Saturday, January 21, 2006

If you need the strength, elect the Bushling: Obey! 

I always wondered what the theological basis was for the fundagelicals' overwhelming support for Bush's war of choice in Iraq. According to UVA professor of Religion Charles Marsh (an evangelical Christian) it's about as empty as I suspected.

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.
The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.
The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

You'll recall that Mr. Faust was the guy who summoned the Devil and traded his soul in order to pass legislation forbidding gay couples to marry. Or something like that.

If you're interested in this issue, read the entire piece which has many excellent quotes and examples.

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What do we want? LEVEES! When do we want them? LAST SPRING! 

I enjoyed being part of the "Rally on the Levee" in front of the Army Corps headquarters. There was some marching and cheering and media, and Councilman Jay Batt had a few things to say.

My favorite shirt and slogan at the rally, by far, stated "New Orleans needs stronger dykes" and had a picture of a rather tough woman on the front. Good stuff.

What I enjoyed most, though, was afterwards when Dilly, Mr. Clio (and fam), Latinteacher, George and I went up on the top of the levee and slurped fresh raw oysters and grilled some spicy sausage. Yummy! Especially good when coupled with some cold Fleur-de-lis Restoration Ale. We talked about how young, innovative, action-oriented people could make such a huge, long-lasting difference in New Orleans right now. The challenges are enormous, but so are the opportunities to meaningfully contribute to a Great City's resurrection.

Then Latinteacher and George drove to St. Bernard and the Lower Ninth to distribute bottled water.

How was your weekend?

Latinteacher, who I hadn't seen for a long time, was the inspiration for the title.
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Friday, January 20, 2006

"The federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world," --Donald Powell, Reconstruction 'Czar'.

Murph directed us to these pictures which may be useful for comparative purposes.
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"Maybe we're lying, then you better not stay But we could be safer, just for one day" 

Atrios flagged this wonderful collection from the Editors, but it was too good for me to pass up. (Bowie, bitchy Hitch... etc.)

By the by, David Bowie's german version of "Heroes/Helden" is beyond praise.
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Could they care less? 

The paper published a fine MLK day speech by Wynton Marsalis at Tulane. It's worth reading, but I want to focus on a rather naive question he asked:

Well, when it comes to the rebuilding of New Orleans, start with the president. He stood in Jackson Square and told the nation that he would rebuild New Orleans and fix the levees. When public outrage was at its highest and his popularity was nearing its lowest, let's remember that he put Karl Rove in charge of the reconstruction effort. That was in September. Has anyone seen or heard from Karl Rove? Hmmm...

Of course, der Karl wasn't officially put in charge of rebuilding the city. We're supposed to develop a local plan, after all. So the mayor formed a committee, headed by a real estate developer (and Bush pioneer) Joe Canizaro, who has Rove on speed-dial. Marsalis should understand by now that Rove prefers working behind the scenes, which brings me to my next point. There's a curious tension between supporters of the Richard Baker housing buyout bill-- which, in principle, includes nearly everyone in Louisiana-- and the White House, which worked behind the scenes to kill the bill in December and has pointedly refused to support the measure in recent weeks. (See the two recent editorials excerpted below. Both were published January 14).

This is what has been puzzling me. The most important rebuilding recommendations made by the Bring New Orleans Back committee, chaired by Rove's buddy Canizaro, explicitly relies upon the Baker bill. There's no way to accomplish a reasonable buy-out plan without federal assistance, yet the White House continues to drag its feet on this absolutely crucial plan. Now they're complaining about costs and bureaucracy. Remember, this is the same administration that rammed through a gargantuan medicare bill that costs anywhere from a quarter to a half TRILLION dollars more than advertised. And they mercilessly twisted congressional arms under cover of night to enact this giveaway to Big Pharma. Worse, it's so complicated that many seniors have trouble understanding how they benefit from it.

To be sure, Baker's idea isn't perfect. It could be a boon to large, out-of-state developers. (On the other hand, I see a way private investors could take advantage of the 60% ceiling on mortgage buyouts. I may run the numbers on an example in a subsequent post.) However, Baker has proposed a liberal idea with many merits. That's right, it's a liberal solution; and don't let anyone tell you different. A conservative legislator recognized that the sacred "free market" can't handle the situation in New Orleans without leaving vast portions of the city rotting away in blighted, foreclosure hell-- a horrific, downward spiral which would stultify economic growth, lower housing values and increase crime. Early on, Baker correctly concluded that a federal government solution to the housing problem in New Orleans was necessary. He is to be credited with fashioning a realistic piece of legislation that has a good chance of passing in a remarkably conservative Congress.

So what is scaring Rove about this bill? Perhaps its the precedent. After every future disaster, affected states might want to pass similar buyout legislation. Rove wants to somehow avoid this, but he's trapped. New Orleans residents want a buyout, the Louisiana delegation supports a buyout, and Canizaro's committee is absolutely relying on it. Now, the national press is applying pressure.

NYT editorial:
President Bush sounded out of touch as usual this week when he called the still-ravaged city "a heck of a place to bring your family." Rather than conjuring up memories of Michael Brown, the erstwhile head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Bush could better spend his time increasing the pressure on Congress to act on some version of Representative Richard Baker's federal buyout legislation. Lawmakers in Washington should take up the bill.

Wapo editorial:
What the president has not done yet is commit himself publicly to any of the plans that would ensure New Orleans's long-term survival. In particular, he has kept silent about the legislation proposed by Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) that would create an agency mandated to buy the remains of flooded homes, allowing their owners to pay back mortgages and relocate to drier parts of the city. This kind of federal support would make it politically possible for the New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin (D), to push forward the reconceived city he presented to city residents this week: A smaller and better-integrated New Orleans, built on higher ground.

The Baker bill is the only game in town. Thus, the White House must eventually support this plan, but they apparently want to wait as long as possible before doing so.

On behalf of New Orleans' flooded homeowners let me say, "Thanks a lot".

Regarding the White House's handling of the Post-Katrina Gulfsouth, the first question I always ask is: Would it be politically possible to do any less for Louisiana?

Would it be politically possible to not rebuild the levees to Category 3 strength?

Would it be politically possible to wait any longer before supporting a buyout plan crucial to New Orleans' future?

Would it be politically possible to allocate less than a 2% token payment to restore Louisiana's protective coastal wetlands?

Seriously, I'm open to all opinions, but I want to know: would it be politically possible for the Bush administration to do any less for South Louisiana than it has so far done?

Is it being too radical to want competently designed Category 4 strength levees? Much less Category Fives? Am I crazy to think that saving America's Wetlands makes sense? Is it too *gasp* liberal to want federal help in resolving mortgages after an unprecedented disaster involving Army Corps floodwalls?

Is it extreme to do the (admittedly expensive) things necessary to save South Louisiana?
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Make it so, make it work, make it happen 

Include this event in your weekend plans. It's one of the most inspirational things I've heard about since the storm. All info below is from the official site, which you should visit. (As for tonight, Loyola is beginning its "Four nights of Conversation" on Post-K New Orleans. Update: It's a jam-packed weekend. I forgot about a Rally on the Levee Saturday at 11am. Details here.)

a New Orleans rebuilding resource festival

MAKING IT HAPPEN is a hybrid of resource networking and cultural festivals. The event is designed to provide an opportunity for successful local and national programs and organizations to contribute to and reinforce our educational, cultural, social and faith-based organizations in their efforts to rebuild a better New Orleans.

MAKING IT HAPPEN will occur over the weekend of January 20-22, 2006. The timing of the event will coincide with the return of many residents to the city and will build on Mayor Nagin's "Bring New Orleans Back" Commission and Governor Blanco's "Louisiana Recovery and Rebuilding" initiative as these programs move forward from concept to implementation. Combining local hospitality and expertise with the generous good will and resources of providers from across the country, the event will assist in the effort to bring New Orleans citizens back home to participate in the planning and rebuilding process and to support the work of front-line community work in the Rebuild New Orleans effort.

MAKING IT HAPPEN is the concept of three like-minded organizations: Ashe' Cultural Arts Center, Concordia and The Center for Empowered Decision-Making, all committed to supporting and encouraging a community-based rebuilding and empowerment strategy for community development.

MAKING IT HAPPEN will feature recognized practitioners who have developed innovative programs that work in urban environments. In addition to locally recognized programs the list will include national models in education like the Big Picture Company from Providence, Rhode Island; the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound schools and the Henry Ford Academy located inside of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan. Other innovative models will include economic development programs like the African American Marketplace from Los Angeles, innovative housing providers like ArtSpace from Minneapolis, Minnesota and community health providers like the Jackson Medical Mall Model from Jackson Mississippi. Together with our own local social entrepreneurs and the community-at-large the event will demonstrate examples of what can happen in New Orleans as the recovery process evolves towards rebuilding.

MAKING IT HAPPEN will provide informal access to inspirational leaders, insights, consultation, coaching, networking, cultural sharing and even gifts and drawings. The primary venue for the event will be the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, a hub for the celebration of Afro-Caribbean cultural traditions at 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in New Orleans. Other venues will be located up and down the Boulevard. Childcare and children's activities will be provided. The festivities will also include New Orleans music, "second line" marchers and other components of a genuine New Orleans celebration.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Not Happy"? 

As far as blog content goes, it's almost a shame Mayor Nagin apologized so quickly for his MLK day lunacy, because I could have squeezed a week's worth of material out of those quotes (see previous post). 'Course, recent blogging here at YRHT has been so spotty and infrequent that a lack of content should be the least of my concerns. Anyway, here are a couple of things that still bother me about Nagin's words.

For a city going on three hundred years old, why did God wait until 1970 or so before fulfilling his desire for New Orleans to become a "black-majority city"? And why did God employ the white flight occurring after public-school desegration to achieve his ends? One wonders: Were civil rights advocates like Martin Luther King who spoke of racial unity and harmony actually hindering God's "chocolate city" plan? Further, if so-called "white" New Orleanians like myself move to the Northshore, are we acting in accordance with the Divine order?

What is God's definition of "black" and "white", anyway? Racial categories seem like a rather crude tool for an omniscient Godhead to use. Does God go by the "one drop" rule, or is the Creator a bit less stringent? What about all those light skinned Creoles who can "pass" as white? Is God in favor of a mere 51% black majority for New Orleans, or is his will a veto-proof 66%+ supermajority? So many questions come to mind.

Mayor Nagin declared that he had a conversation with Pastor Martin Luther King Monday morning. What did one of the great orators of the 20th century say to da Mayor? What did King, a philosopher of nonviolence who never had trouble finding inspirational words to describe the love in his heart tell Mayor Ray-Ray? What wise observations about New Orleans did he have for Nagin?

According to our mayor, King said he was "not happy".

Wow, thank you for passing that along! What better way to honor an eloquent American hero than by figuratively stuffing his mouth with marbles? Why bother reading King's speeches, letters and sermons when you can talk directly to him, and report to stricken New Orleanians that he's "not happy"?

What an insult to a great man! Fewer things could piss me off so thoroughly.

In other news, Mayor Nagin said he had tea with a famous Nazarene who described himself as "somewhat miffed" at current events.


Update: Apparently Nagin avoided an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper by claiming he had an emergency to attend to. CNN later found him dining at the Bourbon House in the Quarter.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mocha-choke-a latta 

Mayor Ray-Ray Nagin, who recently enjoyed glowing profiles in the Wall Street Journal and Esquire magazine, seemed to go off the deep end yesterday in his MLK day speech. Actually, according to the mayor, he had a conversation "directly" with Martin Luther King that morning. So it wasn't a speech about MLK as much as it was an actual transcript of his chat with da Mayor.


Beyond misinterpreting MLK's life-message (that the destinies of all races and classes are tied together) what I hate most about Nagin's bizarre comments (excerpted below) is that they give cover to the religious whack-jobs like Robertson and Farrakhan who think they can divine God's will from weather events. Uggh. Double Uggh.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday predicted that displaced African-American residents will return to the rebuilt city and it "will be chocolate at the end of the day."

"This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be," Nagin said. "You can't have it no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
Nagin attributed the recent hurricanes striking the United States to a God who is "mad at America" for waging a war in Iraq based on false pretenses. Nagin said God also is upset at the black community for not taking better care of its people.
"It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," he said. "And I don't care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day."

Nagin also said that last year's devastating hurricanes were signs of God's wrath.

"Surely God is mad at America," he said.

The remarks, which prompted a storm of angry callers when Garland Robinette played them repeatedly on his talk show on WWL-AM, also drew fire from some black leaders.

"Everybody's jaws are dropping right now," said City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who is black. "Even if you believe some of that crazy stuff, that is not the type of image we need to present to the nation."
Although [Martin Luther] King made a point of reaching out to white and black people, Nagin insisted Monday that if King were alive, he would urge African-Americans to stop worrying about other races and tend to their own community.
Besides respecting one another, Nagin said his listeners need to pay attention to God, who, Nagin said, expressed his anger at America last year by sending hurricane after hurricane over the land.

"Surely he's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretense," Nagin said. "But surely he's upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves, we're not taking care of our women, and we're not taking care of our children . . ."

Oliver Thomas and Mitch Landrieu should join the other candidates who are running for mayor. Nagin doesn't deserve to coast to re-election, especially after that weird-ass speech.

I'm disappointed in Hizzoner.
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Monday, January 16, 2006

What would MLK do about New Orleans? 

As a young boy, Martin King jr. suffered a racist indignity on a bus trip which shattered his previous (sheltered) conception of the world, and made him hate the whites who perpetuated segregation and oppression. As he grew into manhood, he struggled mightily to overcome this inner poison. Thank goodness he succeeded so thoroughly! I'm reminded of MLK's personal victory over inner hate when I read the following excerpt from a sermon entitled "Loving Your Enemies" which he delivered 11/17/57.

Though some may fear such sentiments will bring comfort to our enemies, I think these Christian prescriptions are worthy of meditation. Especially today. Don't say "that's too radical; it's impossible, things are different this time". Because history shows otherwise.

Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has ever conceived, but the weakness is that we have never touched it. Isn't it true that we have often taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes? Isn't it true that we have often in our democracy trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of oppression? Isn't it true that through our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism? And all of these things must be taken under consideration as we look at Russia. We must face the fact that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent from Asia and Africa is at bottom a revolt against the imperialism and colonialism perpetuated by Western civilization all these many years. The success of communism in the world today is due to the failure of democracy to live up to the noble ideals and principles inherent in its system.

And this is what Jesus means when he said: "How is it that you can see the mote in your brother's eye and not see the beam in your own eye?" Or to put it in Moffatt's translation: "How is it that you see the splinter in your brother's eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye?" And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ourselves.

A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.

I've said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We're split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life.... There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe, "There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue." There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Apostle Paul, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do."

So somehow the "isness" of our present nature is out of harmony with the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls "the image of God," you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God's image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That's the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It's not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

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