corners. I couldn’t see far in front of me, or behind, but each time the procession turned a corner, it took much longer, and I could see more people and signs. I don’t know where they were coming from. Streaming in from other neighborhoods I imagine, or descending out of office buildings. People who had to work that day nevertheless appeared on sidewalks in front of their offices, or waved gestures of support through office windows. By the time the Central City group arrived at City Hall, an events planner, Lee Arnold, suggested that there might even have been as many as 7500 people. Only the annual Mardi Gras parades summon greater numbers of a diverse spectrum of the New Orleans population.

Before I offer more analysis of the march against crime, I’d first like to critique the broadcast press coverage I’ve seen and heard. I couldn’t hear the speakers because I was out on the street holding a sign for Etienne. Later, I heard the speeches broadcast in their entirety on 1350 AM. It pains me to do so, but I have to commend Entercom management for making that choice. For once, they used the airwaves to broadcast the raw, unfiltered voice of the community. In so doing, they proved what I’ve been saying all along, that using the voices of the community rather than partisan talk hosts can produce truly good radio. On the other hand, I heard Garland Robinette minimizing the turnout to a mere 1000, repeatedly belittling the impact of the group based upon his own faulty and exaggerated perceptions. I also still have to criticize Entercom for sitting on three licenses to broadcast the same content. How about turning over one of those licenses to the community so we can hear more of the unfiltered voices of the community? In fact, later in the evening yesterday, 1350 went to dead air, which suggests that: 1) Entercom was broadcasting 1350 AM unattended, because there was no one in the studio to address the problem, and no one monitoring the broadcast, and 2) the fact that there was dead air suggests that there was a block of time when the community could have been using that frequency. Shane Warner couldn’t get a conversation going on WIST 690 AM when I tuned in because callers kept trying at his ridiculous game of guessing why Tabasco bottles have a green label on the neck. Is that a good use of the airwaves? Of course, all of the other commercial stations played the same old mix of ad nauseum song repetition, pop news commentary, and lewd talk. Finally, this morning, I heard some pretty stupifyingly uninformed WWL hosts suggesting that the march was spurred by the Saints’ post-Katrina winning record, totally missing the point about neighborhood activism and the extent of citizen frustration with public officials.

The local Fox 8 affiliate had the best coverage of the march among television news programs, offering more unedited clips and analysis than the other news programs. Of course, they devote a full hour to local news, which I always thought was a demonstration of their commitment to covering local issues (all of the other stations have stuck to the same old half-hour format at a time when we need so much more information than ever before). WWL TV (the Belo affiliate battling Cox cable to keep them from dropping the 24/7 WWL re-runs on channel 15) offered little more than a crowd count, sound bites, and reaction from Nagin and other public officials, but that was at least better than WDSU’s coverage — they didn’t “get it” at all. I haven’t seen ABC 26 coverage.

I’ll say it once again. We citizens know more about what’s happening in New Orleans right now. In our diversity of experiences and knowledge, we know far more than any one individual could know about all of the things changing so quickly on a daily basis. The community should be given a forum for sharing information and ideas about how to rebuild this city. Radio is the best forum for doing that. Once the license and transmitter are had, the day-to-day operations are pretty simple. All community members have to do is host conversations on-air, just as they would do sitting at a table over coffee. That’s why corporate media behemoths Clear Channel and Entercom like radio so much. They can hoard their licenses, offering nothing but mindless programming, and suck in the revenues from advertisers. It’s a form of rent-seeking, lobbying government for more and more exclusive access for a public resource, and then draining all of the life out of it. This town needs a sponsor to help build a truly community-run radio station. Maybe we’d create something called “Google radio,” or “Yahoo radio,” or “Apple radio” — as long as the community owns the license so they control the programming, and therefore, can never lose their control over content. It’s a change that should be modeled here, in New Orleans, where the stakes for the community are so high, but it could be duplicated around the country. To critics who say a community radio station wouldn’t be viable, I respond that every contractor, building supplies outlet, and real estate broker in town would want to advertise on the station that is the true voice of the community. It wouldn’t have to be commercial, but that’s one option that could be explored.

Citizens of New Orleans have suffered for far too long the failure of “authority” figures telling us what we need to do without doing what they’re supposed to do. That was one of the essential messages of the citizens’ march against crime. From the very first days following Hurricane Katrina, through the long wait to get relief supplies, through the long wait to return to the city, through the long delay to have city services restored, through the long delay to get building permits, through the long delay to inspect contractor work, through the long delay to settle insurance claims, through the long delay to remove debris from the streets, through the long delay for the rebuilding plans to emerge, through the long delay to get compensation for damages so homeowners could get back into their houses, through the grieving for crime victims, and on and on and on — citizens did what they were supposed to do — over and over again — filled out the forms, stood in lines, waited on the telephone to repeat a story again to the next person who’s supposed to know what’s going on, gone to endless meetings week after week, and done what they could to participate as a community with the police department to squelch the crime problem. And nothing! It hasn’t amounted to squat, because every level of government is a complete and utter failure. There has been a complete failure to even acknowledge that government is failing us. Instead, we’re served phony media events.

Briefly, as a little aside, I’d like to recall a particular phony media event as an interesting display of public theatre: Spud McConnell talking to Governor Blanco a couple of days ago about a Saints celebration that she was promoting. It was spectacularly bizarre, because Blanco seemed to be hoping that by associating herself with the Saints’ success, perhaps people might overlook the failure of the Road Home program which has yielded just 163 checks out of 97,167 applications to help homeowners rebuild their homes, but obnoxious Spud McConnell, who can barely say her name on-air without hacking, didn’t ask a single substantive question. It’s amazing how the message can be controlled, and WWL isn’t immune from political persuasion. In fact, WWL is probably most aligned with the status quo. Notwithstanding their grandstanding as being outspoken, being outspoken without being informed gives WWL hosts an incredible blindspot.

We citizens are demanding an authentic response to our needs. We have a right to expect that our public officials be experts in their professions. They keep telling us that we have to be more patient because a slow recovery is normal, or worse, insult us, as Karen Gadbois complained, by saying we haven’t been active enough in helping the government do its job. Ray Nagin and Warren Riley may not know what to do about the crime problem in New Orleans. If that’s the case, they should admit that they don’t know. They should admit that it’s a difficult problem, and engage us in an honest dialog. Thus far, however, they haven’t been willing to admit their failures, instead hiding behind statistically “normal” murder rates, and offering more photo ops of criminal justice officials standing in front of the cameras in a false display of unity. In this incredible void of leadership, it’s now time for the community to take charge, and for us to tell public officials what to do.

The citizen activism movement ever since Hurricane Katrina may offer a model to solve the governing crisis — at least locally. What finally broke yesterday was the perception that government officials will do the jobs they’re supposed to do. It’s time to stop waiting. We need to establish institutions that don’t just respond to the demands of City Hall — like neighborhood planning organizations have been doing. We need to demand that City Hall answer to our needs. We need to be the change we want to see in our world. That will require forced accountability, and the only way to do that is to establish our own governing institutions that require accountability. I’m talking about a shadow government — a concept that’s been evolving through conversations with some key community-organizing facilitators like Alan Gutierrez. One of the first institutions that ought to be considered is a citizens’ crime board to monitor and improve the police department’s responsiveness to community needs. This is one of a number of suggestions offered below.

Ray Nagin and Warren Riley have been scrambling this week to calm the brewing tempest. It hasn’t worked, because they’ve only offered meaningless gestures and appearances. Consider the police checkpoints idea, offered as a substitute to curfews. I saw a traffic ticket issued on Wednesday which was completely illegible. It looked like insufficient pressure was applied to transfer the officer’s writing through the carbon. The person who was issued the ticket didn’t know what the violation was. Now, I think I would have asked, but this is just one small example of how the spirit of an idea can disintegrate into meaningless implementation. The real reason to have checkpoints ought to be to catch wanted criminals, not harass drivers. The police should be using their time more wisely. Moreover, it’s easy to simply drive around checkpoints. I’m really not sure if the police are setting up actual checkpoints. They may simply be making more traffic stops. That’s a much better policy, but once again, I’m not so sure this is a particularly good time to be offending otherwise good citizens at a time when public confidence in the police department is so low. I do support traffic stops, but I’m not sure I agree that the police should be ticketing people if they weren’t doing anything harming safety. They should be spending their time catching wanted criminals.

I’ve been too busy in the last few days to offer my own recommendations for solutions to the crime problems. Some of these resemble the recommendations made by the Silence is Violence group, and those made by Bart Everson in his speech at the rally. Some will be considered controversial. We need to revolutionize the criminal justice system, so I’m offering what I truly believe will make a difference:

  • Develop plans to support more community policing. Establish more of a community presence with bike and foot patrols, and more substations throughout the city. Police officers should become familiar with the surroundings and the residents whom they serve, and should engage with community leaders and centers of faith to identify and participate in the process of creating safe neighborhoods. When the police are more accountable to their communities, real trust, and real solutions, start to emerge. A mechanism to be considered which would enforce accountability is a citizens’ crime board. The model would have to be discussed — there might be one crime board for each neighborhood organization, one crime board comprised of members of each neighborhood organization, or perhaps an elected leadership like a school board. To eliminate the possibility of malfeasance (as has been alleged of some New Orleans school board members over the years), keep financial decisions out of the hands of the crime board. I would say the crime board should be created now, to serve for a transitional period, until the proper legal authority can be worked out for a permanent crime board.
  • “Re-decentralize” the homicide bureau. There are a variety of reasons to do this. The homicide division was decentralized in the 1990’s to force homicide detectives into the districts where they could work more closely with their peers and the community to identify perpetrators, and to solve cases. Warren Riley recentralized the bureau without explaining why he was doing it. He may still have good arguments for that decision, but he ought to explain. I imagine he’d say he wanted to improve communication between homicide detectives, and keep them closer to the crime lab. I think there are other solutions to those problems which don’t require taking detectives away from the districts. The problem with taking detectives out of the districts is that it fundamentally weakens accountability to communities. Consider, for example, the case of Toby Beaugh, killed in a hit-and-run incident — probably by a contractor — on Magazine Street last carnival season. The perpetrator has never been identified and captured. Now, I really like Captain Hosli of the 2nd District. He’s one of the good guys. He knows why he’s at the NOPD. He’s no stranger to tragedy and loss. I’ve never heard him talk about it, but his own father was killed in the Howard Johnson shootout in 1973 when Hosli was twelve years old. Hosli was also out rescuing people from their flooded homes after Hurricane Katrina. I was disappointed, however, when I once asked him if he could provide an update on the Toby Beaugh case. He said he couldn’t, because homicide detectives didn’t communicate with him. Now, I would expect the chief of police to think that’s a problem, and to come up with a solution to improve communication between detectives and district captains. Furthermore, a less-capable commander in a district with a high murder rate could always use the excuse that he doesn’t have the resources he needs to fight the problem. This has to stop.
  • Re-examine the COMSTAT process. What works? What doesn’t? Build a plan based upon successes. The overarching principle behind the COMSTAT process — initially developed to fight a skyrocketing crime problem in New York City — is accountability. The implementation of the process was to decentralize the massive bureaucracy, and to place command control and resources closer to problem areas. In return, commanders had to answer to their superiors for their successes and failures. Placing a respected but tough interrogator in the position of asking commanders to answer for crime in their realm of responsibility is key. The key person in that spot when the NOPD started its crime reductions in the late 1990’s was Deputy Superintendent Ronal Serpas. He was intelligent, he knew the statistics better than commanders and support personnel who answered to him, and he demanded discipline and respect toward the community. The COMSTAT process rewarded and promoted members of the police force who demonstrated success in reducing crime. Ronal Serpas was one of the products of that system, as are now many of the commanders throughout the NOPD. The old system of promoting people based upon seniority was diminished. There must be an independent and countervailing influence on this process, however, to maintain integrity in the process. The NOPD was always accused of “cooking the books” to show crime reductions. I don’t believe the practice was nearly as widespread as people might believe. Nevertheless, an institutional mechanism to prevent abuses has to be in place for the COMSTAT process to work.
  • Consider implementing the zero tolerance policy used in New York City as an option for New Orleans. The principle is that even petty crimes, like graffiti, lead to the right “environment” for crime, encouraging anti-social behavior in individuals who may later turn to more and more anti-social behavior. The New Orleans criminal justice system may not be able to handle this kind of approach until it starts functioning better. In the meantime, the police may produce better results by a completely different approach — only making arrests for violent crimes. Other crimes could be handled by issuing a court summons instead of arresting a non-violent defendant. NOPD officers consume an extraordinary amount of time writing reports and making arrests. An arrest, in particular, takes a lot of time, because defendants have to be driven to lockup and taken into custody, booked, and a report has to be written. Arrests can take an officer off of the streets for hours.
  • Restore community confidence in the criminal justice system. People are less-inclined to report crime or report crime tips if they feel that they or their families may be threatened. Furthermore, they won’t want to cooperate with the police if they don’t trust that the police share their values. Consider the “Danziger 7” — the officers accused of killing an innocent victim on the Danziger bridge, and unjustifiably shooting another. They were cheered by fellow officers when they were forced to “walk the line.” I absolutely won’t say those men are guilty. I won’t say they’re innocent. It doesn’t look good for them, but let the criminal justice system prove their guilt or innocence. When their fellow officers publicly cheered for them, however, they may have fostered the view that the police are above the law, thus deteriorating public confidence. I see this as a command control issue. Warren Riley should have issued orders throughout the entire NOPD bureaucracy about how the case would be handled publicly. That he didn’t, probably speaks to a problem of understanding the consequences of appearances to the community.
  • Provide the same 911 calls for service data, and court data, directly to the community at the same time as it’s provided to the NOPD. The specific addresses can be decimated to protect the privacy of individuals. If this were done, audits of crime statistics wouldn’t be required, because the community would own the data. Members of the community wouldn’t have to wait until The Times-Picayune decides to publish incidents, and could be alerted immediately to emerging patterns of crime in their neighborhoods. The data could be dynamically mapped in an open source Web site for everyone to view on demand. The courts have a records management system which should be required to furnish similar data. Minimally, when an arrested individual is released, the public should be notified who the individual is, what the arrest was, whether the release was on bail or recognizance, or if the release was due to a failed prosecution, and which court issued the release.
  • Improve the training of police officers, improve their effectiveness, and increase their numbers and compensation. Don’t stop with police officers. Work throughout the system to improve the quality of all personnel who the police rely upon to do their jobs. The entire city bureaucracy, for example, is crippled technologically because it relies upon civil service descriptions (and pay scales) which in many cases haven’t been updated in more than thirty years. All positions in the criminal justice system need to be competitive with private industry so that the best talent can be attracted. Support personnel are often overlooked because they aren’t visible, but their role is essential. Having the right people in key support positions is a force multiplier.
  • Improve the technological capabilities of the criminal justice system. As just one example of a meaningful technological improvement, the NOPD needs a records management system for tracking, in particular, known offenders. The NOPD should also be tracking offenses as they move through the criminal justice system. If a known offender ends up back on the street because the courts couldn’t make a prosecution, the NOPD should know about it. Since a minority of criminals are repeat offenders responsible for the majority of crimes, keeping track of their movements and activities is essential to keeping citizens safe.
  • The district attorney’s office appears to be a complete shambles. I have less confidence in the district attorney’s office than I do in the NOPD. I don’t know enough about the court system, and I’m not well-enough acquainted with the post-Katrina situation to make recommendations, but it seems to me that a top-down reorganization would be an improvement, starting at the top.

Yes, there are a host of conditions which breed criminal behavior. These have to be addressed to create the appropriate environment to foster positive behavior, and to instill hope in our youth. But these are longer-term issues. I sense that what people want are short-term solutions that will keep the criminals away from them and their loved ones — right now! We need to keep bad people from hurting good people today, so that tomorrow, or next week, some other loved member of our community isn’t senselessly lost to another violent act committed by people who are already criminals.

I wouldn’t like to vilify Warren Riley as an individual. Like many in the NOPD, he’s a good person who cares about his community, and who wants to do the right thing. I would, however, question his judgment, and his honesty in talking publicly about the impediments to a more effective police department.

Ray Nagin? I’m not so sure I’d be polite if given the opportunity.

Up the chain of elected leadership, Kathleen Blanco gets knocks for saying — in the midst of the current crime crisis and widespread mourning — that she was going to withdraw the National Guard from New Orleans streets because she couldn’t afford to keep them here. This is right on the heels of her attempt at a spending-spree special session.

George W. Bush? Need I say anything. As I’ve said before, when was the last time the man said anything about New Orleans? He’s now calling for an increased investment of resources in Iraq, but when we have so many needs here in New Orleans, and elsewhere around the country, he’s silent. He spends more money in Iraq in six weeks than has been allocated to help homeowners rebuild their homes and their neighborhoods — despite the fact that the failure of the federal levee systems demands not just “assistance,” but “compensation.”

The protests in Washington yesterday against Bush’s wildly-unpopular announcement of troop-level increases in Iraq may mark a historic change in citizen tolerance around the country for autocratic, imcompetent leadership in Washington. What happened in New Orleans yesterday marks the same trend on a local level. The rest of the nation should keep its focus on New Orleans, and support our efforts at building institutions which require more accountability from our elected leadership. As I’ve said elsewhere, and I’ll repeat again and again, as New Orleans goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

Laissez la révolution rouler!

As Alan said, citizens marching on City Hall yesterday decided they weren’t going to eat cake — to which I might add, at least not any cake which we haven’t baked ourselves.

Posted in Clear Channel, Crime, Entercom, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, Media, Media Democracy, New Orleans, Recall Nagin, WIST, Worst Mayor Ever, Worst President Ever, WWL, WWWL | 10 Comments »

The nightmare that Bush started

Posted by schroeder915 on January 4, 2007

Since some people are convinced that the Iraq war wasn’t a wet dream by George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the Project for a New Century long before 9/11, I thought I’d share a note dictated by Donald Rumsfeld to an aide at 2:40 p.m. on 9/11/2001, — while the WTC towers and Pentagon were still in flames — long before any evidence could be fabricated to include Saddam Hussein in “the war on terror,” but long after a plan to attack Iraq on any justification whatsoever was conceived:
frontline_cheney_rumsfeld911.jpg
It reads, “judge whether hit Saddam, not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden].”

More on Frontline’s “The Dark Side.”

Bumper sticker I saw today mimicking the Bush/Cheney ’04 design: “Bush deserves a fair trial.”

Posted in Impeach Bush, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents | Comments Off on The nightmare that Bush started

The dream that Ford ended

Posted by schroeder915 on January 3, 2007

I’ve been thinking hard about the press glossing over Ford’s actions as healing, wondering why I didn’t appreciate more the rhetorical salve … until I saw Oyster’s post quoting Hitchens:

The Ford epoch did not banish a nightmare. It ended a dream — the ideal of equal justice under the law that would extend to a crooked and venal president.

You see, it goes well beyond the Ford presidency. Once Ford pardoned Nixon, the nation didn’t have the stomach for another round of impeachment prospects when Reagan contravened United States law, negotiating with terrorists to finance death squads in Central America. It wasn’t until the Republicans had a shot at a Democratic president again that the Republicans (mistakenly) thought that the electorate could stomach a trumped-up impeachment. Now we’re stuck with a president who really needs to be impeached, but congressional Democrats don’t seem to have the will to do it.

It doesn’t matter to me what the electorate thinks. If you put a gun in the face of a store clerk and rob the till, you go to jail and pay the price. When you lie to the American people to whip up support for a unjustified war which kills thousands of Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while leaving the Taliban and al Qaeda to regroup, you deserve impeachment. Let the cards fall where they may. The Democrats might not hold a majority in the next round of elections if they impeach Bush. I don’t care. We can’t allow presidents to send Americans to their deaths for a lie. We ought to know by now that we’ll pay a debt one way or the other. At least let’s pay it now and get it over with before more Americans are savaged by the lack of justice.

Speaking of unspeakable acts which undermine justice and pave the way for more injustices, why did we the Bush administration stop at just lynching Saddam? We They should have scalped him as a demonstration of the American form of justice under Bush’s war on terror.

Posted in George W. Bush, Iraq, Worst President Ever | 5 Comments »

3000 American soldiers now killed in Iraq

Posted by schroeder915 on January 1, 2007

There’s been absolutely zero discussion in the mainstream press about the Bush family vendetta against Saddam Hussein ever since the Iraqi dictator ordered the assassination of George H.W. Bush.

Why did George W. Bush hasten to execute the dictator who his father courted, who his father turned against to regain control of Middle East oil, and who later issued an assassination order against his father.

One needn’t defend Saddam Hussein to question what the cause was that sent 3000 American soldiers to their graves, and wounded another 22,565. What is accepted fact now should have been abundantly clear in 2003: that the United Nations had, in fact, very thoroughly identified and destroyed Saddam’s weapons labs after the first Iraq war; that Iraq was not “the central front” in the war against terrorism; and that occupying Iraq would place American soldiers in the middle of a bloody civil war.

Rather than leave Saddam to rot in an undisclosed prison, at least until U.S. troops leave Iraq, by making Saddam’s gruesome execution public and televised, and burying him in a marked grave, George W. Bush has committed another grave error of judgment. Saddam will be glorified as a martyr, and will continue to inspire opposition to the United States. Saddam’s execution will likely have the same effect as Paul Bremer’s landing in Baghdad, issuing proclamations to, immediately, privatize all Iraqi industries, to disband the decapitated and defeated army, and to fire all professionals who were members of the Baath Party.

Invading a country to settle a personal vendetta, George W. Bush has again shown the mental and emotional development of a two-year-old, obediently served his masters in the oil business, and demonstrated once again that he is the worst president ever!

Posted in Bush is a moron, George W. Bush, Impeach Bush, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, Worst President Ever | 11 Comments »

Goodbye 2006! Hello 2007!

Posted by schroeder915 on December 31, 2006

It’s New Year’s Eve. I’ll be heading down to the Mid-City bonfire on Orleans Avenue tonight to say goodbye to 2006.

2006 was a crappy year, but it was also a year of incredible transformation.

In my personal life, my wife divorced me, we sold the house, and I became a renter again. On the other hand, I’ve become re-acquainted with old friends, and made a bunch of new friends — many of them number among the remarkable, New Orleans activist blog community.

I’m looking forward to the new year. I’ll be changing jobs, and there’s a fair possibility I’ll be going back to grad school. Hello 2007!

I think back to what things were like at this point a year ago, when just a few months after Hurricane Katrina, we were hoping against hope that public officials would rise to the challenge. They didn’t. New Orleans’ recovery is staggering, gasping for visionary and effective leadership, but the brightest spot in the faltering process is that in the absence of leadership, citizens have organized themselves into a formidable force for constructive change. We consolidated levee boards, assessors, and civil and criminal sheriffs offices, got a bill passed to get more offshore oil revenues, and passed a state bill requiring that every cent of those revenues be spent on coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects.

The Saints! What a great story! But I’m still pissed at Saints owner Tom Benson for threatening to take them to San Antonio or Los Angeles when we were drowning. Bastard!

For a variety of reasons, the opponents of change also scored a couple of victories — creating an unlikely alliance of black voters (what I would call Morial supporters), and white Republicans, to re-elect the worst New Orleans mayor ever, and the worst Louisiana Congressman ever.

Here are a few remarks about recent events in the news.

Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes committed against Iraqi citizens. I’m not opposed to the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, and it’s true that Saddam was a bloody villain — but he was, after all, our dictator. Moreover, I suspect that by his execution, Saddam will simply become a martyr, inspiring anti-U.S. sentiment for generations. Far better it would have been to leave him to rot in prison until the U.S. is completely out of Iraq. Moreover, if Saddam can be tried for crimes against Iraqis, shouldn’t those who sanctioned his actions be held responsible as well?

donald_saddam.jpg

Our incredible disappearing mayor, Unseen Ray Nagin, has quite possibly been reading People Get Ready in the last couple of weeks. It seems he’s finally mentioned project worksheets as a way to demonstrate his accomplishments of the last year. That’s good, but it’s completely unacceptable that they aren’t publicly displayed. They need to be posted where everyone can see them, so we know what’s being done (and what isn’t being done) to repair our city’s hobbled infrastructure.

The Unified New Orleans Plan has another round of meetings coming up this Saturday, and another Community Congress later in the month — the last round of meetings before the plan is published in January. It remains to be seen how UNOP planners are going to “knit” together the neighborhood plans. From recent comments by Steven Bingler and Troy Henry, it looks more like what we feared — that the decisions about which neighborhood plans make it into the final plan will be arbitrarily made by a few planners, not citizens. I hope I’m wrong.

I wouldn’t bet money on it, but I also hope the mayor finally gets off of his ass, and starts becoming a cheerleader for neighborhoods that are fighting for survival.

map_bldgpermits_061231_sm.jpg

Using the explanation that the city’s rebirth is going to be a phased “market-based” recovery is just a lame excuse for a mayor who was never up to the task of leading the city. What, for example, did he ever say about failing schools and rising crime before Hurricane Katrina? Nothing! He better get his sh*t together, or move out of the way.

Finally, Kathleen Blanco will be rolling a boulder uphill if she decides to run for re-election this year, but I wouldn’t write her off yet. From the interview I saw on LPB with Michael Olivier, the Louisiana Economic Development Secretary, anyone would have to concede that Blanco’s efforts to move the Louisiana economy into the future are the most progressive in a generation (transcript, 56k wmv).

Happy New Year friends:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Posted in Failure is not an option, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Kathleen Blanco, Katrina Dissidents, New Orleans, Ray Nagin, Rebuild New Orleans | 6 Comments »

WIST is an “entertainment” station

Posted by schroeder915 on November 30, 2006

Oh yeah … I’m back!

I was scanning radio stations on the road trip up to Wisconsin. There was something interesting I heard on a number of music stations — “Bob”. It’s apparently a new corporate format to play more variety. To my ear, however, it’s just a different playlist played in repetition ad nauseum.

Once I hit the Wisconsin border, there it was: Air America Radio.

That’s on top of the Wisconsin Public Radio network — one of the best examples in the country of how radio can serve its community, if not the best of its kind.

Now I’m back to the world where corporate power controls our airwaves to manipulate the way we think — and there are almost no alternatives which offer non-sensational conversation about issues of interest to our communities and our nation.

I don’t know why I don’t just let it go, but I think I reached a breaking point when Entercom decided to kill the Air America Radio format. I’ve talked at length before about Air America. In particular, I was fond of Al Franken’s ability to talk to liberals or conservatives, to even find merit in some of the arguments made by conservatives. And when he criticized, he did it with a bit of humor, something self-righteous, angry talk show hosts seem to have forgotten how to do in their orgy of self-promotion.

So now I listen with dismay at how an entire generation of Americans are being brainwashed by the factless rants of partisan ideologues, and in the process, one of our important public squares has become a toxic wasteland filled with hatred.

Recently, I have reluctantly and nervously entered into that hostile environment to make the case for more civil dialog. It’s harder than it might seem to remain calm with these guys. Inevitably, conversations turn hostile because hosts shout over any caller who disagrees with them. I’m finding it difficult to remember a time when radio hosts were professionals who could maintain a degree of civility even when callers disagreed with them.

I don’t know why I bother. I’ve been thinking I should just give up and buy into satellite radio — leaving to the waste bin of history the corporate AM/FM radio model — but I still believe in the magic of the radio I grew up with, and I’m troubled by the sullying of our democracy in an important public square.

I find it interesting that the Walter Boasso-sponsored radio station (they must have cut him a great deal on ads in his bid to unseat Governor Blanco) which promotes itself as “the” news station of the Gulf South should have aired an interview with a United States Senator, yet not post that interview on its “HOT, HOT, HOT TALK ON THE BIG 870 AM: WWL breaking news and smokin’ interviews” audio archive Web site.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that neither Spud McConnell, nor Senator David Vitter, could adequately answer my criticism on Tuesday, and then cut me off before I could finish my point:

Senator Vitter, I’d like to talk about the offshore oil revenue-sharing bill as a point of departure for a conversation about media bias generally. Bobby Jindal was more interested in playing party politics for the Bush administration than in supporting Louisiana. His OCS revenue-sharing bill was more generous than Mary Landrieu’s version, but he wouldn’t let go of the language in his bill which would have ended the federal ban on coastal drilling in other states.

 

Here’s the point I want to make about that. WWL never questioned Bobby Jindal on that issue, and it concerns me that WWL hosts are quicker to criticize Democrats than Republicans.

 

Now, Entercom, which owns WWL, killed Air America Radio to re-run the same content on three of its six stations in New Orleans, and Clear Channel started yet another pro-Republican radio station on WRNO.

 

I question whether New Orleans residents are being served when the information they get is partisan.

 

Would you, Senator Vitter, call for the FCC to hold public hearings to ask commercial broadcasters how they’re serving the New Orleans community, and would you support legislation in support of restoring the Fairness Doctrine?

Let’s see, which is more important:

1) WWL’s Deb Albertson talks with Dawn Johnson of the LA Retailers Assn about where people are shopping this season; or,

2) WWL’s Spud McConnell talks with a United States Senator about what he’s doing to help Louisiana recover from the worst disaster in American history.

Apparently, WWL thought shopping was more important. The Vitter interview is missing from the WWL archive.

I was compelled to make a call again yesterday to WIST host Shane Warner. He seemed to be making a desperate attempt in Rush Limbaugh-fashion to stir up a riot of anger in his audience, repeatedly asking why America is so lawsuit happy. Then, he and a caller had a good laugh about the woman who sued when she was burned by coffee.

That’s when I snapped and had to call in. I’ve been turned away often enough by call screeners now that I often use other names, and state an issue that I can use as a point of departure to make my case for less partisan talk radio. Here’s how that conversation went, as best I can recall:

Me: I think it’s important to dispel some disinformation about that lawsuit against McDonald’s by the woman who was burned. She received third-degree burns on six percent of her body in under ten seconds because the coffee was just short of boiling temperature. That particular McDonald’s outlet where she bought coffee had received repeated health department complaints about the temperature of their coffee before the incident occurred. The woman wanted to settle out of court merely for the cost of her medical bills which totalled $20,000. McDonald’s only offered her $800, so she sued in court for $2.7 million — two days worth of McDonald’s coffee sales. Now that seems reasonable doesn’t it?

 

S.W.: Well I don’t really know the facts in that case.

 

Me: That’s the problem. You and other right-wing hosts don’t learn the facts before you go into your partisan rants. Ever since the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by Ronald Reagan, we’ve been subjected to partisan pro-Republican radio hosts who don’t check their facts, and that’s bad for our democracy.

 

S.W.: You can go listen to liberal [said with contempt] NPR if that’s what you want, which is government-funded.

 

Me: It’s not government funded. It’s listener-funded.

 

S.W.: [hostile] It is not! It’s government funded.

 

Me: Most of the funding for NPR programming comes from listeners.

 

S.W.:This is a business. We provide programming and our advertisers pay for our programs. We don’t need government paying for programs.

 

Me: Some of the programs are paid for in part by the government, but most of the funding for stations comes from listeners. So you don’t support Sesame Street?

 

S.W.: No!

 

Me: So you don’t support early education.

 

S.W.: Yeah but I don’t think the government should pay for it.

 

Me: So who’s going to pay for it? McDonald’s?

 

S.W.: Yeah, McDonald’s.

 

Me: So you’d kill Big Bird?

 

S.W.: Yeah, shoot him with my big gun! [laughs, then cuts me off]

For more about the coffee lawsuit, read this Jon Greenbaum article in Common Dreams, or this Wikipedia entry which has an interesting debate in the comments section. By the way, the Constitution provides for the right of citizens to seek fair compensation for damages. The only alternative to lawsuits is more government regulation, and more government bureaucracy, to administer and enforce those regulations — which is an interesting point. You can’t both eliminate lawsuits and regulation if citizens are to be able to protect themselves from harm, and preserve the right to seek compensation for damages — which raises an interesting question. Who, exactly, benefits from eliminating citizens’ rights to seek compensation for damages? You’ll find the answer when you find the money for the messages promoting tort reform, and against government regulation.

Rather than have a thoughtful conversation about radio, or broadcasting generally, and how it could be less partisan, considering facts rather than biased opinions, Shane Warner chose to fall into his comfortable role attacking a strawman issue, falsely disparaging public broadcasting as wholly government-funded and, therefore, (again falsely) liberal.

I have my own criticisms of NPR (not so for PBS) for being run by over-the-hill people who have been doing the same thing for far too long, and as a result, who are too conservative, and who cater too much to the suburban soccer mom segment. And why is that? Well, precisely because NPR’s operating budget is largely listener-funded:

NPR supports its operations through a combination of membership dues and programming fees from over 800 independent radio stations, sponsorship from private foundations and corporations, and revenue from the sales of transcripts, books, CDs, and merchandise. A very small percentage — between one percent to two percent of NPR’s annual budget — comes from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Published reports in Worth Magazine and Consumers Digest cited NPR as a leading U.S. nonprofit charity because of the organization’s program spending efficiency, high level of private support, and outstanding public service.

 

On average, public radio stations (including NPR Member stations) receive the largest percentage of their revenue (34%) from listener support, 24% from corporate underwriting and foundations, and 13% from CPB allocations.

It should also be noted that the reason for the creation of the government-funded but independently-managed Corporation for Public Broadcasting was to foster educational programs that served the public in a non-partisan manner. I would argue that the CPB successfully fulfills that mission.

It is true that NPR and PBS news programs provide opposing viewpoints, rather than simply present one side of a story — like Rush Limbaugh does — and that it balances those opposing viewpoints — unlike Fox, which stacks Republican spokespersons in greater numbers and quality than Republican critics. For that reason — because NPR and PBS are truly “fair and balanced” — they’re lampooned by right-wing partisans as being “liberal.” I actually think NPR reaches too often for conservative and libertarian viewpoints from the American Enterprise Institute, the CATO Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. I don’t trust their information, because it’s clearly biased. But no one can accuse NPR of not being “fair and balanced.”

For an appreciation of the difference between how the news is spun by NPR, as opposed to, say, Fox News, consider the fact that 80 percent of Fox News viewers incorrectly believed that Iraq had al Qaeda links and WMD before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Only 23 percent of people who use NPR & PBS as their primary news source had those misperceptions. Let me just rephrase that statement: People who get their news from NPR and PBS have the most accurate view of reality!

Maybe if more members of the Republican-led Congress in 2003 were getting their news from NPR and PBS, American soldiers wouldn’t still be getting slaughtered in Iraq, but would instead be hunting down Osama bin Laden.

Here’s an interesting little conversation I just came across on this topic:

In my experience, conservatives are quick to cite as “biased” any information or insight suggesting that the world is a larger and more diverse place than the little cultural boxes they grew up in, especially if presented in a nonjudgemental way. Stories about the lives and problems of migrant farm workers, or families with no medical insurance, or teenagers in Afghanistan … merely touching subjects like these is indicative of “liberal bias”, isn’t it? All the more so if any deeper understanding is actually communicated. If that’s the real crime (and I suspect that it is), then indeed NPR is guiltier of it than most other news outlets.

Those “conservative talk” hosts must really fear the truth to so shelter their arguments from robust criticism. I guess that explains why they can’t carry on a civil discussion with someone like me, and have to take guests off the air when they don’t repeat the right-wing mantras.

I had another occasion during my lunch break yesterday to call WIST host Kaare Johnson who was opening up the phone lines for a “community hour,” giving listeners an opportunity to talk about things that WIST hasn’t covered. He went through the same litany of right-wing hot button issues that Shane Warner talked about, including “Why are Americans so sue happy?” (WIST management must be telling hosts what to talk about, or hosts lack originality).

This time I chose to jump right into a discussion about media bias. I figured if I told the call screener I wanted to talk about “media bias,” it’d be interpreted as liberal bias. That worked:

Me: Congratulations Kaare on getting your own show! [Until recently, Kaare Johnson shouted news briefs on WWL]

 

K.J.: Thanks.

 

Me: I think what you’re doing this hour, by giving people in the community an opportunity to say what’s on their mind, is a great idea. I actually think there’s a market for a station that would be entirely operated and programmed by community organizations. I think it would be great if one of the big corporate radio owners gave a station to a group of community organizations.

 

K.J.: I don’t see what your point is.

 

Me: Well, like you said, there’s a lot of information being shared by people in their neighborhoods right now, and I think that Lowe’s and Home Depot and contractors would pay to advertise on a station run by neighborhood activists and community organizations.

 

K.J.: What would that do?

 

Me: Well, that’s what you’re doing now, isn’t it? Giving people in the community an opportunity to talk about things that haven’t been covered elsewhere?

 

K.J.: Yeah, but this is a business. You’re talking about something that wouldn’t make any money. Who would pay for it?

 

Me: Are you saying that what you’re doing in this hour isn’t profitable?

 

K.J.: Well, no, but we don’t do what we do as a public service. This is a business.

 

Me: Oh no! That’s where you’re wrong. As an FCC-licensee, you’re first responsibility is to serve the community.

 

K.J.: You’re taking a literal interpretation of the meaning of public service. What we do is entertainment. You’re taking the FCC literally.

 

Me: I’m saying that I think that a station run by members of the community, for members of the community, could both serve the public, and find lots of advertisers to pay for the programming.

 

K.J.: Yeah, but this is a business. Companies have to buy radio stations and make a profit. You don’t think they’re going to just give away a license?

 

Me: Yes, I do. Entercom and Clear Channel have a combined 13 radio stations. Most of them just play the same music over and over again, and the ones that have a talk format, are partisan pro-Republican. That means people aren’t getting the unbiased good information they need to rebuild their communities.

 

K.J.: Okay, well, interesting topic. I don’t see how that’s going to work, but thanks for the call.

After the commercial break, Kaare Johnson said that he thought that radio stations were already doing what I talked about. The only difference, he said, was that “we’re the professionals” who decide what the community should hear. He again criticized my “literal” interpretation of the term public service.

I might differ with Kaare Johnson’s definition of the term “professional.”

By the way, WIST hosts should decide what to call what they do. They can’t both be a news and information station, and, as hosts frequently say, an entertainment station.

I’m probably preaching to the choir. The people who should be reading this post probably don’t seek alternatives to “conservative” talk radio and Fox News.

Finally, the corporate simulcasting phenomenon that Entercom started in New Orleans on three stations is apparently plaguing other communities. Tara:

On another note, just learned that our only alternative rock radio station has just been cancelled and the AM sports-talk station is now going to simulcast in FM…apparently it is a trend motivated by the proliferation of satellite radio users…or so goes the spin.

 

Our local media conglomerate is Citadel Broadcasting.

Posted in Clear Channel, Democracy, Entercom, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, Media, Media Democracy, NPR, PBS, Radio, WIST, WSMB, WWL, WWWL | 6 Comments »

WIST is an “entertainment” station

Posted by schroeder915 on November 30, 2006

Oh yeah … I’m back!

I was scanning radio stations on the road trip up to Wisconsin. There was something interesting I heard on a number of music stations — “Bob”. It’s apparently a new corporate format to play more variety. To my ear, however, it’s just a different playlist played in repetition ad nauseum.

Once I hit the Wisconsin border, there it was: Air America Radio.

That’s on top of the Wisconsin Public Radio network — one of the best examples in the country of how radio can serve its community, if not the best of its kind.

Now I’m back to the world where corporate power controls our airwaves to manipulate the way we think — and there are almost no alternatives which offer non-sensational conversation about issues of interest to our communities and our nation.

I don’t know why I don’t just let it go, but I think I reached a breaking point when Entercom decided to kill the Air America Radio format. I’ve talked at length before about Air America. In particular, I was fond of Al Franken’s ability to talk to liberals or conservatives, to even find merit in some of the arguments made by conservatives. And when he criticized, he did it with a bit of humor, something self-righteous, angry talk show hosts seem to have forgotten how to do in their orgy of self-promotion.

So now I listen with dismay at how an entire generation of Americans are being brainwashed by the factless rants of partisan ideologues, and in the process, one of our important public squares has become a toxic wasteland filled with hatred.

Recently, I have reluctantly and nervously entered into that hostile environment to make the case for more civil dialog. It’s harder than it might seem to remain calm with these guys. Inevitably, conversations turn hostile because hosts shout over any caller who disagrees with them. I’m finding it difficult to remember a time when radio hosts were professionals who could maintain a degree of civility even when callers disagreed with them.

I don’t know why I bother. I’ve been thinking I should just give up and buy into satellite radio — leaving to the waste bin of history the corporate AM/FM radio model — but I still believe in the magic of the radio I grew up with, and I’m troubled by the sullying of our democracy in an important public square.

I find it interesting that the Walter Boasso-sponsored radio station (they must have cut him a great deal on ads in his bid to unseat Governor Blanco) which promotes itself as “the” news station of the Gulf South should have aired an interview with a United States Senator, yet not post that interview on its “HOT, HOT, HOT TALK ON THE BIG 870 AM: WWL breaking news and smokin’ interviews” audio archive Web site.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that neither Spud McConnell, nor Senator David Vitter, could adequately answer my criticism on Tuesday, and then cut me off before I could finish my point:

Senator Vitter, I’d like to talk about the offshore oil revenue-sharing bill as a point of departure for a conversation about media bias generally. Bobby Jindal was more interested in playing party politics for the Bush administration than in supporting Louisiana. His OCS revenue-sharing bill was more generous than Mary Landrieu’s version, but he wouldn’t let go of the language in his bill which would have ended the federal ban on coastal drilling in other states.

 

Here’s the point I want to make about that. WWL never questioned Bobby Jindal on that issue, and it concerns me that WWL hosts are quicker to criticize Democrats than Republicans.

 

Now, Entercom, which owns WWL, killed Air America Radio to re-run the same content on three of its six stations in New Orleans, and Clear Channel started yet another pro-Republican radio station on WRNO.

 

I question whether New Orleans residents are being served when the information they get is partisan.

 

Would you, Senator Vitter, call for the FCC to hold public hearings to ask commercial broadcasters how they’re serving the New Orleans community, and would you support legislation in support of restoring the Fairness Doctrine?

Let’s see, which is more important:

1) WWL’s Deb Albertson talks with Dawn Johnson of the LA Retailers Assn about where people are shopping this season; or,

2) WWL’s Spud McConnell talks with a United States Senator about what he’s doing to help Louisiana recover from the worst disaster in American history.

Apparently, WWL thought shopping was more important. The Vitter interview is missing from the WWL archive.

I was compelled to make a call again yesterday to WIST host Shane Warner. He seemed to be making a desperate attempt in Rush Limbaugh-fashion to stir up a riot of anger in his audience, repeatedly asking why America is so lawsuit happy. Then, he and a caller had a good laugh about the woman who sued when she was burned by coffee.

That’s when I snapped and had to call in. I’ve been turned away often enough by call screeners now that I often use other names, and state an issue that I can use as a point of departure to make my case for less partisan talk radio. Here’s how that conversation went, as best I can recall:

Me: I think it’s important to dispel some disinformation about that lawsuit against McDonald’s by the woman who was burned. She received third-degree burns on six percent of her body in under ten seconds because the coffee was just short of boiling temperature. That particular McDonald’s outlet where she bought coffee had received repeated health department complaints about the temperature of their coffee before the incident occurred. The woman wanted to settle out of court merely for the cost of her medical bills which totalled $20,000. McDonald’s only offered her $800, so she sued in court for $2.7 million — two days worth of McDonald’s coffee sales. Now that seems reasonable doesn’t it?

 

S.W.: Well I don’t really know the facts in that case.

 

Me: That’s the problem. You and other right-wing hosts don’t learn the facts before you go into your partisan rants. Ever since the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by Ronald Reagan, we’ve been subjected to partisan pro-Republican radio hosts who don’t check their facts, and that’s bad for our democracy.

 

S.W.: You can go listen to liberal [said with contempt] NPR if that’s what you want, which is government-funded.

 

Me: It’s not government funded. It’s listener-funded.

 

S.W.: [hostile] It is not! It’s government funded.

 

Me: Most of the funding for NPR programming comes from listeners.

 

S.W.:This is a business. We provide programming and our advertisers pay for our programs. We don’t need government paying for programs.

 

Me: Some of the programs are paid for in part by the government, but most of the funding for stations comes from listeners. So you don’t support Sesame Street?

 

S.W.: No!

 

Me: So you don’t support early education.

 

S.W.: Yeah but I don’t think the government should pay for it.

 

Me: So who’s going to pay for it? McDonald’s?

 

S.W.: Yeah, McDonald’s.

 

Me: So you’d kill Big Bird?

 

S.W.: Yeah, shoot him with my big gun! [laughs, then cuts me off]

For more about the coffee lawsuit, read this Jon Greenbaum article in Common Dreams, or this Wikipedia entry which has an interesting debate in the comments section. By the way, the Constitution provides for the right of citizens to seek fair compensation for damages. The only alternative to lawsuits is more government regulation, and more government bureaucracy, to administer and enforce those regulations — which is an interesting point. You can’t both eliminate lawsuits and regulation if citizens are to be able to protect themselves from harm, and preserve the right to seek compensation for damages — which raises an interesting question. Who, exactly, benefits from eliminating citizens’ rights to seek compensation for damages? You’ll find the answer when you find the money for the messages promoting tort reform, and against government regulation.

Rather than have a thoughtful conversation about radio, or broadcasting generally, and how it could be less partisan, considering facts rather than biased opinions, Shane Warner chose to fall into his comfortable role attacking a strawman issue, falsely disparaging public broadcasting as wholly government-funded and, therefore, (again falsely) liberal.

I have my own criticisms of NPR (not so for PBS) for being run by over-the-hill people who have been doing the same thing for far too long, and as a result, who are too conservative, and who cater too much to the suburban soccer mom segment. And why is that? Well, precisely because NPR’s operating budget is largely listener-funded:

NPR supports its operations through a combination of membership dues and programming fees from over 800 independent radio stations, sponsorship from private foundations and corporations, and revenue from the sales of transcripts, books, CDs, and merchandise. A very small percentage — between one percent to two percent of NPR’s annual budget — comes from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Published reports in Worth Magazine and Consumers Digest cited NPR as a leading U.S. nonprofit charity because of the organization’s program spending efficiency, high level of private support, and outstanding public service.

 

On average, public radio stations (including NPR Member stations) receive the largest percentage of their revenue (34%) from listener support, 24% from corporate underwriting and foundations, and 13% from CPB allocations.

It should also be noted that the reason for the creation of the government-funded but independently-managed Corporation for Public Broadcasting was to foster educational programs that served the public in a non-partisan manner. I would argue that the CPB successfully fulfills that mission.

It is true that NPR and PBS news programs provide opposing viewpoints, rather than simply present one side of a story — like Rush Limbaugh does — and that it balances those opposing viewpoints — unlike Fox, which stacks Republican spokespersons in greater numbers and quality than Republican critics. For that reason — because NPR and PBS are truly “fair and balanced” — they’re lampooned by right-wing partisans as being “liberal.” I actually think NPR reaches too often for conservative and libertarian viewpoints from the American Enterprise Institute, the CATO Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. I don’t trust their information, because it’s clearly biased. But no one can accuse NPR of not being “fair and balanced.”

For an appreciation of the difference between how the news is spun by NPR, as opposed to, say, Fox News, consider the fact that 80 percent of Fox News viewers incorrectly believed that Iraq had al Qaeda links and WMD before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Only 23 percent of people who use NPR & PBS as their primary news source had those misperceptions. Let me just rephrase that statement: People who get their news from NPR and PBS have the most accurate view of reality!

Maybe if more members of the Republican-led Congress in 2003 were getting their news from NPR and PBS, American soldiers wouldn’t still be getting slaughtered in Iraq, but would instead be hunting down Osama bin Laden.

Here’s an interesting little conversation I just came across on this topic:

In my experience, conservatives are quick to cite as “biased” any information or insight suggesting that the world is a larger and more diverse place than the little cultural boxes they grew up in, especially if presented in a nonjudgemental way. Stories about the lives and problems of migrant farm workers, or families with no medical insurance, or teenagers in Afghanistan … merely touching subjects like these is indicative of “liberal bias”, isn’t it? All the more so if any deeper understanding is actually communicated. If that’s the real crime (and I suspect that it is), then indeed NPR is guiltier of it than most other news outlets.

Those “conservative talk” hosts must really fear the truth to so shelter their arguments from robust criticism. I guess that explains why they can’t carry on a civil discussion with someone like me, and have to take guests off the air when they don’t repeat the right-wing mantras.

I had another occasion during my lunch break yesterday to call WIST host Kaare Johnson who was opening up the phone lines for a “community hour,” giving listeners an opportunity to talk about things that WIST hasn’t covered. He went through the same litany of right-wing hot button issues that Shane Warner talked about, including “Why are Americans so sue happy?” (WIST management must be telling hosts what to talk about, or hosts lack originality).

This time I chose to jump right into a discussion about media bias. I figured if I told the call screener I wanted to talk about “media bias,” it’d be interpreted as liberal bias. That worked:

Me: Congratulations Kaare on getting your own show! [Until recently, Kaare Johnson shouted news briefs on WWL]

 

K.J.: Thanks.

 

Me: I think what you’re doing this hour, by giving people in the community an opportunity to say what’s on their mind, is a great idea. I actually think there’s a market for a station that would be entirely operated and programmed by community organizations. I think it would be great if one of the big corporate radio owners gave a station to a group of community organizations.

 

K.J.: I don’t see what your point is.

 

Me: Well, like you said, there’s a lot of information being shared by people in their neighborhoods right now, and I think that Lowe’s and Home Depot and contractors would pay to advertise on a station run by neighborhood activists and community organizations.

 

K.J.: What would that do?

 

Me: Well, that’s what you’re doing now, isn’t it? Giving people in the community an opportunity to talk about things that haven’t been covered elsewhere?

 

K.J.: Yeah, but this is a business. You’re talking about something that wouldn’t make any money. Who would pay for it?

 

Me: Are you saying that what you’re doing in this hour isn’t profitable?

 

K.J.: Well, no, but we don’t do what we do as a public service. This is a business.

 

Me: Oh no! That’s where you’re wrong. As an FCC-licensee, you’re first responsibility is to serve the community.

 

K.J.: You’re taking a literal interpretation of the meaning of public service. What we do is entertainment. You’re taking the FCC literally.

 

Me: I’m saying that I think that a station run by members of the community, for members of the community, could both serve the public, and find lots of advertisers to pay for the programming.

 

K.J.: Yeah, but this is a business. Companies have to buy radio stations and make a profit. You don’t think they’re going to just give away a license?

 

Me: Yes, I do. Entercom and Clear Channel have a combined 13 radio stations. Most of them just play the same music over and over again, and the ones that have a talk format, are partisan pro-Republican. That means people aren’t getting the unbiased good information they need to rebuild their communities.

 

K.J.: Okay, well, interesting topic. I don’t see how that’s going to work, but thanks for the call.

After the commercial break, Kaare Johnson said that he thought that radio stations were already doing what I talked about. The only difference, he said, was that “we’re the professionals” who decide what the community should hear. He again criticized my “literal” interpretation of the term public service.

I might differ with Kaare Johnson’s definition of the term “professional.”

By the way, WIST hosts should decide what to call what they do. They can’t both be a news and information station, and, as hosts frequently say, an entertainment station.

I’m probably preaching to the choir. The people who should be reading this post probably don’t seek alternatives to “conservative” talk radio and Fox News.

Finally, the corporate simulcasting phenomenon that Entercom started in New Orleans on three stations is apparently plaguing other communities. Tara:

On another note, just learned that our only alternative rock radio station has just been cancelled and the AM sports-talk station is now going to simulcast in FM…apparently it is a trend motivated by the proliferation of satellite radio users…or so goes the spin.

 

Our local media conglomerate is Citadel Broadcasting.

Posted in Clear Channel, Democracy, Entercom, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Katrina Dissidents, Media, Media Democracy, NPR, PBS, Radio, WIST, WSMB, WWL, WWWL | Comments Off on WIST is an “entertainment” station